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26 Key Things To Know Before Your Trip in Vietnam

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06/22/2018

Exploring Vietnam is one of the most rewarding travel experiences you can have in the planet. Yes, even more than Thailand. That’s why I’ve compiled this list of everything I wish I had known before visiting Vietnam. It has everything for a safe, scam-free trip to make the most out of this fascinating place!

 

 

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This list of useful tips and tricks of Vietnam is mostly intended for first-time visitors but it can help anyone achieve a safe and worry-free travel. It should alert you for common mistakes and prepare you for traveling to one of the most amazing countries on Earth. 

If there’s a place where you’ll need to travel smart, this is it.

Comparing directly, An itinerary for the neighbour Thailand is a breeze, with better tourism infrastructure, beaches and ways of getting around.

Still I had a blast touring Vietnam and fell in love with the hearty people, the vibrant culture and the amazing diversity of landscapes. It’s a shame most people end up let bad experiences completely ruin life on the road.

When done right, exploring Vietnam is one of the most rewarding travel experiences you can have in the planet. Yes, even more than Thailand.

That’s why I’ve compiled this list of everything I wish I had known before visiting Vietnam. It has everything for a safe, scam-free trip to make the most out of this fascinating place!

Useful Things To Know Before Vietnam – TLDR.

  • 1. Sort out your VISA.

  • 2. Don’t underestimate the size of the country.

  • 3. Be smart about your itinerary.

  • 4. Weather varies a lot.

  • 5. Get ready to haggle.

  • 6. People are lovely…

  • 7. Beaches are not.

  • 8. Hanoi is quainter than you thought.

  • 9. Everyone’s a millionaire.

  • 10. Dress appropriately.

  • 11. It’s a paradise for foodies.

  • 12. Use tours as plan B.

  • 13. Or at least do your homework.

  • 14. Ho Chi Minh City is the place to be and be seen.

  • 15. The traffic is really hectic.

  • 16. WiFi is great!

  • 17. Be careful with your card.

  • 18. It’s freaking cheap.

  • 19. Phu Quoc is overrated…

  • 20. While Ninh Binh is underrated.

  • 21. Avoid tap water!

  • 22. Learn how to get around efficiently.

  • 23. Take care of your belongings.

  • 24. It’s worth to splurge on a Halong Bay cruise.

  • 25. Some basic words of Vietnamese can go a long way.

  • 26. Go for the street food!

Let’s go into more details below.

#1 Sort out your VISA.

First things first. It’s astonishing the amount of people who land in Vietnam with no idea what they need to do for their VISA. I agree it can be a daunting and confusing process, but don’t overlook this.

Fortunately there are many companies that do this for you online for a small fee. I used Vietnam Visa Pro – overlook the crappy design, it’s legit.

Upon arrival, triple check all of your documentation and make sure you bring the visa-on-arrival pre-approval papers, photos and cash with you. EUR and USD will do (although with ridiculous conversion rates).

Steps to complete your Vietnam VISA Application online

1 Fill out visa options and contact information.
2 Pay.
3 Get the approval letter on your email. It takes 1-2 working days (it’s a weird list of random people who were granted entering Vietnam at the same time you did. Personal information shared with strangers yay!).
4 Make sure you pack the pre-approval letter, 2 photos, passport, the entry/exit form and cash.
5 Handle it all over to the officers when you land. Smile.

#2 Don’t underestimate the size of the country.

I didn’t realize how massive and spread out Vietnam is until you search for directions on Google Maps. To give you an idea, a train ride between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City is 1700+km-long and takes roughly 35 (!) hours.

Getting from A to B always take longer than you expect in Asia and this is specially true in Vietnam. So plan accordingly and make sure you don’t bite more than you can chew.

Which leads me to my next point.

#3 Be smart about your itinerary.

 

Reserve at the very least 3 days for a proper tour of Sapa in Northern Vietnam.

A common rookie mistake is forcing everything and the kitchen sink on your Vietnam travel itinerary. If you want to go full North to South, allow at least 3 weeks. Any less and you’ll be rushing and/or forcing you to take flights, taking away a bit of the experience.

I went further and decided to skip the entire Central part during my 3-week stay. The region is prone to flooding when I went (late November) which helped making the decision.

Overall Vietnam can be divided into 3 main regions – North, Central and South – and as a rule of thumb I would say you’ll need a week for each at the very least.

#4 Weather varies a lot.

Weather in Vietnam is quite complex. This might help.

Vietnam is in general humid and hot.

However with such an elongated country, it’s only natural the weather changes significantly inside Vietnam. When i say significantly, I mean dramatically. 3 different weather regions. It can be snowing in Sapa while a blazing hot sunny day down in Phu Quoc.

  • Northern Vietnam: expect hot wet summers and cool dry winters up North. It can get quite cold here during northern hemisphere winter – from September to November – particularly next to the border with China.

