Planning a trip to Vietnam or heading to this magical country soon? There’s a few nuggets of information you should ready yourself with before taking off! Here’s my list of 16 remarkably useful things to know before traveling to Vietnam.
UPDATED JUNE 2019
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Vietnam; a vibrant, sometimes addictive country with crazy traffic, beautiful scenery, delicious food, and friendly people. In the past 10 years or so, this once unknown and off-the-beaten path country has become a popular travel destination for backpackers and vacationers alike.
And like most unique countries, Vietnam is best traveled and explored when travelers have a bit of prior knowledge beforehand. By doing so, you can best know what to expect and how to handle certain situations or circumstances.
After spending two months in this gorgeous and crazy country, there are few things I wish I would have known before traveling to Vietnam. But, you know what they say, live and learn!
So, without further rambling, here’s my list of crazy good things to know before making your way to Vietnam!
Table of Contents
- 1 16 REMARKABLY USEFUL THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE TRAVELING TO VIETNAM:
- 1.1 1. The currency of Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong (VND).
- 1.2 2. Make sure to get your visa BEFORE you arrive in Vietnam.
- 1.3 3. 95% of the time, the honking of a horn isn’t directed at you.
- 1.4 4. No matter what time of the year, expect heavy downpours.
- 1.5 5. Nice sleeper buses are readily available.
- 1.6 6. Be aware of motorbike rental rules.
- 1.7 7. Walk across the street like a blind person.
- 1.8 8. Prepare to see the coolest (or nastiest) things on the street.
- 1.9 9. Things will rarely ever be on time.
- 1.10 10. Barter with sellers like you’ve been doing it all your life.
- 1.11 11. If you rent or ride a motorbike, ALWAYS WEAR A HELMET!
- 1.12 12. When needing a ride, choose Uber or Grab over a taxi.
- 1.13 13. SIM cards are easy to get.
- 1.14 14. Don’t drink the tap water!
- 1.15 15. Bring along some US dollars.
- 1.16 16. Food and drinks are cheeeap.
16 REMARKABLY USEFUL THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE TRAVELING TO VIETNAM:
1. The currency of Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong (VND).
Before traveling to a country, you should definitely know its local currency. In Vietnam, it’s the Vietnamese Dong (VDN) and, like Laos and Indonesia, it uses multiple zeros. Like ₫10,000; ₫50,000; and ₫100,000. Frequently used notes are the 10,000; 20,000; 100,000; and 500,000.
And that little “₫” is the currency symbol.
Some popular conversions: ₫100,000 VND is about $4.28 USD; ₫100,000 VND is about £3.37 GBP; and ₫100,000 VND is about €3.79 EUR.
Check out the most current conversions here for the Vietnamese Dong.
2. Make sure to get your visa BEFORE you arrive in Vietnam.
And the easiest way to do this is have a hostel or nearby travel agency do it for you. Seriously! If you’re already in Southeast Asia, it makes life so much easier. (The alternative is doing it online or getting a visa on arrival — which can sometimes be a bit sketchy!)
Before arriving in Vietnam, I was in Cambodia and the hostel I was staying at took care of my Vietnam visa for me. I did have to pay a little extra but it was cheaper overall since I didn’t have to pay once again when I arrived in the country. It costs me $40 USD to get my 30-day visa for Vietnam – through the hostel.
No joke, this is seriously one of the top things to know before traveling to Vietnam. So so happy I met a girl who told me to do this beforehand!
Alternatively, you can hand this task off to the professionals! Pass on the visa stress by getting your Vietnam e-visa through iVisa. Click here to get yours now!
3. 95% of the time, the honking of a horn isn’t directed at you.
When I first arrived in the crazy country of Vietnam, I was so bewildered by the constant honking of horns. I continually thought they were directed at me and was really confused at what I’d done wrong. Or I thought some males were trying to get my attention.
But that’s usually not the case.
95% of the time, the honking of a horn is to just let fellow drivers know that the other driver is nearby. For example, drivers will honk their horns when going around a curve to make oncoming traffic aware of their vehicle or motorbike. Or if a motorbike is passing another motorbike.
It’s mostly just an act of courtesy, so don’t be too alarmed if you hear about 100 horns while on the road or walking.
4. No matter what time of the year, expect heavy downpours.
Everywhere in Vietnam, the weather seems to be extremely unpredictable. Thus, no matter where you are or what time of the year, expect heavy rainfall.
And sporadic downpours that’ll get you sooooaked. Especially if you are on a motorbike.
Tip: Make sure to pack along a durable rain jacket and/or buy a poncho!
5. Nice sleeper buses are readily available.
No matter where you’re going, if the journey is 5+ hours and between two popular towns, there will likely be a sleeper bus available. And they’re usually pretty nice and comfortable! When I traveled from north Vietnam to south Vietnam, I took sleeper buses everywhere.
And they were usually pretty great. Most have wifi, a lengthy “bed” and a warm blanket. And if you’re lucky, some will have a working USB plug-in.
Make sure to take off your shoes when getting on though! The driver will probably get pissed if you don’t. And he might yell at you if you’re eating smelly food. A friend of mine was eating seaweed crisps and she got yelled at. It was kinda hilarious watching her get shouted at in Vietnamese.
Tip: If you can’t figure out the bus wifi password, try 12345678. It worked for me on most buses!
