When to visit?
Vietnam is a tropical country, which is why the weather is quite humid and warm. Because of differences in latitude and the marked variety in topographical relief, the climate in Vietnam tends to vary considerably from place to place so you need to be prepared and chose the right region to travel for best experience.
Nothern Vietnam: best to travel from December - April
Southern Vietnam: best to travel from November - March
Central Vietnam: best to travel from February - May
Where to go?
There're many places to visits in Vietnam, it all comes down to personal taste, here are a few places that are voted as must-see by foreign visitors:
Hạ Long Bay - designated a World Heritage site in 1994, Halong Bay's scatter of islands' Vietnam number one tourism hub.
Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park - A national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site, noted for its cave and grotto systems as it is composed of 300 caves and grottos. The most famous is Sơn Đoòng, the largest known cave passage in the world by volume .
Other recommended tourist spots are: Old town Hội An, Củ Chi tunnels, Mekong Delta, Phu Quoc island... And some of the most visited cities are Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Nha Trang, Da Nang, Da Lat...
Accommodation in Vietnam is quite cheap overall. Hostels start around 100,000 VND (~$5) per night for the most basic accommodation. For a nicer place, you can pay almost double. Private rooms will cost about 500,000 VND (~$25) per night for a double room. For a budget hotel with a double bed the price is around 225,000 VND (~$10) per night. Most hostels/hotels will usually include free WiFi and free breakfast. Image source: vietnambackpackerhostels
The price will go up and down depends on when you're visiting so try to book in advance to get the best price possible.
What to eat?
Recommended food in Vietnam: Phở, Bánh Mì (Sandwiches), Gỏi cuốn (Vietnamese spring rolls), Cơm Tấm (Vietnamese broken rice with pork), Chả cá (Vietnamese fishball) ...
You can get a bowl of pho or most street foods for around 20,000 - 40,000 VND (~$1 - $2). Most sit-down restaurants are also inexpensive at around 45,000-95,000 VND (~$2 - $4). The fancier (and more touristy) the restaurant, the more expensive. Western food will also be more expensive.
For those looking to cook their own meals, expect to pay about 400,000 VND per week for basic groceries per person. Be sure to shop at the local markets to get the cheapest and freshest food.
That being said, food is so cheap in Vietnam, that it's simply easier, and often cheaper to just eat the street food.
Traveling on your own, especially on long distant trips is not recommended if it's your first time in Vietnam. The traffic here is quite chaotic and dangerous if you're not used to it.
Best choice to travel between cities would be using low cost airlines like Vietjet or Jestar with quite good price if you don't have much luggage with you. Or you can chose some popular, trusted private bus names for a bit more affordable trips. If you have time to spare, you can also try the train. Traveling by train may not be a cost-effective or timesaving choice, but you can take your time enjoying the picturesque landscape of Vietnamese countryside at a leisurely pace. It also is the safest choice amongst all the possible options.
For traveling inside cities, your best choice would be using grab or uber. Taxi is also another good choice, but only choose companies with good reputation such as Mai Linh, Vinasun or you'll risk being overcharged. A much cheaper choice would be using the bus, but you might takes more time, especially during rush hours.
Same with accommodation, the price may vary depends on the occasion you're traveling so make sure to book in advance for best price possible.
Cash is your best friend
Althought ATMS abound in most large cities and credit is accepted at established hotels and restaurants, cash will still be your best friend when traveling to Vietnam. Most smaller hostels or restaurants are usually cash only. And you will certainly need them if you want to try out street foods or giving out tips (There are no specific rules of tipping. However tipping at the end of a meal, your guide or driver is considered as a good gesture..).
The current exchange rate is around 22,000-23,000 vnd per $1. If you’re exchanging funds, take note: banks have limited hours, usually 8:30 - 16:30 , but they close 12:00-13:30 for lunchbreak. They also close on weekends (some work until noon on Saturday). Banks offer better exchange rates than airports, however, often times jewellers and independent money exchangers beat the banks (you just have to be confident it’s not counterfeit). Either way, exchanging at a bank or jeweller is likely to only cost 0.5-0.9% commission, far less than the 2-3% from the banks of North America. As such, it’s best to wait to exchange until you arrive in Vietnam. As is the case across most of Asia, larger bills receive more favourable rates, so bring as many $100 bills as possible.
Consider getting a sim card
Even though free wifi exists in restaurants and hotels in most cities in Vietnam, you should still consider getting a sim card. Having a smartphone to help you navigate directions, translate Vietnamese or post social media updates is helpful. And the price is actually quite cheap, around $3 - $5 for the sim and another $3 - $10 for a month's worth of data depends on whether you're choosing 3G or 4G/LTE. Staff at phone stores or the airport will take care of the entire setup for you in a matter of minutes. So if you're intending to stay for a week or more, you should get it.
You should keep these notes in mind when visiting Vietnam:
- Bargain hard: Tourists tend to be charged more than locals for everything from street food to clothes or souvernirs. Bargain harder than you would ordinarily, and don’t underestimate the value of walking away.
- Hostel staffs are tour best friends: Before you leave the hostel, ask them to estimate how much what you want to do should cost. How much should a ride to the museum cost? How much should I pay to buy these souvernirs? They will be able to give you bargaining guidelines. They can also help you book a tour for a better price.
- Respect the customs. Avoid public displays of affection towards members of the opposite sex, or even touching them. A firm handshake is preferable when you meet a Vietnamese person for the first time. Touching in any other way is considered rude.
- Do dress up if you're intending to visit sacred places such as temples or pagodas, clothing for both genders should cover shoulders and knees. Shoes and hats are to be removed before entering these places.
- Safety: Always keep an eye on your belongings as there is a high risk of pickpockets and thieves roaming the streets of Vietnam.