You should think about visiting Vietnam is you are into: beaches, hiking, caves, great food, inexpensive, you are flexible, okay with grit/real life.
Visiting Vietnam might not be for you if you suffer acute breathing problems, don’t like heat/humidity, or you need, or think you need, highly sanitary (looking) environments.
Best Time to Visit Vietnam
Best Time to Visit Hanoi
Short Answer: September through November, February through early April.
Long Answerer: The best time to visit Hanoi (northern Vietnam) is sometime between September and November when the rain isn’t drenching you and the heat isn’t scalding you. It is also nice between February and April. Winter in December and January is the coldest part of the year, with highs in Hanoi in the 60’s/20C during this time (but prone to great variability). If you are coming from northern Europe or the northern USA, their December and January weather is more tenable relatively. Even if the temperatures do drop to the 30’s/0C (which does happen), hot soul-warming foods will surely carry more significance. As for the summer (May through August), expect hot, wet and steamy (increasing not only your sweat but chances of contracting dengue fever, etc.)
Best Time to Visit Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC)
Short Answer: Mid-November through early-March
Longer Answer: The best time to visit Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) (southern Vietnam) is mid-November through March. HCMC has two seasons, a dry season from November to April and a wet season from May to October. December through March is the prime slot for dry weather, clear skies and nice temperatures. April is the hottest month with highs nearing 95F (35C). Betweeen March and October, the night can be spicy with lows running in the high 70’s F (25C). You will have more humidity (June through October) and some more precipitation at certain times of year (May through mid-November). Now with all that said, I actually really enjoyed my visit in July because all the backpacking hoards typically seen in November to March had evaporated. Yes, it was hot, but the rain was manageable and the lack of tourists was worth it.
Best Time to Visit Da Nang and Hoi An
Best time to visit Da Nang and Hoi An (central-ish Vietnam) is mid-January or February through April/May (with February having highs around 77F (25C) and high 80’s (31C) by May), or later, such as June and July are okay as well, it’ll just be hotter (for instance, June and July will be averaging highs around 95F (35C). Heavy rains are found in Da Nang’s wet season which lasts from August through December, with the heaviest and most frequent rains in September & October. Rain is least likely in February and March. Tip: If you don’t mind tourist throngs, you can show up in Hoi An on the 14th day (full moon) of the lunar month as the town is lit up by lanterns in a special way. Personally, I think that is the only time to be certain to avoid it.
One major holiday which can throw a wrench into finding hotel availability and the like would be Tet Nguyen Dan (normally just called “Tet”) but the festivity will surely make your experience dynamic. The dates for Tet change but essentially it is a major holiday, equivalent to what the western world knows as New Years, in Vietnam. It falls sometime between mid-January and early-February. There are also holidays on April 30 through May 2nd, and September 1st and 2nd.
Vietnam is a long country hugging the sea. The weather is very different depending on where you are. Do not look up the weather for one place in Vietnam and figure that it is the same everywhere. The best method is to check as many resources you can for the places that interest you before visiting Vietnam.
Cities of Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon) is the major southern city which is the strongest economically and most modern in its development, nightlife and infrastructure. Accessed close by would be the floating markets of Can Tho and My Tho and the beach of Vung Tau. It is also relatively close to Cambodia and its capital Phnom Penh.
Hanoi is the major northern city which packages rough charm via colonial architecture and a slower tempo from its southern peer. Whereas the southern part of the country has a wet and dry season, the northern part, which encompasses Hanoi, has four seasons. Accessed somewhat close to Hanoi would be visually-appealing tourist spots such as Sapa and Ha Long Bay.
Da Nang is the beach-lined city halfway between Hanoi in the north and Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) in the south. Nightlife is lacking in Da Nang (although the government is taking actions to change that) and the city isn’t a bustling metropolis so it is more geared for a laid-back audience, but many use it as a jumping off point to go to Hoi An, as Hoi An’s closest airport and train station are located in Da Nang. Da Nang does have golfing and marble statues (whose industry derives from the nearby tourist attraction, Marble Mountain) if that is your bag.
