Vietnam Observations

Well I've been in Vietnam for a few days now and I figured I might as well take advantage of the free internet access at my hotel and post some observations.

First of all, while vietnamese are still generally really polite, they are definitely way more aggressive about trying to sell you things than lao people are. As soon as you walk along the street you will have tons of cyclo and moto drivers trying to take you somewhere. There are also lots of ladies carrying around fruit that really try to push it on you and usually some people trying to sell you t-shirts or books. What gets to be a bit annoying is that they all really try to get your attention and sometimes won't take no for an answer. I have a couple theories on this. I'm thinking that with years of propoganda about western capatalists maybe they just think that we're so obssesed with spending money that as long as they can get your attention you'll have to buy something. Well it's a theory anyways.

Sometimes ignoring them works really well but you have to be careful about how you ignore them. Not making eye contact seems to help keep them from starting in on you. When they spot you they start yelling "hello" to you. If you really ignore them then sometimes they'll figure you didn't hear them and keep yelling (or honking their horn or making other noise). Shaking your head sometimes works but not often. The key seems to be to make it clear that you did hear them but you're just not aknowledging them, hard to pull off.

A technique I've developed for dodging the moto and cyclo drivers has been to walk with a purpose. As long as you have a really clear destination in mind and focus on that you seem to be a little more immune to them. But if you're just wandering or have to pull out the map, then it's all over. I was extremely sucessful in this earlier today but that time my purpose was to find a moto driver! I was walking around with such a clear purpose of trying to find one that none of them went for me. Finally, I stopped and reached for my guidebook, as soon as I touched it a moto driver was on me.

Related to this is something I've noticed in Laos as well, there is tons of copying of businesses. In Laos you would see it more in that if a shop opened up then pretty soon 2 or 3 more shops trying to look as similar as possible would open up nearby (frequently next door). So you'd get a lot of places where there'd be 3 or 4 cell phone shops in a row for example. In Vietnam, it seems to have gone even further, they will blatantly rip off even the name of the place to try to confuse you. This is especially true of tour companies that get good reviews in Lonely Planet. There must be at least 100 Sinh Cafe copies in Hanoi. There's a rip-off Kangaroo cafe. And possibly my favorite one, there's a Fansipan Tours right next door to the real Fansipan tours! You really need to make sure you know the exact address of the place you're going (in the case of Fansipan, it was something like the real one is 24a and the fake one is 24 on the street). I'm not sure if this is a lack of business knowledge where people don't understand that you should try to make your business stand out to attract customers. You could also get into cultural differences here, particularly being a communist country where people are encouraged (and taught) to follow as a group rather than pursue individual ideas. I suspect the yelling thing started this way too, a few people started doing it and got more business so now everyone does it. I try to make a habit of not buying anything from these people in hopes that it will discourage the practice.

I also have to say that cyclos are really cool. I'm not sure which is cooler, tuk tuks or cyclos, they're both cool in their own ways. Either way, 3 wheeled vehicles seem to be way cooler than 4 wheeled ones. For those not in the know, a tuk tuk is a vehicle common in Thailand in Laos. It's basically a motorcyle front end with a covered carriage in the back with seating for about 4 people. They tend to be hand-built but there's a certain amount of uniformity in the design (although they all are different). There is actually a tuk tuk dealership in Udon Thani though. A cyclo (or pedicab) is essentially a bicycle back end with a seat in front of it. The rider pedals on the back end and you sit in the seat on the front. I've heard the ones in Saigon are smaller, the Hanoi ones could fit 2 people if they squeezed in a bit. They're pretty comfortable and a neat way to get around. What's odd is that there's nothing if front of you to obstruct your view. Makes for an interesting ride in traffic sometimes but it's pretty cool to just sit there in the open and take in the sites.

The final observation for today is traffic; there's a lot more of it here in Hanoi. It's definitely not as bad as Bangkok though. However, like Bangkok, it's produced a different effect. The traffic is extremely chaotic and drivers are certainly not "good" by western standards but there's a sort of un-written set of rules. I suspect that traffic has been an issue here for longer than in Laos so I'm seeing a similar situation as in Bangkok, the traffic is crazy but everyone driving in it knows how to drive in the crazy traffic. It definitely seems less dangerous than Laos where no one knows how to drive, let alone in traffic.

Similar to Laos, no one seems to look behind them or use their mirrors. With various different speeds of vehicles on the roads this can create problems. The solution seems to be to use your horn, a lot. I seem to have come up with the situations you use your horn:

  1. If a slower vehicle is ahead of you

  2. If pedestrians are on the road ahead of you

  3. When entering an intersection (don't bother actually looking for traffic)

  4. If pedestrians or vehicles are on the side of the road not blocking your way but maybe they will

  5. If you haven't honked your horn in the last 2 minutes; better make sure it's still working in case you'll need it

Seriously, the honking is crazy here. But this creates a new problem; people are used to filtering out the honking. The solution seems to be to honk louder or longer or to do a series of honks. Of course everyone ignores those too. For the most part it usually seems to work but I've been on motos where the driver will honk at a group of people standing in the middle of the road and they just stand there oblivious until he's right on top of them.

Sorry about yet another massive blog post. I've been debating including more posts on the main page but with the average length of my posts being pretty long that doesn't seem like a good idea. Incidentally, at Sneddy's request I've added an xml feed for my blog using blogger's atom feature. It's not exactly the way I'd like to do it but this is now done automatically by blogger so it's the easiest way for me to set it up for the moment. I might look into better options once I'm home. Those who don't understand what I'm talking about in this paragraph needn't worry, it won't affect you.