Vietnam’s beauty attracts tourists all over the world throughout the whole year. It’s a treasure trove of old-world Eastern culture blended with modern attractions. It’s a land of ever-changing landscapes—one day you’re gazing at idyllic beaches packed with sunbathers, the next you’re marveling at wide swathes of rice fields and at the women who tend them, donning conical hats while they plant next season’s harvest. A few hours down the road and you’ll see sleek and imposing skyscrapers alongside ancient temples. Once you see all these, you just know that a Vietnam getaway is gonna be awesome. And it truly is!
If it’s your first time to visit Vietnam (or any country for that matter), it makes sense to learn about the country, its weather, its modes of transportation and of course, how to get there. Before you go, here are some things that you should know about the country so that you’ll have a smooth and hassle free time in Vietnam.
When To Go
When it comes to vacations, timing is everything, and we’re not just talking about your planned vacation leave. There are other things to consider, such as the weather in the place where you’ll be going. Also, you might want to book your holiday during the peak season, when a lot of fun stuff happens. So when is the ideal time to go to Vietnam anyway?
In truth, Vietnam can be enjoyed at any time throughout the year, but weather does play an important factor, especially if you plan on trekking or doing outdoor activities. Rain showers often occur, even during the dry seasons. The driest months for visiting the southern part of Vietnam (Saigon) are between December to April. For the central region, the dry season is from March to August. And in the northern part of Vietnam (Hanoi), the dry season is from October to December. The temperatures in April can be scorching, and soon after that monsoon rains will start to cool things off in all parts of the country.
Regardless of the season, typhoons and tropical depressions can create downpours that last for days—some of them for as long as a week. So be prepared to make adjustments in your itinerary if ever the weather turns foul during your stay.
If you’re planning to go during a major festival, you could plan on attending the New Year celebration in Vietnam called Tet. Tet follows a lunar calendar and it usually occurs between January and February. Most shops close down during Tet and you might find it difficult to find a hotel during this time, so make reservations before going to Vietnam. Another big holiday is National Day, which falls on the 2nd of September.
How to get a Visa
It’s important that you have a visa for Vietnam. Without it, you’ll certainly be denied entry into the country. A lot of airlines won’t even let you board a flight without a prearranged visa or an approval letter.
There are two ways to apply for a visa to Vietnam: one is to apply through the Vietnamese Embassy in your country, another is to get a Visa Approval letter via a third-party travel agency. You can get the Visa Approval letter online for a small fee, then on arrival present it for a visa at one of Vietnam’s international airports. Note that the visa on arrival only works upon arriving in one of the major international airports in Vietnam, namely Saigon, Hanoi, or Da Nang.
To get your approval letter, you may apply for one at a reliable online agency. The fee is around $20 and may be paid for using your credit card. Processing usually takes 2 to 3 business days. Once approved, the agency will email you a scanned approval letter, and this must be printed clearly and legibly. To be on the safe side, print a few copies to take with you.
Once you have your approval letter, you can now book a flight. Remember to stash a few copies in your carry-on luggage and some in your check-in luggage (if you have any). You’ll be required to show the letter before boarding the plane. Here are other items that you need to take with you to get your visa on arrival:
- Your passport. It should have at least 6 months of validity left on it
- At least 4 prints or copies of a recent passport photo. It should be taken on a white background, and conform to the official size of 4 x 6 centimeters.
- Visa fee. For a 30-day, single entry visa, the fee is around $45. Have some cash on hand for this.
As soon as you’ve presented your approval letter and the other items mentioned, you will be issued a visa and you will be allowed to enter Vietnam.
The official language is Vietnamese but a lot of people speak English, especially in the big cities. Most people learn English in school and even in the most remote villages, there will always be someone willing to help you navigate, so you will have little difficulty communicating wherever you go.
Of course, it helps to know a few key phrases when you’re in another country. Here are a few you might want to commit to memory:
- I don’t understand Toi khong hieu (toy kohng hyu)
- Excuse me/ sorry Xin loi (seen loy)
- How much is this? Cai nay gia bao nhieu? (kai nai zeea bow neeyou)
- Thank you Xin cam on (seen, kuhm uhhn)
Vietnam’s currency is the dong. As of release of this article the US dollar is valued at 21 dong. The common notes are 100, 500 and 1,000. The more small-denomination bills you carry, the better. If you have your money exchanged for dong, insist on small notes, 100 dong or less if possible. Vendors and drivers carry little change, as do shopkeepers, so they will keep your dong rather than give you change.
There’s a wide variety of accommodations available in Vietnam to suit every budget, ranging from backpacker hostels to 5-star hotels. The backpacker hostels may cost up to $6 a night. Private rooms in budget hotels start at $15, and 5-star hotels range from $75 a night to $300.
Getting around Vietnam is easy. If you plan to head from Hanoi to Saigon or vice versa, there are regular flights from north to south. You can even take the train or the bus if you have time to spare or if you want to go the scenic route. There are taxi cabs in the big cities, and you can also rent a motorbike if you’re comfortable doing so. Just make sure to wear a helmet whenever you ride a motorbike—you can end up paying a hefty fine if you don’t. It’s a new law and it’s a must for safety.
Using the Internet and Your Cellphone
There are many Internet cafes in Vietnam, so you won’t be having a hard time communicating with anyone back home. If you’re bringing a laptop, tablet or wifi-enabled phone, you’ll be happy to know that a lot of hotels and cafes offer free wifi.
You can use your own phone in Vietnam, and you can use it as is through your current service provider. However, expect that you will be paying a lot per minute this way.
A more affordable option is to use your own cellphone, and make sure that it is unlocked. For iPhone users, keep in mind that at this time iPhones cannot be unlocked, so make sure to bring a cheap backup phone with you. Then, buy a local SIM card that will give you access to a local carrier. Your calls to home and within Vietnam will be very cheap.
All Set? Now You’re Ready to Go!
Now that you have all the arrangements out of the way, and you have all the important info that you need to know, you can now focus on the best part of any vacation—having fun! Once you get to Vietnam, you’ll get to test your haggling skills as you shop among the roadside stands, discover the tasty street food, and have a taste of the awesome and unique culture of the country.
Make your way to Vietnam, and have the best time of your life!