Travel to Vietnam – Tips and Information Guide for 2019
From the tropical coral reefs of Nha Trang to the northern mountains of Sa Pa, Vietnam is one of the most adventurous yet culturally empowering countries in the world.
One moment you will find yourself haggling for banh mi deep within Saigon and that afternoon you could be watching a breathtaking sunset from the Mekong Delta.
Vietnam is more than a country, it’s an experience. Street food vendors cooking up exotic cuisines such as pho, streets dedicated to selling suit and ties.
Cruising the waters of Halong Bay, while monkeys jump from island to island or you might find yourself trekking to the highest peak in Vietnam, Fansipan soaring to over 3,100 metres!
Not into adventure? Homestays are the perfect way to spend your day as the monsoon rains fall across the endless snaking rivers of the Mekong.
Vietnamese hospitality is unrivalled and is something that you should experience once in your life, so what are you waiting for? Say good morning Vietnam! And go get lost!
Vietnam Travel Guide
So we’ve convinced you to travel to Vietnam? Awesome! Now check out the basic information about the country in our Vietnam travel guide.
Here’s the basic things to know when you travel to Vietnam. Surprise your friends with this trivia!
- Capital: Hanoi (Here’s our guide to the best things to do in Hanoi).
- Other Main Cities: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Da Nang, Hue
- Currency: Vietnamese Dong (roughly 22’000 Dong to USD$1)
- Language: Vietnamese
- Population: 92.7 million
- Area: 329,565 sq. k
- Electricity Voltage: 220 Volt at 50Hz.
- Electricity Sockets: Power plugs – Type A: 2 vertical pins, Type C: 2 round pins, Type F (also known as Schuko plug): 2 round pins
How To Get To Vietnam
There are a number of different ways to travel to Vietnam, depending on where you are coming from and how you like to get around with transport.
There are a lot of different airlines that fly to Vietnam from all over the world. There are two major international airports in Vietnam; Tan Son Nhat Airport (SGN) in Ho Chi Minh City in the south and Noi Bai Airpot (HAN) in Hanoi in the north.
In the centre of the country is Da Nang International Airport (DAD) in Da Nang, which receives a smaller number of international flights.
Direct flights to Vietnam from Australia, Europe and North America are still limited, but it is improving. You will most likely have to book a flight with a stopover in either Hong Kong, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul or Singapore.
There are many domestic airport scattered among the country. Vietnam Airlines is Vietnam’s national carrier.
We have flown with them several times and they are amazing. We find Google flights is a great search engine to find the cheapest flights on the web.
- Europe to Vietnam will take you about 15 hours give or take. There is a lot more carriers flying to Vietnam direct now from major cities in Europe. Others you will have a stopover somewhere but the connections are better. For direct flights from Hanoi, do check out Vietnam Airlines which will fly direct to Paris, Frankfurt and London. For direct flights from HCMC, check out Vietnam Airlines and Air France as they have direct flights from Paris. For non direct flights, check out Thai Airlines, Qatar Airways, Cathay Pacific, Turkish Airlines, Emirates, British Airlines, or Aeroflot. These airlines seem to have the shortest stopover times for flights heading to Hanoi or HCMC.
- North America to Vietnam will take you around 16 hours. At this stage there are no direct flights to Vietnam from North America. Apparently there is talk about it for 2018 from either San Fransisco or Los Angeles, but lets wait and see. If you are flying from the United States or Canada, check out China Airlines, Emirates, Korean Airline, China Southern, Japan Airlines, All Nippon Airlines, Cathay Pacific, EVA Air, Qatar Airlines, Jin Air and Asiana Airline.
- Australia to Vietnam will take you about between 8 – 14 hours depending on your route. For daily direct flights to Ho Chi Minh City, you can find them with Vietnam Airlines and Jetstar from Sydney or Melbourne. At this stage there does not seem to be any direct flights to Hanoi from any city in Australia. You will have a stopover either in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Bangkok, Hong Kong or HCMC (if you are going with Vietnam Airlines). You can pick a great deal with Air Asia, Scoot or Jetstar but do beware that these are budget carriers and luggage may not be included.
- Other countries in Asia to Vietnam you have a lot more options flying direct and you can fly to smaller airports within Vietnam. Check out VietnamAirlines, Scoot.com, AirAsia.com, Vietjet.com and Jetstar.com for great deals. From major airports in Asia such as Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Manila and Beijing, you can get to Hanoi or HCMC for less than $50USD.
