So I want to share with you the things I learnt from my trip to Vietnam. Things that will possibly help make your visit there easier there. I found Vietnam to be quite a challenging, but at the same time fun country to visit. There are some things I learnt from a good friend, who is currently living in Ho Chi Minh city. So I was really lucky to have him as a sort of guide there. I also met many helpful people along the way on my travels. Who shared with me there tips for the places I was in, as well as the country in general.
Get a sim card
I recommend people to get a sim card here, if they are planning to travel around to more than one place in Vietnam. I mostly used mine, for the purpose of getting around places. This is even more helpful, if you plan on renting a bike out there and making your own way around places. I tend to avoid getting sim cards at airports, as often they will not be the best deal you can get. My friend recommended to get set up with Mobi Fone. I brought my sim card from a local store in Ho Chi Minh City. Unfortunately the guy that sold me the sim, did not set me up with what I wanted. So always check before you leave the store, that they have gave you, what you wanted. But luckily the Mobi Fone customer service is pretty decent and I was able to eventually get that problem solved. I used the Mobi Fone sim card all over Vietnam and had no problems. I was also easily able to connect to my data anywhere in the country. So a good one to go to.
Getting around the cities
If you are not planning on renting bikes out in Vietnam. Then you will have the daunting task of figuring out what taxis you can trust and rely on. I really recommend using Grab car. Another great recommendation from my friend in Ho Chi Minh City. After getting my sim card set up, he suggested that I downloaded the Grab app. If you have heard of Uber, then Grab is basically the same thing. Once you have the app, you can search for the location and pick up you want. Then the app will look for a driver within the area, of your pick up. Once they find you a driver, the app will tell you the price you will be paying. I really love this, because it means you know what you are going to pay and you won’t have a taxi driver trying to rip you off. The only issue I did find with Grab, was they do call you to confirm the pick up and the language barrier can be a slight problem. But I always managed through that and they usually find where you are.
You can also download the Uber app and use this also. Please note that Grab/uber is only available in the bigger cities in Vietnam. I used them in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. I think you can also use it in Danang.
I did not use Taxis to much in Vietnam, due to using Grab car. But I guess this advise is common in a lot of other countries and not just to Vietnam. This is to not get into a taxi, that does not have a meter. Some Taxi drivers will often quote you a price, after telling them your location. Just tell them to use the meter and if they don’t agree, just find another taxi that will. The two taxis that you can mostly trust are Mai Linh or Vinasun taxis
I would really would not recommend getting a motorbike taxi. They are often not officially registered taxi drivers. Which means most of them won’t have meters and could just charge you anything.
Eat local food
One of the best things about Vietnam is of course the food. So the best and cheapest way to experience this, is to go local. There are many ways you can experience real local food here. The one I enjoyed the most, was taking to the streets and getting food from the street vendors. This can be a little daunting at first, specially if you are unsure of what you are ordering. You could try a street food tour, to start with, to get a real idea of what all the different foods are. If you want to learn more about this. I wrote a blog about a Nha Trang street food tour I took. You can read it here
The other way to get great local food, is to just seek out local restaurants, you will always find plenty around even in the tourist areas. I know most people tend to stick to the more tourist looking places, or even western brand places. But honestly you are missing out on some great local food and the prices are very cheap. A bowl of Pho at a local place, can usually cost you around 35000VND. A more touristy place will usually charge 50000VND upwards. Also hit up the local markets, there always places to try local food there also
This may seem like a weird concept to some people, who have never bargained/haggled for things before. But this is a normal way of life in Vietnam. It is especially Important to bargain here, if you are not local, because generally they will set prices higher for you. So don’t be afraid to say no to the first price they quote you, but at the same time be fair. They will respect you more, if you try to make a fair bargain with them. Most the time they are willing to sell it for a lower price than first quoted. If they don’t want to sell it to you, for the price you want, then you can simply walk away. They will either come after you, to try and settle a better deal, or they will leave you to walk away. This does not just apply in markets, it can apply to other things. Such as motorbike taxis, if you wish to take one. Or even people selling things on the streets. Just be polite and friendly and they will usually accommodate you better.
