Travel Tips When Visiting Vietnam
Travelling is one activity that pays more than you spent. It’s like having a business wherein you invested only a few thousand dollars but the profit it gives you is in tens of thousands only in travel you don’t exactly (well, actually, you really don’t) get back the benefits in monetary terms. What it gives you back is a refreshed soul, a bit of new knowledge, hopefully a full tummy, and a new lens of perspective — and honestly, these are things that cannot be valued in dollars.
Life is short to always try and wait for perfect moments so if ever you have a chance to go on a trip by yourself or with a friend or your family, take it. Perfect moments do not come. They are created.
Though spontaneity is something that definitely adds thrill it’s best to take a careful eye when planning any trip. It’s not to add to extra stress on your part but to make your entire travel a breeze. You don’t want to go on a relaxing, chill out trip just to get bombarded with stress just because you didn’t plan it enough, right?
So before you hop on the plane (…. at LAX with a dream and a cardigan?Just kidding!), take some time to know the country you’re visiting not only to provide you with a glimpse of the life and the culture but more importantly and practically speaking to gain some useful insights that you can pack in your trip.
Welcome, first time with Vietnam?
First you have to know before going to Vietnam: It isn’t some “little” wonder in the southeast Asian region to visit. This S-shaped piece of land is part of the Indochina region connected in boundaries to China and Cambodia. It also has a long stretch of coastline where many pristine beaches can be found and is bounded by the Gulf of Tonkin, South China Sea, and the Gulf of Thailand in its southern tip. Its 331,212 square kilometers of land area is home to the beautiful rugged mountains, plataus, nature spots, temples and pagodas, as well as captivating and vibrant cityscape.
It extends 1,650 kilometers from north down to the south and is about 50 kilometers wide. If you’re thinking “little”, think again! This country though popular for backpackers who travel the Indochina region in only a few days time (along with Thailand and Cambodia) is a wonder that cannot be encapsulated in a few days of a trip! If you’re really in for an in-depth tour and local immersion in Vietnam, throw in all your sick (oops) and vacation leaves because it will take you weeks to explore it — and it’s definitely worth it.
Regions of Vietnam
Vietnam is often divided into three regions: the northern, central, and southern Vietnam. The Northern part of Vietnam is famous for being a mountainous and forest region offering the wonders of Halong Bay – one of the most famous and definitely one of the best tourist destinations in Vietnam, the underrated Ninh Binh where you can indulge in the view of the mountains of Vietnam at the top of Hang Mua, and Sapa which is a mix of adventure and leisure offering the sight of Fansifan where you can take your time and immerse in the local life.
The Central region of Vietnam is famous for Da Nang, the home of the beaches. Da Nang is Central Vietnam’s tourism capital which also gives the Marble Mountains and the famous Instagram location – the Golden Bridge. Cultural and historical landmarks can be found in Hue while you can indulge in the quaint life by visiting Hoi An. Down south is Vietnam’s bustling urban centre, Ho Chi Minh. If you think Hanoi is a busy capital, Ho Chi Minh gives you a notch up on that with its vibrant nightlife and motorcycle hustles.
At the heart of Ho Chi Minh, you can visit temples as well as different museums and markets. A few kilometers away from the bustle life are the famous Mekong Delta and Phu Quoc Island wherein you can rest yourself from the noise of the city.
Being a long piece of land, Vietnam has different weathers and climates depending on location. In general, the North experiences a tropical climatic zone. When it’s hot, it’s definitely hot and you should paint your game on with sweat. From November to April is northern vietnam’s winter season while February to end of March are characterized by persistent light rain.
Most “chaotic months” are from May to October as you can experience intense heat, heavy rainfall, and also the occasional typhoons. If you’re looking to travel in these months, make sure you’re properly geared. On the other hand, the southern part has a slightly different climate. From June until November, rains and typhoons are persistent in the area while December to April are the drier months.
Very noteworthy in any trip is the food trip. Touring Vietnam is incomplete without trying out roadside stalls offering authentic Vietnamese cuisine built on the balance of many different flavors and vibrant aesthetics. There are a lot of good traditional foods that you should try here and I bet pho eaten in Vietnam will surely have a different vibe! Aside from the food, take in Vietnam by visiting different coffee shops which offer a strong yet tasty flavor and a wide variety of flavors. Vietnam is the world’s 2nd largest coffee producer so make sure to try a cup or two while visiting all its beautiful landmarks.
