Vietnam is one of my absolute favorite countries in the world. I visited for the first time in February of 2018 and fell in love with it. It’s a wonderful country filled with delicious food, fascinating chaos, diverse landscapes, and inviting locals. I have such an appreciation for this country that I went back for the second time a few months ago. The same magical feeling I had when I was there the first time was there during my second visit as well. I truly think that everyone should visit Vietnam at least once in their lives. However, a trip to Vietnam requires extensive research and planning. I was ill-prepared for a lot of things the first time I visited and there were so many things I wish I knew before I visited. Here are 19 travel tips for Vietnam that you should know before you go so you have a safe and exciting trip.
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Make Sure You Have Your Visa
This is basic knowledge, but I’m baffled with the number of people I saw who got to the airport and didn’t have their visas for Vietnam. It can be an overwhelming process, but it’s necessary that you pay attention to this. I’m American and I applied for my visa online through the official Vietnamese government website.
It’s important to note that not all nationalities qualify for an E-Visa. If you’re unsure whether or not you qualify for one, there’s a link on the homepage of the website that goes over this information. The visa allows you a single entry and you can stay for up to 30 days. Here are the steps you need to complete to get your E-Visa:
- Visit the website I linked above and apply for your visa. Fill all of the information completely and don’t miss anything. You will be required to upload an image of yourself. Be extra careful and make sure you don’t submit a blurry photo. Pay for your application.
- Once you’re approved, you’ll receive your visa via the email you listed on your application. It usually takes two to three business days to hear back from immigration.
- Print your visa out and keep it handy.
- Get on a plane to Vietnam and hand it over to the immigration officer. Welcome to Vietnam!
Prepare Yourself for Immigration Queues
You thought it’d be easy to get your passport stamped and get out of the airport since you already have your E-Visa, huh? Wrong. The immigration queues in Vietnam can be horrendous depending on the time you get to the airport. If you’re lucky, the wait will only be a few minutes. However, you could potentially wait in the queue for up to two hours. I wish I was exaggerating that. We were flying out of Ho Chi Minh City to go somewhere else in Southeast Asia and we stood in the queue for three hours waiting to get our exit stamp. We barely made it onto the flight.
My advice to you is to get off the plane as fast as you can (without pushing and shoving others). Don’t stop to use the toilet or to look around the airport. Aim to be one of the first people in the queue. It’s dreadful standing in a ridiculously long and slow-moving queue after being on a flight for so long.
Download Grab Before You Go
If you’re not familiar with Grab, it’s basically like Uber. Uber was around the first time we visited two years ago. Unfortunately, Uber doesn’t operate in Southeast anymore. Grab is a better alternative than just taking local taxis. It’s safer and you know the price upfront. However, Grab doesn’t operate in a few cities in Vietnam. It operates in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, but it doesn’t operate in Hội An. If Grab doesn’t work where you’re at, ask your hotel or hostel for recommendations about how to get around.
Brace Yourself for All the Tourists
When I initially visited Vietnam two years ago, there weren’t very many tourists. It was still a rather new tourist destination back then. When I visited a few months ago, I was in utter shock at how many tourists there were. I thought it was incredible at how many people had an interest in visiting Vietnam, but it can become overwhelming. Just prepare yourself in advance that most of the places you visit in Vietnam will be insanely crowded with tourists and remain calm. We’re all here for the same reason — to indulge in all of the gems this country offers.
Wake up Early
The early bird gets the worm in Vietnam. The early morning hours are the best time to explore Vietnam as most tourists will still be asleep. All of the attractions are quiet and this allows you to peacefully enjoy where you’re at without a ton of people being in your photos and space. You’ll even see a lot of local food vendors preparing fresh breakfast too.
I woke up around 6:30 am every morning and went around the corner to a coffee shop for a coconut coffee. Usually, I was the only person there at that time. I prefer to drink my coffee in peace while working on my laptop without any distractions and interruptions. This was the perfect way to get my day started right. I went back to this coffee shop in the afternoon for a little afternoon pick-me-up and it was filled with tourists and locals. Most of the time, I couldn’t even find a place to sit.
Vietnam Has Some of the Best Food in Asia
My absolute favorite part about Vietnam is how delicious the food is. You should definitely bring some stretchy pants with you because you’re going to need them. My mouth is legitimately watering as I write this section of the post and reminisce about all the amazing food I had. While I’m on the subject, be careful when eating street food. Fortunately, I ate street food everywhere and never got sick. But, you should still be careful. Also, don’t drink the tap water. Here are some dishes that you have to try when visiting Vietnam:
This is the most obvious Vietnamese dish that we’re all familiar with. It’s a noodle soup that contains beef broth, thinly sliced beef, and rice noodles. You can add in chilis (my favorite — I like to basically breathe out a fire), lime, basil, bean sprouts, and sauces. The pho differs from the North to the South. I prefer the pho from the North because the broth is more flavorful and less sweet than it is in the South. If you go to a pho stall, you’ll probably share a table with a local. Just follow their lead when it comes to dressing up your pho.
