First of all let’s get something sorted – I’m a millionaire, not everyone knows that. But I am, in fact if I go to my bank balance right now I have tens of millions in there. I’m not going to disclose how much, but It is an amount which would make most people’s eyes water. Of course, each million may only be about 40GBP but in Vietnam I’m a millionaire 🙂
In fact we ate out a few hours ago and it cost a cool 300k, which of course take a little getting used to, I mean it’s not often you have 2 million of anything in 500k notes in your wallet!
I have had someone specifically email me and ask about Vietnam, particularly with kids, so I’ll try and explain the best I can. But bear in mind we are slightly out of Hanoi in the Old Quarter, which pretty much is where it’s all happening.
Small bottle of water – 4000 Dong or 14 pence
Beer – 10,000 Dong or 35 pence
Meal for 3 at budget restaurant with drinks/beer – 80,000 dong or 2.80 GBP
Meal for 3 at posh restaurant with far too much beer – 300,000 dong or 10.50 GBP
15 min taxi ride – 15,000 dong or 50p
I’ll start with money; first of all I was fully aware that it’s near impossible to get Vietnamese Dong outside of Vietnam since its illegal for the currency to leave the country. But I knew that in Vietnam the Dollar is king.
However, many foreigners turn up here with a huge wad of dollars and have no problems, but you almost invariably pay more in dollars than you would in VND. A good guide is that for each $1 a shop will accept it as approx 12,000 dong, the exchange would give you 18,000 dong. So obviously whilst the dollar is very handy for when you first tip up, get some local currency, I just used the ATM and be prepared for the 20k sting for the privilege.
It’s tough to think where to start, but before I get onto my first day I’ll try and set the scene, first of all be prepared for a shock. Hanoi is nothing like I expected and everything that I couldn’t have began to envisage. It is simple, you will either love Hanoi or you will hate it. There is no in between. I can completely see why so many people will be begging for the date of their flight outbound to come. It is full on, pavements are pretty nonexistent and as such you have to try and struggle on the road where millions of motorbikes and scooters are all trying to do the same thing. The heat is brutal, fair enough I’m here in the hottest month of the year but it knows no bounds, it is very hot and saps every bit of your energy whilst making you sweat like crazy. It’s far too hot to wear a vest – you would be Lobsters on South Beach in no time, yet wearing even the thinnest cotton shirt leaves you drenched in sweat, you can actually feel it dripping off your face and body.
On top of that you have the constant hassle of tuck tuck drivers and people selling things, they are a nightmare, walk a hundred metres and you will have no less than 50 and I’m not exaggerating people all pestering you. It is a constant battle. Twice today I have confronted someone for grabbing my daughters arm. This is no joke, both times I had hold of her hand and felt a tug, a guy had hold of her arm, the first let go once I told him to, the second was trying to beckon her to him, I had to physically grab his hand and tell him to let go, when he still persisted the tone changed slightly and he let go.
Another huge problem is the shops. In China 99% of shops would charged what the local price was, not here. No, there are 3 different prices. The first price is the ridiculous price, the one which just makes me depressed that someone would actually think I am so thick to believe that is the price. The second price is the price that I put forward – Which is instantly laughed at. The third price is the price I put forward as I walk away. I’m sure you can see what I mean. For instance, earlier Charlie wanted a fan, so I waited to be hounded by someone selling a fan and asked how much – She told me 80,000 Dong, now that is ridiculous, never in a million years is a fan 80k. So I said no chance and she asked how much id pay for it, I said 20k, she said no 50k, so I said no 20k and she said no 30k, so I said no and started to walk away. Then she said 25k so I agreed. As it happens I gave her 26k since I only had 2k notes and was hardly going to wait for 3 pence change.
Buying water is a huge mission, I don’t mind paying slightly over the odds for something, but everything I buy is a haggle, which I don’t mind, but it would be nice to just be able to go and buy a bottle of water without a problem.
But let me explain, first of all I know full well that when someone tells me 10k for a small bottle of water is marked up over 100% but 10k is still only 30 pence, many people will no doubt just pay it and be happy they got a bottle of water much cheaper than in the UK, most would not bother to haggle over the 5k or 15 pence. That is fine, but I like to pay the local price and to get the best deal I can. Not because I’m tight but because why should I pay more? Why should I willingly be ripped off?
