Vietnam travel tips
Fast fact about Vietnam
+ The Socialist Republic of Vietnam
+ Capital city: Hanoi
+ Official language: Vietnam
+ Religion: Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Hòa Hảo, Cao Đài, Christianity, Muslim
+ Total Population: 92,477,857 (July 2013 est.)
+ Total area: 331, 210 km2 + Total land mass: 310, 070km2
+ Total water mass: 21,140km2
+ Coastline: 3,444km
+ Total land boundaries: 4,639km
+ Border countries: Cambodia 1,228km, China 1281 km, Laos 2,130km
+ Currency: Dong
+ Time Zone: GMT +7 hours
+ International calling code: +84
Due to its special location, you can visit Vietnam at any time of year . However, rush seasons are winter (from November to January) and spring (from February to April). During these months, it is all good news throughout the country with some of the best conditions of the year; blue skies and little if any rain expected across the region.
Light, comfortable, easy to launder cloths are recommended. The weather in winter gets colder in the North from November to March and substantially warmer in April. In the South, the temperature remains constant (about 32-35°C) through the year and there are only two simple seasons: rainy and dry. While travelling to mountainous area or highlands such as Sapa and Da Lat, make sure you bring a jacket. Vietnam is a land of temples and pagodas. Please observe what local people do and follow exactly the same. Please take off your shoes before entering a temple and have suitable clothing packed while visiting these places (e.g. shirts and long pants). Be respectful to Vietnamese culture, you will be respected from natives. A raincoat is also a must-have item. In Vietnam, you can easily find a plastic raincoat at street-side shops if it rains. However, you are recommended to prepare a raincoat in advance while visiting the countryside.
Four great philosophies and religions have long been influenced Vietnam culture and shaped the spiritual life of the Vietnamese people: Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism and Christianity. Over the centuries, Confucianism , Taoism and Buddhism have fused with popular Chinese beliefs and ancient Vietnamese animism to create the Tam Giao (Triple Religion). It is surprising that most Vietnamese people are likely to say that they are Buddhist, though not all practice on regular basis. The General Statistics Office of Vietnam in 2009, however, showed that 81.7% of Vietnamese people do not have religion. On the other hand, the most widespread popular belief among the Vietnamese is the belief in ancestor-worship. They believe that souls live after death and dead parents become the protectors of their descendants. The ancestors are informed on occasions of family joy or sorrow, such as weddings, success of examination or death. In total, 15,651,467 (18.2%) Vietnamese people have their own religious beliefs. 6.8 million (or 7.9% of the total population) are practicing Buddhists, 5.7 million (6.6%) are Catholics, 1.4 million (1.7%) are adherents of Hòa Hảo, 0.8 million (0.9%) practise Cao Đài, and 0.7 million (0.9%) are Protestants.
Citizens of these countries below are allowed to visit Vietnam without visa within a specific period of time:
- 14 days – Myanmar and Brunei
- 15 days – Denmark, Finland, Japan, Norway, South Korea, Sweden, Russia, United Kingdom, France, German, Spain, Italy and Belarus
- 21 days – Philippines
- 30 days – Campuchia, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand
All others wishing to enter Vietnam must obtain a visa. There are two common ways to get Vietnam visa, including visa on arrival and visa at Vietnamese representative offices aboard.
- Apply Vietnam visa at Vietnam Embassies/Consulates (effective for all citizens and all borders in Vietnam including airports, land or sea): Please go to the nearest Vietnam Embassy or Consulate aboard to apply the visa in person. Kindly contact the Embassy/Consulate where you wish to get your visa and ask them for support.
- Apply Vietnam visa on arrival (applicable for air travellers only): If you do not wish to go to the embassy to apply visa in person, you can consider visa on arrival. It takes you only few minutes to apply your visa online through travel agents at anytime and anywhere using your Internet connected computers or Wifi enabled mobile phones.
The stamp fees are applied for visa to Vietnam (price per person):
- US$ 25 for 1-month and 3-month single entry visa
- US$ 50 for 1-month and 3-month multiple entry visa
Please note you must pay the stamping fee in cash at the Immigration Checking Point at international airports in Vietnam to get your official visa stamped on your passport. Besides US dollars, you can pay by other strong currencies (Australian dollars, Vietnam Dong, Euros, RMB, etc). However, the exchange rates set at Immigration Checking Point are normally 5-10% higher than the rates quoted by banks. Thus, please select which currency suits you most.
