Discover a way to travel Vietnam that will turn ordinary into extraordinary
Vietnam is without a doubt the rising star of Southeast Asia.
As the veil of misconception lifts, more and more visitors flock to her shores with bated breath. All eager to enjoy that unique experience only Vietnam can deliver.
Between rugged jungle smothered mountains and 3,000 kilometres of coastline, there is an extraordinary adventure waiting for everyone.
Many know of Vietnam’s tumultuous recent history, but how many know about this beautiful country’s legends, culture and epic ancient history?
Explore mountains created from the legend of a dragon’s egg or the lake with a golden sword hidden in its murky depths. Reach high and touch the rooftop of Indochina, float along a bay with a million islands or delve down to the darkest depths.
Whatever you can imagine, Vietnam can deliver.
It’s vibrant and lively culture will scoop you up and take you along a journey of exploration, culinary heaven and fascinating discoveries.
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What to know when planning your trip
Before you go
What to expect when traveling in Vietnam
Vietnam is an amazing country with equally amazing people but if you’ve never been to southeast Asia, prepare for what will feel like utter chaos.
The traffic is madness, there are thousands of people around and private space is non-existent! While this may sound terrible to some, you’d be surprised how quickly you melt into the medley and start enjoying yourself.
The food is heavenly, the atmosphere electric, shopping can be ridiculously cheap and you’ll never experience anything else like it.
Here are some things you might have questions about or things we learnt from our trip that we think would be of use to you. Intrigued? Then keep reading.
The best time to go to Vietnam
Depending on where you want to spend time would depend on when you want to visit. Generally, the best time to go is between May and October which are the warmer months but depending on the region it can be downright hot as hell, humid and you can expect a lot of heavy rain.
Spring and Autumn is more enjoyable, especially if you zipping around on a tight itinerary but be mindful of areas in higher altitudes as they tend to be colder during these seasons.
What to pack for your trip to Vietnam
Figuring out what clothes to pack isn’t hard.
During summer light, lose fitting clothes are best. We found ‘backpacker clothes’ (think shirts and shorts in funky fruit or elephants prints), best to combat the heat and humidity.
When traveling to areas that are higher in altitude, light layers are best.
If you are travelling in winter, a warm jacked and decent pants are good options and for areas like Sapa, extra layers will definitely help. (It can snow in Sapa in winter.)
Two travel essentials to consider
Plastics are an epidemic, especially in Vietnam where waste management can be very poor. The Vietnamese government is aware of the issue and in the last year has made some
reasonable efforts to combat the problem.
As travelers we had easy solutions to two everyday situations. We had these funky 1L water bottles that went everywhere with us. It sidestepped having to buy a lot of disposable water
bottles, one of the biggest contributors to environmental issues. The other was our trusty reusable shopping bags. They have traveled everywhere with us for almost 6 years now.
They slip in everywhere and come in very handy in a lot of situations, not just shopping.
When we first got to Vietnam these were a novelty. Vendors gave us strange looks when we gave them back their plastic bag opting instead to put our purchases in our bags.
By the end of our trip, all we had to do was show them our reusable bag and they knew what the deal was.
Another handy, yet often overlooked item is a first aid kit and compact travel options are easy to find. Other items that are good to include are;
- Your preferred brand of headache tablets (you can buy local options but the packaging is in a foreign language and you never know what the ingredients are),
- Hydration tablets (jet lag, diarrhea, heat, etc. can all impact on your hydration levels)
- Probiotics (foreign food can be tough on the tummy, especially on your first trip),
- Cold meds (not essential but comes in handy when you need it most and can’t get any quick,
- Your preferred brand of sunscreen, and
- Mosquito repellent – you will need it; they are vicious and can carry some nasty stuff.
We should add that most pharmacies in Vietnam will be able to help you out with most over the counter options (as we found on a few occasions). Thing to be aware of is that they tend to
be a lot stronger with ingredients that might not agree with you. It’s best to take a small supply with you, just in case.
What about money?
Cash is king in Vietnam and most currencies are accepted but the Vietnamese Dong is usually first choice. Another widely acceptable currency is the US dollar but make sure you don’t
get scammed in the exchange rate process which is very common.
We found having the XE converter app (this is totally free advice no affiliate association here), on our phone, made all things money related a bit easier to deal with. Did we mention the app
is free? Yes, it is! Cha-ching!
Withdrawing money isn’t that hard, but there are a couple of things you need to know. Only certain ATM’s will accept foreign bank cards. When you find them, they will only give you about
VND 1,000,000 per transaction which sounds amazing but converts to like USD 40 or AUD 60-ish and that won’t get you far. Some banks will allow up to VND 3,000,000 per transaction but
you could be limited to between one and three transactions per day.
Make sure to check with you bank which Vietnamese ATM’s will and won’t accept your card before you leave home.
