Travel to Vietnam

Vietnam is a long and thin-shaped country that spans the South China Sea and is the easternmost country of the Indochina peninsula. Vietnam has China to the north, Laos and Cambodia to the west and Thailand to the southwest.

Vietnam has a variety of lush locations to entice travelers. From the rapid pulse of its vibrant cities with their ancient landmarks and colonial structures, golden sand beaches and green mountains – Vietnam has all this and much more.

Vietnam’s capital, since the reunification has been Hanoi, although Ho Chi Minh City is the place with the highest population. These two cities remain geographically and culturally separated. The cuisine varies regionally and a war, in the not so recent past, has been waged between the north and south. Today, Vietnam is a reunified country, reviving from the ravages of its war-torn past.

The economy is dependent on agriculture – based on wet rice cultivation. The freshness and abundance of the produce, makes Vietnam a premier location for the culinarily-curious traveler.

Aside from the food there are many other reasons for spending your Vietnam holidays culturally immersed in the experiences the country has to offer.

Travel tips for Vietnam

Visa Requirements for Vietnam

The citizens of a few countries are exempt from visa requirements for entry to Vietnam. These include Brunei, Myanmar, Chile, Cambodia, Germany, UK and Japan among others. Citizens of all countries may transit in Vietnam for up to 24 hours, provided they don’t leave the transit area.

Citizens of 40 countries can apply for a single-entry tourist e-visa, valid for 30 days.

Please check the current guidelines for obtaining a Vietnam tourist visa online.

Important Cultural Information

Culturally, Vietnam had been influenced by the Chinese, till independence from China in the tenth century. Later Vietnam underwent southern expansion and much later, during French colonialism, adopted Catholicism. You’ll also find a Thai ethnic group in Vietnam.

The Vietnamese believe in ancestor veneration and worship, have strong community and family values. Locals (more so in rural and northern areas) might have a tendency to stare at foreigners. This is not intended to be rude but stems out of natural curiosity. 

The topic of the Vietnam War may crop up in discussion between locals and travelers. The Vietnamese do not harbor any open animosity with Americans (although this may vary regionally) and southerners acknowledge the American involvement with the war efforts against the North. The majority of the population, however, were born after the War. 3 million Vietnamese died during the war and conversation should be dealt with great sensitivity to the loss of the Vietnamese people. Keep in mind, at certain memorials or attractions, considerable anti-American sentiment might be evident.

Regarding other cultural differences, it is considered rude to say no directly to an invitation to a wedding for example. Showing agreement, at least with body language is considered a mark of respect. Make sure to understand etiquette in Vietnam to avoid awkward moments.

Children are not allowed to disagree with elders. Women are expected to speak softly.

Read all about experiencing a Vietnamese New Year and Vietnamese engagement ceremony.

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Banking & Money in Vietnam

The currency of Vietnam is the dong (VND). Devaluation of the dong means that one USD is equivalent to thousands of dong. Bank notes are available in large denominations: 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, 100,000, 200,000 and 500,000.

Foreign currency in the form of USD can be readily exchanged into dong but not vice-versa. It’s a good idea to exchange only as much currency as is required into dong and to keep the bulk of money as USD. Exchange from USD to dong can be done at exchange counters, banks, hotels and travel agencies.

Travelers cheques are acceptable, with an exchange fee.

ATMs are becoming more widely prevalent in the big cities but certain cards may charge a processing fee.

Some notable banks in Vietnam are EXIMBANK, Agribank, ANZ Bank, Citi Bank, HSBC, Vietcombank, TP Bank among others.

Medical Emergency Information

Police: 113
Fire Brigade: 114
Hospital : 115

Malaria, dengue and Japanese encephalitis are tropical diseases that are endemic to Vietnam, particularly to rural areas. One should take the necessary precautions, apply mosquito repellant, use a mosquito net at night.

It is not safe to consume the tap water. Drink bottled water at all times.

