Rewind back to right after the summer of 2016. My friends and I were looking for a backpack travel destination for 2017. With no specific place on our joint bucket list, our first idea was to head to Thailand as that was quite a common destination.
It was only when a friend of my friend told us about Vietnam that we immediately changed our mind and left the touristy Thailand for what it was. And just like that Vietnam was going to be our destination for 2017.
And it was the best descision we could have made. Three weeks were more than enough to fall in love with this beautiful country but it wasn’t nearly enough to see and experience everything. Vietnam truly is a wonderful and rich country with so much to offer!
But before you travel to Vietnam yourself, there are a few things you need to know and take into account. It’ll make your travels that much easier and comfortable.
1. Getting a visa isn’t the easiest task
Other travellers I’ve met on my journey through Vietnam all agreed; Vietnam isn’t the easiest country to get a visa for. But with a little research work and some money spend, we were able to get ours anyway. Once you know the way to go about, it’s not that hard. Just know that arriving without any sort of visa papers sorted out, is not done at all.
There are two ways to go about; you can make sure you’ve got your actual visa before you depart. This means sending your passport to the embassy of your country and getting it all set before you leave. This is the most expensive, but the safest option.
The other option is to apply for a ‘Visa on arrival’. In this case you’ll get an approval letter which you’ll have to present once you’re in Vietnam and then you’ll get your visa. That’s the option we chose.
There are multiple website online where you can apply for a ‘Visa on arrival’. We got ours through Go Vietnam Visum. You just have to fill in our information (how many visa you need, date of entry, how long you’re staying, passport information,…), pay a fee (it was about 45 dollars for three of us) and then a few days later you’ll get your letter of approval. Once you’re in Vietnam you then have to present that letter with your passport and an additional 25 dollar (it has to be in dollar!) and you’ll get your visa. Hello Vietnam!
2. American Dollar is a very common used currency
While the currency in Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong, products and services are often quoted in American Dollar and the Vietnamese readily accept those dollar bills as well. Sometimes you pay more when you pay in dollars but often it was a bit cheaper as well. So it’s always interesting to ask both prices and compare.
We brought a few dollars with us just for tips, but if we’d know beforehand how common it was, we would have brought a lot more. Especially since credit cards are almost no where accepted. And if they do accept them, you get charged an 3-5% fee. So if you’re travelling to Vietnam, bring part of your budget in dollars. They will come in handy.
3. Just cross the street!
Hectic. Extremely hectic. That’s the only way to describe the trafic in cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. A red light doesn’t automatically mean stop, people seem to be driving on both sides of the road in both directions and honking is the way of letting everybody know about your presence.
But while it seems impossible, you will end up having to cross the street in that trafic. And there is only way way to do it; just go. Make sure there are no cars (they don’t swerve that easily) and just walk slowly and without stopping to the other side of the road. Motorcycles will just drive around you without a problem. It may seem dauning at first, but after a while you just get used to it.
4. Beware of scams and being ripped off
Although this is something you need to think of no matter where you’re travelling, I feel like Vietnam is one of those places where it happens just a bit more often. Taxi meters going crazy, special “tourist” prices, having to pay a lot of money for the extras that seemed free,… You’ll find tons of stories online about people getting ripped off, one worse than the other.
Luckily, it wasn’t as bad as I had expected it to be. We were very much aware of our stuff, tried to know prices beforehand and most of all; bargained as if our life depended on it. Seriously, you need to bargain for almost everything. It’s even expected!
As for taxi scams; only travel with Mai Linh Group or Vinasun. Those are the two most reliable companies and are the safest options. It’s also always safe to ask for a price quotation beforehand. If they won’t tell you any price in advance, it’s usually a bit fishy.
So just be aware of where you’re going and what you’re doing, use the safe taxi companies, bargain and you will be fine.
5. Don’t bother booking anything in advance
In Vietnam, travel agencies are about as common as restaurants and hotels. You can find them on every corner of every street. Some are of course more reliable than others, but you are definitely served much cheaper with them than you are online. Much cheaper!
So don’t book anything in advance, just do some research on the things you want to do or the agencies that are trustworthy and arrange everything once you’ve arrived. Once again; bargaining is the key, and don’t be afraid to step outside the agencies to check some online reviews of the actual proposal before confirming.
Also there is no need to book hotels in advance. There are plenty of options so there will always be availability. We just went online the day before and booked our hotel for the day after through hostelworld or booking.com. All without trouble.
If you keep those things in mind and make sure all paperwork in set before departure, you can be sure to have an amazing time in Vietnam. It’s a country that will steal your heart and make you want to return the second you step on the plane back home.