Vietnam Travel Information – Vital Information for the First-Time Visitor

Visas, Currency, Holidays, Weather, What to Wear

Flag of Vietnam.
••• Flag of Vietnam. From CIA World Factbook. Public domain.

Visa and Other Entry Requirements

Before planning your Vietnam travel expedition, consult our Vietnam Profile page for basic information about the country.

Your passport should be valid for at least six months after arrival and at least one month after the projected expiration of your visa.

Visas are required of all travelers, with the exception of:

  • Citizens of Bulgaria, Cuba, North Korea, and Romania;
  • Citizens of Malaysia and Thailand, who are exempt for stays no longer than 30 days;
  • Citizens of the Philippines, who are exempt for stays no longer than 21 days;
  • Transit passengers set to depart within 72 hours, if they hold valid tickets for return or onward passage.

To apply for a visa, contact your local Vietnamese Embassy or Consulate. Visas at border gates may be issued if you are an official guest of a Vietnamese government official or organization, or if you're part of a Vietnam tourist package tour. Some Vietnamese travel agencies may also get your visa for you.

Visa applicants must submit:

Tourist visas are valid for one month from date of entry. Visas can be extended for another month at extra cost. For more information, read this article: Vietnam Visa.

Customs. You may bring these items into Vietnam without paying customs duty:

  • 1.5 quarts of liquor with above 22 degrees of concentration of alcohol or 2 quarts of liquor below 22 degrees of concentration of alcohol;
  • 400 cigarettes or 100 cigars or 500 grams of raw tobacco;
  • Perfume and jewelry for personal use; and
  • small gift items worth US$ 300 or less.

Video tapes and CDs may be retained by authorities for screening, to be returned within a few days. Foreign currency worth more than US$7,000 must be declared upon arrival.

Contraband. The following materials are banned, and may get you in trouble if you're found carrying these upon arrival:

  • Weapons, firearms, explosives and inflammable objects;
  • Opium, heroin, or other narcotics; and
  • Anti-government literature.

Airport Tax. You will be charged an airport tax of US$14 (adults) and US$7 (children) upon departure on any international flight. Passengers of domestic flights will be charged US$2.50. These taxes are payable in Vietnam Dong (VND) or US$ only.

Health & Immunizations

You'll only be asked to show health certificates of vaccination against smallpox, cholera, and yellow fever if you're coming from known infected areas. More information on Vietnam-specific health issues are discussed at the CDC page on Vietnam and at the MDTravelHealth webpage.

Safety

Vietnam travel is safer than you'd expect - the government has done a good job on keeping a lid on civil unrest in Vietnam, and violence to tourists has remained thankfully rare. Which isn't to say that crimes of opportunity don't happen: in Hanoi, Nha Trang and Ho Chi Minh City, tourists may be targeted by pickpockets and motorcycle-riding purse snatchers.

Despite the feeling of change in the air, Vietnam is still politically a Communist country, so act accordingly. Don't photograph any political rallies or military buildings. As a foreigner, you may be watched by the authorities, so avoid any kind of activity that may be misconstrued to be political in nature.

Vietnamese law shares the draconian attitude to drugs common in Southeast Asia. For more information, read: Drug Laws and Penalties in Southeast Asia - by Country.

Money Matters

The Vietnamese unit of currency is called the Dong (VND). Notes come in denominations of 200d, 500d, 1000d, 2000d, 5000d, 10,000d, 20,000d and 50,000d.

Coins are slowly gaining acceptance, having only been reintroduced in 2003 - these come in denominations of 200d, 500d, 1000d, 2,000d and 5,000d.

The US dollar is also legal tender in many places around Vietnam; carry some with you as a back-up currency if your bank or hotel won't change your travelers' cheques. Vietnamese currency is not available outside the country.

US dollars and travelers' cheques can be cashed at major banks like Vietcombank, but you may be out of luck in smaller towns. Banks are usually open on weekdays from 8am to 4pm (not counting a lunch break from 11:30am to 1pm). You can have your currency exchanged on the black market, but the markup is too small to be worth it.

