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8 Vietnam Travel Reviews and Things You Need to Know Before You Go

8 Vietnam Travel Reviews and Things You Need to Know Before You Go

by Family Globetrotters

Vietnam Travel Reviews and Experiences Ranging from The Good, The Bad and The Downright Ugly.

On our recent trip to Vietnam with kids, we travelled with 3 other families from Danang to Sapa. In total we had 8 adults and 7 kids at any given time of which one of our travel companion was Vietnamese. Throughout our time in this country, we experienced everything from exemplary 5-star customer service right through to blatant racism. We therefore have very mixed feelings about travelling to Vietnam with the family hence the need for me to share our Vietnam travel reviews.

For us, we understood we were going to a 3rd world country and thus it comes with the understanding that we would have to make do without some of the normal comforts we would find at home. And of course that is all part of exploring the world. But never had I experienced so many highs and lows on one single trip and within the same country. Here are some of our Vietnam travel stories.

#01 – DEBILITATING POLLUTION

In all my travels, and let’s not forget I grew up in Kuala Lumpur, I have never really felt the effects of pollution as I did in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. What was once considered to be a quaint and historical part of town where merchants and artisans used to gather, is now a chaotic cacophony of beeping vehicles and motorbikes.

When I visited the Old Quarter years back, I was still able to walk the streets without much care for traffic. Over the years, it is now bursting at the seams and is no longer a pleasant experience to wander the streets.

The pollution was awful and in a short 2 hours, I couldn’t breathe and was so thirsty. This lead to a pounding headache and a sore throat. I could not get out of there fast enough and we only managed to check out a few streets. Had I not been there before, I would have been very disappointed I could not explore more. I’m not sure wearing a face mask would have helped at all.

Hanoi-Hoan-Kiem-Lake-Family

Just Outside the Old Quarter at Hoan Kiem Lake Before Pollution Overwhelmed Us.

#02 – RACISM

In Hanoi, we needed to catch a taxi from point A to point B as it was too far to walk. We hailed a cab and told the taxi driver where we wanted to go of which he agreed to take us. Upon closing the door, we asked him to turn the meter on so we wouldn’t get ripped off. He refused. After a few stern words, we couldn’t come to an agreement so we got out of the cab to hail another one.

At this point in time, we managed to get 2 cabs. One for my friends and one for us. We were again confronted with a taxi driver who refused to turn on his meter. My girlfriend in the other cab told him in Vietnamese to turn it on but he still refused.

Her cab on the other hand had no issues using the meter. My girlfriend just looked at us and said that’s what they do to non-Asian foreigners. As we were in a rush, we swallowed our anger and pride and paid him a flat rate, three times the amount my friends paid in the other cab.

But racism in Asian countries are not always towards non-Asian tourists. I call this “reverse racism”. I have experienced this on many occasions in Asian countries. My other girlfriend (also Asian) and I went to a tailor to get some dresses made. The Vietnamese lady in the store was extremely abrupt and pushy. She had no time for our questions and in fact made it quite clear she found them annoying.

In walks 2 Caucasian families and her customer service instantly changed. She became polite, friendly, and very helpful. Meanwhile, my girlfriend and I are standing there with our daughters, feeling like second class citizens.

Even in my own country in Malaysia I have been treated this way. Store owners are always of the opinion that non-Asian foreigners have more bang for their buck and will always spend more. When Andrew went to the tailor, he was treated like a king! Can’t win but I guess its good to know before going to Vietnam, so you’re not so taken aback when it happens to you.

#03 – FIRST CLASS CUSTOMER SERVICE

For the last leg of our trip, we stayed at the illustrious Sofitel Metropole Hanoi. On the first morning at breakfast, our travelling companions had an unfortunate experience. Their youngest son who is 5 years of age has a severe peanut allergy and is anaphylactic.

Unbeknown to us and we should have checked, he ate a Chinese dumpling which consisted of peanut butter in the filling. He instantly had an attack, started vomiting and rashes started to appear around his mouth. However, an epi pen jab later, he was right as rain. But the incident always leaves us shaken when we witness a little boy’s body slowly shutting down.

For the next 4 days, he was treated like a little prince. Every outlet we went to, every restaurant and lounge within the 2 wings of the hotel, knew of his allergy. And this was before we even told them. They would arrange for special meals for him without us even asking. At the buffets, the Food & Beverage attendants would let us know which foods he was not allowed to consume and were very conscientious.

