VIETNAM TRAVEL

 

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DANGERS & ANNOYANCES

Beggar Fatigue
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 cause more 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 'pimps' 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. 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.
Noise
Remember Spinal Tap? The soundtrack of Vietnam is permanently cranked up to 11! 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 Sam onwards. This not only means that traffic noise starts early, but you may be woken up by the crackle of loud "pikers as the Voice of Vietnam cranks into life at Sam in small towns and villages. It's worth trying to get a room at the back of a hotel.
One last thing, ..don’t forget the earplugs!
Prostitution
Karaoke clubs and massage parlours are ubiquitous throughout Vietnam. Sometimes this may mean an 'orchestra without instruments', or a healthy massage to ease a stiff body. However, more often than not, both of these terms are euphemisms for some sort of prostitution. There may be some singing or a bit of shoulder tweaking going on, but ultimately it is just a polite introduction to something naughtier. Legitimate karaoke and legitimate massage do exist in the bigger cities, but as a general rule of thumb, if the place looks small and sleazy, it most probably is.
Scams
Con artists and thieves are always seeking new tricks to separate 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 use 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, as per the signed contract. 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 set the police on you (these threats are generally empty ones). The most common scam most visitors encounter is the oldest in the book. The hotel of choice is 'closed' or 'full', but the helpful taxi driver will take you somewhere else. This has been perfected in Hanoi, where there are often several hotels with the same name in the same area. Book by telephone or email in advance and stop the scammers in their tracks. 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 do not close yourself off to every person you encounter.
Sea Creatures
If you plan to spend your time swimming, snorkelling andscuba 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 cause for alarm as most of these creatures avoid humans, or humans avoid them. so the number of people injured or killed is very 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 lend 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 enclosed shoes in the sea.
Theft
The Vietnamese are convinced that their cities are full of criminals. Street crime is commonplace in HCMC and Nha Trang, and on the rise in Hanoi, so 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 taking cyclos 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 that you leave unattended for even a moment may grow legs and vanish. There are also 'taxi girls' (sometimes trans-vestites) who approach Western men, give them a big hug, often more, and ask if they'd like 'a good time". Then they suddenly change their mind and depart, along with a mobile phone 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 ro 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 arc poor, but honest,
Undetonated Explosives
For more than three decades four armies expended untold energy and resources mining, booby-trapping, rocketing, strafing, mortaring and bombarding wide areas of Vietnam. When the fighting stopped most of this ordnance remained exactly where it hail landed or been laid; American estimates at the end of the war placed the quantity of unexploded ordnance at 150,000 tonnes. Since 1975 more than 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. You can learn more about the issue of landmines from the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Ban Landmines
GOVERNMENT TRAVEL ADVICE
The following government websites offer travel advisories and information on current hot spots.
Australian Department of Foreign
Affairs (Tell: 1300139 281) British Foreign Office (Tell: 0845-850-2829) Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs (Tell:800-267 6788)
US State Department (Tell:888-407 4747;)
PLANET OF THE FAKES
You'll probably notice a lot of cut-price Vietnam Travel Guide Vietnam titles available as you travel around the country. Don't be deceived. These are pirate copies, churned out on local photocopiers. Sometimes the copies are very good, sometimes awful. The only certain way to tell is price. If it's cheap, it's a copy. Look at the print in this copy-if it is faded and the photos are washed out, then this book wilt self-destruct in five seconds.