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Travel Vietnam: Know Before You Go
1. Vietnamese Traffic is madness
Traffic in Vietnam is just simply madness, and traffic rules, well just seem non existent. You will see complete families on bikes, to people transporting their furniture on the back of their motorbike. If you aren’t planning to ride a bike, be sure to look left, right, left, right and maybe a couple times more before crossing the street. However, many backpackers take on the adventure of riding a motorbike, which comes with the necessary risks. If you are planning to ride a motorbike, your horn will become your best friend…
2. You will need a visa for Vietnam
Before you step on that plane, or bus, to Vietnam be sure to check Vietnam’s Visa regulations. With a very few exceptions, almost everyone will need a visa, especially if you are planning to stay longer than 2 weeks. While the process is not complicated, I would recommend applying for your visa online at least a week to two weeks prior to arrival, or a couple of days in advance at a local Vietnamese embassy should you be arriving over land. If you arrive by airplane you can easily request the visa online, where you will receive an invitation letter, and pick up your visa on arrival at the airport. Many online agencies offer these services and will explain the exact process for you!
3. Download Grab
Even before leaving to Vietnam you would want to download the Grab app to your phone. Grab is like to Southeast Asian Uber: fast, cheap and widely available. Grab is definitely cheaper than getting a local taxi, and a 20 min bike taxi can cost you as little as 1$. Just be sure to have some small cash for the shorter rides, and to be prepared for a bumpy ride. When I did not have a motorbike yet Grab was my easiest and cheapest way to get around Hanoi, and when going from the airport I paid roughly half the price of what a normal taxi would cost.
4. Watch your belongings in Vietnam
Petty crime happens anywhere in the world. From large metropoles such as New York and Paris to the country of Vietnam, petty crimes simply happens especially when you are moving from one location to another. I personally had a battery pack stolen from me on sleeper bus, while being asleep, I didn’t put it away and fell asleep, my own fault. However, if I would not have been more careful I could have lost a lot more. Be sure to keep your valuables close to you and locked away, especially on the sleeper buses. Be sure to pack it away before falling asleep to avoid waking up with your passport gone, something as simple as this could easily ruin your holiday.
5. Vietnam is a Great Budget Destination
A flight to Vietnam might not be the cheapest, but once you get there you will easily be able to get around on 500 – 750$US a month. A meal will cost you anywhere from 1$ to 4$ for local meals and 3$ to 15$ for more Western meals. A tasty Vietnamese ice coffee will most likely cost 0.75$ to 1.50$ and a 1.5L bottle of water will cost you 0.30$. Hostel dorms go from 3$ to 7$, which mostly depends on what kind of quality of hostel you are looking for. Besides that there are many free things to do, and the activities that do cost you money are often only a fraction of what you would pay back home.
6. Friendly Locals
In the touristy places it is not uncommon that locals try to scam you, or try to rip you off, but once you leave the touristic areas locals are incredibly friendly. During my time in Hanoi I had numerous people helping me trying to find the way by calling friends, by asking other locals, and helping me with hand gestures without speaking one word of English. When we had a flat tire locals offered to put some air in it to get to the next mechanic. People had small talk with us, we were offered bags of free candy and much much more. The friendliness of the locals is one of the reasons you will fall in love with Vietnam.
7. 2 Weeks is Not Enough for Vietnam
When looking at Vietnam on the map it might not look like a big country, but Vietnam’s distances are large, and with the road conditions and quality of the busses it can get you 30h to get halfway through the country. Bus rides are absolutely stunning, especially if you go along the coast but I can almost guarantee you that two weeks will not be enough. The North of Vietnam is different from the South and there will just be too much to see and to do. Two weeks will give you a taste of the country, but if you are looking to fully immerse yourself into the culture, to learn about food, locals customs, witness Vietnam’s stunning nature and well everything else this amazing country has to offer I would recommend staying at least a month. Places such as Halong Bay, Hanoi, Sa Pa and the beautiful city of Hoi An all have something unique to offer, and in my opinion are all worth a visit.