Lastly in our mini-intro to Vietnam is that it’s one of the five communist countries in existence along with China, Cuba, Laos, and North Korea. The large population of Vietnam mostly follow folk tradition but are bounded by the teachings of Confucianism and Buddhism. Christianity is widespread all over the world and Vietnam is no exception so expect a mix of religions when visiting this country!
If you’re a first time traveller to Vietnam this compiled list will probably be a helpful guide to start your planning session.
KNOW THE TRAVEL BASICS
First is entry to Vietnam
In light of the pandemic, Vietnam closed its borders for incoming foreign travel last March 22 and the government of Vietnam has not yet announced any official travel information of when it’s going to open again for foreigners but there are a few exemptions. As of September 3, Vietnam’s COVID-19 cases are at 1,046 and are applauded by many countries for being managed well with only 35 deaths and high recovery rate.
For the few exemptions which you can view in Vietnam’s official government pages, the Ministry of Health requires a 14-day quarantine and health and safety measures are being strictly implemented. Also as per resolution released, Vietnam granted e-visas to citizens of 80 countries. You can view the list of countries by accessing his link: http://news.chinhphu.vn/Home/Govt-to-issue-EVISA-to-citizens-from-80-countries-since-July/20205/40248.vgp
If you’re definitely putting in Vietnam in your travel bucket list, make sure to keep yourself updated. With the release of e-visas, there will definitely be a change in processes in visa application. Also check with your embassy if your country is granted visa-free status by the Vietnamese government. If you’re curious as to how it was done before, a lot of tourists rely on companies to do the application process for them. Be careful though with transactions like these as there are important documents involved.
Check the weather
Although there is an overview presented of weather in Vietnam, it pays to know the specific weather in the different places you’ll be visiting corresponding to the time of your visit. It will help you prepare with the list of things that you should bring on your trip. Read on travel blogs to give you a glimpse of when is the perfect month to visit Vietnam (most recommend December through February trips). As I’ve mentioned before, don’t underestimate the size of Vietnam so there will be different months depending on your destination that will suit your needs (not to mention that you might want to also factor in the peak season).
If you want to visit Northern Vietnam, book your trip during September and October when the weather is generally comfortable. Ho Chi Minh is best visited during December to March when you can also experience the Tet Festival or the Vietnamese New Year which happens in late January or early February. If you’re on a budget, book ahead for a September flight. Some seasoned travellers encouraged first time tourists to not be put off with the rainy season as Vietnam is a country that celebrates it and you’ll hardly find conflicts in it like trip cancellations. They’re accustomed to the rain.
Currency check and exchange
Vietnam is the land of the millionnaires! The current exchange rate for 1 Vietnamese Dong (VND) in USD is around 0.000043 only. If you have 100 USD in your pocket, you have a value of 2,308,496.91 VND. When touring around Vietnam, it’s always best to pay cash and of course in their official currency. While you can have your money exchanged to VND in airports, you can also opt to have them exchanged in jewelry shops and gold shops in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh which offer better exchange rates. If you’re running out of cash for some reason, there are many ATMs around accepting Visa and Mastercard. Check your withdrawal limit as some local banks only allow $100.
Equip your phone
Although wi-fi is great in Vietnam, add a countermeasure by buying a local sim for your travel equipped with data packages which you can use to access location maps, hail transport services, communicate with friends or family, or update your social media accounts. Sims can be bought in the international airports where you can easily do the process as well. If you missed this airport perk because you flew in at night, you can buy sims from Mobifone or Vietnamobile which will only cost you 100,000 VND.
