Been working as a tour guide for more than 10 years, I realized that many travelers to Vietnam are not given well enough the information needed. And lack of information leads to careless preparations or misleading understandings. Traveling to a country, especially the developing country of Vietnam requires throughout information for good preparations. Over the years I’ve collected these following Vietnam travel tips. These are in no order, and mostly are related to the major cities where main tourist attractions locate.
Water puppets in Hanoi
Here are a few Vietnam travel tips taken from my working experiences:
The very first thing, be aware that Vietnam is NOT a place for those who look for a mellow vacation. Vietnam is among the most “right in the face” countries that you may have thought of. It is crowed and frantic that will bring you a hectic, noisy, relentless travel experience. But Vietnam is a exceptionally interesting country with breathtaking landscapes, beautiful countryside and dynamic yet traditional cities. The people of Vietnam are friendly, hardworking, and interesting to learn from and be friend with. Every person you meet, every place you visit, every food dish you try…is one of a kind. You will be amazed when travel Vietnam. So the first of many Vietnam travel tips is: go Vietnam! You friends are right. All comments on travel forum are right! Vietnam has to be in your next travel list!
I always suggest traveling light. Bring less stuff from home to avoid overweight fee at airports and having to drag your whole house place to place. You can always find anything you need cheap and well available in all major cities. Almost in all hotels, boats, accommodation provide basic toiletry unless you want you use your own.
Vietnam Airlines is the state airline of Vietnam and planes are in good condition, clean with good services. They are good for domestic flights. I don’t normally recommend using VietJet Air or JetStar due to their being well known for delaying and cancelling flights frequently. And they are cheap flights as well.
ATM machines and banks are everywhere in major cities and towns. Don’t carry to much cash with you. Use Vietnam money for small bills like taxi, buying some water on street and street food. In bigger places like hotels, boats, shopping centers use your credit cards or USD to avoid mistaking Vietnamese money notes. But remember they will charge about 2-3% of the bills when you use your credit cards. Some places don’t but others do. Refer to my newly written entry about Vietnam money to learn more.
Tap water is NOT drinkable! Water bottles are cheap. And keep hydrating since it is steaming hot in Vietnam in summer.
You may have heard a lot of warring about taxis in Vietnam. It will not a be problem if you ask your hotels, bars, restaurants to get you one. As those places normally have some taxi company they trust as frequent taxi suppliers. Waving a taxi on the street is not recommended. Make sure taxi drivers use the meters and know before how much it will cost (by asking hotel or restaurant staffs).
Learn few Vietnamese words. It is always nice and fun to try to speak some Vietnamese to hotel staffs, your guides, drivers…I know it is not easy as Vietnamese language is one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn. I’ve got some expat friends who have been living and working in Vietnam for more than 10 years. They got Vietnamese wives and kids and always try hard to learn Vietnamese. But whenever they try to talk to me in Vietnamese I always tell them:” you should stop! You are hopeless!” hehe. But at least learn to say hello and thank you. People love it when you try. Hello – Xin Chào – Cin Chow; Thank you- Cám ơn- Cum Ern…
Cyclo ride in Hanoi
When you are walking around the Old Quarter of Hanoi or the Center of Saigon, there will be a few women carrying fruit burdens. The second you show interest by looking at them, they will try to put that on your shoulders, and place a conical hat on your head. Then ask you to take photo. Right when you are smiling at the camera they will prepare a fruit bag and put that in your hands. No matter you want it or not you have to buy it or it will be next to impossible to go.
Hanoi is very interesting and should be the first tick in your list of cities to visit. There many things to see and to try in Hanoi. Sampling street food and walking the Old Quarter is highly recommended. Book a city tour to learn (a lot) more about Hanoi culture and history as not everything is mentioned in guide books. The best time to visit Hanoi is in Fall ( from end of August to beginning of November).Once in Hanoi, try these following:
- Do a cyclo tour ( a three wheel bicycle that you sit in front and there’s a man cycling for you at the back) in the French Quarter and the Old Quarter to try the feeling of being in the madness of millions scooters of Hanoi. It looks insane but it is very safe.
- Be amazed by the finger licking tasteful street food that Hanoi has to offer. Book a street food tour if you want to know about the food culture of Hanoi.
- Try Hanoi’s well known “pho”- noodle soup with beef or chickens.
- Try Hanoi’s coffee in the old famous Hanoi’s coffee shops.
- Refer to one of my entries about What to do in Hanoi for more.
Saigon is a dynamic and interesting city. But if you don’t have time you can cut Saigon off in your plan. I would choose a tour to the Mekong over a Saigon city tour.
If you don’t have time to visit the whole country ( that requires at least 2 weeks ) you can just give the south Vietnam a miss (for next time) and do north Vietnam, Hoian and Hue. In my recommendation Hanoi, Halong bay, Hoi An, and Hue are the must do. For sure it will be the best if you have time to see the whole country. But as said, if your time is tight, hurrying from place to the other is not really a good way to see the country. Stay at least 2 nights in one cities and make the most out of it.
There are beautiful sandy beach and blue water seaside resort in the center ( Danang, Nha Trang) and south of Vietnam ( Mui Ne, Phu Quoc island, Con Dao islands…). If you are beach goers don’t miss these places. I would love to book one of those resorts and lay on the beach doing nothing the whole week. Doing nothing is an art, you know!
Halong Bay is a must. If you travel Vietnam but give Halong bay a miss, you haven’t been to Vietnam yet. Halong bay has been recognized as the world heritage twice. And recently it was voted to be the 7 new wonders of the world. Beautiful landscape of rocky mountains raising up from the sea. Do at least one night cruise in the bay. I would strongly recommend spending a few more bucks to book one of the upper class cruises available in Halong bay. Since there have been problems with cheap cruises, a few dollars more can make a huge difference. It is another important Vietnam travel tips!
Sapa has a lot to offer: stunning landscapes of the mountains, richness in culture, uniqueness of the minority groups…Plus many activities for outdoor people: trekking in the jungles, walking to villages, mountain biking up and down the hills… There are trains going to Sapa from Hanoi. But there recently has been a brand new high way connecting Hanoi and Lao Cai ( province of Sapa). To save time and be more convenient I recommend taking a private car to go to Sapa. Besides, Mai Chau valley, Ninh Binh…are places to consider if your schedule is not too tight.
Sunset over West Lake in Hanoi
Danang and its tourist center Hoi An is another very nice city to visit. The ancient trading port of Vietnam from the 16th century with influence from Japan, Portugal, Dutch. Spend at least 2 nights in Hoi An. Many of my clients say they wish they had spend more time in this lovely and lively town.
Ancient town of Hoi An on the bank of Thu Bon river
If you want to learn more about Vietnamese history and the dynasties of Vietnam then Hue is the city to go. Mystery Citadel and honored Tombs of the Emperors and the quietness of the city are the main attractions. If you are connecting Hoi An and Hue then a car ride should be taken. For the drive will be extremely scenic and the Hai Van pass is a big plus! That is one of Vietnam travel tips from me.
Above is the short list of Vietnam travel tips for those who come to Vietnam for the first time. Again those are not well cataloged and in no particular order as they just came out of my mind when typing. Of course there are many others and they will be mentioned gradually in my next entries about Vietnam Travel.
Always smile, that’s one of important Vietnam travel tips
Have fun planning your Vietnam trip.
By Pham Tuyen