Alex James - 8 mistakes I made in Vietnam

Now that I’m back from my placement, I can see pretty clearly what I did wrong. And I did a lot wrong. Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes!

1. Not enough research

It’s a good idea to find out the social norms of the country and stick to ‘em.  This includes learning how to dress, how to eat and how to speak. The last thing you want to do is create an international incident. I wish I had learned how to say the Vietnamese numbers and the currency exhange rate before I left. It would have made life much easier.

2. Packing too much

Like my mum always said, “No matter where you go or how long you go for, you only need to pack 2 weeks worth.” Luckily, I followed her advice. I found this to be absolutely true. While my co-volunteers were lugging around giant, unwieldy suitcases, I had my very portable backpack that I could just throw on and go. I never needed anything more.

3. Not having a map

It’s a bad idea to rely on cabbies and bus drivers to direct you. I started to use a map to find out exactly where I was going and exactly how to get there. Yeah, it looks tourist-y but it’ll save a tonne of time, hassle and confusion

4. Not copying important documents

Having a hard copy of passport, IDs, travel insurance policy, flight itinerary etc. could be a life-saver. A friend lost her passport and was stuck in the country with an expired visa. Not a great situation. Keep them somewhere safe and store copies in your email inbox in case you need to them printed.

5. Carrying all your money

I learnt this the hard way. Luckily my placement buddy was kind enough to lend me some money after every cent of mine was stolen. Having all your eggs in one basket can end disastrously. Only carry what you need and keep the rest somewhere safe.

6. Listen to the locals

They know what’s up. Heeding their advice could save you from getting ripped off or robbed. They’ll also point you in the direction of a nice restaurant and awesome things to do and see.

7. Go with the flow

Be patient. Be understanding. Losing your temper, in any country, never helps anything. It can be very annoying being harrassed by shopkeepers and xe om drivers but it’s important to understand that just because it doesn’t happen at home doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

8. The Cash Flash

Like it or not, westerners are targets for thieves. How can you combat this? By not having anything worth stealing. If you don’t know what you would do if you lost the necklace your grandmother gave you, or the diamond-encrusted Rolex you got when you graduated, don’t wear it. Don’t even pack it. Plus, haggling will be much easier if you’re not sporting that gold bracelet.

Quick facts
Capital: Hanoi
Government: Republic
Language: Vietnamese
Population: 88.1 million
Religions: Buddhism
Timezone: GMT +7
Climate: climate, with humidity averaging 84 % throughout the year
Currency: đồng
"Discovering Vietnam and how radically different it is from England (I really did fall in love with it) has also made me want to travel more and explore the world and all it has to offer. I would never have been this adventurous had I not been on this placement; it’s really opened my eyes to the world."

Marianne, English teacher