NOTE: This Vietnam travel guide will be updated from time to time as I learned through my own personal experiences. My goal is to prepared you to have a “rocking good time” by giving you all the information you needed for you to make well-informed decisions.
A Little About Your Insider Vietnam Tour Guide
That picture of Tino on the left was taken in 2012—the first year he visited Vietnam. He’s originally from California. He has such a great time visiting Vietnam that he decided to reside there. In the last four years he has been living in Ho Chi Minh City.
And because of the lack of information regarding “local stuff” he’d started this Vietnam tourism website that focus on local stuff instead of ONLY tourist attractions.
His hopes and goals are to see you mingling in with the locals. And if you spend enough time on this travel site then you might not look like a tourist in Vietnam.
So let’s dive into in this “Ultimate Vietnam Travel Guide”.
Vietnam Is A Developing Country
Traveling Vietnam can be a challenge even for experienced travelers. After all, Vietnam is still a developing country considered “third world” status. If you haven’t yet travel to a less-developed country before then be prepare for an adventure of “culture shock” and also prepared to be patience and understanding of the differences of economy—widespread poverty.
But Vietnam in my experience and opinion is developing at a very rapid pace. They are now having better facilities like these public restrooms that invested by Sacombank to encourage more tourists to Vietnam. And of course as you travel away from the city and thru the countryside it will become less-developed. Even in the big city like Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll see children, elderly, handicaps, and even young people asking for handouts.
Keep in mind as you reading through this Vietnam tourism guide knowing as this is one major reason to why there are more pick pockets and theft in these third world countries. And for this very same reason Vietnam is still cheap to visit and perfect for those that are on a limited budget. Read more “7 Reasons You Should Visit Vietnam“.
Preparation For Your Trip To Vietnam
There’s a few things that you can do to get familiar with Vietnam before you even set a foot here. Just like any other trips, vacation, or holiday, it is a good idea to do some research on the country that you’re planning on visiting. The CIA Factbook is a good place to start your research on the country of Vietnam. Travel blogs and tourism websites like VietnamTravelable.com will give you a feel and opinions of real life experience of another person like yourself.
Google is great for doing research but not many people know or setup Google Alerts. Go to Google Alerts and create a few alerts like “Vietnam weather”, “Vietnam places to visit”, “Vietnam tourism”, etc. By doing this, Google will look for new content on the entire internet and send you emails according to your alerts setup. I recommend doing this 3 days before your trip or even a week before.
Visa is required to enter Vietnam. It’s one of those countries that you have to apply for a visa. So make sure that you have it done and have it with you. You can obtain the visa through your travel agent or apply online. I don’t have a website that I personally recommend because I got mine through my travel agent. But you can search in Google for “apply for Vietnam visa” and get a tons of result. Let me know which ones workout for you. Maybe in the future update of this guide I can include it.
You must have your passport with you. And it’s a good idea to make copies of it just in case. You never know what could happens. So have a copy of your passport somewhere with you as to your real passport. Scan it and email it to yourself and someone you trust and maybe even another person you can trust. Doing this will help just in case something happen to your original. At least you have copies left.
Any electronics that you’re bring along with you must meet the requirement voltage or it will blowout your valuables. Vietnam voltage for the wall outlets are 220-240 volts. So make sure you check your electronic like your hair dryer, electric shaver and so on that it’s compatible. Look at the plug label and pay attention to “INPUT”. If the maximum is up to 240 V then you’re good.
WC? What is that? Yes, remember that acronym the next time you need to use the john. It stands for “water closet”. Back in the states we called it “restroom”. One of the most uncomfortable things and hard to get used to at first is that most public restroom don’t have toilet papers.
The locals are used to wash with water then as to supposed to using toilet papers. If you don’t feel comfortable with using water to wash yourself then be sure to carry toilet papers with you everywhere you go. It’s always a good idea especially travel long distance. Another other great idea, you might want to carry wet naps or baby wipes. It has more useful purposes and also look a little more “classy”.
