32 Tips for First Time Travelers to Vietnam

Vietnam is a wonderful country. More and more people are beginning to discover the magnificent land and culture of Vietnam.

Vietnam is also a wonderful and exciting country to visit. For a first time visitor to Vietnam, we have compiled 32 Vietnam travel tips for the first time traveler to Vietnam. These 32 travel tips will help ensure you have the best trip possible.

Our 32 travel tips to help you have the best trip possible:

Tip 1 – Make sure you have a proper visa

The first thing you need to do is to ensure you have a proper visa to get into Vietnam. Most countries require a visit. To find out if you will need a visa for your visit here it is best you contact the Vietnamese Embassy of your home country or read our blog entitled Vietnam Travel Visa, What You Need to Know Before You Go by clicking here. This blog goes into further detail on all the different ways you can obtain a Vietnamese Travel Visa.

If your schedule is flexible as to how many days you will stay in Vietnam. I would make sure you get a visa that will allow you some extra time here, as Vietnam is truly an amazing place to travel and visit.

Tip 2 – Learn about the Vietnamese culture before you go

Before you go to Vietnam learn a bit about Vietnam’s culture and heritage. Not only will it give your trip so much more meaning, but you will understand more of what you are looking at and why when you visit Vietnam.

I love to watch movies and feel that with the right movies you can learn a lot about history and culture. Some of my favorite movies about Vietnam are:

  • Indochine (1992) – This is a wonderful French film that is based on the life of a French Plantation owner in Vietnam and her adopted Vietnamese daughter. This film takes places during the French colonial era of Vietnam.
  • Good Morning Vietnam (1987) – This is a classic film about Vietnam during the Vietnam war era.
  • Heaven and Earth (1993) – An Oliver Stone film that is based on the life of a Vietnamese woman during the Vietnam war, Shows that all sides really suffered during the war.
  • Three Seasons (1999) – Is a movie that shows the forces of change that were taking place in Ho Chi Minh. This film explores the past, present, and future of Vietnam.

Though most of these films are now older films, many of them still show the history and suffering of Vietnam. This will help you better understand Vietnam today.

At the Buddhist Temple, Hanoi Vietnam.
At a small Buddhist Temple in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Tip 3 – Learn about ‘Vietnam’s History before you go

Take the time to learn about Vietnam’s history before you travel to Vietnam. If you can understand the history then you will understand for example that Vietnam was under the Chinese for about a thousand years. so when you see the Chinese style writing on an old building you will understand why.

Two blogs that we recommend you read about the history of Vietnam are below.

After reading both of these blogs you will know a lot about Vietnam’s history. As I read the history of Vietnam, one thing that stands out to me is how much the Vietnamese suffered and how much the endured.

If you are in particular interested in the Vietnam or America War as it is called in Vietnam. There is a very good and complete PBS documentary series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novack called The Vietnam War. You can buy the DVD by clicking here, Also, you can also watch it free with a Netflix’s subscription or buy it on Amazon to watch on Amazon Prime. You can also read or listen to the book by Geoffrey Ward that the Vietnam War PBS documentary series was based on. You can buy the book by clicking here.

Tip 4 – Understand your medical care options before you go

No one wants to get sick, especially if they are on holiday to another country. but just case it is good to understand your medical care options in case you get sick or injured in Vietnam. You can read our blog entitled Guide to Emergency Medical Care in Hanoi that will give you some suggestions or places you can contact for Medical care along with an overview of some of the medical care in Vietnam. You can read the blog by clicking here.

Tip 5 – Get a Rabies shot and ensure other vaccinations are up-to-date

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you get some vaccination shots and have all your routine vaccination be up-to-date before you travel to Vietnam. You can read their directive by clicking here.

Here are the shots they recommend:

All TravelersMost TravelersSome Travelers
MeaslesHepatitis AJapanese Encephalitis
All Routine Vaccinations (see below)TyphoidHepatitis B
Malaria
Rabies

The CDC lists the routine vaccinations as measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and your yearly flu shot.

I would also add rabies to the All Travelers list as I had a dog nip me on the leg when I was walking down the street. I was not hurt very bad, but the Vietnamese owner of the dog could not show me the booklet that showed their dog was rabies-free and had a rabies shot. Because of this, I had to get the series of rabies shots here in Vietnam. It is possible to get the shots here, but it will take time from your trip for you to do it here. Also finding the rabies shot was not that easy, I had to go to a special clinic. If you are out in the countryside you may need to rush back to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh to get the shot, so I suggest you also be sure your rabies vaccinations are up-to-date when you travel Vietnam. Not all dogs here are rabies-free.

