12 Ways To Get The Most Out Of Your Trip To Vietnam

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Wanderlove / March 2017

Sitting tall and skinny, just next to Cambodia and Laos, Vietnam is world’s away. We wandered into Vietnam just over three years ago after spending a couple of months in Southeast Asia. Already wowed by the countries we visited, we didn’t know just want to expect from this country at all. Its coastal charm, mountainous villages and distinct local vibe give this French-influenced country a diversity that’s unlike any others you’ll visit in the region. It’s the land of $0.25 beer, bottomless phở, important American history, and endless natural beauty. With so much to see and do, here’s how you can get the most out of your next trip to Vietnam:

1. You can now get a visa-on-arrival for only $45

Vietnam requires that citizens from most countries obtain a tourist visa. There are two ways you can get arrange this. You can either get a visa in your home country from the embassy/consulate where you have to mail in your application and pay $75-$90, or you can arrange for a Vietnam visa – on – arrival, which is faster, you don’t have to give up your passport and it’s only $45. Before we go any further, we just want to clarify that we’re pretty sure a visa-on-arrival for Vietnam should not be called on arrival at all. Many people get confused that you just need to show up at the airport and hand over your passport for a visa stamp. That’s actually NOT true and you need to apply in advance, which you can do online. It will be processed in 2-3 days standard, or 3-4 hours rush. Hallelujah!
trip to vietnam

1. Plan to spend some time exploring the mouth-watering pho’od scene

We’re about to make a very strong statement here, and it’s no exaggeration: Vietnam has some of the best food in the entire freakin’ world. Yep. We said it and we mean it.  You can stuff yourself silly pretty much anytime, anywhere. The best part is that it all comes at a very affordable price.  

Don’t miss trying these top 5 dishes:

  • Bahn Mi – officially been dubbed the best sandwich on the planet. You can pick one up from any street cart to try one of these; it’s on a french baguette and filled with your choice of meat [or egg], julienne style veggies and the most amazing spicy paste.
  • Phở for breakfast – You can find yourself some phở in pretty much any restaurant in the country. This classic Vietnamese soup is just one of the zillions of noodle soups, and refers to the use of rice noodles. Our fav thing about phở is that even though no bowl ever the same, it’s always still so delicious. The rice noodles are served in a steaming bowl of broth with your choice of meat, and sides of veggies, chilis, and sauces so you can fix it up how you like at the table.
  • Cao lầu in Hoi An – Cao lau consists of thick rice noodles that are pre-soaked in magical well water along with lye made from wood ash brought from the Cham Islands outside of Hoi An. In addition to the noodles, the soup includes pieces of thinly sliced barbecued pork, greens and crunchy croutons.
  • Ca phe Okay Vietnamese coffee isn’t technically a dish, but it’s very tasty as the local tradition is to add spoonfuls of deliciously sweetened condensed milkTrip To Vietnam

2. Take a motorbike trip…if you dare

While there is no wrong way to see Vietnam, one of the most exciting ways to explore is by motorbike. Whether you want to hire a bike and ride it from Hue to Hoi Ann over the infamous Hai Van pass, or buy your own and ride it from Saigon to Hanoi, it will surely be an incredible experience. You’re able to see more when you travel slowly, and with a 110cc bike, that’s exactly what you’ll be doing. You can stop where you want, when you want and you can take the road less traveled up into the rural mountain towns of the country. You will probably never feel more free than you will riding a motorbike through this country.  motorbike trip in vietnam

3. Give yourself enough time to explore Hanoi

Saigon usually steals the show when it comes to ex-pat favorite cities with its flashy neon signs, dedicated backpacker area (district 1) and trendy rooftop bars. It’s been called the new Bangkok and the non-stop metropolis is quickly skyrocketing to become one of Asia’s next hot spots. Hanoi on the other hand is a much different story and in our opinion, a much better one. The city itself is still very traditional with  ancient pagodas sitting on willowy lakesides and ambling streets everywhere you look. The French quarter is well preserved, and overall the city feels much more quaint than what you’ll find in HCMC.  Another thing about Hanoi is that the city is not as divided as Saigon (HCMC) is into touristy areas and non-touristy areas,  so your experience might feel a little more authentic as you mix with locals everywhere you go. On top of all that, Hanoi is bursting at the seams with street food and local places to drink on every corner. The best part? Beers are a whopping 25 cents. visit hanoi

4. Bring a magazine cutout of something you want tailor made

Vietnamese tailors are something else. If you’ve ever wanted to design your own dress, have a suit tailored just for you, or get your hands on that jacket you saw Blake Lively wearing, then Vietnam is just for you. In Hoi Ann specifically, you can find tailor after tailor ready to help you design an entirely new wardrobe. No lie, these talented tailors know how to replicate pretty much anything you show them, or can help bring to life a vision you’ve been dreaming of. Simply walk into a shop, and start browsing the infinite patterns, and books of fashion magazines.

