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Things to do in Ho Chi Minh city
Things to do in Hanoi
Things to do in Hoi An
1. Best time to go is from January to March
My best advice is not to be put off coming in the raining season. The rain usually only happens for a few hours in the afternoon and the locals are used to carrying on with their day no matter how heavy the downpour is, so no activities will be cancelled due to it.
The weather varies across the country. The northern and highland regions exhibit more seasonal trends than the likes of Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) and the south. If you are coming here for the first time, I suggest packing summer clothes and a few light jackets for the evenings.
Tet Holiday (End of January/ Beginning of February)
Tet lasts around ten days. For four of them, all the shops will be closed in the main cities and hotspots such as Hoi An will be very busy. The usual bustling cities are replaced with an eerie peacefulness which in itself is a unique experience.
This celebrates the Reunification Day, or the Fall of Saigon (HCMC). There are fireworks and celebrations throughout many of the cities, the most impressive being in HCMC itself.
2. If you are from Europe, you might not need a visa.
Scandinavia, Southeast Asia, and Western Europe, get a free 15-day Visa. If you leave the country after or during this Visa you may be asked to wait 30 days before re-entering, in this instance, you would be better to get the 3-month multiple entry Visa online (at least 3 working days before your flight).
Citizens of the United States, Canada, and Australia can apply for visa on arrival. The cost is about $45USD for a 30-day single entry visa.
3. Everyone is a millionaire here.
Ever wondered what being a millionaire is like? Travelling to Vietnam will let you fulfil this dream. The exchange rate for the Vietnam Dong (VND) (at the time of writing) is at about:
1 US Dollar (USD) = 22,781 VND
which means 1,000,000 VND is around $44, the cost of a mid-range hotel room.
Vendors are not officially allowed to accept currency other than the VND so make sure not to be caught out without the local currency.
4. Exchange money at jewelry shops for a better rate, and withdraw money from Citi bank to avoid multiple transaction fees.
Most ATMs in the country accept Visa or Master Card. In all of the major airports, there are money exchanges booths, however, you can find a better exchange rate in the jewelry and gold shops in HCMC and Hanoi around the central part of town (in HCMC, they surround Ben Thanh market).
Many of the local banks limit you from withdrawing more than $100USD at a time. Although, depending on your bank account, you can withdraw as much as $250USD from an HSBC ATM and $400USD from Citibank.
5. Your trip will be much easier if you master these useful Vietnamese phrases.
The official language is Vietnamese. Many visitors find it extremely difficult to gain a quick grasp of this language as it is tonal and requires many of the sounds to be made in your throat instead of your mouth. Here are some quick and useful phrases which may come in handy even without mastering the tones. Make sure to check out our guide to learn 100 basic Vietnamese phrases as I have generally found locals are pleased to hear you attempting their language so will help you out.
Hello: Xin chào (sin chow)
Thank you: Cảm ơn. (gauhm uhhn) – it is not common to use ‘please’ in Vietnamese-
I’m sorry/ Excuse me: Xin lỗi. (sin loy)
Excuse me waitress: Em oi!\
The Bill Please: Tinh tien!
How Much?: Bao nhieu? (bow yew)
Too Expensive: Mac qua! (Mac was)
No Sugar: Khong suong (Khom duong) – The norm in Vietnam is to add sugar.
6. Vietnam is safe…sort of
Vietnam is not only extremely cheap to visit but also relatively safe. Both locals and the government look to tourists as a sign their country is developing so they welcome their arrival. Watch 15 tips to stay safe in Vietnam.
The only crime you are likely to encounter is petty theft with the most common incident being people snatching belongings while driving past on a motorbike. So, to protect yourself against this, make sure you don’t displayed obviously, avoid using your mobile phone near busy streets, and hold your camera securely when taking photos by the road.
7. Vietnamese are friendly but money driven.
The Viet population stands strong at just over 90 million. It is predominately young with an average age at just 30.
Education is highly valued by the Vietnamese. The older generation has been through a war and is desperate to bring the youth out of poverty. Many children attend extra classes on weekends. If you spot a large crowd of people waiting on motorbikes outside a building, you will likely soon see uniformed children running out and hopping onto the back of the bikes.
The culture in Vietnam is quite unique to the rest of South East Asia. Influence from both China and the West has been spun into a very different way of seeing and doing many things.
There are a strong determination and entrepreneurial spirit. Bartering is a competitive game which is sometimes misinterpreted by visitors as the Vietnamese trying to rip them off. It is true that there is a difference in the prices for locals and visitors, but you can always get a lower price than what you are first quoted. Many of the older generations have experienced a time when food and money were scarce, so to them, visitors mean a chance to escape the hardship of the past.
8. You don’t need to tip here.
Vietnam does not have tipping culture and tips are not expected. Coming from Australia, I like to tip a little to most people when I get a good service but, like many other developing countries, there is not always good service. Vietnamese usually share their dishes so restaurants accommodate to this and bring out food as it is cooked.
9. Choose these types of transportation for a hassle free trip
Fly with Vietnam Airlines
There are many domestic routes which can be an extremely affordable and quick way to travel. During the rainy season, it is common to see delayed flights, so look out for severe storm warnings in and around the country on the day of your flight.
Choose Uber over Taxis
You can hail a taxi in most urban areas. Some visitors have reported scams from drivers overcharging so make sure you ask for the meter to be put on. A good tactic is to check prices with Uber before bartering with any other taxi drivers. As a gauge, you should not pay any more than 200,000 VND from the airport in HCMC to District 1.
There are other options available across the country aside from the traditional taxi:
The traditional motorbike taxi, translated as “hug the driver” although the hug is optional, are available almost everywhere. You don’t need to look for them, they will find you; “You. Hey, you. Motorbike you?” will follow you around wherever you walk. Find the source of this sound and you will find a Xe Om.
Grab and Uber:
The ride-hailing app which allows you to roughly halve the price of metered taxi is only on offer in the big cities. You have downloaded the app to get this service and will need an internet connection to hail one. When it rains, demand surges and so do the prices, at this point, it is usually less costly to hail a taxi. Uber and Grab’s drivers have an incentive to offer you a good and safe service as they really want you to give them a 5-star rating on the app afterwards.
In all of the above options, I have been surprised at how often the driver does not know the way and expects me to. Uber and Grab are slightly better for navigation as they have their smartphones but it is always best to check Google before you leave so you can help if your driver gets lost.
10. Wifi is relatively fast
Vietnam has a relatively fast Internet connection (except when the government announces that sharks have eaten the cables. Literally!).
WI-FI can be found at a mean everywhere, on a couple of occasions now I have been shocked by little street vendors providing passwords for me to connect up.