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Any bad experiences in Vietnam?

We are backpacking through Vietnam, starting from Hanoi this December. Not the best time of the year, but tickets are cheap. Was wondering if anyone has ever had a bad experience in Vietnam, and tips on how we can avoid it. Thank you. - Sushi Lover - Guest

bad experiences vietnam
I've read far too many commentaries saying that 85% to 90% of tourists who have visited Vietnam would rather not return due to a whole list of bad experiences. However, I wouldn't blacklist Vietnam so easily just because of some bad reviews, keeping in mind that everyone is in for a different experience whenever visiting certain places (anywhere in the world).

I've heard tourists say that the cities are smelly, disorganized, noisy, and polluted. Some are offended by "ill-mannered people" (see pushy/overeager) and annoying street merchants that litter the sidewalks. Poor sanitary conditions and inefficient traffic laws (or lack thereof) are also major deterrents for many visitors.

These nuances, however are due to the fact that Vietnam is a developing country, with lots of great potential for tourism. Past the filth and the chaos, you will see many good things to love. Understand that this destination still has its rough edges, which you, as a tourist must learn to dodge if you want a pleasurable experience.

Our advice: skip the budget hotels and go for a mid-range place located in one of the better neighborhoods to avoid shady and gritty areas. Pack an extra supply of patience and open-mindedness so you can have plenty to spare on street merchants trying to make a living out of tourists, and learn how to see past the chaotic facade of its cities. Soon you will learn to love Vietnam and its unique culture. And why stop in the cities? There are plenty of beautiful things to see in its river and sea-side towns, historic enclaves, and the famous Ha Long Bay.

Vietnam is still unapologetically Vietnamese, and that for me makes it one of the best Southeast Asian countries to visit. It can be delightful or terrible depending on what kind of traveler you are. If you are willing to step out of your comfort zone and experience something different, you might find the so-called nuisances eye-opening instead of annoying. Just remember:

1. Do not hire taxis parked outside temples and other tourist spots. My only bad experience when I was in Hanoi involved a taxi driver charging me $45 me for a 5-minute ride. These taxi scams are quite prevalent, but if you learn your lesson and never again hire a parked taxi, you’ll be fine. That said, taxi scams can happen anywhere; it’s not a uniquely Vietnamese rip-off. It was a slightly bad experience but certainly doesn’t outweigh all the positive ones I enjoyed while there.

2. Stay in a good hotel. The cheaper backpacker hostels tend to be run down and located in noisy areas. That can be a good thing if you like being in the center of the markets, but a terrible thing if you want a peaceful vacation. When I was in Hanoi, I stayed in a business hotel overlooking Giang Vo Lake. Rates are quite reasonable at around $50 per night. The area was fantastic. I was able to take lovely strolls around the lake in the morning. I sat on park benches watching locals go about their lives. It was a very romantic part of Hanoi. 

3. Eat where the locals do. To taste the best banh cuon, follow your nose or the long queues to the busy mom-and-pop eateries. Aside from serving the most authentic dishes, these bustling shops also don’t rip foreigners off. They don’t need your business.

To enjoy Vietnam, leave all your expectations behind and come with an open mind. Factors like crazy motorbikes, sidewalks taken over by merchants, and the absence of McDonald’s / Starbucks all add to the charm if you let them.

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