The name itself conjures up rich Vietnamese coffee, unimaginable waters, floating markets, mystical temples and cute little cone hats.
Vietnam is fast becoming one of my absolute favourite countries in the world and with all its rich culture, remarkable heritage, amazing food and the friendliest people you will ever meet, it’s not surprising.
Recently, I had the chance to visit this beautiful country for two weeks. During this trip, I learned a couple of things that I think would really help you during your preparation and planning for your trip to Vietnam.
Best time to travel
Most people—me included—do not know that the north, central and south of Vietnam actually have very different climates and weather.
Northern Vietnam has cold seasons (November to March) and hot seasons (April to October), not unlike the four seasons. Our local guide told us that the far north of Vietnam can actually get quite frosty between December to January and the mountainous areas like the popular Sapa and coastal areas such as Ha Long Bay can get shrouded by mists, making travel a bit frustrating.
Southern Vietnam has a typical tropical monsoon climate: hot, humid, and rainy. April greets the monsoon season which lasts till September, with June and July being particularly humid and rainy. Flood in Saigon is also quite common during this time.
Central Vietnam acts as the middle child of Vietnamese weather. In general, it’s warm all year round, with June and July being the hottest. Central Vietnam also receives a decent amount of rain from April till September, especially in tourist favourites such as Da Nang, Hoi An, and Hue. From August to November, this area can also be affected by severe typhoon storms from the Western Pacific. Hoi An in particular gets flooded in October or November.
After some research, we decided to go with Viettel. Most users cite it as cheapest, best coverage, and fastest internet. Can’t go wrong with that.
There were also a few bloggers who cautioned against buying SIM cards from small shops because there is apparently an issue with distributing and selling illegal SIM cards in Vietnam. Be cautious and purchase your SIM from an official phone company.
If you’re interested in a detailed comparison between phone companies in Vietnam, check out this guide.
We both purchased a prepaid SIM card each, and we opted for data only since we didn’t need the calls and texts. For 15GB of data valid for 30 days, it cost us 350,000VND each (US$15 / 13.40€). True enough, the internet speed was very decent and we never encountered a lag, even outside of the city area.
Watch out for the motorcycles
Welcome to Vietnam where the traffic lights are just there as a casual suggestion. Every single foreigner I’ve met in Vietnam has commented on the chaotic traffic in this country.
On the very first day of walking around in Hanoi, every step I made was accompanied by 10 honks from motorcyclists, drivers and cyclists. At first I thought it was only during rush hours in the morning and evening, but when the honking didn’t stop, I realised this goes on all the live long day.
If you ever find yourself stupefied when you’re about to cross the street, just remember this tip that a local once gave me: walk straight ahead, at a leisure pace, and don’t ever pause to look at the vehicles zipping a hair’s breadth away. Sounds reckless but it really worked for me.
Money, money, money
I’m sure you know that the currency they use in Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong. To give you an estimation, US$1 is equivalent to 23392.50 VND, at the time this post was published.
It sounds like a lot, but you would rarely buy anything under 10,000 VND. A bottle of water (1 litres) cost about 15,000 VND and a cup of Vietnamese iced coffee is normally priced at 35,000 VND. An important tip to note is that since the money has a lot of zeros, they usually just leave out the last three zeros when quoting the price. For example, 10,000 VND will just be quoted as 10 VND.
A lot of places do accept credit/debit cards so paying by card will not be a problem. However, like most countries in South East Asia, it’s always better to carry some cash around with you.
Dine on the streets
If you’ve travelled to any country in South East Asia, you would have noticed that street food is not only where locals actually eat everyday, street food also embodies the cultural and national identities of these SEA countries.
Vietnam is no different.
Walking around the streets, you will notice locals sitting on these tiny stools, hunched over a small square table eating street food. Coming from a local South East Asian, street food is by far the most authentic and affordable way to discover the country.
Explore the vibrant coffee culture
As the second largest coffee producer and exporter in the world (Brazil is the first), it’s no wonder that Vietnam has such a thriving coffee scene.
I was super thrilled about this fact, considering my love for coffee. When I came to Hanoi, my first stop in Vietnam, I actually booked a coffee tour so I could deepen my understanding of the local coffee culture. Mai showed me coffee places that I would have never discovered on my own and it was such a pleasure for me to hear all her experiences growing up in Vietnam.
If you’re interested in a coffee tour, check out the tour I booked. Note: I’m not sponsored!
Also, each city and region in Vietnam has their very own unique specialty coffee such as egg coffee in Hanoi, so make sure you check each of them out! If you’re interested in seeing a complete guide to coffee places in Hanoi, I wrote an entire post of where you can find them!
Communism not so Communist
I made this entry because I received a lot of questions on my Instagram about traveling in Vietnam, a modern-day Communist country.
To be honest, it’s not what most people imagine it would be like. In fact, I hardly noticed the fact that Vietnam is a Communist country whilst traveling from the north to the south. Aside from the random Communist monuments here and there, I don’t think this will affect your travels much, if not at all.
As a general rule, English is not widely spoken in Vietnam. There are exceptions of course, when it comes to touristic areas but most of the Vietnamese that I’ve encountered during my travels in Vietnam did not speak English.
However, I actually found it easy to communicate with the Vietnamese. A few random English words here and there, a lot of horrible Vietnamese from my part, a heck lot of hand gestures and head movements, I seemed to manage basic interactions such as ordering food and drinks. Also, although Vietnam was an ex-French colony, French is not at all spoken here.
If you’re interested and up for the challenge, check out this graphic guide to basic Vietnamese phrases that will always come in handy during your travels.
As for hailing a taxi, you can use an application called Grab. It’s available in every South East Asian country and I use this every time I travel in this side of the world.
Before I came to Vietnam, I thought that 99% of Vietnamese are Buddhists but it’s not the case. Only 12.2% of the 90 million population are Buddhists whilst the majority practices traditional Vietnamese folk religion.
This is important to know because I’ve been to a lot of coffee shops, restaurants and shops where parts of it are closed off from outsiders because that’s where they place their ancestors’ altars. Be mindful and respectful of this fact whenever you visit a place, and do not take pictures of the altars. I was surprised by the amount of tourists I’ve seen do this so blatantly.
Be careful of these scams
Unfortunately, I have to share this travel tip with you. Within the first couple of days in Vietnam, a few locals shared some of things that we as travellers should watch out for in Vietnam.
Cyclo scam. A driver will approach you and state that he will give you a tour ride and you can pay him as much as you want. When it comes to paying, he will then bring out an ‘official price list’ and say that you owe him this and that amount of money. Try to avoid taking cyclo rides in Vietnam and use Grab instead.
Wrong change. With the sheer number of zeros, I’ve actually confused the money many times. Some scammers take advantage of this and they will purposely give the wrong change when you pay for something. Be on alert and always count the exact amount given back to you.
SIM card scam. As explained in #2, always buy a SIM card from an official telephone company in Vietnam. There are lots of incidents where travellers would purchase a SIM card promising unlimited internet for 30 days, only to have their SIM not working after a few days.
There are so many more different scams in Vietnam which you can view here. Like any other country in the world, being informed prior to your travels can save you a lot of headache and potential danger.
I hope you stay safe, and I sincerely hope you take time to enjoy Vietnam, because it’s one of the most beautiful and charming countries I’ve had the privilege to visit.
Talk to you soon!
For more FREE TRAVEL GUIDES on Vietnam, make sure you check it out here!
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