You might want to look in to the routine vaccinations for Vietnam when visiting. They include MMR, typhoid, hepatitis A, hepatitis B and Japanese encephalitis.

Cho Ray Hospital is the largest public hospital in Ho Chi Minh City. City International Hospital, Franco-Vietnamese Hospital and Gia Dinh International Hospital are some private hospitals in Ho Chi Minh City. The Bach Mai Hospital is the largest public hospital in Hanoi.

Sign up for travel insurance coverage for the entirety of your trip to Vietnam – we recommended comparing the available options with World Nomads and Safety Wing.

Wi-Fi and Internet in Vietnam

There are a number of mobile phone networks available in Vietnam like: Beeline, Vietnamobile, Viettel, Vinaphone, Mobifone, EVN Telecom and SFone.

It is possible to simply buy a prepaid SIM card at a mobile phone selling shop and recharge cards are also available.

Internet cafes are ubiquitous and offer affordable rates.

Many bars, cafes and hotels provide free Wi-Fi with high speeds. Make sure to always use a VPN service (like ExpressVPN) when using free public Wi-Fi.

Arrival in Vietnam

The three international airports in Vietnam are at Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang. Noi Bai International Airport (HAN) in Hanoi is the largest airport in northern Vietnam. Tan Son Nhat International Airport (SGN) is the largest in Vietnam and serves Ho Chi Minh City and south eastern Vietnam. Da Nang International Airport (DAD) serves central Vietnam.

There are a series of non stop flights to Vietnam available from all over the world, most of them serviced by Vietnam Airlines. Other long haul airlines that fly to Vietnam, often transit in Doha, Bangkok, Dubai, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

Search for available flights to Vietnam on Expedia.

The main land crossing between Vietnam and Cambodia is via the Moc Bai/Bavet border crossing which can be navigated via bus. Buses also run between Ha Tien in Vietnam, to Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh in Cambodia.

There are three border crossings between China and Vietnam: Dongxing-Mong Cai, Hekou-Lao Cai and Youyi-Hutu Nghi Quan.

There are six border crossings between Laos and Vietnam.

It is possible to enter the Vietnamese town of Chau Doc from Phnom Penh by boat and takes approximately 5 hours.

Areas of Vietnam

Here are the main areas of Vietnam including some key Vietnam tourist attractions:

 

Northern Vietnam

Northern Vietnam is home to the famous Ha Long Bay, the Capital City of Hanoi and a more remote inland region, home to a number of hill tribes.

Travel tips for Northern Vietnam & Hanoi

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Southern Vietnam

Southern Vietnam consists of the economic sector of the country, based around Ho Chi Minh City. The southeasterly tip of the country, fans out in to the Mekong Delta.

Travel tips for Southern Vietnam & Ho Chi Minh City

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Vietnam’s Central Coast

The central coast forms the narrow backbone of the country spanning the South China Sea. Hoi An, a small coastal seaside town and the ancient city of Hue, are worthy of mention in this region. There are many Vietnam beaches worthy of a visit.

Vietnam’s Central Highlands

The central highlands are situated just inland to the Central Coast and are dominated by lush green forest and wildlife.

Transportation in Vietnam

Given the long, elongated shape of the country, a flight from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) can take 2 hours and is the best way to travel between the north and south of the country.

Hanoi and HCMC are connected to Da Nang, Hai Phong, Can Tho, Hue, Phu Quoc and Nha Trang by domestic carriers like Vietnam Airlines, VietJetAir and Jetstar Pacific.

Vietnam railways have not been updated since the French colonial era and has 7 lines in operation, spanning a length of 2632 km. The fastest service between Hanoi and HCMC takes 30 hours.

Long distance buses are available, for example, between HCMC and the Mekong Delta (8 hours).

Bicycles may be used for getting around smaller cities. Don’t attempt this in HCMC and Hanoi.