You can cross into Vietnam by train from China. You can get the train all the way from Beijing ending at Ping Xian. This is the Dong Dang Crossing which is 160km from Hanoi.
After you have crossed the border hop on a train to Hanoi. Don’t buy the direct ticket from Beijing to Hanoi. It works out cheaper to buy your ticket from Beijing to Ping Xian then cross the border and purchase another ticket from Dong Dang to Hanoi.
You will arrive at Gai Lam Railway Station which is 6km from Hanoi Railway Station. This international train runs from Beijing West Railway Station every Thursday and Sunday at 9:48am.
If you do the train trip from Beijing through to Hanoi, it will take 36 hours so best to book a sleeper. Make sure you have your visa organised before getting to the border.
You can bring your own food and drinks for the train or purchase them from the cafeteria on board. There are squat toilets on board and areas to store your luggage. If you are doing this trip, here is a great article to help you with your journey.
You can take the ‘longest train journey in the world’, starting or ending in Ho Chi Minh City. You can take trains from Lisbon in Portugal all the way to Vietnam by train hopping.
You can get to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City through either the Cambodia, Laos or China borders. There is a route from Vientiane (Laos) to Hanoi, and one from Siep Reap or Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City.
Most travel agents in Vientiane, Siem Reap or Phnom Penh will sell the tickets or at your accommodation. You can get a mini van from Guangzhou through to Hanoi also. Make sure you have your visa ready the border crossings by land may not be set up as well as others.
Visa Requirements For Vietnam
From February 1, 2017, Vietnam has introduced an electronic visa (e-visa). The e-visa will cost $25 USD and is granted for single entry visits for up to 30 days to nationals of the following 46 eligible countries. Do check out the visa requirement for you nationality here as every country is different.
You no longer will have to apply through and agent to get an invitation letter or queue at the airport immigration for hours waiting to receive your visa upon arrival.
So all this means now is have have to lodge you application online with the Vietnamese National Web Portal of Immigration and they will give you a unique code to track your application status.
Once you are approved, all you need to do is print the visa out and present it on entry to Vietnam. Print out your travel Insurance as well. Immigration will ask for this also as they want to know you are covered if you fall ill or get injured during you stay.
Don’t lose this e- visa print out as you will need this during you travels in Vietnam. Hotels will ask for it on check in at the accommodation and travel agents may ask for it if you are booking flights.
You must a have a passport with a least 6 months valid when entering Vietnam. Airlines will check this before you leave your destination and will not let you board if you do not have the 6 months on your passport.
If you want to stay longer in Vietnam you will have have to apply for a multiple entry visa. Get in touch with your nearest Embassy or Consulate of Vietnam.
You will have to complete another application and visit the embassy. They will issue you with a Letter of Invitation and on entry to Vietnam you may have to pay for your visa so bring some USD cash.
Be careful of websites where you can buy an e-visa or other visas for Vietnam. These may not be legit and may be a scam. Always make sure you are on the offical government website and you buy your visa through them. If you are unsure, give your local Embassy of Vietnam a call and check.
5 Interesting Facts About Vietnam
Want to know some interesting facts about Vietnam?
- Huong Tich Grotto is an enormous Buddhist temple within a cave is said to have Chinese characters scribed into the entry way that declare you are entering ‘the most beautiful temple in under the southern sky’
- Banh mi is addictive. Yep, French style bread roll full of fried chicken or pork with vegetables and hot chilli sauce…so good!
- Don’t expect to pay more than $1 to $2 for a serving of delicious street food anywhere you go in Vietnam!
- French influence in Vietnam introduced Catholicism which caused tensions between Catholics and Buddhists.
- The Perfume Pagoda Festival involves mass pilgrimage to the Yen River where Buddhist pagoda’s and shrines are visited.
Best Time To Travel To Vietnam
The best time to travel to Vietnam really depends on what you are looking for in terms of weather, scenery and budget. Peak season occurs from mid-December through to February but expect prices to double. Low season is perfect for those on a budget.
- Low Season – April to June, September to November
- Shoulder Season – December to March
- High Season – July & August
Northern Vietnam – Best months to travel Northern Vietnam are April to May or September to October. There are mostly sunny days and the rain has stopped. The weather gets really cold from December to March and is not suited for hiking or sailing a junk boat in Halong Bay that time of year. Check out our post on motorbiking around Northern Vietnam.
