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Why I Hate Vietnam | Ummi Goes Where?

Note: The views expressed in this article are purely anecdotal, and should be regarded as such. They are not meant to offend any party, or to be taken as a definitive guide in helping you decide whether to visit this destination.

I rarely hate a place. Sure, there were places that didn’t quite live up to my expectation, such as Paris and the Maldives, and there were places that made me feel unsafe, like Surabaya where I almost got raped by a bus driver, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say I hated them.

Vietnam, however, was the first and only country that I could honestly say I hated. I went twice, first to Hanoi in 2011, and the second time to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in 2015.

I thought the second time would change my opinion about it, but unfortunately it only confirmed the fact that this was the worst country I had ever visited. Whatever redeeming qualities it had were far outweighed by the annoyances I experienced.

It turned out that I wasn’t the only one feeling that way.

The famous blogger Nomadic Matt also said he wouldn’t return to Vietnam. So did Alex of Alex in Wanderland who had mixed feelings about the country, and Patrick Gaveau who listed down 22 reasons why he hated Vietnam. Even Hunter the Traveling Panda chipped in about his less-than-stellar experience in Saigon.

If you google why tourists hate Vietnam, you’ll find many similar stories. While most of the complaints, such as pollution, bad weather, bad smells, and rip-offs are actually common things throughout Southeast Asia — including in my own country, Malaysia — there are some that are specific to Vietnam.

Crazy Motorbike Traffic

Crazy Traffic in Vietnam
Credit: der tomtomtom/WikiCommons

Crazy traffic is not an uncommon occurrence in Asia.

But I have traveled to many countries in the region and a few in Africa, and I have never seen anything quite like the traffic in Vietnam. Specifically the motorbike and scooter traffic.

According to Wikipedia, there are 45 million registered motorbikes in Vietnam on a 92 million population headcount, making it one of the highest motorbike ownership rates worldwide. Which would have been fine had there been any semblance of order on the road, but there’s none.

Those tiny slick vehicles always have the right of way and would stop for no one. There never seems to be any traffic lights in Vietnam, and if there is, nobody pays any heed to it. Everybody simply moves in all directions, weaving in and out, trying to avoid collision.

And if you happen to be trying to cross the road, well, good luck to you.

I didn’t take any video of the traffic in Vietnam, but these are two that I found on YouTube:

Evidently, crossing the roads in Vietnam is something that you would get used to over time, but it gave me so much anxiety that I started to dread stepping out of my hostel (you’re not safe on the sidewalks either).

Scams

Okay, I know that scams happen almost everywhere in the world, but I’d like to give this one special mention because it was the first time it happened to me, and I totally didn’t see it coming.

I expected scammers to come in the form of a dodgy-looking person, a fake travel agent trying to sell bogus tours, a money changer who tried to shortchange tourists, or a taxi driver who tried to rip me off, but this one was a little different.

I was walking down a street in Hanoi one day when all of a sudden, an elderly lady seller blocked my path and placed her traditional fruit baskets on my shoulder. She was yelling something I couldn’t understand.

Note that this was my first time in Vietnam and my first day there to boot. I was still a novice traveler then — having only been on 5 or 6 weekend trips abroad — so I wasn’t too good at detecting scams.

I had honestly thought the lady needed help moving her stuff, since she looked so old and frail. So, I confusedly but willingly obliged.

Instead, she went on and put her conical hat on my head, and asked for my camera. I — still unsure of what was going on — slowly handed it to her. She then took a few pictures of me (which actually turned out to be pretty decent, so at least there was one good thing that came out of this).

Vietnam scam | Ummi Goes Where?
Getting scammed in Hanoi. 2011.

After retrieving her hat and fruit baskets, she asked me, quite forcefully, to buy her pineapples at an exorbitant price. I smiled and said no, but she started yelling again. Not wanting to make a scene, I paid the amount.

True, this was just a minor incident, but it really gave me a bad first impression of the city. What does it say about a place when you can’t even trust the old ladies there? And unfortunately that’s only one of the many common scams in Vietnam that target tourists. Culture Trip has listed out 10 more.

While these scams are annoying, they’re nothing compared to snatch thefts (which could cause serious injuries or even deaths), and tourist kidnappings by taxi drivers in Vietnam.

