July 29, 2012 2:25 AM   Subscribe

Two questions about Vietnam! 1) Safe to take my macbook on travels through the country? 2) What should I be buying cheaply in Vietnam?
posted by freddymetz to Travel & Transportation around Vietnam (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It does depend slightly on what standard of travelling you'll be doing but I would say don't take your macbook if you're using lots of public transport and will be staying in places where the door locks are poor, you alone don't have the key to your room and you don't have a room safe big enough to take it.

In my experience having had things nicked travelling (or people who I was with), a clear 2/3 of those times was other tourists doing the stealing. A macbook = 2+ months of travelling for someone running out of cash.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:54 AM on July 29, 2012

Had my netbook (entire bag, actually) stolen from my room in Laos. As a result, I was travelling pretty light by the time I reached Vietnam, but it seemed a bit safer in that regard. I think you're more likely to be scammed there, judging by some of the people who I met (still in the minority, though).

If you don't have to bring it, don't. Otherwise: insurance, backup, encryption, don't flash it around in public. It is a great country, and Internet cages abound.

Vietnamese coffee is good. Timbuk2 makes their bags there - I regret not picking up a cheap one I saw in Hanoi.

Bootleg DVDs are cheap. I had a friend looking at a glucose monitor, so maybe medical monitors are cheaper but I have no frame of reference.
posted by backwards guitar at 4:03 AM on July 29, 2012

I brought a Macbook Air around Thailand and Bali. There was never a problem. Loads of people travel with laptops these days as it works out much cheaper to use the hotel WiFi than to go to an Internet cafe and it's easier to store your photos on one.

Still, exercise a little restraint about taking it out anywhere. If you're leaving it in a room of a cheap hotel (with a flimsy lock) use something like a Pacsafe mesh or one of their bags to secure it. It's a pain to have to carry a laptop everywhere in a hot country and you'll want to leave it in the room most of the time. If you think the worry will ruin your holiday, just don't take it.
posted by nevan at 4:23 AM on July 29, 2012

Our laptop was stolen from a (rather upscale) hotel room in Hanoi. If you do take it, get insurance and make sure it is encrypted. Before it was stolen, we felt like it drew attention we would rather not have had.

As far as shopping, I picked up a pair of beautiful linen pants, some nice silk scarves that get tons of compliments and two handmade puppets. My tailor was thrilled with the quality of the clothing I got there (french seams, well constructed of very nice material), but I spent around 100 USD. There were very nice linen tablecloths, but I have an irregular table, if not I would have come home with several.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 5:45 AM on July 29, 2012

To those with insurance, how did you prove that it was stolen? Was it a pain to get a police report? And do insurance companies cover the cost even if the room lock wasnt that good?
posted by freddymetz at 6:00 AM on July 29, 2012

If you want to take any laptop (and aren't using the Macbook for like, business) you may consider picking up a netbook and then reselling it. I did that on a 3+ month trip and it was a godsend. It was an Asus EEE PC and I still use it 2 years later. It cost something like $275 brand new, although prices have probably dropped. I grossed it up a little with masking tape so it was ugly and less appealing to people looking to steal electronics. It worked perfectly the entire time. I carried it around often because it was light, at about 2 pounds.
posted by amicamentis at 6:28 AM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Years ago Quantas lost my Powerbook G4. At that time all I had to do was provide a police report and then let my insurance sort it out with the airline.

I traveled to Vietnam quite a few times with a laptop (often one of the early IBM X series ultraportables) and never had a problem. But quite often I kept it with me in a messenger bag or in a lock box at my hotel. Whatever you do make sure that you have nothing of importance on it (no irreplaceable photos or documents) and basically just have the OS and enough HD space for syncing of the cloud storage flavor of your choice (I keep multiple services, Dropbox, Cubby, SkyDrive and GDrive, just so as not to have all of my "eggs" in one basket if things go well and truly sideways). If you are not using HD encryption (bios level can be good on PCs or something like TrueCrypt on Windows, OSX or Linux) think about using it, but don't ever lose your password, or not only will you potentially not be able to access your information, you won't be able to wipe and reuse the hard drive in a new install. Which is the point essentially, but it sucks when you shoot yourself in the foot-ask me how I know this. :(

One of the reasons I like IBM/Lenovo Thinkpads so much is that you can get a finger print reader, which adds another level of security to carrying your laptop in less than perfectly safe environments. But I think they make USB readers that could work with your MacBook.