One few more comments and a tip on public restrooms in Vietnam.
Beside the fact that it doesn’t have toilet paper, sometimes it does get pretty filthy. Majority of the toilet in bigger cities and towns are western-style toilets. When travel outside bigger cities to smaller cities and town sometime you might still encounter squat toilets. All these years I’ve encountered about 5 times and avoided 3 times but the other 2 I just have to go. And the worst part is, I have to pay 2,000 VND to used it. Well, they did gave me some toilet papers.
So my advice-tip to you. I’d avoid public restroom as much as possible. And you should too.
Get yourself familiarized with Vietnam Dong (VND) that’s their currency. Check currency and exchange rate online. You should always know the value of your Dollar. Here’s a quick rule of thumb. 1 USD = 20.000 VND. That’s the rough estimate for years now. Of course, it’s not exact amount but it’s a quick way to calculate when you need to be on your feet before the local ripped you off. With that, bring us to our next topic.
Tips to avoid getting ripped off. It’s that much easier to get ripped off because you’re a foreigner. The locals know you’re used to paying higher prices at home. When you’re in their country you don’t know the prices. Even though you know it’s cheaper but, “how much cheaper?” you don’t know. For example, let say a t-shirt back at home cost $10 USD (200.000 VND). That similar t-shirt in Vietnam is 30.000 VND ($1.50 USD) well, at least that’s the price they will sell to the locals. When you come along they will jacked up the price for you. Lets say 5 or 7 bucks. You will still think it’s a bargain and it is comparing to home. So you will not think much of it. In reality, you’re being ripped off.
Be watchful, have a keen eye on how much others are paying especially the locals themselves. This way you know how much the item cost. When it’s time to pay, just pay them that amount without asking them how much. This way they will think you know the right amount. And even if you missed, it’s not a big deal they will correct you anyway. But at least, they will be aware not to ripped you off. This kind of annoying exchange happens so often that their are people that laughed and joked calling it “foreigner tax”. But there’s no such thing. Be smart, now that you have this knowledge.
Have you thought about visiting Cambodia? If you have then here’s your chance. And if you haven’t then… Well, you should! Cambodia is right next door and can be easily visit when you’re in Ho Chi Minh City. Wherever you’re at in Ho Chi Minh City, get to Pham Ngu Lao street in District 1 there’s a lot of tourist buses and agencies that only specialized in going to Cambodia. You can take a bus directly to Phnom Penh, Cambodia for around $10 USD or 230.000 VND to be exact. I do recommend you plan this extra trip when you’re traveling to Vietnam. Maybe you can try to find some kind of Vietnam tour packages that include Cambodia.
One thing I wish I don’t have to share with you but I must.
Really, I don’t want to tell you about this because it’s illegal. But I must because this is “The Ultimate Vietnam Travel Guide from an Insider”.
Bribe the local Vietnamese police, This section of the travel guide I don’t really want to include it but I think it might helps someone out. The reason I hate this section is because it goes against my core values. But this is probably necessary when you find yourself in trouble for some reasons and wanted a quick fixed. I don’t encourage bad behaviors. It’s one of those principals that I have valued. But in a country like Vietnam it’s part of their built-in system. Everyone in Vietnam acts and treats it as it’s a normal thing to do.
Save yourself some headaches and give them 100.000-200.000 VND that’s under $5-10 USD.
Situations like these come up and you have no choice unless you’re willing to waste more times and money plus a big headache that you just want it to go away.
But there are other situations that you can help and do what’s right for the people of Vietnam or other countries that are considered developing status “3rd world” by not encouraging the culture of begging and asking for handouts.
A few ideas to support the poor people of Vietnam without encouraging begging and asking handouts:
- Support honest living by encourage hard work. Don’t give out free money. For example, if someone asking for money then do them a big favor by just simply “say no”. But if someone selling you something like kids or elderly selling gums, candies, lotteries, etc. then if you want to give your support by buying from them. It’s not only supporting them but also teaching and encouraging good hard work behaviors.