Central Vietnam – Best months for Central Vietnam are January to June. Heavy rains are in October and November. Really hot months are from May to August.
Southern Vietnam – Best months to explore Southern Vietnam are January to April where conditions are beautiful. You really can travel the south anytime of the year in the south, just note that from May to November there are afternoon downpours. Check out our post about Southern Vietnam.
Travel Itineraries Suggestions For Vietnam
Your itinerary will depend on how much time you can get away for. Do not jam pack your trip and totally burn yourself out. Have a good balance between relaxing, adventure, culture and food.
Vietnam is a long, narrow country with countless things to do, and you are not going to see it all in one trip. We spent 7 months there and still didn’t get to do everything.
Think about why you want to travel there. Here are some suggestions:
- Fly into Hanoi
- 2 nights – Hanoi
- 2 nights – Halong Bay or Bai Tu Long Bay
- 2 nights – Sapa
- Alternative to Sapa – 2 night in Mai Chau
- Fly out of Hanoi
- Fly into Hanoi or HCMC. Get a local flight down to Dong Hoi
- 3 nights – Phong Nha
- 2 nights – Hue
- 2-3 nights – Hoi An
- Fly out of Da Nang to either Hanoi or HCMC to leave
- Fly into Ho Chi Minh City
- 2 nights – Ho Chi Minh City
- 2 nights – Mekong Delta
- 2 nights – Dalat
- 2 nights – Mui Ne
- Fly out of Ho Chi Minh City
Want some more suggestions for travelling longer in Vietnam? Check out our post on 1 – 4 week travel itinerary for Vietnam.
Budget For Travelling In Vietnam
Vietnam is a cheap country to travel if you want it to be, this all depends on what your budget is like. Our advice is always over-budget when making plans, and if you come home with money, it can go towards your next trip. All prices below are in USD per day.
Single Traveller: $20-$30, Couple Travellers: $40-$50
If you are on a backpacker budget and planning on staying in dorm rooms, getting street food, drinking a few nights of the week, I would budget for about $30 a day.
A single hostel bed can be $5-$8 per person. A budget basic private room is $15-$20. A street food meal can be $1-$2. A bottle of beer is about $1- $1.50 and a bia hoi is $0.20 per cup. Not the nicest beer but passable and you get to make new friends.
Walking or taking public transport will keep your budget down. There are many free things to do, you just need to think outside the box.
Single Traveller: $40-$50, Couple Travellers: $60-$80
If you have a little more cash in your budget your travels in Vietnam will become a lot more comfortable.
A nicer hotel is definitely affordable. We were paying $20 a night for a nice hotel in mint location in Hanoi.
There are restaurants where you will pay more than the street food price but the food is nicer quality (most of the time). The local beer can get a little too much sometimes so you will be able to enjoy an international beer or a wine.
For the attractions you are most interested in, get a guide and learn more about the history of the country.
Single Traveller: $90-$130, Couple Travellers: $120-$200
There are a number of options for luxury hotels in the cities of Vietnam.
On this budget you can go on guided tours, take taxis everywhere, stay in very nice hotels and eat out at a fancy restaurants. Don’t hold back on the tours, go on as many or as little as you want.
Top 5 Places To Visit In Vietnam
- Mekong Delta – An extensive river system running through China, Laos, Cambodia and exiting through the south of Vietnam, the Mekong provides a unique experience for seeing floating market places.
- Halong Bay – A collection of over 3,000 limestone islands providing endless kayaking opportunities. Take the time to relax aboard a boat or venture to Cat Ba National Park for mystical waterfalls!
- Phong Nha – If you want adventure on your trip, this is the place to be. Surrounded by limestone mountains, tropical forest and underground rivers, this area is full of cave systems. Phong Nha is home to the world’s biggest cave.
- My Son Temple – Ancient temples dating back 1,000 years gives a culture understanding into Vietnams past all while showing the scars of the so called ‘Vietnam War’ Read our article about My Son Vietnam.
- Hoi An – One of the most breathtaking cities in Vietnam. Hoi An is the city of lanterns inspired by French colonisation. Tailor shops are very popular here.
Top 5 Travel Experiences In Vietnam
- Taking the overnight train from Hanoi to Sapa. Said to be one of the most eye opening train rides in the world, as you pass through lush forests, rice paddy fields on your way to the Vietnamese – Chinese border.
- Go hiking through the rice terraces of Sapa. Explore the area with the local hill tribes. Stay with them during your trek. Here’s our full post about trekking in Sapa.