Now, Lonely Planet assures me that not everyone is out to rip you off. Again LP falls short of the standard they claim to adhere to. I have yet to go into a shop and not be tried to be ripped off, to not be overcharged. The only time I have paid without haggling was when Abi got her hat. I knew in my mind id pay up to 50k for one. I had no idea what they cost. I was told the initial price of 20,000 or 60 pence. I was more than happy with that price and paid it.
But some advice, if you are going to haggle and you really should, there are a few unwritten rules. Firstly haggling is a normal and expected part of buying and selling something. To refuse a price given to you is expected by the seller and is something which is as normal here as not waiting for your 1p change in England. Do not be afraid to refuse a price, the first price you are given is almost certainly marked up since they expect you to negotiate. The second and probably most important thing is not to get frustrated or kick off. If you don’t want to buy something you can walk away at any time, if they don’t want to accept your price they too can walk away. Getting angry is a huge Faux pas. I have been laughed at today when I’ve given a price, but I’ve always walked away with it at that price or only marginally more. The third rule is to know what things cost, it’s no good arguing you want something for 2k when 5k is the going rate – Be confident. Don’t be bullied, don’t be afraid to strike a deal, I was quoted 10k for a small bottle of water and I said no ill give you 5k, he said no. So I said I’ll give you 10k but I want 2 bottles – He accepted. But perhaps the most important rule is that if you agree a price pay it. Don’t ever argue over a price then when you get that price change it. If you agree on 5,000 and it’s eventually accepted don’t then say “no, actually 4,000” It’s not the done thing and is completely out of order.
But despite everything I’ve said above we love Hanoi, yeah it’s a pain, hectic, brutally hot and you are constantly hounded we love it. I think maybe it’s because the kids and I are fully aware of why the Vietnamese behave like they do. Sheer desperation has forced them into a life where put simply they exist to exist. I can see why people get angry and frustrated and perhaps want to leave. But if you just realise that many of these people have nothing. The women hounding you or trying to overcharge you almost certainly have children at home hungry – Can you really blame them for wanting to try and get that bit more? Of course you can’t. To them you are a Westerner and in your wallet you probably have more than they earn in a month – As an example the average household income in Vietnam is $200, which is $2400 per year or 1400 GBP, that roughly equates to just less than 4 quid a day for a family. I spent twice that today on Dinner – It’s not hard to see why they try it on.
But what we’ve done. Well we went for the most amazing breakfast as promised – Across Asia when invited to a home it is customary to bring a gift. I was up early buying fresh fruit and bread which was very much appreciated.
After breakfast we headed for Kiem Lake which is supposedly some beautiful lake in the centre of Hanoi – In reality it is a lake which is green with a pagoda thrown in for good measure and a temple. The temple we visited which was very beautiful. But not even comparable to what we saw in China.
We bought tickets for the Water Puppet show at 1530, headed for some Lunch and then went to the
Hotel to cool down and rehydrate.
So we went to the Puppet show. I had huge expectations for this, it is renowned the world over for being the only water puppet show on earth, is hundreds of years old and is crap. I was bored after 10 mins, the kids seemed marginally impressed although both did say they enjoyed it, I felt they were just humoring me. Don’t get me wrong, the puppeteers are obviously great at what they do, it’s just what they do isn’t really that great.
So we headed for a posh restaurant on the Lake side and had a great dinner washed down with local beer (well Sprite for the kids)
Burned out and in need of some major air con we are now back in the hotel, the kids building a statue out of water bottles, me writing this and having a few Tigers.
In terms of what it’s like for kids – Of everywhere we’ve been so far Hanoi is the place where i have seen the most foreigners – Mostly French, but i have also seen plenty of families. I don’t think it’s great for kids, you have to walk on the road and are constantly avoiding heavy traffic, people touching kids. But know how to address things and it’s fine.
But Hanoi is a very intimidating place, but know what you are doing and it might well be the most full on place you have ever been – But it’s great.