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It’s safe to say that Vietnam was a complete shock to the system. Coming from laidback Pai in Thailand to a fast-paced bustling city, I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t exactly do to much research beforehand. However, Vietnam is so easy to make friends with other travelers, interact with locals, learn the culture and is very accessible to get around. These are some of the key things that you should know before embarking on your Vietnamese adventure.
If you want to stay longer than 15 days then you’ll need to apply for a Visa beforehand (be prepared for visa queues). This might be one of the obvious things to research before heading to a new country. My brother seemed to think that he could sort it all out at the border (he lives in his own little bubble). The night before his flight, he was stressing over paperwork trying to sort out a fast-track visa for himself. Make sure you use the government website as there are many scams and fake sites that claim to do the same visa process. Tip- make sure you have enough dollars to pay for your visa.
The Vietnamese currency is Dong. They do however accept US Dollars within most parts of the country. This is the only time in my life that I have become a millionaire overnight and getting a grip on all those zeros was very challenging, to say the least. Bear in mind that some ATMs will only let you take out a million dong at a time.
Vietnam is so easy to travel around & the most popular mode of transportation is the sleeper bus. (which is a lot more luxurious than I anticipated). We’ve all heard the horror stories about overnight buses but it’s always an adventure. I was completely surprised that they were a lot more comfortable compared to other night buses in South East Asia. A lot of travelers, tend to rent out scooters/motorbikes to get around. As a complete novice, I know it would not have ended well, nonetheless, they are very accessible. (be sure you don’t get ripped off & take photos prior of you using them).
Motorbikes are Everywhere
If you’re arriving in Hanoi it is definitely a shock to the system. Especially when it comes to crossing the road for the first time. You have to step out, don’t hesitate and the scooters/motorbikes will maneuver around you. (the first time I closed my eyes & hoped for the best). I was completely blown away with the sheer amount of things/people they could actually fit on them (very impressive).
This leads to my next piece of advice which is that you’re going to have to learn to deal with the honking. This is how drivers communicate with one and other and they are completely aware of the other vehicle’s whereabouts by doing this. There is some sort of system to it but to me, it looks like organized chaos.
Hoh Chi Min or Saigon?
Hoh Chi Min & Saigon are the same places. Yes, there are two names for the same city. I was completely baffled the first time I learned this as I genuinely thought they were two separate places. However, this is a sensitive matter referring back to the Vietnam War which is an interesting educational part of their culture that you should take the time to learn.
They DO Eat Dog
In the rural parts of Vietnam, they do eat dog, however, there is a complete misconception when it comes to this as they still have them as pets & don’t go stealing them off the street to put them on the daily specials of their restaurants. Keep in mind that this is their culture but to give you a heads up, I was told to avoid the word ‘Thit Cho’.
Research some of the scams that happen in the cities. It’s always good to have a heads up on some of the notorious scams of Vietnam especially when it comes to the cities. Do your research and you’ll know what to look out for. It’s mostly common sense but remember as a foreigner in a new country you’re an easy target. There are people ready and waiting to take advantage of this. Read my post on travel scams to look out for in South East Asia here.
Try out the pho. This is one of Vietnam’s most popular noodle dishes and even for a fussy eater like me, it’s pretty darn good. Ask any traveler and they will tell you the best thing about Vietnam is the food. Most of it contains little calories and hardly any fat. The street food here is the freshest you will ever get as it’s cooked on the spot. Although you do have to cop a squat on the smallest plastic chairs. It’s all part of the experience but also their culture and if the Vietnamese are eating there, then you know the food is going to be good.
Avoid Tap Water at all costs!
Even the Vietnamese do so that has to be a sign! Bottled water is available everywhere and it is critically important you drink enough of it. In regards to ice, most restaurants have it bought in, however, use with caution as the last thing you want is to be getting sick when your traveling.
Get ready to Haggle!
Like any other place in South East Asia, you can pretty much haggle for just about anything. Please do not take the first price offered and don’t be intimidated as it’s all part of the cultural experience. It’s always great to brush up on your negotiating skills. My currency converter was my best friend when it came to buying and negotiating. Just bear in mind they are trying to make a living for their families so have a laugh with them and don’t take things to personal.
Be prepared for rain. Even though it is hot and humid the weather is seasonal. Especially south of Vietnam where the rainy season is between April and September with a tropical climate and my god when it rains, you could probably swim/snorkel in it. I would definitely recommend getting a poncho and maybe from experience to avoid any motorbike tours when there’s a tropical thunderstorm outside.
Wi-Fi is pretty much everywhere
It’s easy to get a SIM-only plan within the more tourist areas and there are numerous Wi-Fi hotspots. From coffee shops to restaurants to hotels and even beauty parlors, you can easily stay connected, however, you might have some trouble in some of the more rural areas of the country like Sapa.
Can you think of any more tips that you would recommend to other travelers before heading to Vietnam? Share them in a comment and help our fellow travels get prepared for their traveling adventure to this awesome country.