Here are all the best Vietnam travel tips I could think of based on my own trips within the country. Let this be your one stop guide to one of the coolest countries in Asia!
One of my favorite things about slow travel is how familiar you become a place that was once completely foreign. Even though I’d planned my own Vietnam itinerary before, I really got to know the country well when I accidentally found myself calling it home for sixteen months! While there, I learned about more places than I could possibly visit and my bucket list grew exponentially. I’ve written quite extensively about specific spots, but I’ve been meaning to write a huge, practical tip guide similar to my Korea Travel Tips post.
If this is your first time visiting the country, here are ALL the tips and advice you’ll need to know.
I’ve divided it up into:
- Things to know before visiting
- How to travel in Vietnam
- Where to stay
- Itinerary tips
- Major things to do
- What to eat
- Safety and hygiene
- Souvenir shopping
- Random travel tips
Things to Know Before Visiting Vietnam
1. Learn some Vietnamese
For the most part, it’s fairly easy to travel Vietnam knowing only English. However, I do think it’s always good to know some Vietnamese, even if it’s as simple as “hello” and “thank you.”
Here are some phrases to help you out:
- xin chao: hello
- cam on: thank you
- oi: used to get attention – combine with “em (younger), anh (older male), or chi (older female)” – “anh oi!”
- troi oi: omg, Vietnam-style
- dung lai o day: stop here
- mot, hai, ba: 1, 2, 3
- – o dau?: where is -?
I actually wound up taking Vietnamese lessons and loved it. If you’re living in Saigon, I can’t recommend Co Kim enough! Check her Facebook page for upcoming sessions.
2. Learn a bit of Vietnamese history
Vietnam has a very long and complex history that explains a lot of what you’ll see today! Like why are there so many French colonial buildings? What actually happened during the Vietnamese War? Who exactly was Ho Chi Minh? What are ethnic minority tribes. Is there royalty in Vietnam?
It’s actually such an interesting history, and the more you see, the more you’ll be curious about! I’d start with a few Youtube videos to get an overview and then find some cool movies to watch and books to read!
3. Know where you’re flying in
There are two main airports for international visitors: Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi and Tan Son Nhat Airport in HCMC. If you’re living in Asia, you could also probably fly into Da Nang International Airport as well.
Since Hanoi and HCMC are at opposite ends of Vietnam wherever you fly in pretty much just depends on your itinerary! When I came for 2 weeks, I flew in to HCMC from Seoul and then out of Hanoi back to Seoul. I don’t remember the prices being that different.
In case you were wondering:
- Noi Bai – 40-50 minutes from Hanoi’s Old Quarter
- Tan Son Nhat – 15-20 mins from D1 in HCMC, 40ish minutes from Thao Dien
- Da Nang – 10 mins or less into town
4. Make sure to pick up a SIM card
The wifi and data in Vietnam are pretty good all things considered! I distinctly remember having a SIM card and watching the entirety of Brooklyn on my train ride from HCMC to Da Nang with no issues.
You can get them easily at any airport if you have an unlocked phone or dual SIM card holders, or you can order ahead of time here. Make sure you get a phone with calling capabilities because a lot of places will ask you to list your phone number and Grab drivers will always try to call.
Pro Tip: To top off on the go, use Ding.com! Works really well and is good about returning your money if it doesn’t work for whatever reason. You can also pay via Paypal.
5. Understand Vietnam’s very vast geography
Of all my initial Vietnam travel tips, the biggest one is this — realize just how long this country is. Like longer than you’d think when planning your trip. If you want to travel efficiently, you’re going to want to fly in between places or be prepared to be on a train or bus for hours. Even when distances seem fairly short, you have to factor in the roads and mountains, and often it’s much slower getting to and fro than you’d think (RIP my mental stability during the 8 hours to Mu Cang Chai).
I would very much plan out where you want to go and check the map AND check airplane or train routes before you book anything. One mistake my friend and I made was thinking we could fly from Quy Nhon to Hue before realizing there were no flights even to Da Nang! We wound up booking private transport and it took us all day to get there.
