One of my goals on The Atlas Heart is to break down travel misconceptions or judgments about places and ideas. Perhaps it could be that destination that everyone warns you not to visit because of how dangerous it is, or maybe you yourself had preconceived notions that were proven wrong once you arrived to where you were going.
My aim is to present a variety of different opinions and experiences through the eyes of other travelers. It’s important to hear travel stories from all different perspectives in life, I call it seeing the world through a kaleidoscope lens.
So, I’m starting my first ever guest posting series about these travel misconceptions we find throughout our lives and epic journeys. I’ve asked a few writers to talk about their own misconceptions and perhaps how they were proven wrong in their travels.
Without further ado, I’m happy to introduce the next guest poster on this blog – Joaquim from The Alternative Ways, who is discussing his time in Vietnam and the misconceptions he had about the country before he saw it for himself.
Take it away Joaquim!
Whether we like it or not, we all have predisposed ideas of the places we want to visit.
We’ve all heard Bali is cheap and beautiful, Thailand is the party place, and France is the perfect romantic getaway. And while often times these generalizations have some truth in them, there are always parts of your perspective that change after actually visiting the country.
I came across some pretty major travel misconceptions as I traveled through Vietnam, some of which were positive and others which unfortunately were not. I want to share some of these with you, as it might help you choose your next travel destination more wisely.
Regardless of these travel misconceptions, all of you who love to travel and eat should make a trip to Vietnam at least once!
5 Major Travel Misconceptions Regarding Vietnam
After traveling all around the country for three months, there are 5 major travel misconceptions regarding Vietnam that everyone should be aware of.
The country is unsafe
This is one of the safest places to travel in the world. The worst that could happen is that you get asked for a few dollars more than the locals. Regardless of your sex, age, or views you will be safe as you travel around Vietnam.
Even if you are traveling alone you will feel safe. The only thing to watch out for is the use of drugs, as that is still very enforced and could put you in trouble with the Vietnamese law. As long as you refrain from using any drugs, you will be fine.
If you plan on motorbiking across the country, I’d recommend reading a few guides to motorcycling in Vietnam because the unwritten rules are different than what you might be used to.
The main rule of thumb is that the larger the vehicle, the more rights it has on the road. As a motorbiker you come last, so don’t expect cars or trucks to ever stop for you. The chaos on the roads may seem unsafe, but once you get the hang of it it’s pretty awesome.
Access to WiFi is difficult to get
This could not be further from the truth!
You can find WiFi everywhere, and it’s faster than what I had in Canada. If your phone allows it, I would recommend getting a prepaid sim card with 5-8GB of data.
It will cost you $6 USD for 1 month of virtually unlimited data. This helped me translate sentences in northern Vietnam and negotiate room prices in most cities, saving me more than it cost in the long run.
The people are indeed very nice, but not always to animals
As I traveled through northern Vietnam, never in my life have I seen such mistreatment of animals. If you stick to the very beaten path, you will likely not see this lack of compassion for life, which explains why we don’t hear about it very often.
Yet as soon as you go out of the regular tourist zones, even within large northern cities like Hanoi, there are some negative animal encounters you can expect to see.
Rooster fights are a regular occurrence in local parks across northern Vietnam. Half slaughtered pigs that are bled to death without being put to sleep ahead of time. Exotic birds that are locked up in small cages so humans can hear their bird song in the morning.
There are dogs that are piled up in cages to be eaten or used as guards. Chickens that are kept alive in a bag for days after being purchased to stay fresh for the special family dinner.
Even as I write this, I hear the cries of a dog that hasn’t been taken out of its cage since I arrived to the homestay a few days ago. I even spoke with the owners about it and they brushed me off, so I will be leaving tomorrow.
Everyone told me how nice the Vietnamese are, and while this is 100% true for humans, it’s not quite true for animals in some parts of Vietnam.
Their blatant disregard for the value of non-human life and nature became more apparent as I became closer to the culture. This was the most surprising and sad truth I came across while traveling in Vietnam.
Sapa is the gem of the North
What Sapa was 10 years ago when it was still authentic and beautiful, Ha Giang is today. If you have to make a choice between Sapa and Ha Giang, please do yourself a favor and go to Ha Giang.
During your entire trip you will hear people talk about Sapa, but what they are really saying is how beautiful the landscapes is. They leave out the incessant nagging for money and the absurd high cost of living.
By going to Ha Giang Province, you get to experience the more authentic side of northern Vietnam, which is 1000 times more beautiful and memorable than a 3 day trek in Sapa.
The north has indeed the most beautiful landscapes, but avoid Sapa if you can and instead go to pretty much any other city in the north. Rent a motorbike for 2-3 days and just drive around. You will be amazed.
The country is small
When I was planning my trip, I decided to fly to Ho Chi Minh (to save $50 on the ticket price), thinking I would motorbike all the way up to Hanoi in the first week. What a mistake!
Although the country looks small on a world map, the 1,500 km that you cross at maximum 50km per hour is the true representation of this country’s size.
If you expect to visit all of Vietnam’s heavenly locations in two weeks, don’t plan on staying in places for more than two days, and expect to spend your nights on a sleeper bus!
If I had to travel across the country in 2-3 weeks, here is how I would allocate my time.
- 3-4 days in the north (Ha Giang Province)
- 2-3 days in Hanoi – amazing food to try everywhere. You can go see Ninh Binh during one of these days if you won’t be going north.
- 1-2 days Cat Ba – Halong Bay tour for an affordable price. Make sure not to miss the fluorescent plankton in Cat Ba Beach at night.
- 1-2 days Phong Nha Ke Bang – Awesome caves and beautiful land formations.
- 1-2 days Hue – Former capital city (skippable if only on a 2 week trip).
- 1-3 days Hoi An – Make sure not to miss An Bang Beach on one of these days and nights.
- 1-3 days Da Lat – Beautiful French architecture and a very different vibe than the rest of the country.
- 1-2 days Mui Ne – Sand dunes and the beach!
- 2-3 days Saigon – Check out the river deltas and try some great food.
Now it’s your turn
Each person takes on a different perspective after traveling through a new country. While these are my travel impressions and learnings, I invite you to build your own after traveling through Vietnam.
In this safe country offering world-renowned cuisine and jaw-dropping landscapes, you are certain to find your own slice of heaven. If you’ve already visited Vietnam, I would love to hear about it in the comments below!
Joaquim Miro blogs over at The Alternative Ways to inspire people to take advantage of the amazing opportunities that exist in this world, and the alternative ways to travel, think, and live your life. You can also find him on Twitter and Facebook!
Interested in being a part of the travel misconceptions series? Contact me with an idea for your story, I’d love to have you on board!
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