Morning market, Vietnam.
A morning market in a village outside Hanoi, Vietnam.

Tip 6 – Vietnam is a relatively safe country to travel

Vietnam is a relatively safe country to travel around. The Vietnamese are also very friendly and helpful. The main thing you need to be concerned about when you travel around Vietnam would be things like pickpockets or petty crimes. You can read our blog entitled Is Vietnam Really Safe to Travel Alone. What You Need to Know to find out more information and tips on how to be safe during your Vietnam travel, please click here to read the blog.

Tip 7 – Transport from the airport is easy

When you arrive into any of the International Airpots it is quite easy to get a taxi. Most airports have a taxi stand right outside the airport terminal. Hanoi has a taxi stand right to the left as you walk out of the International terminal. Just follow the signs or ask someone where the taxies are.

People may come to you and ask you if you want a ride. I would not take a ride from them as you are sure who they are. If you want to use a private car service then download the Grab App and get a Grab taxi to take you. That way the price is already set you and know the driver is a Grab driver. You can download the app by clicking here.

Many times the taxis will try to tell you what price they will charge, I find this happens especaily if it is late at night and they figure you may have no choice but to accept their price. When this happens I may then go to another taxi or I will insist that they will turn on the meter and I will just pay the meter fee.

Those drivers that try to get me to pay more, I usually do not tip them. But, if I feel the driver has been very good or helpful I will give them a small tip.

Tip 8 – Understand the currency

When you change 100 USD into the Vietnamese currency which is the Vietnamese Dong, you will become a millionaire. 100 USD is about 2,300,000 dong. So when you get the Vietnamese money exchanged you will get this huge wade of cash that may seem like a lot.

Below are listed the Vietnamese bills you will get and their approximate USD and Euro value. These amounts are just estimates as like all currencies the exchange rate can change frequently. A really great app to download so you can check the exchange rates on your phone or Ipad is Xe.com You can download the Xe-Com App by clicking here.

The bills from the Vietnamese currency from smallest to largest and what their approximate value is:

Vietnamese Currency ValueApproximate USD ValueApproximate Euro Value
1,000 Dong0.04 Cents0.038 Euros
2,000 Dong0.08 Cents0.077 Euros
5,000 Dong0.21 Cents0.19 Euros
10,000 Dong0.43 Cents0.38 Euros
20,000 Dong0.86 Cents0.77 Euros
50,000 Dong2.15 USD1.94 Euros
100,000 Dong4.30 USD3.99 Euros
200,000 Dong8.61 USD7.77 Euros
500,000 Dong21.53 USD19.43 Euros
Delivering Eggs, Hanoi Vietnam
Delivering morning eggs in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Tip 9 – There are many banks and ATM’s in Vietnam so withdrawing or exchanging money is easy.

Vietnam has a lot of foreign banks and many ATM’s. It is usually easy to withdraw money from the ATM’s. There are usually several ATM’s at all International airports. There are also money exchange places at the airport. Hotels will also usually change money.

Besides the hotels, there are a lot of western banks in Vietnam. If you are not sure where to go to exchange money you can ask your hotel where the nearest bank is or simply have them exchange the money for you.

Tip 10 – You can usually buy a phone card at the airport.

There is usually a stand at all the international airports that will sell you a phone or wifi card. I like to do this whenever I travel so that I have a local number and can use the local wifi. When you get out of immigration check around for a sign that says “Sim Card” or “Phone Card.’

Tip 11 – Each place you stay will need to register you with the police.

When you come to Vietnam, each place you stay the hotel will need to take a copy of your passport and visa. They will usually photocopy it. This is because they need to show this to the local police in the area. Know that this is a common practice and nothing to be alarmed about.

Tip 12 – Traffic is hectic here

Traffic here in Vietnam can be very hectic. Motorcycles can go all over the road and people will even go the wrong way down the road or ride up on the sidewalks. If you are planning to drive here or ride a motorcycle or bicycle here you need to understand that traffic can generally be very hectic here.

But even though traffic is hectic many of the drivers do look for people who are coming down the street or who are out on the road. But some drivers will also drive extremely close to you which can be very scary or go very fast.

