Wednesday, July 29, 2009

lynn in love with vietnam: travel guide

Hello Darlings!

I hope you've enjoyed my trip to Vietnam as much as I did! It was such a rich 3 weeks. Not just a vacation, it was a dialogue with my parent's childhood, a living tour of the Vietnamese history. My parents planned such a great trip, with varying landscapes and people. I was able to experience it all with my parent's careful commentary. Definitely a once in a lifetime trip.

Many of you have asked for advice on how to travel to Vietnam. I wanted to offer some useful tips, as I didn't have much going into my trip. That being said, I want you to know that I did NOT backpack through Vietnam. In fact I do believed that I traveled quite in style/luxury. Also my trip involved cities in the central/southern/city parts of Vietnam. I have no experience with the Northern cities or rural areas except in passing by in the van. I hope to hit these spots my next visit.

1. Our plane trip from Dallas to Saigon, took a total of 24 hours, with 19 hours total flight time. 13 hours to Tokyo and then 6 hours to Saigon.
Daddy and Thaden awaiting to board the plane

2. We took two plane flights within Vietnam. We used Vietnam Airlines which was actually a great experience. Their planes are newly renovated and comfortable.
3. We used a private tour group for most of our travels. This is a great idea. In each city, we had at our disposal an AC'ed 11-seat van complete with a driver and tour guide. When we went out on excursions, they picked us up and helped advise us on the best sites to see. This was only for our family. Seriously, if you do not know the language, this was an expense that was worth it.

yay for AC'ed van. It's SPECIAL!

4. We also took this van to travel from Nha Trang to Dalat (6 hours) and then Dalat to Saigon (8 hours). If you want to see the beautiful countryside, then I would recommend this. You'll totally miss the scenery on the plane. You will see all the poor and rich countryside with its many varying flora and fruits. Really beautiful.

5. If you do NOT want to be constantly jostled by the potholes and unpaved road (causing your 3 yr old nephew to throw up all over you) or be gripping your armrest with fear from the crazy driving or use the crowded loo in nasty ceramic holes in the ground, then traveling by car may not be for you.
6. Within the cities, taxis are plentiful and are a comfortable way to travel. And if you have the chutzpah to ride with the other speed demons on the road, then try a motorbike/moped.

1. I cannot express this hard enough. Be mindful of when you will be traveling to Vietnam. I went in July. The HOTTEST time of the year. In Saigon and especially in Hoi An, this was practically unbearable. Remember, I'm saying this as a Texan, who is currently living in 100 F weather in Dallas. This is not the same. THERE WILL BE NO AIR CONDITIONING TO ESCAPE TO in Vietnam. Except for your hotel room. But who wants to spend their entire trip in a hotel room? Saigon is, at least, in the city and there is some shade from all the buildings. In Hoi An, the air was not only hot, but VERY humid. Suffocating humidity. More humid than Houston. Believe it. None of the shops will have air conditioning. None of the restaurants. If you are lucky, you will have a poorly functioning fan. If this does not sound attractive, go another time if the year. It might be more rainy, but you will not die of heat stroke. We survived by the two small battery-operated fans I bought and lots of hydration.

Coleman fan - I think I love you, for shiz. Purchased at Academy for like a buck-fifty.

2. Nha Trang was more mild. Still hot, but with a breeze. Love it.
3 Dalat is in the highlands and will be cool and maybe even a little cold. Pack a light jacket and warmer clothes if visiting.

1. Honestly peeps, wear what makes you comfortable. It is clear that most (but not all) of the native Vietnamese adhere to some sort of modesty code. But to be honest, if you act like a tourist, they will not pay attention to what you wear. I hate to say it, but wearing thin, small amounts of clothes is the way to go in Saigon and Hoi An. I wore mostly thin cotton tank tops, shorts, and floaty skirts. Days that I tried to wear any more than this (capri pants) were more unbearable. You will sweat. Alot. You will be sticky. VERY.

tanks, skirts, and shorts. Yes, I am sporting a fanny pack...don't judge.
2. Shoes - again, wear what's most comfortable. You will be walking alot. Most days, I wore comfortable flip flops -(reefs, walking co, and the sandals I got from Anthro). For more arduous walking days (like in Bana and in Dalat), I wore pull-on tennies. I wore my flimsy pair of flip flops from American Eagle one day, and my feet were a mess at the end of night.
taken by TJ. He, too, has a developed a love of taking pictures of feet.
3. Hats - please invest in a few. Protect your face. If possible, get a couple with a wide brim to gain some additional shoulder protection. And DON'T forget your sunscreen and your OFF.
Enjoying some cooling desserts with my mama.