This literally translates to “bread.” It’s a baguette stuffed with meat, pate, pickled carrots, pickled radishes, cilantro, and chili. The taste is a perfect combination of sweet, spicy and savory. It’s the perfect drunk/hangover food.
This is a regional dish found in Hội An. It’s a noodle dish that contains pork and green vegetables. The noodles are soaked in lye. Truthfully, I didn’t like this dish at all. However, you should try it because I saw a lot of other tourists loving it.
This dish originates from Hanoi and we can thank Barack Obama for making this dish famous when he tried it on Anthony Bourdain’s show. Grilled pork is served over a plate of white noodles and it comes with a dipping sauce on the side.
White Rose Dumplings
These are my jam. I can’t get enough of these. You have to go to Hội An for these though as you can’t find them anywhere else in Vietnam. These are dumplings that resemble roses and they’re filled with pork or shrimp. I prefer mine with pork. Then, they’re steamed and topped with crispy shallots. They’re also served with a dipping sauce.
Unfortunately, I tried this dish on my last visit to Vietnam and I definitely didn’t get to enjoy it as much as I wanted. It reminds me of an omelet. It’s a savory pancake made of turmeric powder, water, and rice flour. It comes stuffed with pork, green onions, and bean sprouts.
Cà phê trứng
This translates to “egg coffee.” I know it sounds weird, but don’t knock it until you try it. It’s prepared with egg yolks, condensed milk, sugar, and coffee. It’s a different kind of coffee that originates from Hanoi, but it’s served all throughout Vietnam.
This is my favorite coffee and it can be enjoyed hot or cold. Basically, a bunch of frozen coconut milk is combined with coffee and then topped with shaved coconut ice. You should probably restrict this to the mornings because it’s loaded with caffeine and sugar. I made the mistake of drinking one at 4 pm and I don’t think I slept that night.
Don’t Do Your Laundry at Your Hotel
Cities in Vietnam are brimming with laundromats and they’re bloody cheap. You drop your laundry off and it’s done for you. You don’t have to worry about a thing. It’s generally significantly cheaper than getting your laundry done at the hotel. The clothes come back to you folded and smelling fresh. It’s too easy. Most of the laundromats even offer same day service if you drop your clothes off before a certain time in the morning. My husband, his brother, and I got our laundry done every week for less than $5 and we sent in a lot of clothes. That’s how much a t-shirt costs to wash at most hotels.
Circle K Is Everywhere
This is an international convenience store chain and it’s everywhere in Vietnam. They sell everything from bottled water to snacks to toothpaste to medicine. It’s your one-stop-shop. If you forget a toiletry at home, odds are you’ll find it here. If you need a late-night snack, you’ll find it here as well. Side note — you have to check out the Green Tea Kit Kats. They’re so yummy.
It’s Crazy Inexpensive
If you’re looking for a budget-friendly holiday that’s fun and exciting, Vietnam is the place to go. The best example of this is food. You can easily eat in Vietnam for around $5-6 in total per day. Yes, that’s for all of your meals and this is you walking away feeling miserably full.
Accommodation can be a little tricky sometimes. If you like to stay in hostels and Airbnbs, you’ll find those to be pretty cheap. However, hotels can be expensive depending on when you go. If you go during high season, hotels are guaranteed to be a little more expensive. If you go during the low season, they’ll be more reasonable.
Beer is also very cheap. Personally, I’m a huge fan of Saigon beer. I think it’s better than Hanoi Beer. You can get an ice-cold glass of it for $1.
Further, you should definitely get a SIM card in Vietnam. It’s only around $7 for unlimited data. It’ll be a little cheaper outside of the airport though. If you can wait, buy it in the city. Viettel has the best service and plans. If you want to be disconnected from friends and family while you’re here, then don’t get one. But, definitely get one if you want to post all the yummy food you’re eating on social media to make your friends and family jealous.
Lastly, transportation is also insanely cheap. A 30-minute ride in a nice car only cost us around $3. I think Vietnam has the cheapest Grab services I’ve ever stumbled upon during my travels. Also, a Grab motorbike is even cheaper. Amos paid $1.50 for a 20-minute ride.
Take a Grab Bike
Speaking of Grab, you should definitely take a Grab Bike at least once while you’re in Vietnam. It’s an exhilarating experience as you’re zipping through heaps of cars and people. It’s a fun adrenaline rush that you can get for cheap. Be sure to wear your helmet though to protect your head. Also, don’t pull out your phone and try to video the experience. I saw a girl doing this next to me and it just seemed like a horrible idea while the driver was weaving in and out of traffic. Use both of your hands to hold on.
