Xin chào is a friendly hello in Vietnam (pronounced ‘shin chow’ or so we were told). We travelled 14 days beginning in Hanoi which is the capital city of Vietnam making our way to Halong Bay before travelling south through Hoi An and eventually landing in Ho Chi Minh city. This was our last stop before departing Vietnam via a cruise on the Mekong River to get to Phnom Penh in Cambodia.
The intention of this page is to provide links to the various places we went and recommend as well as provide resources that we found useful along the way. We understand that we don’t have ALL the information, but what we do have will be helpful to those travelling to Vietnam!
The currency in Vietnam is the VND or Vietnamese Dong. At the time of our travel with the US Dollar being very strong it was trading at $1 USD = 21,000 VND. It is easy to withdraw money from any ATM machine and we found that fees varied from no fees to up to 50,000 VND per transaction. Outside Vietnam the Dong is normally not accepted (excluding Cambodia and Laos), so before leaving the country remember to exchange any Dong left. In Saigon airport you can change before immigration at two bank booth that use the standard rate plus 2% fee. After immigration there are two more small booths that charge no fee, no receipt and standard rate. On arrival there are two exchange booth with a normal exchange rate and a bunch of ATMs outside.
We were told that the two best cities for visas while travelling through Asia were Singapore and Bangkok. In Bangkok they have many embassies from all over the world making it a great place to stop and grab the visas you require to get into the other countries you wish to visit. We were able to expedited one day Visas for Vietnam. The cost per visa was $130 USD for expedited service which allows up to 30 days in the country with a single entry permit. You may also obtain a visa on arrival which requires more effort and planning and may save you some money, however it is suggested you take care of your visa prior to your departure to Vietnam. You can find the information for Vietnam Visas Here.
You cannot drink the water in Vietnam. It is suggested to drink only bottled or purified water and we go so far as to brush our teeth with the same water to avoid ingestion of any water borne diseases.
There are many different ways to get around Vietnam. Within the cities we found the easiest was by foot especially in Hanoi and Saigon. We’ll tell you some others we used here and hopefully you will enjoy the wide range of options as you travel through this beautiful country.
By Foot: Be aware of your surroundings at all times! Traffic is moving and constant. There is a distinct way to cross the road which is far different than anywhere else we have been and it entails weaving through traffic as if in a game of Frogger deliberately moving in the direction you want to go. The people driving intuitively understand this to be the method and will move around you as you go. DO NOT STOP OR HESITATE, KEEP MOVING!
Bicycle: Bicycles can be a great way to get around especially in the less busy parts of town. With the exception of the Old Quarter in Hanoi we would recommend taking a bicycle if you enjoy getting around for cheap. Our hotel in Hoi An including free bike rental with our stay and was our preferred method to travel through the city streets.
Motorbikes: Reserved for those experienced on motorbikes or the adventurous spirits they are an excellent way to get around. To put things into perspective in the city of Hanoi with a city of 6 million people there are an estimated 4 million motorbikes! This is the way the Vietnamese people like to get around! We rented a bike in Hoi An for a day for 100,000 VND from one of the many vendors, filled up with gas for another 60,000 and we took a day trip to My Son Sanctuary. It was an excellent way to get outside the city and explore on our own.
Xích Lô – Cyclo: Pronounced Sik-Lo, these are carts mounted on the front of bicycles to have you effortlessly carted around the city. You will find them everywhere asking if you want a ‘1 hour tour’ and should cost 100,000 VND per hour.
Taxi: Taxis are easy and our preferred method to get to and from airports, train and bus stations. Taxis are metered however beware that not all meters are built alike! The driver can change the settings on his meter to have them run faster and end up costing you 3 times the regular fare. Another trick is they will tell you they don’t have change for the ‘large’ bill you gave them. You can do the following:
– If they don’t have change: just wait. Although it seems that you are going to lose the wait-out, usually the guys give in after 2 minutes and get change.
– If they overcharge (during the ride): tell them that their taximeter is “broken” and either renegotiate a full price then without taximeter or get out.
