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.
TRAVEL TIPS YOU WILL FIND:
- #01 – DEBILITATING POLLUTION
- #02 – RACISM
- #03 – FIRST CLASS CUSTOMER SERVICE
- #04 – FORGOTTEN ITEM
- #05 – ILLNESS AND FOOD POISONING
- #06 – NEARLY MISSING OUR TRAIN
- #07 – WE GOT SCAMMED
- #08 – LOST MEDICATION
- BONUS TIP #1 – RELATED ARTICLES
- BONUS TIPS #2 – IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT VIETNAM
#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.
#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!
#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.
#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!
#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
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.
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.
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.
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