- Cruising the waters of the Mekong Delta. Probably one of the ‘must do’s’, The Mekong Delta is full of hidden gems including floating markets, friendly locals and late afternoon storms.
- Go caving in Phong Nha. Caves that are can fit a 747 plane in it. They are massive and spectacular. This is an adventure you will never forget.
- Riding a motorcycle. Yes, that’s right! Hiring a motorcycle or scooter is a must but maybe do it out on the country roads. Opt for the famous ride to the mountain village of Dalat, or the Hai Van Pass.
Transport In Vietnam
Getting around Vietnam is surprisingly easy. Public transport goes everywhere, and there are plenty of moto-taxis that are happy to take you to the places that public transport won’t get to.
The fastest way to get around the country of course if by air. There are many domestic airports all over the country and you can fly in from major cities. You can get cheap flights within the country through VietJet Air and Vietnam Airlines. For the best deals head directly on the the airlines website.
If you are going to get a bus for a long distance get a deluxe buses to travel long distances throughout Vietnam.
Two bus companies that we recommend are The Sinh Tourist Bus Company and Mai Linh Express. They are reliable, comfortable and punctual when it comes to leaving on time.
Unfortunately the roads aren’t comfortable and reliable. Parts of your trip may be bumpy.
Taking the train is a great way to get around the country. They are great for overnight journeys as the trains have bed cabins.
In Vietnam there are a lot of road works on the roads and these projects last for years, so trains can be the best way to go.
A great overnight journey on the train is from Hanoi to Sapa (8 – 9 hrs) or Hanoi to Hue (11 – 16 hrs). A great day train journey is from Da Nang to Hue (sit on the right) or reverse (sit on the left).
To save all the stress of organising everything, get someone else to do it for you. There are tour companies that provide transport from Hanoi to Hoi An or all the way to HCMC.
You can book a tour or a hop-on, hop-off bus and stop where you want along the way. Check out Vietnam Backpacker Hostel or The Sinh Tourist Company.
Buy your own motorbike and ride the length of the country. Or you can choose one area and explore Northern Vietnam or South Vietnam. We think it is the best way to see Vietnam if you have the time.
Here’s our post to help guide you on how to buy a motorbike in Vietnam.
Taxi, Tuk Tuk Or Mototaxi
When you are in the cities and town catching a taxi, tuk tuk or mototaxi can be the best way to get around. For taxi companies, look for the biggest and most reputable companies as you can be ripped off.
For the tuk tuks, ask your accommodation the average price to your destination so you can agree on a price with the driver. We recommend Uber and Grab (car or motorbike) which you can use an app and get the price.
Accommodation In Vietnam
There is accommodation options for all budgets in Vietnam. You can stay in a shared dorm for $5 USD per night, or a luxury hotel for over $300 USD.
The accommodation standards can vary in each destination. For example, we got a really nice hotel in the middle of nowhere when we were on our bike for $12 a night, but we would not find a place like this in Hanoi, Hoi An, HCMC or Hue for less than $25.
NOTE – In Vietnam the accommodation will keep your passport for the duration of your stay. This is to do with the government. Officials will randomly come around and check hotels and hostels. If they do not have the ID or passport of every person staying there, the accommodation will be fined. The accommodation will keep your passport in a safe. If you are unsure just ask, “do you lock my passport up?”.
We travelled from the south to the north and stayed in many different places. Here are a few accommodation options we highly recommend.
Sapa Elite Hotel – This hotel is in the mid range budget but worth it with the view. Situated on a small hill, you get a lovely view over the city of Sapa. The rooms are spacious and bright. The staff are friendly and were very helpful. If it is in your budget, book the Junior Suite with mountain view. Gorgeous. Do note, there are only two ways to get to the hotel up a hill or up a set of steps. If you have trouble walking I wouldn’t recommend it.
Looking for something else in Sapa? Click here and see other options through Agoda.com
Hanoi Focus Boutique Hotel – This hotel is in an excellent location, right in all the hustle bustle of Old Quarter in Hanoi. It is a 3 minute walk to Hoan Kiem Lake and a great place to use as a base to explore from. The rooms are a reasonable size, comfortable and clean. Like in a lot of hotels, laundry is overpriced and the mini bar. The staff were very friendly and helpful with information about the city.
