Vietnam Tips And Tricks: 26 Key Things To Know Before Your Trip

vietnam travel tips things to know before traveling vietnam rice fields terraced

This list of useful Vietnam tips and tricks is mostly for first-time visitors, but it can help anyone achieve a safe and worry-free travel. These are the 26 things to know about Vietnam before your trip!

I had a blast touring Vietnam. I fell in love with the hearty people, the vibrant culture, and the amazing diversity of landscapes. And I want you to have the same rewarding travel experience.

But I’m not gonna lie: it is a tricky country to explore. The neighbour Thailand or the ultra modern Japan are a breeze compared to Vietnam which has less tourism infrastructure and ways of getting around.

Tour scams are common, pollution can be disappointing, and the fact is an extremely poor country makes many look at you with dollar signs on their eyes.

That’s why I’ve compiled a list of everything I wish I had known before visiting Vietnam for a safe and scam-free trip to prepare you to one of the most amazing countries on Earth!

travel vietnam tips things to know ninh binh
Some places in Vietnam have a rare mystique. This is Ninh Binh.

Useful Things To Know Before Vietnam – TLDR

  • 1. Sort out your VISA.
  • 2. Don’t underestimate the size of the country.
  • 3. Be smart about your itinerary.
  • 4. Weather varies a lot.
  • 5. Get ready to haggle.
  • 6. Hanoi is quainter than you think.
  • 7. People are lovely…
  • 8. Beaches are not.
  • 9. Everyone’s a millionaire.
  • 10. Dress appropriately.
  • 11. It’s a paradise for foodies.
  • 12. Use tours as plan B.
  • 13. Or at least do your homework.
  • 14. Ho Chi Minh City is the place to be and be seen.
  • 15. The traffic is really hectic.
  • 16. WiFi is great!
  • 17. Be careful with your card.
  • 18. It’s freaking cheap.
  • 19. Phu Quoc is overrated…
  • 20. While Ninh Binh is underrated.
  • 21. Avoid tap water!
  • 22. Learn how to get around efficiently.
  • 23. Take care of your belongings.
  • 24. It’s worth to splurge on a Halong Bay cruise.
  • 25. Some basic words of Vietnamese can go a long way.
  • 26. Go for the street food!

Let’s go into more details below.

1Sort out your VISA.

First things first. It’s astonishing the amount of people who land in Vietnam with no idea what they need to do for their VISA. I agree it can be a daunting and confusing process, but don’t overlook this.

Fortunately there are many companies that do this for you online for a small fee. I used Vietnam Visa Pro – overlook the crappy design, it’s legit.

Upon arrival, triple check all of your documentation and make sure you bring the visa-on-arrival pre-approval papers, photos and cash with you. EUR and USD will do (although with ridiculous conversion rates).

ℹ Steps for your Vietnam VISA Application online

1 Fill out visa options and contact information.
2 Pay.
3 Get the approval letter on your email. It takes 1-2 working days (it’s a weird list of random people who were granted entering Vietnam at the same time you did. Personal information shared with strangers yay!).
4 Make sure you pack the pre-approval letter, 2 photos, passport, the entry/exit form and cash.
5 Handle it all over to the officers when you land. Smile.

2Don’t underestimate the size of the country.

I didn’t realize how massive and spread out Vietnam is until you search for directions on Google Maps. To give you an idea, a train ride between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City is 1700+km-long and takes roughly 35 (!) hours.

Getting from A to B always take longer than you expect in Asia and this is specially true in Vietnam. So plan accordingly and make sure you don’t bite more than you can chew.

Which leads me to my next point.

3Be smart about your itinerary.

vietnam travel tips and things to know rice fields terraced
Reserve at the very least 3 days for a proper tour of Sapa in Northern Vietnam.

A common rookie mistake is forcing everything and the kitchen sink on your Vietnam travel itinerary. If you want to go full North to South, allow at least 3 weeks. Any less and you’ll be rushing and/or forcing you to take flights, taking away a bit of the experience.

I went further and decided to skip the entire Central part during my 3-week stay. The region is prone to flooding when I went (late November) which helped making the decision.

Overall Vietnam can be divided into 3 main regions – North, Central and South – and as a rule of thumb I would say you’ll need a week for each at the very least.

4Weather varies a lot.

In general, Vietnam is humid and hot.

However, with such an elongated country, it’s only natural the weather changes significantly. And when I say significantly, I mean dramatically. 3 entirely different weather regions. It can be snowing in Sapa and a blazing hot sunny day down in Phu Quoc.

  • Northern Vietnam: expect hot wet summers and cool dry winters up North. It can get quite cold here during northern hemisphere winter – from September to November – particularly next to the border with China.
  • Central Vietnam: experiences hot, dry weather between January & August when temperatures can hit the mid-thirties.
  • Southern Vietnam: boasts a full tropical climate, with only 2 defined seasons – wet and dry. The best time to go is obviously during the latter, from December to April.

Selective Asia has more details on the weather in Vietnam.

5Get ready to haggle.

Prices of things are very cheap, but expect to pay whatever you can haggle for it. There are no fixed prices. This can be daunting at first, but you’ll eventually get used to it. I know think it’s more fun this way!

The thing is Vietnamese they WILL try to inflate prices. It’s how they have been doing business for centuries. The recent trend of wealthy tourists has just made big markups more evident to the outside world. Best you can do is to be informed and prepared to get a good price.

It’s advisable to hide all items that make you look richer – watches, jewellery, big bank notes – to make your offer more convincing.

Pro tip: come up with a maximum price you’re willing to pay and stick to it. No matter what. Don’t underestimate the value of politely start walking away.

