Life in Saigon: Traffic moving along against the back drop of Notre Dame cathedral

Why I will never return to Vietnam

Well, I fell in love with Saigon on the day of arrival. Was I worried? Had I heard all those things they say about Vietnam? Like hell I was. But our friends were there to pick us up and show us around, to hold our hand in the country which given the many different reviews was the most intimidating country on our South East Asia trip.

With the fantastic baguettes, the possiblity to explore country’s rich past, the endless crowds of people on motobikes, the mix of colonial history with the Vietnamese values made a very fascinating mix convincing us that we may have to extend our travel and explore all that is there to see in this fascinating country. I wondered why they spoke ill of it. It seemed like India – wonderful, busy with its self and with a million smells and tastes. But the first day trip itself, followed by a trip to the war remnants museum convinced us that maybe what they say about Vietnam is, in general, perhaps a little over hyped and, in particular, is possibly not meant for us. And as we traveled to its much famed sights, our faith in Vietnam continued dropping. Hoi An was pretty everything else was a disappointment upon disappointment.

Here are five reasons why I will never return to Vietnam:

  1. The country wide policy of overcharging the tourists – If you are a tourist. You must pay extra. Period.
  2. Scams – Number 1 is fine if at least you know how much extra. But, in Vietnam everybody will try to take from you as much as they can. You have to be on your guard forever.
  3. Lack of cheap budget accommodations – Every place to stay comes with a minibar, air con, television and breakfast too. What if I don’t want those? All I want is cheap place to stay because I am on a budget but Vietnam lacks budget accommodation which makes anywhere else in South East Asia much more attractive
  4. Lack of eye popping spectacular – For the prices you are paying and people you are dodging, I found the scenery and the sights of Vietnam less than spectacular. How many war sights can I visit in every city I go to and the beaches, well, they are overdeveloped and full massive real estate developments. In Mui Ne, there was nothing besides a patch of white sand dunes. Halong Bay disappointed me too. Hue was not really old enough. Moreover, in Vietnam, there are no places to relax and go with the flow. For that you must hop over to border to Laos.
  5. Too commercial – People in hotels will smile more than necessary because they care about your cash and those who don’t care about you, frankly just don’t care about you. There are too many travel agents selling too many things. Everybody has a certificate from tripadvisor to lure you in, to tell you how good they are. Elucidated on a million hoardings infront of a thousand shops you will find any possible travel idea sold as a trip or tour. To find something off the beaten track and quiet in Vietnam is impossible. Everything is commercial and super busy.

We tried hard to make the country our own, to leave with positive experiences and memories of spending a long time in different places and but every time we tried to befriend the country, its people merely scammed and broke our heart. Finally, we could not take it anymore and lost our faith in South East Asia altogether and took the bus out to Luang Prabang to go home soon thereafter. Thankfully, Laos was there to restore our faith in travel and South East Asia.

About Empty Ruck Sack

Empty Rucksack travelers is an attempt to bring together many wonderful stories of career breaks, long term vacations and great travel destinations together at one place. The posts authored by Empty Rucksack Travelers are put together by Vikram and Ishwinder, an Indian couple out on a long term travel to find that perfect place in the world where they may want to stay forever.

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  1. This is a hard one isn’t it. I don’t like to dislike entire countries, but also found Vietnam pretty challenging. On the other hand they have a pretty war-torn past, so I’m not that surprised that the people sometimes have a bit of an attitude with Western tourists. I think it would be interesting to go back in maybe 10 years and see what it’s like then.

  2. Katie,

    I agree its a tough one, but India has been ruled by people for centuries and the metros have become hard on tourists. The tourists are scammed but the level that I saw in Vietnam was a different one.

    They wanted to make it a point that you are a cash machine. We were pretty much scammed in every possible way we read before going there.

    10 years down the line, not for me.

    We have a rule, no country twice before all countries once. Only Switzerland made us break this rule.

    For how long were you in Vietnam?

    The only place we liked was Hoi An, and wanted to stay longer but Our guest house owners were not very happy about us lazing around and kept on asking everyday when we were heading north.