Small cars, Hanoi Vietnam
Some children riding some small cars in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Tip 13 – Be careful when you cross the road

Wait until a traffic light is red instead of jumping out into the traffic. But also know that a lot of cars and motorcycles may go right through a red light.

When you cross the road in Vietnam be careful as I have known people who have gotten hit as they tried to cross the road here. When you see the road is open for crossing, look around and make sure that there are room and space for you to go across the road. Also, try to use the marked crosswalks or overhead walkways.

Tip 14 – Transportation is easy

Getting around Vietnam is actually quite easy. There are airports, trains, and buses that can go a long distance. Some of the buses like the minibusses that go up to Sapa have large seats and so the ride is quite comfortable. Airlines are usually quite good. Many of the planes are flown by western pilots.

There are also a lot of taxies, buses, motorcycle taxies, and car rental services in the cities. An app that a lot of people use is Grab as you can order a car, motorcycle or a taxi. You can download the Grab App by click here. Vietnam did have Uber, but now Uber and Grab have combined their services.

Tip 15 – The Vietnamese are very nice

The Vietnamese are generally very nice and this makes traveling here a very nice experience. Of course, there is always the exception, but in all my years of traveling around Vietnam, I have found people to be very helpful and kind.

If you fall off your bike, which has happened to me a few times, random Vietnamese strangers will run over to make sure I am OK and not hurt. If you need directions, they are usually very helpful with directions.

Tip 16 – Weather can change quickly

Weather in Vietnam can change very quickly. You may wake up in the morning and it is hot and sunny outside, but before noon the temperature drops and a huge monsoon rain has started. So be prepared for the weather to change. Have an umbrella or rain poncho or clothes that you can quickly layer.

Because the weather changes so quickly, this is why you see that every motorcycle usually has a rain poncho in the cabinet under the motorbike seat. The reason is that they know the weather can change quickly.

Tip 17 – Ha Long Bay is worth it seeing.

Ha Long Bay is worth going to see. There are a lot of tour companies that offer a tour to Ha Long Bay. You can choose from a day tour to a few days tour. But whatever amount of time you choose to take, Ha Long Bay is really worth going to see.

Tip 18 – Sapa is great to visit.

One of my favorite things to do in Vietnam is to see Ethnic minorities. Sapa is a great place to see how a large part of the population in Vietnam live. One of the main minorities in Sapa is the Hmong. There are many tour companies that offer tours to see some of the Hmong villages.

A travel guide in Sapa that we recommend is Ethos Travel. They have a lot of great tours. You can find out more about their tours by clicking here. They not only have tours in Sapa but some in also some very remote areas outside Sapa.

Thai Minority woman, Vietnam.
A Thai minority woman and a child in Son La, Vietnam.

Tip 19 – For a great beach holiday try Hoi An

But Hoi An also has a fabulous old town that is filled with wonderful restaurant and shops. So when you are done with a day at the beach you have a fabulous old town to also see some of Vietnam’s culture.

To fly to Hoi An you will need to fly Danang. Danang is also a great beach but my favorite beach is in Hoi An. Hoi An has a lot of great hotels and has a very nice beach

Tip 20 – For a sleepy kind of beach holiday go to Quy Nhon

If you want to see a sleepy kind of beach town in Vietnam, go see Quy Nhon. This area has a lot of the original round basket boats and a lot of fishing vessels. It is not as built-up or touristy as Danang or Hoi An.

If you are interested to learn more about these amazing round basket boats in central Vietnam, you can read our blog called What Are the Round Basket Boats You See In Vietnam? You can read about these round basket boats by clicking here.

Tip 21 – Hanoi is the cultural center

Do not miss traveling to Hanoi as Hanoi is the cultural center of Vietnam. Hanoi has an amazing Opera House that is a replica of a Paris Opera House. Weekly you will find amazing shows being performed at the Opera House.

There is also an old bridge in Hanoi called Long Bien bridge that was built and designed by Gustave Eiffel, who also built the Effiel Tower in Paris.

Hanoi also has art galleries, old french buildings, an old quarters with a lot of old french shop houses and cafes everywhere. It is a great cultural center.

Fan dancing, outside Hanoi Vietnam
Some fan dancing, outside Hanoi, Vietnam.

Tip 22 – Hanoi has some great museums.