Shopping in Vietnam
Vietnam has something for everyone. Shoppers love to buy silk, high quality handicrafts, ceramics and lacquerware. Vietnam’s shopping hubs are Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. However, Hoi An is also a must – visit destination for shoppers, especially those who are interested in tailor – made clothes. In the North, Sapa is famous for silver jewelry and fabrics made by ethnic minorities. From tailor – made clothing to luxury famous fashion brands, local boutiques and shopping malls can be easily found in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. The market is now expanded for handmade home accessories. Export of antiques or endangered wildlife products is illegal in Vietnam.
- 1 Jan – New Year’s Eve
- Late Jan – Mar (movable, normally the first week of new lunar year – Tet)
- 10 March (lunar calendar) – Hung King’s Festival
- 30 April – Liberation Day of South Vietnam
- 1 May – International Labor Day
- 19 May Anniversary of the Birth of Ho Chi Minh – the major state institutions will be shut on this day but the corporate sector still opens.
- 2 Sep – National Day
The following items may be freely imported into Vietnam by foreign visitors without incurring customs duty:
- 400 cigarettes, 100 cigars or 500g of tobacco
- up to 5kg of tea and up to 3kg of coffee
- 1.5L of liquor at 22 percent and above, 2L of liquor below this amount, and 3L of all other alcoholic beverages
- A reasonable quantity of perfume and personal belongings; other goods not exceeding (VND)5 million
The importation of non-prescribed drugs, firearms and pornography is prohibited. Literature with sensitive content on political issues should not be brought into the country.
Vietnamese currency is Dong, which is abbreviated to “VND”. It is a non-convertible currency. Under law, shops should not accept foreign currencies such as dollars, pounds, etc. But in practice, this is not enforced and dollars are widely accepted almost everywhere. The exchange rate in September of 2014 was US$1 = 21,220 VND; €1 = 27,555.41 VND; £1 = 34,561.89 VND. Credit cards, particularly Visa, MasterCard, Amex and JCB are increasingly accepted. Large hotels, expensive restaurants, large shopping malls and medical centers invariably take them but merchants may impose a surcharge of between 2.5% and 4.5%. Most hotels will not add a surcharge onto your bill if paying by credit cards. ATM’s are plentiful and available 24 hours. There are also a number of international banks operating in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City with 24hour cash withdrawal facilities.
Exchange Vietnam Dong Under Vietnamese law, foreign currency can be easily changed into Dong but not vice versa. To convert Dong into another currency is quite complicated and time-consuming. You should show your ticket to confirm that you will go out of Vietnam and your ID card. Copies of documents provided are kept to verify a customer’s identity. You will be asked to fill out a special form stating the sum, the purpose of the exchange and the destination country. Most local banks in Vietnam do not provide such exchange service, but Vietcombank. Outside Vietnam, the Dong is usually not accepted (excluding Cambodia and Laos), so before leaving Vietnam, please remember to exchange any Dong left.
Vietnamese is the national and official language of Vietnam. It is the mother tongue of 86% of Vietnam’s population, and of about three million overseas Vietnamese. It is also spoken as a second language by many ethnic minorities of Vietnam. The Vietnamese writing system in use today is an adapted version of the Latin alphabet, with additional diacritics for tones and certain letters. Dialectal differences are marked among the North, the Central and the South of Vietnam. Sometimes, it even comes with different meanings. There also dozen of other languages spoken by ethnic minorities such as the Khmer, Thai, etc. Much of Vietnam’s elder generation can still speak French, while many middle-aged Vietnamese speak Russian and other Eastern European languages. Today almost everyone has a desire to learn English.
Due to lack of effective medical facilities and sanitation, your risk might be at risk if you travel to rural areas. So please make sure to see your doctor or travel clinic at least 6 weeks before your departure or general advice on travel risks, malaria and vaccinations. If you are in a treatment, certain that your prescription or prescribed medicines are brought with you. And if possible, carry a doctor’s letter that describe the nature of illness and necessary treatments. Most importantly, ensure that you have travel insurance, get a dental check-up, know your own blood group. Do not hesitate to tell us about your health conditions before your trip. Please also check out our recommended medial kit below.
