XO Tours NOT in Hanoi

fake XO Tours

There is not XO Tours in Hanoi!

XO Tours does not operate in Hanoi, and it’s unlikely we ever will. So why the misleading blog title? We felt the need to write this blog post to protect our brand, so that when our valued guests search for XO Tours they will know that XO Tours only operates out of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and will not be tricked into booking onto a substandard and unsafe copycat tour in Hanoi or other cities in Vietnam.

We’ve always had many tour companies copy our tours, but it’s gotten especially bad in the past year with many new fly by night tour businesses actually stealing our website content, photos, and even our logo. Our website content is copyrighted and we have also trademarked our logo which has allowed us to file lawsuits against many of these tour operators and put many of them out of business. But it seems that for each of these copycat tours we shut down, a new one will pop up.

Although we cannot patent the concept of female motorbike tour guides, we do object to companies that blatantly steal our name, logo and website content with the intent to use our hard-earned reputation as a way to make a quick buck.

The companies that have been stealing our company name and website content are all poorly run businesses. These companies are also operating illegally and are not safe in our opinion. Instead of working hard to build a sustainable business and brand, they prefer to use deception to trick guests into believing that they are XO Tours.

If you’re in Hanoi and you want to book with a trustworthy and reputable tour operator, you should consider booking a tour with Vietnam Awesome Travel. Vietnam Awesome Travel, offers great walking food tours, cooking classes, and even motorbike tours. You can contact Vietnam Awesome Travel by clicking on the link below:

http://www.vietnamawesometravel.com/

Please tell them that XO Tours recommended you.

If you go through Saigon or Hoi An and you want to enjoy an authentic Vietnam tour come to XO Tours!

How to Spend Two Weeks in Vietnam – Custom Itineraries for Vietnam

With spring break just around the corner, many of you may be planning a perfect two-week getaway.  Vietnam is an ideal choice for a two week holiday because traveling within the country is quite efficient, which allows you to see many places in a short period of time.  Moreover, whether you like a vacation with adventure, beaches, relaxation, luxury or marvel, Vietnam has a little bit for everyone.  As part of our ‘Custom Itineraries for Vietnam’ series, here’s a sample itinerary to guide you through your trip planning process and to show you a complete picture of Vietnam has to offer.

Here are main destinations you should check out:

  1. Hanoi
  2. Halong Bay
  3. Hue, DMZ, Phong Nha Caves
  4. Hoi An
  5. Ho Chi Minh City
  6. Phu Quoc

Hanoi
The capital city of Vietnam, Hanoi is a wonderful introduction to the culture of this country.  Hanoi is a very historically rich city and the people there are quite proud of their city, heritage, and country. The backpackers’ scene in Hanoi is also very vibrant, and even if you are not a backpacker, the Hoan Kiem area is one of the most popular tourist areas.   Hanoi also has the highest number of motorbikes in Vietnam and one of the highest in the world so be careful when crossing the streets because traffic can become very chaotic, to say the least!
Recommended – 2 days, 2 nights

Halong Bay
Cruises in Halong Bay can be one of the most luxurious experiences in Vietnam if not all of South East Asia.  Waking up on the water surrounded by giant limestone formations is breathtaking.  A one night cruise is often enough to get a feel for Halong Bay, but if time permits, we highly recommend a 2-night cruise.  On the second night, many cruises offer a candlelight dinner on a beach that lies within a cove or a dinner inside a cave.  Either way, the experience is truly spectacular.
Recommended – 3 days, 2 nights
Want more organized tours?  They are an excellent way to gain insight into Vietnamese culture so check out our favourite tour companies throughout the country. 

Hue, DMZ, Phong Nha Caves
A trip to Vietnam is not complete without going to Hue, especially if you’re a history buff.  Besides being a historically significant city, this ancient capital has a very quaint and mystical air about it.  The areas surrounding Hue are also just as beautiful.  Recently, the largest cave in the world was discovered in Central Vietnam.  Access to this cave is still limited and expensive, but there are other caves in the area that are still awe-inspiring.  The Phong Nha and Paradise caves are two of the most popular in the area.  Many hotels and tour companies based in Phong Nha, Dong Hoi (the closest city to the caves) and in Hue offer transportation and tours to the caves.  Dong Hoi is accessible by train from Hue or other nearby cities, or by flight from Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi.
Recommended – 3 nights (1 night in Hue, 2 nights in Phong Nha)
Want more adventure?  Da Lat is a wonderful place for outdoor adventure activities such as canyoneering, and Nha Trang is a great water sports destination.