As Hanoi is the cultural city of Vietnam the city is also filled with a lot of great museums. Here are three of my favorite not to be missed museums:

  • Hoa Lo Prison Museum – This museum can at times be quite dreary as a lot of the museum is about how the French treated the Vietnamese. But there is a section of the museum dedicated to the American pilots who were also there during the war. I think every American and French national should go in there to understand more about Vietnam’s history. The US Senator John Mc Cain’s flight suit is in the museum.
  • Vietnam Museum of Ethnology – The museum of ethnology is very interesting to go see. The collections there may change from time to time, but one thing that never changes is that they have some actual examples of some of Vietnam’s many ethnic minority houses.
  • Vietnamese Women’s Museum – The Vietnamese Women’s Museum is also worth going to see. They have a lot of great exhibits that show the culture of Vietnam and in particular the women of Vietnam; They also have a lovely gift shop.

Tip 23 – Ride the golf cart or rickshaws in Hanoi

One of the best things to do in Hanoi is to experience Hanoi on the level that many Hanoians see it every day by riding a golf cart or rickshaw through the streets of downtown Hanoi. This is a great way to get a feel for the city and to see the old quarter of Hanoi.

The old quarter in Hanoi is filled with wonderful old townhouses and streets that are named for the past traders that use to be on the street as Hang Bac Street (Silver Street). Hang Gai Street (Silk Street) and Hang Dao Street (Pink Blossom Street). The Old Quarter is worth going to and seeing by both walking around the area and also seeing the streets by golf cart and rickshaw.

Tip 24 – Go see a Vietnamese water puppet show

The water puppet show is part of Vietnam’s history and culture. As this is so much a part of the Vietnamese culture and history, do not miss going to see one of the many water puppet shows.

To
find out more about the Vietnamese water puppet show, you can read our blog on Is the Vietnamese Water Puppet Show
Worth Seeing? You can read more about the Vietnamese water puppet
show by clicking here.

Tip 25 – Try Fanny Ice Cream

The eating of ice cream is a very important part of the Vietnamese food scene. In Hanoi on most days during the summer you will see people lined up at some of the local ice cream shops to eat some ice cream.

One of my favorites is Fanny Ice Cream. Fanny Ice Cream, a Vietnamese iconic ice cream parlor, not only has some interesting flavors but also some wonderful ice cream. Fanny ice cream has ice cream parlors all over Vietnam. You can go to their website by clicking here to find out more about their ice cream and also where their ice cream parlors are located. The Fanny Ice Cream Parlor in Hanoi is located in downtown Hanoi near Hoan Kiem Lake at 2 Hang Bai Street, Trang Tien Ward, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi.

Tip 26 – Vietnam is a haven for foodies

Vietnam, especially Hanoi is a haven for foodies. There are so many great restaurants in Hanoi to try. It is so popular that almost all tour guides will offer street food tours.

Also here are some great places to go to eat:

  • Quan An Ngon Restuarant – is at 18 Phan Boi Chau Street in Hanoi. They have women who are cooking all the traditional Vietnamese food, so you can walk around and see what is being cooked up. There are a few Quan An Ngoc restaurants but go to this one as it is the most interesting.
  • Indochine Resturant – is at 38 Thi Sach, Hanoi. This restaurant has the best coconut shrimp soup I have never had. Worth going there just to have this very special soup and the banana flower salad.
  • KOTO Restaurant – is at 59 Van Mieu Street, Hanoi. This restaurant is also a training restaurant where they train street or underprivileged people so they can work in very good restaurants or hotels. This is a very good group to support and a very worthy cause. They have very good western and Vietnamese food.
Morning tea, Hanoi Vietnam
Some men having their morning tea near West Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam.

Tip 27 – Vietnamese Coffee is famous

Vietnamese love coffee so the streets are filled with a lot of coffee shops. You can also purchase a lot of coffee beans here.

There
are many local coffee shops in Hanoi but one of the more interesting ones is Cong
Coffee
as they have a local coconut coffee.

Tip 28 – Visit some handicraft villages

Outside Hanoi are many handicraft villages. Many of these families have been producing their various handicrafts for hundreds of years. In these handicraft villages, the skills and craft have been passed down from father to son.

