Vietnam is an incredible country filled with unique history and beautiful landscape. From the bustling main cities to the roaring limestone mountains in Halong Bay, there are fantastic places to explore that suit everyone’s travel preferences. Not to mention that an entire week in Vietnam can be cheaper than a single day in cities in Europe!
Vietnam ranks top of my list for countries I’ve visited, due to the incredible scenery, food, friendly locals, and history that the country has to offer. But, there are definitely some things you should be aware of before your first trip to Vietnam! And so, I’ve put together a list of my top tips!
Sort out your visa ahead of time
I would highly advise purchasing your Vietnam visa ahead of time if you need one. You can purchase a visa from the official Vietnam government website (https://www.xuatnhapcanh.gov.vn/), if your passport is issued in a participating country. Although there is an option to purchase your visa on arrival, I did see backpackers get turned away from the airport ticketing counter in Thailand because they didn’t have the proper visa documents! The online process is easy and provides a peace of mind before travelling to Vietnam, and certainly avoids a long line for visa approvals on entry!
Understand the currency and haggling
The U.S. Dollar is worth about 20,000 Vietnamese Dong, rounded down for easy conversion. Ensuring you keep this metric in mind, you’ll be able to easily determine if a purchase is worth the cost or not. On your first few purchases, you’re bound to pay more as you are just getting a feel for how much things are worth in the country. Definitely try to haggle as they will offer higher prices because you are a tourist, but remember that even though you are asking for a 40,000 Dong discount, it is really only $2, which isn’t much in the grand scheme of things!
Avoid day tours as much as possible
I typically love scheduling day tours with companies when I’m travelling, especially when the locations are difficult to get to. During these day trips, you usually stop quickly at a tourist stop or particular store for a short amount of time. But in Vietnam, oh do they have long stops at tourist shops and what seems like their friends restaurants and shops! I went on three day trips in Vietnam, and each time – both there and back – we stopped for an hour at a tourist stop AND about 30 minutes+ at a small restaurant! The shops cost at least 5-10 times more than the street stalls or even shops in the cities. If you can, try to use public transit, rent a motorbike, or hire a car to avoid these time-wasting stops.
Be careful of traffic in the main cities
Right after arriving at my first hotel in Vietnam, I decided to walk 15 minutes to Hanoi Old Quarter. Was that ever an adventure! The traffic is absolutely crazy, especially during rush hour. It was one of the most stressful walks I have ever been on because I was not prepared for the amount of traffic! The anxiety I had when crossing the road was over-the-top – it felt like you had to simply close your eyes and pray you weren’t hit. But, somehow, you make it across the street alive! Try to stick beside locals who are crossing the road – they certainly are more confident than the tourists!
Make sure you have Vietnamese Dong on hand
Most places I went to in Vietnam were cash-only, especially the street markets. When you arrive, definitely head to an ATM and take out money. The ATM limits are typically around 3 million dong (~140 USD), but will last you quite some time. There are plenty of ATMs around, so don’t worry about running out of money when running around the markets!
Visit Hanoi Train Street
Although the street is no longer open for free-roam due to safety reasons, locals opened coffee shops along the tracks where you are able to visit! Shop owners will stand by the security guards booth and invite you to come have a drink at their track-side shops. If you purchase something, you can take pictures on the track or watch the train go by if you’re there at certain hours. Be aware that if you say you will purchase something and then just try to take photos, the shop owners get angry!
Explore the top markets in the main cities
The markets in the main cities are quite the experience – they are filled with handmade crafts, amazing food, and so many knock-offs! I initially wanted to avoid knock-offs, but for the quality and the price, it was hard to! I picked up a 10-pair package of Puma socks for ~$1, a high-quality North Face jacket for ~$15, a Burberry-like jacket for $5, and so much more! The quality of their cheap clothing is incredible in comparison to cheap clothing in North America. My one regret is that I was a bit too cautious of my spending and didn’t buy more!
Be aware of how big the country is
Despite looking quite small on a map, the country is quite large! The three H cities – Hanoi, Hue, and Ho Chi Minh, are 1-1.5 hour flights or long overnight train rides apart. I definitely underestimated travel time between places, and spent less time than I would have liked in each city.
Be aware that the Golden Hand Bridges is in a theme park!
This one is something I wish I knew and researched beforehand. I was completely unaware that this bridge I’ve been dying to see was in the middle of a super boring theme park! This theme park had one roller coaster, a rundown arcade, and super overpriced food. If I had known this beforehand, I wouldn’t have booked a day trip here. I definitely would have still visited on my own, because the cable car ride there was so breathtaking.
To me, it was a bit of an Instagram vs. reality type situation. But, I am really fascinated by architecture and enjoyed my time anyway.
Use Grab instead of local Taxis
If you’re in an area where Grab functions, definitely opt to take one instead of Taxis. Taxi drivers will try to overcharge you by a significant amount if they assume you are a tourist. Grab on the other hand, gives you a set price and you are ready to go! Not to mention that a 15-minute drive only costs 1-2 dollars, so there’s no reason not to use it!
Carefully check hotel reviews
Hotels in Vietnam are extremely cheap, but there are both nice and dodgy places among the mix. If booking online, be sure to read through reviews on sites such as Expedia or TripAdvisor. This definitely helps limit surprises upon arrival!
Avoid drinking tap water
As with most travel destinations, be sure to avoid drinking tap water! Opt for purchasing bottled water, or bring a reusable bottle to fill up at your hotel.
Dress appropriately when visiting temples
Temples are religious places and are very important to the locals. When visiting a temple, be sure your shoulders are covered and your bottoms reach your ankles. Be sure to respect rules posted at the entrance of temples!
Try unique street food
You’re bound to find interesting food on the streets in Vietnam. I highly recommend stepping outside your comfort zone and trying as much food as possible. Try to go to food stalls where there is a line – they are usually the best options!
Understand the tipping culture
Although tipping is a fairly new concept in Vietnam, it is becoming a norm to tip in restaurants, some hotels, organized tours, and in Spas. A 10-15% tip is usually good in these places, and the look on their faces is so grateful!
Have you visited Vietnam? What are some tips you have for future travellers? Let me know in the comments!