Asia, with its dense population, hot and humid weather, cramped markets, and somewhat lax traffic rules, presents a culture shock on your first visit. But it is also vibrant and has gorgeous scenery and warm people. Vietnam is a budget destination in Asia that is great for solo and family travel.
If this is your first time visiting Vietnam, you must plan your itinerary well. Here are 18 top Vietnam travel tips.
18 Top Vietnam Travel Tips
Table of Contents
- 18 Top Vietnam Travel Tips
- 1. Best time to visit Vietnam
- 2. Travelling between cities in Vietnam
- 3. Visa requirements
- 4. Travel Insurance
- 5. What to wear in Vietnam
- 6. Getting around the cities in Vietnam
- 7. Be aware of scams
- 8. Learn some Vietnamese phrases
- 9. Carry some cash with you
- 10. Look after your belongings
- 11. Haggling is needed for shopping
- 12. Don’t drink tap water
- 13. Food safety
- 14. Traffic is horrendous in Vietnam
- 15. No need to Tip
- 16. Getting a local SIM card
- 17. Vietnam has both ends: super luxury and budget travel options
- 18. Vietnam Solo travel tips
- Tips for Traveling Vietnam Solo in Conclusion
1. Best time to visit Vietnam
Living in India, I am used to the hot and tropical climate. Even then, it was very hot on my first visit to Hanoi in June. The weather in southern Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City, was a bit better. But do expect hot and humid weather throughout the country.
It is important to choose the right season to visit Vietnam, especially if you are coming from a cooler climate. Vietnam is a long thin country with different weather patterns in the north, central and south parts of the country. If you are planning to visit a bit of all areas, spring would be an excellent time to visit (March and April) or autumn and beyond (September to December).
The summer months are very warm in North and Central Vietnam. The temperature drops from December to February to the north of Hanoi. It rains a bit during the summer and autumn months.
2. Travelling between cities in Vietnam
Vietnam is a long country, and you are likely to do a trip from north to south starting in Hanoi or a trip from south to north beginning in Ho Chi Minh City.
Vietnam is a popular destination for budget travelers. There are buses and trains available for travel between cities. But I found it convenient and not too expensive to take domestic flights via Vietjet.. Unless you are backpacking on a shoestring budget, this is what I would recommend you to do.
I took a flight from Hanoi to Danang in Central Vietnam. And further from Danang to HCMC in the Southern part of Vietnam. It saves so many hours of travel.
3. Visa requirements
Most nationalities need a visa to enter Vietnam and it is best to arrange a Vietnam visa before you enter the country. It is easy to get a Vietnam Visa if you go directly to the official website.
Do note that numerous legal and shady websites are vying to get you a Vietnam Visa. Some of these are legitimate tourist agencies and their services are needed ONLY if you need a visa beyond 30 days or a multiple-entry visa. Then any of the tourist agencies need to give a pre-approval letter to enter Vietnam.
For my two week itinerary to Vietnam starting in Hanoi, I applied directly on the government site for a single entry 30-day visa. The fee is USD 25 and it takes less than a week to get your e-visa.
4. Travel Insurance
Vietnam is a safe country to visit. But I recommend you to take travel insurance to cover your trip. There could be an incident of baggage misplacement or you get into an accident, or even simple stuff like having food poisoning on your trip.
5. What to wear in Vietnam
If you are traveling to the north between December to March, expect cold nights. So do carry a jacket, long-sleeved t-shirts, jeans and shoes. The weather would be hot and humid in other parts of the country throughout the year, so cotton or linen works best. Summer flowy dresses are great to put on.
Vietnam is not a conservative country, so don’t shy away from shorts and T-shirts in the city or swimwear on the beach. But if you are traveling solo, it is not a great idea to wear skimpy clothes.
You do need to cover yourself if you are entering a temple or a religious site. Make sure your legs are covered in a skirt or sarong. Do take care to dress modestly while visiting rural areas in Vietnam.