Hoi An
Hoi An is the one of the most unique cities in Vietnam.  The Old Town portion of the city is a UNESCO heritage site and the old architecture is superbly preserved and displayed.  The city is a big hub for paper lantern manufacturing, and in the night all the paper lantern shop owners adorn their stalls with lit lanterns – a sight to see!  Hoi An is also famous for custom tailoring with more than 400 shops making suits, clothes, shoes, bags and more according to your specifications.  And the tailors are so talented that they are able to make anything within a few hours!  Hoi An doesn’t have an airport or train station – the nearest transportation hub is in Da Nang so be sure to inform your hotel or guesthouse in Hoi An to arrange pick up and drop off.
Recommended – 2 days, 1 night (2 full days are ideal if you are interested in custom tailoring)

Ho Chi Minh City 
An interesting quality about Ho Chi Minh City is that the feel of the city is quite different in comparison to other cities in Vietnam.  The people, the streets, the layout, the architecture, the food – it’s all unique.  The city is an interesting combination of manic and chaotic and lax and chill, and we urge you to take in all the sights and sounds that Ho Chi Minh City has to offer.  Take a look at our previous blog for tips on how to spend a day in Ho Chi Minh City.
Recommended – 2 days, 2 nights

Phu Quoc
Phu Quoc is one of the most beautiful beaches and islands in the country.  Many call it the next Phuket, but it still retains a rustic and off-the-beaten-path feel.  A new international airport just opened in Phu Quoc which will soon accept flights directly from Thailand and Singapore, so we recommend that you visit here before tourism gains more momentum here!  The island has a very calm and relaxing feel so it’s the perfect way to round off the two week holiday.
Recommended – 3 nights
Want more beach time?  Take a look at our previous blog on our the best beaches in Vietnam from North to South!

Visit the XO Tours blog regularly for more Vietnam travel tips! Our Saigon tour and Hoi An walking tour will allow you to discover great hidden places!

What to buy in Vietnam from north to south!

what to buy in Vietnam

what to buy in Vietnam

Many tourists enjoy souvenir shopping in Vietnam to not only commemorate their time in the country but also to give items as gifts or to purchase beautiful pieces for decoration.  Shopping is a must-have during your Vietnam itinerary. Vietnam is such a vast and varied country that it can be difficult to decipher what handicrafts make a region unique or where in the country is the best place to purchase certain Vietnamese items.  In this edition of Vietnam travel tips, we break down exactly what is made in which part of the country and where to purchase it.

 ESSENTIAL BUYS IN VIETNAM: 

(Please click on the link below to jump directly to the region you want to know)

  1. NORTHERN VIETNAM 
  2. CENTRAL VIETNAM
  3. SOUTHERN VIETNAM

NORTHERN VIETNAM

Handicrafts from Northern Vietnam

Handicrafts from Northern Vietnam

What to buy in Sapa 

Vietnam is home to 53 ethnic minority groups and many of them live in Northern Vietnam near the border of China.  They not only have a distinct culture and way of life, they also have unique handicrafts and ornaments that distinguish each group from the other.  Many of the ethnic groups also grow their own indigo and rear sheep to loom and dye fabric.  In the northern parts of Vietnam, be sure to shop for beautiful embroidered fabrics, naturally dyed fabrics, and silver jewelry.  Purses and scarves with their signature patterns are often sold at the markets and stores there.  But be careful – many market sellers also sell leather and fabric goods which may resemble local artisanal work but are actually imported from China.  It may be difficult to tell the local crafts apart from the imported ones so we suggest asking your tour guide to help you in choosing something authentic.