1. What can I say about this. Maybe a few of you more weathered travellers wouldn't bat an eyelash, but I have to say that Vietnam was definitely not the most clean of places. I would be prepared to deal with this if you come here. Our hotels, which were very up kept, were an exception.
2. Food - Sorry Minh, we couldn't bear to eat many of the street foods. They certainly looked good, but at this time of the year when it's this hot, and the food has been sitting in the sun all day and there are flies everywhere, it was hard to stomach. I do have a sensitive digestive system to think about. In "open-air" restaurants, it was the same. Try not to to pay attention to how they handle the food as you may not have an appetite later. Bring immodium. While I fortunately did not suffer from diarrhea, several peeps in my group did.
raw fish drying in the sun.

3. Bathrooms - yikes. To be frank, I have peed in one too many holes in this trip. Be prepared. Understand that a toilet is a LUXURY in Vietnam. Don't expect there to have any toilet paper available. Always bring your own! On your excursions and on the road, there will definitely be places to stop to use the loo, but understand that these places will be crowded, stinky, WET. When you walk into the stalls, you are faced with a ceramic hole in the ground. Be well versed in the low "Asian Squat" when using these, or you will face the consequences. Always have enough toilet paper for your personal use, to touch doorknobs, and to dry up after washing your hands. There will be none out for your use. My mom was smart and also packed up a ton of Wet Naps for general usage and I had plenty of germicide.
A very clean version at the ceramic hole at the airport.


1. In general, I do have to say that I felt safe. Of course, this was in the premise of always being with my parents as well as a tour guide for the most part.
2. However, this place is C-R-O-W-D-E-D. Within all the cities, and especially in the market place. Be wary of your surroundings and your stuff. There are pickpockets, evidenced by all the beggar children "bumping" into you. I didn't bring any valuables on this trip, and all my money and ID were kept in my travel belt under my clothes. The only things I had in my bags were my cameras and sun supplies.

3. Also keep in mind, that people don't have the same concept of personal space as accustomed to. I have a story where I was alone in the ocean once and was accosted by 20 guys. I was mortified, but they didn't realize that this is NOT normal in America. Stranger men will touch your children... with endearment of course, but know that this will happen.
4. The streets are CRAZY. Seriously, no rhyme or reason, cars will drive on the wrong side of the road, there are few traffic lights. There are NO lanes. It is every man for himself. I was completely fearing for my life at all times. When crossing the streets, move decisively and slowly. While they will still be coming at you, they usually will try to avoid hitting you.
crazy motorbikes


1. So much to tell really guys, but you'll just have to go and experience it for yourselves. A few more words of advice.

2. Always bargain. There is sooo much to purchase here, and you can always bring the price down. If they think you're a tourist, they will quote you a price that is triple that of a Vietnamese speaking traveller. Be smart with your spending to not get ripped off on all the faux designer stuff.

3. On the other hand, don't haggle over cents. 1 US dollar = 18,000 Vietnamese dom. Don't bargain about 18,000 dom vs 20,000 dom. These people are very poor and their small businesses are their livelihoods. Most of them do not make more than $50 dollars a month. That 20 cents may not mean much to you, but it could to them.
Saigon street market - faux designer heaven
Alrighty, so much more to say, but this post is already too long. If you have any other questions about travels to Vietnam, let me know and drop in a comment!

Much love, Lynn~


  1. is there a place to sign up to join you on your next trip? :) great info!

  2. Court, going to VN with you would be a blast! We can hit Vietnam and India together!

  3. Fun read....

    Nora Roberts' Vision in White

    More Serious...

    Nicholas Sparks' The Lucky One

    I've read both of them this summer and loved them both!

  4. The ceramic hole is something else doc!

  5. Very interesting read Lynn (can you tell I'm going back through my google reader and catching up? :) ) Wish my husband was more adventurous so I could experience some of this!