Life Lesson #8: Importance of Vacation Planning

We love vacations. It’s something that we plan once to twice a year so that we always have something to look forward to. If you haven’t already, read our previous posts about how we make saving for vacations super easy.

Last winter, we went to Vietnam and it was amazing. Our parents were born and raised in Vietnam so we really wanted to pay their homeland a visit.

We usually do some prep work ahead of time to pick places to visit and read up on other travelers’ experience. Amanda is extremely organized so she always builds an itinerary for all our trips – from places to eat to places to go, she always has us covered. She even works out how much to spend for the day.

Here’s how planning ahead made our trip to Ho Chi Minh City (South Vietnam) and Hanoi (North Vietnam) so much more enjoyable:

1. Picking the right taxi

When we landed in Ho Chi Minh City airport in the late evening, we were extremely tired and needed to catch a taxi to our hotel. Public transportation isn’t really an option and there isn’t a subway system that would take us into the city. Locals and tourists have the option of paying motorcyclists to get around (think Uber with motorcycles) but it really wasn’t an option for us because we had two large luggages.

Taxis are super cheap in Vietnam and the cost to get from the airport into the city would be less than $10 CAD. We walk out to the taxi waiting area and there are plenty of people offering to drive us. Some vehicles were branded and some vehicles were unmarked. To make things even more complicated, there are taxis that look like they are from the same company, but with different spellings and/or different phone numbers.

We didn’t want to get scammed, robbed, or taken to the cleaners with faulty meters so luckily we did some planning ahead of time and found out that there are really only two reputable taxi companies – Vinasun and Mai Linh.

To give you an idea of the kind of imitators we were dealing with, here’s a picture comparing one of the reputable companies with an imitator.

Taxis in Vietnam

Not sure what would of happened to us if we hopped into a non-reputable taxi but we definitely didn’t want to find out so we were so glad we did all our planning ahead of time.

2. Carrying small denominations on hand

The cost of living in Vietnam is substantially lower than Canada. Compare a large bowl of Pho (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup) in Toronto for $12 CAD to $3 CAD in Vietnam. When we exchanged Canadian dollars for Vietnamese dong in Toronto, the currency exchange only had large denominations available ($500,000 dong bills/approx. $30 CAD) so we were carrying only the largest denominations and we knew this was going to be a problem because we knew everything we would be buying would end up costing a few dollars here and there.

This would be super problematic when we buy from street vendors or needed to haggle at the Flea Market where prices of everything were unmarked and the price quoted was often based on the maximum amount they thought they could charge us. Either it was going to be difficult to get change back because they didn’t have it or they wanted to delay giving back our change in hopes of convincing us to buy other things.

Luckily we anticipated this all coming so we began breaking large bills at Shop & Go, popular Asian convenience store chain, as soon as we got to Vietnam so we didn’t have to go through this.

We remember watching a tourist ask for his change back after buying a bag of peanuts from a street vendor and it took almost 5 minutes to get it back because the vendor wanted to sell the tourist on other things instead. The change probably amounted to less than a Canadian dollar but we recognize that it’s likely the principle the tourist wasn’t happy with when he didn’t get his change back. We’re just glad we were able to avoid all of this.

Note: It’s a good gesture to have the restaurants or taxi driver keep the change especially if it’s small and we received good service so we made sure to do that whenever possible.

We learned that vacation planning is a must and we were so glad we took the time to read other travelers’ experiences before our trip. It definitely made our trip that much more enjoyable.

We loved every part of our time in Vietnam. The food, the people and the atmosphere. We’ll definitely be back!

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