To get the maximum from your travels it is well worth doing some planning in advance. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you should have everything booked and every stage of your trip mapped out but being prepared is key to the success of your trip.
The following chapters cover the things that you need to organize before you jet off – sort these basics and then you can live every day in the moment knowing that that the essentials are covered.
01. Passports & Visas
In recent years it has become easier to get a Vietnamese visa but you must remember (unless you arrange it in advance) YOU CANNOT GET A VISA ON ARRIVAL. You simply cannot arrive at the airport or land border and expect to pay a fee and get a visa stamp unless you have previously applied for said visa. There are no exceptions, no matter how much you cry, stamp your feet or beg. No Visa – No entry!
Visa on Arrival
Rather confusingly you can apply for a Visa on arrival’ but this does require arrangement before you arrive in Vietnam and is only available if you fly into the following three airports: Noi Bai International Airport (Hanoi), Tan Son Nhat International Airport ( City) and Danang Airport (Danang). It is not possible to obtain the visa at ANY other airports or land crossings and you MUST have organized and received a letter from a third party agent prior to your arrival.
To get a visa on arrival you must first apply online through one of the many reputable online companies who will act as your agent. They will charge their own fees generally from $9 upwards (although some offer cut price deals in the hope you will use their tours). You will be sent a letter of invitation confirming that said company is acting as your guarantor throughout your stay in Vietnam.
When you arrive at one of the three valid airports you take your letter to the visa kiosks and pay the visa-processing fee. The fees at the date of writing are USD 45 for a one month (30 day) or 3 month (90 day) single entry visa, USD 65 for a less than 30-day multi-entry visa and USD 95 for a 30 day or 85 day multi entry visa. You then hand over your passport and receive it back with the visa inside.
Make sure that you have at least 6 months validity remaining on your passport before traveling otherwise a visa will not be granted.
From 1 July 2015 to 30 June 2016, all British passport holders traveling for tourism or business purposes can enter Vietnam for a maximum of 15 days without a visa. This incentive also applies to Germany, France, Italy, and Spain. Double check that this provision still applies before you make travel plans.
If you aren’t flying into one of the listed airports or you are traveling overland then you must apply for a visa in advance, either by visiting the Vietnamese embassy in your home country or by applying through the Vietnamese embassy online.
Simply send off your passport along with your visa – application and the relevant fee and you will receive your passport back with a full visa inside.
02. Getting there
Unless you are arriving overland from Laos or Cambodia the chances are that you will be flying into Vietnam. Make sure that you compare airline carriers as prices can differ dramatically. To get a Vietnamese visa in advance you usually need prove how, and when you will be leaving the country – the easiest way to do this is with an outbound flight ticket.
When deciding which airport to fly into you should first consider what route you are planning to take through Vietnam. Do you want to depart from the airport you arrived at or are you going to fly into one end of the country, travel overland and then depart from the other end?
Located in the South of the country in Hochiminh is Tan Son Nhat (SGN), the largest international airport in Vietnam. There are two other international airports, Noi Bai (HAN) in Hanoi and Danang (DAD) in central Vietnam.
There are smaller airports dotted along the coast that are great if you don’t fancy taking long bus or train journeys, or if you are short for time. Have a look for tickets online but you will also find that local ticket vendors offer fairly good rates and include airport transfers.
Vietnam airways are the national airline for Vietnam and whilst they tend to be slightly more expensive than the ‘low-cost’ carriers, they are generally considered more reliable. Vietjet Airlines and Jetstar Airlines are both budget airlines that have earned themselves the unfortunate nicknames of ‘delay airlines’ or ‘sorry airlines’ – the name says it all!
For those of you who find flying a little tame you may be tempted by the infamous but equally awesome ‘hell bus from Vientiane (Laos) to Hanoi. Depending on whom you speak to, it is either one hell of a journey – or the journey from hell. Either way, it’s a 27-hour long right of passage for the die-hard traveler.
03. What to pack
You are no doubt a seasoned traveler and have plenty of your own packing tips but it’s always worth making a quick checklist as you go along so you know that you have covered all of the essentials.
Comfort is key, especially if you have a hectic and adventurous schedule. You want to stay cool in summer and dry in the rainy season. The basics include:
- Underwear & Swimwear
- Sarong – Quick and easy to cover yourself up on the beach or at the pool
- Shorts & T-shirts for on the beach and around the pool.
- Light trousers/long skirt and shirt/blouse – for when you want to be dress respectfully for example during your visits to religious sites or pagodas.
