Before visiting Vietnam, I frankly didn’t know what to expect. I was totally starting from scratch in planning this trip, and I did a lot of research compared to anywhere I’ve visited before. Part of writing this site has made me a more efficient planner in terms of knowing what to do and how to do it. I didn’t reference any guidebooks and rather relied on some awesome blog posts and lots of forum readings to help me prepare. I will say, this country is incredibly modernized, way more than I thought (maybe even more than Thailand), so you will be incredibly comfortable. I’d even say it’s a good country to start out solo traveling if you’re on a budget. Almost everyone speaks enough English to help you out, cheap, delicious food is insanely easy to come by, and there is a ton of information out there. I thought I’d put all the information I gathered from my research and give you a logistical guide to visiting Vietnam. Every extra detail you want to know in one spot!
Vietnam is deceptively long, so the time in between each geographical area is a lot larger than you might think with just a glance at the map. Similar to Thailand, the regions can be quickly separated by North, Central, and South, and when we went, we designed our trip this way.
NORTH | This is the region that borders southern China and the northern part of Laos, and is where you can find Sapa, Hanoi, Haiphong, Dien Bien Phu, and Halong Bay. It is also where Vietnamese culture originated before spreading down south. Be prepared for sometimes a 30+ degrees drop in temperature compared to southern Vietnam. When we went in February, it was around 60 F in the north while the the south hovered around 97 F. I found things to be a little more expensive here as well (for example, a massage tended to cost more in Hanoi versus HCM). It also holds a lot of importance in terms of Vietnam’s independence, so you can find a lot to see related to Ho Chi Minh.
CENTRAL | Central Vietnam, just like its geography, is a good balance weather wise, typically hovering around 80 F. However, it seemed a lot more humid (I sweated through my shirts too often…). Here, some of the more popular areas include Hoi An, Danang, My Son Sanctuary, and Hue. It borders both Laos and Cambodia, and is known for its beaches (particularly in Da Nang). It overall seemed to have a more relaxed feel, though the influx of tourism to Hoi An makes the nightlife pretty chaotic.
SOUTH | The Southern area is the hottest area. It’s home to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) as well as the Mekong Delta. Because of this, it’s responsible for half of Vietnam’s agricultural industry alone.
If you want an even more specific region break down, Wikipedia has a pretty good quick guide here.
Hello- xin cháo
Thank you- cảm ơn
Goodbye- tạm biệt
Do you speak English? – nói tiếng anh không?
Flying In | I flew into HCM and flew out of Hanoi, and the airports were modern and lovely. It’ll be pretty easy and straightfoward getting a SIM card and transportation. Fun fact, if you have a lot of time to kill in Hanoi’s airport, head towards Gate 36, and there’s a lovely sitting area to hang out.
Flying Within | There are a ton of airports, but the main ones are in HCM, Da Nang, and Hanoi. It’s pretty easy and inexpensive to fly around the country if you want to save time.
Overnight Train | We took the overnight train to get between areas, and it’s around the same price, slightly cheaper, than a plane ride. You can check different timetables via Baolau. There are soft sleepers, hard sleepers, soft seaters, and hard seaters. The soft sleepers are the best, but we wound up in soft seaters for 19 hours, and it wasn’t that bad. While you can just go to a station and book when you arrive, if you go around holidays book online.
Overnight Bus | There are also overnight buses, but I’ve only heard bad things about them. Matador Network has a guide to riding them. Just know you will be accompanied by loud honks through the night.
Motorbike | I’ve heard of travelers using motorbikes to get around within and between cities. I personally found motorbikes to be a little too much while I was there, and the traffic got on my nerves quickly. Motorbikes tend to not follow the traffic laws, so if the sign says stop, they might not. They are cheap to rent, if that’s your thing.
Getting Around | Everywhere we went was pretty walkable, but you can get a taxi for pretty cheap, just make sure you have them turn on the meter (should start around 11,000-12,000 VND).
Toilets | Lots of squatters, but the toilets are pretty sanitary around the country. The train bathroom was pretty smelly, so if that bothers you, hold it in (I did). You can flush toilet paper down the toilet as well, but they also have a bum spray available at all places.
Water Quality | While you probably don’t want to drink the water, you can shower and brush your teeth without issue.
Food Quality | If you haven’t been able to experience Vietnamese food (or its coffee), you, my friend, are seriously missing out. Holy food haven. And, the best part, the better food is found sitting on plastic stools along the sidewalks.
Visa? | You need a visa to enter Vietnam, and you should apply for one before you plan on arriving at the airport. I used Vietnam Visa Provider. It’s good for one month, and you pay $8 USD or 180,000 VND via Paypal. They will then send you the visa letter, which you must print, and then you bring your letter, 2 passport photos (4cm x 6cm), and $25 USD or around 570,000 VND to the airport.
Plugs | The plug is the same as European. I saw Type C more often than the other two. I also didn’t see three prong options very often.
Money Matters | Vietnam uses the dong (VND), and the bills come in 500,000, 200,000, 100,000, 50,000, 20,000, 10,000, 5,000, 2,000, and 1,000. While you can pay in USD in many places (and they’ll even tell you the price in USD), I found paying in dong actually works out to be a bit cheaper. If you asked to pay in VND, they’ll just whip out a calculator and plug in 22,500 no matter what the actual currency fluctuations are.
You also want to be careful using your credit card as I found mine didn’t work in some places (newer, more foreigner friendly shops it worked, but a lot of my hostels, their machine was too old, and they didn’t want to punch it in manually). Also for any Citibank users, I found Citibank ATMs in Hanoi and HCM, including one as soon as I got off the airport! Otherwise for withdrawing money, the cheapest ones only charge you around 30,000 VND.
Keep in mind that if you’re traveling around major holidays, a lot of ATMs might also just not have any cash in them!
Tipping | I’m still not entirely sure how tipping works or doesn’t work in Vietnam. I’ve heard and read so many mixed things, so I can’t say with 100% certainty how it goes. I will say generally there is no tipping in Vietnam, but some places (like a spa in Hanoi and a fancier restaurant in Da Nang) had tipping options on the receipt, in which case I either rounded up or figured out a tip. If there wasn’t a tip asked for, I either took change or rounded it up to an easy number.
Phone | You can get tourist SIM card in Vietnam as soon as you get off the plane, and it’s around $13 for a month of data. I’m not sure how much exactly, but I used and abused mine with watching videos before it asked me to top off. You can choose between Viettel or Mobifone, and I personally preferred Viettel from my experience with both.
Any tips you have for visiting Vietnam?
Words and Photos by Samantha