Bargain– almost all prices are negotiable: buses, hostels, food, clothes. None of the price is stable and if it is tourist to ask for one, you can be almost sure that it’s higher than it should be. Much higher. The easiest way is to decide from the very beginning how much money you are ready to pay for the service or product and repeat it as long as the seller agree.
Sometimes it means that you have to firstly leave the shop, hostel or bus, but you can be quite sure that within one minute seller will catch you and accept the price. Of course, while deciding about price your are ready to pay, it’s needed to have some base, so don’t forget to check the prices of bus tickets before or compare offers of few hostels. This negotiation thing can be a little bit irritating, but you can try to treat it as a game, sometimes even funny one. When the price is decided (don’t enter the bus before!), it is worth to check your change (often it’s slightly different than what you dealt) and calmly ask for the rest of money. Don’t believe in paying additionally for baggage or special prices for foreigners. None of those things is officially true, it’s just driver trying to gain something more. If the driver insists, you can just wait for the next bus, it should arrive in few minutes.
Use body language – forget about English. Gestures, mimics, intonation is the only way of communication. While negotiating prices it’s good to have some paper to write numbers down. If somebody shows you three fingers it can mean 3 thousand dongs (about 12 cents), 30 thousand (about 1,2 euro) or even 300 thousand (about 12 euro). If somebody approach you in Vietnamese asking if you want taxi or hotel or whatever, and you are not really willing to speak with that person, you can start to speak quickly and loudly in your own language, usually it helps to finish conversation sooner than if you try to explain anything in English.
Have always camera with you – everything here is amazingly beautiful. Especially land way from Hanoi to Saigon is full of breathtaking views. Also in the middle of the city don’t resign from camera, in each corner, when you look around, you will notice many great pictures of Vietnamese during their daily life.
If you want to cross the street: just go – don’t wait for green light, beside really big crossroads nobody really cares about them. Don’t wait for break in traffic, it will never happen. Just start to go. Let motorbikes omit you, don’t expect them to stop. If you have doubts, just wait for some Vietnamese crossing the street and follow her/him.
Eat in local bars – avoid big, touristic restaurants, rather find small, local bars, often a part of somebody’s house. They have delicious and very cheap food. I especially recommend places in which you get rice with 4-5 different dishes, chosen among 15 options. For this huge portion you pay more or less 1 euro.
If you travel long distance: be patient – schedule is not something people really care about, buses always arrive later than they suppose to. So don’t hurry up. There is no point. For sure the way is beautiful and there is a lot of place and people to observe. Enjoy.
PS. If somebody takes your bread and cheese, which you just wanted to eat, as some passengers of our bus have just done… ekhm… I don’t know what you should do. But nobody around was surprise so I assume it’s quite normal.
PS2.When we went out of the bus, we were attacked by the group of taxi drivers. After repeating 10 times “we don’t want taxi”, guys understood, set down, peeled the fruits and shared them with us. Avoiding additional portion was impossible, which created true challenge as the fruit itself was maybe good but the mixture of chili, salt and paper on it made it basically uneatable… So maybe the idea of sharing food is really common here, but for now it has rather bad consequences for us.