    The one thing we did appreciate was the safety of women, not just in Vietnam but in the whole of South East Asia. That is one aspect where India is way behind

  3. Overall, I really enjoyed my trip to Vietnam but there were some things that I found slightly challenging about my visit. I loved my visit to Halong Bay and truly enjoyed my adventure to the Mekong Delta as well as Sapa. However, I found that traffic is a huge problem; the constant honking got really annoying after awhile and I do agree with you about the number of tourist shops selling souvenirs and tours.
    Constance recently posted…Embracing the Old & New – A Visit to Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall in TaipeiMy Profile

    • Constance,

      Its great that you enjoyed Vietnam, We couldn’t have a similar experience.

      We somehow did not feel welcome in Vietnam at any place. We started to like Hoi An but one scam led to another and we were put off.

      In the whole of south East Asia, we found Malaysia and Vietnam to be the most hyped places. #NotFansofMalaysia either.

      Having come from India, we found the place a little expensive for what it was offering.

      -Empty Rucksack

  4. Hi…You have clearly visited many places and so, of course, you are certainly the authority here – plus it’s your blog so you can write what you want – but having visited many Southeast Asian countries myself, including Vietnam, I hope you don’t mind if my first comment on your site is slightly in disagreement with what you have written here…
    According to your points:
    1. Tourists are over-charged the world over, not just in Vietnam. If you are a tourist you pay more EVERYWHERE. That is not a Vietnam thing. Have you never been to Thailand?
    I live on the island of Mallorca, Spain. If I want to visit the Roman ruins in my home town it is free. If a visitor wishes to visit it will cost 2.50€. If I visit the cathedral it is free. If a visitor wishes to visit it will cost 6€… and so on.
    2. Welcome to Southeast Asia. You are a walking wallet – get used to it.
    3. You are not looking in the right places if you can’t find budget accommodation in Vietnam. I’ve stayed in places for $8 a night, including breakfast and wifi, that certainly did not have a mini bar.
    4. Halong Bay is breathtaking. Many places in Vietnam with that karstic landscape are breathtaking. And how can you accuse Hue of not being old enough?
    5. You want off the beaten track then you need to avoid those “travel agencies” that you have spoken about and take a public bus. I did that and trust me, that was an adventure.

    You have tagged a whole country as not worth visiting. Was there nothing that you liked?

    Again, I hope that you haven’t minded my disagreeing with you. I intend to follow your blog and I also appreciate your visit to my own travel blog.
    Lisa recently posted…Nha Trang: The BeachMy Profile

    • Lisa – Welcome to We love you for your long comment. Thanks for taking the time to read the post and responding to it. We appreciate your passion for Vietnam and also value you comment. Because you will agree in the travel blogging world things get a little boring if everyone likes everything and agrees with everything.

      First things first, even if we hadn’t visited one other country in the world, we would still have been an authority enough to dislike anything we wished to. Other thing, we are not from Mallorca. We are from India so we know understand the price levels that are acceptable in this region and also we are from India which means our standard of old and spectacular are pretty different.

      1. We must put up our post about five times we were scammed in Vietnam. Taxi drivers raised the bill 10 times. Food prices were changed at the same shop.
      2. You are walking wallet for anyone you deal with when you are traveling – the taxi drivers, the restaurant owners, the hotel owners. No dreaming about that. But who are you fooling if you deny its not the worst in Vietnam.
      3. Its very easy to say you are not looking at right places. Isn’t that too much of a presumption. If right places are so difficult to come by then maybe they are few and far in between. From Sumatra – Siem Reap we found double rooms clean and hygienic for $5-$10. Vietnam was the only exception.
      4. Halong Bay is less than spectacular and what kills it further is the tons of people trying to enjoy the mysterious landscape alongwith a million other people. Karts landscape in Vang Vieng is far more fascinating. And why we think Hue is not old enough its because it is not old enough. Tell me how old it really is. Even When we take side trips In India we end up at ancient temples 1000s of years old. We throw a stone it hits three monuments older than 500 years ago. Okay I am exaggerating. We have lost a lot of our heritage in our crowds and multitudes but we don’t consider anything after 1700s old.
      5. We trust it must have been an adventure but on such a slim country that was so narrow and beaten down by so many tourists there is a very narrow chance of discovering an off the beaten anything. Congratulations you found it but after 3 weeks in Vietnam and checking out all that was famous we had no hope or patience finding something we would like.

      In all of this please don’t take anything negatively. After all its great to connect with a passionate travel blogger. I hope to see you over chai someday.

      No, we loved Hoi An. I would go there if I could get a direct flight and had some extra cash and time on Earth otherwise I would never look back at this country which was such a waste of time.

