Looking for Vietnam advice are you? Well, I’ve been twice now, for a grand total of six weeks. First time for two weeks, as my very first time in Asia, second time, a month.
I know things.
I’ve had a think about everything you need to know before you travel Vietnam and it’s all here, with links to some of my other Vietnam advice from the last three years too. Honestly? One of my favourite countries.
Let’s do this…
AIRPORTS | MONEY | ACCOMMODATION | TRAVEL | PEOPLE
LANGUAGE | TOURISM | FOOD AND DRINK | SHOPPING | WHERE TO GO
1. Sort your visa before you arrive for the quickest exit. You can spend 15 days in Vietnam visa free if you’re from the UK, any longer and you need to get a visa.
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2. Make sure to use a Mia Linh or Vinasun taxi when you exit the airport. They’re the most recommended and they’re reliable. You can just hail them off the street – anyone who does it for you will charge.
3. If you’re coming into Hanoi, a taxi will be about 300,000 Dong into the Old Quarter and will take 45 minutes. It’ll probably feel like a really long way.
4. Coming into Ho Chi Minh City? It’ll be about 150,000 and 15 minutes to Pham Ngu Lao – the main backpacker area.
5. I found getting in and out of the airports I used – Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Phu Quoc – very easy. Arriving two hours before was fine.
Money in Vietnam
6. You need to get to know the colours and value of the notes… money in Vietnam comes in thousands. Right now it’s about 40,000 dong to the pound, meaning you’re a millionaire with just £40. This is VERY confusing when it comes to paying and working out which notes to hand over.
7. Vietnam can be SO cheap, but of course you’re trading off time and comfort for that. How much you’re willing to sacrifice totally depends where you are in your travel life.
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8. If the price you’re given, for anything, isn’t written down then it’s negotiable. Get your haggle on!
Accommodation in Vietnam
9. You can get hostel beds in the cities for around $5 – I can’t vouch for how good they are seeing as I’ve stayed in hotels, where a room starts at $13. Time to treat yourself right?
10. There are some incredible hotels in Vietnam – if you’re willing and able to spend £20 each a night, if there are two of you, your can live it up!
11. If it’s important to you, make sure to check your hotel has a lift. Most of the places I stayed in didn’t. Cue me wheezing as I climbed up six flights of stairs with my 20kg bag.
Travelling Vietnam advice
12. One of the first things you’ll notice in travelling Vietnam is that the traffic is crazy, it’s tough to cross the road. In the cities you just need to go and trust that the motorbikes will go around you. Practice will give you confidence.
13. Overnight trains run up and down the country and they’re a fun way to get around. I’d definitely recommend you give one a try but please make sure you take your own pillow case. I was horrified to see that they don’t change them in between people – after I’d slept there for 12 hours, with a terrible cold. Sorry next person.
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14. Seems like everyone in Vietnam has a motorbike and you can rent one too. Personally I wouldn’t recommend them in the cities, but Hoi An would be fun and if you go to Phu Quoc you definitely should. So much fun.
15. The roads in Vietnam are crazy with cows and all sorts. Don’t be surprised if you have to divert round an ox as you try to get from A to B.
16. I’ve seen a few comments on blogs and sites about ‘scammy’ Vietnamese people and I absolutely wholeheartedly disagree. In my experience, everyone I met was so friendly. I’ve just done a two-week cycle ride with Intrepid through the countryside and people would come out with their children to say hi to us, absolutely no strings attached.
17. Generally, Vietnamese people are much smaller than Westerners, in fact they’re the smallest in South East Asia. So don’t be offended if you hear people refer to ‘Western size’.
“Average height of Vietnamese people aged 22-26 is 1.642 meters in men and 1.534 in women” – Prof. Dr Nguyen Cong Khan, head of the Science, Technology and Training Department under the Health Ministry.
“The average man in England is 5ft 9in (175.3cm) tall and the average woman is 5ft 3in tall (161.6cm).” – BBC News
16. Women do it all in Vietnam. Apparently it’s starting to change but you’ll see the women carrying, caring, cleaning and working. Life as a woman in Vietnam is very hard and they die much earlier than men. As one male tour leader told us, ‘from exhaustion’. This is all down to a Chinese teacher and philosopher called Confucius. Read up on him if you want to know more, but from what I’ve heard he’s a sexist, psychotic, megalomaniac.
17. Different generations of families all live together as standard. The youngest son is expected to stay with his family, bringing his wife and kids into the home, while the oldest one would traditionally go and serve the country.
18. Vietnamese people love karaoke. Love it. Even in the deepest countryside you’ll find karaoke places. In Ho Chi Minh City in particular I saw older guys with their own karaoke machines going up and down the street singing at the top of their lungs, totally tunelessly without a care as to whether anyone was enjoying it or not.
19. Women wear twinsets pyjamas by day. I’m not entirely sure they are pyjamas but that’s the best way to describe them. Very matchy matchy, they look super comfy.
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20. You’re going to have to get your best pointing finger out because English is not widely understood here. I mean, you’ll get by, don’t worry, but don’t expect any long D&Ms. Our Intrepid tour leader was awesome and I learnt a lot about Vietnam from him, but I didn’t really meet anyone else to talk to.
So, if you want my Vietnam advice, I’d say you need to learn some Vietnamese.
