A Few Tips for Vietnam

Old Nov 19th, 2006, 03:39 PM
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A Few Tips for Vietnam

I lived in Vietnam for most of 2005. I thought Iíd offer some recommendations. If you like adventure, I highly recommend traveling central Vietnam on motorcycle. You need not drive yourself but can ride on the back of the bike. This is not for the faint of heart as the winding mountain roads, which offer some breathtaking views of the country, can be dangerous. However, with a good English speaking guide (many are available in Nha Trang) it can be an amazing experience allowing you to meet local people and visit places that rarely see tourists. I recommend visiting Buon Ma Thuot and, especially, Kontum. The ride from Pleiku to Kontum is stunning! The most memorable travel experience Iíve ever had.

If you want a cultural exchange, walk alone in local parks near tourist areas. One example is the park near Pham Ngu Lao Street in the tourist quarter of Saigon. Local students gather in the evenings hoping to practice English with visitors. An hour or two with the students is a fun way to pass time, ask questions, let them practice speaking, and share a few laughs.

Dalat is wonderful. I was rarely bothered by people trying to sell things. Itís a quiet college town with little traffic and beautiful views. The cool temperature and hills make it starkly different from other cities south of it. I would be hard-pressed to recommend the ďEasy RidersĒ for local motorcycle tours although they are very nice. Their itinerary seemed limited to terribly touristy places and manufactured parks. Walk around town, sip café sua da in the local eateries, and watch the world buzz by.

Although Iíve never been there, local expats in Saigon swear by Phu Quoc Island in the deep south. Itís a great alternative to the party scene of Nha Trang if you have the time and money to fly down for a few days. The Northern mountains of Vietnam are also fantastic. If you plan to visit Sapa, brace yourself for tourism central. However, itís quite beautiful on the local walking trails. A nice alternative is Bac Ha, which has a fantastic once a week local market where locals sell everything from oxen to plows.

As friendly as Vietnamese people are, they are great capitalist. Youíll be given a stiff sales pitch in most places except local veggie markets away from tourist areas. Some places, like Hue, will leave you exhausted from being hounded. Then there are those who will downright lie to you. Watch out in the train station in Hanoi where someone ďfriendlyĒ will try to escort you to your train car and carry your bags and then demand $5. Little children near tourist areas may ask you to buy them a coke only to sell it back to the vendor unopened for a small fee. Pre-arranging bus tickets through tour operators (Linh Travel on Pham Ngu Lao is great) works well. If you donít have a ticket and have to grab a minivan ad hoc at a station, try to get in the one with the most passengers already in it. Otherwise the driver will drive around town in circles trying to get more people on board. This can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 60 (no joke).

Youíll see many poor people, some street children, and many beggars. If you wish to help, there are several wonderful local organizations. In Saigon, thereís the Christina Noble Foundation (www.cncf.org). Prostitutes abound in Vietnam as well although not as openly as in Thailand. Unfortunately, many foreigners visit SE Asia to victimize local children who are trapped in sex tourism. As tourism increases in the area, so will the crimes against children. Air France has signed onto The Code of Conduct (www.thecode.org), a program working to help stamp out child sex tourism. The Accor hotel chain (owners of Sofitel, Novotel) and Carlson Companies hotels (owners of Radisson) have also signed on. Signatories to the program agree to a six point plan meant to discourage this horrific behavior and inform the public. You can find more information and a list of program participants on the website. As yet Carlson is the only American company on board and no US airlines have agreed. Please try to encourage their good work by bringing your business to those helping to eradicate child sex tourism.
cfantacone is offline  
Old Nov 21st, 2006, 10:15 AM
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Thanks for the tips.
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Old Nov 21st, 2006, 10:36 AM
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nice post. thanks.
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Old Nov 22nd, 2006, 04:13 AM
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We're off to Vietnam in 6 weeks, so I really, really appreciate your taking the time to post this. Sounds like you must have lived in Saigon since most of your experiences seem to be toward the south.

I'm wondering if you have visited or have any thoughts on the Ninh Bihn and Mai Chau valley areas. We enjoy more what I guess would be referred to as soft adventure type travel and have read some relly good things about these places. I was interested to read your comments about Dalat since so much that I have read refers to how schlocky parts of this area are.

I appreciated your reference to Sapa as being tourism central beause we are really turned off by places that are just totally mass tourism. We had really wanted to visit the hill tribe markets but will be in Vietnam the 1st half of January and have decided to give this area a pass since we've heard so many things about the cold, miserable weather there in the winter.

You mention visiting Hue and the vendors swarming. Other than that, what did you think of the area? From my reading I think that we may be interested (if we even go there) in renting bikes and cycling around the tombs areas. How about Hoi An? Were you there? It sounds lovely in so many ways, but I also am wondering if this is solid shopping which we are not into.