The motorcycle taxi is used for traveling shorter distances in Vietnam. Be sure to negotiate the fare before getting on to a taxi.

A ‘cyclo’ is a cycle driven rickshaw and are common in less busy cities like Hue.

Boats are famously used for travel in Ha Long Bay, Hue, Nha Trang, Hoi An and is an essential part of a Mekong region trip.

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Accommodations in Vietnam

Vietnam has no dearth of budget accommodations in which to stay.

In particular, budget hotels and hostels in Vietnam, offer good value for money. This is why Vietnam is a popular destination for backpackers and slow travelers. A bed in a hostel dorm could start as low as $6 a night. $12 per night could buy you a room in a cheap hotel, although it may be more in specific locations like Hanoi.

However, there are all kinds of places to stay that figure into every kind of traveler’s budget. Paying $30-80 will buy you a room in a mid-range hotel. Such hotels will often have an in-house restaurant, air conditioning, free Wi-Fi, satellite TV, hot water, room service and other amenities.

If seeking one of the best hotels in Vietnam- you can choose from the traditional five star hotels in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, beachfront villas in Da Nang and Nha Trang and older hotels packed with colonial charm. The Hotel Nikko Saigon, the Caravelle Saigon and the Rex Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City are all five star hotels to reckon with. These hotels start upward of 100 dollars a night. 

Booking.com

What to Eat and Drink in Vietnam

The food of Vietnam is an undeniable draw. The ingredients are very fresh and locally sourced from the abundance of vegetables, seafood, herbs and fish.

Food is an important feature of Vietnamese culture and is used to celebrate birthdays, marriage, cultural events and more.

Regionally, the food of Vietnam varies. The southern part of the country is known for its spicier food. The national dish of Vietnam is pho- a soup made with rice noodles, meat or fish, fresh herbs and a number of condiments to bring flavour to the soup. It is a one-pot, warm and comforting meal, although locals usually have it at breakfast time.

Due to the impact of the French colonials, coffee, baguettes and French confectionery are part of Vietnam’s culinary history. Banh mi are French baguettes stuffed with grilled meats, fresh herbs and vegetables. It is one of the most delicious sandwiches ever and the perfect food to pack for lunch on the go.

Most Vietnamese food is to be found at street-side stalls. The food is safe to eat, provided you pick stalls that serve hot food with a rapid turnover.

Watch out for regional speciality dishes like banh canh cua (crab soup with noodles) and bun bo hue (beef soup with noodles).

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Things to Do and See in Vietnam

Although Vietnam seemingly lacks the big draw attractions like the temples of Cambodia and the glittering palaces of Thailand, there are many hidden gems to explore and many visit-worthy Vietnam tourist spots.

Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s economic centre has many cultural gems from the colonial era. In particular, enjoy the city’s bustling street food scene on your Saigon tour.

Cai Rang Floating Market is the biggest floating market of the Mekong Delta. It is the best place to sample food and buy fresh produce. It is 6km away from Can Tho and takes less than an hour to reach from Can Tho by boat.

In recent years a number of stunning underground limestone caves have been discovered in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. Son Doong, the world’s largest cave is located there.

Hoi An is a port with an Old Town featuring beautiful, pedestrianized streets, filled with cheerful yellow houses and restaurants.

Hue is the former ancient capital of Vietnam and contains relics of the Nguyen Dynasty’s royal tombs and buildings.

Da Nang might be the most scenic city in Vietnam. Visit there for the beaches, mountains and stunning coastal scenery.

One cannot do justice to places to see in Vietnam without mentioning the surrealistic Ha long Bay. Consisting of more than 1600 limestone islands, there are many limestone caves, waterways and inlets to explore and photograph. Make sure to go on a Ha Long Bay cruise!

Here’s a list of things to do in Hanoi and the best hot springs in Vietnam.

