Vietnam | Travel Guide with Practical Info
Vietnam, once occupied by China, France and invaded by a variety of other countries throughout the years, is a country whose history is largely based on wars, survival and rebellion. But it is also a country that, from North to South, offers us breathtaking landscapes and unforgettable memories. From the rice fields in the North to the beaches in the South, Vietnam does not cease to amaze us no matter how long we spend there.
Vietnam is located in Southeast Asia and is bordered to the north by China and west by Laos and Cambodia. Its capital is Hanoi, in the north of the country.
Language in Vietnam
The official language of Vietnam is Vietnamese. Due to the French occupation of the country until 1946, French is spoken as a second language by the older generations and by the educated population of the South. However English, although not spoken fluently, is also generally spoken by people linked to the tourism.
Some basic phrases / words in Vietnamese:
- Yes = vâng / dúng / da (ya)
- No = không
- Hello = Xin chào
- How much is this? = Cái này giá bao nhiêu?
- Excuse me = Xin lỗi
- Thank you very much = Cảm ơn ông (m) / Cảm ơn bà (f)
This short video may help you with the pronunciation of the sentences / words:
In general, the months from September to December (Autumn) and March to April (Spring) are the best times to visit Vietnam with milder weather and temperatures.
Below is some more detailed information on the climate in Vietnam throughout the year:
January to March:
- Light rain in the North of Vietnam and hot and dry weather in the Center and South of the country;
- Average temperatures: Hanoi and Halong Bay (north) – 15 to 22ºC; Hue and Hoi An (center) – 22 and 32ºC; Ho Chi Minh City and Nha Trang (south) – 28 to 35°C;
- Plenty of festivals. Example: Festival Tet that marks the new Vietnamese year and the arrival of spring based on the lunar calendar. It lasts for 3 days starting on 19/20 January.
April to June:
- The weather during these months is somewhat unpredictable being the passage from spring to summer. As the month of June approaches temperatures begin to rise as well as humidity.
- The center of the country remains humid with mild temperatures until May while the south reaches already high temperatures with a dry climate.
- The period from 30 April to 2 May is a good time to visit Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi, corresponding to the commemoration of the North and South Vietnam meeting. Many families travel to other areas of the country for a mini-vacation, reducing the traffic and the usual chaos of these cities.
July to early September:
- The height of the year in which Vietnamese families go on vacation, so the more touristy beach and mountain areas like Halong Bay, Sapa, Danang, Nha Trang or Phu Quoc have a higher number of tourists and higher prices.
- Hot and humid weather with occasional thunderstorms at night.
End of September to December:
- It is the best time to visit Northern Vietnam, such as Hanoi, Sapa or Halong Bay, with a dry climate, clear skies and a weak wind with temperatures dropping until December.
- On the other hand, it is not the best time to visit the South or Center of the country that are affected by constant and strong rains.
Money in Vietnam
The official currency in Vietnam is the Dong (VND). Click here to check the rate: Exchange rate. Many places accept international currencies like dollar (in clean notes) but you will have to subject them to the exchange rates imposed by the merchant in question. I advise that you always use the local currency.
There are ATMs scattered throughout the country in large cities and in the most touristy areas that normally accept major international bank cards (MASTERCARD, VISA, …). In addition to the fee that is usually charged to you by your bank when you make withdrawals abroad, when you use an ATM in Vietnam you will be charged an additional fee.
It is easy enough to exchange money in Vietnam, and I suggest you do it there instead of taking Dongs de Portugal (or Brazil). You can do so as soon as you arrive at the airport (I suggest you do it here only if you have to be and change a small amount since rates are never the best), in hotels (here the exchange rates are not usually the same as best), in official banks or exchange offices. I usually carry a considerable amount with me (always divided by the luggage) that I am changing in the destination.
Debit and credit cards are accepted at various locations throughout Vietnam, however be aware that you will be charged an additional fee that is normally 3% to 4%.
Tips are not part of Vietnamese culture so you will not have to give them. A service fee is already included in the account in certain locations.
- Meal in a local restaurant: 30.000 to 60.000 VND
- Meal in a tourist restaurant: 200.000 to 500.000 VND
- Taxi (rate/km): 10.000 to 16.000 VND
- Xe-Om / moto-taxi (rate/km): 8.000 to 10.000 VND
- Bus ticket (within the country): 4 to 50 EUR
- Train ticket (within the country): 5 to 60 USD
- Water Bottle 1,5lt: 9.000 to 15.000 VND
- Low-budget Accommodation (hostels and guesthouses): 4 to 25 EUR
- Low-budget (guesthouses and middle range hotels): 25 to 35 EUR
- Visa on Arrival: To obtain a Visa upon arrival in Vietnam through one of the international airports, it is always necessary to request a letter of pre-approval from one of the many agents available online. From experience, I recommend using Vietnam-Visa.com. The letter is sent by email within a maximum of 2 days, and it always worked out perfect for me. If you enter the country by land, the Visa must be obtained from an Embassy or Consulate of Vietnam abroad.
- Validity: 30 to 90 days.
- Fees: USD 21 (letter of approval for simple visa) + USD 25 (visa at the airport)
- Visa extension: The Visa extension must be requested at least 7 working days before the end of the current Visa. An additional stay of 30 or 90 days may be granted, depending on the type of Visa initially obtained.