8. You’ll Be a Millionaire in Vietnam
In Vietnam you pay with Vietnamese Dong where 1 USD will equal roughly 20.000 VND. Meaning, if you take 50 USD out you are already a millionaire, walking around with bills of half a million in your pocket. But be careful, the 20.000 and 500.000 VND are very similar in color, so be sure you don’t give too much away of your money as a tip! Besides that, Vietnam only knows paper currency with the smallest bill being 500 VND. However, many shops don’t have 500 VND available, so it is not usual to get a piece of candy instead.
9. You can’t drink the tap water in Vietnam
Unless you want to get sick you might want to refrain from using the tap water in Vietnam as most of us will get sick from it. The only way you can drink the tap water is if it is filtered. Many hostels nowadays do provide either filtered water or allow you to fill up your water bottle from larger drink water tanks. However, this is not wildly available. While bottled water is available anywhere in the country, this might not be the most sustainable option. If you want access to drinking water without using bottled water, consider bringing a water bottle that is integrated with a water filter.
10. Get ready to bargain
Planning on shopping in Vietnam, get ready to bargain. The price given to you when you show your first interest is often three times as high as the price you should be paying. Get ready to bargain your price down, or else you end up wasting most of your travel budget for Vietnam! Be sure not to show how badly you want the product, or you’ll see that the local vendors will be reluctant in dropping the price. It is also a good idea to walk around a bit, many shops sell the same products. Asking the price at multiple shops and vendors will get you a better idea of what the product should really cost.
11. A Motorbike is the best way to see Vietnam
If you are looking to make the most out of your Vietnam experience, you might want to think about buying or renting a motorbike to explore the country. However, this option does come with a certain risk. As mentioned before the traffic in Vietnam is simple madness, and if you are not an experienced driver and don’t feel confident riding a bike it is strongly advised not to do it. Also, know that riding a motorbike in Vietnam is illegal for foreigners not holding a local driver’s license, meaning that your insurance most likely won’t cover you in case you do get in an accident.
12. It’s still possible to get off the beaten path in Vietnam
While many of Vietnam’s cities and locations have been explored by masses of tourists, it isn’t hard to get a bit more of the beaten path still. Explore the regions of Mai Chau, explore the lesser known Bai Tu Long Bay, ride the Ha Giang Loop or see the Ban Gioc Waterfalls. All of those places are located in the North, there are many more to discover in the South. But be sure not to skip out on the cities of Hanoi, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City, also these cities are part of Vietnam and her culture.
13. Dress conservatively when needed
While you can easily walk around in shorts through the city, you should consider packing some long pants and a t-shirt with sleeves to visit the temples and other important sights. For example, if you are planning on entering the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi you are expected to wear a long sleeved shirt and long trousers. If you are entering a temple it is often requested to cover your knees and shoulders, so be sure to bring some more conservative clothing in your backpack!
14. Check the Weather for Vietnam
If you are thinking about Vietnam as a tropical getaway, you might have to rethink your decision. Yes, most months of the year Vietnam has tropical temperatures, but in the “winter months” temperatures can drop to 10 degrees Celsius and bringing a warm jacket is definitely advised. So if you’re looking for a shorts and bikini kind of vacation you might want to opt going in the months of February to April, while temperatures are also more pleasant in the months of September and October you might still encounter heavy monsoon rain… something you definitely want to avoid, trust me!
15. Check if you need any vaccinations
Before leaving to Vietnam it is strongly advised to check if you need any vaccinations, especially if you have not yet traveled outside of Europe or North America. As some vaccinations, such as Hep B, need to be given multiple times over a period of for example 6 months, it is strongly advised to seek out the advise of your GP or travel doctor at least 6 months in advance. They will also be able to advise you if you need any malaria pills during your travels in Vietnam.
Everything you need to know before traveling Vietnam
And there you have it, everything you need to know before leaving to the beautiful country of Vietnam! Don’t forget to check out our ultimate Southeast Asia bucket list to see which adventures you should add to your bucket list for Vietnam. Oh… and don’t forget to pin it!