Pro tip: have something in mind before you walk in, or you might run away from being overwhelmed

Hoi An

5. Expect to see a different perspective on the Vietnam War…and be open to it

As Americans, we’ve grown up learning about the Vietnam War from history classes in school and from friends or family who may have fought in the war. Naturally, we’ve learned things from a certain perspective and visiting Vietnam will certainly challenge you to the other side of the story. While it can be difficult, it’s extremely eye-opening to do things like visit the Cu Chi Tunnels where you’ll watch propagandist videos, or  talk to locals who might still have hard feelings. Either way, you’ll get a totally different perspective on the war and it’s an unmatchable educational experience.

Extra special note: The Vietnamese are some of the most friendly, warm, and welcoming people we’ve ever encountered. We felt no residual tension during our 5-week stay in Vietnam, and were treated with kindness 100% of the time we were in country. If anything, the people we talked to were appreciative of our visit and enjoyed talking to us, even in difficult subject matters.

planning a trip to vietnam

6. Meet locals by trekking through the hill tribe villages

Sapa is a beautiful mountain town that sits very close to the Chinese border in Northern Vietnam. It is known for it’s picturesque rice fields that tower high into the foggy clouds and the incredible hiking you can do among them. Nestled down in the nooks and crannies of the paddies are small villages of different hill tribes that still maintain their age-old customs and traditions. From town, you can arrange a trek into the rice fields with a local H’mong guide(s) that lasts anywhere from an afternoon to a couple of days. You’ll explore the mystical landscape, and have the opportunity to go into local houses for homecooked meals or even an overnight stay with a host family. As a rare opportunity to interact and be a part of the culture, this is a must do!

trekking in sapa

7. Trade beaches for mountains to get off the beaten path

While Vietnam has good beaches, it actually has better mountains. For example, The Ho Chi Minh Highway is a 240 km stretch of  historic road that twists and turns its way from Khe Sanh to Phong Nha National Park through the Dãy Trường Sơn mountain range. The road follows along the Laos border deep in the jungle and is some of the most remote, beautiful landscape in the entire country. Nothing short of Jurassic Park, the scenery on this stretch of road is some of the best we’ve ever seen in all of Southeast Asia. In case you aren’t picking up what we’re laying down: that’s saying a lot.

trip to vietnam

8. Understand that it takes extra effort to see some of Vietnam’s best features, but it’s 100% worth it

Speaking of Phong Nha, Vietnam is famous for its numerous caves and is actually home to one of the largest caves in the world. The problem is that this park is a little tough to get to, so people often skip over it entirely. This is a huuuuge mistake. Something you must know about Vietnam is that many times the places that are the most difficult to get to are often the ones you absolutely shouldn’t miss. With limestone karsts that jut out from lime-green rice fields like something from Avatar, Phong Nha should be at the top of your list. Other places that come to mind as harder to get to, but well worth the effort are: Sapa, Tam Coc (Ninh Binh), and Da Lat.

tam coc

9. Get comfortable using Dong

The currency exchange is 21,000 dong to $1 USD. Dong jokes commence.

Seriously though, a 10,000 dong bill looks very similar to the 100,000 dong bill, so when you are first starting to handle the money you need to be extra careful that you don’t accidentally mix these up. Otherwise you might be wondering why you only have little dong at the end of the day. Ba-dum-ch. Trip To Vietnam

11. Check out the alleyways

Vietnam is full of quiet, winding back streets.  Around every corner is some amazing food stall that you might never be able to find your way back to. Quaint guesthouses, historic temples, old bookshops, family restaurants and local experiences are all hiding down the alley ways of Vietnam’s busiest streets. Don’t be afraid to take an entire afternoon and allocate your time specifically towards “getting lost.” It’s worth it. trip to vietnam

12. Learn the most basic phrases so you can communicate

  • Hello: Xin chào (sin chow)
  • Thank you:  Cảm ơn. (gauhm uhhn)  – it is not common to use ‘please’ in Vietnamese-
  • I’m sorry/ excuse me:  Xin lỗi. (sin loy)
  • Excuse me waitress:  Em oi!
  • The bill please:  Tinh tien!
  • How much?:   Bao nhieu? (bow yew)
  • Too expensive:   Mac qua! (Mac wa)
trip to vietnam

Thank you to Vietnam Visa Easy for kindly sponsoring this post. All opinions are 100% honest and completely our own.

Tags: Asia, Ha Long Bay, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Motorbike, Southeast Asia, Vietnam

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