Things I wish I knew before traveling to Vietnam

Traveling to another country with a completely different culture is a difficult but very rewarding experience. This kind of adventure allows you to learn some valuable life lessons and broaden your horizon. However, this can also be a traumatic experience, especially if you run into scammers or another kind of trouble. This country is a bit different than its neighbors in Southeast Asia and there are a few things to know before visiting Vietnam. It’s not so touristy, there aren’t many touristy beaches and most people don’t speak English. Hence, you should mentally prepare yourself before visiting in order to fully embrace Vietnamese culture and make the most out of your trip. Here are some things I wish I knew before visiting Vietnam.

Things to know before visiting Vietnam: Everyone’s a millionaire!:

I’m sure there are many lost souls visiting Vietnam trying to figure out the ridiculously high conversion rates here. At the moment, 1 EUR = 26,716 dong and 1 USD = 22,714 dong. This means 100 USD is worth more than 2.2 million Dong and it’s safe to assume that all people in Vietnam have more than 1 million Dong.

The good part: coins have been abolished back in 2011. The bad part: you can easily mix up the 500,000 Dong bill and the 50,000 Dong bill. It’s the same with the 100,000 Dong bill and the 10,000 Dong bill. The rule of thumb is to try and memorize bills according to color, but again the 500,000 bills and the 20,000 bills have a similar shade of blue.  Well, good luck with that.

things to know before visiting vietnam

The price for everything is… whatever you agree to pay for it

One of the things to know before visiting Vietnam is that you should expect people (especially street vendors) to increase the price when they think they can get more money out of you. If you’re coming from the Western hemisphere, the truth is, a lot of people will try to take as much money out of you.

You might even start feeling like a walking ATM! I know it’s hard to grasp this, but they’re not necessarily trying to rip you off. Vietnamese are taught that the Western countries are the ones to blame for all of their problems and that we “owe” them. So they will try to pretend you agreed to a higher price, give you back less change, etc. And they expect from us to spend money when visiting, and when you try to bargain, they get upset and treat you poorly.

Hanoi street

Don’t Book anything Online in Vietnam

Don’t book any tourist arrangements and be careful about visa agents. There are a lot of frauds out there. And there are a lot of agencies using the names of big brands because there doesn’t seem to be any rules on trademark rights in Vietnam. To get back to the topic, if you book a tour online, you might end up paying a much higher price than the price you would pay if you arranged everything on the spot.

One exception is, of course, booking your flight. If you’re looking for a cheap flight to Vietnam, use this Qatar Airways coupon to get 20% off on all flights to Vietnam.

Be prepared for the weather

Da Lat hidden gems in Vietnam

The South and the North have a different climate, which can make traveling to Vietnam complicated. In Northern Vietnam, the dry season is on from April to October, while in South and Central Vietnam, the dry season occurs between December and April. So you should be prepared for both seasons when visiting. Additionally, Hanoi has four seasons, including cold and humid starting in November and ending in January and hot and sticky summers. Ho Chi Minh, on the other hand, has only two seasons: a hot and dry season and a monsoon season with high humidity throughout the year.

Shop outside tourist districts

Avoid restaurants, bars, and souvenir shops around the French Quarter in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Get out of the area surrounding the main tourist attractions and you’ll find the best restaurants with authentic food and most importantly, local prices. You can also get all the colorful traditional clothes and the most memorable souvenirs, again at lower prices. The locals in these areas aren’t so used to tourists and you might get a few weird looks, but you can save a lot of money and have a far more authentic experience.

cyclo

Crossing the street is an art in Vietnam

Motorbikes are pretty common in Asia but Vietnam still takes motorbike traffic to a whole other level. In Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City the traffic is so chaotic that crossing the street can literally be the hardest part of your day. A general rule of thumb is to wait at a place that looks like there is supposed to be a crosswalk. The next step is to pray to God, gather your courage, and go for it. If you still can’t do it, just wait for some of the locals to cross the street and follow them. They’ll know what they’re doing.

vietnam motorbike

When visiting Vietnam, travel outside of the big cities

 

I love Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) and I met many fellow travelers there. And the sad truth is, most travelers focus on these two cities and missing out on many amazing authentic Vietnamese cities. Like Hoi An, Sapa, Danat etc. My best memories (and some of my best Instagram posts) from my Vietnam trips were from these small towns. If you have the choice, spend more time in Northern Vietnam, as this part is less developed and hence has a much more authentic charm.

There are a lot of mountains, canyons, caves, and isolated villages. Every corner here reveals another breathtaking view and another amazing story to tell. For more information on things to do on a holiday in Vietnam, check out my article about hidden gems in Vietnam.

hoi an

Motorbikes are the way to go

Whether you want to rent a bike to go from Hanoi to Halong Bay or buy a motorbike and travel around the country, motorbikes are the best and cheapest method of transportation in Vietnam. If you’re looking to buy a motorbike, do this in one of the big cities, where there are more sellers you will be able to buy a motorbike for as low as $200 USD. But that’s not the best part! If you follow my example, you can buy a bike in Hanoi and ride it across the country. Unless you completely trash the bike, you will be able to sell it for more or less the same price in Ho Chi Minh. This actually means that you’ve rented a bike for (almost) free.