The most famous handicrafts villages to visit outside Hanoi are:

  • Lacquerware village – Lacquerware has been a Vietnamese handicraft for hundreds of years. To learn more about Vietnamese lacquerware you can read this blog about How to Manufacture Vietnamese Lacquerware, you can read the blog by clicking here.
  • Bat Trang (Ceramic) Village – Across the Red River of Hanoi is the old ceramic village of Bat Trang. They have a main street that is filled with shops and many small ceramic manufacturers. There is also a large outdoor market where most vendors will sell their products. You can take a tour to visit there or you can go there on your own and wander the streets.
  • Vạn Phúc Silk Village – There is also a silk village outside Hanoi that has been producing silk for many years. What is interesting about this handicraft village is that the village has taken the old wooden handlooms and put motors and jacquard punch cards on them so that they can weave very intricate jacquard patterns. The villages have some machines you can go to see.

There are many local tour companies that offer tours to the handicraft villages around Hanoi and also in Ho Chi Minh.

Tip 29 – Ho Chi Minh is the largest city in Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh is the largest city in Vietnam and so it is in many ways the mainstay of Vietnam. A lot that happens in Vietnam happens in Ho Chi Minh. As it is also in the South, and further away from the main seat of the Vietnamese government, some also feel it is freer, hipper and more exciting than Hanoi. One thing for sure is that it is has a lot more people and traffic.

Like Hanoi, this is a place to visit and experience. Here you will find the iconic Rex and other hotels that many American watched the war unfold from their rooftops. There are also a lot of museums but many of them have to do a lot with the Vietnamese War. If you like old military planes and other things like that, this is the place to go.

Tip 30 – Go see the Cu Chi Tunnels

It is worth a trip outside of Ho Chi Minh City is to see the Cu Chi Tunnels. These tunnels show the determination and ingenuity of the Vietnamese people. During the war, the North Vietnamese army had built an entire community underground in these tunnels. They even had meeting rooms, hospitals, and schools. This also allowed them to disappear and move undetected from the American soldiers.

Today you can visit these tunnels and you crawl into them and see first hand what it was like to be in these tunnels. It is worth the trip to go out to see the tunnels and to see this very important piece of history.

Tip 31 – A trip to the Mekong Delta is interesting.

One of my favorite tours is a trip to the Mekong Delta. Once you get out to the Mekong Delta, usually you will travel by a long tail boat to see the Mekong delta area. The Mekong Delta is over 40,500 square kilometers (15,600 square miles), so it encompasses a large part of South Vietnam. The Mekong Delta is essentially a series of waterways that all eventually empty into the sea.

This area is also rich with a lot of different interesting species of wildlife and flora. The area is a wonderful place to see some of the countryside or life out on the delta from the people that live in the water in the delta region to a lot of the wildlife that inhabits it. When you travel to the delta region you really get a feel for some of the jungle life in Vietnam.

Playing in the water, Vietnam
Children playing in the water in a village in North Vietnam.

Tip 32 – Get out into the countryside.

Many people come to Vietnam and only really see the major cities. But do not miss out on the countryside as the countryside can be fascinating. Get out to see how rice is planted or some of the wonderful flower fields. Also, see how the Vietnamese bury many of their ancestors near the rice fields.

The beauty of Vietnam cannot really be seen in full until you have gotten out to see some of the amazing beauty of the countryside.

Conclusion

Vietnam is a wonderful country to travel to. Not only is traveling in Vietnam safe, economical and also culturally interesting, but the country also has some amazing landscape, history and people to discover. It is no wonder that time and time again it continues to be one of the top tourist destinations in the world.

Vietnam is definitely worth a journey. And once you come here, you will fall in love with the country and want to come back. I know I did.

Related Questions:

What is cheaper to travel to Vietnam or Thailand?

Overall from hotels, foods and other travel expenses, Vietnam would be cheaper to travel than Thailand. But as Bangkok has a major International airport you may find your flights to Bangkok are cheaper than say Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi. But as Vietnam continues to get more popular with more tourists coming here this will probably also change. I have found some great deals from the United States to Vietnam. You just need to check for the deals.

Should I visit Thailand or Vietnam?

Both countries offer a lot of amazing culture and countryside. If you can, I would try to visit both as they are both so different. In Thailand, you will see a lot of amazing Buddhist temples with the monks walking about the streets for their morning alms.

In Vietnam, you will see some truly amazing countryside and places you cannot find anywhere else in the world. It is a country that has such a rich culture and amazing people.

So if you can, visit both countries.

Anita L Hummel from A Bus On A Dusty Road

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