  5. I totally disagree. Vietnam for me was a great place to travel. Happy travels.
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  6. Well, I disagree. I think Vietnam was beautiful across the board. You have to be a lesser mortal or a bad planner if you did not like Halong Bay. I visited Vietnam for a month and loved it, despite its aggressive push for tourism bucks. But how is that any different from what we do with foreigners in India?
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  7. Oh my god, finally someone hit the spot! I agree with every single point you made, and felt like I was brought back to the time that I was there. I have never been so releaved after leaving a country in my life, haha. Laos was the complete opposite, taking me back in time with a simpler and (a very!) slower pace of life, which was exactly what I needed after 3 weeks in Vietnam.
    However I have to say I met some amazing people, who were kind and wonderful and had great experiences I wouldn’t be without. Though in the end all the hassle isn’t worth it when there are som many other countries. All the scheeming and scamming, bargaining and arguing is just stressfull and exhausting. (this coming from someone who had just spent two months in Inida!). And the main thing is, as my vietnamese guide said; ‘Munney taolks’. Indeed it does. I feel like Vietnam desperately wants to become rich and famous, shifting to materialistic and superficial values. People have flocked to the cities for a modern life. In retrospect I met more genuine people on the countryside, though most of the time I spent in cities (from Saigon to Hanoi). Therefore I think that my tip to anyone would be to spend less time in cities and more in villages and their stunning nature (which they do have).

    • Synne,

      We were very pleased with Hoi An but the hype proved too much and worked against it.

      We never gave the remote areas a chance,and we heard great stories from a NZ couple who taught English near ninh bin for 3 months.

      On the whole, Vietnam disappoints, you realise this more strongly the moment you cross the bordrr and step into laos. The world seems to have turned upside down.

      Its not any money , but only the dollaar. I got tired of being chased by women asking for dollars all the time.

      Once you are in Vietnam, you are actually glad when you get back home.

      -Empty Rucksack

  8. We absolutely hated Ha Noi. And I’m Southeast Asian, so imagine that. The first hotel we booked was dodgy and dirty, with young folks running the place. We had to switch to another hotel. Actually, we found accommodation in Ha Noi pretty cheap, so it was not an issue to look for other hotels because it was something quite affordable. We just wanted something clean and that smelled nice, and not located in some back alley smelling of piss, sewage and noodles. We were wondering why all the hotels that we’ve been to were run by people in their early 20s, and our guide told us it’s something they can easily get into after graduating. Cheaper pay, of course. It kinda makes sense, but they were so rude at some point, aggressive and indifferent.

    Ha Long Bay was so so, and I have to agree, it was way too touristy. We also came at the wrong time, and it rained and rained and we were underdressed. We were mostly inside our cabin for the entire 2-day trip. It was one of the longest and miserable cruise I’ve had.

    The only saving grace of Vietnam, for us, was our trip to the Emeralda Resort and Spa in Ninh Binh, about 3 hours away from Ha Noi. People were much nicer, gentler, kinder. It’s way out in the province and we arrived late at night and our driver got lost. At one point, we were driving around aimlessly in the dark and ended up at a dead end. My bf and I were holding hands so tight because we seriously thought people would jump out in the dark armed with guns and kidnap us. We were so paranoid, haha.

    Sadly, Vietnam is not for us. The worst thing was you just can’t relax. You always have to be on guard – not only because you’re a tourist – but because of all those insane motorcyclists whizzing by!
    Althea recently posted…Mabthera for Multiple SclerosisMy Profile

    • Every other place in SEA was so rewarding, our favourite were north Thailand and Indonesia.

      Vietnam somehow had the most hype, both good and bad. And based on what we were readin before we got there, we even thought of cancelling the whole thing. But we told ourselves it cannot be that bad. The first 2 days went fine, met with a few old friends, they showed us around saigon and then on day 3 it started.

      The first taxi we took wanted to charge us 10 times the price, he started to fight. Luckily our friend had been staying there for a while and knew what the right price was. So we fought and dint pay an extra penny. From then on it started, one thing led to another, wrong bus fares, incorrect tickets sold. Overcharging blatantly at evrry possible step. It became a challenge to find places thst had a price on the menu.

      A restaurant where we ordered food 4 days in a row overcharged us. Our guesthouse fooled us with the offer they were promoting, got to hanoi and we were ready to fight. When there was noise in the hotel, we fought and got a refund. Everyone kept sayin about halong bay but vang vieng in laos had equally spectacular views plus it had that laidbackness which was missin in the whole of Vietnam.

