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Planning a trip to Vietnam anytime soon but unsure how to start? Apart from being the land of Pho, crazy motorbike driving, and beautiful sights, Vietnam has so much to offer. With a landscape that’s insanely varied, you can be cruising on a mountain top, sliding down some sand dunes, or relaxing by a beach along the coastline. So, how exactly do you begin planning a trip to Vietnam? Here are a few of our tips to make the most out of this country.
Visas in Vietnam: Everything You Need to Know
Compared to other countries in Southeast Asia, Vietnam changes its policies all the time so best to check with the proper government agencies as I cannot guarantee the accuracy of any of the information. As of August 2016, the following countries can get a free visa for the prescribed number of days. If you wish to stay longer, you will have to apply for a visa beforehand.
Visa-free for 30 days: Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore
Visa-free for 21 days: Philippines
Visa-free for 15 days: Japan, South Korea, Denmark, Russian, Sweden, Norway, Finland, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain
Visa-free for 14 days: Brunei, Myanmar
If you need to apply for a visa on arrival, you will need at least three days to do so. There are multiple companies that offer their service (but be weary as which one you choose as there are a lot of scams out there. This service (approval letter) will cost you around $21 while the visa itself will cost you around $25 at the airport. Please take note that the visa on arrival doesn’t work at land crossings, only in International airports. If you find yourself crossing over by land, you will need to apply for a visa ahead of time in any Vietnamese embassy.
Insider Tip: We’ve heard good things about the service of Vietnam-Visa so if you are looking for a reputable company to help you arrange your visa, you should check them out. They even have rushed visa services incase you need your visa processed faster.
Obviously not required but we recommend it. Most people travel Vietnam by motorbike or experience being on a bike at some point, so travel insurance is generally a very good idea. Like a lot of travel resource sites, we personally recommend World Nomads. The different insurance packages they offer are unbeatable when it comes to covering adventure activities.
Where to Go in Vietnam – Popular Routes and What to See
The Southern parts of Vietnam is a very diverse area. You have the busy city of Saigon which is most likely your first destination upon arrival in Vietnam. If you’re not a city person, around the area you can check out the Mekong Delta for a tour of the river which spans out across three countries. You can easily do a quick tour from Ho Chi Minh City, or if you really want to explore it, you can opt to go to Can Tho, a bustling town in the middle of the Delta.
If rivers and houseboats aren’t your thing, you can hit the beach and explore the coastal areas and islands. Phu Quoc and Con Dao are two places which are nice getaways from the hustle and bustle of the city.
As you move towards the north, you will reach Mui Ne and Nha Trang, two coastal towns which are rather popular amongst travelers. In Mui Ne, you can enjoy the peculiar sand dunes or try your luck at kitesurfing. Dalat, located in the central highlands is a place that we recommend visiting for adrenaline and adventure lovers. They have various activities there but canyoning is by far one of the most popular activities.
Imagine yourself swinging through canyons, jumping down waterfalls, as you traverse and make your way down this lush canyon! Highly recommended. Nha Trang on the other hand, is a big party town which has lots of beachside bars.
Resources: A Crazy Canyoning Adventure in Dalat and Where to Stay in Ho Chi Minh
After you’ve enjoyed your time along the coast, continue heading up Central Vietnam where you can enjoy the historical town of Hoi An, Danang, and Hue. Hoi An is one of my favorite towns in Vietnam. There is something about its quaint cobble stone streets, quiet beaches, and fantastic markets. The best Banh Mi sandwich that I have encountered during my travels just so happens to be in Hoi An. If you do make it there, make sure to check out Banh Mi Phuong, trust me-it’s delicious!
In Danang, you will find the popular Marble Mountains or the My Son temples located a little bit out of town. Apart from these attractions, Danang also has a nice beach which is worth visiting. For motorbike enthusiasts, don’t miss out on driving up the Hai Van Pass, otherwise known as the sea of clouds pass.
This stunning road will give you uninhibited views of the city and the South China Sea. Hue, on the other hand, is a historic city which is rich in history and culture. The 19th-century citadel surrounded by a moat is perfect for history lovers and enthusiasts.
