Helpful tips for your first trip to Vietnam – Visa, Currency, Transportation & more.
Visa: If you are not on a schedule, 2 weeks is NOT long enough in Vietnam – it does not cost a whole lot more, so why not apply for the one month visa. Since February 2017, you can get a 1 month, 3 month or 6 month e-visa online which simplifies the process. Visa extension is extremely difficult, so do not cheap out!
Please note, many countries can not apply online, rather they must apply in advance. Check this easy information map by Gorden Cheng to see which visa policy applies to your country.
Getting In / Arrival – Airlines will not let you board your flight to Vietnam if you do not have a ticket back out again. Were you hoping to wing it? Again, make sure you have a ticket out of Vietnam, even if you book a cheap bus ticket out or flight where the date can be changed or cancelled if you need to change dates/stay longer.
Before getting in the customs immigration lineup, make sure you have completed your landing visa at the counter to the left. Then proceed to immigration line.
Pre- visa internet application is not always necessary, but probably safer. We spoke with many people who come and go often and never do it. They simply arrive, get application papers which we saw on the counter, and fill out at the airport arrival area. Make sure, if you choose to take the risk, to have passport photos with you to speed the process. We saw a lot of people waiting to get photos taken and processed.
Tip: book flights at least 4 days out for best prices!?
Airport bathrooms are extremely dirty and do not have toilet paper. Always carry a packet of kleenex tissues for this purpose!
SIM Card: Swap out your SIM card for a Vietnamese SIM for easy phone access, ordering Uber, google maps, etc. Make sure your phone is unlocked or it will not work. I use a cheap, unlocked, second phone to do the job. That way you can have a travel phone with all the apps you may want to have / need, ie. Skyscanner, Maps, Uber, etc.
SIM cards can be bought at the airport or at any official store. You simply point to your phone, they show you some options, you choose and pay, they install. Easy! Note: You will need to show your passport for registration. The speed is fast and the card is quite affordable. There are basically 3 carriers: Mobifone, Viettel, Vinamobile and Vinaphone. We used Mobifone, simply because it was the first one we saw at the airport; it worked seamlessly. Tip: Make sure the card functions before walking away!
SE Asia air travel in general is extremely stressful; people are very pushy and do not understand the concept of a line or waiting their turn. This is a cultural difference, so be aware and have patience!
Currency: The currency used in Vietnam is Vietnamese Dong. That being said, they will often accept USD$, but be prepared to pay a considerable amount more due to a poor exchange rate.
Bank ATM machines in airport did not work when we arrived in Ho Chi Minh city – none of them ?. So many travellers were frantically running from machine to machine trying to get money. Tip: Have some backup cash, just in case. Not a large amount, but enough to get to the next bank machine.
Language: Vietnamese – It seems most locals speak NO English, not even in tourist places – everything works with pointing, calculators and smiles. Remember, you are in their country – either learn how to speak Vietnamese or have patience. Be happy when you find the few who do speak some English and remember a little praise goes a long way, as does a smile.
Transportation: We found the Uber system to function fantastic! Alternatives include taxi, bus, airplane, train and of course, buy or renting a motorbike. We met a few people who bought a motorbike at the beginning of their trip and sold it to the next tourist at the end!
Embassies and Consulates: EmbassyPages.com – Complete listing of worldwide representations with clickable links to address, contact numbers and names, email and website.
Tip: Take smart phone pictures of your health insurance, passport, visa, credit cards, drivers licence, health card and Embassy contact info. Save to an emergency folder (and cloud) so you have quick access to everything.
– be friendly and patient and you will discover wonderful people
– Food is mostly Pho (delicious soups), noodles, rice and seafood/fish
– Prices are very good
– Beautiful scenery and landscapes
– Cities are advanced and offer every need and travel level (backpacker to luxury)
– Lots of history, therefore many museums – however, be prepared for their side of the story
– Visa problems (addressed above) – prepare for a longer stay if you have the possibility, otherwise you must leave
– Carry serviettes / wet wipes / tissues with you – so many restaurants do not have them, or make you pay for them! Also handy for washroom break.
– Credit cards are NOT widely accepted
– Keep someone you trust back home updated as to your whereabouts. A quick Whatsapp or messenger update is a great way to accomplish this without driving everyone nuts.
I have said it before, but it bares repeating. In general, southeast Asia airport bathrooms are extremely dirty and it is common there is no toilet paper. Air travel in this region is extremely stressful; people are crazy and pushy - they butt in lines, push, walk through you, pick noses, belch, and more. Ok, got that off my chest! The main thing to remember is this is an adventure. Cultural differences is what keep the travel bug alive. If we were all the same, there would be no need to travel!
Four days into our stay on Phu Quoc island, we discovered the restaurant Quan Oc Bin Dan 30K while searching for traditional Vietnamese food with a good price. And this is where we ate every night after!