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​Lack of English-language signage, announcement may drive tourists away from Ho Chi Minh City

Tuesday, January 02, 2018, 14:18 GMT+7

It is not uncommon for foreign tourists to feel uncomfortable when they travel by public transportation in Vietnam, as most, if not all, of the voice announcements are made in the local language rather than English.

Except for airports, few venues in Vietnam have really acknowledged the importance of displaying signage or making voice announcements in both Vietnamese and English, so that non-Vietnamese speakers will not be left scratching heads when receiving the information.

This is a reality in Ho Chi Minh City, which welcomed more than six million international tourists in 2017, and so is it in other smaller localities.

Confusion for English-speaking tourists

It is a real challenge for foreign visitors to follow instructions or announcements made via the loudspeaker systems at bus stations, as the information is only available in Vietnamese.

In a piece sent to Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper last week, a reader named Xuan Dao recounted a situation she witnessed at the newly-opened river bus station in Ho Chi Minh City to illustrate how this lack of English-language information may affect international holidaymakers.

“So a station attendant was announcing via the loudspeakers that passengers departing at 11:30 am should start boarding when I noticed that a foreigner who bought that ticket stood still, unaware that the announcement was meant for him,” Dao wrote.

The reader said this is obviously not an exceptional case, as the river bus, the first of its kind in Ho Chi Minh City, has attracted not only local but also international visitors.

“Many foreigners have come to the station and were all confused and even missed the boarding announcement because the information was not delivered in English,” Dao said.

A map available in both Vietnamese and English is seen at the ticket office of the river bus station in Ho Chi Minh City. The voice announcement, however, is only in Vietnamese. Photo: Tuoi Tre
A map available in both Vietnamese and English is seen at the ticket office of the river bus station in Ho Chi Minh City. The voice announcement, however, is only in Vietnamese. Photo: Tuoi Tre

The reader went on to say that bus stops across the city also lack the English version for the route itinerary and timetable, keeping many international visitors from using the public transportation.

“An American tourist told me that he would never travel by bus in Ho Chi Minh City due to the language barrier,” Dao wrote. “He is unable to communicate with the drivers or attendants, and also fails to know when to get off as the announcement made at every stop is only available in Vietnamese.”

At the Saigon Rail Station, the guidelines for buying and returning train tickets at the box office are also lacking in an English version, Dao added.

Non-English signage, announcement everywhere

Similarly, when a new bus station was inaugurated in downtown Ho Chi Minh City late December, Mark Quinn, a frequent Tuoi Tre News reader, complained that the facility did not offer even “one word in English” in its signage or announcements. Many other venues in the southern metropolis do not, either.

“[This is] typical and then they wonder why tourists never return,” Quinn wrote.

Not all signage at the Saigon Railway Station is displayed in English. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Not all signs at the Saigon Railway Station is displayed in English. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Such a complaint is not something new from the expat community or foreign tourists in Vietnam.

In 2015, Tuoi Tre opened an online discussion on how to improve the service quality of the Vietnam Railways, and received a number of complaints about the dearth of trash cans, unhygienic restrooms and the lack of announcements in English on trains operated by the state-run company.

“With all information announced in Vietnamese, how could foreign tourists who travel on their own know what to do when there are changes to schedules or other things?” one reader said.

“If possible, the announcements should also be available in English.”

At that time, Dinh Van Sang, deputy general director of the Saigon Railways, even admitted that while announcements on trains were made in Vietnamese and English, “unexpected notices are not available in English.”

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