People in Vietnam do not smile a lot. Outside the tourist belt of District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), English language is not readily understood by the locals. The famously notorious traffic is frightening to first time travellers to Vietnam. I had a few scares when motor-bikes and cars suddenly appeared out of nowhere when I was crossing the pedestrian crossings. One cannot depend on traffic rules to save your skins. The noisy traffic and dusts surround you when you are walking about. Weather for HCMC (formerly known as Saigon) is either hot, or hotter or, hot plus raining depending on the month you travel there. Be prepared to perspire buckets when you are out in the sun. It is hot and humid.
The following are some tips of survival when in Vietnam.
- Do not have expectations and want to have things your ways. Just go with the flow.
- Get a list of useful Vietnamese phrases/words. Words such as Hello, Thank You, tea, hot, cold, meat, no meat, seafood, rice, noodle, etc can help one to communicate with the locals. Some eating places have menus written in their language and not in English (with no pictures). The servers cannot speak a word of English.
- When crossing roads, follow behind a group. Group is easier to spot by cars and motor-bikes and they know what to do better than us. Watch out for vehicles left first and then right (cars are left-hand drive) and do not rush or run. Walk confidently (which is difficult) and the vehicles will try to avoid knocking you down.
- Travellers will perspire in the heat (32 degrees C), so get used to it. Drop into a café (and there are many along the way) for a respite from the heat. The usual such as using sun-block, eye shades and caps is necessary. Hydrate a lot.
- Vietnamese people are reserved lot. They usually avoid eye contacts with you. They can secretly watch you in a distance and then avoid eye contact when you are nearer. Keep peace with them by not being loud.
- Wear shoes that are rugged and that can protect your ankles. The pathways are not even. You have to walk in and out of the pavements and onto the roads.
- Get used to the dusts and vehicles exhaust. You cannot avoid this.
- Get addresses such as hotel location ready when you travel in taxis. It saves you explaining to the cab driver.
With this tips on survival, enjoy Ho Chi Minh City, a city rich in history, from colonial master (French) to American War, to communist/socialist way of lives.