Vietnam

The name Vietnam evokes many images. The Bay of Along, noodle soup, the three wars that shook this country, junks slipping on the water and shimmering silk tunics

 

This portrait is one of the most difficult to write for me. My trip to Vietnam ‘1 month) was punctuated with experiences : the worth and some good ones… 

Xin chào Việt Nam, tôi tên là Christine, tôi là người Pháp, rất vui được gặp bạn! Hi Vietnam!

 

I chose to tell the whole truth, nothing but the truth? So here we go!

A trip to Vietnam is often done under the sign of the banknote

The Vietnamese are extremely confusing. Their daily life is very centered on money, possession. Conversations constantly revolve around the price of things. Whether it’s shrimp, socks or a tablet, the first thing you’ll be asked is “how much did you pay for it? ». And that’s true whether you’re a foreigner or a native. 

Scams, lies and company: Vietnam has its own philosophy about foreign visitors

 
Scamming a visitor, no matter where he comes from, is a normal, legitimate, accepted practice. They do not feel ashamed, illegal or offensive. 
If you try to debate this delicate subject, they will raise an astonished eyebrow and conclude “it’s normal that you pay more! You have a lot of money! ».
This is not really a scam to them! You’re going to pay double or a hundred times the price charged to the locals, that’s normal. 
 

In Vietnam, relations with foreigners are dominated by money

 
In restaurants, there are almost always 2 menus: one for locals, one for tourists. The prices are of course very different.
If there is no menu and there is no way to know the real price, that’s when the adventure begins. If you try to sneak a look at how much other customers are paying, they move so that you can’t count the change they get. 
If you ask customers “how much did you pay for that?” the saler will silence them. 
There is no need to compete to negotiate the price of a room. The employee at the first establishment visited will be quick to inform the other hostels of the price he or she has charged. They won’t hesitate to follow you down the street to make sure you don’t get a better rate.

Beware of passport blackmail, in Vietnam it’s a recurring scam

 
The hotel will always and unconditionally require you to keep your passport until your departure. Some hotels will inflate the bill on departure and only return the precious passport once the money has been pocketed. “You misunderstood, the rate does not include this or that…”. No need to argue, if you want it back, you will have to pay.

Rare in Asia, but not in Vietnam: physical or verbal violence is common

 
I have never visited any other country in Asia where the people are so willing, ready to physically fight with a stranger for a handful of dongs. 

They can be threatening, violent in some cases. A young German boy was threatened with a broken bottle by a boatman in the middle of the ford in order to get more than the amount negotiated before boarding. The dispute was settled with a punch, and Germany won the fight. But the travelling couple had to leave Vietnam in an emergency. The authorities made it clear: they were not in a position to ensure the safety of these travellers in case of reprisals.
These cases where the report becomes violent (I have many others to tell) are not uncommon.

Robbery with violence… or insolence: Vietnam sometimes shows the worst face of tourism

Outright theft, with or without violence (snatching, threatening, missing luggage, forced room…) is a constant threat. It ends up making you completely paranoid. You find yourself getting off at every bus stop to check that nobody is taking your bags, you count and check everything, all the time.

Most of the exchanges are not much warmer than that, sadly

The Vietnamese sometimes know how to show a scathing contempt for the “farangs” (the Westerners) and to inflict behaviours or a cold violence to them which leave them speechless and defenseless.

This is by far the most bitter: they rip the bank note or the mobile phone out of your hands and make fun of you.

Fighting over the tip: in Vietnam they don’t joke about it

I don’t know of any other country where tourist harassment is so violent. The price set at the beginning will not protect you from conflict. Once the tour is over, you’ll find yourself being harassed mercilessly for a tip. The engaging smile at the start then turns into a threatening face. Paying for the ride is never enough. You have to give more, and if you try to get out of the way even for good reasons, you’ll have a hard time with the locals. Insults, intimidation, shoving, anything is good to get more. 

