1. Check if you need a visa. There are lots of different visas for Vietnam depending on how long you want to stay. Do some research to find out which is right for you.
2. Get your vaccinations and check a malaria map. Visit your doctor and find out what vaccines you need. Vietnam is not as high-risk for malaria as other countries, but make sure you double check your destinations.
3. Check the weather. This always sounds obvious, but Vietnam is a long and narrow country which ranges from China down to the equator so the weather varies greatly. It can get very cold and snowy in the mountainous north. It can also get so hot that you’re drenched in sweat the second you walk outside.
4. Go with the flow. Vietnam is a wonderfully chaotic and hectic place, particularly in the big cities and most popular tourist spots. The traffic is also pretty extreme. Try and relax and go with the flow. I’d already visited several Asian countries before Vietnam so I didn’t feel too much of a culture shock, but if this is your first experience in Asia just remember to relax and go with the flow.
5. Take US dollars. US dollars are accepted as well as Vietnamese Dong. It’s useful to have some just in case.
6. Travel by overnight train. There are long distances between cities in Vietnam and overnight trains are a good way to travel while saving money on accommodation. Check out my survival guide to overnight train travel here.
7. Eat as much as possible. Vietnam is famous for its delicious food and you should make the most of it while you are here.
8. Enjoy the cafe culture. There is a really great cafe culture in big cities like Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi so give yourself lots of time to wander and explore all the lovely little side streets.
9. Drink like a local. Vietnam has a lot of great nightlife to experience, but locals tend to drink at tiny bars, if you can even call them that, which have much cheaper beer. Keep an eye out for them.
10. Be wary of pickpockets. Tourists being pick-pocketed is quite common in Vietnam. I wasn’t as worried about my backpack during the day, but at night I hid my money and phone in a pouch that I wore around my neck and under my clothes. I felt much safer walking around without a bag at night.
11. Look out for taxi scams. I experienced these in a couple of taxi rides after nights out in Vietnam, one in Nha Trang and one in Hanoi. The taxi drivers demanded more money than they should have. Both times I refused to pay, but one of the drivers got out and threw stones at us!
12. Be aware of motorbike muggings. Vietnam is unfortunately known for muggers on motorbikes who ride past tourists and snatch their bags. This has happened to three people I know, two of whom had broken bones as a result. The third person was dragged along the road for several metres.
13. Political sensitivity. I posed for a picture by the gates of the Presidential Palace in Hanoi with some friends and the guards nearby moved us on pretty quickly! Be careful when taking pictures near buildings of political importance.
14. Be careful on motorbikes. Vietnam is famous for motorbikes and most people will stay safe and have a great time zipping around on them. However, some people are injured, or even killed, so be very careful if you decide to ride one yourself.
15. Avoid a “Vietnamese tattoo” That’s a slang term for a burn caused by your leg brushing against the very hot exhaust pipe of a motorbike. This happened to my friend – it looked painful!
I’ve included a lot of warnings about scams and muggings in these tips, but I’d like to stress that I didn’t personally get mugged or have any of my belongings stolen in Vietnam. However, it does happen and it happened to people I was travelling with so it’s something to keep in mind. Don’t let it worry you, or put you off from visiting though! Vietnam was one of my favourite countries that I visited on my year of solo travel 🙂
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