The BBC (as part of its tie-in with Lonely Planet) recently published its list of the World’s Best Cycling Routes, featuring such pleasant & scenic rides as County Clare in Ireland and Luberon/Mont Ventoux in France. But my eyebrows were considerably raised by their number 10 selection – Vietnam’s Highway 1!
Described as “iconic” and “long but intensely rewarding”, the selection was illustrated by a shot of a peaceful temple with a bicycle leaning against it, as if to suggest that Highway 1 represents some kind of Oriental idyll. Er…are you going to tell them or shall I? In the annals of bad travel advice, recommending one of the world’s worst deathtraps for a pleasant cycling holiday has to be right up there at the top.
And it got me thinking about other awful pieces of Vietnam travel advice I’ve heard over the years. My Lonely Planet Vietnam has a real classic – stressing the importance of business cards in Vietnam, it advises backpackers, apparently in all seriousness, to get some business cards printed with “Occupation – Backpacker” on them.
Tripadvisor is also a rich source of bad advice. One recent post advised against wearing camouflage shorts as “these might offend the Vietnamese because of the war”. Another poster advises that, when travelling to Vietnam, you should pack such essentials as “Bulldog clips, cigarette lighters, matches, A4 pads, wire coat hangers, and rubber bands”. The same poster, when asked what clothing travellers to Vietnam should take, recommends “4 good quality golf shirts + handkerchiefs”. Another advises bringing wet wipes because “some restaurants in Vietnam charge 2000VND per napkin”. Even more bizarrely, someone advises “It is also a good idea to bring a supply of tooth picks of your favourite brand. Toothpicks are everywhere but they seldom seem to fit me.” Brand loyalty in the toothpick market? Toothpicks that don’t fit? The mind truly boggles.
Sadly it seems that, the more dependent we become on the internet, the less common sense we seem to have. So whilst on the one hand we have people recommending busy national highways as cycling routes, we have others who clearly need help finding their way out of their own houses, let alone making it as far as Vietnam.
“What shoes should I wear in Vietnam?” asks one concerned traveller. Another says “Should I bring my own chopsticks?” Yes, you should – they’re not very popular here. “Are there bugs in Vietnam?” asks another, seemingly considering the possibility that Vietnam may be unique amongst the world’s nations in not being home to insects. Quite what these people did before the arrival of the internet is beyond me.
Coming to Vietnam? Don’t go near Highway 1 unless you’re in a car or bus (and even then it’s best avoided), and bring your brain with you. That’s pretty much all the travel advice you need.
Tim Russell is Managing Director of Come & Go Vietnam