Wherever you go in Vietnam, be sure to sample the varying, delicious cuisine and add stops to good restaurants on your Vietnam itinerary. The best time to visit Vietnam is from November to April, when humidity levels are low and the rainfall is less persistent.

Things to do & see in Vietnam

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Shopping in Vietnam

Popular souvenirs to purchase in Vietnam include textiles and items of clothing. Suits and dresses can be tailored, using quality fabrics. A lady’s ‘ao dai’ can make a wonderful souvenir. An ‘ao dai’ is a long blouse with fitted pants which are made in a lightweight material- not too fitted, suitable for wearing in the warm weather.

Apart from clothing, accessories like silk bags, shoes and handbags make nice gifts. Lacquerware, vases, trays, watercolor and oil paintings, bamboo blinds, carpets and ceramics – are all locally made, desirable, handcrafted items.

When buying from local street markets, it’s a good idea to bargain without going into altercations.

Cai Rang Floating Market in Ho Chi Minh City is a novel place to shop – where the entire market is located in different boats. Ben Thanh Market, Bin Tay Market and the indoor An Dong Market are all places to shop for shopaholics. Definitely check out the Street Night Market in Hanoi. It’s located in the Old Quarter and open Friday to Sunday, from 6-11pm.

Vietnam’s Nightlife

Vietnam may not be acclaimed for its trailblazing nightlife. However, visitors in Vietnam, looking to have a night on the town, won’t be disappointed. There are plenty of activities to choose from depending on the location.

Indulge in a few sundowners at the beach bars of Phu Quoc. Le Bar at the Duong Duong Beach is a colonial style resort, where you can sip on original cocktails.

Among the beach towns, Nha Trang certainly has a reputation for having a buzzing nightlife scene.

Having a drink at one of Ho Chi Minh City’s rooftop bars is certainly the place to relax whilst taking in the heady views. Eon Heli Bar and Chill Skybar are certainly places where visitors are flocking.

Ho Chi Minh City is undergoing a craft beer revolution at the moment. Pasteur Street, Biacraft and Heart of Darkness are all great places to sip the different brews on tap.

Safety Tips for Vietnam

There are incidents of low-level crime like petty theft and bag-snatching on the streets of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. Thefts may occur on popular beaches.

Make sure to never leave valuables unguarded in your hotel room. Place all valuables in a safe or book hotel rooms with a good reputation.

Beware of common scams that aim to target the innocent tourist.

Be sure of the prices on a menu in a restaurant before sitting down to the meal. The same goes for hotel room prices.

Taxi drivers in the big cities may have rigged meters. Take taxis from reputable companies and form an idea of the fare in advance.

Whatever you do, don’t engage in shouting or abusive behaviour with the locals, who may see it as a personal insult.

Crossing the road in Vietnam is a nightmare with the congested traffic. Try to cross at traffic lights whenever possible.

Conclusion

Vietnam is a popular choice for travelers backpacking through Southeast Asia. The quality of accommodation in the budget sector, is good value for money, particularly when compared to the neighbouring countries of Cambodia, Laos and Thailand.

The street food scene in Ho Chi Minh City is incomparable. If you enjoy pho, you will be in soup heaven. The produce and ingredients are locally sourced and extremely fresh. The flavours are light and aromatic. Don’t forget to sample the Franco-Vietnamese culinary delight- the tasty bahn mi sandwich.

If you are looking to sample spectacular scenery, visit Da Nang with the most stunning coastal scenery.

Halong Bay will mesmerize you with its surreal limestone rock formations. Vietnam, along with its many attractions, has a torrid recent history, wracked with the ravages of war, death and destruction. It is, therefore, yet another Southeast Asia country that is recovering from the past.

Although lesser known in the past, Vietnam is becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination in recent years. It’s not hard to see why with a cruise to Halong Bay, cooking classes in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, a river cruise on the Mekong or beachside fun at Nha Trang on the cards.

Travel tips for Vietnam

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