The ULTIMATE guide to planning a trip to Vietnam

Planning a trip to Vietnam? We’re sharing all of the logistics to be aware of before you go, plus what to expect once there!

In 2023 we spent almost 6 weeks traveling all over Vietnam, including the large cities, smaller towns, epic nature spots, and so much more. It is hard to put into words how much this trip meant to us. Everytime we think about it, we get emotional because it was so incredibly special and as cheesy as it sounds, life changing.

Our trip to Vietnam was our first trip to Asia. And compared to other places we have visited, planning a trip to Vietnam was by far the most complex. There was so much to know! Where do we even go? How do we get around? What do we need to legally visit?

And beyond those questions, we also had some anxiety around the language barrier and navigating a completely different culture.

Watch our entire video series for Vietnam, which shows us visiting different areas across the country, checking out caves, motorbiking in North Vietnam, and so much more!

But in the end, the trip went so smoothly. We may have had a few minor hiccups here and there, but overall, it went even better than we could’ve imagined. And more importantly, we LOVED Vietnam. It is truly an incredible country!

And in this guide we are sharing all of the things to know and consider when planning a trip to Vietnam. We hope that it can help you go into your own Vietnam trip with a bit less stress and anxiety and give you as smooth and memorable of an experience as we had!

Planning a trip to Vietnam? Check out these other Vietnam guides:

About Vietnam

Hoi An Vietnam | Vietnam tips | Planning a trip to Vietnam

Located in Southeast Asia, Vietnam is a long and narrow country that spans 128,066 square miles, with Cambodia and Laos bordering it on the west, China in the north, and the ocean along the east.

It is the 15th most populated country in the world, with over 97 million residents. The population is made up of 54 different ethnic minorities, with Kinh being the largest.

Quick Vietnam history

There have been a handful of monumental events that have occurred in Vietnam over the years that are important to be aware of before visiting. The first being French colonialism. Back in the 1850s, the French invaded Vietnam, plus Laos, Cambodia, and part of China, creating a group of colonies called French Indochina.

They didn’t leave until the 1950s and during this time period they heavily influenced Vietnam. The French heavily taxed the Vietnamese, overworked Vietnamese workers, and imprisoned and tortured those who resisted their rule. Today, you can still see evidence of the French in both the architecture and food.

Another important event was the Vietnam War, known as the American War by the Vietnamese. This war took place between 1955 and 1975 and was officially fought between North and South Vietnam, with the United States intervening heavily in the 1960s. 

We highly recommend watching the Ken Burns PBS documentary about the war before you go, as it shares perspectives from all three sides involved. The war had many negative effects on the country, including massive bombings, Agent Orange, and so much more.

So you may be wondering “do the Vietnamese hate Americans and French?” While we cannot speak for the French experience visiting Vietnam today, as Americans, we had no issues. We asked many locals how they felt about Americans and all responded similarly with “the past is the past.” Everyone was very welcoming to us! 

Why visit Vietnam?

There are so many reasons to visit Vietnam! Here are some of the reasons why we chose to visit Vietnam over other Southeast Asian countries:

  • The scenery is diverse! You can experience large cities, the ocean, mountains, caves, rice fields and farmland, and rivers all in one trip.
  • People are kind and friendly.
  • The food is delicious! We’ll share some of our favorites later on in this guide.
  • There are a wide variety of unique experiences.
  • It is affordable to visit.
  • You can have many cultural experiences.
  • There is a lot of interesting history to learn.
  • It feels underrated. We know of many people who have been to Thailand, but far less that have been to Vietnam. We encountered many Europeans and Australians in the country, but very few Americans.

Different regions of Vietnam

As we mentioned above, Vietnam is a long country, spanning 1,025 miles from south to north. The country is typically split into three regions: north, central, and south.

Each area has so much to offer and in our opinion, all are worth visiting! Which one you prioritize will depend on what interests you the most.

Ha Giang Loop | Vietnam tips | Planning a trip to Vietnam

Northern Vietnam

In the north, you have the capital city of Hanoi, plus stunning mountainous terrain. This is the most scenic part of Vietnam in our opinion! Here you can go on epic motorbike trips, see tons of karst mountains, visit Vietnam’s largest waterfall, cruise Ha Long Bay, and interact with different ethnic minorities.

Basket Boat Hoi An | Vietnam tips | Planning a trip to Vietnam

Central Vietnam

Central Vietnam is home to many historical sites, including the ancient cities of Hoi An and Hue. It’s also home to great surfing in Da Nang, tons of caves near Phong Nha, plus forests and mountains.

Southern Vietnam

Southern Vietnam is less mountainous than the rest of the country, but still has tons to offer! It is home to Vietnam’s largest city, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), also known as Saigon. This bustling city is a ton of fun to explore! Southern Vietnam is also where you can find the Mekong River Delta, visit islands like Phu Quoc, and crawl through tunnels from the Vietnam War.