Credit cards are more widely accepted but at some point, you might wish you didn’t use it due to the amount of credit card scams causing all sorts of dramas.
Have it for emergencies but always be prepared with cash. Ah, and don’t stash all your cash in the same spot. We know it sounds like an obvious tip, but when peeps are on holiday and
they’re relaxed, they tend to forget these things.
Is it safe to travel Vietnam?
Vietnam is relatively safe but still subject to the usual crimes. It pays to always be vigilant starting with pre trip checks and travel advisories.
Every country has a travel advisory in place to citizens of any international emergencies. In New Zealand for example we go to SAFETRAVEL and in Australia we look for Smarttraveller.
There is no charge for using these services either as they are a matter of public service.
Most advisories have an email list you can sign up to and we recommend doing so. Not only is it a good way to know what is going on in the world but it’s also the fasted way to find out
about anything that could impact your travel plans.
There are a couple of other dangers to be aware of especially, but not limited to the big cities.
The first is snatching. It’s not uncommon for thieves on motorcycles to rid you of things like you bag, camera or phone. Ho Chi Minh city is notorious for snatching but it’s happening more often
in all of the tourist spots now.
Pickpockets and thieves are not unusual. What you also need to look out for are kids and elderly people distracting you to make things easier for them.
Another common issue is money grabbing. While you rifle through your dongs trying to figure what note to use for payment, a vendor or thief will not hesitate to grab your cash and walk off like nothing happened. We had a similar experience with taxis and why we opted to use GRAB instead.
Vietnam undoubtedly has some of the most amazing beaches and they are havens for sun-loving travelers but also self-helping thieves. Don’t leave your valuables unattended.
Likewise, when leaving personal items in your room. Make sure they are secured in a safe (where provided) or another means you feel comfortable with. Our peace of mind comes from our PacSafe gear which has saved us from a few scams and potential disasters.
The next one is something we heard of but hadn’t come across personally and that is drug sellers dobbing buyers in to local police. Leon had a few individuals approach him about buying but he didn’t engage because, well, we don’t do drugs.
We realize that people do it and hey, that’s your prerogative, but you should know that Vietnam has a death penalty and drugs is a massive no-no. You could find yourself in a very smelly brown spot with no way out.
Which lastly leads us to travel insurance. Again, it’s a personal thing but having spent 10 months there, we highly recommend you invest in some travel insurance. We’ve heard it all, from little bus ninjas cleaning people out on tour buses to seeing firsthand the devastating effects of traffic accidents.
It’s an awesome country but you don’t want to get stuck up ship creek trying to paddle your way out of smelly brown stuff. Oh, and don’t go relying on things like Go Fund Me to help paddle your way out. Judging by the ocean of complaints on social media these days, you’re more likely to be treated as a pariah than a hapless victim of disaster.
Some helpful tips
Vietnam runs on 220V meaning you don’t need a voltage converter if your country’s main voltage is between 220 and 240V. You will need a plug adapter as most Vietnamese sockets are two round pins. If you have forgotten yours, head to your nearest Lottemart or Vinmart supermarkets as they have them.
Internet and WIFI is ridiculously cheap and easy to find. Don’t get suckered into buying a SIM at the airport, they as they can be useless. Wait until you get to your hotel and ask for directions to the nearest Mobifone and Vietel for data SIMS. If you’re paying more than VND 90,000 for about 10 – 12G of data, you’re paying too much.
Tipping isn’t big in Vietnam but not frowned upon either. We found tipping common for things like tours (the guide and the driver separate in some instances), massages, mani’s and pedi’s, etc.
The amount is up to you but we generally tipped around the 5 – 10% mark based on the advice of locals and the amount paid for the service.
Laundry was another super easy to find travel essential and so cheap it will make you want to cry, lol. They aren’t hard to find either. In tourist areas they will pop up on google maps or search for the terms ‘giat ui’ or ‘giat say’. Expect to pay roughly anywhere from VND 30,000 (~USD 1.00 / ~AUD 2.00) to VND 50,000 (~USD 2.00/ ~AUD 3.00) per kilogram.
The laundry process is pretty hard on clothes, they wash them using harsh detergents and then tumble dry everything. Remember not to give them anything you don’t want ruined.
Vietnam is all about siesta. Every day between 11 AM and 1 PM, you’ll find locals having a kip on anything from a plastic chair to their motorbike seat. Pretty much everything grinds to a halt during this time so don’t expect too much.
How to get there
Vietnam is accessible by land from Laos, Cambodia and China, by air from most international ports and by sea (usually by cruise ship).
There are three international airports at;
- Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) – Tan Son Nhat International
- Hanoi – Noi Bai International
- Da Nang – Da Nang International
HCMC and Hanoi service most international ports while Da Nang services a smaller number (with plans in the works to expand soon).
