20+ Vietnam Tips: Things to know before you go!

Heading to Vietnam soon? We’re sharing 20+ Vietnam tips to help you have an amazing trip!

Visiting a new country can be extremely daunting. Despite traveling full time, our experiences outside of North America have been pretty limited. So when we decided to head to Vietnam for 6 weeks, we felt quite a bit of anxiety.

We had only ever heard incredible things about Vietnam, but it was our first trip to Asia and we had no idea what to expect. However, through tons of research, an open minded attitude, and a desire for adventure, we had the BEST time in the country! That’s not to say we didn’t make some mistakes or learn a thing or two along the way, though. 😃

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!

In this post we’re sharing 20+ Vietnam tips that we learned throughout our 6 weeks in the country. We hope that these Vietnam tips can help you feel better prepared for your own Vietnam adventure.

For even more insight into the country and things to know before you go, read our ultimate guide to planning a trip to Vietnam!

Looking for even more Vietnam tips? Check out these other Vietnam guides:

20+ Vietnam tips to know before you go

Ninh Binh Vietnam | Vietnam tips | Planning a trip to Vietnam

1. Don’t try to do too much

Vietnam is a large country! It spans 1,025 miles from south to north and there is SO much to see and do. Even with one year to spend, it would be impossible to do it all!

So with that said, don’t try to do too much! We spent almost 6 weeks in the country and still missed so much. While we could’ve squeezed in a couple more spots, we also didn’t want to feel rushed in the places we were visiting.

If you’re feeling unsure how much you can fit into your trip, here is a general guideline based on our experience:

  • One week: if you only have one week, we’d suggest sticking to one region and exploring it more in depth. Northern Vietnam has a lot to offer for one week!
  • Two weeks: if you have two weeks, we’d suggest focusing on two regions of Vietnam.
  • Three weeks: if you have three weeks, you could spend 1 week in each region of Vietnam (North, Central, and South).
  • Four weeks or more: with a month or more, you can experience 1-3 destinations in each region of Vietnam.

2. Plan for enough time to get around the country

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

Another big reason that you don’t want to do too much is because it takes a while to get around Vietnam. There are many modes of transportation to get between destinations, including buses, limos (which are vans), trains, and flying. And sometimes you’ll have to take multiple in one day!

Flying is the quickest way to get around, but for some destinations there is not an airport to fly to and you’ll have to take one of the other options. We personally loved the trains! They gave us the chance to see more scenery, felt safer than a bus or limo (drivers in Vietnam are a bit wild!), and we had more room to spread out.

If you want a very memorable experience, you can take an overnight train as well! You can watch how our 17 hour overnight train went here. I am not sure it’ll convince you to take it, but for us, it was something we won’t forget. And we would probably do it again someday. 😀

3. Travel from South to North

During our trip we started in Ho Chi Minh City and ended in Northern Vietnam and it was the best decision! While we loved Ho Chi Minh City, the scenery gets progressively better and better the further north you go. So by starting in the south and ending up north, you get to save the best views for the end!

4. Get your e-visa before you go

A crucial Vietnam tip is to not only know if you need a visa, but to get it before you go.

As American citizens, we were required to get a visa. At the time of our visit, we could only get one for 30 days, but they are hopefully bringing back their 3 month visa soon. But depending on your nationality and length of visit, you may not need one. 

And while you can get a visa upon arrival, getting an e-visa in advance is much easier! To get an e-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.

Vietnan e-visa

The e-visa costs $25 USD per person, which can be paid by credit card. You will need to provide your passport information, arrival and departure dates, and entry and exit points. You also have to provide a passport photo. We used this app to take photos 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. Once approved, make sure to print it to bring with you!

Since our visa was only for 30 days and our trip was 6 weeks, we had to go on a visa run. This meant we had to leave Vietnam part way through our trip and then return on a new visa. It was a good excuse to finally get some khao soi in Chiang Mai, Thailand!

5. Buy travel insurance

One big travel tip not just for Vietnam, but any international destination is to get travel insurance. 

For our recent trips to Mexico and Vietnam we purchased insurance with SafetyWing for the duration of our trips, which was affordable and gave us a ton of peace of mind.

SafetyWing is travel medical insurance that will cover you outside of your home country for however long you need it. We purchased their Nomad Insurance plan, which not only gave us travel medical insurance, but also provided coverage for lost baggage and travel delays! Thankfully we didn’t have to use any of it!

For our cameras and electronics we have personal article policies with State Farm that works worldwide. This came in handy when Adam took a spill on the motorbike trip and one of our bags, which had one of our cameras in it, hit the pavement. The lens on the camera no longer worked properly, which was a bummer. But thankfully all we had to do was let State Farm know and they sent a check the next day. 

