Just as you're about to dig into the scrumptious Vietnamese meal you've ordered, you feel a tug on your shirt sleeve. This latest "annoyance” is a bony, eight-year-old boy holding his three-year-old sister in his arms. The little girl has a distended stomach and her hungry eyes are fixed on your full plate.
This is the face of poverty. How do you deal with these situations? If you're like most of us, not very well. Taking the matter into your own hands by giving out money or gifts to people on the streets can camore damage than good. The more people are given hand-outs, the more reliant and attracted to life on the streets they become. When money is tight, people recognise that life on the streets is no longer so fruitful. This will hopefully discourage parents and "leaders” forcing children and beggars onto the streets.
One way to contribute and help improve the situation is to invest just a few hours to find out about local organisations that work with disadvantaged people; these groups are far more likely to make sure contributions are used in the most effective way possible to help those who need it.
However, if you want to do something on the spot, at least avoid giving money or anything that can be sold. The elderly and the young are easily controlled and are ideal begging tools.
So if you are going to give something directly to a beggar, it's better to give food than money; take them to a market or stall and buy them a nutritious meal or some fruit to be sure they are the only beneficiaries.
Not just any noise, but a whole lot of noises that just never seem to stop. At night there is most often a competing cacophony from motorbikes, discos, cafes, video arcades, karaoke lounges and restaurants; if your hotel is near any or all of these, it may be difficult to sleep.
Fortunately most noise subsides around 10pm or 11pm, as few places stay open much later than that. Unfortunately, however, Vietnamese are up and about from around 5am onwards. This not only means that traffic noise starts early, but you may be woken up by the crackle of loud speakers as the Voice of Vietnam cranks into life at 5am in small towns. It's worth trying to get a room at the back of a hotel.
One last thing...don't forget the earplugs!
Con artists and thieves are always seeking new tricks to sepal ate naive tourists from their money and are becoming more savvy in their ways. We can't warn you about every trick you might encounter, so maintain a healthy scepticism and be prepared to argue when unnecessary demands are made for your money.
Beware of a motorbike-rental scam that some travellers have encountered in HCMC. Rent a motorbike and the owner supplies an excellent lock, insisting you it. What he doesn't tell you is that he has another key and that somebody will follow you and “steal” the bike at the first opportunity. You then have to pay for a new bike.
More common is when your motorbike won't start after you parked it in a “safe” area with a guard. But yes, the guard knows somebody who can repair your bike. The mechanic shows up and quickly reinstalls the parts they removed earlier and the bike works again. That will be US$10, please.
Beware of massage boys who, after a price has been agreed upon, try to extort money from you afterwards by threatening to the police on you (these threats are generally empty ones).
Despite an array of scams, however, it is important to keep in mind the Vietnamese are not always out to get you. One concerning trend we're noticing in Vietnam, relative to neighbouring countries such as Cambodia and Laos, is a general lack of trust in the locals on the part of foreigners. Try to differentiate between who is good and bad and not close yourself off to every person you encounter.
This is not always an easy thing to do. Even one of the original authors of this book, a veteran travel writer and Vietnam hand, was duped by a long-time Vietnamese friend who, unbeknown to him, had tried to collect fees from hotels and ri-otaurants that wished to be included in this guide!
One final word of advice: we're seeing an awful lot of travellers in Vietnam with their noses dug too deep inside guidebooks. The paranoia people develop from being hassled so much seems to result in many refusing to believe anyone if it's “not in the book”. For better or worse, often it's not. Try to keep an open mind, be aware of what can happen and what things “should” cost, and then this information in conjunction with your own better judgment.
If you plan to spend your time swimming, snorkelling and scuba diving, familiarise yourself with the various hazards. The list of dangerous creatures that are found in seas off Vietnam is extensive and includes sharks, jellyfish, stonefish, scorpion fish, sea snakes and stingrays. However, there is little cafor alarm as most of these creatures avoid humans, or humans avoid them, so the number of people injured or killed is fairly small.
Jellyfish tend to travel in groups, so as long as you look before you leap into the sea, avoiding them should not be too hard. Stonefish, scorpion fish and stingrays tend to hang out in shallow water along the ocean floor and can be very difficult to see. One way to protect against these nasties is to wear shoes in the sea.
The Vietnamese are convinced that their cities are full of criminals. Street crime is common place in HCMC and Nha Trang, but it doesn't hurt to keep the antennae up wherever you are.
HCMC is the place to really keep your wits about you. Don't have anything dangling from your body that you are not ready to part with, including bags and jewellery, which might tempt a robber. Keep an eye out for drive-by thieves on motorbikes - they specialise in snatching handbags and cameras from tourists on foot and riding cycles in the city.
Pickpocketing, which often involves kids, women with babies and newspaper vendors, is also a serious problem, especially in the tourist areas of HCMC. Many of the street kids, adorable as they may be, are very skilled at liberating people from their wallets.
Avoid putting things down while you're eating, or at least take the precaution of fastening these items to your seat with a strap or chain. Remember, any luggage thai you leave unattended for even a moment may grow legs and vanish.
There are also “taxi girls” (sometimes transvestites) who approach Western men, give them a big hug, sometimes more, and ask if they'd like “a good time”. Then they suddenly change their mind and depart, along with a wristwatch and wallet.
We have also had reports of people being drugged and robbed on long-distance buses. It usually starts with a friendly passenger offering a free Coke, which turns out to be a chloral-hydrate cocktail. You wake up hours later to find your valuables and new-found “friend” gone.
Despite all this, don't be overly paranoid. Although crime certainly exists and you need to be aware of it, theft in Vietnam does not seem to be any worse than what you'd expect anywhere else. Don't assume - that everyone's a thief - most Vietnamese are poor, but honest.
Four armies expended untold energy and resources for more than three decades mining, booby-trapping, rocketing, strafing, mortaring and bombarding wide areas of Vietnam. When the fighting stopped most of this ordnance remained exactly where it had landed or been laid; American estimates at the end of the war placed the quantity of unexploded ordnance at 150,000 tonnes.
Since 1975 about 40,000 Vietnamese have been maimed or killed by this leftover ordnance. While cities, cultivated areas and well-travelled rural roads and paths are safe for travel, straying from these areas could land you in the middle of a minefield that is completely unmarked.
Never touch any rockets, artillery shells, mortars, mines or other relics of war you may come across. Such objects can remain lethal for decades. And don't climb inside bomb craters - you never know what un-detonated explosive device is at the bottom.