It will be a bit difficult to drive it in the beginning because of the congested traffic and just the Vietnamese driving culture in general. Also, get used to honking. A lot of it! In Vietnamese that normally means ‘I’m about to pass by you’, or ‘Hurry up, grandma’.

Talking about things to know before visiting Vietnam, you should learn a few things about…

Bus/train rides in Vietnam

After a few days in Vietnam, you will realize that the Vietnamese are quite laid-back and appear to never be in a rush. This concept is also integrated into the public transport system. Bus rides can be really long. The dense traffic and poor roads turn 6-hour trips into 10-12-hour trips. Anyway, there are some things you need to consider when traveling by bus. Here are a few useful tips.

  • You can easily get bus tickets for your journey on the same day.
  • Consider booking your ticket through your hostel/hotel. Sure, the ticket is a bit more expensive, but they will arrange a pick up from the hotel and you won’t have to go through the hustle of reaching the station, which in the end might even save you money if you’re in a big city.
  • It’s not uncommon at all for a bus to be a few hours late.
    Things I wish I knew before traveling to Vietnam
  • You probably won’t get dropped at a bus station. Most of the bus rides in Vietnam I took just dropped me in the middle of the road. So be prepared for that.
  • In the sleeper bus, you should take off your shoes before entering and keep them in a plastic bag that the driver provides for the passengers.
  • Most buses don’t have washrooms and a 10-hour bus ride usually includes not more than two stops. The chances of finding a pre-packaged food in the places where the bus will stop are really slim and the stops are filled with questionable restaurants. Make sure you pack enough food before going on a long journey.

Food and Drink tips

  • The food portions are really small. I always used to order two dishes every time I had a meal because I knew one won’t be enough.
  • Fruit is on the dessert menu. I’m a big fan of fruits and they come really cheap in Vietnam. However, I was struggling in the beginning because I couldn’t find them on the menu. Apparently, in Vietnam, fruits are considered to be a desert.
  • I’ve never found a cheaper beer. You can get a beer in Vietnam for 13 cents! Which means you can get wasted for $2-3.

vietnam by motorbike

    • Soup-like dishes are typical in Vietnam. Most of them are really tasty, especially Vietnamese pork bowls, but be careful; these are also a number 1 reason for a stomach virus among tourists. Make sure the soup you ordered isn’t undercooked and is piping hot.
    • Avoid the ‘Cheap restaurant scam. It includes a friendly local eager to hang out. He leads you to a restaurant outside of the tourist area to try authentic Vietnamese food. You either end up being drugged with all of your belongings missing or getting ripped off when the bill comes.

Related: which are the most dangerous places in Southeast Asia?

Vietnam has some underrated beaches

Vietnam sunset

If you previously visited Thailand, Indonesia, or The Philippines, Vietnam’s beaches might disappoint you. Vietnam’s coastline is rocky and pretty rough during the winter. However, there are some really beautiful beaches with expansive white sand and even some great scuba diving spots. Vietnam’s beaches weren’t really popular in the past but in recent years, they start receiving more attention, and today, I can say that Vietnam truly has it all. From canyons, mountains, caves, waterfalls to amazing nature and beautiful beaches…

Useful resources for visiting Vietnam

Looking for cheap flights to Vietnam? Qatar Airways has some of the most affordable flights in the region and you can get an additional 20% off on all Qatar Airways flights to Vietnam with this coupon.

For budget accommodation options in Vietnam, this Booking coupon will get you 15% off on all hotels in Vietnam.

If you need a great budget-friendly tour in Thailand, get 10% off on all Vietnam tours by Contiki on this page

For the best buses and trains prices in Vietnam, use Bookaway. 

For the best travel insurance deals on the market, I recommend you check out World Nomads.

Finally, don’t forget to sort out your visa before traveling to Vietnam. You can obtain one through Ivisa for only $45 USD. I’ve used it in the past, the process is very fast and hassle-free and I warmly recommend them.

Liked this article? Then you’ll probably enjoy the one about the things I wish I knew before visiting Laos. Do you think there are some more things to know before visiting Vietnam that are worth mentioning? Let me know in the comments.

visiting Vietnam

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43 thoughts on “Things I wish I knew before traveling to Vietnam”

  1. I love this article! Planing a trip to Vietnam soon and this helps quite a lot. 🙂

    So what about bargaing? Do you do it or not? 🙂 i think we have a similar way of traveling so what do you think its enough budget for one month in Vietnam?

    Reply
    • Hi Lara, you definitely want to bargain! Basically everything is haggled over a bit. But remember, sometimes you’ll be fighting over a price of some souvenir and realize you’re fighting over 20 cents. Is it worth it? Just always keep a smile, have fun with it and don’t be afraid to walk away. They’ll often give you your price anyway!
      Not sure about a budget. Depends on what you want to do. Halong Bay and a trip to Sapa will be the costliest, so just factor that in. Have a great trip!!