- Required documents: Passport valid for more than 6 months + letter of pre-approval + 2 photos type pass
Transportation in Vietnam
There will be no lack of transportation alternatives in Vietnam. Within the cities you can choose between the taxi, the xe-om (moto-taxi), the cyclo (rickshaw) or the buses. To travel between cities you will have the choice of bus, train, plane or private cars. Personally I prefer to move within the country by night bus whenever possible. I may eventually get a domestic flight when the travel time is a bit tighter. Below you will find some extra information about each mode of transport so that you can get a more precise idea of what will be right for you.
In Vietnam there is the Open Bus that allows you to travel in a reasonably comfortable way (seats that turn into semi-beds) throughout the country, leaving and entering the main cities / towns where you are going. I advise you to opt for the night buses that allow you to save time and money in accommodation. One word of advice: avoid the seats in the back because the smell that comes from the toilet can be quite disgusting (been there …). You can buy the tickets from one of the many local travel agents scattered throughout Vietnam.
Traveling by train in Vietnam allows you to travel more comfortably (especially in air-conditioned coaches) and to enjoy the views along the way. However it ends up limiting you a bit more because the train does not reach all the cities / locations in your route. Often you will have to opt for the bus. There are 4 types of tickets: hard sleeper, soft sleeper, hard seat, soft seat, and each will have the alternative with or without ac. The hard sleeper ticket gives you access to a 6-bed cabin where the beds above (upper berth) are cheaper than the lower berth. The soft sleeper to a cabin with 4 beds, being the same prices regardless of the location of the bed. You can book tickets and check schedules directly through the Vietnam Railways website or the Baolau website (easier), 60-90 days in advance.
In case you have a tight travel time in Vietnam, you can always choose to take domestic flights. You will have your choice of low cost airlines like Vietjet, Jetstar or AirAsia. Prices range from USD 30 to USD 150 depending on distances, airlines and destinations. Here is the list of the main airports in Vietnam: Airport List.
How to get there
Check the prices of flights to Vietnam here: Flights to Vietnam
Gastronomy | What to Eat
Vietnam has one of the richest and most delicious cuisines in Southeast Asia. From the famous Pho (the noodles soup) to the Goi Cuon (rice crepes) and the popular Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwich, there are many dishes that make Vietnam’s cuisine famous. Click the link below to see a Top 10 of the best typical Vietnamese dishes.
What to see in Vietnam
Hanoi is, along with Ho Chi Minh City, one of the main gateways in Vietnam. In the second largest city in the country, it is still possible to witness traces of French and Chinese occupations through the architecture of its old buildings. It is a lively city, easy to walk and to get lost in its busy streets.
Do you want to get lost in magnificent landscapes filled with green rice fields, spend nights in villages of local tribes and days in unforgettable trekking adventures? Then Sapa, a night train journey away from Hanoi, is the destination for you.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Halong Bay is a must-see destination for a trip to Vietnam. Its name “Halong Bay” means “Bay of the dragon that descended on the sea”. Legend says that the 3000 thousand islands of Halong Bay were created by a dragon that lived in the mountains. As it descended toward the sea, it scraped its tail on the rocks and opened craters and valleys. When it diped, these craters and valleys were filled with water leaving only a few rocks exposed. It’s worth the visit. It is best to purchase a tour in advance that includes transportation to Halong Bay, boat accommodation and other activities.
Rice fields, caves, traces of French and Chinese occupation and towering mountains crossed by a river, mark the landscape in Ninh Binh. What to visit: Trang An (for boat trips between mountains and caves), Hoa Lu (the ancient capital of Vietnam in the X and XI centuries), Bai Dinh Temple, among others.
Phong Nha National Park
Named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Phong Nha National Park is home to numerous caves, among them two of the largest in the world. Rivers and subterranean lakes and caves that could accommodate all of Manhattan are just a few of the attractions that make Phong Nha a destination not to be missed on a trip to Vietnam.
Hue used to be the capital of Vietnam until 1945. It was the setting of conflicts during the Vietnam War but managed to become one of the most interesting cultural and historical centers of the country. It is possible to visit several buildings of great historical and cultural relevance here, such as the Citadel, Thien Mu Pagoda or Long An Palace.
This is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in Southeast Asia. I´ve already been there twice and I’m sure I’ll be back again one of these days. The green rice fields that surround it, the Old Town filled with old merchant houses perfectly preserved to this day, the Japanese bridge and the restaurants and bars by the river contribute to the enormous charm of this city.
This coastal town is one of the top beach tourist destinations in Vietnam. It is sought after by its beaches of crystal clear water, excellent diving conditions, but also by its urban and lively environment.
A unique climate and architecture, a rich historical and cultural heritage and inumerous sites of outstanding natural beauty make Dalat one of the most sought after locations in Vietnam. The remnants of the French occupation are everywhere, and some say it looks like a mixture between Vietnam and the French Alps.
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
The largest city in Vietnam, also known as Saigon (its former name), is a vibrant place. It resembles more the ambiance of Western cities, with its shopping centers filled with world-renowned brands, top restaurants and hotels, skyscrapers and a vibrant, cosmopolitan lifestyle.
Con Dao Islands
Once used as a prison (during French occupation), these islands are now one of the top beach destinations in Vietnam. An archipelago made up of 16 islands, Con Son being the largest island. Practically deserted paradisiacal beaches, mountains covered by abundant vegetation and secret lagoons make Con Dao a destination to be included in a trip through Vietnam.