6Hanoi is quainter than you think.

travel vietnam tips hanoi things to know before traveling vietnam
Oh the beautiful mess of Hanoi.

The artistic, traditional and creative side of Vietnam is more evident in Hanoi, where despite the crazy traffic and busy routines, centuries-old traditions are still alive.

Museums, pagodas and temples pledge a solid set of touristy activities but Hanoi is so much more than that. Despite being a huge city just like Ho Chi Minh City, it has somewhat of a village vibe that is absent in its southern counterpart.

The fascinating maze of streets of the Old Quarter is the ideal place to get lost and shop for local handicrafts in great food or just do a fair bit of people-watching. Make sure you pick a hotel in this area, reminiscent of a time where each street was specialized in one type of item (e.g. silver, chicken, etc). In between explorations, sit down and enjoy a hearty bowl of pho, the national dish.

Best hotels in Hanoi

Location is key in Hanoi. Explore this list of places to stay in the Old Quarter, with top reviews, and of course, free WiFi.

My choice: O’Gallery Premier Hotel

Superbly decorated hotel in the heart of Hanoi. An escape from the chaotic streets, with fabulous breakfast included.

7People are lovely…

vietnam travel tips hanoi
Vietnamese are very keen on keeping their traditions.

Most people visiting get the impression Vietnamese are greedy and shady people trying to get advantage of you at all times. I see this being legit if you stick to the touristy route exclusively. Sadly these travelers only get to know the business side of locals who are simply trying to make a living.

Once you break that local-tourist paradigm and make an effort to communicate with the person in front you, trust me, you’ll see it differently. During my travels I’ve met nice and friendly people from many different places, particularly in Asia. Vietnam takes it to a whole another level of kindness.

We’ve got everything from free food, inspiring life stories and school children thrilled to wave “hello” to us. These people may not have much, but they are still able to gladly share what they have with you.

8… Beaches are not.

travel vietnam tips phu quoc island beach
This strip of sand in Phu Quoc was the only good beach spot I’ve seen in Vietnam.

Putting it nicely, beaches are not Vietnam‘s forte.

If you’ve been to the dreamy beaches in Philippines or even to the islands in the neighbour Thailand, you’ll most likely get disappointed. Even the supposedly best beach in VietnamSao Beach in Phu Quoc island – had trash accumulated along 90% of its extension.

But hey, each to its own! And Vietnam is definitely all about indulging in local culture and food and meet inspiring people along the way.

9Everyone’s a millionaire.

 travel vietnam tips vietnamese dong money advice
That’s a lot of zeros.

Well, not quite.

I’m sure there are many confused souls out there right now trying to work out the ridiculously high conversion of the dong. At the time of writing this article, 1 EUR = 26,200 dong and 1 USD = 22,700 dong. This means 100USD or 100EUR are worth more than 2 million Dong!

The good news is that there are no coins in Vietnam since 2011. The bad news is that bank notes are enough of a headache. It’s easy for a 500,000 Dong note to “pass by” a 50,000 one. Same for the 10,000 and 100,000 Dong ones. The last 0 makes all the difference! Plus the 20,000 and 500,000 have an awfully similar tone of blue. Don’t get fooled!

10Dress appropriately.

Vietnam is not by any means a conservative country in what it comes to clothing. You don’t need to dress like an Afghan woman and the hot weather does even force some skin to be shown amongst locals. If you want to wear shorts, a shirt and flip-flops, that’s absolutely fine.

The line is drawn when girls wear bikinis and guys walk around with no shirt. When visiting temples and other religious sites, it’s advisable to cover-up as a sign of respect and restrictions may be applied regarding shorts and vest tops.

If you’re unsure what to wear, do as locals do. And if you’re visiting the North during winter time, don’t forget to bring some pieces of warmer clothing!

thailand island hopping
Having trouble figuring out what to pack for your trip?

Make sure you check out my post
What to pack for Southeast Asia if it’s your first time!

11It’s a paradise for foodies.

vietnam tips things to know vietnamese food
A standard Vietnamese sit-down meal.

Lying on a delicate balance of sour, hot snweet and salty perfected over centuries, food in Vietnam is unique. I love the flavors of tamarind, chili peppers and also loads of fresh greens that go in almost every dish.

Not sure because gluttony is now my middle name, but a whopping percentage of my memories of the country are food-related. I personally think it’s an unforgettable cuisine with some flavors I haven’t experienced anywhere else. But nothing like trying it out for yourself!

Note: No, didn’t see dog in the restaurant menu. Can’t be sure I haven’t eaten it though.

Dishes you need to try in Vietnam 🍜

  • 🍜 Pho: the national Vietnamese dish. A hearty noodle & meat soup with fresh herbs eaten primarily at breakfast.
  • 🍜 Bun cha: grilled pork and noodles.
  • 🍜 Gỏi cuốn: my personal favorite. Fresh spring rolls filled with noodles, meat/prawns/crab and greens.
  • 🍜 Cha ca: one of Hanoi’s best, it features white fish sautéed in butter with dill and spring onions.
  • 🍜 Nem Ran/Cha Gio: preferred in special occasions, this fried spring roll involves different combinations of lean minced pork, sea crabs or unshelled shrimps, edible mushrooms and dried onions.

12Use tours as a plan B.

vietnam travel tips mekong delta market
Tours to the floating markets in Mekong Delta are some of the most popular. And some of the most problematic too.

You can find all kinds of tours to some of the most popular places in Vietnam such as overnight stay in the Mekong Delta, a convenient Cu Chi Tunnels tour or a romantic cruise in Halong Bay. Heck Vietnam is a giant tour factory!

The catch is: more often than not, they’re terrible experiences and a giant waste of time.