6. Know when Tet is

Tet Holiday

One very important Vietnamese event to be aware of when planning your trip to Vietnam is the Tet holiday. This is the most important celebration in the country and marks the first day of the Lunar New Year. It typically occurs in January or February and is a huge week-long celebration across the country. 

Cities and towns across the country are decked out in flowers and decorations. And while visiting during Tet can provide a unique glimpse into Vietnamese culture, it can also be more challenging. 

This holiday is all about family, so many Vietnamese return to their hometowns during this time. Transportation and lodging tend to be in high demand, so you may pay a higher price and have to book further in advance. Also, many businesses shut down for days to celebrate, so you may struggle to find dining options and activities open.

7. Learn a few Vietnamese phrases

Vietnamese is the main language in Vietnam and it is a tough 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.

A common question we were asked was how much English was spoken in Vietnam. The answer varies! In the larger cities, we encountered quite a few people who spoke English, but in more rural areas, little to no English was spoken.

We were able to get by just fine though! 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. 

While it’s unlikely you’ll become fluent in Vietnamese before your trip, we suggest learning a few common phrases. Here are some to get you started! To see even more, check out our ultimate guide to planning a trip to Vietnam.

  • 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!)

8. Get a SIM card

Cell service in Vietnam was so much better than we expected. Even in remote areas of Ha Giang and Cao Bang, we still had service. It was pretty incredible! 

On previous international trips, we tried to just get by with an international plan from our cell phone provider. But this can get pretty expensive and you may be limited on data. So for Vietnam, we decided to get a SIM card through a Vietnamese cell phone provider. And it was super easy and VERY affordable!

We purchased a one month, 120 GB SIM card while in line for immigration at the airport. And once that ran out, we got a 60 GB SIM card at Viettel for our final couple weeks. I believe we paid less than $60 for the both of us for 6 weeks worth of data, which is much cheaper than what Verizon would’ve charged us.

9. Always have cash handy

Vietnamese Dong | Vietnam tips | Planning a trip to Vietnam

While some places do take credit cards, we found that many restaurants, street food stalls, public restrooms, and even homestays will only take cash.

You can find ATMs all over town and we suggest going to a bank ATM for the best rates. 

Want to avoid ATM fees? We have a Charles Schwab checking account specifically for international travel. They refund ATM fees from ANY ATM worldwide! This gave us lots of freedom to use whichever ATM was most convenient.

When we could use a credit card in Vietnam, we used one of our travel credit cards to earn points and miles for future trips. Curious which ones we use? Learn more about our favorite travel credit cards.

10. Make sure to carry toilet paper

This may be one of our most important Vietnam tips. If you don’t follow it, you may end up in a crappy situation…literally.

Make sure to carry some toilet paper (or tissue) while out and about in Vietnam. We found bathroom conditions to vary a lot. And sometimes they either did not have toilet paper or you had to pay for it.

One thing you will see in almost every bathroom, both in public and in lodging, are bum guns. These are basically spray gun bidets. While these can do the trick without toilet paper, you may want something to dry off. Don’t ask how we know…

11. Learn how to cross the street

Hanoi | Vietnam tips | Planning a trip to Vietnam

Vietnam’s streets are chaotic. There are tons of motorbikes weaving all around and a lack of crosswalks most of the time. And even if there are, crosswalks don’t always mean anything. I know this from experience when a motorbike went right through a red light and I ran into them while crossing at a crosswalk.

Locals told us that the best way to cross the street is to just start walking. Look for a small window in traffic and walk at a consistent pace (don’t run or stop). The motorbikes will go around you. 

It seems so unnatural at first, but you will get the hang of it! Another thing to be aware of is that motorbikes sometimes will hop onto the sidewalk or pop out of alleyways. So always be alert, even when not in the actual street.

12. Use Grab instead of taxis

Grab is a rideshare app, just like Uber, and is an affordable and safe choice to get around cities in Vietnam. Unlike taxis, you can 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.

13. Understand the tipping culture

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%.

14. Download offline Google Translate & Maps

Even if you have a Vietnamese SIM card, make sure to download offline Google Translate and Google Maps! This will come in handy if for some reason you do not have service or if you get a small data plan. 

15. Don’t be afraid of street food

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

The #1 question we were asked by viewers while in Vietnam was “did you get sick from the food?” Street food can have a bad reputation, but it was our favorite way to eat in Vietnam! Don’t be afraid of trying street food, but make sure to read reviews and use your best judgment.

Every street food spot we visited, minus a night market in Hoi An, was researched beforehand or recommended by a local guide. We rarely ever go to places on a whim.

Getting sick from food can happen anywhere in the world and even at the fanciest restaurants. Part of the food culture in Vietnam is sitting on the sidewalk in a tiny chair and at a tiny table, watching a local cook up your food right in front of you. The food is delicious and so affordable!

