How to experience Vietnam

in travelling •  4 months ago

First get there

o Getting to Asia is fairly easy and cheap these days. When I came over I came with some friends that got round trip tickets out of DC for about 550$ that flew them into Thailand. I ended up with a one way ticket for about 350$ out of JFK New York to Thailand. Bangkok seems to be the cheapest place in SEA (South East Asia) to fly into. I found it was 80$ cheaper to fly out of JFK than any airports in the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia) area. I was living in West Virginia before I started my journey. I caught a ride to DC/Annapolis MD with my brother and then took a bus for 11$ to NYC. To do this you just need to go to the main bus station in downtown DC and from there you can find many buses for really cheap that will take you to NY. I ended up looking on couchsurfing.com a few days before and found a free place to stay in Brooklyn the night before my flight.

o Once arriving to Thailand you will find you can fly almost anywhere in SEA for around 50-75$ with correct planning and flying on cheaper fly days which are normally Tuesdays. For flights I normally use Skyscanner, and Hopper. I feel Skyscanner has the best menu to search for flights. You can pick you departure and arrival and then you can look at a calendar to see what the cheapest days of the month are to fly. Sometimes it takes some changing and poking around plugging in different dates and looking at the taxes to find your best deal. Once you have something in mind then it is good to go onto Hopper because they are really good at setting alerts and letting you know when super good deals pop up. Obviously we don’t all have plans or know where we are going in a month or two but if you can do this a month in advance then you can really luck out when a good deal pops up. Sometimes on Tuesdays Hopper will sell tickets cheaper than on other days as well. I like to think about what might happen and set up a few alerts just in case. They don’t cost anything and there is no obligation just for using there site.

o We spent some time around Thailand and Cambodia and after a few weeks we flew into the north of Vietnam, which the cheapest place is Hanoi. Once you get to Vietnam there are many things that you can do. Hanoi is an amazing city, and I am not a city person. It is just that the city has a great mix of local and tourism all mixed in. There are the happiest people and the meanest all mixed in. Every weekend they shut down the main plaza area around ______ lake and they have a party. One nice thing is that Vietnam doesn’t seem to be a big alcohol community. Certainly not like Thailand where you have a 7/11 on ever block that is selling booze. We end up walking around for 20-30 minutes just trying to find alcohol in a store sometimes. There are bars and restaurants everywhere that sell alcohol but we normally keep some pocket vodka (Hanoi Vodka), which costs about 115,000 dong (4.50$ USD) for two liters in our back pack and then we just buy smoothies or juices and splice them up. This is much cheaper and we have found that most mix drinks don’t really have much alcohol in them. If you get lucky at the right place and right time you can find their local beer on the street in kegs for 5,000 dong (0.17$USD) a cup.

o Before leaving the city, go play with the children. There is something with the parenting structure in Vietnam that has lead to what I would say the most free spirited children I Have met in the world yet. They don’t seem to be restricted and they have lots of activities to explore the world and themselves. These weekend “festivals” are mainly enjoyed by the children from a few months to kids in their teens. The older ones are laying their own version of hacky sac, that uses a kicking item that looks like a badminton birdy with a bell on it. They are all very good at this and it is an equal ratio of women to men playing. The smaller children have little cars they can drive and if too young then they sit in them and their parents drive them around. I play the banjo and it is so amazing seeing the children and how their faces light up when they see or hear it. They are a very touchy culture from the kids to the oldest people we have met. The cannot resist to touch the banjo. This is one of the free spirited things I notice most. You don’t really hear their parents saying NO, so they seem to want to explore things of interest.