There are endless reports of travelers being treated as cattle, rushing from place to place in cramped vans and stopping by at their friends’ shops and restaurants along the way. If you think about it, once you’ve paid and go for a 1,2 or 3-day long tour, you’re completely dependent on them!

I tend to avoid tours everywhere I go. I much prefer making my own itinerary at my own pace. We actually even learned how to ride a bike in Vietnam to avoid being dependent on day tours – best decision ever!

13Or at least do your homework.

If you decide to go on a tour, do your homework. Always double check reviews online and mind there are dozens of businesses with the exact same name!

DO NOT book tours through your hotel/hostel as they inflate prices tremendously. Instead ask around other travelers, go to a travel agent or contact directly the company. Ask away all the questions you might have including what I learned to be the most important one: “how many people are going in this tour?”.

Regarding price, tours are subject to haggling just like almost everything in the country. At the same time quality has a price and a few extra bucks in Vietnam can make all the difference. Specially in tours lasting 2 or 3 days it is worth to pay extra for additional comfort or to go with less people.

Apart from an amazing cooking class in Hanoi, I did book some tours from travel agencies myself. Considering all the dramatic stories and reviews I’ve read, I consider myself lucky with the range of experiences I’ve had:

My tours in Vietnam

  • 3-day cruise in Halong Bay, with Cristina Cruises. ★★★★☆. Expensive. We had days debating and researching which company to go with. The promised activities during the day were a bit of hit and miss but generally good fun. Apart from that, weather was a bitch (not their fault, obviously).
  • “Cruise boat” in Phu Quoc. ★☆☆☆☆. Terrible. Overcrowded boat (to the point of feeling unsafe), no respect for corals or marine life.
  • Cu Chi Tunnels tour in Ho Chi Minh City. ★★★☆☆. Mixed feelings. We paid extra for a semi-private tour with a Vietnam war veteran which turned out to be great. Wasn’t a fan of the place though.

14Ho Chi Minh City is the place to be and be seen.

ho chi minh city saigon vietnam things to know
Ho Chi Minh City never sleeps.

Apart from being the business and finantial capital of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City is a vibrant place. If you’re looking for an endless shopping scene, an ecletic music and art offer and sophisticated nightlife, well this city has stuff to keep you busy for days. No wonder it is the top choice for expats in Vietnam.

I was particularly impressed by the huge offer in restaurants. There’s a bit of everything here, from the authentic street food stall to the high-end luxury dining. Cafés where you can work a bit while grabbing a coffee are the best I’ve been. Ever.

And not to mention the rooftop bars. Other places in Vietnam also have them, but Ho Chi Minh City is a whole hub of them. The OMG Rooftop has drinks at decent prices and an awesome view over the Ben Thanh Market in the heart of District 1. Stay in this area to be close to everything!

Best hotels in Hanoi

Check this list of places to stay in District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City, with top reviews (9 or more), and of course, free WiFi.

My choice: O’Gallery Premier Hotel

Charming shack-themed hotel right in the center of District 1, where everything happens in Ho Chi Minh City but tucked away from the noisy traffic. Superb breakfast and host.

15The traffic is really hectic.

traffic vietnam tips motorcycles bikes .jpg
First I was afraid, I was petrified.

Are you familiar with those videos with Westerners struggling to cross the road due to the crazy amount of traffic passing by and honking as loud as they can? Yap, that’s a fairly accurate depiction of urban Vietnam.

Check this video of a street crossing I shared on my Facebook page.

Saigon is the city with the largest concentration of motorbikes in the entire world. Traffic in Hanoi is not any better too. Crossroads are not often and I can’t remember seeing any pedestrian lights. It will take some time before you feel comfortable, but it is important not to panic.

The best method to cross a road in Vietnam is to always keep a slow pace all the way. Make yourself predictable on your route and walking speed.

This will give time for drivers to spot you and calculate their next action to go around you. Don’t underestimate them: Vietnamese are highly-skilled drivers and do it every day!

16WiFi is great!

Except when the government announces sharks have eaten underwater fiber-optic cables (yes, this is a thing), Internet connection in Vietnam is surprisingly fast.

WiFi networks are reliable and can be found pretty much everywhere. I mean, even some street vendors have it. Coffeeshops in HCMC offer speeds up to 100Mbps!

If you want to stay connected at all times you will need a local SIM card. Good news: there are many options available at very affordable prices. Remember: prefer data over text/voice as you can communicate solely using data through Whatsapp, Skype or Apple’s Facetime.

We got our SIM card from Viettel right at Saigon‘s airport and it was an incredible deal: less than $20 for 20GB (!) of data. We then put it into our mobile WiFi router and done deal: we had data abroad for 2 people for an entire month for under $20!

HUAWEI E5577s-321 Mobile WiFi Router

Put any SIM card in the world inside and it will share the data across all your devices via WiFi (up to 10!). The battery lasts 12 hours of working. Can’t recommend it enough!

17Be careful with your card.

On our very first sit-down meal in Ho Chi Minh City we decided to pay with card. Stupidly, we let the waiter take the card inside.

When she returned, our safety piece of paper we had put on the back to protect the 3-digit code was gone. We asked what happened several times and only received a bunch of lame excuses. We had to cancel the card immediately – better safe than sorry!

You might argue card cloning attempts can happen anywhere – true that – but it had never happened to me so it’s a good idea to never leave your card out of sight in Vietnam.

18It’s freaking cheap.

Basically everything that you buy in Vietnam will be a bargain. Food is the best example. You can easily have sit-down meals for less than $5 and street food snacks for 0.20$!

To give you idea of travel costs, it’s quite common to find backpackers on a budget of $30 per day – including accommodation, transportation and meals. Package tours can quickly make your stay more expensive though.