6. Know the seasons of Vietnam (and how the regions vary!)
I know you think southeast Asia, must mean it’s hot, humid, and sunny for most of the year. WRONG. It definitely gets cold up north and in the Central Highlands during the winter and early spring. While it does stay quite humid and hot along the central coast and southern regions, you do want to be wary of monsoon season. It can start in April or May and last until October. I didn’t find it too terrible to plan around, and it made the weather so slightly cooler. Just be sure to buy some waterproof sandals (I liked having the Birkenstock Gizeh sandals).
7. Tips for Clothing and What to Wear in Vietnam
Overall, Vietnam isn’t a super conservative. There are just some things to keep in mind. Like you want to cover up slightly more in Hanoi than in Saigon, and it’s always good to have shoulders and knees covered in at temples and when meeting minority tribes! Otherwise you want to dress to be as comfortable as possible in the tropical climate (unless you’re somewhere colder in the winter). I cannot emphasize how much nicer cotton and linen in lighter colors or black will feel! Avoid colors that show sweat because you will most likely sweat a lot. I pretty much lived in linen dresses!
8. Exchange + Money Matters
Since I have Citibank, I mainly used the Citi ATMS around HCMC to take out cash. Here are the main locations:
- In Vincom Center near the Zara entrance
- The Citi building on Nguyen Hue
- At the airport near the exit
- At AIS Sports Centre in Thao Dien
Otherwise you can use just about any ATM to take out cash, though most have smaller limits and will charge a certain fee.
Note: Vietnam is NOT credit card friendly. While most luxury hotels and foreign food restaurants and cafes take card, you can almost guarantee that smaller restaurants, local guesthouses, and tours will not. I even know friends who have issues using Grab with their cards, and I personally used cash the whole time.
9. How much a Vietnam trip can cost…
It’s no secret that Vietnam is probably one of the cheapest countries to visit if you’re coming from a Western country. You could very easily travel for $25 or less a day if you were on a strict budget. That said, I think it’s important to acknowledge that you are probably coming from an economically stronger country, and it’s honestly in poor taste to nitpick over a few 100,000 VND. Obviously, don’t let some restaurant take you for a fool and charge you 10x what they’d charge someone else, but don’t sit there and bargain over a few dong that you know you can afford and would probably pay way more for in your home country.
10. Tipping in Vietnam
Tipping is Vietnam is weird! Overall, no you don’t tip nearly as much as you do in the US. I’d say the main places to tip are with salon services. Otherwise, I just rounded up when I pay for food and delivery.
How to Travel in Vietnam
11. How to book local buses and trains
Easily the cheapest (and slowest and most sustainable way) of traveling Vietnam is via its local buses and trains. When I first went, we took all sleeper trains! If you want to make sure you have a spot, use booking sites like Baolau or Bookaway. Otherwise, you can buy when showing up at the bus or train station. I personally don’t recommend showing up at the bus stations to buy a ticket because they’re absolutely bonkers. Like a million people yelling at you at once. Even I got overwhelmed!
12. Sleeper Trains vs Sleeper Buses
So if you’re not familiar with these… interesting forms of transport, they’re essentially buses or trains built to sleep on! For buses, you don’t have seats but you have 3 rows of essentially beds. Everyone takes their shoes off before they got on board. It’s actually not too bad unless you’re on a mountain getting swung about. Sleeper trains are split between hard sleepers, soft sleepers, soft seaters, and hard seaters. When we took a soft sleeper train from Da Nang to Ha Noi, it was 4 beds to one room.
Sleeper buses are very hit or miss, and if you have trouble sleeping these will be absolute hell. The trains are much steadier. I’ve done the bus twice from HCMC – Vinh Long and Ha Noi – Mu Cang Chai. The south was fine because it’s a relatively flat road but Ha Noi – Mu Cang Chai was probably the most miserable 8 hours of my life. For 7 1/2 hours you’re on mountainous road and just getting swung about!