- Going out clothes – A nice dress or smart shirt in case you treat yourself to a special evening.
- A cardigan/sweater – Sometimes the evenings can be a little chilly, especially if you have caught the sun in the day.
- Hat & Sunglasses – Protect yourself from the sun.
- Flip flops/sandals – For chilling, wearing to the beach and leisurely strolls
- Sneakers/Hiking Boots – depending how adventurous you intend to be.
- Nice shoes – Nothing too flash but you might want to make the most of a 5* luxury evening.
- A towel – This will double up as your beach towel so if you choose to get microfiber travel towel make sure you pick a larger size.
- Shampoo, conditioner, body wash and other hygiene products. You can buy all of these in Vietnam but they won’t necessarily be brands that you recognize.
- Sun cream and after sun lotion (aloe vera) – Try to avoid getting burnt but if you get caught out then you will be grateful for the soothing after sun lotion.
- Make-up – You will find that make-up doesn’t stay on very well in the heat and humidity so tty to keep it to a minimum.
- Toothbrush & toothpaste Hairbrush, accessories and products. Vietnam is humid so bring suitable hair products.
- Insect repellent – Choose one with at least 50% DEET to ward off all insects, especially if you are staying inland.
- First aid kit – A basic first aid kit with some Band-Aids, sterile wipes and antiseptic cream. It’s also worth taking some anti sickness tablets, anti-diarrhea tablets and rehydration sachets just in case you suffer from traveler’s tummy’.
- Camera (and charger).
- Phone – If you are taking a camera then invest in a cheap pay as you go phone for emergencies only. Then you
don’t need to keep an eye on two expensive items. You can easily get hold of Vietnamese SIM cards.
- Laptop (and charger – if you are a hard-core blogger then sure, take your laptop but otherwise leave it at home, it just isn’t worth the risk of get it stolen.
- Memory cards – to back up all of your incredible photos.
- A padlock – great for locking your rucksack and deterring thieves
- Zip ties – perfect to secure your rucksack or tie it to something (make sure you have a penknife to release them with)
- A pillow – If you have any spare room then pack a small pillow, great for long journeys or hostels.
- Sleeping bag liner – Ideal if you are planning on staying in hostels. Don’t spend too much as you will no doubt upgrade to a Vietnamese silk liner during your trip.
04 . Health & Vaccinations
There is nothing worse than getting ill on your trip. It’s inconvenient, it’s a bit scary and it can be expensive getting medical treatment. A touch of traveler’s tummy, slight dehydration and the odd hangover are all part of the experience and are nothing to worry about – just rest and get hydrated.
It’s severe illness that you need to prevent against. The chances of getting seriously ill can vary depending on where you are staying and what activities you are going to do. In reality there are some nasty viruses and illnesses that can affect you whilst traveling in South East Asia and it’s well worth taking precautions in the form of vaccinations.
Visit your doctor well in advance of traveling to discuss your health requirements. Be aware some vaccinations need multiple doses a set period of time apart so don’t leave it until last minute.
A few little injections are advisable for your health and peace of mind!
Highly Recommended Vaccinations
Hepatitis A – A virus that can be contracted by eating contaminated food or water and through human contact via fecal matter. The risk of contracting hepatitis A is considerably higher if you are staying in unhygienic conditions, (i.e. if you are a hard-core traveler!)
Typhoid – Can be contracted through drinking unclean water and contaminated food. Again more likely to be contracted in crowded, unhygienic locations.
Tetanus – Contracted through cuts and scrapes, you will generally get tetanus shots as a child so check with your doctor to ensure that you are up to date with you booster shots.
Optional vaccinations depending on your circumstances:
Hepatitis B – Another strain of the Hepatitis virus that can be contracted through sexual intercourse, by sharing needles or when getting a tattoo. Discuss the risks with your medical practitioner prior to your trip, especially if you are considering getting a tattoo. In any event (as you would in any other country), ensure that you practice safe sex, don’t share needles (or do drugs at all!) and only get a tattoo in clean, licensed premises.
Malaria – Whilst there isn’t a vaccination against malaria it is important to discuss whether you will need anti-malarial tablets during your trip. Malaria is parasite that is transmitted via mosquitos and in extreme cases can be fatal. The coastline of Vietnam is considered safe and malaria free however there have been some isolated cases of malaria in remote inland areas.
