From majestic mountains and relaxing beaches to amazing shopping and mouth-watering cuisine, Vietnam is an exhilarating country to travel. Vibrant street life, exquisite food and epic landscapes are just the start of what you’ll find here.
Despite the fact that Vietnam is a tricky country to explore, tour scams are common, pollution can be disappointing and the fact is, an extremely poor country looks at you with dollar signs in their eyes. We had a blast touring Vietnam and were fascinated with the vibrant culture and the amazing diversity of landscapes. Do your homework, know what to expect, and this will be the most rewarding country in Southeast Asia to explore.
There are certainly plenty of other things I wish I knew before I came here. So below I have listed some things you should know before visiting Vietnam.
Take Your Visa Seriously
Yes, it seems like common sense, but I have seen tourists turned away at the airport for visa misinformation or failing to print their visa-on-arrival pre-approval paper.
Scandinavia, Southeast Asia, and Western Europe citizens, get a free 15-day visa. If you wish to stay longer than 15 days, the process is can be quite tedious, but it’s necessary nonetheless. Citizens of the United States, Canada, and Australia can apply for their visa on arrival.
Double, and triple check all of your information, have your accommodation address on your arrival form, be very respectful to the immigration officers, no matter how you feel, get stamped and enjoy!
Make sure you start this process one month before you travel at the latest. Here is what to do:
- You need to obtain a letter of approval, and you can do this through your hotel, your travel tour agency or your VOA focused agency. An easy option is to simply use an online VOA agency to complete your online Vietnam Visa application
- Once received, print the letter
- Fill out a quick application form online (you will need to know your arrival date and the name of the airport at which you will arrive)
- Pay the visa servicing fee online
- Within two business days, you will get an email with your official Vietnam visa Approval Letter issued by the Vietnam Immigration Department
- Print the Approval Letter and prepare two (4cm x 6cm) photos of yourself according to noted requirements
- Bring the printed Approval Letter, photos, and the government Stamping Fee (along with your passport and any other required documents) with you on your trip to Vietnam
- When you arrive at your destination airport in Vietnam, show the Approval Letter and photos at the Immigration office
Make sure all of the above is in your hand luggage on arrival at the airport as the visa process comes before baggage collection.
Check Your Travel Vaccinations
As with travelling to other parts of Asia, you need to take precautions when visiting Vietnam. Some of the diseases known to exist in Vietnam include hepatitis A and B, typhoid, tuberculosis, Japanese encephalitis, malaria, diphtheria, tetanus, polio and rabies. We strongly recommend you consult your doctor with regards to vaccinations and seek up to date health advice before you depart.
Keep Your Valuables Out of Sight
Though Vietnam is considered safe by world standards, you should apply common sense when travelling, as you would anywhere. Violent crime is rare, but like any large city, they have their fair share of pickpockets. It is advisable to keep valuables in your hotel safe, and wear as little jewelry as possible when you are out. Keeping your money and other valuables close to your body in a secure place is also a good idea.
Get Ready to Haggle
It is normal in Vietnam for locals to overcharge or inflate prices when they feel they can get more money for something. It’s been happening here in Vietnam since long before tourists ever arrived. It is not necessarily that they are “ripping you off”, it’s just the fluid way that small transactions happen in Vietnam.
Prices of things are very cheap, but expect to pay whatever you can haggle for. There are rarely any fixed prices. This can be daunting at first, but you’ll eventually get used to it. I now think it’s more fun this way!
Weather Varies a Lot
One of the most important things to know before going to Vietnam is to study and understand Vietnam’s weather. Vietnam is in general humid and hot. However, with such an elongated country, it’s only natural the weather is significantly different from region to region in Vietnam.
The country is categorized into three regions. The north has a distinct summer and winter, with the high humidity monsoon/wet season lasting from May to October. The center of the country experiences a long dry season, lasting from January to the end of September, before its short-wet season. The south has two distinct seasons – wet and dry, with the high humidity monsoon lasting from May to November. During the wet season in the South, it usually rains daily with a heavy but short-lived downpour in the afternoon. The best time to visit Vietnam is from November through to March but April, May, September and October are also popular months.
Traffic is Hectic
If you are not used to heavy traffic, then that’s the first cultural shock that you will encounter in Vietnam. Delays are common, and traffic jams are a regular thing, especially in Ho Chi Minh. Honking isn’t rude, or considered offensive, unlike many other parts of the world. It just means that they are in a hurry and they want you to make way for them.
Always be aware of everything around you, whether you’re crossing a street or walking on a sidewalk. Roads can be an abstract concept in Vietnam’s cities. Crossroads are rare, and it will take some time before you feel comfortable crossing the roads, but it is important not to panic.
Travel Agencies is Your Friend
Don’t worry about booking every aspect of your trip before you arrive. Every town worth visiting e.g. Hanoi, Sapa, Hoi An has a travel agency around every corner. Using these travel offices is an extremely convenient way to plan additional elements of your trip, whether it’s an internal sleeper bus, day tour or 3-night package. Vietnam is a giant tour factory!
In most countries, the package tours, whether private or group, are considered expensive, and you pay less for the tour if you do them independently. In Vietnam however, this is only partially true. Sometimes, booking a tour costs you considerably less than if you traveled independently.
Go for Registered Taxis
Taxis are a convenient way to travel in Vietnam, especially if you are traveling in groups. However, taxis are often a source of scams for travelers. This happens much less-often with Mai Linh or Vinasun taxis. Vinasun taxis that have a uniform color code, are professional and reliable, and not that expensive if covering long distances within big cities. Avoid getting into random taxis, especially, if you’re arriving for the first time at one of the three international airports, Try to stick with these two more-reliable companies.
Eat Everything but Beware!
The Vietnamese food is delicious with many of the cities having an incredible street food scene, with roadside stalls and hole in the wall restaurants that can get your taste buds tingling. Whether you just want a simple noodle soup or a signature seafood delicacy, Vietnamese are adept at making the perfect food. Be adventurous and try it all. But be aware of hygiene when you’re eating street food. To be cautious, opt for vendors with a good crowd of locals in front of their stands.
Wi-Fi is Everywhere
If you want to stay connected on your travels, have no fear! Wi-Fi networks in Vietnam are reliable and can be found pretty much everywhere. I mean, even some street vendors have it.