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Zafigo’s Quick Guide to Nam Dinh for Women Travelling Alone or with Family and Friends

My cupboards were still full of clothes when I left the house; it was then that I realised how much stuff I had accumulated in my 23 years of being. It’s much easier to appreciate your possessions when you’re carrying them on your back. And I set off to Nam Dinh, Vietnam with just that – a 40L backpack, plus an ignorant but positive mindset.

It wasn’t until I was on the plane that it dawned on me – I knew nothing about Vietnam and I had no job or accommodation sorted there. Yikes! But after living there for five months, I can share these tips for fellow women travellers who are heading there for the first time.

If it’s your first time in Nam Dinh, here are 10 things you should know:

1. Get there via Hanoi

Local women working in the fields (Photo credit: nadaoffner/Pixabay)

From the main bus station in Hanoi, catch the orange Futa. There is a separate office especially for these brightly-coloured vehicles. The journey takes about an hour and a half, and costs VND70,000 (approximately USD3). If you miss the Futa, wait by the side of the road and catch any other buses that are heading there. These are slightly cheaper ones at VND60,000 (about USD2.60) but often take longer as they stop whenever they want, delivering parcels and letters as they go.

Pro tip Ask a local to help you write ‘Nam Dinh’ on a sign and hold it up.

2. It’s safe for women travelling alone

I found Nam Dinh to be very safe, and Vietnamese people to be very friendly. But just as in any country, it’s important to keep your wits about you as there will always be muggers and con artists who want to take advantage of tourists. This is less prominent in Nam Dinh, however, as they are not very used to having tourists around.

3. You HAVE to pick up some Vietnamese

All smiles! (Photo credit: Laura McMahon)

I am privileged that English is my native language and often I have very little difficulty communicating with people while abroad. Enter Nam Dinh. Nobody speaks English here. Well, very few at least, save for the assistants at the school where I taught English. That was pretty much it. Eating out at the restaurants was full of surprises – I didn’t always know what I’d ordered until the food arrived at the table! I am now a pro at charades and can speak broken Vietnamese. It’s easier to learn when there’s no choice and you’ll pick things up pretty quickly too. I have delighted many by pronouncing words in Vietnamese the exact way the locals say it.

4. You may get your 15 minutes of fame

I sometimes wondered what it would be like to be famous. Now I know. Nam Dinh has about 20 foreigners, and if you’re one of them, people will point. Things that are normal in Nam Dinh include people taking selfies with you, following you around supermarkets, pointing and shouting tay (Westerner) and crashing their bikes into walls (okay, this was only one kid and only once, but still). You are a novelty.

5. Bike it around

The best way to travel in Nam Dinh is by scooter or bicycle (Photo credit: Robert_z_Ziemi/Pixabay)

Everyone in Nam Dinh rides a scooter or a motorbike, and the driving is out of this world. I was scared in the beginning, but after two weeks, I was zooming across lanes, overtaking bikes ferrying bamboo trees, fridges and multiple people and even using the reliable stick-your-hand-out-and-wave trick to indicate turning right. People don’t drive very quickly in Nam Dinh and if there’s an accident, it’s very much an “Are you okay? Good. Let’s go on our way,” kind of affair. This may be because driving licences and insurance are seen as superfluous in Vietnam.

6. The cost of living is cheap

The cost of living in Nam Dinh is crazy, crazy cheap. For reference, a beer costs anywhere from USD0.20-0.80 while a bowl of pho costs roughly USD1. If you’re planning to stay long and can get an English teaching job like I did, which paid USD25 an hour, there are opportunities to save money.

7. Shop quirky clothes or have them custom made

Shopping in Nam Dinh won’t break the bank (Photo credit: Khánh Hmoong/Flickr)

There are so many excellent shops for buying clothes in Nam Dinh. Just don’t expect any branded clothes, unless you want counterfeit products. A hobby of mine was buying clothes with incorrect English written on them. Some of the phrases are hilarious! At the market, you can get lovely material for a steal and the old women can work their magic, sewing up anything you want. Show them a picture of what you want and they’ll measure you on the spot.

8. Just chill

There isn’t much sightseeing to do in Nam Dinh, other than the churches. Some activities you can go for to fill time are going for a ride on the swan boats on the main lake, followed by a movie and some food at the popular café, Coffee Beans (55 Thanh Chung Street). Kick back on their comfy couches upstairs, curl up with some cushions and choose a movie from their large database. You can also order food and drinks from the restaurant downstairs and they will deliver it to you while the movie is playing. Finish off your day with a pint of craft beer at Artbox or enjoy some live music and finger painting at Fanxipan.

9. Eat, eat, eat!

Bánh mì is the Vietnamese word for bread, or more specifically baguette (Photo credit: ChrisGoldNY/Visualhunt)

One of the main reasons I travel is to try different foods. When in Nam Dinh, you need to visit Minh Duc and get the banh mi trung (pronounced ‘bang me chung’). This is basically eggs, vegetables and a delicious sauce in a baguette roll. If you’re vegetarian, tell them “kom tit” (no meat). The breakfast plate at Dau Dau is also a must-eat.

10. Dive into local experiences

Naturally, Nam Dinh’s very rich in Vietnamese culture, but because it hasn’t seen many tourists, remains quite traditional. Shopping is mostly done at small stalls and local shops on the side of the road. There is one large superstore called Big C where you can get everyday supplies, and one coffee chain called Time Café. I would also recommend checking out a wedding while you’re there. You’ll witness many by the side of the roads, and they are definitely eye-opening experiences into Vietnamese customs and traditions.

Nam Dinh is still relatively unknown for now, especially among Western travellers, but it is gaining popularity as it’s easily accessible from Hanoi. Go before it loses its charm!

Cover image credit: Tony Nguyen/Flickr