Japanese Encephalitis – Generally this vaccine is only recommended if you are traveling in Vietnam for over a month and spending a lot of time in rural areas or paddy fields. Japanese Encephalitis is a viral brain infection spread by mosquitos. It is incredibly rare among travelers but worthwhile discussing with your doctor just in case.
Rabies – A virus that is spread through the saliva of animals (and humans) and often transmitted through bites or scratches. Again, rabies is very rare however you need to be aware that rabies is incurable and it is very expensive to get immediate medical attention if a suspected rabid animal bites you. This vaccine is especially recommended if you are working with animals. The vaccine does not prevent against rabies however it does afford a longer period after exposure to in which you can seek treatment.
Yellow Fever – There is no risk of yellow fever in Vietnam although if you are arriving from a country that does have yellow fever you must have a certificate of vaccination.
05. Budget & Currency
The official currency of Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong (VND) and at the time of writing (11/2016) the exchange rate is lUSD = 22.222VND(<*). The currency notes are: 1,000, 2,000, 5,000; 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, 100,000, 200.000 and the highest denomination is the 500.000 VND note. There are officially coins as well as notes however they are no longer used.
USD’s are widely accepted throughout Vietnam however be aware that the vendor doesn’t necessarily use the best exchange rate when converting from VND. For the best deal use VND where possible.
MasterCard and Visa are becoming more widely accepted in larger hotels and tourist areas and generally have a 3% surcharge. International banks and ATM’s are also appearing in busier locations however most have a maximum withdrawal amount of 2,000,000 VND (100ƯSD).
If you need to make multiple withdrawals using the ATM then be aware of the local charge, generally round 20,000VND (lUSD) per transaction. In addition you will no doubt have your own home bank transaction fees on top – these can soon add up.
There are places that you can cash travelers checks but they can be few and far between. If you are keen to travel without carrying cards or cash then a pre-paid card will probably be your best bet.
Stay Money Savvy:
- It is illegal for vendors to display their prices, or request payment in anything other than VND. So don’t feel pressured into paying in USD if you have VND.
- Make sure that you double check your change and count the zeros. It is not unheard of for vendors to return 5 x 2000 VND notes when the change is supposed to be 100,000 VND. If you get back to your hotel and find you have been cheated out of a few dollars then you have to smile, the world hasn’t ended and you certainly won’t make that mistake again! Don’t let it ruin your day!
- Torn notes (either USD or VND) are not accepted so be careful that vendors don’t try and palm off their torn notes as change on you, the unsuspecting tourist.
- Airports tend to offer poor exchange rates so only exchange a small amount at the airport and then withdraw larger quantities at the bank or ATM.
So the important question, how much money should you budget for your trip? How many more days/hours/minutes are you going to have to stay in work to afford this dream vacation? Well how long is a piece of string? It’s entirely dependent on how you want to travel.
The cost of living in Vietnam is exceptionally low in comparison to Western standards but of course if you want 5* luxury resorts and Champagne with every meal then you will have to increase your budget accordingly.
As a rule of thumb, if you are planning on staying in cheaper hotels and are happy to indulge in local food every now and again then around 30USD per day is a good figure to start at. This will give you enough for food, accommodation and travel, plus a little extra to treat yourself.
The joy of traveling is that some days are cheap – you chill on a beach eating 2USD worth of noodles all day and stay in a budget dormitory hostel. On other days you go wild, stay at a nice resort, take some trips and indulge in the lifestyle you could never afford at home. It all balances out!
Remember, apart from Cambodia and Laos nowhere else will accept VND so make sure that you exchange any money back to USD when you are at your departure airport. Alternatively, spend it all on the last few7 days of your trip and make it truly memorable!
Make sure you have a ‘slush fund’, a little extra money that you can dip into if you have an emergency or if you completely over run your budget. Failing that you will have get on the phone to the bank of mum and dad!
06. When to go
It’s hard to give a general weather forecast for a country with over 2000 miles of coastline and 3 totally different weather systems. Plus, when you are having the time of your life, who cares about a little rain?
If you don’t have the luxury of choosing when to go and your travel period is dictated by time off from work then don’t worry, most activities can be arranged around the weather.
If you do get to decide when you will be visiting Vietnam then make a list of things that are important for your itinerary and then decide what time would best suit you – for example if you really want to go hiking then avoid the very wet season and so on.
Far North (Sapa, Ha Giang …)
The mountainous far North of Vietnam is divided into two distinct seasons; the dry season runs from October to the end of March and the wet season from April to September.