Wandering around Northern Vietnam is a real treat for nature lovers. Between the many scenic roads, limestone karsts, and the hectic yet cultural city of Hanoi, a trip up here is definitely worth it.. Apart from seeing the sights of the city, a trip to eat Hanoi’s famed “Bun Cha Hanoi” is highly recommended. In fact, President Obama even graced the humble eatery with his presence accompanied by foodie chef, Anthony Bourdain.
For those of you that don’t know, Bun Cha is a meal comprised of grilled meats, noodles, and a sweet and sour soup like sauce. Words cannot even begin to describe this meal as it is by far one of my favorite Vietnamese fares. Head over to Bun Cha Huong Lien to get an authentic taste of this wonderful meal. Apart from food tripping in Hanoi, head on over to Ninh Binh to see the fantastic limestone karst formations.
Personally, I think Halong Bay is becoming very overrated. For similar sceneries, Ninh Binh is the inland counterpart of Halong Bay except it is less touristy and polluted. Sadly, the amount of tourism floating down Halong bay has caused the waters to be polluted which was a big disappointment to me.
If you really want to see Halong Bay without the touristy crowds and expensive cruises, Cat Ba island can also be an option. From there, you can kayak around the limestone karsts and explore the islands caves and beaches. From there, you can continue heading up North, seeing the mountain rice province of Sapa, Yen Bai, and Ha Giang. There are also loads of hill tribe villages here which are worth visiting.
Resources: Where to Stay in Hanoi
Getting Around Vietnam
Vietnam is one of the easiest places to travel to as public transport is easy to arrange and very convenient. If you are feeling adventurous, we recommend traveling Vietnam by motorbike. Tom did this and he swears that it has been the best 6 weeks of his life. If you intend on doing this, you can buy a motorbike in either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh and sell it at the end of your trip for almost the same price or just a little bit more. Check out the resources section to get more information on how to do this.
Alternatively, you can also buy an open bus ticket, getting on and off at all the main tourist hotspots. This is what I did and it was very easy and convenient.
Search for a reputable company, make sure you are getting the exact open bus ticket that you need (you choose based on the destinations) and off you go. If you are traveling during peak season, all you have to do is to call a number, asking them to reserve a seat for when you want to leave. There are about a million and one tourist travel agencies who can help you do this so I wouldn’t worry too much about it.
Related: Riding a Motorbike in Vietnam: The Best Six Weeks of My Life and Vietnam by Motorbike: 8 Things You Should Read First
Basic Vietnamese Phrases For Travellers
When traveling in other countries, I always make it a point to get to know a few basic phrases. Hi, hellos, how much is this beer- you know, all the essentials! Learning a few key Vietnamese phrases is one of the best things to know before visiting Vietnam because it’ll help you gain some local friends while impressing the food vendors. You never know, an extra serving of noodles might just be given to you for trying.
Hello: Xin chào
Goodbye: Tạm biệt
Thank you: Cám ơn
Nothing too spicy, please: Lam on moi thu khong qua cay
How much? Bao nhieu?
Do you have a cheaper price? Ban co gia nao re hon khong?
Budget for Traveling Around Vietnam
Traveling throughout Vietnam is insanely cheap and can be done on a budget. You can spend anything from $20-30 a day, depending on your travel style. For budget backpacking, a standard hostel is around $6 a night while private rooms run from anything between $11-15 a night. Beers are ridiculously cheap and are around $1. Insane right? For meals, if you stick to street food, expect to spend around $2.
If you’re eating Western food or in a restaurant, expect to pay around $7-10. The one thing that you really have to pay for in Vietnam is doing the activities and tours so if you are on a tight budget, look into doing DIY tours instead. When in Vietnam, don’t forget to haggle! Be polite, nice, and have a laugh with them. When haggling, remember that they often quote you 2-3x the original price. Having a rough idea of how much things cost will help avoid you getting ripped off!
There you have it, folks! Vietnam is one of the most scenic countries which we enjoyed traveling around. It is definitely a country worth seeing and exploring. Our time there was filled with many wonderful encounters with the locals and insane scenery and drives. If you want a more detailed article on where to go, check out this two-week Vietnam itinerary.
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