Looking for something else in Hanoi? Click here and see other options through Agoda.com
Easy Tiger Hostel – The hostel is located downtown on the main street strip. With live music every night, grad a drink, enjoy the atmosphere and meet other fellow travellers. Great for solo traveller or budget travellers.
Jungle Boss Homestay – Dzung, better known as Jungle Boss and his wife have created a beautiful, welcoming homestay to the southwest of the centre of Phong Nha. It is a beautiful local area to explore. Jungle Boss can organise caving tours for you too. Nice place for mid-range travellers.
Looking for something else in Phong Nha? Click here and see other options through Booking.com
Pebble Homestay – We loved staying here. The family and the staff made our stay amazing by being so welcoming and so happy. Located on Cam Nam Island, it is a great location to explore Hoi An. The rooms were spacious and breakfast was lovely. It has a nice front garden to relax in on a quiet street. They have bicycles you can use to ride out to the beach or among the rice fields. We were sad to leave this place.
Looking for something else in Hoi An? Click here and see other options through Agoda.com
Mui Ne Backpacker Village – This place was brand new when we stayed there in 2015. The owners and staff were so lovely, helping us with tours and information for the area. With rooms surrounding a pool area and a restaurant on the premises you can chill out for the afternoon. Located 100 metres from the main beach and a short stroll from kitesurfing schools. The building is double bricked, so the rooms were quiet during the night. This is a great place for travellers wanting to meet others.
Looking for something else in Mui Ne? Click here and see other options through Booking.com
Beepub Hostel – This friendly funky designed hostel is the place to be in Dalat. With private rooms and private dorm beds you can enjoy a comfortable night. It is a great place for meeting people. The bar downstairs (shuts at midnight) does go off every night with a funky mixture of DJs spinning beats or live music, but there is sound proofing so you cannot hear too much upstairs. This place is great place for a travellers wanting to meet people.
Looking for something else in Dalat? Click here and see other options through Agoda.com
Ho Chi Minh City
60 Inn Siagon – This hotel is in a great location in District 1 in HCMC, which is the main travellers area. The hotel is modern, rooms are a nice size and staff were friendly. This is a great hotel to stay at for exploring Ho Chi Minh City. There is no lift in the hotel so if you have a heavy suitcase, ask for a lower level room.
Looking for something else in Ho Chi Minh City? Click here and see other options through Agoda.com
Food In Vietnam
When you travel to a foreign country one of the new and most exciting things you will experience is the food. There are so many amazing food choices in Vietnam, and Vietnamese food is delicious. Here are a few of our favourites.
- Goi Cuon – This is a rice paper packed with greens, coriander and various combinations of minced or shredded pork, shrimp or crab. It will be served with a sweet and sour sauce or a delicious homemade peanut sauce. Sometimes to make the experience even better, you get to hand roll them yourself. This was our favourite dish.
- Banh Mi – With this one it will be different in every corner of Vietnam. This is a baguette sandwich which is filled with meat, greens, pata, picked vegetables, soy sauce, cilantro and sometime an omelette. The meat filling will be roasted pork belly, grilled pork lion, barbecue pork, boiled chicken, or a fried egg.
- Pho (pronounced ‘fur’) – This flat rice noodle soup is either light beef or chicken broth flavoured with coriander and ginger with spring onions and bits of meat (chicken, pork or beef). It is a dish you can have any time of the day and is delicious, but it can be hit and miss in some places. If you have an average one, please do try it again. We ate pho a lot for breakfast and never got sick of it.
- Bun Cha – This is a Hanoi specialty and it is deliciously addictive. Bun Cha is served with grilled fatty pork over a plate of white rice noodle. It will be served with a sauce. It will all be served separately and you combined everything together. You can ask for some little fried spring rolls on top too. It is so delicious!
- Coa Lau – Hoi An is the best (and only authentic) place to try this one. as the noodles are made using water from a special well in town. t is chewy rice flour noodles with Chinese barbecue pork, bean spouts, croutons and fresh herbs in a delicious pork-based gravy. We recommend the second eatery on Huyen Tran Cong Chua street near the Hoang Dieu Bridge.
Staying Safe In Vietnam
Vietnam is extremely safe, apart from the one major danger which is the roads. They are crazy, even more so if you try to ride 10’000km around the country on motorbikes like we did!
Aside from that, common sense will keep you safe. Don’t take valuables with you out at night. Keep them safe in your hotel room.
Don’t get legless drunk and walk around dark alleys on your own. Don’t go to private casinos and gamble with local people. Don’t get into arguments with locals.