The shopping centers and markets are also full of amazing deals at haggling distance. Here the discount will largely rely on your negotiating skills… My favorite place for shopping was Ben Thanh Market in Ho Chi Minh City. It’s a true consumerist mecca with hundreds of stalls for every piece of clothing, textiles, gadgets and handicrafts.

Bargains to buy in Vietnam 💸

  • 💸 Belts: genuine leather belts are common, as well as faux leather ones. Either should be below $10.
  • 💸 Clothing: many international companies have their manufacturing facilities in Vietnam so you can find great quality replicas here. Prices are at least a third of the price of the US/Europe.
  • 💸 Sportswear: specially popular for some reason. I bought good quality Nike and Under Armour sportswear clothes (and I don’t really care if they’re genuine or not).
  • 💸 Electronics and cell phones: you might get lucky with a great deal but I personally don’t think is worth the risk.
  • 💸 Gadget accessories: phone covers, protectors and other accessories are widely available starting at $1.
  • 💸 Souvenirs: coffee, tea and handicrafts which make cool pieces of home decoration can be found in streets and markets at competitive prices.

19Phu Quoc is overrated…

I’ll start with the positives. It was in Phu Quoc island that a lovely family taught us to ride a bike. I will never forget that gesture. Also some remote bays and coves in the north of Phu Quoc island are a true dream, with turquoise waters, crystal clear waters and boasting beautiful views to Cambodia.

We expect more from a place marketed as “paradise island” though.

It’s impossible to look past all the bleached corals, soulless towns, dirty beaches and massive landfills in the open sky by the side of the road. Even what is considered to be the best beach in VietnamSao Beach – was awfully full of trash for most of its extension when I was there.

Ironically the entire island is building new massive resorts and fancy hotels at a unhesitating rate. I fear there will be hardly anything left to lure tourists in by the time they’re finished.

Perhaps I went in the worst possible time or additional factors that created a different atmosphere (e.g. a storm or strong monsoon). Perhaps this is a place for an all-inclusive resort type of vacation. Nevertheless what I’ve seen and that is not enough to make me come back or even suggest anyone to go.

20While Ninh Binh is underrated.

tips vietnam things to know before traveling vietnam ninh binh
Layers of mountains @ Ninh Binh.

Quite honestly Ninh Binh was a last-minute addition to our itinerary. I was unsure what to expect and it turned out to be my favorite place of my 2-month backpacking trip to Southeast Asia.

Locals nickname this rural region the “Halong Bay in land” due to the massive limestone cliffs scattered in between the rice fields, ancient pagodas and endless caves. The scenery level is outstanding, the locals are extremely friendly and the whole place still looks and feels an authentic gem.

Most people visit Ninh Binh on a day trip from Hanoi, but this is not even close to make justice to this place. Stay for at least 2 full days to explore it at your own pace – by bike preferably – and let the rural side of Vietnam surprise you once all the day trippers are gone.

21Avoid tap water!

Pretty self-explanatory isn’t it? It’s the #1 rule of travelers in Asia and even locals in Vietnam know it.

Additionally it’s advisable to implement level 2 of alert and avoid ice and salads – you don’t know if and how they’ve been washed – and only brush your teeth with bottled water. If you do this and wash your hands regularly, you’re on track to avoid 90% of all food poisonings and tummy pains there.

To keep yourself hydrated, you will have to carry bottled water or use a water filtering system at all times. Take your pick.

GRAYL Ultralight Water Purifier Bottle

Buying several water bottles a day is not bad for the environment. This bottle makes clean drinking water from any fresh water source in seconds, removing chemicals and 99.999% of most viruses and bacteria (including E.Coli).

22Learn how to get around efficiently.

There are many ways of getting around in Vietnam, but here’s a short overview.

Short distances

  • 🏍 Motorbikes: with a total of over 45 million bikes, this has to be the unofficial transport of Vietnam. Locals eat, sleep in their bikes and carry all sorts of items on them, including live chickens and pigs! Renting a bike is inexpensive, starting at 100k dong/day. But if you’re a newbie like me, leave the urban areas for driving experts.
  • 🏍 Motorbike taxis (xe om): translated as hug the driver, these drivers will drive you anywhere you want. As local as it gets.
  • 🚖 Taxis: although becoming increasingly better, taxis are often a source of scams for travelers. Grab and Uber are preferable, but if you really need to take a taxi, stick to more reliable companies like Vinasun.
  • 📲 Grab/Uber: these ride-sharing apps are seamless options to move around. No scams, fair prices and without issues in the navigation.
  • 🚍 Buses: avoid as these are hot, slow and extremely uncomfortable.

Long distances

  • 🚍 Buses: the most common way to get around Vietnam both for locals and tourists. Companies have several routes operated by fairly comfortable overnight buses with beds and free WiFi.
  • 🚆 Trains: trains haven’t been updated since the Vietnam War so expect them to be clunky and not always clean. That said, it is a great option to slow your pace down and enjoy the journey. Some of the routes – like between Hanoi and Sapa – are beautiful and very popular with travelers.
  • ✈️ Flights: not the most authentic way of enjoying your time in Vietnam, but they can come in very handy and cut travel times severely. Internal flights are affordable, specially if you opt for low-cost companies like Jetstar, Lion Air, Tiger and of course, AirAsia.

23Take care of your belongings.

vietnam travel tips coffeshops laptop
Trying to get some work done from a coffeeshop in Hanoi.

The million-dong question:

Is Vietnam safe to visit?

Contrarily to popular belief, Vietnam is in general a very safe country. There’s hardly any crime as locals are extremely tranquil, kind and non-violent people.