The Executive Chef even came out to say hello and asked after him. I have worked in 5 star hotels and how they managed to communicate this throughout the entire hotel is highly impressive. Well done Sofitel Metropole!

YOU MIGHT LIKE:   12 Tips To Help Prepare For Your Trekking Adventure in Sapa
Hanoi-Sofitel-Metropole-Breakfast

At the Exquisite Sofital Metropole Hanoi. Enjoying breakfast in the Terrace.

#04 – FORGOTTEN ITEM

During our stay in Sapa, we inadvertently left our daughter’s travel pillow at the hotel. Although not important in the scheme of things, it was nevertheless a personal item she would miss. Andrew thought to email the hotel in the off chance they could find it.

They replied in no time and upon check in to our hotel at the nest leg of our trip, a pretty package all wrapped up in Hello Kitty wrapping paper arrived with the pillow intact. How lovely.

The Sapa Diamond Hotel is an independent, 3-star property but with 5-star service.

Heading to Vietnam for the first time with the family. Read this article now so you're not disappointed! We share our stories from racism to being scammed to exemplary service! #vietnamreview Click To Tweet

#05 – ILLNESS AND FOOD POISONING

During our holiday, Andrew and I got sick, on separate occasions. We were comatose in bed for about 30 hours each. We were completely lethargic and unable to move, fever and many bathroom visits. We have not been able to ascertain if it was food poisoning or a stomach virus. All of us ate the same things and I am usually good on holidays.

Out of a group of 15 people, 11 of us had some ailment of some kind. Perhaps it was a combination of food, environment, pollution but getting sick during travels is not something we have experienced on a regular or extensive basis. That unfortunately meant we wasted precious days.

#06 – NEARLY MISSING OUR TRAIN

On our departure from Sapa, we had to get a transfer from the hotel to Lao Cai station to catch the overnight sleeper train. The trip takes about 1 hour down the windy mountain and we had organised this with our hotel, based on their recommendation of what time to leave.
We checked out 30 minutes before the transfer arrived to allow for loading time. After waiting for 45 minutes (we are now 15 minutes late), we ask reception to find out where the transfer was, only to be told that it would be late.

We were obviously then in a state of flux because they had seen us sitting there for 45 minutes and did not have the foresight to inform us. We were then told it would be a further 30 minutes late which meant we were cutting it extremely fine to meet our train. As it was an overnight train, missing it would mean us 3 families would be stuck in Lao Cai with no accommodation and would also mean we would miss our Halong Bay cruise the next day.

The transfer finally arrived and to make matters worse, the traffic downhill was horrendous. By this time, we were getting really stressed. Adding further to our woes was that upon arriving at the station, we still had to make our way to the agency to collect our train tickets. We knew that at the rate we were going, we wouldn’t make it.

During the trip down, the hotel knew that they should have organised a different transfer as the late arrival meant we were probably going to miss our train. With great initiative and to make amends, the receptionist asked us to send her our train booking confirmation. She then sent someone in Lao Cai to collect the tickets on our behalf and was told he would meet us at the train station.

This would save us a precious 15 minutes. And sure enough, when we arrived, he was there and we literally made the train by 2 minutes! Great initiative and we were highly thankful we made the train.

Overnight-Train-Sapa-Hanoi-Mother-Daughter

Phew! We Managed to Get on the Overnight Train from Lao Cai to Hanoi!

#07 – WE GOT SCAMMED

After we nearly missed our train in Lao Cai, we were relieved to be on our way to your next adventure. A 3 day, 2-night cruise at Halong Bay. When we arrived back in Hanoi at some ungodly hour at 4.30am, we still had to wait another 3 hours for our cruise transfer to pick us up for another 4-hour trip. Yes, a very long day!

We get picked up at 07.30am as promised and we were excited to be underway and also hoping the kids would just fall asleep on the bus. Half way through our trip to Halong Bay however (keep in mind we have been on the road for 13 hours), the tour guide tells us that due to unprecedented weather and an impending monsoon, no cruises were permitted to stay out on the bay overnight.