Currency

Vietnamese Dong | Vietnam tips | Planning a trip to Vietnam

The currency in Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong (VND). All prices you’ll see in Vietnam will be listed in VND, minus some tour providers and at the airport.

We recommend downloading the My Currency Converter & Rate app before you go, but if visiting from the United States, 25,000 VND = ~$1 USD (at the time of writing).

Language

Vietnamese is the main language spoken in Vietnam, although different ethnic minorities have their own languages as well.

English is spoken some, mostly in the major cities and by tour providers, but don’t expect to see tons of English. We found that most signage, outside of mega tourist attractions, were in Vietnamese. There are sometimes translations, but they aren’t always super accurate. 

Despite this, we didn’t have any issues communicating in Vietnam. Most Vietnamese, even if they don’t speak much English, will understand key words, like “toilet,” and you can also gesture with your hands to get your point across. 

Google Translate also has a feature where you can speak into the phone and it’ll translate. This helped us multiple times, so make sure to download Vietnamese for offline use on the Google Translate app!

We went into our trip wanting to learn some Vietnamese, but wow, it’s a HARD language to learn. It is very tonal, which means that how you say it is important. There can be one word that means three different things depending on your tone and inflection.

To make things even more confusing, some words are said differently in the north and south. Although we didn’t learn Vietnamese as much as we hoped beforehand, there are some key words to learn before you go:

Phrases

  • Xin chào (Sin chow): Hello
  • Chào (Chow): A less formal way to say hello. Our guides told us this is more of the local way to say it.
  • Cảm ơn (Gam un): Thank you 
  • Dạ/Không (Dza/Kong): Yes/No
  • Xin lỗi (Sin loy):  I’m sorry
  • Tạm biệt (Tam biet): Goodbye
  • Một, Hai, Ba, YO!: 1, 2, 3, Cheers! (This is done A LOT on tours!)

Numbers

  • Một (Moat): One
  • Hai (Hai): Two
  • Ba (Ba): Three
  • Bốn (Bone): Four
  • Năm (Num): Five
  • Sáu (Sow): Six
  • Bảy (Bay): Seven
  • Tám (Tam): Eight
  • Chín (Chin): Nine 
  • Mười (Mu-oi): Ten

Food terms

  • Bánh mì (bun me): Bread
  • Bún (boon): Rice noodles
  • Bò (Bo): Beef
  • Gà (Gah): Chicken
  • Cá (Cah): Fish
  • Thịt lợn (Tit lohn): Pork
  • Trứng (Choong): Egg

Is Vietnam safe?

Ho Chi Minh City | Planning a trip to Vietnam | Vietnam tips

When planning a trip to Vietnam you may wonder if it’s safe to visit. And from our experience, Vietnam is totally safe!

The only time we felt slightly unsafe was in the car. Seatbelts are sometimes missing from cars and drivers go so fast, zip around, and pass people. There appears to be few road rules in Vietnam and driving like this is normal. It took a bit of getting used to for us though. 

But besides that, when walking around cities, even with our cameras out or at night, we never once felt unsafe or encountered anything sketchy. Our female friends who live in Ho Chi Minh City also said they have always felt safe in the country.

Of course things can happen anywhere, so be alert! The major crime you would encounter would be pickpocketing or theft. But for us, we had zero issues with safety.

Logistics for planning a trip to Vietnam 

In this next section we’re going to cover all of the logistics for planning a trip to Vietnam, including airports, transportation options, how to get a visa, and more!

How to get to Vietnam

There are three major airports in Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) (Airport code: SGN), Hanoi (HAN), and Da Nang (DAD). 

The HCMC airport is the largest of them all and tends to have the cheapest options, especially if traveling from further away. If traveling from within Vietnam or nearby countries in Asia, make sure to check the other two as well. 

For our trip, we flew both in and out of HCMC. This was mostly due to how our credit card travel portal required us to book our flights. Ideally, we would’ve flown into HCMC and out of Hanoi, since we started in the south and ended in the north. 

Flights within Vietnam tend to be really affordable though, so we were able to book a cheap flight from Hanoi to HCMC to make our flight back to the US.

Flying from the US?

If you’re flying from the US, we suggest looking for flights to Asia out of the West Coast. We needed to fly from Austin to Vietnam, which is not a very straightforward or cheap route. But after doing some digging into flights, it was easier to fly from Seattle to Vietnam. So we flew Austin to Seattle (using Alaska Airlines points) and then Seattle to Singapore to Vietnam. We saved about $1,500 (or 150,000 points) this way vs. booking a flight from Austin to Vietnam.

New York also has a nonstop flight to Singapore and may offer a more affordable route for those on the East Coast!

While we really wanted a layover in Singapore, there are other airports in Asia that are common to fly directly to from the US, including Seoul and Tokyo. You can also look for flights from the US to these cities and then book a second flight to Vietnam from them, which may be cheaper.

