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Vietnam for Beginners: 17 Things to Know Before Traveling to Vietnam

December 20, 2022
19 Min Read
A woman looks over tree covered mountains in Vietnam
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Vietnam for Beginners: 17 Things to Know Before Traveling to Vietnam
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Updated On 
October 20, 2023
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Is this your first time traveling to Vietnam and looking for the best advice? 

You’ve come to the right place!

This is a list of 17 tips and advice intended for first-time travelers visiting Vietnam for the first time. In this guide, you will find useful tips before you leave and helpful advice to make the most out of your Vietnam trip. We’ve included suggestions on how to be safe, the best sim card to get, where to exchange money, and many expert recommendations we’ve gathered over three years of traveling and living in Vietnam. 

Here are the top 17 things to know before visiting Vietnam for the first time.

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1. Visa is Required to Visit Vietnam

Most visitors from outside Vietnam need a visa to enter the country. If you are traveling from one of the 24 countries on this list, you will be granted a visa exemption for stays ranging from 14 to 90 days. This includes visitors from Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and the majority of Southeast Asian countries.

Other citizens can apply for an Electronic Visa (E-visa) or a pre-approved visa on arrival online.

Read: Visa Requirements for Vietnam

A woman is plucking tea in Northern Vietnam

2. Best to Have a Travel Insurance

Though it is not required, having travel insurance on your Vietnam trip is always a good idea, and we highly recommend you to get one. You never really know what can happen on a trip and having insurance gives you peace of mind that goes a long way. 

We recommend Heymondo for travel insurance. (Get 5% off for being our reader!) What we like best is that you can easily access everything by downloading the app. This includes 24-hour medical assistance, free online calls, and the ability to file claims directly from your mobile phone. Besides that, they include COVID-19 coverage.

A woman wearing a Non La walks on a busy street in Vietnam.

3. No Mandatory Travel Vaccines 

There are NO mandatory vaccinations required for entry into Vietnam. But it's still critical to get your travel shots to avoid getting sick on the road. Find a travel clinic near you and speak with a professional about getting the recommended vaccinations before traveling to Vietnam. 

Limestone formations in Halong Bay, Vietnam.

4. Best Time to Visit Vietnam Varies

Because of Vietnam's long and narrow shape, the country experiences a variety of seasons and weather events throughout the year. As a result, we recommend that you check the weather forecast before traveling to any part of the country. The best time to visit Vietnam depends on what you want to see and do. 

In general, these are the most recommended times to visit per region:

Northern Region: Spring (March to April) and Autumn (September to November)

Central Region: February to August

Southern Region: December to May

Read: Best Time to Visit Vietnam

A woman sorts out the rice harvest.

5. Many Ways of Getting Around Vietnam

Vietnam is massive, and there are numerous ways to navigate this vast country. If you want to see as many highlights as possible, we recommend flying. Domestic flights in Vietnam are not only cost-effective, but they can also be less expensive than taking the bus if booked ahead of time. Vietjet Airlines has some of the lowest fares, but check-in baggage will almost certainly cost you extra. Other airlines to consider are Bamboo Airlines and Vietnam Airlines.

Taking the bus is a popular option for both tourists and locals due to the low cost of bus tickets. To save money on overnight accommodations, take a sleeper bus. Aside from that, we recommend renting a motorbike and spending the day exploring smaller cities and towns. It will not only provide you with more freedom, but it will also allow you to see more of Vietnam.

Read: How to Get Around Vietnam

A woman rides a tricycle with grass on the back.

6. Cash is King 

Vietnam’s currency is called the Vietnamese Dong (VND). All of the prices on our Vietnam guides will be in both Vietnamese dong and US dollars. At the time of writing, 1 USD is approximately 23,000 VND.

If there is one thing to remember about Vietnam, it is that cash is king. We recommend keeping small amounts of cash on you at all times. There will be plenty of ATMs in major cities and even smaller towns, with varying ATM fees. Most ATM machines allow you to withdraw up to 3 to 5 million VND (132 to 220 USD) in a single transaction.

In larger cities, you can use your credit card to pay for lodging or food at nicer restaurants. If you bring foreign currencies, you can exchange it at any gold shop in a larger city, as they have some of the best rates. If you're in Ho Chi Minh City, here's where you can exchange money.

A woman on a boat harvesting lotus seeds.

7. Get A Sim Card

The internet connection is reliable throughout Vietnam. Wifi is also available in nearly every cafe, restaurant, and hotel. However, in some rural areas, internet connections may be slower.

That’s why we recommend getting a sim card so that you can always connect to the internet. When you arrive at the airport, you can easily purchase a sim card with internet packages. Viettel, Vinaphone, and Mobiphone are the three main data providers in Vietnam. We recommend Viettel because it has the best coverage in the country, has fast speeds, and is very affordable. They offer a 30-day internet package with 2 GB of data per day for 120,000 VND (5.25 USD).

