First Impression of Vietnam


VISA on Arrival for Canadians
Because we are on the road and we didn’t feel like going to immigration ahead of time, we looked online to apply for a Visa for Vietnam.  Lucky for us, it’s super easy to do so as a Canadian. 
We simply went to the Vietnam Government website, filled out a form, picked which visa time we wanted, paid $25usd each and hit send. 
Two days later we received an email with an approval letter that we needed to print and bring with us to Vietnam. 
At the Vietnam airport, there is a big booth labeled “Visa on Arrival”.  We went up, handed in our passports with the letter, passport photos and walk around to the other side.  You wait for your picture to come up and you walk up and pay.  We applied for a 3 month single entry Visa so we had to pay another $45usd each on arrival for our stamp.
Then we go through immigration and we are free for 3 months in Vietnam for $70usd each. 
This is accurate as of November 8th, 2014 – Visa rules change all the time but this is how we did it. 


In Vietnam, they use Dongs.  Yes you read that right, Dongs (VND).  No that isn’t a “damn you autocorrect” moment… dongs.  I may be childish for saying this but I am excited to spend the next 3 months paying for everything in genitalia.  Mass numbers of genitalia! 18 000 dongs = $1cad.  This puts our daily budget around 1 million dongs per day.  I’ve never held so many dongs in my hands at once.  My blog my take a drastic shift to immature penis jokes for the next few months… this is kind of like an apology up front but more of a “sorrynotsorry” approach.  Apparently you need to be careful counting your zeros when paying or you may get ripped off.

Haggling over prices is part of the lifestyle here in Vietnam.  If there isn’t a price tag directly on it, then there is always room to negotiate.  Some things are so cheap here, you may not see the need to haggle over a price.  However, it is important that as a tourist you never accept the first price. Even if it’s to argue of a few cents.  Why?  Because it’s good for the economy and the locals.  Wages in Vietnam are very low.  So if a local buys a Tshirt normally for $1 but a tourist comes and buys the same shirt for $3 without haggling, then the merchant is going to raise the price for the local too.  Price inflation is a natural part of life but if tourist demand is high, it will make it more difficult for locals to afford new clothes.  Even if the tourist haggles the price down to $2 it’s a good thing because it keeps the merchant somewhat honest.  You will obviously never get the same price that locals pay but if you don’t haggle over the price a little bit, then you will in turn make things too expensive for locals to buy.
This is information given to me by a local who told us that his brother and him had to move out of Ho Chi Mihn because prices inflated but their wages did not.  It may seem ridiculous to haggle over cents but it does make a huge difference to other locals that may need the same or similar product. 
Also, if you just pay the first price, they will continue to push boundaries.  It will just continue to drive prices up.  Think of the big picture before you just agree to a price. 
The next important point I want to make.  It is important to have an amount you want to spend. Appear happy and relaxed.  Your smile and sense of humor can be everything when it comes to buying something.  Don’t be afraid of cutting their margins, they won’t sell you something at a loss and they are probably way better at this than you are. 
You may want to ask a local how much something costs before you go to buy it so you can counter back at a reasonable price and not drastically overpay in the process.  The front desk at your hotel is good at giving you standard prices for items. 
Last thing, have fun and be happy with the price you pay.  Never ask the next store “how much?” for the same item or you may be disappointed.   
Haggling is part of the culture, be a part of it and enjoy it. 


We are staying in the Old Quarter of Hanoi which is loaded with tourists.  We found a nice hotel for roughly 300 000 dong ($16cad) per night and it includes breakfast.  The driving in Vietnam is crazy.  When its all motorbikes in the street you just have to walk.  Nobody will stop but they will go around you.  Think of yourself as a rock in the river and the bikes flow around you.  Be careful walking in front of cars or busses, they can’t maneuver nearly as well and I’ve already seen one tourist get hit (roughly 3 days into my time in VN)
So far Vietnam is nothing like any other country I’ve visited.  Thailand the traffic was crazy but everyone was courteous and would yield if you pull out.  In VN, the biggest vehicle has the right of way.  They will pull out while bikes wait for a gap of more bikes to hop in to the flow.  Nobody stops if they don’t have to. 
The Old Quarter is great to walk around.  I imagine things are more expensive here and in Ho Chi Mihn than other places.  I guess we’ll find out.  I don’t know what it is about this experience right now but I am loving it.
Beers here are the cheapest we’ve seen on the trip so far.  Most beers are between 15k-20k dongs.  Bars seemingly pop up at night with kids sized stools and tables.  Some have kegs advertising “Bia Hoi” which translates to “fresh beer” for 5k dong per glass.  It’s smaller than a bottle and tastes like a hangover but when I have have 3 beers for under $1 then I’m happy.   


