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Handy tips for first timers

Why Vietnam?

Vietnam has had a bloody history, not just in the recent past but going back a thousand years. Vietnam has been invaded by the Chinese, Japanese, French and Americans, besides their neighbouring civilisations. Yet the country has decolonised itself, the North and South have reunited, they've put all the animosity behind them and have rebuilt a new nation preserving the ancient buildings, awesome food and beer traditions, and natural wonders that the wars couldn't erase. There's a lot to learn from this nation. Vietnam is once again on the verge of being invaded ... but by tourists this time. The reason being its history, its nature, its culture, its people, its food, and mostly its affordability.


Tip: You should plan to be in the big cities on weekends as the Walking streets, Night markets and Street entertainments start on Friday night and end on Sunday night.

We had planned a trip of, 4 days in Ho Chi Minh, 2 days in Hoi An/Da Nang, 2 days in Hue, 2 days in Halong bay and 2 days in Hanoi. It was not too rushed, and not too long either, giving us enough time to check out all the tourist spots and soak in the flavours of each place.


Tip: Getting a visa couldn’t have been simpler. We used ‘Vietnam Visa Pro’ which offered the service for $6 per person (on other sites it was $10 and above ). Remarkably, the visa letter came on the same day, accompanied by forms to be printed and filled in advance.

On arrival, most people ran and stood in the long immigration control lines, only to be told on reaching the counter that they had to go to another counter for the 'Visa on arrival'. Look for the sign ‘Landing Visa’ directing you to a counter tucked in one corner. Submit your passport, visa letter, pre-filled forms and $25 per person. The Visa will be issued in 15-20 minutes while you wait.


Most hotel booking sites warn you that taxis from the airport will rip you off and conveniently offer to arrange a taxi for you at a cheap rate. How nice, but beware, they are trying to rip you off as well. Hailing a street cab, as a tourist, you are likely to get quoted double or more than the actual fare.

Tip: You can download the GRAB App from the Google play store, which is in English and which will get you cheaper rides.

Tip: However, the CHEAPEST alternative is the ‘be - Vietnamese ride-hailing app’ which can be downloaded from the Google play store. The only drawback is that it is in Vietnamese. The locals are very helpful so you can always ask someone to show you how to operate it for the first time. Thereafter it is easy.


A comparison of rates is as follows:-
Taxi from airport counter $15-25,
Taxi arranged by Hotel - $10-15,
Taxi hailed thru ‘GRAB’ app $7.8,
Taxi hailed thru ‘be’ app VND96,000 less VND20,000 + VND10,000 (Airport fee) = VND77,000 OR $3.39. Unbelievable, isn't it?

Getting around in Vietnam

Very few people speak English so your best bet is the Google Translator.

Some easy-to-remember phrases are Xin Chao (Sin chow) = Hello.

If the waiter says ‘Cam on, cam on ’ while you leave the restaurant, he’s not hurrying you out, but saying ‘Thank you’

We had a few people befriending us on the street, wanting to practice their smatterings of English.

Money Exchange

The currency is Vietnam Dong, VND or Dong for short. Re 1 is around 330 Dong, so you’ll be dealing in thousands and millions. The extra zeros make it a little baffling in the beginning but you soon get used to it. The notes are made of plastic and are nice and crisp.

5 chop’ (rhymes with ‘hope’) =50,000, 25 nghin/nghan = 25,000

Tip: You can use the app 'XE Converter' to quickly convert VND to INR or USD and vice-versa.


An off-the-cuff calculation is 10,000 VND is approx. Rs.30

Tip: Avoid changing at the Airport, Hotel or money changers. Their rate is lousy.

In Ho Chi Minh, Ha Tam Jewelry store opposite Ben Thanh Market offers the best rate for INR.

In Hanoi, Quoc Trinh Jewelry Store

Tip: INR is not easy to exchange, except for a few places in Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi. Other places exchange only USD and Euro. So make sure you exchange enough money for your use till you reach your next big city.

SIM card

Free WiFi is available in every airport, hotel, mall, etc, but It is handy to have a Vietnamese SIM in your phone for apps that you will need on-the-go, such as, Taxi-hailing, Google maps, and Google Translator.


Tip: While at the airport SIMs were being sold for USD 10/- for limited data and 7 days validity. Our hotel receptionist offered us a 4G 'Vietnamobile BOM SIM' with 15 days validity with unlimited high-speed data for USD 4 only (90K VND or Rs 270).


The traffic appears chaotic with a zillion scooters swarming in every direction. Despite vowing never to ride in Vietnam, we did the unthinkable and hired scooters in Hoi An and Hue where the traffic was less. Once you’re in it, you realise that there is a method in their madness and riding there is not that bad. In fact, I felt safer riding there than I did at home. For one thing all traffic moves at 40 kmph in the city, 50 kmph outside the city and 70 kmph only on the freeways. It feels infuriatingly slow when you are riding in a Taxi on an empty road and a short journey takes double the time, but all vehicles strictly follow the speed limits although the traffic police were conspicuous by their absence.

Scooter hire costs between 100K-150K VND/day (Rs. 300-400).

Most hotels and homestays offer you cycles for use, free-of-charge.

Posted by melroy p 10:29 Archived in Vietnam Tagged walking street travel indian vietnam visa saigon hanoi halong mekong ben tips cu chi ho minh hue hoi an pho thanh delta da bia chá nang hcm bun vien bui

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