Where to go. What to eat. What to do. Things you should know before your trip to Vietnam.
No matter what visions Vietnam may conjure up in your mind, this beautiful corner of South East Asia is so much more than you can ever imagine. Landscapes that vary from beautiful coasts to tropical forests, quaint villages and skyscrapers, a rich and fascinating culture and history, gentle and kind-hearted people… and of course, delicious food… Vietnam has it all and so much more.
After my trip to Vietnam, I decided to put together a handy, in-depth guide (that I wish I had before my trip) to save you hours of unnecessary research and to help you get the most out of your visit. Read on to discover all the essentials you need to know before your trip and to help you with your planning.
Always check the visa requirements and whether you need one or not. The easiest option to apply for a visa, is to visit the official website and apply for it online. Simply fill out the online form, wait for around three days to get your approval, print it and bring it with you. See: https://evisa.xuatnhapcanh.gov.vn/trang-chu-ttdt
I didn’t need a visa for Vietnam because I have Russian citizenship which allows me a visa-free visit for a stay of not longer than 15 days.
Vietnam is a very large country, and temperatures vary a lot from north to south. In general, temperatures in the north of the country are cooler than the south, so if you plan on visiting the northern region, don’t forget to pack a jacket, wear layers and if you’re going during the rainy season, include a raincoat. Definitely don’t over pack though, as Vietnam is a very affordable country and you can pick up a plastic raincoat for around $1. Like all South East Asian countries, the weather here is generally hot and humid. During the dry season, you’ll escape the rain and the tourists and prices will be lower (which is something you may want to consider when planning when to visit). It will however be very hot, and many of the waterfalls will be dried up.
The local currency is the Dong, which makes everything very cheap. You will be a millionaire here J. Always be careful when you’re paying and check how many zeros the bill has (as a lot of people won’t tell you if you made a mistake).
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My personal experience was that 80% of people, no matter their age, don’t speak English. And here I’m talking about the streets, local shops, cafes, local restaurants and markets. (Of course in places like hostels, tour agencies, and more popular high-end restaurants, English is widely spoken.) It was very hard to get by with English as a common language, so don’t forget to download Google Translate … it will be your best friend and you’ll get to learn some basic phrases!
Vietnam is very safe country to visit and you should not be worried your personal safety in general. As a solo female traveller, I had no problems. Of course, being a tourist, be aware of scams as they’re very popular in South East Asian countries.
There are no obligatory vaccinations, however, many people recommend tetanus and hepatitis shots and taking typhoid pills before going to Vietnam. I didn’t, as I didn’t have any time before my trip.
The internet connection is pretty great throughout the main cities of Vietnam but is sketchy in Sapa, so you shouldn’t rely on that.
You can find sim cards wherever you go. There are so many different plans and operators that you can choose from. My suggestion is to do your research online depending on how long and how much data you need. I bought Vietnamobile sim card with 4G of data for $7 which was valid for one month. As I was tired and didn’t feel like shopping around, I simply bought it from my hostel, but I’m sure that you can find better plans out on the street.
1.The most popular advised option for travelling through Vietnam is to buy a motorbike in either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City and sell it in the last city that you are going to visit. You can find a bike for around $150-200. Since I was traveling by myself, I was not comfortable driving a motorcycle through Vietnam (considering that I’ve never tried it!). The average price for renting a motorbike in Vietnam is $5 a day. Theoretically, you need an international driving license to drive it legally.
2.My other options were bus or train and I opted to use the bus to move around. Bus and train systems are a very convenient and cheap way of moving from city to city. You can find vendors selling bus tickets everywhere on the streets, especially around touristy areas. I bought an “Open bus ticket” (I’ll explain more about it later). Just don’t forget to bring your snacks and toilet paper. I can’t comment on the train system as I didn’t use it, but have a look at https://www.seat61.com/Vietnam.htm. which has more information about the train system in Vietnam.
3.Also, don’t forget to check out local airlines as they can also have very affordable options. For example, when I needed transport to get from Nha Trang to Da Nang, I had two options: either to take a 10-hour train ride for $40, or a one-hour flight for $23.
4.For getting around the cities, use the Grab app as it’s the easiest way to hail a taxi. It’s amazing because it will show you the estimated price of your ride, so that you know how much you should pay for a bike or a taxi (as overcharging is a very popular scam). You can use this app throughout the whole of South East Asia.
Open Bus Ticket
The Open Bus ticket allows you to travel between all the main cities in Vietnam and is available from most tourist agencies. If you don’t want to chance riding a motorbike yourself or don’t like train travel, this will be your best option. You choose which cities you want to visit, and that’s it. The dates stay open for one month, and you just have to call one day in advance to book your seat. The price will always be lower with the Open Bus ticket, rather than buying each ticket separately.
This is an example photo of the company that I used:
TIP: Be sure to book your tickets as soon as you know when you want to travel between which cities because you can only use buses available from the company that you bought your ticket from. On two occasions the bus that I wanted to book was full, and I had to spend an extra night in one place, waiting for the next available seat.