If you’re arriving at the airport late at night and the sim card kiosks are closed, don’t worry! Head to Thegiodidong or Viettel store during the day and bring your passport with you. You’ll find many locations in any of the big cities. 

Kids peek through a gate in Northern Vietnam

8. Practice Basic Vietnamese Phrases

Vietnamese people are extremely friendly. Though speaking English on a daily basis is possible, especially in larger cities, communicating with the locals can be difficult at times. This is especially true in Vietnam's rural areas. Know that Vietnamese always appreciate when foreigners try to speak their language. So here are three phrases that are simple to remember and apply in any situation. You'll be able to impress the locals if you can master these three. If you can learn more, even better!

Hello: Xin Chào (sin chow)

Thank you: Cảm Ơn (gam un)

Excuse me: Xin Lỗi (sin loy)

A woman wearing a Non La smiles at the camera.

9. Power Sockets in Vietnam

Most electrical outlets in Vietnam accept plug types A, C, and F. However, bringing a travel adapter is always a good idea just to be safe.

Yellow rice fields ready for harvest in Vietnam.

10. Vietnam is a Safe Country to Travel

Vietnam is a safe country to travel to despite some petty crimes, especially in the bigger cities. Like anywhere else in the world, great use of common sense can get you a long way. That being said, here are our top three things to avoid when visiting Vietnam.

- Avoid walking around with your phone out or at the back of a bike.

- Avoid leaving your belongings unattended, whether in hostel dorms or on buses.

- Avoid driving a motorbike without a license or a helmet. 

Three women wearing Non La's harvest rice in Northern Vietnam.

11. Pack Small

If there is one piece of advice we can give to long-term visitors to Vietnam, it is to pack light. Mostly because checked baggage is costly but a load of laundry is not. Just make sure to check the weather forecast because if you're visiting the north during the winter, you might need some warm clothes. Otherwise, you can always buy affordable clothes in Vietnam if need be! 

Top Down view of travel essentials.

12. Be Confident When Crossing the Streets

When it comes to navigating Vietnam's busy streets, there is one piece of advice we can give: do not hesitate! Crossing the streets can be difficult with hundreds of motorcycles coming from all directions. Simply be confident and raise your hand to warn the drivers. This allows motorbike drivers to slow down and maneuver around you. Again, don't run; instead, be confident and don't hesitate when crossing the street.

Read: The Backbone of Society: Motorbike Culture in Vietnam

Children smile at the camera in Northern Vietnam

13. Tipping Isn’t Common 

Tipping is not expected in Vietnam and is not as common as it is in North America. When you go to a higher-end restaurant or any establishment, service is usually automatically included in your bill. That being said, tipping someone is always appreciated, especially if you enjoyed the service.

A woman wearing traditional clothes surrounded by flowers.

14. Don’t Drink the Tap Water

It is always a good idea, as in any other Southeast Asian country, to drink bottled water. In Vietnam, tap water is not for drinking but is safe enough for washing. Some hotels even provide free water so you can refill your bottles and not have to buy them every time. However, you will find numerous stores that sell bottled water on every corner. 

Ban Gioc Waterfall in Cao Bang, Vietnam.

15. Vietnam is Street Food Heaven

Vietnam is full of mouth-watering and affordable street food and it’ll be a shame to miss it. We recommend taking a food tour to sample the best street food in town. Otherwise, when it comes to trying out street food, go where the locals go. It's usually a good sign when a spot is busy with locals.

Here are our three most recommended foodie tours in Vietnam to book.

16. Avoid Day Tours

If you don't want to spend the majority of your time on the road, avoid taking day trips to different cities as much as possible. For example, we do not recommend the Mekong Delta day trip from Ho Chi Minh City and the Halong Bay day trip from Hanoi. Spend at least a night to be able to fully appreciate the beauty of these places! Moreover, you will almost certainly end up doing the same tour that most companies offer in a given location. Besides, when it comes to exploring the area, you'll only be scratching the surface. This frequently leads to an incorrect perception of a place. 

Empty rice paddies covered in clouds.

17. Don’t Over Plan

There are so many things to do and beautiful places to visit in Vietnam that we’re sure you want to experience them all. However, you should try your best to not over plan and avoid booking tours in advance, especially if you’re booking on a site that’s unreliable. So, before you book your tours, read some online reviews to see if the company is legitimate. Not over planning your trip can also mean that you'll have more leeway. For example, if there's bad weather or if you find yourself enjoying a specific place. You won’t be able to do so if you already have your bus tickets or accommodation booked.

A woman inspects rice seedlings in Northern Vietnam.

And that’s our top 17 tips and advice for travelers visiting Vietnam for the first time! 

We hope that we’ve answered all of your questions and are now ready for your trip. Let us know if you have any questions in the comments below.

Enjoy Vietnam and safe travels!

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