21. Vietnamese language is all about the intonation – the same written word without all the accents could mean a number of things which can get confusing.
22. The longest word is only 5 letters long, except for Nguyen – half of the Vietnamese population have this as a surname.
23. How to say ‘thank you’ – ‘cam on’ (like cam as in Camembert and on as in on, watch the video above to avoid making a mistake!)
24. How to say ‘hello’ – ‘Xin Chao’ (said like zin chow).
25. Oh and ‘yum yum’ means ‘I’m horny’, so I was told. Be careful.
Tourism in Vietnam
26. Tourism is the big business in Vietnam, and it’s only getting bigger. So go now. Tourism in January 2017 is up 23.6% on January 2016. That’s crazy! There are big plans by the government to get Vietnam up in the leagues of Thailand. In 2016 there were 10 million tourists to Vietnam, while Thailand had 32.6 million – still a way to go, but with all the development, it’ll happen.
27. Given the positioning and length of Vietnam, there’s a lot of coastline to explore. And other countries are interested in having some presence there too. Vietnam’s coastline is being redeveloped with loans coming in from all over the place – mainly Russia. When it comes to booking try and choose Vietnamese places to keep the money with the locals.
28. Wi-Fi is everywhere in Vietnam. On my Intrepid Cycle Vietnam trip I’d be in the middle of nowhere and there’d be a connection from a local garage or house that’d left it open. The cities have public connection too – strong enough for your Facebook and Instagram updates.
Food and drink in Vietnam
29. Banh mi and pho are the most popular dishes for tourists visiting Vietnam, but check out my article on the top things to eat in Vietnam to widen your palate (coming). Save the article to your phone so you have it ready for action.
30. Do a street food tour in either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City to experience more of the Vietnamese foody repertoire. Do it at the start of your trip so you have more time to go back to the places you liked the best. Get your money’s worth!
31. It’s rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner in Vietnam. Speaking of breakfast, if there’s ever a Western option I’d recommend you avoid it. It won’t be the croissant and delicious muesli you dream of, guaranteed. Go East, it’s what you’re there for.
32. Some of my favourites for you to try:
- Try Bao Xeo – shrimp and beansprouts wrapped in a pancake.
- Fresh spring rolls – shrimp and veggies wrapped in rice paper
- BBQ – choose your meats and cook them in front of you, or ask the waitress to do it ,
- Egg coffee – coffee, with egg…
- Claypots, we’d call them stews or curries
– it’s all DELICIOUS.
33. You can get a glass of beer for 5,000 VND in Vietnam, that’s about 20p. You need to look out for the signs for ‘bia hoi’. This is their fresh beer that’s brewed that day and needs to be used that day too. It’s good stuff!
If you prefer to drink out of bottles than kegs you’re looking at around 20,000 VND, still less than a £1 for a Hanoi or Saigon beer.
34. Every region has its own fare to try so if in doubt when you’re in a restaurant, ask what the local dish is and go for that.
35. Wine is horrible in Vietnam. Well, the Dalat wine I tried was. Undrinkable. Stick to beer. Or it’s super sugary questionable cocktails for you.
36. Don’t drink out the taps. A 500ml water is 6,000 Dong in the shops, around 21p, and 10,000 if you take it from your mini bar. Try and drink the bigger 1.5 litre bottles to save money and on plastic waste.
37. I didn’t use any public toilets, but I did just walk into hotels I wasn’t staying at and use theirs. No one minded. Sometimes toilets will be long drops but most of them now are Western style.
Shopping and spending in Vietnam
38. There are cash machines everywhere and if you’re sticking to the main cities you’ll have no problem. They charge around 30,000 Dong to withdraw from (£1) plus your bank fees.
39. You can get a pair of ‘Nikes’ for 200,000 (£7) sports branded bags for 100,000 (£3.50) and tailor made shirts for 300,000 (£10.62).
40. In Hoi An you can get shoes, suits and other clothes tailor made. Check out my post on my blog on how much I spent in Hoi An (coming) to find out what I paid. If you have a particular pair of trousers, or any item of clothing, you really like, you can take it along and they’ll replicate it.
41. Beauty treatments are so cheap in the cities. I paid 200,000 (£7) for an 80-minute hot stone massage, 180,000 (£6.37) for a shellac, and 50,000 (£1.77) for a pedicure. Go nuts!
42. You can get your laundry done in Ho Chi Minh City for 10,000 a kg (35p).
43. Most historical and cultural attractions are either free or around 40,000 (£1.42) to get in.
Where to go in Vietnam advice
44. Wait till you get to Vietnam to book your tours and excursions, you’ll get them a lot cheaper.
45. There are a few sides to Vietnam I’d love you to include in your itinerary – beach, city and countryside. Make sure you get all three in yeah?
46. There’s so much diversity in the locations in Vietnam. Here’s a super quick run down of what each place has to offer…
Hanoi is an old city, Ho Chi Minh is new. Hue has a huge palace, Hoi An a strong influence from the French and some would say too touristy, I say lovely. Phu Quoc is where the Vietnamese go on holiday, Mui Ne where the kite surfers go. Nha Trang is another holiday place, popular for its mud baths while Qui Nhon is super modern. Sapa is for hikers, Halong Bay to sail and Mai Chau for the home stays.
Check out my two-week Vietnam itinerary on my blog to find out more, or just ask me in the comments below – always happy to help!
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