Places of Interest in Vietnam
If you are planning on visiting Vietnam, this is a random assortment of places, not necessarily including the obvious tourist draws, that might be of interest for further research (roughly ordered North to South):
Sapa (or Sa Pa)
Sapa is located in the far northwest. It is home to various tribes such as the Hmong. Brilliant landscapes due to the tiered rice patties they have built into the landscape. Best to visit in August and early September for the green and yellow rice patties that are being harvested, or in April when the rice is being planted and various fruits are blossoming in the clear weather. Less popular alternative is Mu Cang Chai
Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO site where coastal ecosystem meets the rainforest, located in northern Vietnam, four to five hours from Hanoi via bus. Well known and frequented for its scenery.
Ninh Binh province
Ninh Binh province is a very diverse scenery in a relatively concentrated area with mountains, rice paddies, coastline, etc. and known for its goat cuisine located 2.5 hours (by car) south of Hanoi. Also has a relatively new microbrewery called Vissai in Hoa Lu, a city with historical significance as it was Vietnam’s capital in the 10th and 11th centuries
Hue is the former capital. Scenic (although less than optimal weather), some consider it the epicenter of Vietnamese food, war history (DMZ, Vinh Moc tunnels)
Hoi An is located about 30 minutes south of Da Nang (which is your closest terminis if coming by plane or train). Touristy but clean, easy-to-walk historic district, very chill vibe, good beaches and great people. Also well saturated by tailors, silk, trinkets and lanterns; so a good shopping destination for the value-shopping inclined. Best to visit January through August.
Nha Trang is a beach town with nightlife, like Mui Ne, there is large concentration of Russians. This is highly suggested by nearly all of the Vietnamese I have encountered. Note that rainy season is centered around October and November, although most of those non-Nha Trang-based Vietnamese recommending it always dispute this fact.
Dalat, as Vietnam Online notes, “Dalat looks like a cross between Vietnam and the French Alps. Many of its hotels and houses were built in a French style during the French colonization”. The area is well touristed and one popular stop is Bao Dai’s summer palace. It is also one of the few places that produces wine, although it is still in its infancy and perhaps not ready for the big time), lastly, it generally does not get hot here – with temps maxing out in the high 60’s (20C) and averaging in the mid-60’s (18C). Much of the Vietnamese coffee (and many flowers) comes from Dalat (if you want the real coffee epicenter, check out nearby Buon Ma Thuot) but is said to be more expensive to buy in Dalat than elsewhere. Investigate Vietnamese cocoa in Dalat if interested.
Mui Ne is a booming touristy beach area, apparently popular with Russians, with wind sports popular from October through December (winds continue through April) and a Nick Faldo-designed golf course. Approximately 4 hours by train from Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), and 2 hours via bus which is the more popular method. Weekend getaway for people from Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). Some say laid-back and relaxing. Some say over-developed although remote, quiet villages a 20 minute drive away. Also sand dunes – Doi Cat Vang and Doi Cat Trang might be worth a look if there. The closest express train stop is Muong Man. The closest local train stop from Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is Phan Thiet. The closest bus stop is Phan Thiet with daily connections to Mui Ne. Phan Thiet is known for its fish sauce.
Can Tho is a nice youthful city in the Mekong Delta. Most tourists seem to show up, take a boat tour of one of the nearby floating markets (like Cai Rang) and then leave. However, it feels like a better version of Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) personally. The people are friendly (and don’t hassle you constantly as they do in downtown HCMC), the market along the waterfront is amazing, the food is great and the prices are good. I think if you come here and only see the floating market, you’ve wasted your time and your sleep.
Mekong Delta region, flower farms, (antiquated) French architecture, not heavily touristed.
Chau Doc and the Tra Su Bird Sanctuary
Chau Doc is located next to Cambodia in southern Vietnam. To the south of Chau Doc (45 minutes) is the Tra Su Bird Sanctuary (good August-early November especially due to high water levels). Somewhat new floating market, interesting river life (rent a boat and check it out), fish farms and good food. Tra Su is a bit overblown.