 

What to buy in Hanoi  

Although Hanoi is slowly becoming cosmopolitan, the culture is still very traditional and grounded.  No matter how modern the city becomes, ancient arts and crafts are definitely not lost in Hanoi.  One particular traditional handicraft made in Hanoi is Do paper (Do is roughly pronounced yaw with an upward intonation).  Do paper is made from the bark of the Do tree.  The raw material goes through a lengthy three-month process to become a soft and durable paper fibre which is then used for books and paintings.  The paper is also used to print the traditional Dong Ho paintings.  These paintings originated in the Dong Ho village and depict various symbols and scenes to signify spring’s arrival.  These paper products can be found on Hang Gai or Hang Bac street in Hanoi. For a more complete guide to shopping in Hanoi, please check out our Ultimate Hanoi Shopping Guide!

 

What to buy in Halong Bay

On your way to Halong Bay from Hanoi, many tour cars and buses will stop at tourist shops selling silk embroidered paintings, among other things.  These ‘paintings’ are special in that they are not paintings at all!  They are art pieces that are fully embroidered with silk thread.  Many of these shops also have people working there doing the embroidery right in front of you.  Although it may be hard to believe, these pieces are made by hand only.  In fact, this industry is known for hiring people with disabilities because it is an art that can be done by anyone with good dexterity.  The pieces made by a person with a disability will usually be indicated.  These stores will also send larger pieces by sea to almost any corner of the world.  The prices are usually reasonable because they send containers in bulk so they receive a discount for freight services.

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CENTRAL VIETNAM

Handicrafts from Central Vietnam

Handicrafts from Central Vietnam

What to buy in Hue

You cannot come to Vietnam and not notice the beautiful conical shaped hats that both locals and tourists wear.  Each region of Vietnam has put a unique spin on how to decorate the conical hat.  Some like to embroider them, some draw on the surface, but one of the most interesting variations is the conical hat from Hue.  During the process of making the hat, images and verses of poetry are embedded between the leaves such that it is only visible when light is shone on it.  This concept is very fitting for Hue, as many poets, artists and romantic epics hail from this area.  To learn more about the conical hats, take a look at our previous post.

 

What to buy in Da Lat

Da Lat is one of the most fertile regions of Vietnam and a lot of vegetables and fruit come from this area.  The highlands around Da Lat are also the coffee growing centres of Vietnam.  If you visit any of the coffee plantations in this area, be sure to buy some coffee straight from the source!  Another unique product they have here is Atiso Tea (Artichoke Tea).  As the name suggests, it is a tea made from artichokes and has a floral aroma and earthy taste.  The easiest place to find artichoke tea, as well as other products such as jam, root chips, and dried fruit, is a chain store called L’angfarm.  Even though you can find Da Lat products at any shop in the area, the advantage of buying items at L’angfarm is that this store is a one-stop-shop for all Da Lat specialities.  And, the presentation and packaging are appropriate if you are purchasing these items as a gift!

 

What to buy in Da Nang

Many of the giant marble structures you can buy at stores around the world are actually made in Vietnam.  The advantage of buying it here is, of course, the huge cost savings.  Most of the marble in Vietnam comes from an area just outside Da Nang called Marble Mountain.  If you take the drive between Da Nang and Hoi An, you will actually see store after store selling huge carved structures of religious figures, fountains, or animals.  If you purchase any of these items, all the stores will also ship them to wherever you live and for a very reasonable price.

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SOUTHERN VIETNAM

Handicrafts from Southern Vietnam

Handicrafts from Southern Vietnam

What to buy in Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City is the centre point for commerce and trade in Vietnam, and merchants from all over the country come here to sell their goods.  Although many of the items you can buy here are most likely not made in the city, it is easiest to purchase them here simply because it will be more within your reach.  The best things to purchase here are fabric (especially silk), lacquerware and ceramics.  For exact locations on where in the city to purchase fabric and lacquerware, please take a look at our Ho Chi Minh City Shopping Guide.  If you have a car available at your disposal, the best place to purchase ceramics is in the Binh Duong province, about 40 minutes outside of the city.  Right along the highway are several warehouses where they sell beautiful ceramic art.  It is quite the sight!  The cost savings are usually huge when buying an item in Binh Duong as opposed to within the city.

