Travel & Places Asia Pacific

Everything You Need to Know Before Visiting Vietnam

Travel in Vietnam can certainly be challenging at times, but the rewards of exploring such an exciting country far outweigh the effort. You'll forget all about the traffic and occasional scams once you see a bit of the country!

1. General Information

  • Official Name: Socialist Republic of Vietnam
  • Time: UTC + 7 hours (12 hours ahead of US Eastern Standard Time)
  • Country Phone Code: +84
  • Capital City: Hanoi (population: 6.56 million per 2010 census)
  • Largest City: Ho Chi Minh City / Saigon (population: 7.52 million per 2011 census)
  • Primary Religions: Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism
  • Drives on the: Right
  • Hello: See how to say hello in Vietnamese

2. Vietnam Visa Requirements

While a few nationalities are visa exempt, Americans citizens and travelers from most countries must get a visa for Vietnam before arrival or risk being denied entry. Because the responsibility to deport you falls on the airlines, you will be checked for a valid travel visa or Visa Approval Letter before boarding the flight to Vietnam.

If you are not flying into Vietnam, you must have prearranged your visa at a Vietnamese embassy outside of the country before crossing overland through any border checkpoints. Visa on arrival services are available only in the airports.

3. Money in Vietnam

  • Official Currency: Vietnamese dong (VND)
  • Also Accepts: US dollars (USD)
  • ATMs: Found in all tourist areas. ATMs dispense local currency.
  • Credit Cards: Aside from a few instances such as paying for tours, luxury hotels, or diving, using credit cards is not the norm in Vietnam. You'll almost always be charged a fee for paying with plastic.
  • Tipping: While a few exceptions exist, Vietnam is generally not a tipping country. See more about when and where to tip in Asia.

Before arriving in Vietnam, check the current exchange rates to avoid being scammed when you change money.

Tip: As with many countries in Asia, breaking large-denomination banknotes can be a challenge -- horde your small change!

4. Electricity in Vietnam

  • Power: 220-volt / 50Hz
  • Outlets: Tourist areas in the south often have the American-style, flat-pronged outlets available, while hotels in the north often use the European-style, round-pronged outlets. Smart places offer outlets that accept both styles of plugs.

Rolling brownouts and power disruptions are common in parts of Vietnam. 'Unclean' electricity can damage sensitive devices when they are charging.

5. Getting Around Vietnam

Flying into Saigon (airport code: SGN) is often significantly cheaper than flying into Hanoi. The Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Saigon handles 75% of international air traffic in and out of Vietnam.

If you begin your trip in Saigon, you can work your way from south to north via bus, train, or plane. While the trip from Saigon to Hanoi overland is a lengthy one, the Reunification Express train is a beautiful and fairly comfortable way to see the countryside.

6. Accommodation in Vietnam

Vietnam is a major part of the busy Banana Pancake Trail through Southeast Asia, so you'll find accommodation ranging from backpackers' hostels to full-service hotels. Options for sleeping vary widely in price and luxury. For the most part, even the cheapest budget accommodation is a notch above that found in neighboring countries.

Tip: Hotels are often tall and narrow to avoid tax based upon the volume of land occupied. Even simple budget hotels can span six or more floors with only a few rooms on each level. Travelers with trouble climbing stairs should ensure that a ground-floor room or working elevator is available before booking.

The budget traveler's area in Saigon is centered around Pham Ngu Lao in District 1.

Tip: Having accommodation already arranged -- at least for the first night or two -- will give you more peace of mind, especially after a long flight or when arriving after dark in an unfamiliar area. Giving the taxi driver a specific address will help avoid a little hassle as well.

7. When to Go

The weather in Vietnam varies from north to south, however, the months between November and April are generally the driest.

8. Great Places to See

While Vietnam has much more to offer, here are a few popular places to visit:

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