I survived day one in Vietnam, Yay! Travelling to Vietnam and getting it right on day one can feel like winning an Oscar for an artist or a Ballon d’Or for football faithfuls. Of course, i’m exaggerating! I love Vietnam! The food, people, coffee and the vibe in general.
Vietnam can proof to be a difficult place to stay if you’re not open minded. From the food to crossing streets to the language barrier. However, a little preparation before your trip can save you days of headaches out of simple things like crossing the street and what you just ate.
Some things in this list may seem cynical but don’t get me wrong.I want you to love Vietnam, and enjoy your vacation.
Let’s do this!
1. Take your visa very seriously
My friend called me last week to vent her frustration with her Vietnam visa. She was travelling with her sister and when they arrived at the airport, their names were not on the immigration list, even after paying USD.80 to an agent. They were required to pay USD.100 more or risk being deported back. Not nice.
Visa misinformation will cause you to be turned away at the airport. Failing to print the visa approval letter received after your online application is equally inconveniencing. Be sure to have your visa stamping fee ready ($25 for single entry).
Respect the visa officials. They don’t give a F* about you and where you come from so treat them with respect unless you want to sleep in the cold.
2. Airport visa queue
Here you need to exercise some patience. After you fill the visa form and hand over your passport and passport photos to an immigration officer, you need to take a sit. Queuing or crowding around the counter doesn’t help.
When your passport is ready, you will be called by the officer and your name will be displayed on a little screen at the counter , only when it works. Here you need to listen keenly as the officers may not pronounce your name correctly.
Also, don’t think because you submitted your documents before ‘that man in a blue coat’ your name will be called before him. Most of the times no order is followed so just be patient. I was lucky to be seated with some French guy who lived in Vietnam so he told me about the whole process.
3. Everybody is a Millionaire in Vietnam
Let’s talk about the dollar vs dong game. 1 US dollar (usd) equals to 22,680 Vietnamese Dong (vnd) so you can imagine with $100 you’re already a millionaire at 2,268,000 vnd.
For my home currency, the Kenyan shilling (Kes) translates at a 1 for 220 Vnd, therefore, you need only Kes. 5,000 to become a ‘millionaire’ in Vietnam 😀
By the way, many outlets quote prices in both US dollars and Vietnamese Dongs.
4. Crossing the road is as easy as 1,2.., Go!
So i struggled during my first day in Hanoi. I could stand at a zebra crossing waiting for cars and motorbikes to slow down and give way but shock on me! A fellow tourist came close and whispered ”Just go. They will find their way around you.” I was scared as hell but gave it a try.
Unfortunately that is the only way to survive in the cities. Life becomes so easy when you learn how to cross the road without being hit by a scooter.
5. The price is whatever you’ll pay
Lucky you if you’re good at bargaining. In Vietnam, prices are rarely fixed which gives a small leeway for that bargain.
Haggling is a norm in Vietnam, and Asia generally. It’s better called ‘asking for a non-tourist price’. Shopkeepers will rarely let you go out of the store because of pricing but if at all they let you walk away, then just know your price was way too low.
6. Knowledge of Sign Language is an Added Advantage
At some point, I wished I could speak Vietnamese. You could meet a vendor who was very friendly wearing a smile on their face but couldn’t speak English. By day two i was a pro at sign language. I could order my meals in street kiosks and communicate with the taxi guy easily.
7. Don’t bother to ask what’s on your plate
Your new skills in sign language just got you a sit in a street food kiosk. Since you can’t communicate, you’ll be served rice then handed two chopsticks to serve various types of meat. The waiter will then serve you some clear soup with green leaves.
On my first day, i was hesitant to serve the meat since i didn’t know what was what and because of language, i couldn’t ask. The old lady in the restaurant quickly grabbed my plate and filled it with the meat. I, however, succeeded in stopping her from serving me bugs but also she insisted that i had to try baby prawns. Remember all this was in sign language 🙂
8. Many cafés are willing to share their WiFi password
This was strange for me. My friends and I had planned to meet at King Roti bakery in Hanoi so that we could spend the day together exploring the city. I had a map in my hands and the lady at my hostel had given me a precise route. Nevertheless, i still got lost. I walked to a nearby café and asked for direction. Since they didn’t know where King Roti was, they gave me the café WiFi password so that i could use Google Maps. That was super helpful.
9. Hotels or Hostels
Accommodation in Vietnam cater for all budget and comfort. Booking my accommodation at Golden Times Hostel in Hanoi for $90 for 5 nights for a high-end double-bed room felt like a great bargain. Hostel prices in Vietnam often range from $4 per night for a bunk bed with reading light and socket and can go as high as $20 per night depending on the level of comfort one is looking for.
Besides saving on cost, hostels facilitate meeting new people from all over the world especially if travelling solo. Bars and other common areas are great places to make friends. Hotels in Vietnam are a little bit pricey by Asia standards, but cosier.
If you like comfort and luxury, go for hotels. If you like making friends and are keen on budget, then hostels are your best bet.
10. How to dress
Compared to Thailand, Vietnam is a bit laid back when it comes to dress code. Although, just like in Thailand, you need to think about what you wear when visiting temples and government offices including Ho Chi Minh museum and mausoleum.
If addicted to short pants or the weather is just too hot for long pants, throw a scarf in the bag which you can wrap around when visiting dress code sensitive places, some named above.
11. Don’t go to Hanoi for shopping
I’ll just be frank, here i miscalculated my trip. I made Hanoi my final destination during my trip to Thailand and Vietnam and i was a little bit disappointed since i couldn’t shop for anything more than souvenirs.
There are no conventional shopping malls in Hanoi. There is no H&M, Forever 21 or CottonOn in Hanoi. Although if you like custom-made suits and sportswear, you’ll be happy you travelled to Vietnam.
12. Hanoi is for history and attraction and Ho Chi Minh for shopping, style and modern buildings
These two great cities are worth visiting, each for different reasons. When planning a trip whereby you can only visit one, it’s a bit difficult to decide which one.
The thing is, If you’re interested in tradition and government related attractions like Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, war museum, and other government offices, then go to Hanoi. The historical French quarter is also worth visiting.
If interested in nightlife, rooftop bars, and modern culture, then Ho Chi Minh city (Saigon) is the place to be.
13. Vietnam Packing List Summary
Among other things, you’ll need the below:
- Printed visa forms, passport photos, and passport
- Light clothes
- Jacket/ Light sweater as it gets chilly at night
- Bug spray (Mosquito repellent)
- US dollars/ Australian Dollars or whatever world famous currency you have
- Comfortable walking shoes/sandals
There you go. You only need to survive day 1 and you’re good. Hanoi can be frustrating at first, and it’s so easy to hate the city at first. We both know you didn’t travel all the way to get infuriated therefore a good research before your trip helps.
If you’ve been to Vietnam and would like to add something, the stage is yours. If you’re planning your first trip to Vietnam feel free to ask me anything in the comments box. And of course, share with your friends so that they may also love Vietnam.
Carolina | My Global Attitude