Vietnam is a vibrant country with forward thinking attitude and rich cultural heritage. Here are our top things to know before travelling to the country.
The local currency is the Dong (abbreviated “d” or VND). The rate of exchange (at time of writing) is approximately Dong 25,000 – 30,000 against one pound. Dong is best obtained upon arrival and are easily exchanged with US$. We recommend that you bring US$ with you as these are accepted everywhere in Vietnam.
Banking hours are usually from 07:30-16:30 at State Banks and 08:00-17:00 at Foreign Banks, or 24-hour service at ANZ Bank. Cash machines are widely available and accept Visa/Maestro/Mastercard etc… Credit cards are widely accepted.
2. Passports and Visas
From July 2015 until June 2018, British Passport holders are not required to obtain a visa for single entry stays of not more than 15 days. Please note that the day you arrive and depart count towards those 15 days.
If your visit lies outside these parameters then you will still need to get a visa or Visa on Arrival Letter (VOA) in advance of travelling. You can purchase a visa from the Vietnam Embassy, or alternatively a VOA can be obtained through us as long as you are entering and exiting Vietnam via an international airport. Finally, please note that your passport must be valid for at least 6 months after the date of your arrival in Vietnam.
Tourist guides traditionally rely upon tips to supplement their wages. As a rough guide, $7-$10.00 per day would be about right for a good job, perhaps more for something special, with less than a day at a pro-rata rate. Your driver will also be happy to accept a tip – generally about 2/3 of what you give to the guide. We will always strive to ensure you have the same guide for the duration of your stay in one particular location so feel free to tip at the end rather than every day.
Porters at railway stations rely upon small tips for an income, but taxi drivers will normally help you with luggage as part of their service, unless you have something particularly heavy or difficult to carry. If you’re in a hotel for a few days or more, a tip for your chambermaid or anyone else who has been helpful would be appreciated and the usual tips for carrying bags etc… are expected – particularly in the more luxurious hotels.
You might find a difference between the North and South of Vietnam. Saigon’s exposure to US culture has created more of a tipping culture though exposure to the tourist industry has meant the practice is now countrywide.
The prices for goods in supermarkets, pharmacies, restaurants, hotels, official transport, basic commodity shops and so on are usually fixed. Those for fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers from street sellers, motorcycle taxis (’xe oms’), bicycle taxis (‘cyclos’), souvenirs, clothes (especially in tourist areas), and goods bought from peddlers are usually variable. To barter effectively, laughter and good humour is an essential prerequisite. When an initial price is quoted, throw up your hands in exaggerated horror and offer between a third and a half. You can then negotiate towards a fair price. Walking away will usually determine whether the last offer really is the last. Please remember that many of the people you deal with will be poor, so driving them down to an unreasonably low price is unfair. On the other hand, paying an unrealistically high price will encourage the recipient to regard foreigners as easy targets and inflate prices even further.
Taxi fares are nearly always metered, (although the accuracy is sometimes questionable), but it pays to negotiate a fixed price for long journeys. For motorcycle taxis and cyclos, always agree a price in advance.
You may come across remnants of an earlier dual-pricing system that is gradually being phased out, ie tourists are charged differently to locals. If so, it isn’t local people trying to make a fast buck but simply an official recognition of the considerable income gap between you and the average Vietnamese citizen.
Firstly: bring some warm clothes if you are staying in the north during the winter when it gets cold. If you are going to the highlands at all, bear in mind that it can be cool all year round and in the winter it can be very cold indeed during a cold snap. The south is tropical all year round, so it is fairly consistently hot and humid. Bring a light rain jacket.
Obvious advice as far as the sun is concerned. Take the usual precautions as the sun can be extremely fierce.
Be firm, yet diplomatic when dealing with officials who will often be very rigid. As for all of Asia – losing one’s temper is generally completely counterproductive. Remove your shoes before entering Buddhist pagodas. Small donations placed in the boxes found in temples are appreciated. It is acceptable to keep your shoes on within Chinese pagodas.
Never let the soles of your feet face other people or any sacred monuments, such as a statue of Buddha.
7. Travelling by Train
Travelling by rail in Vietnam can be an adventure; it’s a great way to see the country, interact with locals and experience the culture first-hand. However, facilities are simple so it helps to be prepared. For day trains we book ‘soft seat’ tickets and for overnight train journeys we book a private compartment with four ‘soft sleeper’ berths, complete with bed linen. Basic toilet facilities can be found at the end of the corridors but take your own towel and wash-kit.
For all train journeys we recommend that you take sufficient drinking water and snacks as onboard provision is usually very simple. Your guide can help you buy supplies in advance. Take care of your personal belongings at all times and have your ticket ready for inspection both during and at the end of your journey.
8. Crossing the road requires confidence and serenity
You may find the prospect of crossing a Vietnamese road a challenge. The sheer number of vespa, motorbikes, cyclos, taxis and cars can often hide the tarmac beneath and finding space between the flow to march across can be difficult. For first timers, follow some locals and watch how they do it. Keep you head up and walk at a constant slow pace and you’ll reach the other side in no time.
For more information about Vietnam, do call 020 7924 7133 or email us with your questions here. To see an example of the kind of trip you could have to Vietnam, do take a look at our example holiday itineraries. They’re just a starting point, all our holidays are tailor-made so we can tweak all elements to suit your exact interests.