Rude & Aggressive Sellers

Ben Thanh Market, Vietnam | Ummi Goes Where?
Credit: Cmego Travel Guide

I don’t usually shop when I travel, but one of my friends had asked me to help her buy a backpack in Vietnam.

In Southeast Asia, Vietnam is known as the place to buy cheap stuff (read: counterfeit products) of fairly good quality, backpacks being one of them.

So, I went to one of the shops in Hanoi.

Buying for yourself is one thing, but buying for someone else is another — you want to make sure that everything is perfect and fits all their desired criteria.

And so, I might have spent a little too long trying to make up my mind when the shopkeeper suddenly snatched the backpack out of my hands, and shouted, “NO SELL!”, after which he practically shooed me out of the store.

In Saigon a few years later, it wasn’t any different.

My travel partner wanted to visit the Ben Thanh market but didn’t want to go alone, so I had to come with her. There were all sorts of things on sale — from souvenirs to foodstuff to clothes, but we spent most of our time at the fabric section.

Ben Thanh Market Saigon | Ummi Goes Where?
Ben Thanh Market, Saigon. Credit: Cmego Travel Guide

The fabric sellers in Ben Thanh market were really something else. They would literally grab on to you and not let go until you buy something. And God forbid you ever touch anything on display. They’d force you to buy it.

There was one seller who, when asked the price of something, snapped at us, “You want to buy?! If you don’t want to buy, don’t ask!”

It wasn’t like we had lingered too long at her shop — we had just arrived.

And that was the general attitude of most people we met in Saigon — rude and unfriendly, if not downright aggressive.

As mentioned previously, I have since traveled quite a bit in Asia, so believe me when I say I’ve seen some persistent sellers. But never have I ever visited a place that made me feel so unwelcome as I did in Hanoi and Saigon.

What Finally Changed My Mind

I knew that I wasn’t going to give up on a country so easily — it’s not fair to judge an entire nation based on just a couple of visits.

Still, it took me another 4 years before I visited Vietnam again. This time, I chose Da Nang, Hoi An, Da Lat, and Nha Trang, all in the central part of the country. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a little apprehensive about the trip.

However, I was in for a big surprise.

The motorbikes were still there ruling the streets, but what surprised me were the people. They were all so welcoming and friendly, including the sellers! I’m not talking about isolated incidents — in all four cities I visited, I experienced the same warmth.

People actually smiled and greeted me. They didn’t grab me by the arms or extort money from me or chase me out of stores.

With the Lantern-Making Instructor
With my lantern-making teacher in Hoi An.

What was going on?! It felt like a different country altogether.

Are the people in central Vietnam friendlier because they are more used to tourists? Is it because the cities are not as hectic as Hanoi and Saigon, therefore people are more laid back?

I didn’t know the answer, but I truly enjoyed my two weeks spent there, where I went to the beaches, learned to make lanterns, tried stand-up paddling on a river, went cycling among rice fields, visited the ‘Crazy House’, rode on an alpine coaster, and bathed in a tub of mud.

Whereas on my previous trips to Vietnam I couldn’t wait to go home, this time it was over too soon.

basket boat - Cycling tour in Hoi An Vietnam | Ummi Goes Where?
Learning to row a basket boat in Hoi An.

Final Thoughts

It has been said time and again that Vietnam is a country that you either love or hate. I’ve met several other travelers who wax lyrical about Vietnam, saying that it’s their favorite country in Southeast Asia. When I relayed to them my negative experiences, they were very surprised and almost didn’t believe me.

I still have no idea why there’s a world of difference between central Vietnam and the other parts I’ve been to. Perhaps it was only a matter of me being at the wrong place at the wrong time and meeting the wrong people.

I’m glad I gave it a third chance. Now I can say that I don’t hate it anymore. In fact, when my mind was no longer clouded by contempt, I began to discover more and more things I loved about the country.

Would I go again?

Yes. There are still a lot of places in Vietnam that I haven’t explored. I may even revisit Hanoi and Saigon, just to see if I feel differently about them, but I think I’d rather skip the markets this time.

Have you been to Vietnam? Did you love it or hate it? If you’re Vietnamese, I’d love to hear your thoughts too. Please comment below.