13. Grab is king within cities
The way everyone gets around if they don’t have their own motorbikes is via Grab (or one of the other iterations of it). Grab is SE Asia’s Uber or Lyft, and it’s also used for food delivery. You can book either a motorbike or a car. The car is safer, of course, but the motorbike is so much faster. If you’re really concerned about safety, I would recommend buying your own helmet that goes all the way around your face and over your ears. The grab helmets are pretty useless if you get into a crash.
14. Flying is super easy in Vietnam
Honestly, the best and easiest way to get around Vietnam is flying. It’s usually not much pricier than the trains and it’s so much faster. For airports, I also recommend booking a driver or Grab car because motorbikes usually can’t drop you off at the entrance. They have a designated spot and it’s a pain in the ass to get from that spot to the departure area.
Pro Tip: Leave off going to the smaller airports until like 30-45 minutes before. Usually they don’t even let you check in until then and there isn’t that much to eat or drink.
Where to Stay in Vietnam
15. Where should you base yourself out of:
I like to split Vietnam into 3 – southern, central, and northern. HCMC is the main city of the south, Da Nang in the center, and Ha Noi in the north. If you’re the type of person that would rather book somewhere for an extended period and travel from there, then those are the three cities to look in!
16. The best way to book anything? Facebook and Instagram!
Yep! While I do love all the normal booking and tour sites, usually the best option is to just contact properties, tours, and even restaurants via Facebook and Instagram DM. I swear Facebook is how Vietnam interacts the most! Every time I wanted to book a hotel, I usually just Facebooked the hotel and had a reservation. Heck, in Saigon if I wanted to order from somewhere, I sometimes skipped over Grab and just Facebooked them!
With most places, you’ll pay at the end of your stay. While you shouldn’t have issues using a credit card, some smaller spots may only take cash.
17. Staying at homestays
One of the fun, more unique things to do in Vietnam is to stay at a homestay. This is more common in the more countryside areas like in the Mekong. Da Lat, or Sa Pa. You basically stay with a local family or person. It’s not glamorous but it’s a nice way to get more insight into the region! Some home stays are more built for visitors while others you’re literally in someone’s guest room.
18. Picking between hotels and hostels
Because Vietnam is a big backpacker spot, there are an abundance of hotels and hostels with high ratings. I remember looking at Hoi An and having a ton to choose from with a rating of 9 or higher. I’d say to help you choose, look at reviews of customer service and where the hotels/hostels are located. I’ve had some of the loveliest experiences at hostels here and some of the worst at nicer hotels!
19. Indulging in luxury in Vietnam
If you’re a hotel buff, you’re going to love all the incredibly-designed hotels throughout Vietnam. Bill Bensley himself has design quite a few, but I’ve only stayed at Da Nang Intercontinental so far. A number of luxury brands have properties here including Azerai, Aman, Anantara, MGallery, Four Seasons, Six Senses, and much more. Not to mention the boutique hotels like Pilgrimage Village in Hue, Poulo Condor in Con Dao, or the Mia in Saigon. I will also say from my luxury stays, I’ve had nothing but amazing customer service, so if you’re looking to indulge, this is the country to do it.
20. What is Airbnb like in Vietnam?
Airbnb does exist in Vietnam! I used it to find a more long term place when I was coming for a month. Now that I think about it, though, after that first time I hardly used it. When you stay long enough, it’s better to try to rent an apartment, and there are just so many hostels, hotels, homestays, and resorts that Airbnb becomes an afterthought.
Vietnam Itinerary Tips
21. First things first, be mindful traveling around Tet
Vietnam has a few holidays throughout the year, but by far the most important is Tet, aka Lunar New Year! When you visit during this time, be prepared for sold out trains, flight prices being much more expensive, and some intense city pollution in the days leading up to the holiday! When I first visited, I made the horrible mistake of booking hard sleepers in our train from HCMC – Da Nang but when I tried to switch to soft sleepers, they were totally booked out. We did manage to at least get some soft seaters, but definitely not a fun journey!
On the flip side, if you do visit Hanoi or Saigon during the actual holiday, it’s pretty much the quietest and cleanest those cities will be all year round! Nguyen Hue Street and a lot of nearby spots are fully decked out for Tet, and the traffic is next to nothing as everyone has gone to their hometowns!