Apart from the potential of being ripped off by a few thousand dong by travel agents, the only type of crime you are likely to encounter is petty theft. Pickpockets can act in some touristy areas – please name a country where this doesn’t happen though!

On my view the most worrying thing in Vietnam is item-snatching while driving past on a motorbike. It appears to be common in urban areas and thieves can snatch everything from bags to backpacks and phones.

But even this shouldn’t be a major issue if you take basic common–sense precautions:

  • Don’t show off any expensive items carelessly.
  • Spread your most valuable items across different pockets/bags.
  • Avoid using your phone on busy streets.
  • Carry your camera with the strip around your body.

24It’s worth to splurge on a Halong Bay cruise. 🚢

travel tips things to know vietnam halong bay

Halong Bay is the #1 destination in Vietnam and it shows by the incredible number of cruise boats navigating the seas. I mean, for some reason this is one of the New 7 Wonders of the World!

Despite the crowds, this place is unique. The landscape of limestone cliffs emerging from the water is magical and there’s no better way to enjoy it than from the sea. Debate whether you prefer a 1-day, 2-day or even a 3-day cruise but if there’s something to splurge your budget this is it!

The general feedback is that luxury cruises in Halong are a fantastic experience; budget ones can be a bit a real nightmare.

If the budget allows, go for one of the top cruise boats, which include transport from Hanoi, top-notch food and all sorts of activities (kayaking, tai-chi, etc).

As much as I love independent travel, I admit it felt good to have a little break during my 2-month trip to Asia and have someone else decide what to eat and do during the day.

Again, I can’t stress enough the importance of doing your homework when choosing your tour. You can have the time of your life or get scammed big time here. To help you further, I’ve narrowed down your search to the best cruise boats in and dedicated a full article to picking the right Halong Bay cruise.

My choice for a cruise in Halong Bay 🚢

vietnam tips things to know before travel vietnam halong bay cruise

Cristina Diamond Cruise
Can’t recommend it enough. I’d go for the 2 nights cruise for a more complete and relaxing experience, but that’s highly dependent on the time you have available.

25Some basic words of Vietnamese can go a long way.

As a highly tonal language, Vietnamese has intricate sounds quite hard to replicate with your throat and mouth. I’ve tried to say some words out loud and for some reason it never sounds as the way it is written.

In any case, it’s always good to master some quick words and expressions. Not only it will facilitate your communication with locals – very few of them speak fluent English – but you’re guaranteed to get a smile in return!

Basic Vietnamese words and expressions for travelers 🗣

  • 🗣 Hello Xin chào (sin chow)
  • 🗣 Thank youCảm ơn (gauhm uhhn)
  • 🗣 Excuse me/SorryXin loi (seen loy)
  • 🗣 What’s your name Ban ten gi (ban thane zee)
  • 🗣 My name is… Toi la… (thoy la…)

As a result of periods of European occupation, some words are extremely similar to French. For instance cà phê (from café), pho mát (from fromage, cheese) and ba gác (from bagage, luggage).

26Go for the street food!

Being afraid to try street food is missing out on a huge part of Vietnamese culture. Cooked on the spot, served on plastic bowls or dishes it’s better enjoyed in one of the pocket-sized tables and chairs on the spot.

I can officially state my best Gỏi cuốn and pho were from a street food stall. I can’t guarantee the food will always be better than restaurants nor that they always comply to basic sanitary rules. But for the love of pho, you need to at least try!

Eating on the street is as authentic as it gets in Vietnam and a fantastic way to travel on a budget. Full indulging meals can be found for $1. Yes, I said $1.

Pro tips: Prefer the stalls where locals go the most. Pay attention to how they wash the utensils and whether the meat is well cooked. If you’re unsure, start with small snacks before moving to full meals. An nào!

travel vietnam tips hanoi rail way

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  1. Enjoying your blog on Vietnam. Haven’t been there since a boy when we walked the streets of Saigon taking pix of GIs behind sandbags and hearing whump whump somewhere in the night. (1967 just before the Tet Offensive). I’ve always wanted to boat up the Mekong. What are your thoughts on that? Is it best to travel from Saigon upriver and fly/bus back or the other way around?

  2. We are planning to travel May 2021 – Covid permitting.
    Great tips here but I have one question hopefully someone can answer:
    what is the food like for vegetarians?

  3. I’m planning a trip next March with my drone for a magazine feature, not sure if to have a guide for a week or go it alone?

  4. Thank you so much for a lot of great tips. I am sure they will be useful not only in preparation, but also during the trip itself.

  5. Hi there
    This was really helpful. We are flying in next week to ho chi minh and doing the usual tunnels mekong cruise etc. We have 4 days there. We then go to Hue for 3 days and uo to Hanoi. All by plane. From hanoi we intend to do a couple of days in halong bay and now also try ninh binh. Thinking of travelling south from there by train and we know we want to see hoi an and possibly danang. We basically have three weeks but we hope to be back in south east asia next year for 3 months and most will be in Hua hin thailand but we are looking for places to return to in Vietnam.
    Any thoughts to add would be great, We are both retired but adventurous and we are very excited flying over from thailand on monday.
    Regards and thanks for the useful advice

  6. Help! My family has a flight to HCM the end of January and were planning on flying to Pho Quoc. We have six days after spending a week up north. Absolutes are flight into HCM and flight out of HCM. Instead of our tentative plan of a few days in the city and a few days at Pho Quoc, what would you suggest? Other beach towns south?