Visitors need visas to enter Vietnam and there are three types;
- Tourist visa
- Business visa
- E-visa (electronic visa)
Visas aren’t hard to get but there is a bit of rigmarole involved before you even get to immigration and we’ve got you covered in our Vietnam Visas Post.
How to get around Vietnam
One of the biggest perks is how easy it is to travel around Vietnam. Not only are they easy to find but they are cheap and quick to book.
Choices for traveling around Vietnam include,
- Transfers (car or motorcycle)
- Buses (tours, transfers and public)
- Riding around on a motorcycle – like we did!
Getting around locally is just as easy and there is the option of;
- GRAB (Vietnam’s Uber)
- Motorcycle taxis, and
We could go into detail because there is a lot of it, but pretty much everything you need to know about how to travel around Vietnam is right here.
Where to stay in Vietnam
Another thing we absolutely love about Vietnam is the huge range of accommodation options to choose from.
There are the usual suspects of hotels, hostels and resorts to more local flavors such as guesthouses, homestays and some very unique Vietnamese stays.
For our first three months we lived in an apartment in Da Nang before hitting the road with an accommodation budget of roughly VND230,000 (~USD 10.00 / ~AUD15.00) a night which wasn’t a reach.
We found all sorts of interesting places along our travels and while some were amazing, we did find others that weren’t that great. Overall though it was a good experience exploring the budget options but Vietnam does have some spectacular resorts to choose from too.
What to eat and drink
Most travelers who come to Vietnam rave about the mouthwatering food that costs next to nothing. We’re no exception!
You don’t have to be adventurous either. A simple pho will usually fill you up for a while or if you feel like something a bit more filling, hunt down a local com ga (chicken and rice) or com tam (rice and bbq pork chop).
Some of our favorites include
- banh xeo (Vietnamese coconut and rice pancakes), banh kot (small fried omelets of deliciousness)
- banh mi (especially ones that have freshly made pate),
- we can’t go past a veggie burger at Tam’s Pub in Da Nang,
- Jollibee’s chicken (not exactly Vietnamese but they love it as much as we do)
- Nem nuong (pork on lemongrass skewers served with peanut sauce, rice paper and fresh herbs – sooo good!)
No visit to Vietnam is complete without trying a coconut coffee. I (Tash), was seriously against cold coffee until I tried this delectable beverage. I fell in love from day one.
Like most unique things, you have to go to the source and for coconut coffee there is nothing that beats a Cong Ca Phe coconut coffee. This chain specializes in beverages unique to Vietnam but their cold drinks and smoothies are heavenly. I also highly recommend their cacao-coconut smoothie, very few things beat it on a hot day.
Speaking of coffee, Vietnam seriously has some of the best coffee we’ve ever had. Sure, it’s a super swift kick up the whazoo if you’re not used to it but you’ll never be the same afterwards.
The Vietnamese central highlands are famed for their coffee productions. Riding through this region we could see how Vietnam is the second largest producer of coffee in the world. It truly is a sight to behold.
Traditional Vietnamese coffees include;
- Ca Phe Phin – small container with a decent whollop of condensed milk and short but serious kick of coffee from a traditional dripper (aka phin). Comes hot or cold.
- Ca Phe Den – Vietnamese version of a short black but it’s shorter and comes with a serious caffeine kick. Comes hot or cold.
- Bac Xiu – Vietnamese version of a tall latte but instead of milk they use condensed milk. It’s a great coffee but should come with a diabetic warning. Just kidding! It is super sweet but also super tasty.
- Egg coffee – We had to try this one twice. The first time did not go well at all but the second time round we were hooked!
Things to do in Vietnam
Oh man, where do we start?!
We had some amazing experiences, doing amazing things, learning a ton and having a blast in the process.
Some of our all-time favorite things we did, was;
- Paradise and Dark Cave in Phong Nha National Park. YES, they are as awesome as everyone makes them out to be.
- Grabbing a three times Guinness World record holding ride to see the Roof of Indochina!
- Exploring a mountain born from a legend of a dragon’s egg
- Seeing Vietnam’s most Instagrammed waterfall, the mighty Ban Gioc Waterfall
- Climbing the dragon’s back in Ninh Binh and taking on a rainy day in a Tam Son Rowboat
- Watching the sun rise on the Son Tra Peninsula to watching a fire breathing bridge
There is so much more to this spectacular country than we could have imagined. Even after 10 months of traveling around Vietnam, we still didn’t get to see it all. It’s crazy we know!
If you’re keen to find out more don’t hesitate to pour over everything. We have so much to add and share that it will probably take us the next year to get it all up.
While we try to give you as much info as we can, it’s not always possible to put everything up.
If you have a question and you couldn’t find the answer here then please don’t hesitate to contact us or hit us up in the comments below.
Did you know we also have a ton of good info on our YouTube channel? Yup we sure do! Head on over to Leon and Tash and check them out!
Thanks for reading, you’re awesome!