And a rain jacket is a good idea, as it does rain during the summer and autumn months. But it’s possible that many people coming from cooler climates feel warm in a rain jacket. A loose rain poncho might work better.
Don’t forget the sunscreen at home. The sun is strong and if you plan to spend some time on beaches, you must slather good quality sunscreen and wear a hat.
6. Getting around the cities in Vietnam
Grab is the Uber version in South East Asia. So download the Grab App while visiting Vietnam. I found it easy to walk in French quarters in Hanoi, even the old town there and the Central Business District in HCMC. Towns like Hoi An are completely car-free and meant to be explored on foot only.
I did not venture into a local bus or a motorbike taxi within the city. But it was easy and cheap enough to hail a taxi. You, of course, need to have a sense of distance and approximate trip cost. Ask the local staff at your hotel before venturing out. Be firm with the taxi driver about a fixed cost proposed, some haggling may be needed and all would be fine.
7. Be aware of scams
I have heard of plenty of scams in Hanoi and HCMC. I had pre-booked some of the tours through known sites like the Halong Bay overnight cruise. Of course, these would be more expensive than via a local operator. If you are a budget traveler, you do need to be wary of scams. While looking for a tour or package, shop around and learn all the inclusions and exclusions. You needn’t commit in a hurry!
The currency in Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong (VND). 1 USD is roughly 24000 VND! It isn’t easy to work out prices for things in VND. You can imagine how complicated it is to deal with large amounts and notes. So when you use cash, take time to figure out that you have the exact change back. Giving the wrong change is an easy scam in cities.
8. Learn some Vietnamese phrases
While visiting Hanoi, Danang and HCMC, I faced no communication problems. Most people around me spoke English. Anyone working in hotels, restaurants or in high-tourist areas do speak conversational English, enough to make you understand what they are saying.
But if you visit rural areas in Vietnam, it would be good to know some Vietnamese phrases to get around. While learning a few phrases is great, what would be super helpful is to download Google Translate on your phone. Wifi is plenty and there is no better app than Google Translate to help you communicate.
9. Carry some cash with you
I used my credit card at all the fancy hotels, high-end restaurants and for pre-booked tours in Vietnam. But Vietnam is a cash country. So for eating in small restaurants in Hoi An or buying a souvenir in HCMC, you need cash.
There are plenty of ATMs in Vietnam, you have to make sure they accept Visa or Mastercard cards from foreign banks. But do calculate what amount you would need and take it out in one go, because transaction charges (roughly 3%) apply on cash withdrawals using international cards.
10. Look after your belongings
If you are a budget traveler, take care of your belongings. If you withdraw large sums of cash, you can’t carry all of it on you. Ideally, lock some of the cash in your hotel room or keep it safe. Keep your passport and tickets locked in your hotel and don’t carry them with you. Use your passport copy while handing over ID at hotels; most budget places would not insist on the original.
Vietnam is in general a safe country to travel to. However, if you are taking a sleeper bus or an overnight train, make sure you keep an eye on your belongings.
Vietnam is not known for violent crimes towards women. But petty crimes do exist. Mobile, camera bags and handbags can be snatched in bigger, crowded cities. So, be vigilant about your possessions at all times.
11. Haggling is needed for shopping
Like the markets of Istanbul or India, haggling is required in small shops and markets around Vietnam. You should check out prices at a couple of stores to get a sense broadly.
My general rule of thumb that I have applied elsewhere is to quote less than half of what the shopkeeper initially requested, and then negotiate my way up.
12. Don’t drink tap water
Tap water is not safe to drink in Vietnam. I live in India, so it doesn’t occur to me that you can drink tap water in an Asian country!
Carry a good reusable water bottle, fill it in big hotels or restaurants, or buy bottled water.
13. Food safety
I found the street food plentiful, hygienic, fast-moving and cheap. Being Asian, perhaps my stomach can take more of street food as compared to someone from the USA or Europe.