  7. Thanks for all the tips! Can you please tell me where to find the cooking classes in Hanoi? We are definitely taking your suggestions to heart 🙂

  8. great article. very informative.Helping me get some sort of order for the wife and myself for 20 day trip in March/April next year

  9. Great article! Thank you for the info. We will be travelling to Vietnam next month for my brother in law’s wedding (my hubby is Vietnamese) and this will be my first time there. The info you provided is very helpful.
    I saw that you challenged your readers to name a country that had no petty thieves and I am pretty sure there are no pick pocketers or petty thieves in South Korea. That’s the only country I feel safe to leave my belongings at a cafe to use the toilet in…and maybe some places in Canada. They have security cameras pretty much covering every inch of the city so not much crimes happen there. As someone accustomed to North American value of privacy it’s a bit strange but I think to them, safety > privacy so each to their own.
    Anyways, thank you for this post. I’ve been a bit spoiled after a few trips to Korea and your post made me a bit more excited about visiting my husband’s country. Thank you!

    1. Thank you for your input Alice. Actually it was more of a rhetorical question to relativize the danger in Vietnam. I think Japan doesn’t have any pickpocketers either!

  10. Loved reading this. Last year i went to Ho chi minh and stayed a month in a village in Dong nai province. I went alone and met up with some girls i meet online. I know sounds scetchy but they were the sweetest and their families were the best.
    I found out People are touchy!! I had people feel my face and leg hairs!!! I just let them. Just curious.
    I went to the beach and i think it was a jellyfish but something got my leg because it was red and burning!!!
    It’s funny, it’ll be 75 degrees outside and people have coats on.
    It’s strang how few bugs there were. Maybe pollution or all those tin lanhs running around. Fun to catch. Locals probably thought i was crazy.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience Brent. Definitely found fun their perception of cold in the south: basically anything below 23 degrees Celsius 😀

  11. I just wanted to say that I loved your blog on Vietnam.. We went to Tam Coc in Ninh Bihn for 2 nights of our 19 day Vietnam holiday.. So far it has been the absolute highlight!! Heaven!!!

  12. Hi there.. We are trying to decide how to get to Hoian from Hue the day after tomorrow. My husband would like to hire a private car and driver who would take us right to the hotel.. I prefer the idea of the train as I feel nervous about the traffic and driving habits here.. Are my fears unfounded?

    1. I don’t see a reason for a private car anywhere and I’d go by train.
      No reason to be afraid of driving either because you’re not driving; a local is. 🙂

  13. Thank you for your post! I have a question about your boat tour of Ha Long Bay. I am flying into Hanoi in August and I’m trying not to book too far ahead but I was wondering if it would be better to book a tour I’ve researched online prior to arriving, or just wait until I get there. I know its peak tourist season so I don’t want to miss out! What are your thoughts?

    1. You can book most trips with a few days in advance locally. If you’re afraid of peak tourist season though, book it online.

  14. Great article! I have visited Vietnam a number of times and agree with just about everything you say. One thing to add is that parts of it are changing very rapidly, particularly Ho Chi Minh City; new bye-laws restricting certain street vendors (in theory anyway)! Also the implementation of new traffic management systems, but all in all expect the unexpected. I was last there in Sept 2018, but hope to be back soon. A smile goes a long way almost anywhere in Vietnam, and don’t be afraid to try a few words – the worst that can happen is that they will giggle at you and then help you to pronounce the word correctly. A final note, if you are approached by a group of youngsters around the parks or lakes, perhaps even some of the major landmarks in the larger cities, it is almost certain that they are local schoolkids or university students out “hunting” tourists to practice their language skills, or they may well be in a school challenge of some sort, for example I have found myself reading a speech (written in Vietnamese, but God alone knows what I was actually saying) on the steps of the Post Office in Saigon, dancing at the side of Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi at 10am with a group of students, singing (before lunch and before beer) with another group of local students in the street and simply sitting at the side of the flower beds chatting whilst they threw a thousand and one questions at me; join in – it’s fun, and they are after nothing but your time!

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience Lawrenceoverall I agree most locals are just local for some fun and some good time with foreigners!

  15. As a Vietnamese, I find this blog about Vietnam is 99% accurate (truly excellent as a foreigner understanding my country) and practical. One thing, you totally should try our vegetables without being afraid of food poisoning. I understand your concern about the greens being washed in tap water, but hey, they do the same in 5-star restaurants too. No where in Vietnam people use purified water to wash vegetables. Moreover if you are a foodie, you will soon realise that greens is an unmissable element in our cuisine. 3 things: the food, the greens and the dipping sauce. You need all 3. Imagine having Banh xeo or Pho or Bun Cha without any greens, it would be worse than McDonald. I recommend you to follow the locals, if many of them eat there, it has to be good and safe. Or else, try a local street food tour where you get taught how to eat and select street food restaurants properly. Email me [email protected] if you need more travel recommendations in Vietnam. I am a foodie and a passionate but retired street food tourguide in Saigon. I can help make your trip more tasty. I am not trying to sell anything here. I just want to help. Email me, and I email you my list of recommendation and that’s all.

  16. I so agree with your insights of Vietnam. We toured the Vietnam going from Hanoi all the way to Phu Quoc and your article is so spot on. I thought Phu Quoc would be the highlight, but it was so underwhelming.

    I’ll be using your Portugal Road Trip article to plan my next trip. I’ve been to Portugal 2x and your itinerary sounds fantastic! Thank you for your posts.

    1. Thank you for sharing your feedback Elena, looks like we had similar experiences.
      Enjoy Portugal!

  17. fantastic read, best ive seen yet. Full of practical advice, looking forward to my trip in april.


