Being prepared for your Vietnamese Vacation will make all the difference to your holiday. We had the most amazing three weeks in Vietnam. Once you are prepared for the constant honking of the horns and the organised chaos of the city you will relax and have the ultimate cultural experience.
Most nationalities need a visa to enter Vietnam. We are travelling on Australian passports so please take this into consideration when reading the following advice. There are two ways to obtain a visa when entering Vietnam by air (entering by land when crossing borders or by boat may be different). The first option is to send your passport to Vietnam consulate in Sydney. The second is to obtain a visa letter online then pay when arriving. We opted for the second option as it was so much cheaper to obtain the visa at the airport. I had to pay for the letter for each family member – $9US then when we arrived it cost $25US each. There is a form to be filled out by each person which I recommend you do this at home and a photo was needed for each form. Before we left Australia the airline checked I had all the documentation.
Our doctor didn’t feel we needed any immunisations for Vietnam as we weren’t going into the jungle or too far off the beaten track. I took with us a basic medical kit that had a few antiseptic creams, Band-Aids and tablets for upset stomachs as well as rehydration satchels in the case of any vomiting.
We always carried hand sanitiser and wet wipes and used this before each meal and after bathroom visits. Many places are not clean and we made sure we eliminated as many germs as we could to avoid getting sick.
We made sure we had some US dollars for our visa and also a few million Vietnamese Dong. We then took the rest of the money we wanted to spend in cash. The rate for changing money in Vietnam was excellent and a better rate than we could exchange in Australia. We changed money at banks and also most places in the markets exchanged money. This is without any fees or commissions. We were surprised by how good a rate we could get. We knew the rate before we exchanged and if it was lower than expected there is the option to bargain the price or walk away. There are many ATM’s but this is an added cost from your own bank and the rate is not great. There is also a limited amount you can withdraw.
We book most of our accommodation before we left except for a few places that I wanted to be flexible. We used Airbnb, hotels and homestays for our whole trip and had very few issues. You can read about each of the places we stayed at on our blog.
There were a few times during our trip that we were ripped off but these were few and far between. The biggest scam can be with the taxis you choose to ride in. There are two official taxi companies Vinasun and Mai Linh (green and white cars). These two companies will have a proper meter and charge you properly. Twice we were caught out in the wrong taxi with improper meters and were charged ridiculous amounts. These types of taxis usually wait at the exits of tourists sites (markets, museums).
We took three suitcases with us and never had any problems finding a larger taxi to accommodate these bags.
We flew internally with JetStar Pacific and VietJet Airlines. Both airlines were fantastic to use and we were happy with the service provided. The flights are very cheap when booked in advance.
At no time did we feel unsafe in Vietnam. The Vietnamese people were extremely friendly and kind and always happy to help us. At each place we visited we felt comfortable and happily walked around in the evening. I did have an across-body shoulder bag and kept all our belongs close by.
We flew three times internally and also took the train to Hue from DaNang and back. We organised the train tickets through our accommodation. It is recommended to book the train a few days ahead of time.
Food and Drink
We did not hesitate to try any food. Most of our meals were street food meals eaten on a small stool on the curb. When choosing a place to eat we made sure it was busy and that the meat was well cooked. Every place will wash their plates in a small container and all places will be less hygienic than you are use to at home. Put all that aside and enjoy yourself. We tried so many different Vietnamese cuisines and the Vietnamese food culture is one reason as to why our trip so fantastic. Each city has a different food specialty and the different regions are so diverse with their foods that it is good to eat like a local in each region.
We made sure we only drank bottled water and brushed our teeth with bottled water. Alcohol is also quite cheap and local beers are usually around the $1 mark. We loved having smoothies for breakfast and cocktails at night. The coffee is amazing in Vietnam. For less than $1 you can have a hot or cold coffee made with sweetened condense milk and thick black drip coffee. So delicious.
We did not book any activities before we arrived in Vietnam. We did a handful of activities such as cooking classes and boat trips that we organised once we arrived. This way you can bargain the price and find the best possible excursion to suit your needs. There are so many travel agents in every town that can help you book any type of activity or travel service such as bus trips and train trips. Also all the hotels and homestays can help you book trips.
Internet data and Wi-Fi is extremely cheap and easy to get hold of. We picked up SIM cards at Ho Chi Minh airport at 2am when we landed and were connected immediately. We paid $10 for unlimited data for the whole month we were in Vietnam. Vittel is the government owned sim card company. There are Vittel stores in many places if you need to top up your data or get assistance.
Crossing the Road
This should be considered a sport! There are bikes everywhere and cars too. Bikes do not stay on the roads and will also drive in the wrong direction. When crossing the road it is important to walk at a constant but slow speed. Do not hesitate and keep walking slowly as the bikes will weave around you. A sudden change in direction can cause the bikes to not know what you are doing and can cause an accident. Be brave – once you have the hang of crossing it becomes easy and lots of fun.