We spent $0 on our flights to and from Vietnam, as well as within the country by using travel credit cards. This saved us over $2,500! Learn more about our favorite travel credit cards.

Where to go in Vietnam

The hardest decision you’ll have to make when planning a trip to Vietnam is where to go. You could spend a year in Vietnam and not see it all!

From our research and experience, these tend to be the top spots tourists go to:

Northern Vietnam

  • Ninh Binh
  • Ha Long Bay
  • Hanoi
  • Sapa
  • Ha Giang Province
  • Cao Bang Province

Central Vietnam

  • Da Nang
  • Hoi An
  • Hue
  • Phong Nha

Southern Vietnam

  • Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
  • Mekong River Delta
  • Phu Quoc
  • Da Lat

Planning your route

Our biggest piece of advice when planning your route in Vietnam: don’t try to do too much!

Vietnam is a larger country than it may appear. Due to how long it is, traveling between areas can take time and be exhausting. While you can fly between some areas, others will require trains, buses, or limos (a small van). You will want to ensure that you give yourself plenty of time on travel days and allot time for delays.

A few things to consider when planning your route:

  • If you only have a week, it’s best to stick to one region and explore that area more in depth.
  • For two weeks, you could visit multiple regions more easily. With even more time you can spend more time in each destination or visit more destinations.
  • We suggest going from south to north, as the scenery only gets better and better this way.

Our Vietnam itinerary at a glance

Where you choose to go really depends on what interests you. For us, we wanted a diverse trip that mixed beautiful scenery with historical sites, delicious food locations, unique activities, and both small and large cities. Here’s a quick rundown of how we spent 5.5 weeks in Vietnam!

  • 4 days: Ho Chi Minh City (We have friends there, so we spent more time than most would. 2-3 days would be sufficient for most.)
  • 1 day: Overnight train to Da Nang + taxi to Hoi An
  • 4 days: Hoi An 
  • 1 day: Travel day from Hoi An to Phong Nha
  • 4 days: Cave tour near Phong Nha
  • 1 day: Travel day from Phong Nha to Hanoi
  • 3 days: Ninh Binh
  • 3 days: Visa run from Hanoi to Chiang Mai, Thailand
  • 8 days: Hanoi (We spent this time mostly working, but also exploring. 2-3 days is typically enough for Hanoi.)
  • 1 day: Travel day from Hanoi to Ha Giang
  • 1 day: Work day in Ha Giang
  • 6 days: Motorbike trip through Ha Giang and Cao Bang, ending at Ba Be Lake
  • 1 day: Travel day from Ba Be Lake to Hanoi
  • 1 day: Travel day from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City 

While we could’ve visited multiple countries in this timeframe, we really wanted to dive deeper into one country. And we are super happy with that approach! By spending almost 6 weeks in Vietnam we were able to see so much of the country, plus have time to work and enjoy some places at a slower pace.

When to visit Vietnam

Another tough choice when planning a trip to Vietnam is when to visit. The country’s climate can heavily vary by region during specific times of the year. Here’s a quick breakdown of what to expect by region. However, weather isn’t 100% predictable, so be prepared to experience varying weather, regardless of when you go.

Ha Giang Loop | Vietnam tips | Planning a trip to Vietnam

North Vietnam

In North Vietnam, the dry season in the north tends to run from October to April. However, the wintertime can be very cold in the north, so keep that in mind if visiting higher elevations. For milder weather and dry conditions, March, April, October, and November tend to be great months to visit.

The rainy season in North Vietnam is from May until September. While this doesn’t tend to stop most motorbike tours in the north or heavily impact time in Hanoi, it can cause Ha Long Bay cruises to be canceled. 

One huge draw during this time of year is the chance to see golden rice fields, which typically occur in September. If seeing them is a priority, September is a great time to go! It tends to be the end of the rainy season and much less rainy than the previous months.

Central Vietnam

In Central Vietnam, the warmer, dry season begins in January and runs through August. From August to December, you can expect a lot more rain. Since a lot of popular destinations are along the coast here, typhoons can also occur and cause flooding. We’d suggest sticking to the drier months here!

An Bang Beach Hoi An Vietnam | Vietnam tips | Planning a trip to Vietnam

South Vietnam

In South Vietnam, you can expect warmer weather than the rest of the country year round. The dry season is between December and May and hottest temperatures tend to occur between March and May, reaching 100ºF.

Between June and November, the weather is a bit cooler, but also rainier. Since there are many indoor activities in HCMC, rain isn’t a huge issue here. 

Tet Holiday

Besides weather, one important thing to know when choosing when to visit Vietnam is when Tet is. Tet marks the first day of the Lunar New Year and is a huge week-long celebration across the country. While visiting during Tet can provide a unique glimpse into Vietnamese culture, it can also be more challenging. 

Many Vietnamese return to their hometowns during this time. Transportation and lodging tend to be in high demand, so you would need to plan further in advance. Also, many businesses shut down for days to celebrate, so you may struggle to find dining options and activities open.