      We tell everyone not to go there but people keep on going. We know for sure we r not going again.

      -Empty Rucksack

  9. Controversial post!

    I loved traveling around Vietnam (for the the sights, history and food!) but also found it annoying that it would be easy to get over-charged (and sometimes plain ripped off) if one doesn’t pay attention. Still, being from India, I think it’s funny that you find this so outrageous. Here in India there are local prices & tourist prices for all touristic landmarks too – and this is government regulated, that is, officially agreed upon. Furthermore if, like me, you are a gora, you will most likely be changed “gora prices”, much higher than locals. I guess locals don’t experience that the same way people who look differently do, so one wouldn’t know. I even feel the difference between the days I wear jeans+tshirt or Indian clothes. If I wanna get something done without too much hassle and being taken seriously, I just wear a salwar kameez..

    Regarding the budget accommodation in Vietnam, I find it odd that you didn’t come across any “budget” options as there are plenty! Really, like the rest of South East Asia.

    Anyway.. hope you enjoy your further travels much better than Vietnam! 😉
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  11. Excellent article. I’m dealing with some of these issues as
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  12. Vietnam is challenging but I disagree with you on budget lodging. I found some of the best value in all of SEA there. We stayed in a great room in Hanoi for $15 per day and $11 per day in HCMC. We rarely paid more than $20 per night and averaged around $15 per night in a hotel. Try using Agoda for lodging!

    Yes you have to be on guard there much of the time when you are buying something ect, they will try to charge extra if you don’t know what the prices should be. When they attempt to overcharge I tell them what I am willing pay and they either accept it or I go to the next vendor. In most cases they realize you are not going to allow them to rip you off and the price comes down or they lose your business.

    I spent 75 days there and traveled the entire length of the country from the Mekong Delta up to the Chinese border at Lao Cai. I can’t agree that there is no eye popping scenery. Did you go to Sapa, Can Tho, Ninh Binh, Dalat, Mui Ne, Nha Trang? The country has the most varied topography of any in SEA due to its length.

    Most travelers get discouraged there because they are in a hurry or short on time and require instant gratification. They never stay in one place long enough to figure out how things work and the real prices. I rarely used taxis and in those instances when they tried to overcharge me I refused to pay it and walked away. Learn how to use the local bus system!

    You can only be ripped off if you allow it to happen!
    Phil recently posted…Can Tho, Vietnam Floating MarketMy Profile

    • Hi Phil,
      You werre under a misapprehension regarding the overcharging of tourists in Vietnam. Please read my long comment posted on 30/9/2014 for clarification of the issue of overcharging. I also included a number of Youtube videos of some nice scenery of Vietnam in my comment for you to have a look. Did you go to My Khe beach or Doc Let beach? Did you travel the Ma Pi Leng Pass in Ha Giang? If not, take a look and you may like to include them in your future itineray when you have a chance to return to Vietnam.