22. Should you book a tour or DIY?
I think tours can make things incredibly easy (which is why I’m roughly planning some TSGA tours for 2023 ;)!). However, Vietnam is a lot easier to visit than it gets credit for. It’s definitely not the breeziest country to visit (Korea and Taiwan are tied for that!), but it’s not some jungle of a country that’s hoping to get back at the imperialist Americans your parents are probably imagining either.
Part of why I believe Vietnam gets SUCH a bad wrap is that in the early ages of travel blogging, pretty much every budget backpacker wrote about it negatively and their posts are what people found. Even when I went in 2016, I remember reading post after post to be wary of scams and how scary the traffic can be. Frankly a lot has changed and in the last decade, and I’d take any post written before 2015 with a grain of salt.
However, Vietnam is very doable to DIY even if you want to go to the more remote areas. I’d say it’s even possible to do solo as a female traveler! As with any country, keep your wits about you, be smart, and find guesthouses and hotels where you can lean on the owners for advice.
23. Where to go if you have…
While you could squeeze in a pretty hectic trip from north to south in a week, you’ll really only skim the surface of Vietnam. You’ll probably have time for Ha Noi, Ha Long or Hoi An/Da Nang, and then some time in HCMC and the Mekong. I would instead pick between northern, central, and southern and explore from there.
For northern Vietnam, try to include Ha Noi, Ha Long, Ninh Binh, and Sa Pa. In central Vietnam, do Da Nang, Hoi An, and Hue. If you’re feeling extra adventurous try going between Hue and Phong Nha, which is where the old DMZ is! In southern Vietnam, enjoy the hustle of Saigon, go down to the Mekong Delta, and enjoy one of the beaches areas in Phu Quoc, Mui Ne, or Con Dao.
This is much more doable for a full country trip and what I did on my first trip. Start in Hanoi or HCMC and fly out of the opposite. Include HCMC, the Mekong, Hoi An, Ha Long, and Hanoi. We spent too long in both Hoi An and Ha Long, so you could probably squeeze in Ninh Binh or Sa Pa in that same time frame!
4 Weeks / 1 Month
Here’s where you can really enjoy Vietnam! Though if you’re anything like me and the people I met, the longer you stay, the more you wind up adding to your list of places to see. I would say one month gives you a lot of time to really enjoy the country and lets you slow travel a bit!
I say first start in the north as the top things to do and see are more active and might have you hiking or trekking. Hit up Sa Pa, Ha Noi, Ninh Binh, and Ha Long. If you want to see more, try Ha Giang Pass (on my list!) or Yen Tu and Binh Lieu, two areas in the same province as Ha Long.
If you want to try riding a motorbike (or can drive one!), then here’s how I’d recommend doing central Vietnam. Fly into Dong Hoi to see Phong Nha. Talk to the owner of Phong Nha Farmstay about doing a motorbike tour from there down to Hue where you’ll stop over at the DMZ. Then check out Vietnam’s royal history in Hue before going to the very picturesque Hoi An. Take a moment to enjoy Da Nang and fly out from here to HCMC.
In HCMC, check out the many things to do (at least one day for the main sites and one day for temple hopping in Cho Lon) before making your way to the Mekong Delta. Most people do a day trip which shows you one area, but if you don’t mind staying overnight, check out Vinh Long or Can Tho. To end your trip, pick either Mui Ne, Con Dao, or Phu Quoc for a little beach getaway!
Major Things to Do in Vietnam
I mean this section alone needs to be its own post (working on it, promise). There are so many things to do in Vietnam, but over all here are the big, ore general ones:
24. Take some motorbike lessons…
Why not?! I signed up for a class with Ride with Me Saigon and loved it! Find an instructor who will take you somewhere quiet (so not dropping you in the middle of the city) and patiently get you driving.
25… so you can explore Vietnam’s major loops and highways!