Tet Holiday

When did we visit Vietnam?

We visited Vietnam from early March to mid April. This worked out really well as we were able to avoid the rainier months across the country. We did experience some heat in Ho Chi Minh City (90ºF), but the temperatures were moderate everywhere else and we only had a couple days of rain. 

The only downside of when we visited is that the skies were pretty hazy everywhere. We aren’t sure if this was due to the time of year, burning farms, or pollution.

It’s also not the best time to see the fields in the north, so some farming areas were brown vs. green or golden yellow. To us, having less chances of rain was worth missing out on that!

Vietnam Visa

Depending on where you are visiting from and for how long, you may need a Vietnam visa. Some nationalities do not require a visa for visits between 15-30 days, while some require it for any length of time.

As Americans, we were required to have a visa to visit Vietnam for any length of time. At the time of our visit, we could only get a visa for 30 days. They did have a 3 month visa before the pandemic, which they are planning to bring back soon. But the 30 day option was the only option we had. 

You may be thinking “wait, you said you were there almost 6 weeks?!” We will explain that in a bit!

Besides the visa, we were also required to have 6 months remaining on our passport, so make sure yours is within that window!

Vietnan e-visa

How to get a Vietnam visa

If you need a visa to visit Vietnam, we highly recommend applying for an e-visa in advance. While air travelers can get one on arrival, it’ll save you time to have it already.

To get your Vietnam visa, you will want to go to this website. Yes, it looks a tad outdated and sketchy, but this is the website run by the Vietnamese government. There are other websites that you can get your visa from, but they may charge more.

And speaking of costs, the e-visa cost $25 USD per person, which can be paid by credit card. We did run into a couple issues paying online, but were able to get it to go through eventually. If in doubt that it went through, check your credit card transactions. Ours showed up almost immediately! 

On the website, you will need to fill out your information and provide a passport photo. Since we did not have copies of our passport photo, we used this app to take some at home. 

After filling out the information, you will likely hear your results within 3 business days. We suggest planning for longer, just in case. If you apply for your visa around Tet, make sure to give yourself even more time.

Make sure to print your visa before getting to Vietnam! While we did see someone show theirs on their phone, it does say to print it. 

Staying longer than your visa? Go on a visa run!

As we mentioned above, we were in Vietnam for almost 6 weeks, yet our visa was limited to 30 days. So what did we do? We went on a visa run!

A visa run is when you leave the country before your visa expires and return on a new visa. This is a common thing to do in Southeast Asia, especially in Vietnam during their 30 day only visa policy.

If you’re in HCMC around the time your visa expires, many people cross the land border in Cambodia and then return to Vietnam the same day. Make sure to check if Cambodia also requires a visa. They do require one for US citizens!

Since we were further north, we flew from Hanoi to Chiang Mai, Thailand for a couple days instead. Thailand doesn’t require a visa for US citizens for 30 days, so this was an easy option!

Where to stay in Vietnam

When visiting Vietnam you have a handful of options for lodging, ranging in price, amenities, and experience.

Below is a breakdown of your main choices and during our time in Vietnam, we stayed in all four of these!

Hotels

Vietnam has a variety of hotel options, from larger chains (mostly in the major cities) to smaller, boutique hotels. The amenities will vary based on the hotel. Some of the larger hotels offer a pool, gym, and restaurants, while smaller hotels may just have rooms. 

One of our favorite places we stayed in Vietnam was the Paddy Boutique House in Hoi An. This is a boutique hotel with a cafe on the first floor that serves amazing coffee and food. The rooms are super beautiful and modern and ours overlooked the rice fields! They also have free bike rentals to go explore. It was $41 per night, which felt like a steal!

We also LOVED this bungalow in Ninh Binh! The scenery felt like a magical garden, we had access to bikes, and there was a restaurant on site. This was our most expensive lodging and it was only $61 USD per night!

Airbnbs

We stayed at many Airbnbs while in Vietnam, which were usually ~$30/night. For us, the main reason for choosing an Airbnb was to have a bit more space and to have access to a kitchen and laundry. While we ended up not cooking in Vietnam (eating out was just so cheap!), we did enjoy having access to laundry.

Homestays

Homestays were some of our favorite experiences in Vietnam! What is a homestay you may ask? It’s when a local family has lodging on their property. This could be within their house or a separate area near their living quarters. 

They are typically found in more rural areas and often have meals, some of which you may eat with the family. They also sometimes offer activities to help you see more of the area. Overall, homestays are a great way to get more immersed in the culture and also directly support locals.

We loved the Yen Nhi homestay near the Ban Gioc waterfall, which has a dining area within a cave and the CUTEST pups! 

Hostels

The cheapest lodging option in Vietnam is usually a hostel. While you may think of hostels as a bunch of bunk beds in a room, most offer private rooms as well.