Phu Quoc Island
Phu Quoc is an island located south of Cambodia and west of southern Vietnam. Dry season mid-November to April, warm all the time (30’s C / 80’s F), remote and resort beaches line much of the coastline, great fresh seafood although more expensive than the mainland, some of the best fish sauce comes out of Phu Quoc such as Red Boat fish sauce and Khai Hoan fish sauce. In the north-eastern corner of the island are peppercorn farms (great quality peppercorn) and a national park with hiking.
To be honest, the beaches aren’t that great and I only recommend Phu Quoc if you want to rip around an island on motorbikes and/or are interested in the fish sauce or peppercorn industries. Otherwise, I feel like you can get better beaches with less trash on them elsewhere. Further, the government is really pumping tourism which includes ridiculous waterparks and whatnot.
Con Dao island
Con Dao is a Marine Nature reserve which is a place to avoid due to a lack of infrastructure and poor beaches OR a great place to go, due to the diving, history, natural scenery and the fact that infrastructure/development is rapidly advancing and thus, you must go now. You decide.
Is Vietnam Expensive?
If you are coming from the US or western Europe, then you will find Vietnam very affordable. If you are earning standard Vietnamese wages, or likewise, it is not as affordable. Plates of food and bowls of soup for $0.75 to $2.00 (street vendors and local restaurants) and on up to the sky (luxury restaurants catering to well-heeled tourists). Private rooms run about $7 on up.
Tipping in Vietnam
Not expected but appreciated. If you really want to tip: Taxi: round up if good service. Restaurants: up to 5% if good service. Bartenders: 5% if good service.
Do I need a Visa before visiting Vietnam?
If you are on the list of qualifying countries, use the e-Visa from the Vietnamese Government. It avoids the extra fees and is direct.
If you hold an approved E-Visa, you will proceed straight to the immigrations booths as you normally would with the required documents. There is no need to go to the glass window off to the side. This is the best method to use generally – but there are exceptions if you are doing multiple entries or staying longer than 30 days.
If you can’t do the E-Visa, or wish not to, then you can do the following:
You could get a visa from the Vietnamese embassy nearest your home or wherever you find yourself, however, if you are arriving by air into SGN (Tan Son Nhat / Ho Chi Minh Airport), HAN (Hanoi) or DAD (Da Nang), you can apply for a Visa on Arrival (“VOA”). The way this works is as follows:
Step 1: Make sure your passport has more than 6 months left before it expires from the time you plan to leave Vietnam. You should never attempt travel on a less than 6 month passport.
Step 2: Find a travel agency or company in Vietnam that handles VOA. I have successfully used and recommend Tun Travel (which also operates under several different names that are the same thing – like Hotels in Vietnam). I suggest using the Hotels in Vietnam site because you can select to have a private letter. What this means is that other travelers will not have your passport details.
Step 3: Choose whether the kind of visa you want (e.g. single-entry means you arrive into Vietnam and when you leave, the visa is dead) and pay the travel agency the processing fee.
Step 4: Wait several days and you received an authorization letter. Print it out and bring it with you to the airport. You cannot board the plane or get into Vietnam without this.
Step 5: Print and pack one, somewhat recent, photo (they say two in the directions but this is not the case) in passport size (4x6cm or 2x2in), and the actual visa stamping fee that you pay to the immigrations officials which the Vietnam Travel agent can help you with. As of early 2017, the stamping fee at the airport is currently $25 for single entry.
Upon arrival, look for the signs for “Landing Visa”. In SGN Airport, if you are walking towards passport control, it is to your left.
Go up to the glass window and submit a Vietnamese Entry Exit Form. It used to be the M3, then it was the N1 and now, as of early 2017, it is the NA1 (check with your visa letter agency as they hopefully have the most current form). Visa Application Form NA1), your passport, your photo (they will attach it) and the visa approval letter. They will then direct you to wait. Keep an eye on the window and/or the hard to understand name announcements.
