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11 Mistakes Every First-Time Ho Chi Minh City Visitor Makes
In a new place you can easily end up feeling like a fish out of water, but with this guide to your first-time visit to Vietnam you’ll soon feel at home in one of the most rewarding countries Southeast Asia has to offer.
1. What Could Be So Hard About Crossing the Road?
In most places crossing the road is easy, but here in Ho Chi Minh City it takes skill to master safely crossing the road. The people you observe casually strolling across the busy streets with cars and bikes whizzing in all directions around them have likely had much practice in order to develop the instinct to cross the road by regulating their speed and honing their self-awareness.
Top Tip: Aim to cross the road at an intersection with traffic lights where possible. If there are no nearby traffic lights, just remember, if it’s a bike, don’t stop as they are used to manoeuvring around people crossing.
2. I Never Get Sunburnt...
It’s hard to know when the best time to visit Vietnam is, weather-wise, as it is nearly always humid. Whatever time of year you choose to visit Ho Chi Minh City the likelihood is that the UV rating will be high. Don’t be fooled – rain, shine or even thunderstorm you can get sunburnt.
Top Tip: Buy sunscreen and use it every day. Opt for an SPF of at least 30, although 50 is recommended. Even with sunscreen on, try not to stay in the sun for too long, and ensure you keep well hydrated.
3. Visa...What Visa?
It may be that you do not need a visa to visit Ho Chi Minh City but it’s always worth checking beforehand, as unless you’re a citizen of one of 17 countries who may enter Vietnam without a visa, you will need to apply and pay in advance.
Top Tip: Before travel visit one of the many travel agencies which allow you to make an online application for a visa.
4. Everything Is Cheap...
While it is true that most things in Vietnam are cheap, depending on where you are, and the make of the product or service, you may well be looking at some serious dong. As Vietnam is home to many manufacturing firms, many goods that are locally produced are really cheap. When it comes to imported items though, the price can be disproportionately high.
Top Tip: If you’re on the hunt for a bargain don’t head to the real touristy spots or shopping malls, as the prices tend to be higher here. For a real bargain seek out the local flea markets and boutiques – you may well be surprised at the gems you will discover.
5. Riding A Motorbike Will Be Fun...
On your first time in Vietnam you likely won’t know where to go, so as fun as it may sound, whizzing around a busy unknown city may not be the wisest idea. Ho Chi Minh City is one of the busiest cities for traffic, especially motorbike traffic, so unless you enjoy crawling at about 15km/h together with 200 other bikes, trying to make sense of the confusing traffic rules, under the scorching hot sun, riding a bike is not for you.
Top Tip: Download a taxi app to your phone and you can still enjoy whizzing around on a bike, without the stress of driving. Bike taxis are cheap, reliable and, more importantly, the route is already set, so can sit back and enjoy the ride.
6. I Don’t Need To Book A Hotel...
While it can be cheaper to leave it until you arrive to find a hotel, that does often mean compromising on quality. So it’s best to book your hotel ahead of your visit to avoid any disappointment.
Top Tip: Book ahead of time at a hotel such as Sherwood Suites. Sherwood Suites offer a comfortable home from home; with modern amenities, restaurant and helpful multi-lingual staff, that are always on hand to make your stay as comfortable and convenient as possible.
7. I’ll Work It Out Once I’m There...
As a country, Vietnam upholds strong traditional and cultural values, and with tourism only a relatively recent addition, you may have difficulties finding bilingual signs or menus. For a first-time visitor here it’s definitely worth doing a bit of research on the cultural nuances before getting here.
Top Tip: Find out the names of food you plan to try and places you want to visit and keep a note of these on your phone. More importantly, read up on what not to do when you’re here, so as to avoid unwittingly doing something inappropriate.
8. You Need To Negotiate All Prices...
Most things in Vietnam are already cheap, with a whole meal costing less than the price of a coffee in most European countries. In some places though, prices are not marked on products and it can be a worry as a tourist that you may be overcharged for products.
Top Tip: If something appears unreasonably expensive, try haggling politely. If your haggling doesn’t work, walk away. Reverse psychology can often be a successful tool in the art of bargaining.
9. A Late-Night Coffee Can’t Be So Bad...Can It?
Ca phe sua da is iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk, and it’s a huge hit with locals and foreigners alike, due to its thickness and strong, sweet taste. While it may sound like a refreshing drink for the hot evenings in Ho Chi Minh City, as with all coffees, its primary function is to keep you awake and this one isn’t any different.
Top Tip: Drink something that doesn’t contain as much caffeine so you can get a good night’s sleep.
10. It Won’t Take Long To Get There...
Traffic in Ho Chi Minh City can get crazy, so even a 5km journey could take close to an hour if you happen to be travelling during the busy periods...or anytime it rains. Due to infrastructural issues like bad drainage coupled with inclement weather and the increasing number of cars in the city, traffic congestion is a real problem here.
Top Tip: Ensure you allow plenty of travel time, especially if you have any appointments booked.
11. Pho Is The Only Noodle Dish Isn’t It?
Due to the international popularity of pho, it’s hardly surprising that many people believe pho to be the only noodle dish in Vietnam.
Top Tip: Do a little food research before you travel – you will definitely be surprised at the variety of food in Vietnam.