How to cross a street in Vietnam
So if you don’t know much about Vietnam, you should know that the traffic there is pretty chaotic. The rules of the roads seem very confusing, to someone from a western country. Vietnams roads are vastly made up by motorbikes, with fewer cars. This causes a lot of bikes zig zagging, across from all different directions. So when I arrived, my friend gave me the best piece of advise and also very simple advise, for crossing the road.
So to start you want to just simply start walking very slowly across the road, in a straight line. You see motorcyclists there, are used to avoiding pedestrians crossing the roads. So if you walk slowly in a straight line, without moving left or right. Then they will just go around you. This may seem very daunting, to trust that the drivers will do this, but they do it and very well. As long as you do not move suddenly in a different direction, or start running, you will be fine. Keep walking forwards slowly, until you reach the other side pretty much.
Travelling during the TET hoilday
The Vietnamese Lunar new year, known as TET, is the most Important time of the year for Vietnamese people. It is a 2 week long celebration and the Vietnamese people go all out with celebrating this. The Important things to note about this time of year, is travelling around the country. A lot of the trains and buses will get booked up quickly, in the week leading up to TET. So it is advisable to book ahead as much as possible, around this time of year. Also the prices do tend to go up a little bit as well. Another thing to be aware of is that some shops will often close, on the day of tet and during the few days after. The bigger cities can also often be quieter around this time, due to a lot of people, going back to there home towns to celebrate. This can also Include some of the tourist sites, so it is a good idea to check whats open first.
Aside from this, TET is a special time of the year to visit Vietnam. The streets are decorated with flowers and other decorations It’s also interesting seeing the locals preparing for the festivities. I was not there during TET itself, but during the the few days before. I would definitely recommend coming to Vietnam around this time, you won’t get to witness something like this, at any other time of the year.
The Vietnam climate
The climate difference between the north and the south of Vietnam is surprisingly different. This was something completely new to me, when I was researching my trip. This means, that really, there is no one ideal time to visit Vietnam. Unless you plan on just going to one part of the country. How ever if you plan on travelling all around the country, you should be aware of the climate change, from one part to another. I first landed in Ho chi Minh city , where it was hot and humid. Staying the same all the way up to Nha Trang and Hoi An. But when I reached Hue, it got very rainy, although still quite warm. When I hit Hanoi, it was a lot cooler and almost no humidity. So you really need to be prepared for all climates in Vietnam. Specially if you are going all the way up to Sapa, where it can get a lot colder.
The north of Vietnam, generally has 4 seasons, where the south of Vietnam has a dry and a wet season. The best times to visit the North is from mid march, through to September. Where as in the south, the dry season is around December through until April. But don’t let the weather put you off to much, as in often times, the wet season in the south, is not as bad as it sounds. Often times it rains hard for short periods and remains dry for the rest of the day.
Travelling around the country
I found travelling around Vietnam fun, but also kind of challenging. I decided to overland Vietnam from North to South. So if you have the time to do this. I really recommend it. Not only can you stop at some great places, in-between the bigger cities. But you can also see some beautiful scenery along the way. I’m a big fan of train travel, so I opted to take the train rather than bus. Even though the over night buses and buses in general are cheaper, the trains tend to be a lot safer. As the roads here can be pretty crazy here.
To book tickets, the cheapest option, is to generally book straight from the train stations themselves. But if you want an alternative option, I found these two websites really great for booking tickets. 12go.asia and baolau. These are both great sites. Not only can you book tickets around Vietnam, but also other countries in South East Asia. They will also give you options to book buses and planes and also ferries. I found them both very easy to use. Also check out this site, which I also found very handy – https://www.seat61.com/. Some great advise on there for travel, not just for South East Asia, but for all around the world.
Train travel advice
As I didn’t use buses in Vietnam, I can only give you advise for train travel in Vietnam. Bring your own food and drinks on the train. Generally the food is very expensive on trains, as with most trains. Also you may not want, what they offer on the trains. Bring toilet paper and wet wipes, I found a lot of the time, there was no toilet paper in the train toilets. If you are on the sleeper trains, bring ear plugs. I found that there was only really around 4 hours of quiet time, on the over night trains. So if you are a light sleeper, this may save you. Also never leave your belongings unattended, when you are pulling into stations, this is an opportunity for thieves to run in and grab things. But generally I felt quite safe on the over night train, people kept to themselves and never bothered me.