Hanoi Hilton
Hoa Lo is a prison built by the French in late 1800s is a very eerie place to visit in Hanoi.  It was quite modern and very well put together for it’s time.  For a small payment of 20 000 dongs we head into the prison.  There is a fair amount of information in English (though some of it is poorly translated) and it has quite the history behind it.  Only thing it’s really missing is an  Audio Tour and it would be just like Alcatraz.  You get to walk through the prison and see all of the information… They even have a Guillotine that was used to execute prisoners.  I’ve always wanted to stand face to face with one and I can honestly say, it has a very intimidating presence. They still have some of the cells for viewing and even have some write-ups on people who stayed in them and what happened to them.  There are also cut outs of real man holes that prisoners managed to escape through.  Then they have 2 rooms dedicated to the Americans that were captured here.  This is where the nickname “Hanoi Hilton” comes in.  It was called that by American POWs.  However, looking at the pictures of them playing basketball and volleyball in the courtyard, I’m not sure it was such an unpleasant experience.  This also may just be Vietnamese propaganda to make us believe that they were treated well.  Especially because in all of the other rooms, they show all the weapons used to torture the political prisoners.  However, one former POW came back and was the first American Ambassador on Vietnam soil… So much information to take in.  They even have John McCain’s (You may remember him as “the other guy” in the 2008 Presidential election that Obama won) flight suit as he was a POW here. Such an eerie feeling as you know people were tortured and murdered in this building.  If you’re in Hanoi, it is a must see.   


The Vietnamese people eat pretty much anything they can kill.  I haven’t ventured out and tried anything crazy.  We stick mostly to Pho Ga (chicken noodle soup) and fresh spring rolls.  They seemingly put pork in everything which sucks for Kristi because she doesn’t eat pork or beef (because she’s picky).  The menus are pretty standard with pork, beef and chicken.  However, if you search through menus you can frequently find dog, cat and horse.  We will not intentionally eat any of these animals due to our upbringing but we are also not here to judge anyone on their food preferences.  Dogs here are not treated the same as dogs back home.  They don’t build that “best friends” relationship that we do.  A dog is either to protect your property or to eat.  That’s how they view it and it probably won’t change any time soon.  Eating dog is no different than killing and eating beef here.  There is one dish that I do want to try here and I won’t reveal it just yet… I’m hoping that it is a full blog experience.


Meeting Old Friends
I received a Facebook message from an old customer of mine that I kept in touch with.  He and his wife happened to be flying to Hanoi on the exact same day as us but only had that night.  Needless to say, we had to meet for drinks.  We joked about meeting up 5 months ago when I left but neither of us thought it would happen.  Turns out it was meant to be.  We met up, had a couple drinks and shared some stories.  I love traveling and meeting new people but there really is no better feeling than meeting up with a familiar face on the other side of the world.  Considering  they had 24 hours worth of flights and layovers, it meant a lot that they came out and had a couple drinks with us. 


Vietnam has already captured a special place in our hearts.  There appears to be a certain charm to the Vietnamese people.  Maybe it’s the fast talking or the poor translations on signs.  It might be that everywhere I go, I am “The numba one customer”.  Everyone in Vietnam is seemingly striving to be #1.  The crazy traffic, the street stands and pop up bars with child sized tables and chairs.  The surprise and excitement they show when you say “Cam on” (thank you) in Vietnamese.  As of this very moment, I am very excited to have 3 months here in Vietnam.   

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