[Last update: March 21, 2022] After watching closely, what Thailand and other southeast Asian countries are doing with their travel industry, Vietnam - after being closed to international tourists for almost 2 years - is finally opening up in March 2022.
To make your flight to Asia worth the money, you have more and more options now to spend some months in the South East Asian region, including Thailand, Bali, but also Cambodia, and finally Vietnam.
Entry requirements for Vietnam
- Valid visa: You need a valid visa to enter Vietnam
- Approval letter: Before hopping on the flight to Vietnam, make sure you have your approval letter printed out. You can apply for it here.
- Health declaration form: This must be filled out before boarding.
- Covid test: Proof of a negative COVID-test result prior to your travels. Negative PCR-covid test within 72 hours or antigen test 24 hours before boarding or entering the country.
- Travel health insurance: You need health insurance in order to match the entry requirements. The insurance policy must cover a minimum of $10,000 including Covid-treatments. Check out Genki's health insurance and tick this off your list.
- Point of entry: You can enter Vietnam via the international airports in Saigon, Da Nang, or Hanoi.
- More information by the Ministry of Tourism.
Travel health insurance for Vietnam
Covid-19 in Vietnam
Vietnam shows a vaccination ratio of 80% of its population.
How to travel around Vietnam
- Grab: The app is available in major cities, such as Hanoi, Saigon, Da Nang, and Nha Trang. You can get rides in a car but also on a scooter. Grab is also available for food delivery.
- Taxi: There is not much to mention about taking a taxi in Vietnam. Ask to use the meter, or negotiate the price before entering the car. Have a look at Google Maps and call the English-speaking hotline. A reliable taxi company is Mai Linh taxi (green color).
- Bus: I can not remember that in my 5 years of living in Vietnam, I have used public buses once. They exist but they are slow, lack comfort and the price for private cars and drivers is affordable, so there is no need to bother with non-existing bus schedules.
- Plane: Vietjet or JetStar are low-cost domestic carriers, that offer affordable tickets that you can purchase online. Took both of the airlines a hundred times, and never had a problem besides minor delays.
- Train: Taking the train in Vietnam is for you if you like the nostalgic way of traveling or if you are fine traveling comfortless. I would not recommend the train. But if you want to take the train, try to get a train that starts in your departing town as the trains passing through are pretty dirty. Imagine embarking on an overnight train in Da Nang which came from Saigon and going up north to Hanoi, you can be sure that the bed you booked is not cleaned after the previous guest. Cockroaches and dirty toilets and the fact that many Vietnamese suffer from motion sickness - if you get what I mean. No, thank you.
- Private car and driver: An affordable way to get around, for example from Hue down to Da Nang or Hoi An, or from Da Lat to Saigon is by hiring a driver and a car. You can find offers in local Facebook groups. Just use the search function and check previous quotes first, before getting a new offer.
- Scooter: Renting a scooter is super easy in Vietnam and the rental service doesn't ask you to leave your passport with them, which is often done in Thailand. Make sure to check breaks, oil, lights, and helmet first before you take off. If you want to travel the old backpacker route from north to south, so from Hanoi to Saigon or the other way around, make sure to rent a reliable and strong bike that is able to last you when exploring the old Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Where to find a place in Vietnam
- Facebook: Facebook works like a giant marketplace in Vietnam and many one-person enterprises are solely operated through the Facebook marketplace. Join the local Facebook groups and search through the listings, it is easy to find a place in Vietnam. Imagine, the country was closed for 2 years and many expats have left, there is plenty of availability in the country. Don't forget to negotiate the price. You should not pay more than $500 for a 2-bedroom apartment with a terrace or little garden, even if it is a newly built and highrise building. You can rent an entire house within walking distance of the beach for that price.
- Airbnb: I used Airbnb only in Saigon as most listings and better options are in the Facebook groups. There is no need to use Airbnb in Vietnam.
