Sort your visa out!
It’s baffling the number of people who land in Vietnam with absolutely no idea what they need to do for their visa. Too many people get turned away at the immigration counter for failing to pre-arrange their visa-on-arrival letters. While it’s true some nationalities do not require a letter to get stamped, most actually do. You can check your visa requirements on the Vietnam Immigration website, but it’s also best to double check with the Vietnam consulate nearest you, as sometimes online information is not updated to reflect current policies. You can get your visa pre-arranged through the consulate, or apply online for a visa-on-arrival letter through an agency and present it at the visa counter at the airport. To avoid scams, use reputable agencies and our favorite one voavietnam.net.
Download Uber/Grab apps before you arrive
While there are reputable taxi companies such as Mai Linh and Vinasun in Vietnam, Uber and Grab are becoming more and more popular by the day for three reasons: they are safer, cheaper and more convenient. You can also avoid being scammed this way, and not only that but also avoid being stuck in traffic for hours because both offer motorbike options. Uber and Grab are a great way for first timers to get from the airport to the city as you can avoid having to exchange cash at the airport for a high rate, since you can connect your card to your account.
Take extra copies of your passport
Hotel receptions in Vietnam usually ask to keep your passport during the length of your stay. While most of the time you have to hand the original over, some will accept a copy if you have one. Plus, having a copy is a great, albeit temporary, back-up in case you end up losing or damaging your passport.
Carry small notes
$1.00 US is approximately equal to 22,700 Vietnamese Dong, so be prepared to be a millionaire when you are in Vietnam. The largest note is 500,000 Vietnamese Dong which is equivalent to about $25.00 US, and the smallest is a mere 500 Vietnamese Dong ($0.022). Unfortunately, many of the notes are of similar color and are therefore easily confused, so it’s best to carry small notes when possible and stash away your larger ones in a different pocket. Another pro tip: arrange your notes in your wallet in ascending order to avoid handing over more Dong than necessary.
Bag snatching is a big problem in Vietnam. To be safe, carry your valuables in multiple places. Keep your cash and cards in various secure pockets, and try not to carry your passport around everywhere. Do not keep your wallet, phone and other valuables in the same bag. It also helps to have an extra copy of your credit card and bank documents in case something does happen, and you need to show proof from miles away.
The weather varies a lot…
In general, Vietnam is hot and humid throughout the year, but due to its elongated shape, the country spans multiple climate zones. This means it can be snowing up in the North while being crazy hot down in the South. To prepare yourself for better or for worse, pack your clothing according to your itinerary and month you are visiting. Proper waterproof shoes, rain coats, umbrellas – these are all your friends.
Bring at least one sweater
Even if you will be in Vietnam during the dry warm season, it will be a good idea to bring a sweater. Especially if you are the type of person who enjoys spending hours in cafes and restaurants, as ACs are run pretty low. If you end up using a night bus to travel to other cities, then you will be glad you brought your sweater along. These buses are referred to aptly as moving refrigerators.
Pack some conservative clothes
While wearing shorts and tank tops are generally fine in Vietnam, when you go to sacred religious places, it most certainly is not. Shoulders and legs should be covered by both men and women, so it helps to bring a pair of long trousers and a long-sleeved shirt.
Rise early to see the best of places!
This is especially true when it comes to markets and parks. The morning is when you get the most authentic experience as locals flood to places in the early hours of the day. If you visit a park in the morning, you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the elderly partaking in some Chinese Tai Chi, or if you visit a market, you can see the vendors setting up their stalls while at the same time slurping loudly on some noodle soup and having a cup of phi-filtered coffee. Plus, getting everything done in the morning is a great way to avoid melting in the midday heat.
Get ready to haggle!
Since you are a foreigner, it is very likely that you will be quoted inflated prices, especially in tourist areas. Get ready to negotiate (check prices online beforehand or ask a local so you can set a benchmark) but don’t dip too low. A single US Dollar for us is nothing but for the local Vietnamese, it could mean a meal!
Raise your hand when crossing the streets
Even locals tend to do this, and not just foreigners. When you raise your hand, you will draw attention to yourself and drivers will easily see you, and therefore can avoid, for lack of a better word, hitting you. Also, you should cross when there aren’t many cars and buses around. Bikes can easily swerve around you. Bigger vehicles cannot.
Avoid drinking tap water
The tap water in Vietnam is undrinkable, so avoid this at all costs. Even locals don’t drink tap water and most food vendors don’t even use it to cook. Bottled water can be found literally anywhere, so stock a few in your hotel room.
Lastly, ca phe sua da + banh mi = breakfast of champs!
This is a great way to save your money. The constant noodle soups and rice may get predictable, but never the banh mi (Vietnamese baguette sandwich). There are many vendors selling all types of banh mi with various fillings for as little as 12,000 Vietnamese Dong ($0.50). A cup of street-side Vietnamese coffee will cost you just about the same. For a dollar, this really is the breakfast of champs.