Imagine how devastated we were! We were given the choice of going back to Hanoi (now we were without accommodation for 2 nights) or keep going to Halong Bay and go out on a day trip. After much deliberation, we decided to continue and at least enjoy the bay for the day. We re-negotiated the price and the rest was to be refunded.

Half way through our day trip out on the bay, which by the way was lovely, we got chatting to an Australian family. They informed me that they were told that they weren’t going to be able to continue their second night on the cruise the NIGHT BEFORE!

This meant that the cruise knew for hours before they told us and yet they only informed us half way through our transfer, with the hope that we would continue with the day trip instead of turning back after 2 hours on the bus and make some money. I was soooo mad and felt scammed. So, if ever you are going out on a cruise, check before you leave!

YOU MIGHT LIKE:   12 Charming Shops and Cafes In Old Town Hoi An
Halong-Bay-Cruise-Woman

I’m Glad I Went Anyway to Halong Bay Despite Being Led Astray.

#08 – LOST MEDICATION

In all the insanity of the above story, the cruises scrambled for all sorts of transport to get people back to Hanoi at night. It was so chaotic but they managed to get us on a small bus. By the time we reached our hotel, it was 26 hours since we left our hotel in Sapa. I was beyond exhausted, let alone the poor children. In my tired state, I inadvertently left my pouch with Hannah’s medication on the bus.

This was Hannah’s travel sickness medication. Losing it was detrimental to our flight home and I was beside myself. I tried emailing the cruise company but to no avail. As mentioned, we stayed at the Sofitel Metropole Hanoi and I asked the concierge to help me. I was dubious of finding it as the bus company had nothing to do with the cruise company but I had to try. The concierge informed me the next day they had no luck. I asked them to try again and explained the importance of the medication.

The following day, they tell me that they found it! Hallelujah! They said the bus was out at Ninh Binh for the day and will come past the hotel around 8pm. The next morning, I go and collect the pouch only to find out he never came. Well, I guess he had no incentive to make the effort and I resigned myself to never seeing it again. Poor Hannah was very good about it, knowing she was probably going to vomit the whole 14 hours home to Australia.

Whilst we are out, I got a message that the pouch had been returned and was in our room. I was so relieved! When I got back to the hotel I make my way to concierge to thank them for their efforts, only to be told the bus driver had returned the pouch to the cruise head office and the Sofitel sent a car to go and collect it for us! I have never received such amazing hotel service in all my time. I cannot thank the team at the Sofitel Metropole enough. Hannah slept all the way home on the plane.

So there you have it! Our tumultuous Vietnam family holiday with all its ups and downs. According to VietnamNet, 70% of tourists do not return to Vietnam because of theft, congestion, food hygiene and pollution. When you compare this to Thailand where 60-70% of their tourists are repeat travellers, it really puts things into perspective.

Some might argue and say that is the whole reason we travel. To experience a culture and country outside of our comfort zone. And to some extent I agree but being lied to and experiencing a small amount of racism is no fun for anyone.

But then again, let’s not forget the exemplary service we did receive which softened some of the less savoury experiences.

Will I return to Vietnam? Yes, I will. Our honest Vietnam family holiday review isn’t meant to deter you from going either. Now that I am aware of what to expect, I will be less offended or perturbed. I will however stay clear of the major cities as the beauty lies in the countryside. There is much more to see in this fair country and I’d be happy to be in the 30% of returning tourists.

BONUS TIP #1 – RELATED ARTICLES

12 Charming Shops and Cafes In Old Town Hoi An

12 Tips To Help Prepare For Your Trekking Adventure in Sapa

BONUS TIPS #2 – IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT VIETNAM

Weather in Vietnam

This S-shaped country has a north-to-south distance of 1,650km which means that the weather varies greatly throughout the country. Perhaps the best way to look at the best time to travel to Vietnam is to split the country into regions.

  • Far North such as Sapa: December & January can be particularly cold including possible snowfall. The summer months has very high rainfalls.
  • Hanoi & the North: May to October is hot and humid with high rainfall. November to April is cooler and dry.
  • Central Vietnam: Experiences hot, dry weather between January and August. High levels of rainfall in September, October & November including possible flooding in areas such as Hoi An.
  • Southern Vietnam: dry and hot from November to April, and warm and wet between May & October, with the highest rainfall in June, July & August.