Good to know about Vietnam
- Internet: I often heard people saying they were not considering Vietnam because they heard the internet was non-existent or very weak. I found a coworking space in Vietnam in 2016 and I can tell you Vietnam has brand new fiber optic cable my family in Germany is jealous of. Internet in Vietnam is fantastic, maybe your accommodation bought the cheapest package but that is very rare. Okay, there is nearly no internet on Cham Islands (near Hoi An) and in some areas in Ku Tum province in the national parks. But I mean... my family has no connection between Berlin and Hamburg - so I think that says a lot.
- Sim cards: The best internet provider in Vietnam is Viettel, by far. You have 4G on the edges of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, close to the Lao border, in the far north, and even on Phu Quoc. I suggest buying your sim card at the Viettel store but you need to make sure that you get an internet package which you can extend monthly. You can check your balance by sending an SMS to: *101#
- Coworking: There is a growing community of digital nomads in the Hanoi, Saigon, and Da Nang area but also in Hoi An, which is about 25 km south of Hoi An. You find coworking spaces in all major cities. Update: Hub Hoi An is currently closed.
- Rainy season: Vietnam has its very own microclimate and it is often the opposite of Thailand's climate, but similar to Bali's climate. The rainy season for Hanoi (north), Hue, Da Nang, and Hoi An (center) begins in late October / November, and especially central Vietnam experiences heavy rainfall that can lead to flooded cities. Winter in the north and central Vietnam is cold and housing doesn't come with central heating. If you are traveling in summer clothes, it can get really cold in December and January. If you happen to travel to Vietnam in those months, start in the south, e.g. Phu Quoc island for some beach time, the buzzing city of Saigon, and work your way up north. The best travel time is after Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, it is said that Tet is the beginning of spring (around February) and the season lasts until September / October.
- Bargaining: Negotiating the price is a common practice in Vietnam and you should do some research on the local prices. A kg of oranges for example is 20,000 VND but foreigners are often asked to pay 50,000 VND or more because foreigners tend to respond like: "Oh wow, that is so cheap (compared to San Francisco), what a bargain."
- Smiles: Vietnamese, when compared to Balinese or Thai, often seem a bit cold or rough, this applies to the vendors on local markets or cashiers. I think this has to do with the recent history of the country and the rough life many families lived for years. After the Vietnam war, the country was heavily bombarded with Agent Orange, a chemical weapon used by the USA, and until today, there are wide areas still contaminated with this poison. It took decades for the economy to build up but today Vietnam is a strong and proud nation with great potential. To come back to the smiles: Smile first, and people will smile back. Once you have made a friendly connection with a Vietnamese, this connection can last a lifetime.
- Facebook groups: As mentioned before, Facebook is a great source of information, from shopping items to rentals to private drivers and events.
- Vietnam is not China: Uuh, that is difficult and I don't want to step into a hornet's nest, but don't mistake Vietnamese with Chinese. Yes, you find Chinese temples in Vietnam, and yes, you might find Chinese characters too. But if you think Vietnam is an extended arm of China, you won't make any local friends. Let me explain: Hoi An, for example, former Faifo, was once and for a concise period of time the biggest harbor in the world, connecting the southern silk road with international sea passages. You find many Japanese and Chinese merchant houses in Hoi An, simply because Hoi An was a multi-cultural place and home to tradesmen from all over Asia. The Vietnamese language used characters until the French administration, which pushed the Latin script into the population and it became later a symbol of the country's independence movement. In today's Vietnam, the locals have a love-hate relationship with China. On the one hand, there are some economic dependencies, on the other hand, the Vietnamese are fighting for the recognition of their very own cultural heritage.
- Vietnam is not Thailand: Although this might sound obvious, many times travelers start to compare one country with another. Vietnam and Thailand are two very different countries with completely different histories and cultures. Whereas Thailand has never suffered from a colonial suppressor nor a war in recent history, Vietnam suffered both and to a great extent. The elderly in Vietnam often still speak a bit of French, and they remember the colonial times well. Not to mention the many Vietnamese who still remember the darkness of the Vietnam war.