- Don’t give sweets/treats or pens. This seem to be a harmless act on the surface but it creates very dangerous over time lazy habits that cause them to continue asking for handouts instead of finding a real job and making a honest living.
- Support the local businesses. If you really want to help the people of Vietnam then buy local, eat local, stay local and mingle with the locals. This is how you support them by honest living. McDonald, KFC, Pizza Hut, Hilton and etc. are not local and are easily be recognized that their not local. If you ever run into trouble figuring out local or non-local then remember non-English speaking places are “usually” local.
7 Quick Tips That Can Save You Some Headaches & Pains When You’re Traveling Vietnam
Safety First. That’s my belief. If you’re prepared to be safe then you will have a lot more fun. Because with minimal worries you’ll get a lot more enjoyments.
- Always secured your belongings when traveling especially in a third country like Vietnam.
- Protect your skin. Bring some sun blocks.
- Don’t talk on your mobile phone while you’re out on the street of Vietnam.
- When crossing the street look both ways and walk don’t ever run. High traffic, walk and don’t stop but make sure you walk slow those motorbikes will dodge you.
- I always encourage to eat local stuff but do look around to see if the facilities are clean. If you have a weak stomach then always keep your eyes on this.
- Water, if your stomach are sensitive then it’s a good idea to have water bottles or soft drinks without ice.
- If you ever run into major issue then call the US Consulate 0835204200. The number is for the one that located in Ho Chi Minh City.
I hope I didn’t scared you off. It’s not to discourage but encourage you to visit Vietnam. You see, I’m a big believer in safety. Those 7 tips are for precaution. When you’re prepared then you will have more fun and enjoy your vacation to the fullest without such worries.
My Personal Advices and Vietnam Tourism Guide
These are the things that I am advising you through my personal experiences while traveling and living in Vietnam. Although, I haven’t travel everywhere in Vietnam yet—but have enough to share with you helpful and useful information that will help you to get the most out of your holiday or vacation in this culturally rich country of Vietnam.
First rule of thumb, LOCAL.
There are two main reasons why I recommend local, meaning—doing all the local stuff, eating local stuff, and mingling with the locals.
Reason number 1, it’s much cheaper. Usually the local foods, drinks, and even hotels are cheap. You can have a cup of coffee at a mom and pop place for around 7.000-10.000 VND or go to a more westernized coffee shop for 30.000-45.000 VND. A bowl of pho could cost you 20.000-25.000 VND or a more westernized location will cost 45.000-65.000 or even more. As for hotels, I’ve found one for 160.000-180.00 a night. It’s family owned and operate. It’s nice and clean even better than a few 2-3 stars rated hotels that I have been in.
Reason number 2. It’s fun to mingle with the locals to get a better feel and look at the culture. When you’re eating locally you will have the opportunity to interact with the real people of Vietnam. Those people have not yet or not much westernized. One thing, to keep in mind is that you are foreigner and they will normally pay a little more attention to you because you are different.
Second rule of thumb, THINK ADVENTUROUS.
Adapting the adventurous spirit will make your Vietnam trip more fun and enjoyable. By adventurous I don’t mean go skydiving in Vietnam, rock climbing in Vietnam or even eat dog meats while you’re there. That’s also considered adventurous.
But by adventurous this is really what I want you to get your head wrap around.
When bad situations or unusually things——things out of the norm happened then remember to look at it as an adventure in Vietnam. This will help you go along way especially if you’re out and about exploring Vietnam on your own without a tour guide.
You might run into a situation where you have to squat and do your thing. Remember, it’s an adventure in itself. Sometimes it’s not about the destination but about the experiences. And if you remember my tips earlier in this Vietnam travel guide then you know to bring your own baby wipes (ease the situation a little bit).
So think, “adventure, adventure, adventure”.
And finally the third rule of thumb, BE ADVENTUROUS.
I know this advice might not fly with most people but I am going to say it anyway.
“I’d rather be a failure then a coward.”