As for stuff to buy, Vietnam is arguably home to some of the best tailors on the planet. You can go there and for perhaps $100-$200 (or less) dollars get a custom suit made that rivals $1500 suits in the states. All within two to three days. If suits aren't your speed get some shirts made, or some pants. Whatever you get it'll probably be better than most of the clothes (and definitely cheaper) that you could purchase in a western country. Have a nice trip!
posted by chosemerveilleux at 7:50 AM on July 29, 2012

Getting a police report in Laos was a giant pain. Language barrier in the town my bag was stolen in, and then a wait (police don't work on weekends apparently) in the city (plus a small arbitrary fee) to get it. I think Vietnam would be easier, though. Your home insurance may cover you. Give them a call, and ask.
posted by backwards guitar at 8:12 AM on July 29, 2012

To address your other question, one great thing to buy in Vietnam is silk. You can get beautiful scarves, quilts and decorative pillow covers, etc. for a fraction of what they cost most other places. Be sure to haggle. Textiles in general are a good bet.
posted by unsub at 8:47 AM on July 29, 2012

Spent 2 weeks in Vietnam with a tablet, didn't flash it around in public at all as it was small enough to fit in my backpack, and only really used it on the flights and in the hotel. It definitely felt safe enough and I did keep it in the hotel safes instead of lugging it around. YMMV.

Definitely recommend looking at silks [scarves/shawls] and tailored shirts, great quality and cheaper than most countries.

Also lots of knock-offs: computer bags/sleeves [lots of Crumpler knock-offs]. Backpacks [from small stuff to the large traveling/hiking ones]. Football shirts [Be sure you know what the team's shirt looks like or at least find a picture online, you might end up with a very old design or just a totally nonsensical one]. Shoes [felt like there were Converse knock-offs all over the place].

Double check the quality if you end up getting knock-offs though, be sure all the zippers work and the seams are sturdy etc. And haggle haggle haggle.
posted by xqwzts at 9:45 AM on July 29, 2012

I traveled with my Thinkpad, no problem at all. Just treat it like any other valuable you've got in a relatively poor country and exercise common sense.

I bought a beautiful handmade acoustic guitar on Luthiers Street (Thien Thuat Street) in Saigon for a fraction of what you'd pay for a handmade american instrument. Well worth a visit for string musicians.
posted by Long Way To Go at 10:26 AM on July 29, 2012

One of the main things to buy are tailored clothes. (I even had custom leather boots made). There are lots of places that do good, cheap, quality work. I had all my stuff made in Hoi An.

As others have mentioned, silk is also good to buy in vietnam, but be careful about being it in touristy shops - i bought two beautiful 'silk' robes for about 10% of the cost it would be in north america, which turned out to be fake. (But i also bought a gorgeous real silk dress and an beautiful scarf that were about 25% of the cost they'd be in north america. Lesson: the really cheap stuff is crap.)

The North Face products are available for cheap because (i believe) the factory is in vietnam.
posted by Kololo at 11:39 AM on July 29, 2012

> To those with insurance, how did you prove that it was stolen? Was it a pain to get a police report?

This is obviously just anecdata, but last year friends of mine had their iPhones stolen while they were asleep one night in their four star hotel in Vietnam; they strongly suspected (based on a weird incident earlier that day) that hotel staff were involved. They visited the local police station to file a report, and to their surprise were instead detained in a windowless room and berated for five hours by police who aggressively insisted that their phones had not been stolen, and certainly not by hotel staff. They were told they would not be released until they signed a statement (typed in Vietnamese) admitting to having lied about the theft. They were terrified, and signed. Which meant that not only did they not recover their phones, they were sans police report and therefore couldn't claim the loss on their insurance.

Like I said, total anecdata, but in my opinion a pretty good argument for leaving the more desirable consumer electronics at home. I'd personally take a cheap netbook and leave the macbook at home.
posted by hot soup girl at 1:37 PM on July 29, 2012

Yes, clothing. One or two small pieces of art, if you're into that.

Take a notebook if you have it, or just use internet cafes--they're really cheap. My friend who has traveled there tells me she sleeps with her valuables under her pillow and has a lockable carry bag with a heavy (non-cutable) strap that she wears across her body. Never has had a problem.
posted by BlueHorse at 2:36 PM on July 29, 2012

okay, internet cafes are an option if they have Microsoft Word and Excel 2010. Do the internet cafe's usually have these programs or do they just have a browser?
posted by freddymetz at 11:12 PM on July 29, 2012

and hot soup girl, which hotel was that?
posted by freddymetz at 11:31 PM on July 29, 2012

I found a lot of bizarre software on machines, but mostly the only thing you could count on was a browser. That said, Google Docs does a pretty decent job with Word and Excel files, so hopefully that's an option for you.
posted by backwards guitar at 9:29 AM on July 30, 2012

If you need to use specific productivity software, then I would suggest an ultra-cheap netbook and Dropbox or some other kind of cloud setup. Frankly, if the internet cafes in Vietnam are anything like the ones I dealt with in Europe (and the ones in Thailand were!), then you'll be lucky if you get something more recent than Win XP SP 2, IE 6, and a healthy dose of malware.

I strongly recommend that you bring your own setup (and people here seem to be saying the cheaper the better) if you're going to need to produce reliable content of whatever kind.
posted by librarylis at 10:28 PM on August 1, 2012

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