Vietnam is covered in some seriously scenic place best seen via motorbike. The two most famous are Ha Giang Loop super far north and Hai Van pass between Da Nang and Hue. But beyond that there are just so many! When you’re not in the major cities, you’ll find yourself just wanting a motorbike to get around. I never *got* why a lot of people liked motorcycles, but once I started driving I could see why. There’s just something so freeing about it that you don’t get in a car.
26. Cafe hop like your life depends on it
Guys, the Vietnamese cafe scene might actually have Korea beat! I know, I’m shocked. There’s just so much coffee in this country, I wouldn’t be shocked if someone came out with a statistic that people purchased more iced coffees than water bottles here.
On one level, you’ve got your ca phe su dua stands where you can just walk up and get your iced coffee to go complete with a little carrier bag. Then you’ve got the more local places that are wide open and lots of people are just chilling and smoking from the low chairs and tables. Milano Coffee is basically a chain of this. Then you’ve got your wonderfully trendy cafes that just make my heart sing. I promise I’m working on some blog posts to give you specific recommendations (for now they live on my Instagram highlights!).
I know I drank way too much coffee here because my eye started twitching at different times and when I Googled why, I was told it could be from caffeine and a lack of sleep!
27. Learn more about Vietnam’s various ethnic minorities and religions
This recommendation may seem a bit odd as 85% of Vietnam is Vietnamese and 74% is atheist, but the country has a really interesting history with ethnic minorities and various religions! When it comes to ethnic minority tribes, you’ll find many of them in the mountains especially Mu Cang Chai, Sa Pa, and the Central Highlands. If you go trekking, the main thing to do is to meet with some tribes and learn more about their culture within Vietnam.
Religion-wise, Vietnam feels like temple central! Seriously, in Cho Lon, Saigon’s Chinatown, alone, you could spend all day visiting each Buddhist temple. There is also a small presence of Catholicism around the country, so you’ll still find some beautiful Indochine cathedrals and churches.
The coolest thing I learned about though, was Caodaism. It’s a religion wholly unique to Vietnam and its version of the Vatican is in Tay Ninh. Once you see its temple style once, you’ll recognize it when you see it throughout the country.
28. Explore Champa ruins
Once upon a time, central and south Vietnam were part of the Champa Kingdom. As in from the 100s AD to 1832! Today what’s left of their rule are the Chams, now an ethnic minority mainly in Cambodia and Vietnam, and some incredible archeological ruins. The most famous is Mỹ Sơn near Hoi An, but you can find small ones throughout Vietnam like in Phan Thiet, Nha Trang, Binh Dinh, and more. Plus quite a few museums house some Champa artifacts like both the Fine Arts museums in Hanoi and Saigon!
29. Look for the remaining French influences in Vietnamese culture
French had control over Vietnam through the 1800s and early 1900s, and their presence is still felt throughout in the form of architecture and design. It’s kind of funny. I found Vietnam still loved the aesthetics of French colonial rule even though it’s, you know, related to French colonial rule.
You’ll see a lot of places use Indochine designs, and much of the French buildings are still standing and in use. Kind of like the people decided, “We don’t want your oppressive colonialism, but you guys did have good style, so we’ll keep that.”
30. Plan to hike or trek at least once
Even if you’re not a hiker, you’ve got to go at least once in Vietnam. The mountains are just too beautiful! The best places to do this are up in the ricefields of Sa Pa or Mu Cang Chai or the caves of Phong Nha. Of course, there are also various mountains you can do, but many of them have cable cars too, like Nui Ba Den (Black Virgin) and Fansipan.
31. Get to know Vietnam’s coast
If you look at a map of Vietnam, you’ll notice it has a lot of coastline. Ha Long Bay is the most famous area to visit and Da Nang is the best coastal city, but really there are a ton of towns and islands I hadn’t even heard of before I visited. Con Dao has my heart forever, and while I haven’t been to Phu Quoc yet, many of my friends love the resorts there (not so much the trash issue). For the Saigonese, Mui Ne and Phan Thiet are incredibly popular. I also loved Quy Nhon, especially staying at the Anantara there, and I have friends who stayed further south at Zannier Hotels Bãi San Hô and loved it too.
Really, I’ve only scratched the surface of what there is to see along Vietnam’s coast, but I’ve seen enough to know you don’t want to skip out on it!