In my opinion, food standards are quite good in Vietnam. So you need not just eat at high-end restaurants but also try food in the old quarters in Hanoi or in the streets at HCMC. We found some lovely budget and mid-range restaurants in Hoi An.
14. Traffic is horrendous in Vietnam
I am used to ferocious traffic in some Indian cities. So it surprised me how difficult it was to cross a road in Ho Chi Minh City! It was super congested moving around in the old town of Hanoi, but that was mostly people.
But the streets of HCMC were full of motorbikes and scooters, and if you were to give way to all of them, you would never cross a road. So the only thing to do is to chin up and cross the road, and hopefully all the two-wheelers would weave their way around you.
It gets more complicated as the pedestrian sidewalks in many parts of Hanoi and HCMC are full of parked motorbikes, so much so that there is no space for any people to walk on them. You have to get down on the road to avoid all these parked two-wheelers.
15. No need to Tip
Tipping is generally not needed in Vietnam. However, in large hotel restaurants and high-end places, a 10% service fee may be part of your bill. And I have discovered that some small change at the end of a tour brings extra-big smiles all around!
16. Getting a local SIM card
It is easy and cheap to get a local SIM card in Vietnam. And the wi-fi works very well in most parts of the country.
It is convenient to get a local SIM at the airport itself. There are many companies and plans to choose from. If you are looking for a cheaper option than the airport, you can also easily buy a SIM card in the city. You could buy just a data plan (no calls included) or a full plan.
17. Vietnam has both ends: super luxury and budget travel options
So I normally indulge in comfort-to-luxury accommodation on my family trips, especially on a beach vacation. Danang is full of luxury beach resorts, and we spent four amazing nights at the Four Seasons resort there.
There are many things to do in Danang, including day trips to Hoi An and Hue. I visited Con Dao islands towards the end of our trip and stayed at the Six Senses beach resort in Con Dao. If you have to splurge on a fancy beach resort, Vietnam is the place!
While Vietnam lures with luxurious stay and food options, the country is overall very cheap. It is very easy to do a budget trip here. There are clean, comfortable hotels available for under USD 50. Trains and buses are quite affordable. There is cheap and good quality street food everywhere. You need to be ok sitting on a stool on the pavement to enjoy it! Local Beer is less than USD 1 per bottle.
18. Vietnam Solo travel tips
Vietnam is a cheap and good destination for solo travel. But like any other Asian country, if you are traveling solo in Vietnam, take the usual precautions. Don’t carry a lot of cash around on yourself or take it out all at once from your wallet. Keep our passport and tickets locked in your hotel and don’t carry them with you.
At hotels, in restaurants or on a group tour, strike up conversations with other solo travelers. However, do not share personal information with either locals or other travelers. You never know where and how it could get misused. Don’t wear skimpy clothes and draw attention to yourself. Try to blend in while enjoying your trip.
Avoid going out alone at night time and avoid too much alcohol. Lastly, keep your family informed about where you are.
Tips for Traveling Vietnam Solo in Conclusion
Some of your biases may have ended by the time your trip ends, if at all you had them. Vietnam is one of the 5 communist countries in the world (besides China, Cuba, Laos and North Korea). But you can see plenty of privately owned thriving businesses everywhere.
HCMC is a metropolis with large buildings and financial know-how like Mumbai, Seoul or Tokyo. I did not see any overt signs of communism except for some kitschy posters and souvenirs in shops.
I was surprised to note that folks have no ill will against the French, Americans, or others who invaded their country. Vietnamese folks have moved on from their past wars. The two parts are united and marching on bettering their lives. It is a wonderful country to visit.
This guest post was written by Shweta. Shweta has always been passionate about travel and immersing in new experiences. Having been to over 40 countries, she blogs at Zest In A Tote to bring family-friendly itineraries and tips, destinations, and luxury stays to her readers. Her belief is that family travel needn’t be boring, and one can mix local culture & food, adventure activities, and relaxation, all with family.
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