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65 Comments

  1. Pingback:10 Things I Love About Vietnam – From Banh Mi to Bia Ha Noi – Ummi Goes Where?

  2. Hunter the Traveling Panda

    Thanks for linking my blog post. You’re a great writer. I felt the exact same way about my time in Saigon. There is something about big cities that brings out the worst in people.

    I am so happy that you had a great experience in Central Vietnam. I currently live in Da Nang and I love it here.
    I just finished a motorcycle tour of North Vietnam and there were some of the most incredible and magical places I had ever seen. In my opinion, Vietnam is an amazing country but I really dislike Saigon.

    Good luck in your future travels.

    • ummi

      Thank you so much, Hunter. I had fun reading your blog too. Glad to know that you’re enjoying life in Da Nang at the moment. That motorcycle tour sounds amazing, and I’m sure there are many more incredible things that I’ve yet to see and experience in Vietnam. Can’t wait to visit again and explore more. In the meantime, stay safe, and all the best for your travels and writing!

  3. Hasif Hamsyari

    Interesting sharing! I’ve been to Ho Chi Minh and Ha Noi and just like you, there are certain things I didn’t like much but most of the time, I enjoyed my time there. Met some friendly locals too and they are so kind to offer help. Would love to discover other parts of Vietnam in the future!

  4. Fadima Mooneira

    I’ve been to Ho Chi Minh once. It wasn’t that bad for me. But it’s not my favorite either. There are some places we been to and we did not like. I also don’t like Itali especially Milan and Rome. I got rob RM2000.00 in Milan. Geez!

    • ummi

      Oh gosh, that’s terrible, Fadima. I didn’t have any bad experience in Italy, fortunately, but I’ll be more careful next time. Thanks for the heads-up.

    • ummi

      Ya, Rawlins, Ben Thanh seems to be very popular among Malaysian tourists. And I suppose it can be really cheap if you know how to haggle and handle the harassment.

  5. Mahamahu

    Negara-negara Asia tenggara jer yang memang bandar dan kawasan mereka penuh dengan motorbike yeyeyeye untuk pengankutan senang dan cepat mudah dan murah sebab tu sesak tapi kita tak pernah sampai Vietnam lagi nak pergi lah…

    • ummi

      Betul tu, Ayu. Walaupun kena scam ni memang menyakitkan hati, tapi sekurang-kurangnya kita dapat belajar sesuatu daripada pengalaman tersebut.

  6. Kitkat Nelfei

    I pretty much agreed with you on the points you highlighted. Luckily they still have Da Nang, Hoi An and Hue that can changed our traveling experiences in Vietnam..I think only those famous cities having this issue.. the local community competition i guess..

    • ummi

      Yes, I think so too, Kitkat. Perhaps it’s the cut-throat culture in big cities that make them behave that way. Luckily, there’s Central Vietnam.

  7. Tekkaus

    Guess it all boils down to personal experience. After reading, it made me think twice if I should visit Vietnam one day too.

    • ummi

      It does boil down to personal experience, Tekkaus. I hope this article won’t stop you from visiting. Just be prepared for these annoyances that you may possibly encounter.

  8. SalJohari

    Seronok baca pengalaman ummi . Kagum k.sal sebab jiwa Ummi kental masa travel . Dapat tengok budaya dan cara hidup masyarakat lain selain di Negara sendiri . Teruskan dalam mengapai impianmu !!

    • ummi

      Terima kasih, kak Sal kerana terus-terusan memberi sokongan kpd blog saya. Mudah-mudahan selepas pandemik ni reda, saya boleh teruskan pengembaraan saya di negara-negara lain pula. 🙂

  9. Wui Kathy

    Yup, got good and bad when we travelling, that’s life. Glad that you enjoy lantern making with your teacher in Vietnam. Mouse mommy has not been to Vietnam yet, hope will have chance to travel there to experience myself.

    • ummi

      You’re right, mouse mommy! There’s good and bad in life. But Vietnam was one country where the bad outweighed the good, at least on my first two visits. Glad I finally learned to like it. I hope you’ll get to visit Vietnam too someday. 🙂

    • ummi

      Ya, Nina. Memang ramai orang Malaysia datang Ho Chi Minh ni untuk shopping. Bagi sesiapa yang kaki shopping, pandai tawar-menawar, dan hati kental (tahan maki), memang best la datang sini. Haha. 😛

    • ummi

      I tak suka shopping so I can’t really comment. Dan disebabkan pengalaman yang tak best shopping kat Vietnam ni, confirm lepas ni tak nak dah. Tapi ramai orang Malaysia suka shopping kat sini sebab murah kalau pandai tawar.