Once called, you go up and pay in USD (I’ve seen other currencies submitted like Euro & VND). Then you go to passport control with your passport (which now has the visa in it) and your flight number (or airline ticket stub). That is all there is to it. That process can take 5 minutes or more than an hour if busy. (You can typically get your photo taken on location if need be for a charge)
As it relates to the NA1, a couple tips. First, the kind of passport for most will be “Ordinary”. Could also be “Diplomatic” or “Official/Service”. Second, you don’t need to fill out the strange questions like “Religion”. And when you sign, you can write SGN next to the “Done At”. Make sure you use the correct date format.
Do I need vaccines to visit Vietnam? Medical concerns?
Generally no. The CDC advises to be up to date on the routine vaccines and suggests you consider vaccines for Hepatitis A and Typhoid. From a general health standpoint, there are some who definitely exert extra caution and warn others not to eat street food and so forth, and that is a personal choice that one must make. There are many accounts of people eating street food and being just fine. As anywhere, people can get sick no matter the country and as anywhere, many times they don’t know what really caused it (regardless of what they say).
Personally, I think the Vietnamese street food scene is one of the major blessings the country and its people offer and should be heartily embraced but I also understand avoiding street food if you are not very passionate about food and/or extremely zealous about perceived cleanliness. If I was in the latter camp, I wouldn’t even bother coming to Vietnam because, to me, one of the best things about the country is the culinary scene on the streets, and to skip that is like going to New York state and skipping New York City. As always, use common sense.
Transportation from the SGN Airport to Ho Chi Minh City
Figure 20 minutes by car from SGN to downtown Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) and up to an hour at rush “hour”.
Note: There are ATM machines past customs but before exiting to the outside of the airport. If you need smaller change than what it distributes, ask a money changing booth in the same area. If you want to avoid the ridiculous fees of the Chase Bank ATM, you can walk to the Domestic Terminal (out and to the right from International) and there are a ton of Vietnamese bank ATMs there.
Cheapest Method from SGN Airport to Ho Chi Minh City
Your cheapest method, if you are departing between 05:45 and 18:00 (check schedule to ensure these times haven’t changed), would be to jump on Bus #152 (departs about every 15 minutes) at the SGN Airport (a map of the entire network is here). To find the bus, you need to head right after leaving the international terminal or a right when exiting the domestic terminal and crossing the street to the island). It brings you to Ben Thanh Market (which is not the end of the route – so look at the guide in the next paragraph) which is within the District 1 zone. The rate in January 2017 was 5,000VND. If you have a giant backpacker bag, they will charge you as if its an additional person (which it is, I suppose).
Best Value Method from SGN Airport to Ho Chi Minh City
The next method is to take the Route 109 method. This is the best value as you get a bus that can take bigger luggage, is air-conditioned, has WiFi and has an attendant who has a higher chance of speaking English. This bus goes to the bus station and then heads to the Backpacker area. It costs 20,000VND and runs from 0530 to 0130.
Easiest Modern Method from SGN Airport to Ho Chi Minh City
You can use the Grab App or Uber to hail a car which currently is much cheaper than a taxi and avoids the nonsense that taxi drivers can put you through.
Easiest Traditional Method from SGN Airport to Ho Chi Minh City
You can get a taxi (which, if you are heading to D1/downtown shouldn’t be more than $8USD – approx 160,000VND). Find an official uniformed representative in the airport or a representative/dispatcher past the taxi lines for Mai Linh or Vina Sun (exit airport and head to the left), and ask them to get you one of their cabs if one isn’t waiting already. (If you want, you can write out your address and just show it to the dispatcher who will yell it to the driver and give you a card). I find Vina Sun better.
Unlike in many places in the world, there is no requirement that you have to take the “next” taxi in line, and you also don’t need to go through the taxi queue. Ensure that will use the meter or agree to a fare fixed price if not (but if its Mai Linh or Vina Sun, odds are they will definitely use the meter). My taxi rides between the airport and District 1 typically come between 130,000 and 150,000VND.