  18. Thank you for such an amazing and inspiring post. I am curious about Vietnam and am really glad I have found this post. It has provided me with an excellent guide. Reading about your experiences has heightened my level of excitement…and now…I REALLY look forward to going…to see…Beautiful Vietnam… only question is…when is the best time to go? Is November cheaper than June/July. I will be travelling from the UK.
    And….before I go…I would like to wish ALL the travellers here the very best of luck for the most amazing experience when they go to visit this amazing country. Just looking at the pictures creates a wonderful sensation….can’t wait….

    1. The best time to go depends on where you’re going and what type of experiences you want to have. Where will you be going?

  19. My son is travelling to vietnam alone for a month, should I be worried, he hasn´t travelled before and isn´t street wise, don´t want him getting ripped off at every opportunity, maybe he should go somewhere else!! he´s 19

    Thanks for a great blog by the way.

    1. There will be plenty people his age from all over traveling alone. Priceless education

    2. Positive thinking helps. He may not be experienced, but I’m sure he’ll quickly learn how to get around. Plus, is the best education you can have 😉

  20. I’m embarking on my first ever overseas trip and have chosen Vietnam. I enjoyed reading your blog and will be sure follow your advice. Thank you for sharing your experiences and tips to enjoy a safe and happy holiday.

  21. Thank you for this blog, very detailed and down to earth!

    I’ll be visiting Vietnam on February for 18 days.. Land in Hanoi and leave from Ho Chi Minh.
    I know its a bit tight so I wanted to ask your opinion of which places do you think I should skip in the middle? considering this schedule..(I don’t mind taking some flights if needed)

    1. Awesome trip, 18 days is plenty of time to have a good experience in the country.
      I haven’t really been exploring the center of the country, but I heard great things of Hoi An (the town, not the beaches) and Dalat!

  22. I impulse booked a trip last week during a bit of a ‘manic epsidoe’. Cheers for the list, I’ll take it on board, and it helps it alievate my nerves

  23. So because a piece of paper was missing from the back of your credit card you assumed something shady? Makes me question everything else in this article.

    1. 1. It was not a “piece of paper”, it was a sticker on the back of the card.
      2. Even after 2 months traveling with the card and use it everyday to pay stuff, the sticker was there. Only deliberately you could take it out.
      3. The staff member took my card to a room inside the restaurant (my mistake for letting this happen) and about 1 min later returned without the sticker on.
      4. Same things have happened to other travelers in Vietnam.

      Just thought it was a useful thing for other travelers to know too, shame you don’t feel the same way!

  24. Simple things to learn are essential. Thanks for your very detailed blog. It really helped me for upcoming visit this month.

    1. The little things can make a BIG difference when you’re on the road. It’s all about removing little “anxieties”, one at a time.

  25. Very nice and really good article!
    I’m going alone next month and for sure this tips will help me a lot!

  26. Number 12 applies to Egypt also mostly Cairo and Giza. The tour guide taking you to their friends shop and and rushing the tour. However its might be better than Vietnam.

  27. Hey! Great tips! Is November end a god time to visit Vietnam? And considering you have been to Philippines as well, which one do you recommend in terms of
    1) Easy to travel to and within
    2) Varied things to do/see

    Look forward!

  28. “Not gonna lie: Vietnam is a tricky country to explore. Tour scams are common, pollution can be disappointing and the fact is an extremely poor country makes many look at you with dollar signs on their eyes.” I don’t really agree with this. There are scams, hassles, cheats but not common. Vietnam is relatively a safe country to travel to.

    1. Thank you for your feedback. I’m glad you had a different – and better – experience!

      From my point of view, scams are common. I’m not even discussing people charging X for a product/services that usually cost Y for locals. I’m saying about agency tours copycats, creating a business with the same exact name as others more successful agencies. I’m saying you pay for a AC private bus and a tiny little van with a temperature of 35C inside comes pick you up. I’m saying buying a transport to a place X and being left in Y, 20km away. All these things happened to me. And I’ve heard much worse experiences from travelers along the road too.

      Pollution was very disappointing in some places in Vietnam, especially Phu Quoc. And indeed I felt like a walking ATM machine in some markets and streets.

      Quite frankly, apart from the pollution part, I’m okay with this, it didn’t take away how much I loved the country. Just wanted to say they do exist and for my readers to be aware.

      Appreciate your input!

  29. Very helpful, I plan a trip next month for a month and plan to travel from Hanoi and then down south.

    1. Awesome! What’s your itinerary in Vietnam just out of curiosity? Looking for tips for my come back 🙂

  30. Thank you so much. We are going next month for 4 weeks and this is some great information.

  31. thank you for the tips – really interesting and kind of you to post up for us “newbies”

  32. All the points mentioned here are worth considering. Following all these points will surely help to keep all your belongings safe and secure. Thanks for those tips!

  33. I agree with you on most of the above mentioned points, but for #7.
    Because Danang beaches are incredibly beautiful and clean.

    1. Thanks for your feedback Natalie! Realized it’s a bit unfair to call that out without visiting Da Nang. Unfortunately, my whole beach experience was underwhelming and even if it Da Nang a good spot, I still stand by saying beaches are not Vietnam’s forte.

      I really appreciate your constructive input, thank you!

  34. From your blog to the comments, it seems like Hanoi is a better option for a short 2 day stay? How is transportation from airport to lodging – any suggestions?

    Thanks, Bruno!

  35. I read your article with massive interest. I notice that the cruises leaves from different places, and my consern is that we won’t be able to find the right spot if we book in advance. Any advice?
    Thank you so much for all the details and info. Really preciate it.

    1. Suppose you’re talking about Halong Bay cruises but not sure what you mean about “finding the right spot”?

  36. I am a Vietnam War veteran and have an opportunity to visit Vietnam with a Niece, who fled Vietnam with her siblings and parents (boat people) at the end of the war to live in America.
    Thank you so much for sharing your time and expertise of which will make this visit even more memorable.