Know basic Vietnamese phrases
Since Vietnam is a tourist destination, you can find individuals who can speak English especially in hotels and some businesses. But English is only its second language and a majority of Vietnamese can’t speak it. So pack yourself with a couple of useful phrases such as:
Hello = Xin Chao (Sin chow)
How are you? = Ban Khoe Khong (Ban Kwe Khom)
Thank you = Cam on (kahm uhn)
Sorry = Xin Loi (Sin Loy)
Can you speak english? = Ban noi tieng anh duoc khong? (Banh noi thien an durkh khom)
How much? = Bao nhieu? (Baow nyew)
Vietnamese love foreigners who try to speak their language even if you have all the pronunciation all wrong. Add a few compliments here and there and you might get a discount!
BE SMART ABOUT YOUR ITINERARY
Vietnam is huge and it will take days or even weeks if you want to fully explore the country. Since Vietnam offers a wide range of vacation activities such as adventure, swimming and other water-related activities, cultural and historical immersion, and local interactions, it’s best if you know what you want. Answer the following questions that can help you plan a smooth trip.
- Consider what month you will be visiting. Take the weather, public holidays, festivals, peak seasons, and promos in consideration. Generally, bloggers recommend December to February bookings as the weather is comfortable and you get to enjoy a lot of annual activities. Then again, some tourist destinations in Vietnam are best visited in some other months.
- How long are you staying in Vietnam? This can help you out to sort your itinerary whether you’re going on a sweep of the three regions of Vietnam or focus in one. Vietnam is big and travel time in between regions is long.
- If you’ve set a focus or general itinerary in mind, check your flights. You can drop in any of the three main international airports of Vietnam: (a) Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi – Northern Vietnam (b) Da Nang International Airport in Da Nang – Central Vietnam and ( c) Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh – Southern Vietnam. From these airports, it’s also good to plan out your local logistics to your accommodation.
- Now that you have a general itinerary or you’ve already picked some places to visit, check out guides. Some are public and some are not and some landmarks have a long waiting list. To make sure you get a slot in these places, consider booking in advance. Quick google searches can help you out on this quest. You can also check vietnam-guide.com to see the opening times and days of places you want to visit.
- Local logistics. Vietnam is known for its chaotic traffic so if you’re on a hectic schedule, you might wanna straighten out this part before travelling. Cabs and buses are major forms of public commute. You can also opt for transport hailing apps such as Grab. Vietnam is popular for its large amount of motorbike users so if you want to immerse yourself in the city, take a Grab Bike!
There are a lot of blogs dedicated to Vietnam travel and you can browse through them to see budget and trustworthy recommendations for accommodations and how they created their itinerary. Some even post pictures and detailed logs which can help you out in your planning. A smart itinerary is not necessarily a jam packed one. Rather it’s a mix of chill and adventure tailored to your pace. It’s a vacation not a wild tour so take your time!
STUDY THE CULTURE
This is important because you don’t want to unintentionally disrespect the country and the people. It also builds a good camaraderie and you’ll appreciate the place more when you deal with the locals.
- Any form of aggressive behavior like arguing, ridiculing, and confronting are not allowed in Vietnam. People here don’t want to lose face. How they are perceived by others is a very important piece in their culture. So make sure to always keep your calm. Besides, Vietnamese are generally very nice locals, I doubt you’d run into much conflict around here.
- Tipping is not a culture here. If you do want to appreciate good service, do so by complimenting the business with words. Some visitors noted that if you really want to tip, do it discreetly by slipping the tip underneath a cup of coffee or plate.
- Elders are very much respected in Vietnam conforming to their Confucian beliefs so you might encounter one or two events of people asking you for your age.
- Vietnam has a rich history of war and war veterans and heroes are revered. So, never make jokes about war or the people involved. If you do so, the Vietnamese will not take it lightly. Read up a bit on their history or just generally pay its history respect.
- Bargaining is a culture. Surely most local business owners will give foreigners higher prices because it’s “business” so first ask the price and start bargaining from there. Put in some compliments and try to communicate with a few Vietnamese phrases which can help you lower down the price.
- It’s rude to leave food uneaten. Vietnamese cuisine is a rich cuisine which offers a wide range of food choices and they love their food a lot. Make sure to get only what you can consume so as to not offend them.
- Wear appropriate clothing. Vietnamese are generally conservative so refrain from skin-baring outfits. Also, if you’re visiting temples and pagodas, check out their dress restrictions.
- Ask permission before you take pictures especially in cultural and historical landmarks.