If you’re planning a trip to Vietnam, here are 17 essential things to know before going to Vietnam. Arrive armed with these tips and you’ll be the savviest traveller touching down at the airport…

I’m now nearly at the end of my 3 week adventure through Vietnam, and to put it simply, we’ve had the most incredible time! We started in Hanoi where we spent some time getting our bearings and adjusting to the time difference, before travelling to Halong Bay for a 2 day, 1 night cruise. After that we jumped on a 6 hour sleeper coach to Sapa (Northern Vietnam), where we spent 2 days trekking through the spectacular Sapa valley. Following that we headed further south to Hue and motorbiked cross country to Hoi An. After that followed a stay at Six Senses Ninh Van Bay in Nha Trang, before ending in my current location of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon). Phew!

After reading this blog post, be sure to check out my detailed 3 week Vietnam travel itinerary.

It has been a whirlwind to say the least, and we have already ticked off so many breathtaking and unforgettable experiences. But as with any new country, it took us a while to adjust to the culture and way of life here. I was fortunate enough to come away with some great advice from friends and fellow travel bloggers, but there are certainly plenty of other things I wish I knew before I came out here.

17 essential things to know before going to Vietnam

1. Apply for your visa (if you’re staying longer than 15 days)

The Vietnamese don’t make it too easy for you to enter their country. In fact, if you’re exceeding 15 days here, the process is down right tedious, but it’s necessary nonetheless. Make sure you start this process a couple of weeks before you travel at the latest. Here’s what to do:

1. Apply for a letter of admission from the Vietnamese Embassy. There are various companies that you can apply through. I used vietnamvisa.govt.vn and they sent me a letter within 2-3 days of application. This costs $17 USD
2. Once received, print the letter
3. Print the visa application form online and fill it out
4. Prepare recent x2 passport photos
5. Exchange some USD before you fly as this is the currency you have to pay for your visa with at the airport (a 30 day single entry visa costs $25)

Make sure all of the above is in your hand luggage on arrival at the airport as the visa process comes before baggage collection.

2. Be prepared for Airport visa queues

And after all that, the process continues at the airport. The visa application queues in Vietnam are notoriously bad, and if you arrive at the back of the pack you could be waiting up to 3 hours on arrival in the airport.  Imagine that after a long haul flight?

TOP TIP: Ensure your seats are at the front of the plane and when you step off the plane, do not stop for the toilet. Power walk (or run!) straight to the visa application desk and try to be the first there. After a long flight, the last thing you want to do is wait around any longer.

3. Check your travel vaccinations

If possible, book an appointment with your GP 6-8 weeks before you travel to find out which travel vaccinations you are due. There are a few new vaccinations on the market now which your GP may offer you, such as Japanese Encephilitus, but it doesn’t come cheap. Decide for yourself what you feel comfortable with but I would advise ensuring you’re covered for the basics at the very least.

4. Dollars vs Dong

You will need both US Dollars and Vietnamese Dong for travelling around Vietnam. US dollars are most commonly used for anything touristy e.g. booking a tour, booking domestic transport or paying for a hotel. Vietnamese Dong is most commonly used for more local enterprises e.g. restaurants, bars, shops and market stalls. You can withdraw Dong from an ATM on arrival but make sure you’re armed with USD to pay for that visa. If you have a choice between paying in Dong or Dollars, Dong usually works out cheaper.

5. Travel Agents are your friends

Don’t worry about booking every aspect of your trip before you arrive. Every town worth visiting e.g. Hanoi, Sapa, Hoi An has a travel agency around every corner. Using these travel offices is an extremely convenient way to plan additional elements of your trip, whether it’s and internal sleeper bus, day tour or 3 night package.

6. Book accommodation for your first night

Arriving in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City can be somewhat of a culture shock, especially if you haven’t travelled much in Asia before. The streets are hectic, the scooters are crazy and there isn’t a great deal of tourist information to guide you through. This considered, I would strongly recommend booking your first couple of nights. This way you know your final destination and can just jump in a cab as soon as you complete visa-gate. Start with doing a basic search on Booking.com based on your location and budget per night.

If you’re flying in to Hanoi, I can highly recommend Nexy Hostel. It’s a boutique ‘luxury’ hostel in the heart of the Old Quarter with quirky decor, great Wi-Fi, comfy beds, free breakfast and incredibly helpful staff. It’s a little safe haven away from the busy streets. I stayed here for 3 nights at the start of my trip. Dorms cost from $7 per night, private rooms cost $40 per night. It’s a great first hostel to ease you into your trip.

7. Don’t be afraid to haggle – this is a perfectly normal custom in Vietnam 

Haggling / bartering is very much a part of Vietnamese culture, especially when tourists are involved. You can try out your negotiation skills in markets, independent shops and even beauty and massage salons. You can either ask for a “better price” or tell them what you’re willing to pay. In restaurants and bars, prices area fixed, unless it’s happy hour! Being clued up on haggling is one of the most important things to know before going to Vietnam.