If you are heading North to trek through the spectacular surroundings then the best time to go is September to November or March to May. During these periods you can expect daytime temperatures between 15°C and 28°C and night temperatures from 10°C to 18°C.
December and January tend have good trekking weather but can get very chilly at night, worth bearing in mind if you are considering overnight treks. If you are braving the cold then layers are key to keeping warm and a waterproof jacket and gaiters will keep you dry.
North (Hanoi, Halong Bay, Ninh Binh)
Northern Vietnam has definitive winter and summer seasons. The winter season from November to April is cool but mostly dry with temperatures averaging around 20°C but dropping to as low as 17°C between the months of January and March.
The summer season is hot, wet and humid with the highest rainfall between July and September. In extreme cases this weather can prevent some tourist trips taking place, this is especially true with the Halong Bay cruises. Central Coast (Hoi An, Hue, Nha Trang)
The center of Vietnam is generally hot and dry from the middle of January to the end of August with temperatures averaging around 35°C. Slightly further South is Nha Trang which generally has a slightly longer dry season from January to September.
The wet season is between October and November (early December in Nha Trang) with over half of the annual rainfall during these months and some severe typhoons.
The central highlands (the inland region of Vietnam) have their own distinct weather patterns. The best time visit is November to January when the temperature is mild, around io°C to 15°C but all of the flowers are blooming and the landscape is lush. February and March are also good times to visit and the weather is slightly warmer.
Rainy season begins in April and the rain is almost constant from June to August but tails off in September.
South ( City, Mekong Delta)
Temperatures remain fairly consistent year round with the main difference being the distinct wet and dry seasons. Dry season runs from November to early May and the wet season from May to November. June to August are generally the wettest months.
Far South (Phu Quoc)
The beaches in the far South of Vietnam usually have a bi-seasoned monsoon climate. The wet season runs from late July to late October and the rest of the year is generally dry. December and January tend to be dry but also fairly cold.
Yes Vietnam is cheap, yes you can find a doctor and get medicine for a few dollars and yes, travel insurance isn’t for REAL travelers…so why get it?
It’s true that you can easily find doctors or medicine for most minor ailments throughout Vietnam but the problem arises if you have a major accident or illness. If you suddenly find yourself with a serious injury you might not want to go to the local Vietnamese hospital – no matter how cheap it is! You will therefore be grateful for travel insurance that covers your entire private healthcare costs in the unlikely event that you need it.
The same with your possessions, a theft isn’t going to ruin your trip when you know that your belongings are covered by insurance and you can get the money back. Trust me, a theft really ruins your day if you lose your laptop and camera but don’t have insurance – you will kick yourself if you didn’t buy insurance!
There are various optional extras that you can have as part of your travel insurance. You can get cover if your flights are delayed or if your bag is lost in transit. You might need additional coverage if you are carrying electronic or expensive items. Ultimately travel insurance is well worth it, it’s one of the few things in life that you pay for and hope you are never going to get to use.
08. Organized Tours
For some people the thrill of planning is the best part of the trip. Others thrive on the excitement of simply having no plans and taking each day as it comes. On the other hand some travelers feel overwhelmed by the idea of traveling without solid plans or struggle to fit everything that they want to do into a set itinerary.
If you are one of the latter then an organized tour might be just the thing for you. The set itineraries and prices give you the security of knowing that your trip has already been organized and allow7 you to accurately budget.
Organized tours are also a great option if you don’t have anyone else to travel with and you don’t want to travel alone. This option allows you to meet like-minded travelers and enjoy a sociable experience without any fear of traveling solo.
There are thousands of organized tour companies available with great Vietnamese travel itineraries. The following companies offer fantastic, reliable and great value trips.
Try to reserve tours in advance, as they tend to book up quickly. There is a number on the site that you can call for a last minute booking if you are feeling inspired!
09. Pre Travel checklist
Now for the shortest and arguably most important chapter, before jetting off into the horizon just humor us (and your parents/family /friends) and quickly scan though this list to make sure that you have covered all the essentials.
- Check validity of your passport
- Book flights – arrival & departure
- Visit doctor to discuss vaccinations
- Arrange visa
- Buy insurance
- Take photocopies of your important documents (including passport)
- Download translation app
- Passport, travel & Insurance documents
- Suitcase/rucksack ideally with at least some of the items we recommended that you pack.
- Tissues (if you are going for a long while and plan on crying at the airport!)
- Booked the first few night accommodation