Beyond the usual safety precautions, here are 11 Must-Know tips to help you enjoy Vietnam to the Max! Of course, if you have more ideas, do share them here too! 😀 Happy exploring!
1. Do you need a VISA to visit Vietnam?
Depending on your nationality and length of travel, a visa might be required and it is one of the most essential pre-trip preparation that you should take note.
Singapore passport holders do not require a visa to visit Vietnam for 30 days while most ASEAN countries have a bilateral agreement on visa waiver. To check on visa requirements, do visit the Vietnamese Diplomatic Missions page and connect to your nearest Vietnam embassy.
2. Connect to FREE Wifi
(Hanoi, dated Feb 2012)
If you are using a smartphone / tablet, you are in luck! Free wifi and internet services are almost everywhere, especially in the Southern region. Unless you have to make various calls, I would advise you not to waste time and money buying prepaid data + calling cards. Hotels/resorts (especially local guesthouses) and restaurants usually provide free wifi and internet services. One of the best thing in South Vietnam is that you can get free wifi while walking along the streets! Imagine the convenience!
3. Taxi! Taxi!
Transportation in Vietnam is relatively easy with unlimited tour buses, trains, motorbike taxis and cabs. The reliable cab companies that I swear by are Vinasun and Mai Linh. Make sure that meters are turned on and convey your destination clearly. As accents may sometimes create confusion or a communication breakdown, it is useful to have some visual aids (map/hotel name cards/saved address on your phone etc.). FYI, some cab drivers understand English, Mandarin and even Cantonese! Thus, don’t go around talking behind’s people back or gossip blatantly about the locals.
4. Don’t Book Your Accommodation In Advance!
Yeaps, you did not see wrongly. My reasons for this are simple. New international chain hotels, quaint boutique hotels, local guest houses are constant sprouting with very competitive rates! I stayed in the (then) highly recommended Rex Hotel during my first trip to Ho Chi Minh. Despite enjoying travel agent’s preferential rates then, it was highly overpriced for this tired-looking hotel! Since then, I’ve learnt that one can actually pinpoint the location you want to stay in, zero-in on the hotels/guest house and check the rooms prior to making your choice. This would almost guarantee you the BEST VALUE stay! This appeals to me as I usually prefer to stay in new establishments! 😀
(Sapa Rooms Boutique Hotel, Sapa, dated Feb 2012)
Of course, there are exceptions where I would book in advance. For example, the Sapa Rooms Boutique Hotel in Sapa (as the name suggests) is pretty small with limited number of rooms. Being constantly ranked as one of the best accommodation in Sapa makes it essential to prebook. At the end of the day, I would suggest you to do your research throughly if you are very particular about accommodations. Otherwise, you need not fret or book in advance, as there is definitely an adequate sleeping place for you!
5. Snagging the Popular Tours!
Unlike your accommodation, more attention should be focused on the popular tours! It is necessary to book the popular tours in advance. This especially applies to the luxury ones! My friend and I wanted to book the Bhaya Cruise for our Halong Bay expedition and tried to do so just a few days prior to the departure but… imagine our horror when we were told that it was fully sold out! Of course, there were many other alternative operators that sail to the same destination but having heard many horror stories of lower quality junk ships, we rather splurge on quality than to save on costs! Depending on the accommodations of your choice, the hotel (usually only for the local ones) can also help you to arrange your tours at a better rate.
6. Identifying Sinh Cafe Travel
They are everywhere! A reliable travel agency chain with offices all over Vietnam, Sinh Cafe Travel provides a wide variety of tours, travel options and accommodations. My experience with Sinh Cafe Travel has always been pleasant and they definitely provide good value-for-money! In fact, you might soon realised that regardless of which agent you booked from, you’d end up being in a tour organised by Sinh Cafe! They are best known for their open-tour bus journeys and very reasonably-priced coach services that can transport you from the big cities to small towns.
7. Experience the REAL Vietnam – Easy Riders can Help!
“Don’t settle for the normal tourist path…” that’s what an Easy Rider would tell you. Easy riders are typically local guides in Vietnam that would bring you to see a different side of Vietnam. Motorbike is their unique mode of transport, and you can either ride pillion or alongside with them (if you are game enough)! Although their English might not be as polished as those working in the travel trade, they can really show you the real beauty of Vietnam. My sis and I took up the Easy Rider day tour when we were in Dalat and we were pleasantly charmed! Unfortunately though, I was totally sunburned as I forgot to put on the sunblock! During my solo trip to Mui Ne, I booked an Easy Rider tour with Mr. Binh and it was one of the best decisions ever! Discover the beauty and the path less trodden… book an Easy Rider tour!
8. Vietnamese Dong vs US Dollar
I get this question pretty often. “Which currency should I use? Vietnamese Dong or US dollars? Well, you can use either of these two currency because the exchange difference is not great. For better value and convenience though, “Dong” is usually preferred. This is especially so in smaller towns or when purchasing small items or food from the streets. In fact, street vendors might sometimes charge you more if you can only have US currency. As Vietnam is a fast-growing tourism market, foreign exchange services are readily available these days, with greater options. Even in the remote town, Sapa, the bank actually accepts Singapore dollars for exchange. Needless to say, credit cards are acceptable in shopping malls at major cities.
9. Language Is Not A Barrier
In major cities and across tourism sites, the English language is generally understood. In Ho Chi Minh city, many locals can understand and speak Mandarin and Cantonese (amongst other foreign languages). Thus, you need not worry about language barrier! 😉 That being said though…
I always believe that a great conversation need not a common language. Sometimes, sincerity and a real interest to know more about the other party are more important. Hoàng is a security guard and gardener at Muine Hills 1. He has a daughter studying at Saigon and he used to be a dragonfruit farmer. He knows minimal English while my grasp of the Vietnamese language is even more limited. We chatted for 45minutes and that was the most enjoyable conversation I had in Mui Ne.
10. Food Hygiene
(Street vendor selling delicious breads, dated Feb 2012)
Street food and bottled drinks are generally safe to consume. To date (and touching wood!), I have not encountered any bowel disasters during any of my 5 trips in Vietnam. You might probably find it helpful to know that I eat most of anything (except bugs, really). I love street food and trying things that the local does! Call me a glutton, for I am really one!
(Opp Saigon Square with my hot noodles under a rain battered tent, dated May 2012)
One rainy afternoon, I was walking around Ho Chi Minh city, wondering where I should go and what I should do. Somehow, I ended up at Saigon Square. Whilst most people would be super excited to lost themselves in shopping paradise, I found myself being drawn to the street stall serving hot noodles opposite the mall. Without thinking much, I crossed the road and waited for my turn to huddle in the small makeshift tent. Imagine that… slurping the hot noodles while the rain goes pitter pather… what a fond memory indeed. *sighs*
11. Ultimate VN Tour Bible (to be taken with a pinch of salt)
Last but not least, always do your research prior to your trip.. Tripadvisor can provide you with useful information, especially regarding accommodations and food. Of course, always take all advice with a pinch of salt. Be bold, take flight and explore! I hope you enjoy Vietnam as much as I do!
(Sapa, dated Feb 2012)
The above information has been complied based on various sources, including my own experience and should only be used as a reference. For more information on the destination, do check out http://www.vietnamtourism.com/.