Hello! Xin chao! (sin chow!) Tips and advice from our experience from traveling across Vietnam.
We decided to travel from Northern Vietnam's Hanoi to Southern Vietnam's Saigon (aka Ho Chi Minh City) during our travels in Vietnam. Be sure to check the weather as it differs in from province to Province.
We booked a flight from Taiwan to Hanoi's Nội Bài International Airport through vietjetair.com. This budget airline had the cheapest flights, so we stayed a few more days in Taiwan to get $9USD flights. However, with all the extra fees the price increased to $128.50USD for two people, yet it was still a steal.
The Vietnam Visa
There are a few ways to acquire a visa to enter Vietnam: by mail, online, or in-person (embassy or immigration).
We opted for an e-visa, and applied online at https://vn.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-traveling-vietnam/. It was easier and more affordable than mailing in our passports to the Vietnam embassy with a prepaid envelope, and then waiting for weeks to get it back. Instead of dealing with paperwork we simply applied online, paid $25USD and got our visas emailed to us in a matter of days.
We did not print out the Visas prior to heading to Vietnam, we just had the PDFs downloaded to our mobile phones. We presented our passports to the immigration officer and mentioned we had an evisa. He simply glanced at our phones and stamped our approval into the country. The Vietnam embassy page it warns travelers of fraudulent websites, which made us slightly nervous. We made sure to find the correct website so there wouldn't be any hiccups in our travels.
From the airport we caught a bus right outside the airport exit directly to Hanoi.
We jumped on the bus and there was a bus attendant collecting payments. Good thing we exchanged our Taiwanese Dollars (TWD) for Vietnamese Dong (VND) in Taiwan because we needed to pay in either dong (VND), the local currency, or USD for the bus ride. The cost one way was ₫30,000VND (~$1.32), or $2USD (~₫46,000VND) for the bus trip per person. Paying in dong usually ends up being cheaper than paying in USD or another foreign currency.
IMPORTANT TIP: WHEN IN VIETNAM HAVE THEIR CURRENCY, VIETNAMESE DONG (VND)!
Rarely will you find a place that takes any currency but the local one. Maybe some travel agents and hotels will accept foreign currency, but that's about it. The other exemption would be street hustlers who know they will be getting more bang for their buck if they charge you in USD.
Getting around Hanoi.
We didn't catch a cab once; we walked everywhere. Hanoi is a pretty small town and can be easily traveled by foot. The only hangups are the plethora of mopeds parked across the sidewalks forcing pedestrians to walk in the streets. If you do end up catching a cab make sure to agree on a price BEFORE getting in and riding to your destination! Many (not all) Vietnamese will rip you off if you let them, real talk! We have experienced this personally from buying drinks to consumer goods. But we understand, it is about survival and making that money. It is a matter of principle.
Other modes of transportation include renting a bike or motorbike (e.g. scooter, motorcycle, motor with two wheels). Look around for good deals and don't be afraid to haggle! (It's fun) Haggling will get you far in this country, and many other countries! Consumer goods at markets can be marked up as much as 300%! It might be daunting riding around on a bicycle or moped since the streets of Hanoi can become quite chaotic! But at least it's organized chaos.
Hotels are fairly cheap, but for our stay in Hanoi we rented an Airbnb outside of old quarters and among the local community. Outside of old quarters there aren't as many backpackers and tourists which was a nice reprieve.
The price of food was amazingly affordable! Although like any other city there will be the occasional expensive restaurants. Eat where the locals eat is the best tip for finding cheap and delicious foods. See our blog about Vietnamese foods for recommendations and more information!
Learning Vietnamese phrases will come in handy throughout the journey and the words are easy to pronounce. Here are some useful phrases to help you get around!
Hello! - Xin chao! (sin chow!)
Goodbye - Tam Biet
Yes - Vang (vung)
No - Khong (khome)
Excuse me/Sorry- Xin loi (seen loy)
How much - Bao nhieu (bow nyew)
Too expensive - Mac qua (mahk qwa)
Tip : Prepare to not have free 2g in Vietnam if you have TMobile! In Jan 2015 tmobile stopped its services in Vietnam. If you need to use your Google maps put the GPS on the device only setting, and use offline maps (download when you have WiFi! Many places in Vietnam will have free WiFi.)
Or pick up a sim card from the airport or various travel agencies and stores throughout Hanoi.