You can easily find very affordable options on Agoda.com, Booking.com, Airbnb or Hostelworld. In every city I visited, I was able to find hostels for $2-4 a night. Keep in mind that they are very basic, so the price that you will pay depends on your needs. If you are traveling with someone, you can easily find a comfortable room for $10-20 a night, which is a great option when you’re on a budget.
I stayed in:
Ho Chi Minh City – “Vintage” which was a very nice hostel in a great location and “Aloha Saigon” which I can’t recommend as it’s pretty dirty and has a lot of bed bugs.
Mui Ne – “Mui Ne Hills Backpackers” has nice pools and a bar; the only downside is that they turn off the A/C from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day.
Dalat – “Smiley Backpacker” has a great location, low price and the staff here were amazing.
Nha Trang – “iHome Hostel” has a good location, working A/C in the room, very clean, has a rooftop bar and the staff here were very friendly.
Hoi An – “Serendipity Hostel” located near Hoi An Old Quarter, has beautiful yard area.
FOOD: WHAT TO EAT IN VIETNAM
As in most countries in South East Asia, you just have to try the local street food. It’s always the best in places which don’t even look like restaurants or cafés… in fact, they’re usually just food carts surrounded by small plastic tables and chairs. Typically they offer 2 to 3 dishes and most dishes will vary in price between 20,000- 50,000 VND, which is very cheap. If in doubt, check where the locals are eating!
Banh Mi is probably the most popular sandwich in Vietnam. They sell it all over the country, in restaurants, cafes and on the streets. It’s a very delicious local baguette with pork, pate, local herbs like mint and coriander, chili paste and sometimes fresh veggies.
Banh Mi Op La is served with a fried egg.
Banh Mi Chay is a vegetarian option.
Pho is another very popular local dish to try while you’re here and it’s sold on every corner, in every city in Vietnam. It’s simply a noodle soup with either beef, chicken, fish, seafood and vegetables. Pho is usually served with fresh mint, sprouts, lime and chili which you can add according to your taste. It’s very cheap and delicious and surprisingly cooling on a very hot day.
Banh Xeo is an amazing Vietnamese pancake which is made out of rice flour, coconut milk, and turmeric. The original recipe is made with shrimp, pork, green onions, and bean sprouts but of course, you can find it in different variations. It is served with greens and rice paper on the side. You have to break a piece of pancake and layer it with some mint and lettuce on rice paper. Roll it and dip in the sweet and sour dip. It’s the best creation ever! Some places even serve Banh Xeo with fruit as a desert, and it’s equally tasty.
Banh Can probably became my favorite dish after I tried it in Dalat. I loved all the other foods, but this one is very different… so you’ll have to try it for yourself!
Goi Cuon are the fresh spring rolls made from rice paper, lettuce, noodles and pork, shrimp or tofu, which Vietnam is so well-known for. They’re served with flavorful peanut sauce for dipping.
Mi Xao (with meat or vegetarian) is made from yellow noodles, which can be stir-fried or in a soup.
Banh Bao is another small snack which will cost you around $0,50. It’s originally from from China, but it’s something you should try – especially if you love barbecued pork!
Bun Cha is another noodle dish and this one is served with grilled pork and a lot of herbs.
Nom Hoa Chuoi is an exotic banana flower salad with lime.
Rau Muong Xao Toi is a great side dish of stir-fried Morning glory (similar to pak choy) with garlic.
Peach Iced Tea
Vietnamese Coffee – Try Egg Coffee and Coconut cream coffee
Sugar Cane Juice
Sura Dau Nanh – Soy Milk
Again, every person’s budget will be different and it depends on so many factors: eating street food or at high-end restaurants; staying in hostels or luxury hotels. You could opt for the cheapest transportation or the most comfortable private taxis. In general, all countries in South East Asia are very easy for budget traveling. Have a look at my example spending as a solo traveler:
|Ho Chi Minh City||$5 / night, $2.5 / night x2||$10 per day||$19 Bus to Saigon from Kampot||$5 Cu Chi Tunnels $2 War Museum_x000D_|
$2 Independence Palace_x000D_
|$10 Cu Chi Tunnels & Cao Dai Temple; $11 Mekong Delta|
|Mui Ne||$2 / night||$5 per day||$28 Open Bus Ticket (Mui Ne-Dalat-Nha Trang-Hoi An)||$4 Muin Ne Tour|
|Dalat||$2 / night||$6 per day||$2.60 Cable Car_x000D_|
$0.86 Elephant Waterfall_x000D_
$2.56 Roller Coaster_x000D_
|$25 Easy Rider Tour|
|Nha Trang||$4 / night||$6 per day||$1-2 per ride||$4 Ba Ho Waterfall||$25 taxi both ways|
PLACES TO VISIT:
- Ho Chi Minh (Saigon)
- Mui Ne
- Nha Trang
- Hoi An
- Da Nang
- Hue & Phong Hna National Park
- Ninh Binh
- Halong Bay
- Phu Quoc Island
HO CHI MINH CITY:
Even though it’s not the capital of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, as it was previously known is the busiest, most bustling and modern city in the country. Depending on your interests, you’ll find something to entertain you here. You can visit a lot of high-end restaurants, cafes and rooftop bars, as well as eat at the local night market. Those with more cultural interests will find the museums and exhibits fascinating — and it will give you an important insight into the history of the locals. Visit Buu Long Pagoda, War Remnants Museum, Independence Palace, Ben Tanh Street Food Market and Bitexco Financial Tower. The famous Cu Chi Tunnels (shown in all the war movies) and beautiful Cao Dai Temple can be visited as a day trip too, but skip going into the tunnel if you’re claustrophobic. However, I wouldn’t suggest staying here for too long as in my opinion, Vietnam has a lot more to offer. I spent three full days here, and it was enough for me. Also you can do a Mekong Delta trip from here.