We stayed in a few hostels in Vietnam, always in private rooms, and it was a great option for areas where you tend to be out and about a lot. They were more bare bones than a hotel or Airbnb usually, but also extremely cheap and clean. 

Before doing the Ha Giang Loop, we stayed at Be’s Home in a private room and for two nights with a light breakfast included, it was under $40 total!

A few things to know about lodging in Vietnam:

  • Booking.com is a great resource to find lodging. You’ll be able to find both hotels and more Airbnb-like options here.
  • Some lodging options will not charge you upfront, so you’ll pay when checking out.
  • We also encountered a few homestays that were cash only or charged an extra fee for credit cards.
  • Beds in Vietnam can be a bit firm. Our friends in HCMC told us this is pretty standard everywhere. We had a mix of bed firmness and softness, but if this is especially important to you, make sure to read reviews.

Transportation around Vietnam

There are many different ways to get around Vietnam and we tried just about every option during our trip. And we definitely preferred some over others! Below is a rundown of the different transportation options available and why we liked (or didn’t like) each.

Grab

When getting around the cities in Vietnam, Grab is the way to go! Grab is a rideshare app, just like Uber, and is an affordable and safe choice when in more populated areas.

Similar to Uber, with Grab you get to choose the size of the car. You also get to confirm the rate you’ll be charged before pickup, which reduces any scams.

The prices are so cheap for Grab that we used it a lot! We paid between $2-$5 for each ride around HCMC and Hanoi, including a tip (not required). We even used Grab to get food delivery, which is something we never do in the US because of how expensive it is.

Taxis

If Grab isn’t available, you can also get a taxi. While a similar concept, we prefer Grab because you confirm the rate ahead of time. However, there were some scenarios in which a taxi was our best option. This was usually in more rural areas where Grab may be limited or not present.

In these scenarios, we tried to have our hotel or homestay book the taxi for us and give us the rate ahead of time, to ensure we didn’t have any surprises.

Motorbike Vietnam | Vietnam tips | Planning a trip to Vietnam

Motorbikes

One of the best ways to experience Vietnam is on a motorbike! You can either motorbike around the different cities on a GrabBike, rent a bike to explore the country, or hire a driver (called an Easy Rider).

If choosing to drive your own motorbike, make sure to check motorbike laws for your country’s driver’s license. You will very likely need an IDP, which is an International Driver’s Permit. 

However, not all country’s IDPs are valid in Vietnam. Only IDPs from countries under the 1968 Vienna Convention are legal. And unfortunately for US, Canadian, and Australian citizens, your drivers licenses do not apply. The only way for these travelers to legally drive a motorbike without a license is to drive one 50ccs or less. This may work in cities, but it will not be powerful enough in mountainous areas.

While many people do drive motorbikes illegally, in places like Ha Giang, they are cracking down on illegal driving. You risk getting pulled over and having to pay a fine or bribe to the police or getting your bike taken away. Your health insurance will also not be valid. 

Also, whether you drive or are a passenger, helmets are required by law in Vietnam for anyone on a motorbike. So make sure to wear one! 

Biking Hoi An | Vietnam tips | Planning a trip to Vietnam

Bicycle

Since we couldn’t legally drive a motorbike in Vietnam, we rode bicycles in some easy to bike areas! Both Ninh Binh and Hoi An are great spots to ride a bike and it was a super fun way to get around.

One thing to be aware of is that you’ll likely have to bike around cars. Also, helmets for bicycles seem to be rare in Vietnam, which we didn’t love.

Busses/Limos

To get between cities and destinations in Vietnam, one popular option is to take a bus or a limo. A limo in Vietnam is just a multi-passenger van, not a cool stretch limousine like you’d take to prom.

For some areas of Vietnam, where there are no airports or train stations, these will be your only option. When going to and from Ha Giang, the only options are a limo or an overnight sleeper bus (we hear mixed things on this one). We also had to take a limo from Ba Be Lake back to Hanoi. 

Out of all of the options for transportation in Vietnam, this was our least favorite. And a big reason why was because of just how crazy the driving is. However, sometimes it was our only choice, so we had to suck it up and embrace the adventure!

Overnight train Vietnam | Vietnam tips | Planning a trip to Vietnam

Trains

Vietnam has a pretty expansive railway system, going all the way from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi (which takes about 36 hours!), with many stops along the way. There are also some other routes that can take you to side destinations.

We took a total of four trains in Vietnam, with one being a 17 hour overnight train. And it was probably our favorite way to travel! It felt safer than a bus/limo, we had space to spread out, we could walk around, we could use the bathroom whenever, and we got to see a lot of scenery.

There were some downsides, like the bathroom cleanliness, which started out clean and then went downhill fast. We also had some small roaches in our overnight cabin, which made sleeping difficult. But for the most part, it was smooth sailing!

In some situations, the train is only a little bit slower than taking a limo or bus, but in others, it is a lot longer to take the train. We suggest looking at all of your transportation options and seeing what works best for your schedule.