Transportation from the Hanoi Airport (HAN) to the city
Figure around 45 minutes from HAN Airport to downtown Hanoi.
Shared Van from Hanoi Airport to Hanoi
You can use a shared van (Vietnam Airlines, Jetstar, etc.) for ~$2 USD but you wait there until its filled. One is the Vietnamese Airlines shuttle that drops you off at the Vietnam Airlines office in Hanoi which is a bit south of the Old Quarter. From there, you have a 2km (1mi) walk or a short taxi ride.
Taxi from Hanoi Airport to Hanoi
Method 2: Taxi. Reliable names are Mai Linh and TaxiGroup, and the official HAN taxi companies are Noi Bai Taxi, Viet Thanh Taxi and Dai Nam Taxi, but whatever the case, make sure the taxi is marked. Just ensure you are paying a fixed fee (not the meter – it will be higher) and ask for the smallest car because if you get in a larger car, that fixed fee you agreed upon might have been for the small car. You do not need to pay tolls or tip. Note the ride from the city to the airport should be around 40% less. To go from the airport to the city, expect something in the $15-$25 range.
Prearranged Car from Hanoi Airport to Hanoi
Prearranged Car. For about the same price with less hassle, pre-arrange pickup with your hotel or a company such as Han Taxi has their prices listed on their site for a car and it is close to what a cab would be. You are charged by the car which, for the cheapest car, is for 3 or 4 seats.
Cheapest Method from Hanoi Airport to Hanoi
Take the local bus. Exit the terminal, head right. Walk past the shared minivans and look in a lot to your left. You can take Bus 7 or Bus 17. The last time I took it, Bus 17 terminated a long walk or 30K VND moto ride north from the Old Quarter. They may have made the route better.
Transportation from Da Nang Airport (DAD) to Da Nang or Hoi An
Flag a taxi outside the airport. Downtown should be approx $5 and the beach resorts should be approx $8. Meanwhile, Hoi An is less than 40 minutes away and can be reached via regular taxi for approximately $20 or motorbike taxi for approximately $10.
Getting Around Vietnam
Outside of renting taxis or drivers or the like, Vietnam also has motorbike taxis called “xe ôm” (“say-ohm”) whereby you jump on the back of the motorcycle and go. Rates are negotiable and obviously in Vietnam, you should be prepared to negotiate like a wily fox. You can also use the app Grab and do a Grab Bike.
There is an extensive bus network in the cities and between the cities & towns. You will need to figure out which station services which locations. For instance, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC)’s Mien Tay (West Station) services Cambodia whereas Mien Dong (East Station) serves points north.
Jetstar and Vietnam Airlines services intra-country flights amongst other smaller players. For some locations, you need to fly, such as to get to the Con Dao islands from Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) (SGN-VCS) on Vietnam Air Services Company (VASCO). Many times, it is better to purchase the tickets from travel agencies or official agencies in the cities rather than to purchase online.
Train Travel Around Vietnam
Vietnam Railways offer train service between Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) and points in the far north. Slower at times but safer and more room than going via bus. Figure on 36 hours to travel from Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) to Hanoi. Sleeper cars available and they do the job.
This is an affordable way to get around the country (if you aren’t pressed for time). By the time you factor in late flights (which Vietnamese airlines specialize in) and all the rest of the flying experience, the rail option seems even better. For more specifics than I should ever hope to write, here is a great resource on train travel throughout Vietnam.
Other Countries to Visit from Vietnam via Land
Convenient to go to Cambodia over land, China over land and Laos either by a hardcore 24-hour bus (or train/van) ride out of Hanoi or via flights (which are not terribly cheap out of Vietnam).