  10. Halimah

    Kalau l kena scammcm you tak taulah camner, lbh elok travel dgn kawan2, mana2 tempat pun kita travel kena berhati2 tapi kena tak tau dorang punya trick nak scam org luar

    • ummi

      Ya, kak Halimah. Nak travel mana2 pun sama ada secara solo atau berkumpulan memang kena berhati2, sebab bahaya ada di mana2. Mungkin saya kurang bernasib baik dan kurang persediaan waktu tu.

    • ummi

      Betul tu Saidila, di setiap destinasi yang saya lawati, semestinya ada yang baik dan yang buruk. Tapi Vietnam ni adalah satu-satunya negara yang saya tak suka (masa mula-mula la) sebab lebih banyak pengalaman yang tak best daripada yang best.

  11. Siti Nor Adila

    Khusyuk baca ,very details..and saya boleh faham keadaan awak masa di sana. tq for sharing, later when i nak travel there, i akan lebih hati hati memilih tempat..

    • ummi

      Terima kasih, Adila. Saya harap, jangan disebabkan artikel ni Adila takut pulak nak ke Vietnam. Pengalaman orang berbeza-beza. Cuma berhati-hati je la dengan scammer dan peniaga2 yang agresif.

  12. Marielle

    The same scam happened to my partner but with coconut for 50k dong, also in Saigon! Rookie mistake. Otherwise, we generally accept the fact that we might slightly overpay things, that’s how it is. Once you avoid D1, Bui Vien and Ben Thanh, it gets better and locals are friendlier 🙂

    As you said, Central Vietnam feels more welcoming and authentic! We once went to a remote fishing village near Hoi An on our own at 5 am and it felt so great, then randomly stopped at someone’s house for banh mi and coffee and the people were so nice and excited to have us.

    • ummi

      Thank you for sharing your experience, Marielle. You totally lucked out with the free banh mi and coffee at the fishing village! That’s really one of the best things about traveling independently, isn’t it? That you never know what you’re gonna get — sometimes you’re lucky, sometimes you’re not, but it’ll still make for a great story no matter what.

    • ummi

      Hahaha tu la, sempat pulak makcik ni nak scam orang kan. Tapi memang jadi kenangan dan pengajaran la. Nak kata pahit pun tak jugak. More like, tak boleh blah 😆

  13. Angela

    This was such an interesting read as Vietnam is my most favourite country (and I’ve been too many). I like your honesty and am sorry that your experience was not good. I travelled Hanoi – Halong Bay – Hue – Hoi An and Da Nang and can honestly say the people were wonderful and I wasn’t subject to any scams however I am a mature traveller and had a 6 foot 5 man with me so maybe they didn’t want to try their luck. I felt like you about Kuala Lumpar and want to return to give it a second chance as I loved other parts of Malaysia just not KL. I’m glad your most recent trip to Vietnam was a good one

    • ummi

      Thank you, Angela! And glad to know you enjoyed the article. I’m not sure if my experience would have been better had I been older. Perhaps so, as mature travelers are often perceived as wealthier and therefore make better customers, so they wouldn’t want to get on your wrong side. And having a 6’5″ man with you must have helped too. 😀

      I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t have a good experience in my city. Granted, it’s not the most charming city in Southeast Asia, but I do hope you’ll give it another chance. Let me know if you have any question about Kuala Lumpur and I’ll try my best to answer. 🙂

  14. Jamie

    Thanks for sharing your perspective on Vietnam, it was a very interesting read. I think for me the exceptional rudness and aggressivenss would also be a turnoff as well. I think there is some hope still for an enjoyable trip if the focus is on the central country, as with your second trip. It’s something I’ll definitely keep in mind if I choose to visit!

