First Time Vietnam

Itinerary Route Map

Checklist

  • Apply for your visa in advance
  • Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months past your arrival date
  • Check your immunisation history
  • Arrange appropriate travel insurance
  • Inform your debit-/credit-card company
  • Pre-book internal flights and trains

What to pack

  • Good footwear – Vietnam’s streets are bumpy and lumpy
  • Mosquito repellent with DEET
  • Rain jacket
  • Electrical adapter
  • Torch (flashlight)
  • Flip-flops or sandals
  • Binoculars

Top Tips for Your Trip

  • Prepare yourself for the crazy driving: traffic can come at you every which way, and in the cities swarms of motorbikes reach biblical proportions. Try to keep calm and consider arranging a massage after a long journey.
  • Be aware that Vietnam has more than its fair share of scams; most concern overcharging. Though very rare, there are some more serious dangers (like unexploded ordnance) to also be aware of. Relevant warnings are given in destinations throughout this guide.
  • In towns like Hue and Sapa, and beaches popular with tourists, expect plenty of hustle from street vendors, cyclo drivers and the like. Off the beaten track there’s little or no hassle.
  • Load your bargaining head before you arrive.

What to Wear

  • There are no serious cultural concerns about wearing inappropriate clothing in Vietnam. In temples, pagodas and government offices (or if attending a formal dinner), legs should be covered and sinflets avoided.
  • Yes, Vietnam is in the tropics, but visit anywhere north of Hoi An between October and March and it can be cool, so pack some layers (a fleece of two). The rest of the year, and in the south, flip-flops or sandals, a T-shirt and shorts are likely to be your daily uniform.

Sleeping

Tourism is booming in Vietnam so it’s usually best to book your accommodation a day or two in advance, or several weeks ahead in the high season (the Tet Lunar New Year holiday, July to August, and around Christmas)

  • Hotels Range from simple functional minihotels to uber-luxurious spa hotels.
  • Hostels Popular in the main tourism centres, but not that widespread elsewhere.
  • Guesthouses Usually family run and less formal than hotels.

Money

  • ATMs can be found throughout the country, even in small towns, though charges for withdrawals are quite steep. In general, cash is king in Vietnam, but credit and debit cards are accepted in many hotels.

Bargaining

  • Bargaining is essential in Vietnam, but not for everything. Sharpen your haggling skills when shopping in marketplaces and in some small shops (that sell souvenirs and the like), and when arranging local transport like cyclos (bicycle rickshaws) and xe om (motorbike taxis).
  • Many hotels will also offer a discount if you ask for one. In restaurants prices are fixed.
  • Some bus drivers try to overcharge foreigners, so it’s worth bargaining if you’re certain the fare is overpriced.

Tipping

  • Hotels Not expected. Leave a small gratuity for cleaning staff if you like.
  • Restaurants Not expected; 5% to 10% in smart restaurants or if you’re very satisfied. Locals don’t tip.
  • Guides A few dollars on day trips is sufficient, more for longer trips if the service is good.
  • Taxis Not necessary, but a little small change is appreciated, especially at night.
  • Bars Never expected.

Language

  • English is not widely spoken in Vietnam. In the tourist areas most staff at hotels and restaurants will speak a little, but communication issues are common. A few key phrases of Vietnamese go a long way.

Etiquette

  • Meals When dining with Vietnamese people, it’s customary for the most senior diner to pay for everyone.
  • Homes Remove your shoes when entering a private house.
  • Heads Don’t pat or touch an adult (or child) on the head.
  • Feet Avoid pointing your feet at people or sacred objects (eg Buddhas).

Eating

  • Local restaurants Vietnamese restaurants tend to have purely functional decor and even look scruffy, but if they’re busy the food will usually be fresh and delicious.
  • International restaurants In tourist areas many restaurants serve up Western and Asian food. Often the local food is ‘toned down’ and not that authentic in these places.

Street food

  • Pavement kitchens offer cheap and often incredibly tasty local grub.

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