Vietnamese Currency

The Vietnamese currency is known as the Dong. At the time of writing $1 USD equates to approximately $23,500 VND. As you can imagine, it is a cumbersome currency with calculations of hundreds and thousands to millions. Vietnam is not high on plastic payments, so cash is still required in most cases. US dollars are also accepted in most cases so not to worry if you run out of Vietnamese Dong.

Do I Need A Visa to Visit Vietnam?

The best way to check if you require a tourist visa to enter Vietnam is here.

Citizens of the USA, UK and Australia all require a visa upon entry into Vietnam. Thankfully, the process is pretty easy.

Here are 4 Easy Steps to Get Vietnam Visa On Arrival:

Before getting on board:
Step 1:  Fill in Vietnam visa application form online at www.govietnamvisa.com/step_1
Step 2: Make online payment for the approval fee
Step 3: Check email to get Vietnam visa approval letter after 2 days (normal service) or 1 day, 4 hours or 1 hour (urgent or super urgent services) or even on non-working time in 15 minutes and print it out.

Upon entry in Vietnam airport:
Step 4: Get your Vietnam visa stamped in Vietnam arrival airport by submitting original Passport + 2 passport-sized Photos + printed Vietnam visa approval letter + and Pay the stamping fee ($25 for Vietnam single entry visa, $50 for 1 month multiple entry and 3 month multiple entry visa)directly to the Vietnam Immigration Officers. Then get the Vietnam visa stamped into passport by the Immigration Officers at the Immigration Desk.

 

 

8 Vietnam Travel Reviews and Things You Need to Know Before You Go

Vietnam is popular family travel destination. From the bustling city of Ho Chi Minh to the Sapa, here are our honest Vietnam travel reviews and personal family travel stories throughout this country. Family travel destination. Family travel tips. Family travel kids. #familytravel #travelwithkids #vietnamtravel CLICK ON THE LINK to access our blog post about our Vietnam family travel review.

Disclaimer: The Family Globetrotter’s website contains affiliate links which help us to maintain this blog and assists us with our travels, at no extra cost to you. Family Globetrotters have also posted articles based on sponsored products and/or services, but all opinions are our own, truthful and unbiased.

32 comments

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Cato February 2, 2019 - 3:08 am

I can totally relate to your experience. I lived in Vietnam for about 6 months and have gone through a lot as well from racism, to being scammed etc but in the end I still couldn’t help but fall in love with the country. 🙂

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Family Globetrotters February 20, 2019 - 6:05 pm

Good to know that I’m not the only one, not that I wish these expeiences for you. Vietnam certainly has its charm, not get me wrong. It is a beautiful country. Glad the not so good experiences didn’t deter you from staying there for 6 months!

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blair villanueva February 1, 2019 - 11:10 pm

That is something truly unexpected! I agree that during our travel abroad, not all are in glitz and glam, and sometimes we want to forget those unpleasant moments. However, I admire your honestly for sharing your genuine experience.
Funny coz I can relate to your situation when I travel around the city here in Manila, and my French boyfriend is the first who gets a good customer service (even though I’m the one who will pay!), lol.

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Family Globetrotters February 20, 2019 - 6:03 pm

Thank you! Yeah travel isn’t always picture perfect. Yup, I totally understand how your French boyfriend gets more attention than you even in your own country. So weird right?

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Paula February 1, 2019 - 10:45 am

Wow, sounds like one of a kind trip! Sorry that you guys got sick and about the other things that occured. I have also heard about Vietnam as not tourist friendly what comes to taxis and such. If there is anything to say about the things that happened to you, later you will laugh about it and realise that it was a true adventure.

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Family Globetrotters February 1, 2019 - 3:59 pm

Absolutely! We do look back at it now and have a bit of a giggle. Just thought I’d pen this down for first time travellers to Vietnam.

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Jane Dempster-Smith February 1, 2019 - 8:29 am

Thanks for this informative article. We are planning to spend time in Vietnam this year. I have already visited Hanoi and am sad that the Old Town is now polluted. Also sorry to hear of so many things going wrong in your trip. You have a positive attitude and you show that whatever happens you just move on. Thanks for the tips.

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Family Globetrotters February 1, 2019 - 3:58 pm

You welcome Jane! I’d skip Hanoi on your next trip since you have already been there. The pollution was seriously overwhelming and I have been to many SEA cities before. Well we try to be glass half full kind of travellers. Its all part of the experience.