You’re Going to Be a Millionaire
Everyone’s dream of becoming a millionaire comes true in Vietnam. The currency in Vietnam is the Vietnamese dong. $1 USD is equivalent to around 23,000 dongs. You can be a millionaire in Vietnam for about $45 USD. When you’re paying with cash, be careful as some of the notes have the same shade of color. The 500,000 dong note looks the same as the 20,000 note because they’re both almost the same shade of blue.
ATMs Are Everywhere
Don’t worry about bringing cash with you as there are heaps of ATMs everywhere in Vietnam. You can easily withdraw cash when you get there. Some places accept credit cards, but cash is most widely the only thing accepted. If you have a 500,000 note, you should ask your hotel or hostel to break the note up for you. Some street vendors won’t have enough change to give back to you if you pay with a big note.
Be Smart When Planning Your Itinerary
I don’t think very many people realize how big of a country Vietnam is. Most people make the mistake of only spending a few nights in the North and a few nights in the South. You’ll actually need a few weeks to explore everything that you have on your list. You can get cheap flights around the country with local carriers, but I know some of you like to take buses. If that’s the case, you’ll definitely need more time as getting from one end of the country to the other can take a long time. I would say that you need one week in the North, one week in the South, and one week in the Central area.
Get Ready to Bargain
Prices are already incredibly cheap in Vietnam, but street vendors have their prices marked up. That’s just how business is done here. Have a number set in your mind of the maximum price you’re willing to pay and stick to it. Try walking away from the person if they’re not willing to negotiate. Usually, they’ll work with you if they see you walking away. It’s important to remember not to be too insulting. These people are trying to make a living, also. For example, if something costs 300,000 dongs, don’t insult them by offering 50,000 dongs. A good number to start would be 175,000 dongs and that’ll land you the item in the 200,000 dongs zone. You should expect to pay around 60% of the original cost of the item.
Best Time to Go
There isn’t really the best time to go to Vietnam in terms of weather. Vietnam’s weather is unpredictable. In the North, winter starts around mid-November and it doesn’t warm up again until mid-March or April. I went to Hanoi both times during this time and I honestly loved the weather. It’s not too cold, but you’ll definitely need a jacket.
In the South, December to May is the dry season and it can be hot. You’ll go from wearing shorts and a t-shirt in the South to wearing a jacket and trousers in the North.
If you’re looking for optimum weather situations, I recommend going between April and December.
The Wifi Is Fast
I work online so it’s imperative that I have decent Wifi at all times. Vietnam has incredible wifi at high speeds. I’ve never had an issue with wifi in Vietnam. You can find wifi almost anywhere. I was honestly shocked at how great wifi was in Vietnam.
Pay Attention When Crossing the Road
Crossing the street in Vietnam requires thorough attention. It can seem horrifying at first, but you’ll get used to it. If you’re bored and want to do some people-watching, find a coffee shop next to a busy street and watch pedestrians cross the street.
When crossing the street, hold your hand out to let motorbikes know that you’re crossing the street. Walk at a steady pace and never run across the street. The motorbikes will see you and they know you’re crossing the street. Also, another thing to remember is to walk across in a single file. Don’t walk behind someone. Walk next to them. Lastly, just because there’s a red light doesn’t mean that all cars are going to stop. Don’t just jet out onto the street when you see the light change. All in all, you will be fine as long as you are vigilant.
Vietnam Is Safe
Before we went to Vietnam for the first time, we were told by so many people not to visit. We went right when the new iPhone X was released and apparently Vietnamese people were robbing tourists of their new iPhones? Obviously, we don’t listen to naysayers so we went.
We were on high alert the first day because of what we had been told. We learned that afternoon that there was nothing to be afraid of. It felt perfectly safe and no one was trying to snatch our iPhones. In fact, Vietnam is actually one of the safest countries I’ve been to. The locals are calm and non-violent. Of course, you shouldn’t flash your expensive objects around just in case there are pickpockets around. Just use your common sense.
Download Google Translate
There is a language barrier in Vietnam. Very many locals don’t speak English. Some of the locals speak decent English in bigger restaurants, but you’ll be out of luck when ordering from a food stall. If you want to communicate with them, download Google Translate. It’ll make your life and their life easier. If you want to kick things up a notch, learn a few basic phrases in Vietnamese. It’s a difficult language to learn, but you’ll be rewarded with smiles from locals if you make an effort.
Resources for Booking Your Trip to Vietnam:
Accommodation: If you want to stay at a hotel, use Hotels.com. I use it all the time because it provides the cheapest rates for hotels. Don’t forget to join their rewards program. Every tenth night is free!
Travel Insurance: Vietnam is safe, but you never know when accidents can happen. Don’t forget to protect yourself against flight cancellations, unexpected illnesses, theft and more. RoamRight has great customer service and benefits.
In conclusion, Vietnam is simply incredible and I know you’re going to love your time there. Let me know in the comments below where you plan on going in Vietnam.
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