  37. Heading to Vietnam in a couple of months so this was super helpful thank you!! Getting used to the exchange rate seems like it’ll be a lil struggle but ah well! Crossing those roads looked crazy!!

  38. Thanks Bruno, we are going next Feb and your list is very helpful. Thinking of spending 3 days in the Ninh Binh region, so which town would be best as a base please.? Cheers, Peter

  39. $100 or EU 100 can be changed to 2,270,000. “100USD or 100EUR are worth more than 20 million Dong!”. What an absurdity!

  40. I will go to HCMC by June.. it’s just a 2 days trip. I’ll be leaving Friday evening (will be arriving 1am in HCMC) and will leave on Sunday evening ..
    How can I get the most out of HCMC for 2 days??
    I will just visit my fiance…

    Suggestions please.

  41. Knowing the basic Vietnamese words will definitely help you a lot specially if you want to ask questions to the locals. Aside from that, don’t forget to always bring a bottle of water to avoid diarrhea while you’re travelling.

    1. While this is a GREAT tip, a bottle of water alone doesn’t avoid diarrhea, simply prevents you getting hydrated.

  42. Hi – very helpful website! Quick question: we’re looking to travel to Sapa from Hanoi for part of our honeymoon and would like to stay in relatively luxury accommodations. Do you have any recommendations on train companies that are especially good or would we be better off taking a private car?

    1. I wouldn’t advise getting a private car at all in Vietnam. Look into the VIP sections of trains or buses or look into getting a private transfer.

  43. Wow such an amazing post! I am currently in Da Nang and I am working remotely so I woudnt have time to see everything I want this time – but since I got here (6 days ago) I have only experienced the wonderful nature and goodness from Vietnamese people. Yesterday while I was walking down the street, I broke my flip flip and had to walk bear-foot, but then a Vietnamese lady approached me offering her OWN flip flops so i dont have to walk around bearfoot! And she didnt want absolutely anything in return! Every day something unreal happens around here 🙂

  44. O gosh how I miss Vietnam. I absolutely loved the area of Halong Bay ad Ha Giang. The people are so lovely and friendly. The food is super. I want to go back!!

  45. Hi
    Very useful read ! – thank you ! Did a 3 week trip in 2001 with young family ( great fun ) and now planning a 2/3 week trip after taking the Trans Siberian Train to Beijing and then heading down to Vietnam via Tibet and Nepal in May/June .
    The first part of the trip is being semi organised but would like to make Vietnam more a ~” see how it goes ” experience .
    From what you have said , if we fly into Hanoi ( and with the exception of maybe booking a cruise in Halong Bay to get the right dates ) can the rest be easily sorted one we have arrived?

  46. Very helpful I’m going to Vietnam this April to travel by bike for my first time. I have been to Thailand traveling by bike so it’s similar I’m thinking.

    1. Big cities in Vietnam can be more intimidating. But in rural areas is pretty much the same!

  47. You need careful about your electricity, in Vietnam, they use 220V. And when travelling in Vietnam, you can try bargaining in the vendor shop. That’s amazing. Add more, I love #11 (paradise for foods) and recommended you eat Pho and ride a motorbike.

  48. Very detailed and useful tips to visit Vietnam. With my experience of 1 months travelling in Vietnam, transferring from places to places would account for a large portion of your budget so better be aware of that as overcharging in Vietnam is quite a problem. Using Grab or Uber would be wise choice.

  49. Hi, just back from 14 days in Ho Chi Minh City and Hoi An and a lot of what you write is great. HOWEVER, you are seriously underestimating the effect of Saigon (as the natives apparently prefer to call it) with regard to travelling. As someone born in Seoul, a US/UK national veteran of over 50 countries (have also lived in Thailand, Singapore and Myanmar) I have never, repeat NEVER, experienced levels of panic I suffered last week (2018) in Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon. The locals not only don’t follow red/green lights but EXPECT pedestrians to cope with (a) their non-signals (the Rough Guide says ‘they use honks instead of signalling’ which was also true in Hoi An) (b) lack of traffic lights AT ALL and (c) the worst of all: the motorcycles DRIVE ILLEGALLY ON PAVEMENTS. In short, no moment when not being attacked from incessant motorcycles (except – equally bad – when in a taxi, when it’s imposs. not to fret about one’s taxi hitting a single motorbike with four people on board (normally a father with young kid between him and wheel, with mum and baby behind). Insane. I mean: insane. Couldn’t get out of the city fast enough, to enough the tranquil beauties of Hoi An.

    1. I agree with you: it’s a very chaotic and hectic city. Quite possible my least favorite place in Vietnam. Like you mentioned, for me the most annoying was bikes driving on pavements.

      However and even though it was tiring after a few days, I found walking in Saigon around to be an unique experience/adventure by itself. It’s a city with other great things – cafés and restaurants are top-notch in my opinion and superior to Hanoi.

  50. Wow!is this culture really? I amazing this post so I like Vietnam pretty enviourment, foods, traveling, weather etc.If I want to come in Vietnam then what I should do.
    Thank You

  51. Rule #11 & #21 – I love Pho! And I didn’t know they ate it for breakfast and I am actually fine with that and look forward to diving into the depths of Pho in Vietnam. My main concern is that Pho is mainly made with the tap water there plus the ingredients are washed with local water. Clearly, you did not get sick, so maybe either you were not thinking of it as you add a bowl of water, or you were worried about it and said whatever…I’m hungry

    1. You’re right, tap water is used everywhere. However for me there is a difference between eating water that has been boiled (like in pho) vs water in juices and cold drinks who hasn’t. Concern levels drop! 🙂