Vietnam is a long narrow country, with a coastline running along the South China Sea for well over 2,000 Km, many underestimate its size. Covering such a vast area north to south, there are three distinct areas, North, Center and South, and distinct climates.
Hanoi, in the north, is the capital and Ho Chi Minh City is the most populous, names familiar to many westerners that know of the Vietnam War in the 1970s that saw American involvement. After the war ended, the country turned to communism, but since the mid-1980s reforms have been introduced that have turned the country around. It is now a member of the UN, the WTO and has enjoyed high GDP growth.
There is a great deal to see in Vietnam, but also problems such as poverty and corruption, but don’t let this put you off. The people are friendly and welcoming, but money-driven. Haggling is expected and many goods are now very overpriced if you don’t haggle.
It’s important to keep a travel adapter handy, so you can keep your camera and smartphone fully charged. For advice on taking your electronic items to Vietnam, look at our dual voltage and travel adapter blog. Vietnam operates on a voltage of 220V, so if you’re from a country that operates on 110V, then be careful.
Tips for visiting Vietnam
When to come
January to March is probably about the best time to come. It’s in the dry season, so you’re unlikely to be caught in torrential downpours that occur in the rainy season. Bear in mind that Vietnam is a hot and humid country but in the north, it can be cold and even snow in the higher areas while further south it can be blazing hot, all in the same day! Just note that the Tet holiday takes place around the end of January and beginning of February, with many shops been closed for several days during the ten-day holiday.
Check your visa requirements before traveling. Many European country residents don’t need a visa, but if you do, there are plenty of online sites that can do it for you. Try out Visa Pro for a pre-approval letter and information on visas. The process is simple and not expensive.
At the time of writing, one US dollar is worth over 23,000 Vietnamese Dong, so a million Dong is just over $43. Now it’s all very well being a paper millionaire, but what it means is that the currency can be confusing and it’s not helped by several notes looking quite similar. There are plenty of ATM’s in the larger cities and currency exchange facilities, but for a better rate, it’s better to visit the jewelry or gold shops. Check XE.com for up-to-date rates.
Along with many Asian countries, there is not a culture of tipping but if you get good service, it’s not a problem to give a tip if you wish.
Vietnamese street food is everywhere and there are certain must-try dishes. Pho is the national Vietnamese dish, a soup made with noodles, meat and fresh herbs. It’s most commonly served at breakfast. Bun Cha is a grilled pork and noodles dish, while Cha Ca can be found in Hanoi and is fish sautéed in butter, dill and spring onions. Some dishes can be spicy hot, so check before you buy!
Places to Visit in Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam is the place to be seen and the most popular with expats. Along with being the business capital of the country, there is shopping to keep you occupied for a week, plus a great music scene and nightlife.
Vietnams most popular tourist destination by far is Halong Bay and it is worth spending a little extra on the cruise to ensure you have a great time. For a less hectic visit, try Ninh Binh, which has been nicknamed “Halong Bay in land”. It’s far quieter than the more popular Halong Bay and just as spectacular.
Don’t forget to pack a multi-country travel adapter and keep it in your hand-luggage for easy access. With so much to see, the last thing you want is a flat battery on your phone or camera!