Train: We travelled by overnight train from Hanoi to Danang, and then were picked up by our hotel. The train is cheap and cheerful, but don’t expect luxury accommodations. This is a budget travel tip and if you like to arrive in style, take a plane! You can find everything you need to know about the trains at Vietnam Railway.
Plane: After taking the train from Hanoi to Hoi An, we decided to fly from Hoi An to Ho Chi Minh City from Danang Airport. Flights within Vietnam are extremely affordable and are the quickest and easiest way to travel between cities. Flights range from 500,000 VND and take around 1 hour saving you time and energy if you are quickly moving through the country.
There are many options for accommodation in Vietnam but we exclusively stayed in hotels. All hotels were booked on Expedia and we cross referenced our options with TripAdvisor to make sure we were going to have a great stay. Also, all of our hotel stays included breakfast simplifying our meals and expenses for the day. Many people we spoke with decided to find their accommodation upon arriving and seemed to enjoy what they found in places such as hostels and guest houses. If travelling with a partner you will pay the same individually as you would in a hostel by booking a hotel except you will likely have a nicer, cleaner, private room.
Cost: Average cost of a 3 star hotel including breakfast 600,000 VND/night.
Vietnamese food is fantastic! There are well known for their Pho, a rice noodle soup dish typically served with either chicken or beef. There are also plenty of places which cater to Western taste as well, which is helpful when you’ve had enough of rice dishes and desire a regular home tasting meal. Trip Advisor as always helps us navigate the popular spots and we explore the not so popular options as well to get a taste of local life! We’ll give you our favourite spots from each city below.
In Hanoi, we did two tours one being a day trip to Nimh Binh province and another to Halong Bay to take an overnight boat cruise. Both we highly recommend. Being that there are so many cruises to choose from on Halong Bay and with all the research we did, we found the best bang for the buck and a great experience to be with Bhaya Cruises. Day trips to Nimh Binh can typically be booked through your hotel.
We also took a Mekong Delta cruise from Ho Chi Minh on our way to Phnom Penh Cambodia. This was a great experience to end our Vietnam trip and would highly recommend the Mekong Eyes to travel with.
Most hotels offer you a laundry service but at an incredibly inflated rate. We found the best laundromats so far in Asia in Vietnam and were directed to them right from the hotel concierge. Usually they charge by weight and occasionally by the piece. Just clarify the price before handing over your personal belongings.
CITIES, ATTRACTIONS & RESTAURANTS WE VISITED:
Hanoi: The charming Vietnamese capital has aged well, preserving the Old Quarter, monuments and colonial architecture, while making room for modern developments alongside. Hanoi may have shrugged off several former names, including Thang Long, or “ascending dragon”, but it hasn’t forgotten its past, as sites such as Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum and Hoa Lo Prison attest. Lakes, parks, shady boulevards and more than 600 temples and pagodas add to the appeal of this city, which is easily explored by taxi.
Hoi An: This city on the central Vietnamese coast is a well-preserved example of the important Southeast Asian trading port it was from the 15th-19th centuries. Already a common stop for backpackers, it is becoming better known to tourists. On the 14th day of each lunar month, the town trades its electric lights for traditional coloured lanterns. Sights include the Japanese Covered Bridge and the Quan Cong Temple. Let the town’s expert tailors make you some custom clothing and take our suggestions if you will on where to go have clothing made, there are many choices to be made and we met many disappointed customers who didn’t shop where we shopped!
Ho Chi Minh: Vietnam’s bustling largest city sets the cultural and economic pace for the country. The former Saigon boasts charming French colonial architecture and wide boulevards, usually thronged and choked with traffic. Taxis are an option for seeing the sprawling city. The War Remnants Museum shows the Vietnam War through Vietnamese eyes. Don’t miss the impressive Jade Emperor Pagoda. Go to the frenetic Ben Thanh Market for food, flowers or frogs. Take a tour through the Mekong Delta, past rice paddies and houseboats.