This small, touristy, coastal town is in the south of Vietnam. I made a quick stop here on my way to Dalat and found that a day and a half was enough to appreciate what it had to offer. The main attraction is the beach and the White and Red Sand Dunes, fishing village and Fairy Stream is worth a visit. Mui Ne is popular with Russian tourists as almost everything is translated into Russian.
TIP: Doing the dunes tour to watch the sunrise was definitely worth it. The tour started at 4 a.m., and we came back to the hostel around 9 a.m. Keep in mind that it can get very hot during the day.
I loved Dalat so much that I even wrote a separate blog post about it! This beautiful, small city is surrounded by green mountain peaks, flowers, and coffee plantations. The weather here is so much cooler and is great for walking around in, even during the summer months.
If touristy crowds are not your thing (it’s something I escape on my travels), then I wouldn’t recommend spending more than one day here. Nha Trang has become a very popular beach destination, especially among Russian tourists. It offers snorkeling, island hopping, sunbathing on the beach, day trips to waterfalls, and mud baths – but not a lot of the real Vietnam experience. You can also go visit Long Son Pagoda and Ba Ho Waterfall. Just don’t go to the waterfall at the end of the dry season (May-June) as it will be dried up. You can also go to have some fun in Vinapearl Waterpark.
Hoi An is another of my favorite cities in Vietnam, and one that I would go back to. It’s charming and feels authentic with it’s yellow colored buildings, lantern boat rides and local market at night. Hoi An is definitely a must-visit place and should be part of any Vietnam itinerary. Explore Hoi An’s beautiful Old Quarter including Japanese Bridge, Assembly Halls, Tan Ky House and Museum of Folk Culture. Ride a bicycle through the countryside visiting Herb Gardens of Tra Que and Water coconut groves of Cam Thanh. Take a ferry to Cham Islands. Also, another very popular thing to do in Hoi An is to get custom made clothes and suites as they’re cheap and high quality. In the end, don’t forget to sit in a cute coffee shop and just enjoy the atmosphere.
My Son Sanctuary
The Marble Mountains
Chua Linh Ung
THINGS TO DO:
TIP: The tourist industry is pretty well-developed in Vietnam. You can find tour agencies selling bus tickets and different tours everywhere. I suggest that you don’t pre-book your tours online, as they are almost always more expensive that way. Just go to several tour agencies near you and check out the price there.
Ha Giang Motorbike Loop
This beautiful ride to the north of the country, is a must if you have more time to spend. It offers amazing views all the way and will leave you astonished by Vietnam’s natural beauty.
Head to Hanoi’s Morning Markets to be a part of a very local experience and to feel a part of their everyday lives. Quang Ba Flower Market is the biggest flower market in Hanoi. Long Bien Market is the place where you can buy fresh produce. They open at 2 am till midday.
Train Street in Hanoi:
Original train tracks run through the city street, and a train passes by a few times a day. Such a cool experience to see how, after the train passes, it looks as if nothing happened!
Watch a Water puppet show
If you have a free evening, check out a local theater to watch a traditional water puppet show.
Of course, don’t forget about doing a cooking class or going on a food tour – Vietnamese food is something you’ll be craving when you get home.
Day trips (depending on how much time you have in Vietnam):
Marble Mountains in Danang
To get there, you can catch a bus, ride a motorbike or book a tour.
Cruise Halong Bay:
Probably the most popular activity in Vietnam because it’s truly an out of this world place and a must see. You can book a tour and sail on a boat through the rock formations.
Hike to Poem Mountain
Explore the caves in Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park
Son Doong Cave is the world’s largest cave but in order to get there, you have to hike for a whole day and spend the night there. Paradise cave is a great option if you don’t have enough time to sleep in the Son Doong Cave.
Canyoning Tour in Dalat
Imperial City of Hue
Rooftop bars in Ho Chi Minh city
Cooking class in Hoi An (I found that they are cheaper there)
Go to War Museum & Cu Chi Tunnels
Cai Rang Floating Market (take a bus from Ho Chi Minh City to Can Tho City or book a tour)
Explore Phu Quoc Island
Mekong Delta Trip
Sandboarding in Mui Ne
Drive Hai Van Pass
Sapa is a town in the northern part of Vietnam. Traveling up north is well worth it to give you a real feel for rural Vietnam. It’s a great way to enjoy the rice terraces and beautiful mountains, and to see how the locals live.