- Karaoke: It's a thing. From the toddler to grandpa, everyone loves singing. And although I met incredibly talented singers and musicians in Vietnam, the average Vietnamese, especially after some rice wine, sings just so so. And that was a compliment. If your neighbors are having karaoke, instead of complaining, just join in. American boyband songs from the 1990s are always appreciated. Ah, and the black wardrobe you are leaning on is not a wardrobe, it is just one of the six gigantic loudspeakers they got delivered with a truck this morning.
What to avoid in Vietnam
- Paying tourist prices: Ask a local Vietnamese about the kg price for fruits and vegetables, otherwise, you will pay 5x the price. Same counts for rent, coconuts on the beach, scooter rentals, taxi rides, and petrol.
- Getting confused over currency: The 20,000 VND note looks very similar to the 500,000 VND note, it happens to all of us at least once, that we mix it up, especially when we had one or two Huda, Saigon, or Larue too much.
- Tourist scams: Paying an entrance fee to enter the city of Hoi An is possible but unnecessary as the ticket for tourists who want to see the main five sightseeing points of Hoi An. So it makes only sense if you want to see the old Chinese Tea House or walk over the Japanese bridge. However, you can skip this ticket and simply use the bridge next to the Japanese bridge which allows you to actually take a photo of the Japanese bridge. It is like paying for the Eiffel Tower in Paris and seeing Paris without the Eiffel Tower or using the free rooftop of the Galeries Lafayette and seeing Paris with the Eiffel Tower. You chose.
- The rivalry between Da Nang and Hoi An: If you want to start a fight among expats, ask in one of the Facebook groups, which place is better, Hoi An or Da Nang. It is an old game, but the rivalry, especially among expats is huge. I am team Hoi An, and I can not understand why people would live in Da Nang. However, I have friends who say Da Nang is the "Miami of Vietnam" - well, I suggest checking out both cities and choosing yourself.
- Driving drunk: It happens many times per month that a drunk foreigner drives into the ricefields of Hoi An. Or into another bike or car. Or gets hit by a car. Although there is not really police checking during the night, never ever drive home when you had alcohol.
- Traffic accidents: It happened many times in the past, unfortunately, that innocent foreigner who just wanted to help in an accident got blamed in the end. If you see an accident, try to call local Vietnamese and record everything on video.
- Getting confused with the rainy season: It happened every single year I have lived in Hoi An, that people would arrive in Central Vietnam in November thinking Da Nang and Hoi An area share the same climate as Thailand. This is not the case. In fact, the rainy season in Central Vietnam starts around late October / November and can last until January / February.
- Air pollution: Living in the Vietnamese countryside or in places like Nha Trang, Da Nang, or Hoi An, air pollution is nothing to worry about. But, I have seen hundreds of expats and locals moving down from Hanoi in the past years, as the capital has a huge air pollution problem. The overall annual air pollution index for Vietnam was 84 in 2021.
- Water pollution: Tap water is not drinkable in Vietnam. Many rental places offer a filter system that filters tap water and make it drinkable. Ask your landlord when the filter was exchanged for a new one the last time and make sure that the filter will be exchanged within 6 months. Dirty water can lead to parasites and worm infestation. If you ever have a worm or parasite infestation do not listen to your local friend who would recommend taking a medicine called Fugacar. Vietnamese are used to taking this medication, which is prohibited in most of the world. My sister took it once and she never felt so much pain in her life for 3 days.
- Dengue fever: Another painful disease and I talk from personal experiences, is dengue fever. You can get it through bites from the Aedes mosquito, which is primarily active during the day. It is not much you can do except use mosquito repellent. However, tests and treatment can get costly.