What to Eat in Vietnam
30. The best Vietnamese food is found on the sidewalks while you sweat over plastic chairs
If there is one tip you take from all these Vietnam travel tips, this is the most important! Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of fantastic fine dining in Vietnam. But if you want the most authentic and delicious versions of these dishes, you will find them outside on the sidewalks and buried in neighborhood markets. If they have an actual building, it’s open air and you’re still probably sitting on plastic chairs!
29. It’s good to know a few food terms
The one time I remember totally freezing up is when I first started venturing out to the random food stalls to look for lunch or dinner. Beyond pho and banh mi, I had no idea what to look for! Here are some good terms to know:
- pho: the ultimate soup dish
- bun: noodles
- com: rice
- ga: chicken
- bo: beef
- ca: fish
- thit: meat
- banh mi: bread, but also a baguette sandwich
- mam: fish sauce
- nuong: fried
- ngọt: sweet
- cay: spicy
Beginner’s Tip: If you’re in Saigon, I recommend going to Ben Thanh Market first or booking a food tour. The food market there is very used to foreigners, so they have photos on their stalls! And, of course, if you do a food tour they can help explain the dishes and terms in person.
24. Let’s talk about coffee for a minute
I know I went into the cafe scene above, but let’s talk about the coffee itself! Did you know Vietnam is the world’s second largest coffee exporter?! As you might guess, it was the French who introduced coffee to the country and began building plantations.
Today, coffee is truly a part of Vietnamese life. The most classic thing to get is a ca phe sua da, or iced milk coffee (it’s always listed as Vietnamese iced coffee in other countries). You fill a cup with ice and condensed milk, and then you drip your coffee over top. Mix and let the ice melt (easy to do in the tropics). When it’s melted just enough and your glass is sweating with condensation, that is the time to start drinking!
Of course, there are plenty of other variations, and in most trendy cafes you can get your classic lattes, cappuccinos, etc. But just once, while traveling sit down and get a nice big bowl of beef pho and an almost too-strong cup of ca phe sua da!
Variations: Some other variations of Vietnamese coffee to look for: cà phê trứng (egg coffee), more popular in Hanoi; cà phê muối (salt coffee) in Hue, and coconut coffee pretty much everywhere (start with the many Cong Caphes around the country).
31. More drinks to try in Vietnam
I actually have a whole list of Vietnamese drinks to try! There are a lot of cool fruit juices, regional beers, and more worth trying while you’re here. I’m quite partial to lychee iced tea and nuoc mia (sugarecane juice)!
31. How vegetarian and vegan friendly is Vietnam?
Actually, I’d say it’s easier to find vegan and vegetarian-friendly food in Vietnam than I remember it being in Korea, especially in the cities. In the countryside, you’re pretty much shit out of luck, but in the cities big and small, there are also some really good vegetarian options! Try looking to see if there are practicing Buddhist monasteries around too and if they have a restaurant as Buddhist monks are all vegetarian, I believe!
33. Is it easy to get takeout?
Takeout culture is a big thing in the cities here! It’s almost too good, and I admittedly got very lazy. The easiest thing to do is order via Grab (other apps exist but Grab is the most reliable). However, I also found that many restaurants were easily reachable via Facebook and could arrange their own delivery drivers, so I did that whenever possible.
Safety and Sanitary Concerns
34. How safe is it to travel in Vietnam?
Over all, Vietnam is fairly safe. The biggest thing you want to worry about is someone on a motorbike swiping your wallet or phone or motorbike accidents (which are pretty rare considering how hectic driving is here). Just keep your things close to your body and have a firm grip on your phone if you pull it out near the road. I always do this thing where I turn against a wall if I look at my phone so it’s harder for someone to come up and grab it.
35. Does Vietnam hate the US and France?
I know what you might be thinking. As an American or French person, should I be worried Vietnamese people will actually hate my guts? Shockingly… no. I remember a friend once saying the US had higher approval ratings amongst Vietnamese than Americans!