      Reply
  2. Great post. I totally agree with you about getting it of the tourist districts for food and buying gifts and souvenirs. I live in HCMC, so i eat in local districts everyday. Not only is the food cheaper it is so much better as well. Bun Cha is one of my favourite foods and when I went to Cat Ba island and ordered it, 1.it looked nothing like Bun Cha and 2. It was disgusting. If I was a tourist and had ordered it for the first time, it’s safe to say I would have been put off Bun Cha for life.

    Reply
    • interesting story 🙂 glad to hear from an expat and I’m glad you loved the post. Your story just made me realize how much I miss Vietnamese food 😀

      Reply
  3. Thanks for sharing this insight. I especially appreciate the great photos that really showcase Vietnam well. It’s hard to conceive the motorcycle traffic you speak of without seeing those images illustrating the congestion.

    Reply
    • Definitely! I figured dense traffic just won’t describe the rush hour in Vietnam and the whole motorbike culture. I’m glad you liked it

      Reply
    • I’m glad you liked it, Chittra. Btw, you don’t need to be a millionaire to travel, especially Vietnam. Everything is so cheap there;)

      Reply
  4. I Loved this post! It is really going to help me when I am there so I have booked marked it. I agree scooter is the way to go in any Asian country and shopping off the beaten track is what I have learnt too.

    Reply
  5. This is a great read, and it’s goo you’re honest about what they expect from western travellers. It’s such a sad mentality and it happens a lot in poorer countries. However, I loved my time in Vietnam, especially trying to cross those roads, what an art indeed!

    Reply
    • Absolutely, I’m always honest in my posts 😀 However, even though it has its backsides, Vietnam is still an amazing country.

      Reply
    • Hoi an is amazing. One of my favourite cities in SE Asia. Don’t stay in the hotel room during the evening/night there. The real magic of the place happens at night. One of the most romantic places I’ve ever seen.
      Hue doesn’t have much except for the national park. A place to visit for history lovers. Very humid at this time of the year though… Good luck 😀

      Reply
  6. Thanks for sharing these awesome tips. These are definitely useful, especially in reference to the beaches. I never realized how rocky they were. I’m also glad you mentioned the information about booking tourist attractions and fraud. Definitely useful when I start planning a trip to Vietnam.

    Reply
  7. These are really some great tips for first timers to Vietnam. Nice of you to share your experiences so that others can benefit. It would feel nice to feel you are a millionaire when in Vietnam, but of course the money will expend fast too. I like your tip of heading out of the cities, as I feel the beauty of Vietnam lies in its countryside.

    Reply
  8. ha ha, the price of everything is whatever we agree to pay for it… I need to be there in Vietnam. I think I’d definitely plan a trip to this SE Asian country next year. I’ve also heard a lot about the road crossing issue with so many motorbikes on the roads. Have to be careful with that.

    Reply
    • Yes, you definitely should. Check out my other SE Asia articles too. You will get a lot of useful information for your trip there 🙂

      Reply
  9. Great information! I wush I knew these things before going as well!
    Crossing the steet was both a jinga game mixed with Centipede. It was fun and challenging at the same time!
    Its definitely worth going though and so glad I did!
    I wish I found the cheap beer!

    Reply
    • Hahah aboslutely, Vietnam is an amazing country and the experience is amazing. Wonder how you didn’t find the cheap beer though 😀

      Reply
  10. Great post! Wish I read that before I went in January this year! I loved Sapa and Ninh Binh, the smaller towns rather than the bigger cities. So true about shopping and the price is whatever you wish to pay for it. I am Chinese and my partner is Caucasian. I get a much better starting price than her does which annoyed him a bit. But that’s just the sad reality of it.

    Reply
  11. Magnificent goods from you, man. I really like what you have acquired here, really like what you’re stating and the way in which you say it.
    You make it entertaining and you still take care of to keep it sensible.
    I can not wait to read far more from you. This is really a wonderful website.

    Reply
  12. What places outside the touristy areas do you recommend to visit from hCMC to hanoi, we want to go to the markets and taste the food but i would prefer the local places than the touristy haunts.

    Reply
    • Hi Lisa and thank you for your comment. Well, some suggestions that come in mind are the Bai Tu Long Bay, the Phong Nha National Park (absolutely amazing), the minority villages around Kon Tum (some really warm welcoming people and an experience that will give you a glimpse of rural Vietnam), and the scenic Mù Cang Chải district north of Hanoi. I hope this helps 🙂

      Reply
  13. Vietnam is a beautiful destination, and these images that you shared are very amazing they are making me excited to go to visit Vietnam I promised myself this year I also go to visit Vietnam Thanks for sharing this amazing post.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Jeorge. Indeed Vietnam is a unique place with some really amazing destinations. Glad you liked it as much as we did while writing it.

      Reply

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