  • Central Vietnam: experiences hot, dry weather between January & August when temperatures can hit the mid-thirties.

  • Southern Vietnam: boasts a full tropical climate, with only 2 defined seasons – wet and dry. The best time to go is obviously during the latter, from December to April.

Selective Asia has more details on the weather in Vietnam.

#5 Get ready to haggle.

Prices of things are very cheap, but expect to pay whatever you can haggle for it. There are no fixed prices. This can be daunting at first, but you’ll eventually get used to it. I know think it’s more fun this way!

The thing is Vietnamese they WILL try to inflate prices. It’s how they have been doing business for centuries. The recent trend of wealthy tourists has just made big markups more evident to the outside world. Best you can do is to be informed and prepared to get a good price.

It’s advisable to hide all items that make you look richer – watches, jewellery, big bank notes – to make your offer more convincing.

Pro tip: come up with a maximum price you’re willing to pay and stick to it. No matter what. Don’t underestimate the value of politely start walking away.

#6 People are lovely…

 

Vietnamese are very keen on keeping their traditions.

Most people visiting get the impression Vietnamese are greedy and shady people trying to get advantage of you at all times. I see this being legit if you stick to the touristy route exclusively. Sadly these travelers only get to know the business side of locals who are simply trying to make a living.

Once you break that local-tourist paradigm and make an effort to communicate with the person in front you, trust me, you’ll see it differently. During my travels I’ve met nice and friendly people from many different places, particularly in Asia. Vietnam takes it to a whole another level of kindness.

We’ve got everything from free food, inspiring life stories and school children thrilled to wave “hello” to us. These people may not have much, but they are still able to gladly share what they have with you.

#7… Beaches are not.

This strip of sand in Phu Quoc was the only good beach spot I’ve seen in Vietnam.

Putting it nicely, beaches are not Vietnam‘s forte.

If you’ve been to the dreamy beaches in Philippines or even to the islands in the neighbour Thailand, you’ll most likely get disappointed. Even the supposedly best beach in Vietnam – Sao Beach in Phu Quoc island – had trash accumulated along 90% of its extension.

But hey, each to its own! And Vietnam is definitely all about indulging in local culture and food and meet inspiring people along the way.

#8 Hanoi is quainter than you think.

 

Oh the beautiful mess of Hanoi.

The artistic, traditional and creative side of Vietnam is more evident in Hanoi, where despite the crazy traffic and busy routines, centuries-old traditions are still alive.

Museums, pagodas and temples pledge a solid set of touristy activities but Hanoi is so much more than that. Despite being a huge city just like Ho Chi Minh City, it has somewhat of a village vibe that is absent in its southern counterpart.

The fascinating maze of streets of the Old Quarter is the ideal place to get lost and shop for local handicrafts in great food or just do a fair bit of people-watching. The area is reminiscent of a time where each street was specialized in one type of item (e.g. silver, chicken, etc). In between explorations, sit down and enjoy a hearty bowl of pho, the national dish.

#9 Everyone’s a millionaire.

 

That’s a lot of zeros.

Well, not quite.

I’m sure there are many confused souls out there right now trying to work out the ridiculously high conversion of the dong. At the time of writing this article, 1 EUR = 26,200 dong and 1 USD = 22,700 dong. This means 100USD or 100EUR are worth more than 2 million Dong!

The good news is that there are no coins in Vietnam since 2011. The bad news is that bank notes are enough of a headache. It’s easy for a 500,000 Dong note to “pass by” a 50,000 one. Same for the 10,000 and 100,000 Dong ones. The last 0 makes all the difference! Plus the 20,000 and 500,000 have an awfully similar tone of blue. Don’t get fooled!

#10 Dress appropriately.

Vietnam is not by any means a conservative country in what it comes to clothing. You don’t need to dress like an Afghan woman and the hot weather does even force some skin to be shown amongst locals. If you want to wear shorts, a shirt and flip-flops, that’s absolutely fine.

The line is drawn when girls wear bikinis and guys walk around with no shirt. When visiting temples and other religious sites, it’s advisable to cover-up as a sign of respect and restrictions may be applied regarding shorts and vest tops.

If you’re unsure what to wear, do as locals do. And if you’re visiting the North during winter time, don’t forget to bring some pieces of warmer clothing!

#11 It’s a paradise for foodies.

A standard Vietnamese sit-down meal.

Lying on a delicate balance of sour, hot snweet and salty perfected over centuries, food in Vietnam is unique. I love the flavors of tamarind, chili peppers and also loads of fresh greens that go in almost every dish.

Not sure because gluttony is now my middle name, but a whopping percentage of my memories of the country are food-related. I personally think it’s an unforgettable cuisine with some flavors I haven’t experienced anywhere else. But nothing like trying it out for yourself!

Note: No, didn’t see dog in the restaurant menu. Can’t be sure I haven’t eaten it though.

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