Vietnam has a bad rep compared to the rest of Southeast Asia. Before traveling through Vietnam I had heard nothing but horror stories; this person was kidnapped, this person had their bag snatched from their hands, this person was ripped off. Even other well traveled backpackers, both who I follow myself, had expressed their own disgust and promises of never returning.
But like every traveler should, I wanted to form my own opinion and after spending 2 months there, I’m absolutely in love with Vietnam.
Vietnam is a safe country and quite an enjoyable one once you become accustom to the culture. But that’s just it, you have to be open and willing to understand the culture. The people are outgoing, friendly and much more forward than other Asian cultures which could put off many people who are accustom to the shyer, westernized Thailand. As another traveler said to me when asked what he liked most about Vietnam, “Vietnamese people just don’t give a fuck.” Which is true. You’ll see someone driving the wrong way down a one way street, a motorbike holding 5 people, a wheelbarrow and a pig, and of course people trying their hardest to make a buck. I will admit that, yes, there are scams in Vietnam and they are a little more forceful when it comes to selling a product especially in District 1 of Saigon, but that doesn’t mean you have to buy the product. Just say no, kids.
As for people being rude and disrespectful, I hardly saw it. The people I met were always kind and willing to help me. A motorbike taxi tried selling me his services, but instead I asked him for directions and he pointed me the way. When I was leaving a coffee shop the owner came out to help me with my bags onto a motorbike taxi and said “See you tomorrow!” One Vietnamese guy who worked at a hostel I stayed at asked for a few hours off from work to help some guests find a proper motorbike, even though his English wasn’t very good. College students looking to practice their English are always approaching foreigners to have a friendly chat. One man visiting Sapa from Ninh Binh poured my friends and I shots of banana whiskey as a welcoming even though he didn’t speak much English. All memorable moments from some kind hearted people.
Maybe I was lucky, maybe I had caught everyone on a good day and that’s why my experience was great. But the more I traveled through Vietnam, the more people I met along the way who actually enjoyed Vietnam– the culture, the food, the people, everything. Did we all get scammed? Everyone does at least once. But you can either let it set the mood for your experience in Vietnam, or laugh it off and learn from it. Next time don’t take the red taxi, next time someone wants to charge you 60,000 VND for corn, bargain. It’s all part of the culture, you just have to adapt to it.
As I said before, I love Vietnam. I will always return for the delicious food, the kind and outgoing people, bargaining with the locals, the beautiful scenery that makes up the country and so much more.
Everyone has good and bad experiences, but a true traveler should never avoid a country based on the opinions of others. So buy the plane ticket, take a deep breath and find joy in accepting the challenges that you face in Vietnam. It will make you a much stronger traveler.
If you are still nervous, follow my Tips on Surviving Vietnam