Vietnam is home to some of the most unique scenery and landscapes in the world. From the limestone cliff formations in Ha Long Bay to the vast rice fields in Sapa to the coastal town of Hoi An. The variety of scenery will certainly leave you impressed. If you are planning a trip to Vietnam, this is everything you need to know.
Tourist Visas for Vietnam
You MUST apply for a visa to Vietnam before departure. You will not be allowed onto your flight without a Visa Approval Letter. Some countries, including the UK, are exempt, but for most people, a visa approval letter is required.
It is recommended to apply at least 2 working days before your flight. The cost of the visa approval letter is $15USD, then you have to pay an additional $25USD (government stamping fee) upon arrival to Vietnam. You will need to take a passport photos with you. If you forget you can get them at the airport for $5USD.
If you forget to apply for your Visa Approval Letter, you can still get one last minute. But it can cost up to $200 USD per person so make sure you do it in advance.
If you are planning to stay longer than 30 days or require multiple entries, you’ll need to apply for a visa directly from the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Vietnam.
Weather in Vietnam
There is not really a right or wrong time to visit Vietnam as during most months of the year you will experience both sunshine and rain in varying quantities.
Whilst Vietnam is typically warm and humid, the weather can vary significantly from one region to another due to the country’s length. At times there has been snow in the mountainous far north whilst the beaches in the south enjoyed 32 °C and sunshine.
The weather is very different across the three regions of Vietnam.
Central Vietnam – Hoi An, Danang, Hue, Dalat, Quy Nhon & Nha Trang. Central Vietnam experiences hot, dry weather between January to August when temperatures can hit the mid-30°C’s; whilst high levels of rainfall can occur in September, October & November.
South Vietnam – Ho Chi Minh City, The Mekong Delta, Phu Quoc & Con Dao, Phan Thiet & Mui Ne, Ho Tram & Long Hai. Southern Vietnam is generally dry and hot from November to April, and warm and wet between May & October, with the highest rainfall in June, July & August.
Phone and internet in Vietnam
You can purchase a sim card from major airports upon arrival. Expect to pay around $10USD for a sim card with unlimited data. Many other places across the country sell sim cards. Ensure the sim card is working before you leave the vendor.
Travel Insurance in Vietnam
Travel insurance is a necessity. I recommend World Nomads.
Recently, however, I arranged a new credit card that covers all my travel insurance. If you travel a lot, this is something I recommend looking into.
Currency exchange in Vietnam
You can use the Money Converter website to find out current exchange rates.
In Vietnam, the currency is Vietnamese dong and USD.
Almost every place accepts USD, so if this is the currency you are travelling with, you won’t need to worry about getting it exchanged.
I recommend having some Vietnamese dong or USD on hand for your arrival.
I didn’t notice a lot of cash exchange places. It would be best to exchange your cash in the major cities, Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh and always withdraw cash from an ATM before arriving in small destinations. When choosing to use ATMs in Vietnam, it is recommended to look into any associated fees and charges so you don’t get any nasty surprises.
Accommodation in Vietnam
There are ample options for accommodation in Vietnam, ranging from guest houses, bed and breakfasts, Airbnb, hotels and luxury resorts. In Vietnam, you will get great value for money. Booking in advance isn’t essential as there are so many options. I recommend using booking.com to search for accommodation. If you book using this link, you will receive a $25 cash back after your stay.
Flights to Vietnam
The major airports in Vietnam are Hanoi airport and Ho Chi Minh airport. If you are flying internationally, you will likely land in one of these airports.
The airport you choose to arrive to in Vietnam will depend on the route you choose.
If you plan to travel to the North of Vietnam – Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba and Sa Pa, you will fly into Hanoi Airport.
If you plan to travel the South, Hoi An, The Mekong Delta, Phu Quoc & Con Dao you will fly into Ho Chi Minh Airport.
Another option would be to fly into one major airport (Hanoi) and fly out of the other (Ho Chi Minh). If you choose to do this, I would recommend at least 2 weeks in Vietnam as although the country is small, it is very long and the distance between the two airports is 32 hours driving, so would involve a couple of overnight bus rides.
You can pre-arrange a driver to get you from the airport to your hotel or you can easily find a bus, taxi or tuk-tuk driver outside the airports in Vietnam.
Transport in Vietnam
When travelling across Vietnam, transport options include flights, bus rides, trains and motorbike.
If you are short on time, there are over 20 airports in Vietnam that you fly in and out of. Flights are frequent and generally cheap if booked in advance. The main domestic carriers are Vietnam Airlines and VietJet Air.
If you are on a budget and want more of a local experience, you may choose to get around the country by train or bus.