TOP TIP: If they let you walk out of their shop without discounting the price further, you know you’ve gone too low. You can always return later and accept the best price they previously offered.

8. Taxi Knowhow

There are official taxi companies in all major cities, all of which are dirt cheap and use a fair meter system. However, you’ll notice that many taxi drivers park up around tourist points of interest and try to give you a ride. Do not get in these taxis. We did this in Hanoi and the driver had rigged the meter to go up so ridiculously fast. If we hadn’t have taken a few rides prior to this we wouldn’t have noticed, but as soon as we noticed we jumped out straight away. It was only a minor scam but it’s not worth the risk. As a rule of thumb, always try to flag down an official city taxi. You won’t have to wait too long.

9. The Sleeper Buses are awesome

If you’re planning to travel from city to city and are on a budget, the sleeper buses are your answer. Before arriving in Vietnam I had never seen anything like it. The individual seats are more like beds, allowing you the extend your legs fully and recline til you’re lying down. We travelled from Hanoi to Sapa, Hoi An to Nha Trang and Nha Trang to Ho Chi Minh City by these buses and paid about $12 each per journey. Most sleeper buses are very clean and have a toilet on board. It’s not going to be the best night’s sleep you’ll ever have, but it saves you spending money on a hotel for the night and ensures you don’t loose days in transit. You can book the buses from any booking office / travel agent you stumble across, and only need to allow 1 day’s notice. If budget isn’t an issue or you’re very tight for time, flying is the best option.

10. What to wear day-to-day

The general dress code is pretty laid back in Vietnam. Shorts / skirts and light weight t-shirts and vest tops will be your daily staples. The only time you need to think more carefully about what you’re wearing is if you visit any temples or mosques.

11. Pack a warm jumper and sweatpants 
This may seem like a strange suggestion for Vietnam, but it’s because the air conditioning on transport can get icy cold. If you’re backpacking Vietnam and using coaches and night buses, cosy clothing is a must.

12. You need modest clothing for visiting temples or mosques 

You need to cover up for visiting sacred sites but probably don’t want to be wearing layers all day long in the heat. The best way around it is to pack a few light layers. Girls, bring a pashmina so you can wrap it around your shoulders, and guys and girls should both bring a pair of light weight long trousers. You can pick these up for very cheap when you’re out there, or pack them in advance.

13. Wi-Fi is everywhere

If you want to stay connected on your travels, have no fear! In my experience here, the Wi-Fi is fantastic here and all cafés, restaurants, hostels and hotels have it for free. Even the most budget hostels will have it in the rooms.

14. Hostels vs Hotels

Don’t be put off by the term ‘hostel’. All the ones we have stayed in have been clean, friendly, extremely well located and incredibly cheap. If you’re not up for the shared dorm experience, don’t worry. Many of them offer private rooms with air con, which we have opted for each time. But in the shared dorms you’ll get an even cheaper rate. And if you’re not back packing around Vietnam and want more of a luxury hotel experience, there are still plenty to choose from at a fraction of the price compared to Europe. What’s not to love?

15. Arrange your travel insurance before the day of travel 

Travel insurance is something that can be easily overlooked before going backpacking in Vietnam, but it can be invaluable if you get yourself into a difficult situation. I always book my travel insurance with HolidayExtras and have always found them to be have really reliable, reasonable and clear policies. Make sure this is arranged at least 1 day before the first day of your trip to make it valid for your outbound journey.

16. Leave valuables at home
Minimise the risk of anything going wrong on your trip by leaving any non-essential valuables behind. This could be your favourite jewellery, that designer item you love or your expensive tech. You may think you need it, but you really don’t. Think about buying cheaper versions of the expensive items for your travels e.g. swap your Bose headphones for a cheaper Amazon dupe. Don’t make yourself a target. Embrace the challenge of going back to basics in Vietnam and you’ll be glad you did.

17. Your Vietnam Packing list

  • US dollars
  • Visa Documents
  • Waterproof jacket
  • Pashmina
  • Rucksack / day bag
  • Light weight trousers
  • Mosquito repellent (50% deet and above)
  • After-bite
  • Dry bag (for water sports activities)
  • Travel wash (for freshening up your clothes)
  • Mini first aid kit
  • Comfortable sandals / trainers
  • A Vietnam travel guide

This is an honest post packed with facts to make your travel experience easier. Whilst I’ve been pretty direct about some aspects of travelling in Vietnam, don’t be put off. Vietnam is a fascinating, diverse and surprisingly easy country to travel through. From beaches and waterfalls to mountains and jungle, Vietnam has it all. If you choose to discover it, you’ll be rewarded endlessly.

Read more of my Vietnam posts;

  • My 3 Week Vietnam Travel Itinerary
  • My First Time at a Vietnamese Cooking Class
  • Six Senses Ninh Van Bay, Vietnam, Hotel Review

What did you think of these 17 thing to know before going to Vietnam? If you enjoyed this post or found it helpful, please do leave me a comment and let me know! Also, if you have travelled to Vietnam and have some additional tips, I’d love you to share them in a comment! Jess x


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