o To get out of the city you can take trains, public buses, private tours, or renting or buying motorbikes. We have done all of these. If taking trains or buses just go to the station. Don’t buy anything online, just go save money going straight to the source. We would have spent 27$USD buying three train tickets from the government train website, and when we went to the station we got all three for 11$. Most Vietnamese don’t speak as well of English as you will find in other parts of SEA. Yet for what we have found the people can always figure out where you need to go and people that work in transit speak better than most. To save hustle we have used the private tour buses because when you do use public transportation be aware that this is an income for many “scammers”. These are people that hang at around stations and ports and they make a living off of tourists that don’t really know what is going on. They will help you get where you need to but they will lie about many things and charge you 3-5 times what it would normally cost. Anyone that is coming up to you trying to help you is normally trying to upcharge you from what is going on right behind them. They will say the buses are not running or the boat is done for the day. They will say they can take you directly where you need to go and many times they just take you a few miles or meters and put you on a public bus that costs much less than what you paid. To skip the hustle you can take tours and to be honest they aren’t that over priced. I traveled from Hanoi to Cat Ba island and to do it locally cost about 7$(3.50 for train, 1.50 for ferry, 2$ for a bus, and I walked about 4 kilometers). When we left the island we paid 12$ and we were picked up right out front of our hostel and dropped of right where we wanted to go. I like the excursions and figuring things out but there is much relief into paying a few extra and taking the easy way when you feel like it. Once we got back to Hanoi, we knew it was time to get of the beaten path of the masses and get out in to the country. The best way to do this is to get motorbikes.

Then get a bike
o Motor biking Vietnam is a bucket list for many and there are many people that will tell you the most amazing journeys about there experience. It is a little overwhelming once you see some of the traffic in towns, and the bus drivers running other people off the road but this is life out here and you can take a back seat or grab those handlebars.

o How do I get a bike in Vietnam? What is the best way and what are the cheapest deals? You mainly have two options when it comes to biking, you can buy from a traveler that has bought one and leaving the country, or you can buy from a shop. Shops will be more expensive than backpackers, but should have had a good check up and had some things like tires replaced. The best cheapest way is to find backpackers that are leaving the country. Most backpackers have the dream of selling their bikes for more than they got them for. I mean how cool. Buy a bike, ride it for a month, then make a few dollars or pay for the fuel and oil changes along the way. They post their bikes on Craigslist and there are many groups on Facebook. I found Facebook is the best way there just search motorbike/Vietnam/Backpackers/Buy and Sell, and you will find many pages and groups you can join that open up the doors to trading. Find someone that is leaving town within a few days and they will have great deals. Most try to sell their bikes for 200-300$, yet if they fly out that day then they will sell for very cheap because the other option is to sell it back to the shops and the shops only pay about 115$ or 60% of what they would sell it for. The only problem is buying a bike from a person you only have their word to go on. They may have not had any problems like they say or their journey could have been a nightmare breaking down every day.

o If you want to buy a bike from a shop, you will find that the prices are about the same as the first asking prices of the backpackers. Like I said they buy them at about 60% of what the asking price is and they make that 40% selling it at that same asking price. They don’t really have to jack up the price that much. There are many bike shops in Hanoi. I could recommend my favorite if you email me yet I would say shop around. Things that we looked for are reviews online, we went and talked to a few and looked around. Some places don’t really have shops, they just kind of buy and sell them as they get them. Some have shops and live in mechanics. Some have a few bikes and others have many bikes.

o When buying a bike, what do I look for? Biggest thing right of the start is tires. Tires are the number one cost when buying all vehicles. If you buy from a backpacker, you will have to change them. This is fairly cheap, 15$ for front,18$ for a back tire, so don’t worry to much. If you buy from a store then make sure they change them for you if you see any cracks or too much wear and tear. Other things we noticed were fresh spray paint on the bike or the frame. This is normally to cover up rust and horrible welding jobs as some have both. Check the electrical, like lights and horn and don’t expect the speedometer or tachometer to work, they just don’t. My biggest advice as someone that doesn’t know much about bikes is find someone that you feel comfortable with, listen to them and take some of their advice. Then test drive a few bikes. More than anything I think you want to feel comfortable. Most people will have a few issues along the road and that is part of it, having the headspace of getting what you want will help when times get rough. Spend some time with them and have them show you the little fixes that you need to know like; how to tighten brakes, how to tighten or loosen throttle and adjust the engine in small ways.

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