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amar singh February 1, 2019 - 4:04 am

A great read I must say and as I travel with kids makes more sense to me as well. I have not been to Vietnam and must say its not too dissimilar from the rest of south east Asia. Travel sickness in these areas are common if you are not around from this part of the world and my way of dealing with this is staying away from non branded and bottled water to start with and cooked food only . I must say the racism aspect I have never faced yes the taxis in Thailand even dont want to go via meter thanks for sharing

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Family Globetrotters February 1, 2019 - 3:56 pm

We are not even sure it was really food poisoning in the end and yeah, we are always careful in SEA. The taxis are infuriating and not all SEA countries are as bad. Bali isn’t great either when it comes to taxis.

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Daniel January 31, 2019 - 6:50 pm

This was one lovely writ up. I think everyone should read this before visiting Vietnam. Pollution is indeed a problem but the customer service is indeed , superb and Vietnamese are very welcoming. However, one should always be prepared for scammers, especially if one’s a white westerner ( you covered these two points with the racism and your scam experience as well. I read about it in one of your previous posts and it’s really frustrating and disappointing but it’s a part of the journey I suppose

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Family Globetrotters February 1, 2019 - 3:54 pm

It sure is disappointing and to be racist against your own race is just plain weird to me, not that any racism of any kind is acceptable. Yes, I guess it is all part of the journey. But the fact that Vietnam’s return tourism rate is so poor to its neighbouring country, Thailand is testament to the fact that they have a long way to go before it becomes a destination of choice.

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Anita January 31, 2019 - 2:26 am

I loved Vietnam and didn’t have any serious negative adventures. I like how you got frank with the description. I would definately recommend Vietnam for visiting, but as always, you need to be careful everywhere, as everything can happen. I have food poisoning so many times in Asia, I guess it can happen to everyone.

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Family Globetrotters February 1, 2019 - 3:51 pm

Despite my not so great experiences, I had a wonderful time in Vietnam. Will go back one day and will definitely recommend others to go to. The next time I shall be wiser.

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Diana December 17, 2018 - 5:13 am

I surprisingly didn’t even notice the pollution in Vietnam, probably because I travel to China a lot and the pollution there is MUCH worse. Sorry about your scamming incident and food issues – I pretty much lived off pepto during my time in Vietnam and made it out of there mostly unscathed, so I think it probably just has something to do with the cleanliness of the food that causes stomach issues for westerners. All in all it looks like you had a good time, and these are super helpful tips for someone visiting Vietnam for the first time!

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Family Globetrotters December 17, 2018 - 9:32 am

Thanks Diana! The pollution in the rest of Vietnam was tolerable. It was just in the Old Quarter in Hanoi for some reason it was so stifling! Its like the pollution was trapped and had nowhere to escape. The minute we got out of there, we felt so much better. Too bad my pounding headache lasted the rest of the day. As for food, well, I have a “Western belly” despite being Asian. Not conditioned enough to the take in the delicious food!

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Yukti December 16, 2018 - 3:47 pm

You really had lots of ups and down on your Vietnam trip. It is very sad that during the buffet breakfast a small child suffering from peanut allergy had mistakingly taken peanut stuffing and have survived. The hotel should have clearly kept allergens food on separate table or labeling. Going to third world country with kids is sometimes a challenge as sometimes logistics are very chaoitic there.

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Family Globetrotters December 17, 2018 - 9:29 am

Yes would have been great if the food were all clearly labeled. But we should have asked. Just didn’t expect peanut butter in a traditional Chinese dumpling I guess! But they were amazing afterwards, thankfully!

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Ami Bhat December 15, 2018 - 11:31 pm

That is a brutally honest review about your travel. I am glad you shared the good with the ugly. I am so sorry about the racism bit. However, I have seen this reverse racism across countries in Asia. It is quite sad. Glad though there were some good experiences like retrieving lost articles that made up for it. Cheers

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Family Globetrotters December 17, 2018 - 9:23 am

What is it with the “reverse racism” thing?? Like, I’m Asian in an Asian country for goodness sake. But I have heard so many stories of thing happening its ridiculous!