Don’t go off with your new ‘friend’ to strange neighbourhoods. Don’t fiddle with that loose electrical socket after getting out of the shower. Know where the exit route is.
Don’t get into a cyclo when you’re drunk. Don’t take a taxi from outside a tourist attraction if you don’t want to get ripped off. Don’t do drugs. Practice safe sex.
As you saw above, Vietnam is extremely safe. We did not feel unsafe once in the 7 months we were there (excluding the roads). This doesn’t mean you can completely let your guard down though, and petty theft does happen in this country, although it’s not common.
If you are in a hostel, do not leave your valuables loose in a shared room. It might not even be the staff, unfortunately other travellers can be thieves too.
Use the hostel lockers or the hotel safes. In Vietnam, a lot of accommodations want you to leave the key at reception as travellers are really good at losing them, and they may have replaced too many keys. If they do ask you to leave it at reception it will be ok, so don’t worry.
We always carry a Pacsafe strap lock with us just in case our hotel does not have a safe we will love our valuables in a bag and tire it to the bed.
In other words, use common sense and you’ll be fine.
Travel Packing List For Vietnam
It all depends on the weather and the time of year you are travelling to Vietnam. This is a general list that can guide you while you are packing. Check our article Travel Packing Tips for Backpackers to help you with your packing.
You most likely will buy clothes over there. So do not stress if you have forgotten anything.
- 4 x casual t-shirts (I recommend loose, it can get hot)
- 1 x active shirt (for hiking)
- 2 x nice shirts
- 2 x shorts (Reasonable length, not bum shorts)
- 1 x pants (not jeans, they are heavy)
- 1 x hiking pants (zip offs to shorts are best)
- 1 x skirt
- 1 x lightweight scarf
- 1 x cardigan
- 1 x lightweight jumper
- 1 x black dress (not low cut or short in length)
- 1 x other dress (again not low cut or short in length)
- 1 x rain jacket
- 1 x sarong
- 1 x Pair of dressy sandals
- 1 x pair of sneakers
- 1 x pair of flip flops
- 1 x pair of slip-on shoes (Toms)
- 1 x bathing suit
- 1 x toiletries
- 1 x microfibre towel
- 4 x t – shirts
- 2 x singlets
- 1 x casual pants
- 1 x hiking pants (zip offs to shorts are best)
- 1 x swim shorts
- 2 x shorts
- 1 x pair of sneakers
- 1 x pair of flip flops
- 1 x pair of slip-on shoes
- 1 x toiletries
- 1 x microfibre towel
Travel Tips For Vietnam
The Vietnamese people are friendly, welcoming and hospitable towards travellers. It is a great destination to travel in Southeast Asia. The people are very respectful, and would like the same back from you. Here are a few do and don’t you should know before going to Vietnam.
- Please show respect to their religious beliefs and their cultures
You are travelling to someone else’s country. They have different religious beliefs and cultures to your home. Please respect them. Dress modestly, don’t raise your voice, don’t cause anyone to ‘lose face’, be polite.
- Watch your belongings
Vietnam is a safe country but unfortunately there still is petty theft. Whether you are at a restaurant or on a bus always watch you belongings. I have a Pacsafe sling over bag. I can lock the zipper and it is always around my shoulder. When you are on a bus or train, always keep your belongings on you. Never put them in your bag that goes under the bus or in the luggage area. Having it on you it the best way.
- Beware of the counterfeit tour agencies
Unfortunately there are plenty of these around, especially in the main tourist areas. When we were in Hanoi we booked a Castaway Tour with Vietnam Backpackers Hostel (VBH). We had a great time, and it was the real Castaway Tour that is know around the country. There was many other companies calling their tours Castaway, and even saying they are an agent of VBH. People complained to VBH and they had to tell them unfortunately they booked with a company that has nothing to do with them. So beware of this. Book through the main owner or operator
- Do not drink the tap water
This is a no no. The locals don’t even drink the water. There is bottled water available everywhere. Popular tourist restaurants will usually have on their menu that they wash their salad and veggies in sterilised water and make tea, coffee and soup from that too. If you are unsure just ask. We brushed our teeth with the tap water and didn’t worry too much about the coffee and tea as it was boiled but some peoples stomach’s are sensitive.
- Carry toilet paper everywhere
There are toilets available in restaurants or in public but there may not be toilet paper. Most of the time you have to pay for the public toilet and they may give you some toilet paper, but don’t count on it. Always have your stash.
