Taking an example from complaints about tourism in Viet Nam of an American tourist Matt Kepnes posted on Huffington Post last week, in which he described he was being "constantly hassled, overcharged, ripped off and mistreated", Viet Nam News asked readers to share their tips for first-time travellers concerning these issues. Here are some responses we received last week.
Third-year-student Nguyen Thanh Tung from the Ha Noi Trade University became worried when his 10sq.m rental accommodation price in Cau Giay District rose to US$52 from the pre-Tet price of US$42. His landlord raises the rental price twice a year and due to the shortage of rental accommodation, Tung has no choice but accept, and pay this large sum of money, which is half of the total stipend he receives from his family.
About 70 per cent of students in the country are in Tung's shoes, forced to rent houses with poor conditions for living, studying or entertaining guests. Some students even become victims of sexual abuse and violence.
Nevertheless, according to the Ministry of Construction, the State provided VND8 trillion ($400 million) in 2009-10 for student accommodation projects and more than VND2.5 trillion ($119 million) will be spent this year on such projects.
In many countries such as Australia, the UK or France, universities attract not only local students but also international ones.
So does your country face the shortage of accommodation for students?
If yes, how does your country handle this problem?
If not, which policy or strategy has your government used to avoid this?
Did you stay in dormitories or rent a house when you were a student? How are the conditions of these places? Please share your experience.
Emails should be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org – or by fax to (84-4) 3 933 2311. Letters can be sent to The Editor, Viet Nam News, 11 Tran Hung Dao Street, Ha Noi. Replies to this week's questions must be received by Thursday morning, February 16.
Edward W. Liggett, American, HCM City
Matt Kepnes' experiences in Viet Nam are probably correct from his perspective, but maligning the efforts of 95 per cent of the people because of the actions of the 5 per cent is patently unfair. I am a Viet Nam Veteran and have been in Viet Nam since 2006. Not once have I been disrespected because of the Viet Nam War and I have travelled the length of Viet Nam. In fact, I married a Vietnamese woman and live in District 12 of HCM City. My neighbours are friendly and supportive, and never hostile. When I go to restaurants, movies, or other places of entertainment, I have felt welcomed and among good people with outstanding character.
Matt will find the experiences he described anywhere in the world where tourists are targeted for tourist bucks. One such place is a well-known Sai Gon Market. My wife and I were targeted to buy t-shirts at three times the price even though the salespeople assured my wife she was getting a good deal because she was Vietnamese. The point is most Vietnamese do not shop at this market. And to be fair, they have begun to clean up their act. Still you would better be advised to shop at the Sai Gon Tax Building. There you will receive competitive prices and get an inkling of what items retail for in Viet Nam.
I believe it is essential that Vietnamese clean up their cities. Most foreigners believe ‘First impressions are lasting impressions!' When people throw their garbage on the street, urinate wherever convenient, and act lawlessly it harms Viet Nam.
I expect to end my life in Viet Nam with the consent of the government and people of Viet Nam. I'm very happy with my choice, and very proud of the achievements of the Vietnamese after years of warfare. Their history is similar to the US, and everyday the US Consulate is fronted by Vietnamese wishing to travel to the US. I can only conclude Matt, excluding any other motives, you had a bad experience.
Keith J McDonald, Vung Tau City
I can appreciate some of the comments made by Mr Kepnes however, having lived in Viet Nam for 15 years, I find his accusation of ‘mistreatment' is not plausible. Regardless of wherever you go in the world people will always try to ‘rip you off' – America is no different! I would imagine Mr Kepnes travelled with a limited budget and had high expectations of picking up a bargain at a ridiculously low price. It is very common to haggle about the price of an item – but do it in a pleasant manner – most times you will get the price that is acceptable to yourself and the vendor. If the price is not acceptable then walk away.
Taxi's are an issue in HCM City which may have been of concern to Mr Kepnes. Recently my wife and I arrived at the hydrofoil terminal at HCM City en route to the airport. We took a cab outside the terminal and within less than 1 kilometre the meter was showing VND300,000 (US$14) – and this was a licensed taxi. I understand the taxi company came to an arrangement with the ferry terminal to provide sole services. Solution – walk about 50 meters and get a Mai Linh taxi.
I hope Mr Kepnes has a change of heart and returns to Viet Nam – it is a very lovely country.