24-hour ATMs (connected to the Visa, Plus, MasterCard, and Cirrus networks) are available in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Major credit cards like MasterCard and Visa are slowly gaining acceptance in the country. For a small commission, Vietcombank may advance cash against your Visa or MasterCard.

Tipping. Gratuities are not usually included in rates. Follow the guidelines below for calculating tips.

  • Restaurants & bars: Many restaurants don't require tipping, as a 10% service charge is already tacked onto your bill.
  • Porters: A tip with American coins will be greatly appreciated.
  • Hotel Services: Government-run hotels will add a 10% service charge on your bill.
  • Taxi: Tips aren't necessary, but a small gratuity will be greatly appreciated.

Climate

Because of its geography, the climate in Vietnam, while largely tropical, varies greatly from region to region. Consequently, the best times to visit may vary from place to place. Keep the local climate in mind when planning your trip.

Typhoons affect the country from May to January, bringing extensive rainfall and flooding to Vietnam's coastal region stretching from Hanoi to Hué.

What to wear:
Consider the weather in your intended destination, not just the time of year - the weather can vary drastically in different parts of the country. Bring a warm coat when traveling in the North or Central highlands in the winter months. Wear cool cotton clothing in the hot months. And always be prepared for the rain.

Vietnamese are rather conservative when it comes to dress, so avoid wearing tank tops, sleeveless shirts, or short shorts, especially when visiting Buddhist temples.

Getting to Vietnam

By Air
Vietnam has three major international airports: Tan Son Nhat Airport at Ho Chi Minh City; Noi Bai Airport at Hanoi; and Da Nang International Airport. Direct flights are available from major Asian and Australian cities, but Bangkok and Singapore are still the primary embarkation points for entry into Vietnam.

Vietnam Airlines, the country's flag carrier, flies to key cities around the world, including the United States.

Overland
From Cambodia: From Phnom Penh, you can take a bus straight to Ho Chi Minh City, or ride another bus to the border crossing at Moc Bai, then board a shared taxi to Ho Chi Minh City.

From China: visitors can cross into Vietnam from Lao Cai , Mong Cai, and Huu Nghi. Two direct train services cross from Beijing and Kunming to terminate at Hanoi. This site provides more details on rail services between China and Vietnam. Vietnam Railways' official website can be found here.

Getting Around Vietnam

By Air
Vietnam Airlines' network of domestic destinations covers most parts of the country. Book as far in advance as possible.

By Car
Tourists aren't permitted to drive their own rented vehicles yet, but you can hire a car, minibus, or jeep with a driver from most reputable travel agencies. This will set you back about $25-$60 per day.

By Bicycle/Motorcycle
Bicycles, motorbikes, and mopeds may be rented from travel agencies and hotels; these cost about $1, $6-$10, and $5-$7 respectively.

Be careful, though - Vietnam's traffic is notoriously chaotic and unpredictable, so you put your life on the line when you rent your own wheels. Theoretically, Vietnamese drive on the right, but in real life cyclists and motorists go every which way.

By Taxi
Taxis are becoming more common in Vietnam's bigger cities - they're safe and relatively hassle-free to ride.

Meter flag-down rates may vary from company to company.

By Bus
While Vietnam's national bus network connects most of the country's major towns, they can be rather uncomfortable to ride in, as buses are often crammed to bursting. You may prefer the "open-tour" buses servicing major tourist destinations - you may purchase tickets from most travel agencies, with no need to book in advance. One tour from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City may cost you about $25-$30; prices for other destinations will depend on the distance of the route.

By Rail
Vietnam's railways cover most of the country's major tourist destinations. The trip is slow, and you get what you pay for - spend a little more for a soft-class berth or seat, and you'll arrive in comfort. Fares for overnight journeys include the price of a meal. This site provides more details on Vietnam's domestic rail services.

Other
For short distances on city streets, you might want to try Vietnam's less conventional means of transit. Remember to negotiate your price before riding.

  • Cyclos (three-wheeled bicycle rickshaws); known as xe dap loi in the Mekong Delta. One trip may cost you between 8,000d to 10,000d.
  • Cyclo mai (motorized cyclos); called a Honda loi in the Mekong delta
  • Xe lam - three-wheeled, motorized mini-buses; one trip costs between 3000d to 4000d