- Bui Vien Road in Saigon: Cheap bars, shady foreigners, and really bad food. Bui Vien Road is Saigon's pub street and bar district and for me personally the worst place in Vietnam. It used to be a drug testing area back in 2015. I know this because I spent my worst night on this street from an overdose of a mixed drug someone put in my cocktail. Also, the drug testing on foreigners is history, the area around Bui Vien Street is as shady as Khao San Lu in Bangkok or Pub Street in Siem Reap. But don't be sad, Saigon has an outstanding nightlife. Try out Piu Piu club, or the Speakeasy bar Snuffbox.
- Emergency: 113, 114 and 115
- Police: 112
Please note that the person picking up the phone will probably not speak English. It is recommended to have 2-3 numbers of local Vietnamese you can call instead. For example your landlord, a befriended local, or your favorite bar owner.
How to stay healthy in Vietnam
Vietnam is a very diverse country with many options for outdoor activities, such as water sports, hiking, mountain biking, or local fitness and yoga groups.
- Gym and Pools: If you are in the countryside, such as Hoi An, you can get a gym membership at a normal gym, for example, Superfit, or you join one of the 4-star hotels which give you access to their pool. You find gyms in all cities in Vietnam and monthly memberships are mostly under $30 per month for a regular gym membership.
- Yoga: Just have a look on Facebook and you should find someone who offers yoga classes at the beach, for very little money. Yoga studios can be found in all touristic areas in the country but you can also find yoga retreats far away from the beaten track.
- Cycling: Vietnam is a cycling-friendly country, thanks to the fact, that many Vietnamese used to cycle, especially the elderly and people in the countryside. Not sure if I would cycle in Hanoi or Saigon, but if you are in Da Lat (hilly though), Da Nang, or Hoi An, it is beautiful to cycle through the green rice paddies, on beach promenades, and remote villages.
- Mountain biking: There is a growing group of local and foreign mountain bikers in Vietnam. You can find day trips, weekend trips, and multi-day trips around the country. Just check the local Facebook groups and you should find a nearby tour.
- Vietnamese cuisine: Local food is clean and healthy, at least when the food is prepared in the traditional way, without the usage of MSG and other additives that unfortunately entered the market with ready-to-eat-sauces. Vietnamese cuisine is based on rice and noodle dishes. A famous soup is Pho, a clear soup with meat, noodles, egg, and fresh herbs. Bun Cha Hanoi is a popular dish from Hanoi, Cao Lao a regional dish in Quang Nam province (Hoi An is located in Quang Nam), and Com Ga is tasty rice and chicken dish served with fresh onion and herbs.
- Home-cooked meals: Vietnam is well-known for its fresh dishes. You find an amazing variety of exotic fruits and vegetables in the local markets. From avocado (seasonal), oranges, and papaya, to pineapple, sprouts, and mushrooms to just name a few. Vietnam has a huge variety and it is really fun to shop at the markets. Please check the kg price beforehand otherwise you might end up paying triple the local price.
- Street food: Do you know why McDonald's is a flop in Vietnam? Because every single street food vendor in the country is 10x faster and 5x cheaper than the American fast-food junk. Vietnamese love their street food and you can see families having opla (eggs) in the morning before dropping the kids off to school, cao lao for lunch, and a tasty bbq for dinner. Street food in Vietnam is so cheap that it actually doesn't make sense to cook at home. If you want to eat vegetarian, ask for an chay.
- App: Check out Happy Cow for vegan venues in your area.
- Noise: If you are noise sensitive, Vietnam will be a challenge. Here are my tips: Go to bed early. If you happen to live in the countryside, there is nothing to do outside later than 10 pm anyway. Get up early, I mean really early. Like 6 am. This is the time your neighbors are already awake, including grandma and they all will start making noise.
Genki offers travel health insurance for your stay in Vietnam. Quick sign up from anywhere in the world (no need to be in your home country to sign up), and you will be covered for up to 2 years (monthly subscription and payment plan).
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