Most hotels can arrange your buses and you can expect to pay between $10 – $25 between destinations.
From Hanoi to Sa Pa – $15 USD
Sa Pa to Ninh Binh – $15 USD
Ninh Binh – Halong – $15USD
Halong to Cat Ba – The ferry costs $3.50 USD and $2 -$5 USD for a bus from Cat Ba Ferry to Cat Ba Town.
Cat Ba – Hanoi -$15 USD
(This was the route I travelled).
You can also get trains to most destinations in Vietnam. Trains do cost slightly more. View the Vietnam train schedule and prices here.
If you travel Vietnam on a motorbike, expect to pay around $5USD per day for bike hire.
Planning your route around Vietnam
The route you choose to take around Vietnam will depend on the amount of time you have.
If you only have one week, you would be best to spend one week exploring the North, or one week exploring the South.
If you have two weeks, you could travel from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh, stopping at all the hot spots in between. Alternatively, you could spend 2 weeks just in the North or just in the South of Vietnam.
If you have one month in Vietnam, you could cover a lot of the country, from the highlands in the north to the beaches of the South.
As you can see, Vietnam is a small but long country.
Highlights of Vietnam include Halong Bay, Ninh Binh and Hoi An. These are some adventurous things to do in Vietnam.
My Route Around Vietnam
The route I travelled was from Hanoi (check out this Hanoi Food Guide) > Sa Pa > Ninh Binh > Halong > Cat Ba > Hanoi. I covered this in 10 days, which was a perfect amount of time for this route.
Sa Pa, in the far North of Vietnam, is best known for its rice fields, trekking experiences and Cat Cat village. The bus ride from Hanoi to Sa Pa takes around 6 hours and costs $15.
Ninh Binh – Tam Coc
Just outside of Ninh Binh, you will find Tam Coc. Tam Coc is home to some of Vietnams best scenery. Similar to the scenery in Halong Bay but with towering limestone formations over land instead. Tam Coc was a highlight of my trip and a destination that I recommend everyone adds to their Vietnam itinerary.
Halong Bay is perhaps the most famous destination in Vietnam and for good reasons. We stayed with Wyndham Legend Halong and it was an experience of a lifetime. These are the top 10 things to do in Halong Bay.
Cost of travelling around Vietnam
The cost of travelling around Vietnam depends on your travel style.
You can stay in luxury resorts and go to expensive restaurants, or you can get by on the cheap if you wish.
Accommodation: The cost of staying in a hostel starts at $3-$7 for a dorm bed to $7-$15 private for a private room. For a mid-range hotel, expect to pay $25 – $40 and for luxury, anywhere above that. I recommend using booking.com to search for accommodation.
Bike Hire: Bike hire generally costs $5 – 10 USD per day, depending on your location.
Food: A meal costs between $3 – $10 depending on where and what you eat. If you are on a budget, eat local food at local restaurants. Western food always costs more. Beer costs $1 – $2.
Transport: Flights around Vietnam start at $60 and buses are generally around $10 – $25 between major locations. If you plan on flying, book in advance to get the best rates.
You could get by on a budget of 25USD per day in Vietnam if you wanted to.
Tipping in Vietnam
In general, tipping in Vietnam isn’t expected or required, however, if your service from restaurants, hairdressers, taxi drivers, hotel employees, and other service providers exceed expectations, consider leaving a little extra to show your appreciation. To find out how much you should leave, read this guide to tipping in Vietnam.
Safety in Vietnam
I recommend exercising all usual safety precautions when travelling in Vietnam. Petty theft is common in tourist areas, so it is recommended to minimise the number of valuables you carry. In addition, these are my tips for keeping safe.
For more information on the safety risk in Vietnam, visit the Smart Travellers website.
Vaccinations in Vietnam
Check the Travel Doctor website to find out what vaccinations you need when planning a trip to Vietnam.
Haggling in Vietnam
In markets, the first price you are offering is rarely the real price, so don’t be afraid to counteract with an offer.
Vietnamese is the main language in Vietnam. In tourist areas, some people speak English. Outside tourist areas, it can be very challenging. Learning at least a few key phrases can be helpful and appreciated by locals.
Hi – Xin Chào
Thank you – Cam On
How much – Bao nhieu?
Bye – Tam Biet
Sorry – lay làm tiec
Other things to know when planning a trip to Vietnam
- Don’t drink the tap water in Vietnam.
- Be prepared for quick changes in the weather
- Tips aren’t expected but they go a long way.
- The language barrier can be challenging.
- Here are 15 more things you need to know before visiting Vietnam.
- This is the ultimate South East Asia packing list.
Overseas Travel Checklist
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