Once you have the money in your pocket, don’t expect any thanks. You’ll be treated like a piece of garbage, goodbye turns into “Ra! “, in good english,” f** you! ».

A well-oiled Vietnamese scam: Along Bay

A cruise in Along Bay? This wonder of the world is run by a real mafia. As soon as you arrive in Hanoi, the hotel will harrass you to sell the tour and will not let you go until you buy it. It will be difficult to find other offers. The other travel agencies will ask you at the beginning “which is your hotel“. If your hotel sells the tour to the Along Bay, you belong to it and the agencies will not sell you anything.

The beautiful photos of opulent meals and comfortable cabins will not be there. On board, everything has to be paid extra. You won’t even be able to take your bottle of water with you, you’ll have to pay for it on board. You will pay a supplement for the kayak tour “included” in the package? It is limited to 5m around the boat! If you move away from the area, you will be asked to pay more.
You will share a plate of fries between 6 people and don’t even think about asking for refill. 

Discovering the “real” Vietnam

 

Vietnam is beautiful, the Vietnamese… it depends

 
I rode across Vietnam on a motorcycle from Hanoi to Ho Chi Min. I went through many cities and villages, meeting the “real” Vietnamese, far from the tourist places, curious about their culture and traditions.

I superbly ignored the calamitous stories of other travelers, keeping in mind to make my own experience of Vietnam. I have to admit, alas, that many were right.

I also met curious students, warm, generous mothers, nice drivers! On my road there were adorable families, open, caring and respectful. But these experiences do not allow me to redress the balance

The culture is rich, the history exciting, the gastronomy tasty. But relationships are too often marked by venality and contempt. And that’s very damaging. 

I went through many scams and dangers: from corrupt police, to a crooked guide, a spectacular accident with a bus, a robbery attempt and threats. That’s a lot for one country. 

In Vietnam there is a lot to learn, a lot to see

But what else can we do but go through with it. I refused to slam the door and was stubborn. In the end, I saw some beautiful things.  

I visited the Ho Chi Min War Museum, not once but twice. I was seized by the courage of this people, their strength to resist Western domination, their combativeness. The bravery of the women and their resistance to hard work touched me deeply. 

I literally melted away at the finesse of their craftsmanship. The beauty of their lacquer, silk, carved objects. 

I loved their special coffee, the soups, the Bao, the Banh Mi “opla” (fried, with an egg)”. I enjoyed the Banh Xeo pancakes, the beautiful, immaculate Banh Bao filled with vegetables and meat on the side of the road.

It was beautiful, it was, well, it was good, I can say that without a shadow of a doubt

 
Sometimes on a trip, you have to be magnanimous and remember only the beautiful things. 

It would be unfair to leave without sharing the best of Vietnam. The city of Hue and its extraordinary palaces with golden gates enthroned in front of lakes planted with lotus.
Children laughing at crab hunting on the beaches, the cloud pass (Hai Van Pass).
Nim Binh, the bay of Along land, on board boats driven only by women, operating the oars with their feet. What silence! What beauty! It’s like entering the secret world of a tale.
The beauty of the women, haughty and proud, with this so particular gait that gives the impression that they glide along the ground like fairies. Clothed in the silky Ao Daï in tangy colours, they embody supreme elegance.

he Ho Chi Min War Museum is, in my opinion, one of the most touching museums dedicated to the war. The way this part of history is told to us, the simplicity with which we follow its thread, makes us come out stunned and furious, ready to commit ourselves to eradicate all forms of war on earth

The prodigious women’s museum too! The battles they fought, the discovery of traditions, their inalterable beauty, the incredible richness of their traditional dress.

The swarming streets of Hanoi, the crazy traffic, the quiet and cool mountains of Dalat.

The softness of Hoï An, which once is not customary, largely deserves its nickname of little Venice. Multicoloured lanterns on the bridges, kites, a young woman in a wedding dress walking on the beach.

In Laos there is no concrete beach with luxury hotes. If the traveller come to Laos, it’s because of the culture, the heritage or food, and above all because of its inhabitants.