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  15. Hi Empty Ruck Sack,
    The overcharging of foreign tourists by the Vietnamese is not cheating, ripping off, or scamming. This overcharging is known as differential pricing or discriminatory pricing. Price differentiation is the business practice of selling the same products to different people at different prices and it is a very common business practice in all countries. Below are the links to support my above assertion:
    Not only Asians and Africans engage in price differentiation, but Caucasians also practise it but with a lot more gusto than the Vietnamese. Here are the links to support my assertion: This article reports a certain Mr Al Sayed had to pay 250 Dirham for the same item which his Western expat friend paid only 70 Dirham. At the current exchange rate of 1UAE Dirham = 0.27 USD, the 180 extra Dirham that Mr Al Sayed had to pay for overcharging means he paid nearly 49 USD extra for just 1 item. I dare say that when it comes to overcharging tourists, the Vietnamese are such timid pussies.
    If any one reading this comment would like to find out more about differential pricing, I encourage them to go to the nearest university library in their home city, look for books with titles such as Introduction to Marketing, go to the back of such books and search through the index for price differentiation, or price discrimination, or differential pricing and you will be satisfied that what the Vietnamese vendors do is not different from what many Western companies do.
    I hope my comment will make those who feel upset and aggrieved by the overcharging in Vietnam to feel a whole lot better, and if it is possible for them to update or modify their original criticism of the Vietnamese, I hope they would do so because it is not fair or justified to accuse the Vietnamese of rip-offs or cheating.
    I wish to provide 2 examples to reassure those thinking of visiting Vietnam that for all the overcharging you may encounter on your trip to Vietnam, you will not end up homeless and destitute:
    1) A Vietnamese sandwich, called Banh Mi in Vietnamese, costs about 15,000 Vietnamese dong or about 75 Australian cents. If the vendor charges you double that, you will pay about 1.50 Australian dollars. In Melbourne where I live, the same sandwich would cost about 4.50 Australian dollars.
    2) A bowl of pho costs between 20,000 to 60,000 Vietnamese dong, or between 1 to 3 Australian dollars. In Melbourne, that same bowl of pho would cost 10 Australian dollars.
    Thus, even if you pay more than the locals, you would still pay a hell of a lot less than you would in your home country, and you get to experience a different culture and see different landscapes and sceneries. Is that not a win-win situation in your eyes?
    Empty Ruck Sack did not find Vietnam scenery attractive enough. So, here are some Youtube videos of Vietnam scenery to help you decide whether Vietnam landscape is attractive enough for you to come. Keep in mind that this list is only a small sample of what you can see in Vietnam, and do not forget the food and coffee culture in Vietnam: click on the photo of the beach for better viewing. Alice said that she grew up on the Southeast coast of Florida which is world-renowned for its beaches and she found Con Dao very impressive, even more impressive than the spectacular photos she had seen of Con Dao. This is a collection of photos of Tam Coc in Ninh Binh. Tam Coc is often referred to as Ha Long Bay on land.

  16. I can’t believe what I’m reading… I always thought of Vietnam as an exotical place to visit, and even more since I’d seen this photo taken there, which won an award! I was considering to visit it, but now I’m discouraged.
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  17. I couldn’t resist commenting. Perfectly written!
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  18. Literally completely agree!! Everyone just wants money. Once we got a mini bus from Hanoi airport to the city and we eventually got it for 6 dollars per person with the driver being angry. We asked a Vietnamese guy how much he paid and he said two dollars as every Vietnamese knows its two dollars. Its a standard thing! So angry!

  19. It makes me so sad to hear when people dislike Vietnam, and it happens all too often. This comment is in no way a criticism of your post, we all like and dislike different places (I disliked Dubrovnik and Buenos Aires, which contradicts most people’s opinions, for example). You had a bad time there and I understand why that would put you off.

    However, with Vietnam forewarned is forearmed. In the big cities there are many scam taxi companies whose sole aim is to prey on tourists. They are usually the ones with the older, dented cars who hang around outside any tourist spot. They will be the drivers who call out at you. But there are many reputable companies that use metres and will never rip you off. They will never pursue you for business because they don’t need to – walk a few metres away from the tourist spots and you will find them waiting patiently there. In 3 years I never overpaid for a cab. I can’t say the same of Thailand, Cambodia or India. I even got scammed by a cab in Sweden once!

    I found that accommodation in Vietnam was amongst the best value in Asia. As you say, you might not find the $3 rooms of Thailand, but $5-10 can get you a/c, fridge, towels, hot water. Budget traveller or not that is value for money. We stayed in a few great $5 places too – the trick is to go around and look in a few before you settle as the quality of rooms (even within the same guesthouse) can vary hugely.

    The tourist price is annoying, but by no means limited to Vietnam. I have seen it in most Asian countries – the mark-up here in India is ridiculous. It’s not just Asia either. As a resident in Tenerife I paid a quarter of the price that tourists pay for tickets, attractions and even flights/boats to the other islands.

    I’m sorry to hear that Vietnam did not welcome you. It was my home for 3 years and I think it is one of the best countries in the world, but it takes time perhaps.

    By the way, I just discovered your blog as I am looking into a trip to Ladakh in February and your posts are very helpful.

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  21. I found Saigon very friendly place for tourists to visit. Maybe just stick to south side of Vietnam if you want a relaxing holiday. I found that my two week holiday is way too short to figure out prices, nice places to stay and visit. I only started figuring out good deals at the end. I also made some very attractive female friends but due to my short visit it was really hard to pursue any relationships. In overall I think the place is ok but not as enjoyable and relaxing as Thailand so next time when I have only a few weeks to travel I definitely go to Thailand, been there 8 times and always have had the best time of my life. But if I were to look for a faithful girlfriend or even wife them Vietnamese women would be first on my list from South East Asian region. You just need to stay longer, maybe a year or two.

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