If you are organizing a trip to Vietnam, you have probably spent a lot of time looking for specific information to travel to this Southeast Asian country. You may ask yourself things like: Is it safe, will I have problems with the language, how expensive is it, or how easy is it to get around? So, I decided to write a series of tips for traveling to Vietnam. I hope these tips will help you plan your trip better, and debunk many myths about this country.
- Take advantage of diversity
Vietnam has become one of the most visited countries in Asia, currently the amount of tourism arriving to this country is enormous. Therefore, you will be able to meet people from all over the world, take advantage of this opportunity to get to know them and talk to them.
- Be careful with the climate
Vietnam is one of the most climatically diverse countries in Southeast Asia. Despite the fact that it is very hot, in areas further north (where there are mountains) it is usually very cold and rainy. It is important that you consider this, to prevent and wear the right clothes.
Remember that the further north you travel the colder it gets.
It is a geographically very large country and it is important that you take this into account. Transfers from one city to another can be as long as 24 hours.
In spite of these distances it is very easy to move around the country with different means of transport.
- Flying is a very good option
As the distances from one place to another are very long, the most convenient option in case you have little time to travel is to take a plane. There are many low-cost airlines, with which you can fly at very low prices and which cover a large part of the country.
The most common ones are VietJet Air and Air Asia.
If you travel on a very limited budget, and want to cover very long distances, I recommend the night buses. These are buses that are adapted with a kind of "beds", in which you can rest while you arrive at your destination.
This is a very good option to save a night in a hotel, and arrive at a new destination during the day. The beds are adapted so that you are practically stretched out and comfortable.
Buying tickets for these buses is very easy, each travel agency you find around the country will sell them to you and the price will not be very different from if you buy it on your own at the station.
Vietnam is a country full of motorcycles. For the local, it's much cheaper and simpler to buy a motorcycle, than a car. Practically anyone can ride a motorcycle in Vietnam, get used to the noise.
- You can rent a motorcycle
A very common option to travel around the country is to do it by motorcycle. If you have never ridden one, I recommend that if you are going to do it, you should be very careful not to have any accidents.
If you don't feel very confident about renting one, another thing you can do is hire someone to take you on their motorcycle. The service is well known all over Vietnam, and it's called "Easy Rider" and basically consists of hiring a driver to take you around the country on his motorcycle. I highly recommend the experience, it's worth it and the scenery on the roads is breathtaking.
- Don't try to see everything
This is a piece of advice that I always give, and more so with a country as big as Vietnam: Don't want to see everything in a short time, it's better to see some places well, than nothing at all.
Try to build your tour being aware of this, choose those places you would like to see based on your preferences, but watch them carefully. Running from one side to another, will not leave you the same experiences, believe me.
- Leave room for improvisation
There are many alternatives to tour Vietnam, but many people only take the classic route of some cities to visit, and that's it. Give yourself a chance to get off the beaten track a bit, and take an alternative.
There are a lot of places that are not in the guides, and that are worth knowing. Improvise a little, and I assure you that this country will surprise you.
- You will have a hard time adapting to the chaos
In the main cities of the country, you will find a peculiar mixture of chaos, very much in the style of Vietnam. A lot of people, motorcycles, movement, pollution, people wanting to sell you everything, etc. It will probably take you a couple of days to get used to it, so take it easy.
- There are no traffic lights in many places
Remember I told you there are a lot of bikes in Vietnam? Add to that the fact that there aren't many traffic lights, and you have total chaos. In addition to adapting to this one, as I told you above, you'll have to adapt to something as simple as walking and crossing streets.
At first you'll probably have a hard time doing the latter, you'll see thousands of motorcycles coming towards you without brakes, and it will seem impossible.
To cross the streets in Vietnam: Cross normally, like you would if there was a traffic light, and DO NOT stop unpredictably. The motorcycle drivers will find it much easier to avoid you if you walk normally, than if you run or stop. Don't risk running, it's better to walk normally (obviously with normal caution) and with predictable movements, the drivers will know how to avoid you. At first it will seem impossible but then it becomes a habit.
The Vietnamese are usually very tricky to get more money out of you, and you can see this in almost every situation in the country.
People will approach you to sell you tours, to offer to take you to your destination, to look for you to buy them anything, and in many of those times, they will want to swindle you to "steal" your money.
They do this in various ways, the most common being to offer you poor service for a high price. For example, when you go to buy a tour be especially careful, check the company beforehand (because the Vietnamese like to copy a lot of names), and everything included in the service
Be especially careful with taxi drivers. I was once ripped off by one like this: I got in and set his meter normally, but he was upset. He was running too fast and I didn't notice, so he ended up charging me triple.
Be careful with this. Pay close attention to your surroundings, it's hard in Vietnam for someone to do something for you without expecting money in return.
- Find accommodation of all kinds
There is a wide range of hotels throughout the country. You won't have any trouble finding a place to sleep, there are places for absolutely every budget. If you travel on a more backpacker plan, the option is the guesthouses or hostels (you can get one for as little as $6 USD).
The official currency is the Vietnamese dong, one dong equals approximately 0.00004 USD (and there are no coins, only bills).
In other words, you may have a hard time adjusting to the number of zeros in the currency, so I recommend that every time you go to buy something, look up the conversion to your local currency and use a calculator to know how much you are really spending. Write down everything you spend, so you won't get any surprises.
In almost every store in the country, they will only accept cash. You can get cash from almost any ATM you can find.
The acceptance of cards is low, and where they are accepted, they usually charge a fee for use. So it is usually better to pay with cash.
- Don't worry too much about the language
Vietnam is such a touristy country that practically everyone will speak at least a little English. Signs and menus in restaurants are always translated.
Like many Southeast Asian countries, in Vietnam you can survive on a small amount of money. You will spend most of it on transportation, but for food and lodging you will have no problem.
One of my favorites if you ask me, I fell in love with the gastronomic variety of Vietnamese food, try everything. Don't deny her the opportunity to eat on the street, just make sure it's a clean place and sit down and enjoy.
- Don't drink the tap water
Always carry your own water, you will find many convenience stores where you can buy bottles, drinking water directly from the tap is not the healthiest thing.
- It's a safe country, but take normal precautions
In general, Vietnam is a pretty safe country, I was traveling alone and nothing ever happened to me. However, take the same precautions you would take anywhere: Don't go out too much at night alone, don't carry all your cash, or watch out for people who might look suspicious.
You won't have any problem with these precautions.
Vietnam is a country with a very peculiar history, I recommend you to spend time in the museums of each city to understand more about it.
Talk to the locals to understand a little more about everything they have experienced. This can give you a very different perspective to what you know.
- You will not be limited to temples
Something peculiar that characterizes Vietnam is that it is a country of ethnic and religious diversity. Unlike countries like Thailand, where you will find Buddhist temples everywhere, here you will also find Catholic churches and cathedrals. I recommend you to go with an open mind.
I hope that these tips for traveling to Vietnam, have helped you to get a better idea to plan your trip.