But to answer the #1 question, we did not get sick from the food. 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 from traveling. Besides that, we felt great!

16. Only drink purified water

While we highly suggest street food, tap water is a big no no in Vietnam. It’s not safe for both locals or tourists to drink, but thankfully purified water is super easy to find.

Our only complaint is that we had to buy tons of plastic bottles and we aren’t fans of that. We traveled with a Hydro Flask bottle, but there weren’t really any places to fill it up.

17. Interact with local ethnic minorities 

Tay Ethnic Minority | Vietnam tips | Planning a trip to Vietnam

Vietnam is home to 54 different ethnic minorities. If you can, try to visit different ethnic minority villages and stay at homestays while in Vietnam. You’ll get to witness a different way of life, learn about their resourcefulness, and gain a deeper understanding of the country. These experiences were the most memorable and impactful of our trip.

Two popular areas to interact with ethnic minorities are Sapa and Ha Giang. You can arrange tours to visit different villages with a local guide, which is recommended, as they likely will not speak any English.

18. Respect the culture

Vietnam temple | Vietnam tips | Planning a trip to Vietnam

You will likely visit a variety of cultural sites while in Vietnam. Please always make sure to follow the rules and respect the culture! When visiting temples, make sure to cover your knees and shoulders. Don’t do what I did and bring a thick cardigan (it got real hot!). Pack something lightweight instead!

19. Learn about common scams

We felt incredibly safe in Vietnam, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t scams to be aware of. Here are a few that we heard of or witnessed.

Parking Scams

This is very common in Ninh Binh. Locals will try to force you to park well before you actually need to. They will walk out right in front of your bike and try to demand that you park there and overcharge you. If this happens to you, just keep biking and ignore them.

We learned about this from reading reviews, so try to read recent reviews for places to learn about any scams!

Photo opps

You’ll often see people holding baskets with fruits, flowers, or other items while walking around. 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

Some restaurants will try to copy a popular restaurant to trick people into going to them instead. These restaurants will usually all be right by each other, making it hard to know which is the true one. This can also happen with tour companies trying to trick people by using a similar name to a popular, reputable company. 

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.

20. Prepare to haggle

Ahh, haggling. This is an important Vietnam tip, yet one we have not quite mastered. When shopping along the street or at markets, it is standard to haggle. The owners expect it, but for us, it’s super awkward and we aren’t sure what is too much or not enough.

We hear that shooting for 50% of what they are asking for is a good starting point. They will always come down in price and likely meet you in the middle.

One tactic we used was to not have all of our money bundled together. That way, we could play the “this is all I have” card. 

We also shopped around to see how much different shops were charging for a “Patagonia” fanny pack I wanted. This helped us get a better idea of how much we could ask off!

21. Use WhatsApp

WhatsApp is the go-to app for communicating while in Vietnam. Many lodging and tour companies use it to book things and communicate with you. Make sure to download it in advance and give any guides your number! 

22. 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.

23. Book tours with local guides

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

Hands down the BEST thing we did in Vietnam was hire local guides for some experiences! Because of guided tours, we were able to experience the country’s history, eat delicious street foods, spend 3 days in caves, and motorbike all over Northern Vietnam. These guides heavily enriched our experience!

The tours we hired guides for were:

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. And for ANY experience you book on Tripadvisor you can use our code APLUSK10 to get 10% off!
  • Airbnb Experiences: this is a great resource to find local guides and smaller group tours.
  • Klook: while we didn’t personally use Klook, we know it is popular to book activities in Asia.

24. Understand motorbike laws

Motorbiking Vietnam | Vietnam tips | Planning a trip to Vietnam

For years we envisioned ourselves renting a motorbike and traveling around Southeast Asia. But then we learned that legally, we cannot.
Make sure to check motorbike laws for your country’s driver’s license. You will need an IDP, which is an International Driver’s Permit. However, only IDPs from countries under the 1968 Vienna Convention are legal. 

Unfortunately for US, Canadian, and Australian citizens, your IDP will not qualify. Without an IDP the only way 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! 

25. Learn about Vietnam’s history

Last, but certainly not least, our final Vietnam tip: learn about Vietnam’s history. 

Since starting our YouTube Channel, we spend many, many hours researching every place we visit. And this includes its history! While I am not really a history buff, learning more about the places we plan to visit has given us such a better understanding and appreciation while there.

Vietnam has had many pivotal moments in its history, with two more recent being French colonization and the Vietnam War (called the American War by the Vietnamese). We highly recommend learning about these before you go. For the Vietnam War, the Ken Burns PBS documentary is phenomenal and shares all perspectives of the war. 

While in Vietnam, make sure to visit the War Remnants Museum and Hoa Lo Prison.

Heading to Vietnam soon?

Pin this guide with our top Vietnam tips to know before you go!

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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