Written by Leah Phan (University of Florida), Student Correspondent CET Vietnam, Summer 2016
Vietnam really surprised me since Ho Chi Minh City was much safer and more developed than I thought. I heard stories about not wearing jewelry or handbags outside in the streets because someone may yank it right off of you while you are walking in the streets or even riding on a motorcycle. Fortunately, none of these things happened to my friends and I. In fact, some of us even felt much safer in Ho Chi Minh City than our own hometowns back in the United States. CET places you in district 1, which is considered one of the wealthiest and safer districts of Ho Chi Minh City. So, here are some tips to help you with your time in Vietnam.
1. Buy your water at Family Mart. Family Mart is open 24 hours and you can buy large bottles of water (1.5) or large jugs (5L) for around 1 to 1.5 USD.
2. Utilize your teachers. I think our biggest mistake was relying too much on our roommates for information and places to go in Ho Chi Minh City. I regret not asking my Vietnamese teacher, Christophe, or Tuan for more information about where to eat, how to bargain, or finding reliable tailor to create our Vietnamese “traditional” dresses. While the roommates where extremely helpful, it is important to remember that they are students just like us. They may not used to living and dining in district one or eating at restaurants we may feel more comfortable eating at. However, all of your teachers are and they have superb tastes in food! Christophe will give you a list of restaurants to eat at and I believe we ate at all of them, they were absolutely delicious and I would highly recommend eating at the restaurants he suggests.
3. It’s okay to be direct. In Vietnam, we experienced A LOT of communication issues, partly because we did not really know the language, but also partly because the Vietnamese have a tendency of talking about things in a roundabout way in fear of straining relationships and hurting someone’s feelings. Although I appreciate how considerate the Vietnamese can be, I felt that being a bit more direct and clear about what they want and what you want is the best way to communicate, while still being respectful. If you experience this at your internship, we found it was best to communicate through e-mail so that things we very clear.
4. Use Trip Advisor. Trip Advisor is what I believe to be a very reliable website for tourists to use to see where the best restaurants are and what to do.
5. Make a list and set dates. Create a list of all of the places you want to go and actually set out time to do them. This will be important if you want to travel to other cities or even to other countries. You will have to inform CET about your travel plans and reschedule dates with your Vietnamese teachers. This is also vital because it is easy to lose track of time. We kept putting things off because we thought we had a lot of time left, but we ended up missing out on a few things because we kept rescheduling it.
6. Watch your spending. With so many things being cheap in Vietnam, it is easy to lose track of how much you spend. At the beginning we were spending about 100 USD per week on souvenirs, food, or random things that we probably could have lived without. I would say I spent around 50- 60 USD per week on food, but we also chose to dine at restaurants that were a bit more pricey, clean, and absolutely delicious.
7. Do NOT use whitening body wash, it may have a bleaching agent in it.
8. Do NOT buy the cheapest sim card for your phones. We had a plan that had 700 free minutes and 700 MB of data, which is not a lot. Although Vietnam does have wifi almost everywhere, we found it more useful to have more data and rarely used our phones to call anyone. For this reason, we ended up easily wasting so much money on buying more credit that some of us just stopped putting credit in our sim cards half-way through the program. After purchasing that sim card, I couldn’t change my plan for some odd reason, so I would recommend that you be careful when buying one.
9. Have 3-5 pairs of nice clothing. Although, packing guide suggested 1-2 pairs of professional clothing, I would recommend having a bit more than that. The Vietnamese tends to dress very nicely for almost every occasion and HCMC has a lot of nice places to go out to that you may feel under-dressed for.
10. Be careful in the streets and the sidewalks. I highly recommend wearing shoes with a good grip. The sidewalks in HCMC are used mainly for parking and the edges of the sidewalks are slanted so that it it’s easier for the motorbikes to get on and off, making it very easy to slip. Also, a lot of motorcyclists tends to drive on the sidewalks when they are in a rush. The streets are a bit difficult to cross at first, but the key is to walk slowly and carefully.