Medical Kit Check List
|Check||List of items|
|Aspirin or paracetamol (acetaminophen in USA)|
|Antihistamine – for allergies|
|Cold and flu tablets, throat lozenges and nasal decongestant|
|Loperamide or diphenoxylate – for diarrhea|
|Prochlorperazine or metaclopramide – for nausea and vomiting|
|Rehydration mixture – prevent dehydration|
|Insect repellent, sunscreen, lip balm and eye drops|
|Calamine lotion, sting relief spray or aloe vera – ease irritation from sunburn and insect bites|
|Antifungal cream or powder – for fungal skin infections and thrush|
|Antiseptic – fot cuts and grazes|
|Bandages, band-aids (plasters) and other wound dressings|
|Water purification tablets or iodine|
|Scissors, tweezers and a thermometer|
If you eat in small family owned restaurants, you do not need to tip them. Vietnamese do not normally tip; however, you can do it if you are happy with the service. Foreigners normally leave the small change left after paying the bill and tips are highly appreciated. Large restaurants or hotels have already added 5-10% service charge and the government tax (VAT) of 10% to the bill. You could also consider tipping your guides and drivers – after all, the time they spend with you on the road means time away from home and family. Typically, travelers on minibus will pool together to collect a communal tip to be split between the guide and driver. Of course, give more if you wish, but if you have genuine reasons for not wanting to tip, don’t.
With unbelievable abundance of fresh vegetables, herbs, fish and seafood, Vietnam has a lot to offer. It can be mentioned here a range of widely- admired dishes such as noodle served with beef or chicken( pho), spring roll, rice spaghetti, steamed rolls made of rice-flour, eel or snail vermicelli, crab sour soup, crab fried with tamarind, rice pancake folded in half (and filled with a shrimp, meat and soya bean sprouts), etc. Fish sauce (nước mắm), soy sauce (nước tương), prawn sauce (mắm tôm),Vietnamese coriander (rau răm), cilantro (rau mùi), mint (lá bạc hà), and basil (rau húng quế), and limes (chanh) are among the main flavoring ingredients. Vietnam’s national dish is Phở (pronounced like the fu- in funny, but with tone), a broth soup with beef or chicken and rice noodles (a form of rice linguini or fettuccine). You can easily find the delicious dish everywhere at any time of the day, but locals eat phở most often at breakfast. Famous phở restaurants can be found on Ly Quoc Su Street, Hang Trong Street, Bat Dan Street, etc. Generally speaking, the phở served at roadside stalls tends to be cheaper and taste better than those served in fancier restaurants. It is interesting that rice (cơm) is always included in Vietnamese meals. Vietnamese cuisine varies slightly from region to another, each has their own specialties. Generally, northern Vietnamese cuisine is known for being bland while southern Vietnamese cuisine is known for being spicy. Restaurants often offer you a wet napkin (khăn) at the end of a meal to wash your hands. Be aware that using the napkin incurs an extra charge on your bill.
Coconut water is a favorite drink in hot weather. Nước mía siêu sạch or sugarcane juice is served from distinctive metal carts with a crank-powered sugar cane stalk crushers that release the juice. Another thirst-quencher is the fabulous smoothies (sinh tố), a selection of sliced fresh fruit in a highball or big glasses, combined with crushed ice, sweetened condensed milk or yogurt and coconut milk which should cost 20,000 Dong at maximum. Another drink among locals and tourists alike is the coffee (cà phê). Be careful if you drink a locally prepared coffee as the locals tend to drink it incredibly strong with about 4 teaspoons of sugar per cup. It is usually served hot/iced black or with sweetened condensed milk. Beer seems to be popular throughout the country. The most popular is fresh or draught beer (bia hơi) that you can find on the street or bia hơi restaurants.
Please beware of people if you travel in big cities. In Ho Chi Minh, do not bring any valuables with you or show it out on the streets. Bags and jewelries will be targets for thieves, who normally work as a team. Be careful with robbers on motorbike as well. Such problems seem to happen less in Hanoi. However, the more careful you are, the better.