If you do take the train, we highly suggest getting a first class cabin. Most of these have two bunk beds, so you will have strangers with you, but you still have a good amount of space. Some trains do offer a special cabin with just two beds, which we did for our overnight train. These are pricier, but you have total privacy if traveling with two people! 

Flying

The quickest way to get around Vietnam is flying. While not always an option depending on where you’re going, if flying is an option, it will be the easiest and fastest choice.

Flying within Vietnam is relatively cheap and there are multiple airlines to choose from. We flew Vietnam Airlines and Bamboo Airways without an issue. We heard VietJet isn’t super timely, but that can be said for all airlines at some point.

The downside of flying is that you have to get to the airport early and may deal with potential delays. Plus, airplanes are not very spacious.

Tools to book transportation in Vietnam

So you may be wondering how we figured out which transportation method to use for our different traveling needs in Vietnam.

One of our go-to tools in Vietnam was 12Go. On this site you can put in your origin and destination and it tells you if there are buses/limos, flights, or trains. It’s a great resource to compare options! You can also book transportation directly on their website.

We also used Google flights to check flight prices, but we booked all of our flights through our credit card travel portals. 

Travel insurance for Vietnam

We highly recommend buying travel insurance for your trip to Vietnam. We have been using the Nomad Insurance plan with SafetyWing on multiple international trips this year. It not only gives us travel medical insurance, but also provides coverage for lost baggage and travel delays. Thankfully we didn’t have to use any of it!

We also have personal article policies for our electronics with State Farm that works worldwide. Unfortunately we did have to use this one when our camera lens broke during a motorbike accident.

Booking tours in Vietnam

The tours we went on in Vietnam were the highlights of our entire trip! While planning a trip to Vietnam, make sure to look into different tours and book them ahead of time. 

It seems many of the backpacker type travelers book last minute, but we liked booking early to ensure we had the best tour options.

Some tools that were helpful in finding tours and activities were:

  • Tripadvisor: you can not only read reviews for tour activities, but you can also book them directly on Tripadvisor! The company that we hired for the Ha Giang Loop is bookable on Tripadvisor. PS: For ANY experience you book on Tripadvisor you can use our code APLUSK10 to get 10% off!
  • Airbnb Experiences: we found some great local guides here, including our Hanoi food tour.
  • Klook: while we didn’t personally use Klook, we know it is popular to book activities in Asia.

Also, WhatsApp is what many tour companies use to communicate. So make sure to download it in advance!

Vietnam cave tour | Vietnam tips | Planning a trip to Vietnam

What to pack for Vietnam

It’s almost time to head to Vietnam! Before you go, here are some items we would highly suggest packing for Vietnam.

Remember to check bag weight limits ahead of time! If your bag is too heavy, you’ll have to check it and it’s usually cheaper to pay in advance.

To see more of our packing tips, plus download a packing list that you can modify, check out this blog post!

Clothing

Layers: If you plan to travel across the country, make sure to bring a variety of clothes for different conditions. We brought pullovers and our winter jackets and ended up needing both!

Rain jacket: Even if visiting in the dry season, you may experience rain (we did!). Kathryn wears the Patagonia Torrentshell jacket and Adam wears a Columbia rain jacket

Temple attire: If you plan to visit any temples, make sure you have pants or a skirt that covers your knees and something to cover your shoulders. We suggest bringing something light and airy to avoid getting too hot! I had a thick cardigan and it was brutal at times.

Shoes: Due to us just carrying backpacks, we only brought one pair of shoes with us to Vietnam. We wore ALTRA Lone Peak 6 Trail Running Shoes, which worked well for walking around cities and also hiking. We also bought some flip flops, which came in handy for our cave tour.

Toiletries

Feminine hygiene products: They may not have the exact kind you like in Vietnam, so make sure to bring enough!

Toilet paper: This is something you can buy there, but we highly recommend carrying some with you. Some restrooms do not offer any or charge you a small amount to get some.

Beauty products: We tried to bring enough of any hair products, makeup, etc to make sure we could use the products we liked the entire trip.

Dual voltage items: In the US, the outlets are 120V, but in Vietnam they are 220V. Make sure to bring a hair dryer, straighter, or curling iron that will work with their outlets. I brought a small, dual voltage hair dryer with me to Vietnam.

Medicine

We highly suggest bringing Advil, a small first aid kit, and stomach medicine, like imodium or pepto, just in case. 

Technology

Outlet adapters: While some outlets in Vietnam were just like the US, others were two prong and we had to use an outlet adapter to be able to use our electronics.

Portable charger: We liked carrying a portable charger with us in case our phone or camera batteries got low during the day.

Miscellaneous

Don’t forget your passport and visa!

How we packed for our Vietnam trip

We each carried one of these backpacks for our 6 week trip

During our trip to Vietnam we carried everything we needed for 6 weeks in our REI Trail 40 packs, plus an additional foldable backpack. It was tough, but thankfully we managed to make it work by using Tripped compressible packing cubes.

