Handy tips and tricks… [+visa discount]
Planning a trip to Vietnam? Here are some handy tips and tricks, and all that you need to know to keep your travel woes at bay.
- Documents: Having the required documentation in place is a necessity. Besides a valid passport, you need to get your pre-approved letter before-hand, from an agency, and carry its print-out, in order to get your visa on arrival (scroll to the end of the post to avail a 10% discount). Please check the list of documents required and visa formalities in advance, as it could vary from one country to another.
Note: You need to present your passport at hotels and motorbike rentals. They might even keep it with them till you clear your dues/check-out.
- Belongings: Take care of your belongings – cling on tight. Keep them very close to you. Busy streets surely mean a lot of people; more the people and crowd, higher is the risk of being pick-pocketed and your money and jewellery snatched away. Although we witnessed no such incident, it is better to hold on tight, especially at crowded places. Leave your passport and valuables at the hotel’s safe.
- Money: Make sure you keep smaller denominations handy. Taxi drivers and other vendors could be really rude. We have experienced the women at the parking lot walk away without returning our change, despite of asking for a receipt and the money back.
- Weather: Keep the weather in mind and pack accordingly. The Northern parts of Vietnam are generally hot around May-October and cold around November-April. Most of the other parts remain hot and humid, with monsoons taking over around June end-August. Check the weather of the cities you want to visit at the time of booking your tickets.
- Taxis and bikes: The best way to go around a city in Vietnam is to rent a bike or bicycle, especially in smaller towns. Contact the rental agency directly to grab the best deal of the day. Download Grab taxi app on your phones for easy navigation. Local taxis are available in abundance too, but might charge extra. Strike a deal for a ‘drive by the metre’ before you start the trip. Xe om or motorbike taxis can be fun, although slightly expensive – always request for a helmet (even while renting bikes).
- Transport: Scaling through the length and breadth of the country is not an easy task and could be really exhausting in a bike. Inter-city transport can be done via sleeper buses, trains (hard and soft berths), regular buses, taxis and bikes. Choose your mode of transport depending on the terrain you are heading to. Do not have high expectations from the train and bus journeys, even if you book an expensive coup in first class. (A second-class AC berth of India is way better than a first-class AC cabin of a Vietnamese train).
- Currency: Most of the transactions take place in VND or Vietnamese Dong. Some places are OK with dealing in USD. Malls, restaurants and some bars accept credit cards as well. However, please check with your card-issuing bank (in advance) if foreign transactions are allowed. Currency exchange rates can be bargained to a small extent. If no agency is ready to exchange, head to the nearest bank.
- SIM card: If you’re in for a long-term stay (anything above 5 days), it makes sense to buy a SIM card from a local vendor to stay connected – choose what you want, a data plan or call plan and invest in one accordingly. It should cost around 3,00,000 VND approximately for a 2-week data plan with good connectivity across all the cities. We bought Mobiphone and were very happy with the service.
- People: The people are a friendly lot. They love to engage in conversations, which sometimes may or may not lead you to buy a product or service they have to offer. Cut the conversation short in case they try to lead you on.
- Language: Most of the local people do not know English. You might have difficulties in communicating with them (except a good hotel’s staff members who really know how to talk well). Use an app to translate, learn basic words and phrases or simply download pictures of items you need to talk about the most. For instance, we are allergic to prawns, so we downloaded a picture of shrimps and prawns, and showed it to the street-side hawkers, while exclaiming ‘we do NOT want this’, while placing our order. It worked! 🙂
- Local food: The food in Vietnam is non-spicy in nature. We were thrilled about this, as we can’t tolerate even a pinch of chilli. However, those who like their food spicy, fret not. Ask them to make it spicy at the time of placing the order. Additionally, you will always be offered some chopped chillies, chilli sauce and other pastes that you can add to your bowl. While trying street food, look out for restaurants that serve their food hot and fresh. A fast-moving lot is better than a still and stagnant eatery.
- Water: Do not rely on water from filters or tap water. Buy mineral water. The local bottled water too tastes just like tap water. If you are looking for a regular taste and assured quality, stick with the likes of Aquafina. Also, there is no water given at shacks, restaurants and other eateries. Make sure you carry your own small bottle of water.
- Ticket booking: Look up various options before you hire one. If you want to book a tour, train ticket, rent a bike for the day etc., check directly at the station, automobile rental store etc. rather than depending on an agent or the hotel, as they charge a very high commission.
- Entry fee: The entry fee to most of the museums, pagodas, tourist spots is high. Make sure you look for combo deals. Check if you can take a combination ticket that includes entry to two or more places for a discounted price (ask at the counter – they might not always tell you while buying the ticket).
- Tourist traps: Beware of tourist traps. A lot of buses stop at tourist hubs to make you shop for some authentic Vietnamese handicrafts and antique pieces. However, these are highly priced and available at lower rates at the night market. Sometimes, local taxi drivers might ask you to stop by at a store and check out the merchandise at their friend’s store. You can politely decline the offer.
- Tour packages: Mark out your own itinerary rather than taking up tour packages. If you like to align your travel with a group, it’s a different story. Remember, the more you outline it yourself, the more ‘independent’ and ‘in control’ you will be. If you plan wisely, you could save money too.
- Beaches: Depending on the city and type of beach you are looking at, in general, don’t expect too much from the beaches. If you are looking for a good time to chill out, or relax and unwind, they are the best bets. However, not all beaches have brilliantly developed shores.
- Cities and towns: Don’t expect all the cities to be the most gorgeous things on earth. Every city has its own flavour and tone, and there is at least one point of interest in every city, that will charm you. Have a positive outlook and look for places and food that interest you. You will eventually develop a liking for Vietnam.
- Early to bed: And early to rise. Everything begins/opens and shuts early. You can expect the shops and restaurants winding up by about 9-9.30 PM and at around 12 AM on weekends, on an average. The likes of pub streets and bars could remain open till 2 AM or so on Saturdays.
- Noise and pollution: Be ready to deal with immense honking, noisy streets and bikers riding on footpaths, zipping along pavements, between people etc. Be extremely careful while crossing the road, as you can never predict who’s gonna take a turn where.. and when…
Early morning scene: Streets full of vendors, bikes and more.
- Check out the night markets in every city. They are all very different and offer something unique.
- Pack light. Make use of laundry services available for USD 1-1.5/kg (without ironing) and USD 2-2.5/kg (with ironing) across the country
- Bargain with all your might – at every shop, every stall, every city.
The above tips are based on our personal experience. Hope they help you plan better. Please share additional tips with us. We’d love to hear from you.
**Looking to travel to Vietnam? Use my code LYFANDSPICE to avail a 10% discount on your visa online – click here. **
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This post first appeared on Lyf&Spice