Visitors to Vietnam have the same opinion that prices in Vietnam are quite affordable.
|Foods, drinks & other items||VND||USD|
|Vietnamese (robusta) coffee||15,000d||$0.8|
|Fresh/Draught Beer||5,000d-8,000d||$0.2 – $0.6|
|Smoothies and Juices||40.000d||$2|
|Spirit & Mixer||70.000d||$3.5|
|Taxi (per km)||9.000d||$0.45|
|Cyclo (per km)||10.000d||$0.5|
|Motor taxi (xe om)||6.000d||$0.3|
|Simple phone (call + text messages function)||300.000d||$15|
Pre – departure checklist
|Check||List of items|
|o||Passport with 6-month validity from entry date|
|o||Photocopy of passport|
|o||Money (US$ or credit cards)|
|o||All relevant tickets (airplane, destination…)|
|o||Clothing – light-weighted clothing for summer and warm clothing for highlands and winter|
|o||Shoes, sandals or flip-flop|
|o||First Aid Kit|
|o||Adaptor – 220V/50Hz – 2-pin sockets|
Culture and Customs
Vietnamese people are hospitable, polite and gracious. They consider friendship is important in everyone’s life. A Vietnamese can immediately invite you to his or her home for a Vietnamese meals at the very first time. Don’t be surprise! It is the way Vietnamese people show their hospitality. And don’t miss that chance to enjoy a Vietnamese meal and enrich your experience in Vietnam. If you are invited and want to prepare some gifts to host family, it will be appreciated and you will certainly be closer to the hosts. Having a drink is widely accepted in a social gathering. However, the majority of Vietnamese women never drink and it is serious matter if you keep forcing them to drink. Together with drinking, only a few women smoke. Smoking women are considered as “liberal”. Vietnamese people concern more about status (with age and education) than wealth. Vietnamese culture highly consider the importance of one’s knowledge and experience gained from schools and life. Modesty is also important. Vietnamese people will try not to show their knowledge, skills or abilities if they are not being asked to do so. Vietnamese people usually live with their family unill marriage. Family plays an important and deciding role in choosing spouse for their children. Divorce is unusual and considered as shamefulness.
Phones & Internet service
If you want to make a phone call to outsides of Vietnam, it is always available but it is quite expensive. However, you can use your own cellphone by buying a Vietnamese SIM card or requiring service from your country service provider for enabling global roaming. The way of using Vietnamese Sim card is cheaper and you can easily recognize SIM card seller in big cities when you arrive. Internet access is available. Sometimes, you can find FREE Wi-fi in hotels, bars, restaurants and cafe in the cities. If you found one and it had been locked, you could ask the Wi-Fi providers for the password.
Do’s and Don’ts
|Do dress conservatively, especially when you visit temples or pagodas.Seniority is highly respected, the oldest person should be greeted first.Do keep a local map with you whenever you are out. The roads and traffics may be very complicated for foreigners. You can get a map from reception counter or guest rooms. Besides, you should have the hotel/hostel business card. In case of lost, you can show it to taxi drivers (most of them cannot speak English).Do ask for permission before taking any photo.Do drink water during your trip. The quality amount is 1.5 litter per day and you should take bottled water only.
Do cover your mouth when using a toothpick
Do remove your shoes at front door if you visit somebody’s home.
Do carry a roll of toilet paper in your pack if you have long excursions from your hotel.
Do use both your hands or right hand at least when passing something to another person.
|Don’t wear shorts, dresses or skirts or leave bare shoulders to temples and pagodas. It is considered as rudeness and offences.Don’t wear a lot of jewelry, money or other valuables with you. Petty crimes usually happens in VietnamDon’t show the soles of your feet and don’t use feet to touch anything but the ground. The food is considered unclean.Don’t trepass prohibited or military areas or take any photos there.Don’t ever transport illegal drugs into Vietnam. It is among the most offensive crimes and the maximum penalty is death.
Don’t rush to cross the street in Vietnam. Try to carefully watch the surroundings before crossing instead.
Don’t take cameras or photos when you visit ethnic minority villages. It can be considered as instrution of local culture.
Don’t give money to beggars on the street or tourist destinations. There are a number of local organizations that need your help.
Don’t loose your temper in public or when bargaining for a purchase. It will be considered as serious loss of face for both parties.
Don’t point your finger at someone. It will be rude.
Don’t nude sunbathing. Even in the beaches, it will not appropriate to Vietnam culture.
Don’t pad someone’s head. Only elderly can pad their children.