So why did we only bring backpacks? Our motorbike trip was starting and ending in different areas, so we had to carry everything with us. We didn’t think our normal Away carry on suitcases would fit on the back of a bike easily, especially with backpacks too, so we had to go minimal for this trip.

This forced us to prioritize what to bring. Certain things, like our big zoom lens and bulky noise canceling headphones, had to be left behind. We also had to be okay with wearing the same things constantly. Each of us had about 4-5 shirts and 3-4 pairs of pants with us, plus the layers we mentioned above. Thankfully we wear clothes that can be reworn without washing constantly!

While this scenario may not apply to everyone, we wanted to mention it anyway to show that it is possible to travel light. Although, we do have lots of practice because of van life, so it is a lot easier for us than most to live with less.

Things to know once you’re in Vietnam

Alright, you’ve made it to Vietnam! Now what? Here are some important things to know for once you arrive in Vietnam to hopefully make your trip go as smoothly as possible!

Ninh Binh | Vietnam tips | Planning a trip to Vietnam

What to expect at immigration

Once landing in Vietnam you will go straight to immigration. WARNING: the lines can be VERY long, especially in Ho Chi Minh City. Hanoi is quite a bit quicker, at least from our experience.

When it’s finally your turn, you will need to show them your passport and visa. During our multiple experiences going through immigration, the agents never asked any questions or said a word to us. They just took our documentation, did some computer magic, stamped our passports, and we were on our way.

Cell service & SIM cards

While you can get international data through your US cell phone provider, this can get a bit costly. Instead, get a SIM card in Vietnam!

We had never done this before this trip and weren’t totally sure what to do. But in the airport, among the immigration line, was a stand selling SIM cards. We purchased a 120 GB card that lasted for one month and then got a new card for 60 GB for our final couple weeks. 

I believe we paid $60 or less for the both of us for 6 weeks worth of data, which is much cheaper than what Verizon would’ve charged us.

With the SIM card you can use your iCloud account to iMessage family and friends back home. You can also use WhatsApp to text anyone who does not have iMessage. Just make sure to tell your loved ones in advance the best way to get a hold of you!

We rarely did not have cell service during our entire time in Vietnam. Even in remote areas of Ha Giang and Cao Bang, we still had service. It was pretty incredible! 

However, just to be safe, we do suggest downloading offline Google Translate and Google Maps beforehand. That way you can communicate and find your way with or without service.

Cash and ATMs

Cash seems to be king in Vietnam! While some places do take credit cards, street food stalls, restaurants, and even some homestays only take cash. Even if you want to use the restroom in public, you will need cash to pay (usually 5,000 VND).

We tried to figure out in advance where we would need cash and about how much so we always had enough on us. But if you need cash, you can find an ATM almost anywhere!

To avoid crazy ATM fees, we highly recommend opening a Charles Schwab checking account before you go. They refund ATM fees from ANY ATM worldwide! This gave us lots of freedom to use whichever ATM was most convenient.

Hanoi | Vietnam tips | Planning a trip to Vietnam

Crossing the street

It is pretty well known that crossing the street in Vietnam is chaotic. There are tons of motorbikes and cars and rarely crosswalks. And even if there are, red lights and crosswalks don’t always mean anything. 

The advice we got from locals was that you just have to start walking. If you walk at a consistent pace (no stopping or running), the motorbikes will go around you. Of course, accidents can happen, so please look and be aware of your surroundings.

For example, I walked into a moving bike in Hanoi. We had the walk sign and Adam said “let’s go,” so I started walking without looking to my right and a motorbike was running the red light and I ran into them. We were all okay, but it definitely took me by surprise!

Also, alleyways can also surprise you with bikes, so look before you cross those too! 

Scams in Vietnam

It’s good to be aware of possible scams you may encounter in Vietnam. Like we said before, we felt totally safe in the country. But there are people who may try to trick you into getting some of your money.

We are not experts on all scams that can occur, but here are a few that we heard of or encountered.

Parking Scams

This is super common in Ninh Binh. Essentially, people will try to force you to pay to park well before you need to. On the road to Mua Caves, locals will walk out right in front of your bike and try to demand that you park there. They often charge much more than the actual parking costs. If this happens to you, just keep biking and ignore them. 

Photo opps

Another money grab is people trying to get you to hold things for a photo. They will let you hold it and get the photo, but then try to demand money afterwards. As cool as some of these photo opportunities may be, don’t fall for it unless you want to pay.

Duplicate businesses

We learned of this one in Hanoi while on a food tour with a local. The bun cha place he took us to is very popular and delicious. And nearby businesses have tried to copy their name, colors, and look to trick people into going to them instead.

We almost fell for it the second time we went. The business right next door looked JUST like it and they tried to hurry us inside. Since we knew this was possible, we were a bit cautious and the real business directed us to their tables instead.

