For me, planning and preparing for a new destination is half the fun of traveling. I always do my due diligence and research any common scams and the general safety of where I’m going. When researching Vietnam, more specifically Hanoi and Northern Vietnam, I came across quite a few unfavorable opinions of the area.
As I researched, I found stories of taxi scams, overcharging tourists, petty crime, and negativity towards Americans are on every corner of the Internet. Some long-term travelers claim they will never return to the country.
I try to be open minded and not form opinions without personal experience, but speaking to a couple that had an unfavorable view of the area gave me pause. Combine that with a late night arrival, uncertainty about my visa, and no local currency, and I boarded a plane for Hanoi with some apprehension.
Luckily, I arrived without a hitch (usually what you spend nights worrying about never occurs). My first taxi ride in any country is always me at my worst. This time I was especially panicked; coming up with worst case scenarios in my head. When I was delivered safely to my hotel, I over tipped the driver in thanks for not justifying my crazy fears.
On the first morning, my goals were to find an ATM, food, and walk the few streets around my hotel. As I walked through the hotel lobby, I noticed signage warning of theft and being mindful of your valuables when out on the streets. What had I gotten myself into?!
I am normally cautious of my surroundings and belongings, but I was a fidgety basket case on that first walk. It’s a hectic city, the weather was gray, and after attempting to withdraw Vietnamese Dong from four ATMs I was still penniless. After about 45 minutes of wandering, I decided to call it a day and went back to my room to sulk.
At this point, I was wondering why I had come here at all, but thank goodness it didn’t last long. Within a day and a half, I had sorted out my ATM card, spent the night exploring the great street food, and met a few lovely locals. I was also informed that the rise in theft was because I arrived towards the end of the New Year’s holiday, and there was an influx of people in the city.
To my surprise, the weeks to follow included some of my fondest memories of the past few months, beautiful landscapes, and a few great new friends. After only a short time in Vietnam, I was starting to dread my upcoming departure date.
I ended up leaving and visiting three other countries before returning to Hanoi for the last month of my travels. Lucky for me, I was flexible enough to come back to the country that I was originally nervous about visiting. If I had listened to the stories and warnings of other travelers, I would have missed out on so much.
I still thoroughly research every destination before I buy my plane ticket, but it’s important for me to remember that everyone’s experience will be different. I will never completely ignore the advice of other travelers, but I won’t let it stop me from traveling to someplace I really want to go. Travel and life lesson learned.