Now that I have officially crossed the boarder from Laos to Vietnam I feel it is important to share my knowledge of in country survival with others.
- Carry cash: Don’t expect anyone to have a card reader, they are seen as unreliable and expensive to maintain for the seller. So either have a bank card you can pull money out via ATM or just cash.
- Always carry wipes with you: If you aren’t completely acclimated to all of the ways of a third-world country don’t be shy…most of us aren’t. When wanting to use the toilet two tips to help you survive, have baby wipes and hand sanitizer! Especially if you are traveling anywhere away from a city these two items are imperative. You can’t flush the baby wipe but they have a trash for you to dispose of your items discretely afterwards and when you are finished you will see a sink but no soap…easier to just bring your own.
- Consider your options: Before coming on this trip I was ALL about using public transportation. Now I have to say having a private driver was well worth the money! We were able to take private tours with him, A/C (that’s a big one) and more room to spread out. When I first started planning this trip I had fully intented on taking advantage of the bus system but I am so thankful I didn’t. It is even better when you can split the cost while traveling in a group.
- Make a deal: Now along the lines of transportation there are two tips for you here 1) if you are taking a taxi or “tuk-tuk” be sure you agree upon a price before getting into the vehicle. If you do not the driver is legally able to charge whatever he likes and this is a very common way for people to get swindled. 2) If you decide on a private driver also make an agreement, this is something I learned the hard way, set a price for gas as well as services rendered and get it in writing. Or else you might find yourself at the Lao Bao Boarder arguing with your driver about cost and exchange rates.
- Knowledge is key!: The best way to not get taken advantage of is to know the facts. Exchange rate mostly. A lot of locals are trying to make an extra buck and they see tourists as prime targets to do so, if you know how much something is or what the exchange rate of the currency is – it is less likely that you will find yourself in the losing end of a game.
- Haggle: If you have traveled to almost anywhere outside of the United States you know what a valuable asset it is to haggle or barter! =There were few places I couldn’t barter with people, mostly restaurants, but other than that you can always try to barter and most places you will succeed too!
- Family travel: Okay parents! If you are traveling with children (great choice if you did!) there are a few things you need to keep in mind. People in this country are very friendly and obsessed with babies. Whether you are pushing, pulling or carrying them, the locals will want to get a smile out of them by nearly any means. Don’t jerk away – just smile and keep walking…they get the idea quickly but children bring such joy to them that they want to just be in their faces.
- Bring comfortable slippers: This is another two piece of advice note – 1) bring shower shoes! Nice, easy and cheap flip flops will do the trick. Bathrooms tend to all share the same drain and you don’t want to be soaking your feet in THAT kind of water. 2) Many of the locations that I am sure you want to visit are all sacred, be prepared to take off your shoes a lot! It is way easier to just have flip flops or slippers – life is so much easier when you can slip on and off your shoes when you have a tour group of 40 other Asians pushing behind you.
- Eat a lot of local food: But beware…I would steer clear of dishes made with beef. It isn’t going to be like the beef you have at home so if you order it be ready for some disappointments. Pork, duck and chicken are tasty alternatives.
- Have Fun!