What to Buy & Try in Vietnam
If you find yourself in a produce market, Vietnam has a couple items to be tried. Generally, the best season for Vietnamese fruit is during the rainy season (for fruit seasons, see the post on fruit). The fresh mangosteen (a fruit that blends many interesting fruitlike flavours, “Măng cụt” in Vietnamese – grown in Southern Vietnam and is primarily in season during May, June, July and August), the durian (an odorous fruit with a distinctive taste, “Sầu riêng” in Vietnamese), thien ly flowers (if you are visiting in the summer and have a kitchen and can use them in a saute), lotus root (a cross-sectioned stem cooked a variety of ways, “củ sen” in Vietnamese), and star apples (Vú sữa in Vietnamese, one of the most intriguing descriptions somehow thinks a positive comparison would be breast milk).
Food to Try While Visiting Vietnam
Most popular would be Pho which is a Vietnamese Noodle Soup. Originated in Hanoi but pho can be found throughout the country. Comes with many different combinations, and is popularly going to be chicken (Ga) or beef (Bo) based. Eaten for breakfast traditionally, but found throughout the day and night.
Some locals will point you to Pho Hung and Pho24. These are Pho chains and serve overpriced, dull pho. It is like pointing someone to McDonalds if they want to try a hamburger.
In HCMC, they will bring Pho with a bunch of herbs and sauces. Try the broth. If it needs lime, squeeze some in. Rip up some of the culantro and other herbs and toss those in. Add some fish sauce and other sauces. The broth is usually very good on its own but feel free to manipulate with the ingredients at hand. Pho will usually run 20,000 in non-tourist zones in HCMC to 50,000VND in touristy areas. I’m sure you can find it higher than that too.
From Pho you can start branching out into the other soups which can be quite great as well.
Banh mi (Bánh mì)
There are many variants of banh mi. Some consist of a variety of meats, some of meatballs, some of pork skin, some of various cold cuts, some with egg and so forth. Brush up on your Vietnamese food words to know which kind of Banh Mi is being sold. For instance, Banh Mi Xiu Mai uses spiced pork meatballs and is one of my favs.
Fried rice flour (like fried potato homefries) with egg and sauce.
Fried Fish. Some really good fried fish in Vietnam and HCMC. A Hanoi specialty is Cha Ca La Vong which is a marinated, pan-fried fish.
Served at all meals and late night – this is a rice dish typically with grilled meat and a dipping bowl of nước chăm (fish sauce with lime, sugar and chili peppers – served with many dishes)
Bun Thit Nuong (Bún Thịt Nướng)
Noodles with meat and vegetables that is better eaten in the south (Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), etc.). Stir in the nước chăm served on the side. Brilliant dish. Order with Vietnamese egg rolls (Cha Gio or Chả giò) if they don’t come with it.
Bo La Lop or Bo La Lot
Bo La Lot is fresh grilled meat wrapped in betel leaves. They are served with rice paper and vegetables and sauces. You wet the rice paper, put in a sausage, add herbs/vegetables and roll up. Dip in sauce. You can usually find these places by the amount of smoke pouring out on to the street.
Banh Cuon (Bánh cuon)
A steamed rice roll with meat that is popular for breakfast and is more of a Hanoi dish
Bun cha (Bún cha)
Grilled pork with spring rolls – another Hanoi staple.
For something a little different – there is a rare goat meat dish found in Hoa Lu, a city in Ninh Binh province (and by rare, I don’t necessarily mean scarce)
If in Phu Quoc or Châu Đốc, try Bún Kèn, a harmonious fish-broth (of sorts) poured over rice noodles and topped with grated papaya, herbs & sprouts.
Street Drinks in Vietnam
Very easy to find is the Nuoc mia (sugar cane juice) stands. Nuoc mia has been found to be good for your teeth due to the fresh pressed minerals. Sometimes Nuoc Mia stands will also sell Cam Vat (fresh squeezed orange juice) and several other juices.
Another popular drink option given the amount of fruit in Vietnam is the Sinh To (smoothies).
Check out this post about Vietnamese Fruit Juices.
Food Words in Vietnamese
Look, you aren’t going to be shredding Vietnamese like a local right off the plane. However, a couple food words can come in handy. I’ve tried to keep this as short as able using words you’ll see over and over.