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Lisa December 14, 2018 - 11:06 pm

I’m so sorry to hear about some of your experiences in Vietnam, but it’s so important you share it with others. I think the ‘reverse racism’ issue is disgusting. It sounds like it’s happening more, especially in these countries where tourism has seen a huge spike in visitors. I didn’t make it to Hanoi, and now am kind of glad, as I don’t like the sound of the pollution! Thanks for the tip if I do ever return! Sad about the scam too – you should publicise that company more, so they don’t do it again to other foreigners.

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Family Globetrotters December 17, 2018 - 9:16 am

Thanks Lisa…. just a sad state of affairs in my opinion because Vietnam need the tourism dollars. And yes, its sad that its happening more and more as people become more judgmental and generalize behavior. Yeah, that cruise company still makes my blood boil!

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Anjali W December 13, 2018 - 10:00 pm

I have been planning for a trip to Vietnam and wasn’t aware about the pollution there. Coming from Delhi which is high on pollution, I plan to travel to those places that are relatively better to breathe. I am glad that I cam across your article and would now know what to expect from my visit. I truly am impressed by the gesture from Sofitel Metropole and would be considering booking my stay with them.

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Family Globetrotters December 14, 2018 - 9:36 am

I have not been to Delhi so I can’t comment if its better, worse or on par. But I guess its good you’re prepared. Its just in that Old Quarter area that it was particularly bad as that space is so concentrated and compact. Obviously not all of Vietnam is like that. If you’re able to stay at he Sofitel Metropole… OMG do it. It is glorious! And make sure you stay in the Opera wing. So beautiful.

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Shreya Saha December 13, 2018 - 6:56 pm

I myself have been to Vietnam and I could not agree to you more when you mentioned about the pollution in Hanoi. Truly, it’s bikes everywhere. I had a very good experience with Ha Long Bay. You need to book with them directly. I am sorry for what you had to experience. And yes, the cab drivers are notorious. They boiled my blood every now and then. But it is true, that the hospitality I got in hotels was incomparable.

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Family Globetrotters December 14, 2018 - 9:31 am

Shreya! Looks like we both had the same experiences! Kind of makes me feel a bit better cause I was hoping I wasn’t being overly princess like. Oh yeah that pollution is horrendous. As I think about it now I can almost smell it again. Ha Long Bay experience itself was magical and we loved it! Just wished they gave us the option as we were flexible and would have been happy to change days so we could experience the 2 nights rather than just a day trip.

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Daniel December 13, 2018 - 6:36 pm

I have visited Vietnam before but still enjoyed this post. I like it that you keep it real and don’t try to create a fake image of Vietnam. It’s always more challenging to experience some of the things you have when you’re with kids. I’m sorry you went through that.

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Family Globetrotters December 14, 2018 - 9:29 am

Ah all good Daniel! It is part and parcel of travel. Not every travel experience is picture perfect. It sure was tiring with the kids but they also have to know that’s what life and travel is about. We made the best of the situation and it was certainly an adventure! I assume you had a positive experience in Vietnam?

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Jing December 13, 2018 - 2:58 pm

There is no perfect trip and I liked that you highlighted both ups and downs of your trip. Travelling with kids makes the “lows” extra more challenging and I admire you for keeping your cool and getting through all these challenges. Being an Asian traveler, I have also unfortunately experienced racism but also in every place I travel, I could say that there is always good in everyone, there’s always that stranger who will willingly help no matter where you come from.

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Family Globetrotters December 14, 2018 - 9:27 am

Thank you and yes, absolutely true about the good in people. In all my travels, I have had way more positive experiences than not. I just find it so strange that the most racism I have encountered are in Asian countries! Perhaps it’s just more blatant so it’s more noticeable.

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Kavita Favelle December 13, 2018 - 2:27 am

I really enjoyed reading your post, not least because you didn’t just share what was excellent, but also the bad and downright ugly, as you put it, as well! I think there are so many posts listing the attractions, but few that warn about relevant issues such as pollution, racism, being scammed and illness from food poisoning. I’m so glad that you also had some positive customer service as well.

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Family Globetrotters December 13, 2018 - 10:42 am

Thanks Kavita! Yeah I think we spend so much time painting that pretty picture that we forget to share unsavoury stories as well. At the end of the day its an amazing country but being aware of what may happen also helps if you encounter the same thing. Best to be prepared I guess.

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