 

What to buy in Phu Quoc

Phu Quoc is an island off the cost of Vietnam, very close to the border of Cambodia.  The island has many claims to fame – not only is it a premier beach destination, it is also the largest producer of Fish Sauce and peppercorns in the country.  The fish sauce from Phu Quoc is world renowned.  It is made from the fermentation of black mackerel and is highly purified to remove sediment.  Imitation Fish Sauce uses other types of fish which changes the flavour and sometimes has sediment because of a poor filtration process.

 

What to buy in the Mekong Delta

The other fertile region in Vietnam is Mekong Delta area.  Because of its hot climate, most of Vietnam’s tropical fruit is grown here.  Many tourists love the local experience of riding down the canals on a sampan while enjoying fresh pineapple that you bought directly from the pineapple farm.  Of course, taking fresh fruit back with you to your home country as a souvenir might be difficult. But there are more practical ways you can take those tropical flavours back with you.  When you are in this area, make sure to keep an eye out for the coconut caramel candies and other fruit flavoured treats.  Some shops will even make and package the coconut caramel right in front of you.  Since production of these fruit treats are on a small scale, the ingredients are usually natural and homegrown.

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Although shopping for souvenirs in Vietnam can seem difficult at first, we hope that our guide makes it easier for you.  If you need help picking out the perfect commemorative items in Ho Chi Minh City, join us on our XO Tours Shopping Spree Tour.  And, if you need more information on shopping in Vietnam or Vietnam travel tips in general, please do not hesitate to contact us!

Entrepreneurship in Ho Chi Minh City

Vietnam is truly a country of entrepreneurs, pretty much every house facing a street is a business of some kind. Many are traditional family-owned businesses like small clothing stores, corner shops, restaurants, coffee shops, but you will also see a new wave of small startups. Progress and growth are being created by entrepreneurs in a diverse set of fields in Vietnam, but here I will focus on Internet startups in Ho Chi Minh City.

The Advantages and Disadvantages for startups in Ho Chi Minh City

The city

Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s largest city and is closing in on 10 million people. Even though it is not the capital, much of the business is done here due to being a much more international city than any of the other major cities in Vietnam. The quick flight to Singapore also makes it easily accessible for regional investors.

Look up: More about Ho Chi Minh City

Benefits to enjoy

  1. The energy: It is hard to not get affected by this city’s energy. Everyone seems to be moving forward, and of course this is fueled by a young and ambitious population where many dream of running their own business.
  2. The cost of living: When starting a new business it is always good to save where you can, then it doesn’t hurt that you can have lunch for a dollar and a beer for less if you want to. Rent can get expensive, but if you are ready to share an apartment it gets affordable as well.
  3. Places to work: There are hundreds if not thousands of coffee shops with WIFI and a brand new co-working space called Saigon Hub where you can mingle with other startups while building the next big thing.
  4. The startup eco-system: It is getting better day by day, and since it is still a fairly small community, it is easy to get in touch with people. There is a growing number of accelerators in the region wanting teams from Vietnam, and quality learning and networking opportunities are also becoming more common with Startup Weekend etc. Venture capital albeit limited, is available, the most active VCs in Vietnam are IDG Vietnam Ventures, Cyberagent Ventures and Digital Media Partners.

Look up: Vietnam’s startup eco-system, Coffices in Ho Chi Minh City

Pitfalls to avoid

  1. Lacking focus: Entering a developing market as a foreign entrepreneur can feel like the beginning of a modern-day gold rush, but be aware, there are too many good opportunities for any single person/company.
  2. Underestimating the local competition:  You often get the feeling that almost everything has been done on the Internet here, but very few things have been done well. Do not underestimate local entrepreneurs and websites which might not look like much, design is a cultural thing, so what looks less developed might be a local giant.
  3. Placing funds in Vietnam: If you are not Vietnamese, avoid placing money inside Vietnam. Banking regulations make it hard to get it out, much better to have an offshore entity in Hong Kong or Singapore as the holding company, and then a local company to hire staff.
  4. Underpaying staff:  Don’t get really cheap staff just because you can, competition for good staff is fierce,  and quality beats quantity every time.
  5.  Focusing on only Vietnam: Vietnam is a large but immature market, so it is not a bad idea to look at some neighboring markets as well. An added bonus is that investors often love a regional plan. There are some who have managed to do it successfully such as GreenGar and Not A Basement Studio.

