Other Means of Getting Around|
If you pass huts/villages you will often be invited in for tea. Still bring water.
Children will most likely follow you wherever you go. This can be a joy (when they take your hand and show you around) or an annoyance (when they shout the same two American words at you for an hour or more at a time and when you ignore them, throw rocks at you). Like the occasionally oppressive tropical sun, you are not going to make them go away so you might as well make the best of them.
Buying a car: you can't. You can't rent a car to drive yourself in Vietnam and you don't want to. You may be an Indianapolis 500 race driver who doesn't mind playing chicken with trucks, buses, potholes and water buffalo, but you probably don't know how to bargain down a fine in Vietnamese and where to park the car at night in Danang so that it's still there in the morning.
A driver/guides costs about $5 per day. Is that a great deal or what? Make sure your guide speaks your language and that you think you can live with him day and night for the duration of your trip. I listened to two women in Saigon complaining that they hadn't met a single Vietnamese in their entire ride down from Hanoi. A little secret: your guide is Vietnamese. He's probably knowledgeable, friendly, and proud of his country. He's also probably quite lonely in the evenings in his guesthouse room. Share your social time with him - you'll see much more of the country and learn something along the way. I met the best guide in the world when I was in Saigon. He became my friend, my older brother, my protector. Unfortunately for you he is now living in California. There may be others like him out there.
Get several other travelers together and split the cost of the car and driver. Even for budget travelers this is a financially viable way to see Vietnam as long as you like the people traveling with you...
If you are driving from Saigon to Hanoi (or any other significant distance) expect to get shaken down ("fined") occasionally by the police. Let your driver do the bargaining and reimburse him. Make it clear that if the fines stay reasonable he'll see a difference in his tip.
Bargain down the car rate even if you're in an established tourist agency. Then sign a contract in English and take the original with you. If your driver asks for it, give him a photocopy.
Make sure the itinerary is in black and white before you leave.
Cars are a bear to park and extremely difficult to drive around the narrow streets of Hanoi and other cities. Do your driver a favor and take cyclos when you're in big city.
You need your passport and visa to book a domestic flight and to check in.
Domestic weight allowances are very strict. When I was returning to the US I was booked on an afternoon domestic flight, an overnight in Saigon, and the international flight the next day. Vietnam airlines insisted that I pay the overweight on my domestic flight (about $300) even though they had made the booking all the way through to the US. I eventually bargained them down to $8, but it took an hour.
You can charter a flight or a helicopter if you have money to burn.
Most cyclo drivers rent their cyclos for a couple of dollars a day from the owner and then team up with someone so that the vehicle is in use most of the time. If they have no place to live they sleep in the cyclos chairs at night.
Cyclos are a fantastic way to see a city or town. Leisurely, quiet, inexpensive. Rent a cyclo when you first arrive and take a few hours to cruise the streets. You won't regret it.
You should always carry a business card from your guesthouse with you when you go out. That way if you get lost you can hop into a cyclo, show him the card and let him take you home.
If possible, bring a map with you and be aware of where you're going. On the one hand this may save you some money - drivers often go the long way around so they can charge you more.
If it's late at night and you've just come out of a bar it may save your possessions - - cyclo drivers have been known to pedal you into a dark alley where you will be mugged by his accomplices. Also do not leave valuables (video camera, etc..) in a cyclo when you go inside. Wouldn't you be tempted if three year's income was staring you in the face? Cyclos are often driven by ex-south-Vietnamese army men who can find no other job and have no city residence permit (which means they get shaken down regularly by the police and usually have to live on the street). They barely scrape by on their cyclo income and leave a great deal of sweat on the pavement. Keep this in mind when you're bargaining them down that last 5 cents.
Cyclo drivers who have no interest in picking you up are probably undercover police.
You must establish the fare before going anywhere or you will be honor-bound to pay what the driver asks.
Have the correct amount in local currency with you. Drivers sometimes don't have change (or pretend they don't).
Hiring a cyclo by the hour is cheaper than hiring it by the trip.
If the idea of buying/renting just the cyclo and taking it out into the countryside appeals to you, forget it. Cyclo drivers have to have a license (for both themselves and their vehicles). You wouldn't get far before you were fined and the cyclo impounded (at considerable cost to its owner).
There are many iterations of the basic cyclo - some have small motors attached, some have three wheels and a cart behind, some are hooked up to a horse.
You can get into the countryside for a day without having to worry about overnighting, etc.
A full day on a little moped can be quite trying, especially given Vietnam's roads.
Be sure to negotiate the fare before you depart.
There are three options if you want to do it yourself:
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