I’ve just returned from my solo trip around Vietnam and thought I’d share a few reflections of my trip with you. As with many destinations, there is the question as to whether solo female travel in Vietnam is safe or not.
I haven’t written this article to persuade you about Vietnam one way, or another; simply to share my perspective. You should absolutely go out there and discover it for yourself…
Spring (February to April) and Autumn (August to October) are the best times to visit Vietnam as temperatures are warm but not too hot, and rainfall is at its lowest. I visited in June, one of the hottest months and really suffered as a result!
You know when you’re in the bath for too long and your hands start to go all prune like with the moisture? Honestly that’s how my skin was in Vietnam in Summer… except instead of water making my hands pruney it was my own sweat… yeah.
I knew that it was going to be hot, however it was SO hot that my skin felt constantly damp and though I was constantly applying sunscreen, it seemed to sweat right off me.
By my third day in Vietnam I was laying in bed with a cold can of Fanta balanced on one burnt forearm, a cold can of Coca Cola on the other. [I’d forgotten my Aftersun and well, what can I say? I had to be inventive with my approach to sunburn relief.]
The next few days I spent with sunburn that made me look as though I was wearing long Red gloves and knee-high Red socks, yet the patches between the burn were a corpse-esque shade of White. It was all very sexy.
Crossing The Road Without Dying
Before I flew out to Vietnam, I saw another Travel Blogger’s guide to crossing the road in Ho Chi Minh City.
“What a boring git he must be”, I thought to myself, perplexed at why someone would write such an article whilst in such a fascinating Country.
After experiencing it for myself? Ay Papi!
To cross the road in Vietnam, you need to be either:
A. Completely fearless with a deranged twinkle in your eye
B. In possession of a death wish
C. A cheeky blend of all of the above.
I’ve seen some crazy road ‘safety’ on my travels – from the angry drivers of Naples, the six lane traffic of Cairo, or the bloke in Luxor that let me drive my own horse and cart while he took a rest (!) but nothing has been quite like Vietnam.
Imagine your typical South East Asian road – Families of 3 or 4 crammed onto a motorbike, Men on scooters balancing their wares on their heads and bodies… you imagining it? Right… well… now add to that approximately 4,3445,65657,767 trillion scooters and you’re about halfway to Vietnamese road standards.
The roads are multiple lanes of traffic, the traffic lights never give pedestrians the opportunity to cross as when one direction of traffic stops, that’s cue for the other to start. If you stand and wait for someone to let you go, you’ll be there until the Apocalypse.
My advice? Follow that crazy and deranged twinkle in your eye!
You have to pick your moment and commit to it. I would wait for a gap in the closest lane to me, dash to a middle point and dodge the scooters. If something with a greater potential for a squishy death was on the approach – like a car or a van, I’d wait. The scooters will do their damnest to avoid you and weave around you.
If in doubt, follow the locals – I thought I was getting good at this Vietnamese road navigation business until I ventured out for Dinner with my host. She hooked my arm in hers, and stepped right into the centre of the road. She turned and faced the cars, her palm outstretched to halt any that were on the approach and vehicles were stopping and swerving around us. It was like Moses parting the tides.. well, sort of.
Every mouthful was like an orgasm… remind me to take clean underwear to restaurants next time I’m in town!
‘Pho’ is one of the staple dishes of Vietnam – they eat it for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner! Served with Chicken or Beef, it’s pretty much a noodle soup served with lots of veggies and goodies that you add to the dish yourself.
FYI – “Pho” is pronouced like “Fuh” not “Fo” like in “Fo’ sho”. If you say “Fo”, that is Vietnamese for prostitute. Don’t be that gal that walks in to a restaurant to order four bowls of noodle soup and walks out with four Vietnamese Prossies.
Uhhh! So many people travel to Vietnam and get ripped off.
Taxis are the biggest pests for this. [Read my advice on avoiding taxi scams here]
Okay, I get it, there is a disparity of Wealth between the exotic Western traveler and the local Villagers, some of whom see you as their lottery ticket. If I was in their situation, I’d maybe try my luck too, but it gets irritating when every damn restaurant/bar/off licence/coffee bar, and so on sees you as a way of making a quick buck.
For example, I was dying of thirst (slight exaggeration) in Hoi An so I went into a cafe for an Iced Coffee.
The server brought me out the smallest cup of coffee you ever did see and charged me 35,000 VND. Now, I wasn’t born yesterday, I know that these typically come in tall glasses in Vietnam. As she bought it over, she glanced over to her waitress friend and smirked.
Looking around the place, every other Vietnamese person had coffee in a tall glass. I questioned this.
“No no different, you order different”.
Frankly I couldn’t be bothered with the argument after trailing around in the heat so I drank my Tinkerbell sized cup and left. An isolated incident would be okay but repeat this encounter five times over in the course of a day and you start to feel a bit disgruntled.
My experiences were similar to those of Nomadic Matt’s, and shared by many other travelers.
It’s a shame that the people do not realise, that visitors will be put off travelling to Vietnam by this. I haven’t had the same experience in other parts of South East Asia.
What I will say though, is that it does seem to be predominantly in the areas that are heavily populated by tourists. I ate Pho Bo at a family restaurant in a small alley in District 3, Ho Chi Minh and the family were fascinated to have a pasty White gal eating with them, they charged me the same as the locals . In Hoi An and An Bang on the other hand, they think you poo dollar bills.
The presence of the dozy Gap Yah stereotype throwing money everywhere probably hasn’t helped their perception of the West either…
There are good and bad people everywhere you go, and Vietnam is no different.
Obviously the scams were damn annoying. I also had a creepy experience with a cab driver.
However, I do not choose to dwell on that. I choose to remember the kindness of the people I encountered.
Political Situation with the West, post Vietnam War
To this day, there is somewhat of a division between the North and South of Vietnam – the North more aligned with China and Russia, the South more liberal.
I was in Ho Chi Minh City during Obama’s presidential visit and found the people to be so warm and full of admiration for the US and the Western World, all preparing their flags and banners to welcome the American president.
My visit was trouble free, though sadly there is a lot of petty crime reported in Vietnam, particularly HCMC.
The best advice I can give you is just to utilise common sense – Don’t flash your cash or electronics; if you’re carrying a backpack, keep both arms strapped in, and consider carrying it across your front in busy markets, or when walking through a less than desirable area.
Very rarely is the crime violent, more so that it is just an opportunist swiping of a bag so be aware of your surroundings.
It goes without saying, don’t walk alone at night and avoid venturing in “off the beaten track” neighbourhoods after dark.
Safety as a Solo Female
I’m not going to lie, being a solo female does make you appear more vulnerable.
Aside from the Taxi creeper, I never really felt unsafe in Vietnam and sexual violence is pretty rare; I was just a little uncomfortable at times with the amount of unwanted attention I was getting -at one point I was followed by a group of Men in HCMC taking my photograph.
My approach? I just don’t even acknowledge them. Walk with confidence, don’t even glance at them or give them the time of day. Any engagement is not going to benefit you.
I’ve written some general pointers on solo female travel here . I’ve spent a LOT of time travelling solo in Asia, so it’s all pretty relevant.
Have you been to Vietnam and have some pointers on solo female travel in Vietnam that you’d like to add?
Alternatively, are you headed out to S.E. Asia and want some advice? Get in touch!