Actually, I’d say the one country Vietnam has the most animosity towards is China. It’s similar to Korea and Japan right down to an island dispute (theirs are the Spratly Islands).
36. How are the bathrooms?
Bathrooms range but over all aren’t too bad! I didn’t use them too often, but obviously the more Westernized restaurants and shopping centers have nice, clean ones. I would say the grossest ones are probably on the trains.
37. Wtf is a bum gun?
Guys, let me tell you about the bum gun. I’m mad at myself for not using them sooner but I was apprehensive! Korea bidets are attached to the toilet seat, so you literally just sit there and hit some buttons on the side. Wouldn’t a bum gun be kind of gross and get everywhere? Also how would I get my butt?
Ok, so fear not. All you have to do is open your legs wide and spray front to back. It doesn’t get on the back of the toilet lid and will get all your crevices. If you want to, you can use a little toilet paper to dry or just sort of squat and shake a bit before pulling your bottoms back up! Remember: if your dog pooped on your hand, would you use toilet paper to wipe it off or wash it in water?
39. How clean is Vietnam?
I’m not going to lie to you guys, Vietnam is definitely not the cleanest place I’ve been. Obviously the countryside areas are pretty nice, but the cities can get quite dirty. Recycling is nonexistent and littering is definitely a problem. There always seems to be construction going on, so there are sometimes sparks flying and just a pile of rubble for weeks on end. Sidewalks are nonexistent outside of District 1, and the air pollution is notoriously horrendous.
Chances are if you’re not living in the cities, you won’t notice it as much as a traveler. But it’s just something to be mindful of!
What to Buy for Souvenirs
40. Anything related to coffee
Back to coffee! But seriously coffee beans, drip coffee, the delicious instant coffee packets… Just know you can’t ship coffee beans!
41. Clothes that are tailor made
Vietnam is home to a ton of talented tailors especially in Hoi An! I’ve written about getting clothes tailored here. I was definitely spoiled while living there and had a ton of things custom-made and/or tailored. I already know when I go back, I’m going to have some more things made like suits and silk dresses! If you’re in HCMC, go to TuyetLan Orchids Tailor, and if you’re in Hoi An, go to Izi!
42. Any local boutiques and brands
43. Anything Vietnamese themed
I mean once you get here you’ll see all the cute Vietnam-themed souvenirs in the most random places. My favorite is this Obama bun cha magnet I found in a bookstore in Go Vap! I’ve also picked up some cute illustrated books and postcards and just a lot of cute things I can’t wait to decorate with.
Random Little Vietnam Travel Tips
44. Really make sure the person knows what you’re asking
So one slightly annoying thing I discovered is that Vietnamese people will say, “Yeah, yeah, okay” when they don’t know what you’re saying or they don’t know the answer. This will happen a lot in cafes and restaurants. They’re not actually confirming anything! I try to use my card as much as possible, so I’ll ask if card is okay, and without fail they’ll say “Yeah, yeah, it’s okay,” when it’s definitely not. So if you’re not sure, double and triple check, pull out Google Translate, or, in a credit card case, your actual card and make sure they’re actually saying yes. I remember one time I asked twice and then it was when I physically pulled out my card, they finally said “Oh no, cash only.”
45. There’s a bit of a culture difference between the north and south
I don’t know that I really noticed this on my first trip, but I do distinctly remember liking southern Vietnam way more than northern Vietnam. Most people I’ve talked to prefer the south as it has nicer weather year round and it’s a lot less conservative. For example, I just found out Hanoi still has a curfew left over from the wartime!
46. Is it Saigon or HCMC?
You know how a lot of places have changed names over the years? “So if you’ve a date in Constantinople, she’ll be waiting in Istanbul”? Well, Ho Chi Minh City is the same! Until 1976 when the Socialist Republic of Vietnam was established, HCMC was known as Saigon. Actually if you really want to get into it, there’s a whole article on this regions’ naming history.
So, what’s the “right” thing to call this city? Well, it depends ultimately who you’re talking to, but from my experience and asking local friends here, both are used interchangeably. Saigon obviously rolls off the tongue a lot easier than Ho Chi Minh City and it’s easier to call someone Saigonese, like you’d call someone Hanoian, than it is to say “Ho Chi Minhian” or “Ho chi Minhese” (don’t even think those are things).
