The problem with traveling to Vietnam just because it’s cheap

By Minh Le   March 29, 2017 | 12:00 pm GMT+7
The problem with traveling to Vietnam just because it’s cheap
Foreign tourists taking a rickshaw (cyclo) ride along a street in the old quarter of Hanoi. Photo by AFP/Hoang Dinh Nam

Tourists love the country because it’s cheap, but low costs come with risks.

Yet another travel list has named Vietnam among the must-visit places in the world because it’s cheap.

This time, it’s Emily Zemler, a writer from Refinery29, who describes Vietnam as one of the best “super cheap” destinations in the world.

“Asian destinations like Japan and Singapore can be pricy, but Vietnam is notably budget-friendly. The food, which is just as good from a street cart as it is from a sit-down restaurant, is cheap (usually less than 10 bucks a pop) and hotels are reasonable, with luxury properties averaging around $80 per night…

Don’t be afraid to sample the street food, which includes signature dishes like beef pho and bun cha, and make sure to spring for a countryside bicycle tour from Hoi An, which run $17 and up.”

To be fair, cost-based recommendations like these are what Vietnam, still an emerging travel destination, needs now.

It’s perfectly fine to love something when it doesn’t bankrupt you – it’s even better when that something is also good. “Cheap” is not a dirty word. We don’t need to avoid it and replace it with pretentious phrases like “budget-friendly” or “best value for your buck” when we promote a product or a travel destination.

But “cheap” does come with a connotation: some sort of compromises must be made and accepted.

For cheap travel, the biggest compromises are on quality and safety. In Vietnam, this can mean anything: drinking a beer that tastes like water, sleeping on a hostel bed with a dirty sheet, getting food poisoning after a meal at a delicious sidewalk joint, drinking toxic moonshine, or falling from a waterfall. And the list goes on.

Many travelers will take these risks without blinking an eye. Ask any backpacker in Saigon and they will tell you how happy they are when they only need a few hundred bucks to travel in Vietnam. Diarrhea and those serious travel safety warnings don’t faze them one bit.

Such carefree attitudes have boded well for Vietnam’s tourism industry so far. If travelers are fully aware of all these risks and they still want to come, let them in by all means. After all, a trip to Vietnam is not complete without at least one story of crazy, unforgettable mishaps.

But a great travel destination should never be associated with risks. Eating street food must not feel like gambling. A night on a Ha Long Bay ship must not end with a quick dive into the cold water to avoid getting burnt alive. Even adventure tourism should be about the illusion and the thrill, not real risks.

Like the economy as a whole, the industry can’t thrive on being cheap forever if being cheap only means low standards and corner-cutting. Vietnam must step up its game to make sure no travel writer will ever have to write this line: “Don’t be afraid to sample the street food.”

* The article does not necessarily reflect the views of VnExpress International or VnExpress.