Bánh (in a food setting, you should infer that you are getting a flour/starch-based item that is being cooked in some manner, whether that be a noodle, a cake, a turnover, bread or something else)
Thit (meat), Bò (beef), Gà (chicken), Cá (fish), Heo & Lợn (pig), Chó (dog)
Cơm (rice) or Cơm tấm (broken rice aka rice)
Bún (rice noodle), Mì (egg noodle)
Xào (stir-fried/sauteed), Nướng (grilled/roasted), Kho (braised), Chiên (fried)
Bia (beer) [Bia hỏi is beer on draft], Cà phê (coffee), Tra (tea), Nước Uống (drinking (uống) water (nước)
Products to Buy in Vietnam
Outside of the normal tourist stuff that everyone tells you about (that I tell you about below), Vietnam has some very great brooms, great dusters, great scissors, great totes and great fish sauce. If you find them, I’ve found some very nice stone carvings as well.
More traditionally, you can get shirts tailored, shoes custom made and all kinds of products like bags for good prices. Investigate the quality before buying, and if getting custom clothing, you might want to go lightly at first.
Dung Tailor (on 221 Le Thanh Ton [GPS]) is easy to work with but their deadlines are often blown and the quality is certainly not the same as NYC-bespoke level. Inspect the work before leaving.
The UN Heritage listed town of Hoi An (located halfway between Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) & Hanoi) has a significant amount of custom tailors, although with all these custom tailors (just as with those in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC)) you need to know what you are doing otherwise you can end up with a mess at the end (albeit an affordable mess). Many sites will tell you that you will be hassled in Hoi An but I found the opposite generally, with an attitude far more laid back than Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). Customized bathing suits (i.e. bikinis, et al) were an interesting customizable option in Hoi An.
In Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), there are many markets. The touristy and well-known Ben Thanh Market, Binh Tay Market (Chinatown) which has some foodstuffs and fabrics but seems geared toward large bulk quantities, and Pham Van Hai Market for shopping of a whole variety of goods. The Tan Dinh (GPS) market, along with some stands outside, is the place to go if you are looking for fabrics (which you can then bring to a custom tailor).
As noted, there are lots of interesting fish sauces coming out of Vietnam, and especially Phu Quoc Island (Phu Quoc also grows high quality peppercorns). Not sure most people would see this as a great gift, but it is to anyone truly into cooking. Note that Vietnam Airlines will confiscate fish sauce if they find it (checked or carry-on) but I have been successful in this endeavour.
Quick Travel Facts About Vietnam
Can you get by in Vietnam with English?
- Yes, generally you can as long as you aren’t off in the boondocks. As in most parts of the world, younger people are typically going to be more adept at English than the older generations. Also, places with more tourists are going to have higher English proficiency. That said, it is always good (and respectful) to know key words in the native language when traveling
What Power Plugs are Used in Vietnam:
- The American Plug (Type A) and the European Plug (Type C) seem to be the major players. Frequency is 50Hz and Voltage varies as seen in this chart. Be careful using things like US hairdryers without a converter when connecting to non-US plugs (assuming that “US plugs” and “European plugs” are being fed the right voltage. Most electronics (battery chargers, mobile phones, etc.) only need an adapter plug but you should check first by calling the manufacturer, reading the literature or checking the item for markings before assuming like a dope.As an aside which doesn’t have much to do with your travel right now, Vietnamese policy is to keep electrical rates low which is threatening the grid. Further, natural reserves are running low. This could have an impact in the future. See more at the Economist’s article: Electricity in Vietnam, A Heavy Load
Is the Water Safe to Drink in Vietnam?
- What you will generally see is that it is not advisable to drink the tap water when visiting Vietnam unless you want to teach your immune system something new. I was able to drink water from the tap without much of any problem, but probably a good idea is to ease your way into it. Start by brushing your teeth and maybe swallowing small amounts. Over the course of a couple days, increase your intake. I asked some others who have traveled here and they were okay with the tap water as well. But then there are the online anecdotes which say otherwise.As a result, I’d say if your schedule is tight, just buy bottled water. If you have a weak stomach, buy bottled water. If you are going to be in the country for a while and want to shoot for the stars, go for it. No matter whether you want to drink it or not, you can safely use it to brush your teeth and that will be a relatively benign way to start building your tolerance.