Rie Watanabe, Japanese, Ha Noi
Obviously, the bad experiences that Matt Kepnes had during his trip to Viet Nam can happen to any budget traveller. I don't believe any of his words were exaggerated. But I also believe those things are popular in other tourism spots across Asia, and I have observed as much when travelling throughout the region.
To avoid such bad experiences, careful preparation must be done by searching for information from the Internent. In Japan, we have a lot of useful websites for travellers to help them stay safe when abroad. These websites offer tips and experiences so we can imagine what the travel will be like in other countries.
Talking about bargaining in Viet Nam, I myself find it an interesting technique. I've learnt a tip that we should copy the price paid by other Vietnamese. When I want to buy things from street vendors, I will try to find one who has lots of customers. It also helps that I look similar to Vietnamese, so I can easily sneak into the crowd and listen to the bargaining conversation and follow. Even if I am not lucky enough to have a seller with other customers around, I will also try bargain myself by paying the price I think reasonable. If I fail to bargain, I just walk away. The point is that if the seller really tries to overcharge you at first, she will chase you down to lower the price. If not, just find another seller, and try again.
Patrick Moran, British, HCM City
After more than ten years of almost daily critical circulars I cannot be accused of being an apologist for Viet Nam! There is a reason. Everywhere is a package. Nowhere is perfect. There should be a daily question. Everywhere. How can we do better? However, after visiting about 50 countries I chose Viet Nam for permanent retirement.
I am opposed to media monopolies but our tweets and blogs seem to go to the opposite extreme. A male student in Scotland recently masqueraded successfully as a persecuted lesbian in Damascus! If I wrote a blog as a tourist here you would know what one 83 year old Brit thought. Helpful. Unless you were more or less intelligent, on a different budget, in a different age group, or from a different culture! My donated survey in HCM City said what they all liked most was the people and all disliked most was the traffic. Before visiting Australia for the first time with my Vietnamese family I read a guide book. If that is necessary for a Brit in Australia what about when we go to Asian cultures! I don't choose one designed for backpackers or people with an unlimited budget because I am neither.
We cannot lose a lifetime of our own cultural background but we can adapt. In the UK prices are fixed and you will look silly if you try to bargain for everything. In most of Asia you will look silly if you don't.
Abdi Shakib, Australian, Adelaide, Australia
I support Mr Matt Kepnes's complaint and add that unfortunately my holidays in HCM City was corrupt in the core.
I intended to have a relaxing four-week holiday in HCM City and started searching for hotels and visa on arrival information on the net. A company called "vietnamhotels.net" with the email address: email@example.com was offering both and I wrote them a letter on December 30, 2011 and described the required hotel room and asked if they could offer such a room.
The requirement was very standard for a hotel: A deluxe room in a Three Star Hotel of 28-30 square meters, with a newspaper daily and such trimmings, and most of all, when I arrive, my room should be ready to occupy. Correspondence was all made with a lady called Ms. Victoria Nguyen and she approved all the points with her own words and introduced me to a three star Mini Hotel called Queen Ann Hotel. She charged me $45.00/night and I paid for 14 days in advance with the condition of being able to extend my stay for another 14 days if everything went well.
So after 23 hours travel from Adelaide, Australia, I finally reached my destination on January 21, only to find out that the room I booked, will not be ready for occupation till January 23.
Being tired and being temporary, I accepted the standard room Number 803 of about 15sq.m and waited until the 23rd to go to my booked deluxe room of 28-30sq.m. At 12am on 23rd when I came back from walking about, I was told by the receptionist that I had been moved to room 904 the deluxe room that I had booked for.
When I opened the room I was astounded at how small the room was. I wrote an email to Victoria but found out that because of the New Year Holidays the office was closed.
Last week when the office finally opened, Victoria went in denial and said my first 2 days I was actually upgraded from a deluxe to a double suit room. To prove how she had deliberately sold me a small room, I went out and bought a measuring tape and measured our room which was 16.6sq.m consisting of wardrobe and bathroom too. Not to mention that for the daily newspaper I was told the paper was in the lobby and must be returned, and if you wanted to eat take-away lunch or order dinner from the hotel kitchen, you had to eat it in your room, sitting on the bed.
A tourist office like Vietnamhotel.net ruins the reputation of any Vietnamese dealers and no matter how much you try to bring back the tourists, offices like this and agents like Victoria ruin your work. — VNS