While this may not be a huge scam, it could mean a less delicious meal if you fall for the imposters. This also can happen with tour companies too!

Tourist prices

We hear sometimes that restaurants will charge tourists more than locals, but I don’t think we personally experienced this. If you go to a restaurant and do not see prices, this could be a sign that they’ll try to overcharge you.

Download a VPN

If working remotely, you may want to download a VPN to be able to access specific websites while in Vietnam. We downloaded NordVPN while there once we realized that some websites blocked Vietnam traffic. We were able to connect to a server in the US and get access to what we needed.

VPNs can also allow you to access Netflix shows that are only available in specific countries and it is just a safer way to use public networks.

Services you may need in Vietnam

If you travel in Vietnam for an extended period of time like we did, you’ll likely have to take care of some everyday chores and tasks. 

Grocery store

The thing we missed the most from the US while in Vietnam (besides our pup Kona) were the grocery stores. There are some larger stores in Vietnam, but they are mostly in the major cities. And still, it’s a totally different country and the products do vary.

In Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi you can find a grocery store called Annam Gourmet, which has a lot of western products. The prices are higher, but if you want more of a taste from home, this is a good option.

Some Vietnamese grocery chains to look for are Lotte Mart, VinMart, Big C, and Co.opmart. In the smaller towns, you’ll likely have to go to small convenience type stores for your needs.

Pharmacy

It is pretty easy to get medicine in Vietnam without a prescription. If you start to feel sick while in Vietnam, you can find many pharmacies on the streets of HCMC and Hanoi. The names of the medicine may be different, so we suggest looking up what you need beforehand. 

During our trip we did need some medicine for a cold and Adam was able to buy it without any issues.

Laundry

The #1 chore we had to do while in Vietnam was laundry. A big reason why we booked Airbnbs for much of our stay was to have access to laundry. However, if you do not have access to a machine, don’t worry!

There are many affordable laundry services in town, where someone does your laundry for you. This was kind of a weird concept for us at first, but you usually get it back the same day and it’s easier than carrying around detergent.

Speaking of detergent, if doing your own laundry, make sure you get detergent! None of our Airbnbs provided this unfortunately. But we were able to find some small travel size detergents at a convenience store. Also, some of our machines were a washer and dryer combo, which didn’t always dry our clothes the best.

Eating and drinking in Vietnam

Vietnam street food | Vietnam tips | Planning a trip to Vietnam

One of the most common questions we got while in Vietnam was if we got sick from the food or water. And the answer is no! At least, we don’t think so.

We both did get sick our first week in Vietnam with a stomach bug, but we got sick days apart, so we think it may have been a virus vs. food related. Besides that, our stomachs held up well! I ate way too much of things I shouldn’t (eggs and gluten) and felt that a bit, but we didn’t experience sickness.

As for water, both locals and tourists cannot drink out of the tap and you will find purified water everywhere. It is very easy to get!

Is street food safe?

While some are leery of street food, it was our favorite way to eat in Vietnam. We loved sitting in the tiny chairs at the tiny tables and eating right on the sidewalk. The food is typically fresh, delicious, and super affordable. Just make sure to read reviews in advance and go to reputable street food stands (or go with a guide) to ensure it’s high quality and safe.

Our favorite food and drinks in Vietnam

If you’re curious which food and drinks we’d suggest the most while in Vietnam, here is a quick list of our must try items! 

Food

  • Bún chả 
  • Bánh mì
  • Pho (both northern and southern style)
  • Bún thịt nướng
  • Bánh xèo
  • Bun bo nam bo
  • Bánh rán
  • Nem Nuong Nha Trang
  • Bò lá lốt
  • Cao lầu 
  • Lemongrass chicken

Drinks

  • Cà phê sữa đá (Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk)
  • Salt foam coffee
  • Egg coffee
  • Coconut coffee
  • Lemon tea from a street food stand
  • Tea from Mót in Hoi An

Tipping in Vietnam

It is not customary to tip in Vietnam. This is a weird concept coming from the US, where you tip for most services. But in Vietnam it’s not expected.

However, we did tip as much as we could. We would often give a slightly larger bill for our meal and leave the change. People seemed to really appreciate this! We also always tipped our Grab drivers, food delivery drivers, and especially our tour guides. For tour guides, we always tipped a minimum of 20%.

Final thoughts on planning a trip to Vietnam

We hope this guide has helped you with planning a trip to Vietnam. If we have any final advice, it’s to just embrace the adventure. Vietnam may push you a little out of your comfort zone at times and things may go wrong, but it’s all part of the adventure. If you have any questions about planning a trip to Vietnam, let us know! Cảm ơn bạn đã đọc!

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about us

Hi y’all! We’re Adam, Kathryn, and Kona, an adventurous married couple (+ pup!) living on the road in our self-converted sprinter van! You can often find us driving all around the US and Canada, scoping out the best coffee shops, eating tacos and ice cream (we’re a 5+ taco and 2+ scoop household), and enjoying nature.

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