Vietnam is a safe place to travel in general but to certain tourists, especially Europeans, it would be pretty challenging due to the differences in culture and way of life. Many found it rather difficult travelling to Vietnam unprepared. In this article, we aim to provide full information on what is best to bring and know before travelling to Vietnam, especially for first-time and independent travellers.
In order to enjoy the difference of a country which we believe is the point of travel, a tourist should be really open-minded. Vietnam despite being a “third-world” country has become a trendy tourist destination in recent years. Vietnamese culture patterns are very different to what westerners are familiar to. For example, Vietnamese people are curious; they ask you personal questions in the first conversation to show they care; they stare at strangers and don’t consider it rude, etc. And there are many other things you would be amazed about like hectic traffic, pavement invasion, dog eating (not everyone)… Culture shock is unavoidable in a rapid developing country like Vietnam. But it’s also the fun of it when you can enjoy the exotic society instead of feeling intimidated.
Except for some countries in Southeast Asia, Japan, Korea…most of foreigners have to obtain a visa before entering Vietnam. You can always check your visa requirement on our VietnmamVisa Easy.
Before applying for a visa, you must make sure that your passport still has at least 6 months validity and 2 blank pages left. This can’t be mistaken.
Now there are two legitimate ways to have a Vietnam visa no matter who claims the otherwise. Traditional way you come to a nearest Vietnamese embassy or consulate to apply for your passport, photos and fee to have your visa ready in only 3 days later or longer. The faster you want it to be done, the more expensive the cost is. You will come again to have your passport back which is now stamped with the visa.
The more convenient way you apply through a Vietnamese travel agent for a Visa on Arrival (VOA) which is not an actual visa but an approval letter issued by no other than the Vietnamese Immigration Department. This letter allows you to enter Vietnam territory and get your passport stamped with Vietnam visa at a Vietnam airport. Thing is you don’t have to give out your real passport but only fill the form with its information. The letter often comes in your email within 24 hours or 2 days for standard service. You can also check the price on the agent’s website. Service fee is far cheaper compared to prices offered by embassies. The stamping fee charged by the Immigration department is $25 for a single visa and $50 for multiple visas, and they take cash only.
There are single entry visa and multiple visas with 30 days and 90 days validity. Those who enter Vietnam for tourist purposes have to obtain a tourist visa (labelled as DL). And those who visit the country for business activities have to apply for a business visa (labelled as DN). Business visa costs more than the former.
Money and Bargaining
Currency used in Vietnam is Vietnam Dong, US dollar can only be used in hotels, resorts and restaurants. One dollar equals about 20,000 Vietnam Dong. You can exchange money at banks, airports, hotels or jewellery shops and they often charge an extra fee, especially banks.
Determine your cost before enter Vietnam is a smart move. Vietnam is quite cheap, especially the food and accommodation. However, the scams and frauds toward foreigners are very common so you should be very careful. Check out more on how much to spend in your first week here.
If you want to save money, bargaining is a must. Always aim for that 50% of the first price offered. Or you can ask for a discount when bulk buying. Remain composure during purchase. Check out our other article on bargaining tips here.
Weather and Clothes
Vietnam has typical monsoon tropical with diverse weather pattern. It can be said that the weather in Vietnam changes every three months regionally. The weather varies from north to south, from west to east, from coasts to mountains. There is not really the best time to visit Vietnam, anytime would be either best or worst in a different region.
In general, the weather in Vietnam is dictated by two seasons –the southwest monsoon from April to September and the northeast monsoon from October to late March or early April. Remember that the southwest monsoon is wet and warm while the northeast brings a cold and dry season.
The north suffers cold winter from November to March while the south is always hot. Depend on which time and place you choose to travel, you have to prepare clothes accordingly. Umbrella, raincoat or ponchos can’t be missed in any case. If you travel from north to south in winter, bring all kinds of clothes from thick jackets to tank tops. Vietnam also has both mountains and beaches, so your footwear has to be chosen smartly. Water-resistant shoes are best for trekking, hiking in Vietnam.
Vietnam people have their own language which uses the Latin alphabet instead of the hieroglyph system. Vietnamese vocabulary is influenced deeply by Chinese through a long history. However, the language is rooted from Muong ethnic language and grouped with the Mon-Khmer branch with no intonations. Until the 17th century, Latin-based orthography for Vietnamese was made and become national language officially.
Vietnamese is a difficult language to master, especially in a short time. The hardest thing to learn must be the 6 intonations which were formed in a very long time. If the intonation changes, the meaning also changes. And the alphabets are pronounced differently from the way they are pronounced in English. The honorifics are also confusing and speakers often having hard time to address people accurately.
Prepare some useful and simple Vietnamese phrases like greetings and simple questions will likely to help you gain smiles and hospitality, especially helpful in bargaining. However, don’t try to speak long, complicated sentences when you can’t get the tones exactly and it might cause confusion.
Medication and Insect Protection
Before going to Vietnam, it’s better to get advice from a doctor about anti-malaria and anti-diarrhoea drugs, especially when you visit the country in summer. Drug stores are available in Vietnam but we suggest you visit the doctor first before buying medication in the country. We here have lists of international hospitals in Ha Noi and HCMC if you do not trust the local hospitals.
Vietnam is a tropical country with high humidity, a perfect environment for insects and mosquitoes to thrive. These little things can cause allergy, infection, a mosquito can cause malaria and all kinds of inconveniences. Prepare some insect spray or topical beforehand is never a useless thing to do.
It’s not that in Vietnam we don’t have bathroom paper and the like but it is hardly found in public buildings. During long haul bus rides, bringing your own paper is proved very necessary.
Female supplies are available in convenience stores, marts, supermarkets.
Vietnam has many attractions to discover from north to south. Working on your plan before coming is always needed. Based on the time of your visit, choose wisely where to go to have the best experiences and not let the weather bother you.
Check here to know when and where to travel, and here for a recommended itinerary for a 2-week trip.
Dealing with scams and pickpocket
Scams, fraud and pickpocket are really a nightmare for foreign tourists in Vietnam because they can be found at any tourist site. Scams run from taxi drivers, tour operators to vendors and other services. Most of the time, independent travellers have to be constantly on their guard. To avoid taxi scams, only take legit taxis like Mai Linh (green car) and Vinasun (white car with red and green lines), watch the meter carefully. Bag snatching can cause serious damages sometimes so make sure to wear your camera, bags in front when you are in crowded places.
Take a look at our tips on how to stay away from scams in Vietnam to have a safe trip.