6. Be aware of motorbike rental rules.
Most motorbike rental places offering daily rents actually mean only from about 7 am to 7 pm; not 24 hours. For example, if you rent a motorbike at 3 pm and bring it back at 3 pm the following day, you’ll end up paying for two days instead of 24 hours since you didn’t return in the evening before.
It doesn’t make sense to me, but that’s sometimes how it works. So make sure to ask about the hours before you drive off with your motorbike.
7. Walk across the street like a blind person.
If you’re crossing the street in a busy area, just walk across like you don’t see anything or any motorbikes. Trust me on this! If you walk across with your hand out and you just look straight ahead, the passing motorbikes will work their way around you.
If you keep looking around while crossing, you’ll no doubt hesitate and stop – not good! Cause you’ll end up getting hit. People are crossing the busy streets all the time and the locals are used to winding around them.
8. Prepare to see the coolest (or nastiest) things on the street.
Whilst walking around the crazy streets or the markets of Vietnam, be prepared to see the coolest – or nastiest – things. The first day I was in Vietnam, I saw a whole skinned pig on the back of a motorbike. It was horrific.
But that’s the norm.
I also saw tons of local artwork, magnificent handwoven blankets, and unique trinkets, which were really cool. The streets of Vietnam are filled with variety and it’s amazing.
9. Things will rarely ever be on time.
Buses, trains, people… they will likely never – ever – be on time. For anything.
Whilst in the city of Hanoi, I was getting on a bus from Hanoi to Ninh Binh and we ended up waiting over an hour for the bus to arrive. And no one even told us why it took so long. Super annoying but just a part of life in Asia!
So just be prepared to wait for things, whether it be for a bus or for food!
10. Barter with sellers like you’ve been doing it all your life.
Once you find an item you like, figure out the price you’re willing to pay and stick to it. Let me say that again…
Always. Stick. To. Your. Price.
9 times outta 10, they’re likely to accept it. And if they don’t, just politely say no and walk away. They hate it to watch customers walk away because they don’t like saying no to money. If your price is a fair deal, they’ll most likely call you back. Or they’ll offer you their lowest price, which you either take or don’t take. Completely up to you!
Just remember, if a seller starts harassing or pushing you to buy, firmly say no and walk away. You don’t need that in your life!
Interested in seeing the markets in Ho Chi Minh City? Check out this Ben Thanh Market Tour & Cooking Class!
11. If you rent or ride a motorbike, ALWAYS WEAR A HELMET!
Traffic accidents in Vietnam kill thousands each year and you don’t need to be one of them! In fact, lethal traffic accidents are known as Vietnams “hidden epidemic” and in 2015, road traffic deaths were 30x higher than the number of people killed by pandemic diseases.
While walking the streets of Hanoi, I firsthand saw a woman on a motorbike get full on hit and thrown to the ground by a van. She was OK though and immediately got back on her bike and drove off, like nothing had even happened. Seriously the weirdest thing ever, especially from a Westerner’s perspective.
Case in point, always wear a helmet while riding a motorbike and be aware of your surroundings.
12. When needing a ride, choose Uber or Grab over a taxi.
In most urban and popular areas, taxis are always readily available. Which is great but a lot of people have reported being scammed in a taxi. For example, the taxi driver will mess with the meter so it’ll go up much faster than normal.
If you would like to take a taxi, check prices with Uber to gauge how much you should pay. Or just download Uber and/or Grab to get the cheapest ride possible. These two brands are usually available in most big cities in Vietnam.
13. SIM cards are easy to get.
If you have an unlocked phone and need a SIM card, the best place to go is Viettel. Viettel is a designated phone service provider and you’ll get the best price (and service) here.
Additionally, a corporate Viettel store is usually the most reliable place to get a SIM card, as most vendors on the street selling them will sell you one that’ll run out of data within the first few days, even though it’s advertised as two weeks, a month, etc.
While in Vietnam, I got a SIM card from Viettel with unlimited data for a month. It gave me 7gb of data with 4G coverage and once I used that up, I still had unlimited data for the month, just slower service. More like 2G coverage. And I believe it only costs me around $7 USD. Win!
14. Don’t drink the tap water!
Unless you want to be sick and/or get a parasite. Like most southeast Asian countries, the tap water is unsafe to drink and you should definitely
stick to bottled water buy a filtering water bottle and use it religiously! It’s safe to use when brushing your teeth but anything more and you’ll be venturing into dangerous territory.
My go-to filtering water bottle is the Grayl — you can get your own here!
15. Bring along some US dollars.
In a lot of places, US dollars are readily accepted. Especially in travel agent offices when booking a rather large trip or excursion. Also, US dollars seem to be more highly appreciated than the local currency when tipping or paying a cab driver. Depending on how long you’re in Vietnam, I’d recommend bringing along about $50 US, just in case.
16. Food and drinks are cheeeap.
Depending on what city and the niceness of the restaurant or place, most food items and beverages will be super cheap.
I found most meals to cost around 50,000 VND ($2.20 USD) and a bottle of beer to be around 25,000 VND ($1.10 USD). In Hanoi, if you go to a local restaurant, a Hanoi Beer will likely cost 20,000 VND. It’s crazy! And awesome.
So, there you have it! Every little thing you should know before traveling to Vietnam.
Have you ever been to Vietnam? What other things should travelers know before heading there? Tell me in the comments!
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