Finally a question about motos. If there are 2 of us, I assume we would hire 2 moto drivers. Is it better to just hire a car and driver? Thanks again for posting. If you get time to reply, I'd really appreciate it.
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Old Nov 22nd, 2006, 10:52 AM
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In response to julies:
I had also heard that Dalat was schlocky but was then pleasantly surprised that the schlock was easily avoided (it's relegated to parks and such, not the town itself). I stayed in a bed and breakfast near Dalat University. It was run by a lovely family and had pretty views from it's parlor room. If I can find the name in my things, I will post it here.

I've been to Hue a few times. The last time it was unbareable. The food however, which is really quite good there, is a highlight of Hue. Also, their forbidden city is quite a nice visit and the green space around it is lovely. Some people take boat rides around Hue also. I've not done that. Now Hoi An used to be really bad with sellers but the police, from what I heard, have discouraged it and last time I went it was better. It's a great little town. They have cooking classes there as well. I, personally, would choose to spend more time relaxing in Hoi An than Hue. Even if you're not into buying tailored clothes, the locally preserved chinese homes are nice for touring and there are some lovely little French style cafes. I personally like it over Hue. But some might disagree with my assessment. Whatever you do, make a reservation ahead of time for Hoi An. It's a little harder to secure last minute housing there as it's small.

Ninh Binh and Mai Chau: I can't speak to these. I've heard Ninh Binh is gorgeous. That's all I can say.

As for motorbikes: getting on the back of a motorbike in any city in Vietnam is great fun. But, it can be dangerous. That being said, I personally would rather be on a motorbike with a driver to take me around. If he speaks English well, it can be a nice learning experience. Taxis are expensive over time and it can take forever to get anywhere (ie in Hanoi and Saigon). But you'll decide what's best for you when you land in Hanoi or Saigon and see the crazy traffic.

If you would like the name of a trustworthy guide in Saigon and/or Nha Trang, I'll be happy to pass along their contact info.

I love the country dearly and am happy to help. Have a wonderful time!
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Old Nov 29th, 2006, 09:20 PM
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I returned from Vietnam in October and I just wanted to share our experience with the Easy Riders as it differs significantly from yours...."I would be hard-pressed to recommend the ďEasy RidersĒ for local motorcycle tours although they are very nice. Their itinerary seemed limited to terribly touristy places and manufactured parks".

We did not choose to do the one day local tour but instead hit the road for a two and a half day trip through the Central Highlands and finishing up in Buon Ma Thuot. They also take tours as far up as Hue.

Anyway our experience.....
This was the absolute highlight of our 3 weeks in Vietnam. The Easy Riders do not have a set itinerary but rather take cues from what you like and visit things that interest you or just what you come across along the way. The scenery was beautiful, the people amazing and a fantastic way to get up close and personal with the Vietnamese and minority group people and their way of life. Everyone was just so friendly, we learnt so much and had the best experience. We saw tofu making, rice farms, rubber tree farm, coffee/tea farms and manufacturing, silk worm farms, making silk, rice paper factories, the list goes on and most of this from their own very frugal homes. We were treated like royalty wherever we stopped.

We were left in awe of the amazing openness, resilience and warmth of the people of Vietnam. The riders are very careful and caring people keen to share as much as possible with you and we were very sad to wave them goodbye. I cannot recommend it highly enough and would have extended for a couple of more days had we had more time....

I think its also important to be aware that, as is everywhere in Vietnam, there are imposter Easy Riders. The "real" Easy Riders operate out of the Peace Cafe in Dalat. And so you can't be duped they are aged 50+ish.


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Old Nov 29th, 2006, 11:39 PM
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The Ninh Binh area is quite beautiful. Worth a visit if you have some time. The temple at Hoa Lu is OK, but I thought the scenery at Tum Coc was spectacular. My advise is to go early before the tourist busses from Hanoi show up. Once they do, it's similar to a Disneyland ride where you have a line of boats as far as you can see all headed in the same direction. Dalat is nice, but if you've seen the great National Parks in the USA, then it's nothing special. But it's defintely nice to feel the cool temps there.
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Old Nov 30th, 2006, 05:10 AM
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Thanks to all of you who have been there for the great travel tips.

I teach English at a local CC and have a number of Vietnamese students, so I will definitely seek out the opportunity to meet some local Vietnamese students in the park in Saigon.

We have decided to add the Sapa area to our itinerary even though it will be January. Just decided we would regret it if we take a pass. We intend to do some trekking around Sapa ans then visit the BacHa and Can Cau markets unless someone has a better suggestion for markets or trekking in the area.

I think I will try to fit in a couple days in the Ninh Binh and Mai Chau valley area, so I appreciate the tips to get there early before the Hanoi day trippers. We're looking at the possibility of a private tour that combines the boat trip with biking and walking in the area.
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