    • ummi

      You’re welcome, Jamie. I hope this won’t stop you from visiting the country. The central part of Vietnam is wonderful, but I’m sure the other parts have some hidden charms too. I just have to visit again and find them 🙂

  15. Chloe Beaver

    Thank you for your honesty! I had a connecting flight through Vietnam one time and wandering through the airport I just wanted to stay. When I make it there one day I’ll take your advice and visit central Vietnam! It reminds me of my time in Bangkok, I was not too keen on the city but visiting the outer parts of Thailand was incredible with the most friendly people. Maybe it’s just a little luck!

    • ummi

      Yes, I agree with you, Chloe. I think it has a lot to do with luck. I’m tempted to visit Hanoi and Saigon again just to see if I’d be luckier this time. If you don’t like big cities, definitely avoid Saigon. But I hope you’ll make it to Vietnam again one day.

  16. Shreya Saha

    I am sorry you felt this way. Scams are popular and common in many countries, I understand even such things put me off, but Vietnam is not that bad. I loved the country because of its beauty. I am also glad that you did not give up and gave it a second chance and liked few other places. Next time, try Sapa and you will fall in love with the place. It’s in northern Vietnam.

    • ummi

      Thank you, Shreya. Vietnam is beautiful but the annoyances totally spoiled my experience there. However, there are many more places in Vietnam that I haven’t visited and are on my list, Sapa being one of them. I might even repeat Hanoi and Saigon.

  17. Sherianne Higgins

    I haven’t been to Asia and have no desire to visit Vietnam. Every once in a while I see something that makes me curious but this seals the deal. I’m positive I would not respond well to the vendors and I would get arrested. Also, the traffic looks terrifying and I don’t want to have a heart attack because if the traffic looks like that, I can only imagine the health care. Thank you for being honest about Hanoi and Saigon

    • ummi

      Oh no, Sherrianne, I hope I didn’t turn you off completely from visiting this country. The traffic was indeed horrible in Hanoi and Saigon. And I wouldn’t recommend the local markets to anyone. But perhaps you’d enjoy Central Vietnam, like I did.

  18. Debra Schroeder

    So bummed you hated Vietnam. It’s one of my favorite countries. Incredible that you don’t hate Surabaya despite what happened. And so glad you gave it a third chance, DaNang is different than Saignon. 

    • ummi

      Yes, Debra. Da Nang and the rest of Central Vietnam are very different from Saigon. It’s amazing how one country can have totally different vibes in its different regions. I’m glad I didn’t give up on Vietnam. 🙂

  19. Cecilia

    I’m glad that you gave your perspective and change of opinion. It is a shame that the elderly lady scammed you. I probably would have fallen for that too, in fact it reminds me of a time someone tried to scam us in Zanzibar. Anyway, I am glad that you were able to visit other regions of the country and eventually had a change of heart!

    • ummi

      I’m glad of that too, Cecilia. It would have been a shame if I just gave up on it too soon, as Vietnam has so much to offer. Speaking of Zanzibar, I’ve heard some negative stories from solo female travelers. I didn’t have a chance to visit when I was in Tanzania two years ago, but I’d really love to see it for myself someday. Hope everything went well for you there, aside from the attempted scam.

  20. Agnes

    I haven’t been to Vietnam yet. Your stories are exciting. When I was traveling in India or Morocco, I also met pushy salesmen, chaotic traffic on the streets. I was scammed a few times, even robbed once. But it’s good that Vietnam also has places that charmed you. Each country has white and dark side.

    • ummi

      Sorry to hear about your experiences in India and Morocco, Agnes, although I’m glad that you were safe in the end. I hope that hasn’t turned you off completely from visiting those countries again. I have been wanting to go to Morocco for a while now, but the stories I hear scare me sometimes. But like you said, every country has its own white and dark sides. We just have to be prepared and hope for the best.

  21. Eunice Tan

    Thanks for sharing your story! I’m glad I did my trip in reverse, first visiting Hue then Hoi An and finally Ho Chi Minh (coincidentally in increasing degree of tourism development). Had I visited HCMC first, I would probably not have enjoyed and appreciated Vietnam as much as I did.

    • ummi

      You’re welcome, Eunice, and thanks for sharing your experience too. Glad that you were able to enjoy your trip in Vietnam. Perhaps other readers will take their cue from you and try the same route too. 😀

    • ummi

      You’re totally right, Susanna. I’m glad I didn’t give up on it so soon. But then again, they’re totally different places. I wonder if I’d still feel the same way if I visit Hanoi and Saigon again.

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