What currency is used in Vietnam?
- Vietnam Dong (VND). See conversion. Note that prices might be shown in USD but payment should be made in VND (it is illegal for vendor not to accept VND although your recourse is probably not very strong). Vendors who accept USD are probably not giving you a good rate for it so, as in any country, it is almost always better to pay in local currency. Ask first (how much and what currency) if you aren’t sure to clear all possibilities of confusion or scams. Also note that sometimes vendors will strip off the thousands (e.g. say 25 dong which really means 25,000 dong). Per VietnamTravel.com, worn bills might not be accepted and when paying for something but I have never found this to be the typical case. They also advise to make eye contact and give the money to the vendor with two hands as this is deemed respectful, but this is also not really necessary. Lastly, credit cards could incur a 3-4% charge by the vendor.
- To do a quick & dirty conversion on the fly between VND and USD (given the rates as of this writing of 22,500 = $1USD) – divide the VND number in half and then divide by 10,000 (i.e. move the decimal to the left by 4 digits), or vice versa (move the decimal 4 digits to the left and split in half). Thus, 500,000 VND is a little less than $25 USD (e.g 500,000>50.0000>25), and 1000 VND is roughly $.05 cents (1,000>.1000>.05). Since this is a rough calculation, you might want to know that you are actually paying a little less in USD than what you calculate with this, but it is the method I use. And, if you have a USD number is your head – say $10 – then double that to 20 and add four zeros, so 200,000 VND.
- There are also warning floating around the internet about ATM machines. While it is true that many ATM machines have a cap of 1,000,000VND; 2,000,000VND (most common it seems) or 5,000,000VND, you can get around the limit in a couple ways. First, if there is more than one ATM machine (as in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC)), just use a different machine. Second, I have had success using the same machine twice (with the same card), so it really seems like a transactional limitation and not a daily one although it could vary on the bank I suppose. Third, you can just use two different cards if you have them.
Other tips about Vietnam
- Generally, don’t show anger in public or during negotiations. Be prepared to field odd questions about yourself, especially from studens who are tryin to learn English. I find it helpful to have a calculator or phone to display numbers if you are negotiating without English. Lastly, certain websites (like Facebook, YouTube, etc.) can be intermittently blocked from access if accessing them through a Vietnamese IP, although I have not found this generally to be the case recently.
- To get mobile phone service, inquire with at a mobile phone store, roadside stand (coffee shops, corner stores, etc tend to sell them) or the post office. I’d recommend MobiFone. Different shops charge different rates for the starter SIM card. Last time I was there, vendors seemed to only have 100,000VND Sim cards. That included 4GB of data and a lot of talk time. Ask the vendor to turn data on. Clarify how much the SIM Card is and how much value comes loaded on it. If you have a phone with a nano-size SIM (e.g. iPhone 5, Moto X, etc), make sure they can cut it down for you. The phone stores are better equipped to cut down sim-cards than the coffee shops are generally. Vietnam is also cracking down on getting sim cards with no ID.
My Travel Adventures in Vietnam
- #001: Initial Observations in Saigon, Vietnam
- #001B: A Response to Observations in Saigon, Vietnam
- #002: The Food in Ho Chi Minh Vietnam
- #003: Fruit Juices, Smoothies & Can’t Miss Classics in Vietnam
- #007: Chau Doc and Tra Su, Vietnam
- #008: Floating Market of Can Tho, Vietnam
- #009: Can Tho, Vietnam in Photos
- #010: Hanging in Hanoi, Vietnam
- #033: Return to the Saigon Alley
- #034: A Duck Sandwich for the Road
- #066: Flashback [Vietnam] Part I
- #067: Another Banh Trang [Vietnam] Part II
- #068: The Coffee Shop [Vietnam] Part III
- #069: Saigon Showers [Vietnam] Part IV
- Hotel Policies – Saigon Edition
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