- Toilet paper goes in the bin
DO NOT put the toilet paper in the toilet. Please put it into the bin provided. Hotels will change this every day. Vietnam’s sewerage systems are not built for much more than human waste so toilet paper and other items will just clog up your toilet. There will be signs everywhere so please obey them. Hotels may charge a fee if you clog the toilet more than once.
- Embrace the bum gun
Next to every toilet in Vietnam, there is water hose. This is not to wash down the floor. This is to clean yourself up after you do your business. Don’t be disgusted by this, as it is actually more hygienic and stops more toilet paper waste. Billions of Asians use this option, and it’s better for the environment. Embrace it.
- Vietnam is bigger than you think
This country is huge and many people underestimate it. Vietnam is an S-shaped country and from north to south the distance is about 1,650 kilometres, and is about 50 kilometres wide at the narrowest point in the centre. Distance on buses and trains are long so be prepared. Driving from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City is 32 hours non stop and flying will be just over 2 hours. When you are travelling around the country do take transport time into account.
- Take note of the Vietnamese money
It will be a new currency for you so do take a look at it before you go out spending. A few people we met were ripped off by not realising they handed over a 500’000 note and not a 50’000 note for a bill. The Vietnam realised they didn’t know what they did and handed back the change for a 50’000 note. Later on they realised but it was too late.
- Always take photos when you rent a scooter
Renting a scooter in Vietnam is something everyone does. It is a great way to get around and see all the attractions. But where you rent it from can get you into trouble. Renting bikes from your hotel is fine or from a respected agent, but not from others. This is where you can get yourself scammed. When ever you rent a scooter take photos of the bike. Same if you rent a bicycle. Make sure the hotel and agent can see you taking photos. The reason is sometimes you will be accused of damaging the bike, even if you didn’t, and you might end up with a crazy expensive bill.
- Always wear a helmet. Always.
Please wear a helmet. The road are crazier here than they are in your country. The rules are different and road conditions are not the best. A quality helmet could save your life in an accident. A lot of travellers think it is cool to ride around with their shirt off or in a bikini and not wear helmet. Let’s see how cool they look when they wash out on a corner and get covered in road rash, or even worse.
- Make sure you have travel insurance
This is so important. We tell people who are going travelling, “if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel”. You do not know what is going to happen while you are away and knowing you are covered will put your mind at east. Do note, if you DO NOT have a motorbike license in your home country, your travel insurance will NOT cover you if you have a motorbike accident.
- Be confident when crossing the road
The roads in Vietnam are crazy. Crossing the road can be daunting but you need to be confident. Do not walk backwards or hesitate. Walk slowly and watch the traffic coming towards you. They will all move around you. If you are finding it a little scary, wait for someone else to join or wait for a local and cross with them. You will get the hang of it, and you might even end up enjoying it!
- Take your shoes off before entering a temple or a person’s home
When you are entering someone’s home or a temple please take your shoes off. It is a custom that stems back to the ancient times and a big part comes back to cleanliness. Shoes seperate your feet from the dirt therefore taken them off does not spread the dirt through the building. The ground is used for chatting, dining and even sleeping.
- Cover your shoulders and knees when entering a temple
This is common in most religious sites. There are always signs suggesting visitors dress ‘appropriately’, but some people either didn’t know or didn’t care, compelling the authorities to set a stricter policy and start enforcing it. Please respect this. Shoulders and knees should be covered. If it is a hot day and a t-shirt is too sticky, carry a scarf for when you visit to cover your shoulders.
- Do not be loud, raise your voice in aggression or show off. Keep a low profile
Do not show dramatic affection in publicly like kissing. Save it for the hotel room
- Ask for permission before taking a photo of someone
This should be done everywhere. Asking permission is polite, and ensures you are not intruding on them. The people are not there for your entertainment. They are human beings and they deserve respect. Sometimes by asking you can get a better connection with the person and your photos can even turn out better. If they say no, smile and thank them anyway.
- Do not take photos of anything to do with the government or military
This is a big NO in any country and can end up with you in jail.
- Do not touch someone on the head
This is a big no no, as the head is the most important part of the body. Touching someone’s head who you don’t know is like saying you are more important than they are.
- Place your chopsticks across the top of the bowl when finished
Don’t have your chopsticks hanging out of the bowl, and don’t point them at anyone when they are resting on the plate.