On this blog, I use HCMC in my titles, etc but in my actual text I might go back and forth!
47. You’ll meet more than teachers!
I think it’s because I didn’t live in Seoul or Busan while in Korea, but I feel like all the expats I knew were there because they were on an E-2 teaching visa or married. However, in Saigon, I’ve met people doing all sorts of things. The entrepreneurial spirit is really alive here (both expat and Vietnamese) which I think gives the city a really fun energy. Seriously besides teachers I’ve met people who work in furniture manufacturing, alternative energy, ecotourism, fitness, fashion, export/import… the list goes on really! If you’ve got the same spirit, then I think Vietnam is a really cool place to be.
48. Animal welfare has a long way to go.
If you’re a sensitive animal lover, I’m going to warn you that Vietnam is going to be a hard country to enjoy. Animal welfare is improving, but it’s still not at a level you’d probably hope for. And it’s not unusual for dogs to get stolen, so you have to be REALLY diligent if you intend to adopt.
If you do want to get involved in helping out, there are animal volunteer groups! ARC Vietnam Animal Rescue & Care is a good place to start and, of course, fostering is always an option! Another great place doing a lot for animals is R House.
49. How communist is Vietnam?
Yes, Vietnam is communist and has been since the end of the war. It’s not something that I find affects day to day life too much, but I also don’t recommend going around with anti-communist books or questioning the government. And I really, really do not recommend shouting out anything inflammatory against Bac Ho unless you want to get make your embassy’s life a living nightmare!
50. Facebook group are key for finding friends and advice!
I’ve found Facebook groups to be incredible sources of information and just for finding a bit of community. When I first came, I joined Fexpats in HCMC, and it’s remained a great source. The Hanoi equivalent is, I believe, Hanoi is Beautiful, but I couldn’t find it last I checked. If you want to make friends or are confused about anything just search there or ask. Lots of women in there have been here for a few years at least and it’s very chill.
Other good groups I’m in include Vietnam is Awesome, Vietnam Creative Circle, and [VN Legal] Vietnamese Legal!
And that’s all the Vietnam travel tips I have you for you! Let me know if you have questions or comments below!
For more Vietnam travel, read these posts next:
- How to Plan a Trip to Vietnam
- 22 Photos to Inspire You to Visit Vietnam
- How to Plan the Ultimate Leaving Vietnam Trip
- The Best Things to Do in Hanoi
- What to Do in Halong Bay + Travel Tips
- Hanoi to Halong Bay: How to Get There
- A Day Cruise Along Halong Bay
- Mu Cang Chai Travel Tips
- A Secluded Sapa Itinerary
- Hiking & Herbal Baths with the Red Dzao
- Historical Things to Do in Hue: Ultimate Guide
- Hue in One Day: A Speedy Itinerary
- Azerai La Residence Hue Review: A Luxury Stay
- A Semi-Relaxing Phong Nha Travel Itinerary
- Quirkiest Things to Do in Dalat
- How to Visit Yok Don National Park
- Top Things to Do in Hoi An
- How to Spend 3 Days in Hoi An
- Hoi An Tailors: Tips for What to Get Made
- The Vietage: A Luxury Train in Vietnam
- Anantara Quy Nhon Villas: A Luxury Review
- Things to Do in Ho Chi Minh City: A Bucket List
- A Guide to 15B Hem Le Than Thon: Little Japan Saigon
- Where to Go in District 5 & Cho Lon of Saigon
- Best Things to Do in District 1, HCMC
- What to Do in Mui Ne and Phan Thiet
- Anantara Mui Ne: Best Resort for a Girls’ Getaway
- Mekong Delta Day Trip: What to Expect
- A Guide to Vinh Long in the Mekong
- Con Dao: An Island Travel Guide
- Azerai Can Tho: A Luxury Stay in the Mekong
- Odys Boutique Hotel Review: A Chic Mid-Range Stay in HCMC
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