Vietnam is as fantastic as it is frantic. With its stunning natural scenery, steaming pho stands, water buffaloes, cyclos and ancient monuments, there is plenty to see and do on a 2 week tour in Vietnam.
If you are planning to visit Vietnam in the near future, here are sixteen useful things to know before arriving in the country. With a little research and knowledge you’ll be a much smarter traveller when venturing in Vietnam.
1 – Drink a lot of water. Stay hydrated throughout the day while touring the sights. But, only drink bottled water, which is easily found everywhere you go and very cheap. Avoid drinking the local tap water.
2 – Taste everything. The local Vietnamese food is a delight to taste and it is definitely worth experiencing the street food scene in any of the major towns and cities. The cost is very low with a bowl of traditional pho about $1-$2. Try to use the stalls that attract the locals or have plenty of customers for the best and most hygienic food.
3 – Carry a card with your hotel details. By simply taking along your hotel’s business card when out travelling for the day, it can make the return journey that much easier by passing it to your cyclo, xe om or taxi driver.
4 – Leave the credit cards at the hotel. The preferred payment method is cash for many businesses and services, especially those outside the major cities. Also, there are plenty of places that simply don’t accept plastic.
5 – Keep valuables out of sight. Similar to any large city popular with tourist, there is the risk of pickpockets. Care should be taken in places like Pham Ngu Lao in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi’s Old Quarter. It isn’t necessary to be overly cautious, but still be mindful of your belongings and surroundings. Violent crime is rare in Vietnam.
6 – Cross the streets in Vietnam’s cities can be a bit dangerous and scary for those travellers that aren’t familiar. Walk slowing with a steady pace when crossing the street.
7 – Even though tipping isn’t always expected it is still quite popular, especially at international venues. If planning to tip, try to leave VND 5,000-10,000 which is enough for a coffee.
8 – Break the day up when sightseeing. The best time to visit the attractions is early in the day or later in the afternoon. A long and relaxing midday break gives a nice break when the heat is at its highest. Plus, this means you are more refreshed and ready for the activities in the afternoon.
9 – Cover up when visiting religious buildings on the tour to Vietnam and Cambodia. Any day-trip that includes stopping at pagoda, temples, or other religious monuments can benefit from extra clothes items like a shirt or shawl to help with covering the shoulder area. Also, there are some religious buildings that require shoes to be removed before entering.
10 – Pack according to the travel destination. Even though Vietnam is a great place to travel to year-round, the climate can vary significantly between the northern, central and southern parts of the country. So, if planning a visit to Hanoi from November to January the region can have rather humid and cold winters. But Hoi Chi Minh City in the south doesn’t have the four seasons and has agreeable weather at any time of the year.
11 – Be a sensible and courteous photographer. Get permission before taking a photo of the locals. Even though most of the Vietnamese people won’t mind having their photo taken, it is still polite to ask beforehand. Also, there are places where photos aren’t appropriate or prohibited, such as military buildings and inside Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum.
12 – Apply for your visa. Vietnam is a travel friendly destination and relatively easy to organize the visa for the intended stay. Not everyone will need to apply for a Vietnam visa for the short stay (less than 15 days) with the criteria different for citizens of different countries. Check with a local Vietnamese Embassy to determine the type of paperwork needed before travelling.
13 – Are travel vaccinations necessary before travelling? It is practical to make an appointment with your local doctor 4 to 6 weeks before travelling to see if any specific vaccinations are required. Short-term travellers may benefit from vaccinations for waterborne and food diseases, such as Hepatitis and Typhoid, as well as childhood diseases like Rubella, Mumps, Measles and Diphtheria. Also, for the trekking holiday in the countryside, it may be practical to get shots for Rabies and Hepatitis B.
14 – Dollars vs. Dong. It is useful to travel with both Vietnamese Dong and US dollars. The US dollars can come in handy when it comes to paying for touristy things, such as paying for a hotel, booking domestic transport, or booking a tour. The Vietnamese Dong is more practical for local services, such as market stalls, shops, bars, restaurants, etc. The ATM is widely available to withdraw Dong. US dollars are practical for paying for a visa on arrival if necessary. If there is an option to pay in either Dollars or Dong, it is generally more cost-effective to go with Dong.
15 – Local Vietnam travel agents are your friends. There is no need to fully book up the travel itinerary before arriving in the country. Any of the popular tourist cities like Hoi An, Sapa, Hanoi, etc. have several reliable travel agencies in the local area. A visit to one of these travel companies can make it really convenient to organize a day-trip, a 3 night package, or internal sleeper bus.
16 – Wi-Fi is everywhere. For the travellers that love to stay connected on their Vietnam customized tour, have no fear. Vietnam is fantastic when it comes to free Wi-Fi and widely available in hotels, hostels, restaurants and cafés. It is even free in the most budget hostels.