Look up:  GreenGar, Not A Basement Studio

This is a guest post was written by Anders Palm who founded Eat.vn and some other projects in Ho Chi Minh City.

FACES OF VIETNAM Edition 3 – Meet the Person Who…

Drives a Cyclo!

Cyclo touring has declined in popularity in Ho Chi Minh City over the last several years.  Its reputation has taken a hit because of the many bad experiences from travelers and the government has really limited the reach of cyclo tours in the city.  Actually, we have mentioned in a previous blog the precautions that tourists need to take when hiring cyclos.  Now, there are only certain places around District 1 where a cyclo can tour.  Unfortunately, this really limits the amount of money a cyclo driver can make.  Out of desperation, many cyclo drivers can appear to be very aggressive.

Aggression is clearly not a trait of Mr. Kim’s.  In fact, he is very quiet, unassuming, and mild-mannered.  We found him dozing off under a bridge in Saigon with his shirt off, hiding from the heat.  We may have startled him a bit when we woke him up from his peaceful nap!  Mr. Kim is 60 years old and has been driving a cyclo for over 20 years!  He has seen the tourism industry in Saigon go through many different phases.

Life of a cyclo driver in Ho Chi Minh city

XO:  Tell us about your family, Mr. Kim.
Mr. Kim:  I have 6 brothers but 3 have died already.  I don’t have a wife.

XO:  Why did you choose to do this work?
Mr. Kim:  I don’t speak English.  It’s very cheap to ride a cyclo.  If it breaks, I can fix it easily.  It is easy work.

XO:  If you don’t speak English, do you face any problems with tourists?
Mr. Kim:  Not really.  I write down the price, they tell me where they want to go.  It’s easy.

XO:  When do you start working?
Mr. Kim:  After 6 PM.  I like to sleep during the day because it’s too hot.

XO:  How do you pass your time during the day then?
Mr. Kim:  Well sleeping… Or, the lady across the street with the store asks for my help sometimes to carry things.  I help out some of the other shop owners around here.

XO:  How much do you charge?
Mr. Kim:  Depends.  From 50000-100000 for 1 hour and 200000 if they want to go around the whole city.

XO:  And how much do you make in a day?
Mr. Kim:  Only about 100000.  Sometimes I get no customers so I don’t make anything.

XO:  And whom do you provide for?
Mr. Kim:  No one.  Myself.  I live with my brother and his family but I am usually out all day.

XO:  Oh ok.  And they live close by?
Mr. Kim:  Yes in District 1.  I can go home for lunch sometimes.

XO:  Do you travel around Vietnam to different cities?  Or even outside of Vietnam?
Mr. Kim:  With what money??

XO:  Okay, what about going out for dinner or beer?
Mr. Kim:  With what money??  [We sensed a theme so we ended it here instead of pushing the topic more…]

Talking with Mr. Kim was a very different experience from the people in our other interviews.  Besides the fact that Mr. Kim was a man of few words, the other workers were much more enthusiastic about their profession and their way of life.  We are certain that they recognized that it wasn’t the easiest way to live but they were making the most of their situation.  We aren’t sure that we saw the same drive and passion for work in Mr. Kim.  Perhaps this is because Mr. Kim only has himself to take care of and has very few responsibilities or maybe it is because he is older in age and doesn’t desire as much for himself.  Either way, we can’t say for sure that Mr. Kim loves what he does for a living, yet he has been doing it for more than two decades!

Mr. Kim - a cyclo driver in Ho Chi Minh city

Mr. Kim – a cyclo driver in Ho Chi Minh city

If you see Mr. Kim around the city and recognize him from this blog, ask him to take you out for a spin!  For more Vietnam travel tips and advice, talk to us personally on our many Vietnam tours!