Travelling in Vietnam
As with many countries in Asia, there is a vast array of transportation options at a visitor’s disposal when getting from A to B.
Vietnam is linked, primarily, by Highway One, an extensive coastal road that commences in the Mekong Delta and finishes in Hanoi. This road feeds the main urban centres of the country and is accessed by an extensive public bus and coach system from the express services to the main cities and the ‘all stops’ service to each district and township.
The national railway also follows the same north to south route and whilst the trains themselves are upgraded we would only recommend a rail journey on a shorter route to enjoy the scenery. The most popular overnight journeys are from Saigon to Nha Trang, Nha Trang to Danang and from Hanoi to Hue or vice versa.
One journey that is always best taken by rail is from Hanoi to the highland hill station town of Sapa in the far north – the access point for trekking and soft adventure activities.
Back to top
Whilst road and rail are fine for the visitor with ample time on their hands most international visitors will prefer to take one of the short domestic flights to access the different destinations in the country. Vietnam Airlines, the national carrier, have a modern fleet and operate a frequent schedule to the main and regional centres, although many flights do tend to leave early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
Besides these main modes of transportation the Mekong Delta is perfect for river exploration. Motorised boats take visitors through this maze of waterways exploring the region or to continue a journey through to Phnom Penh in Cambodia. There are also a number of quality river cruise boats on the Mekong that provides a longer, more comfortable way of sailing up river.
For getting around any Vietnamese city or town you will find that taxis are in abundance and are metered. For those that may prefer the old form of transport, the ‘cyclo’ (rickshaw) is still available although it is rapidly being phased out as modernization spreads.
The majority of Vietnamese, however, prefer to get around by motorbike or scooter. You will often find ‘motorbike taxis’ available at most street corners. Helmets are provided and traveling this way is both fast and fun, although it should be remembered that your travel insurance would not cover you should you choose to travel in this manner.
Where should I go in Vietnam?
That depends how long you've got, what you want to see and what you want to do. The guide below should help you make those decisions.
If you want to really discover Vietnam, you should set aside a couple of weeks to travel, meet the people and get some kind of understanding for this beautiful and fascinating country. Our shortest tours are half day excursions but the longer you’ve got the better. At Global Travel & Tours we pride ourselves on being able to fill everybody's travel plans with just the right mix.
It will be our pleasure to make the suggestion and arrangements to allow you to make the most of your precious leisure time. After all, our team of Vietnamese and western travel enthusiasts work, live and travel all over the country and we would be happy to share our new discoveries with you.
When to go to Vietnam?
Vietnam’s weather varies greatly from north to south with each area marked by slightly different seasons and climates. Because of these regional variations, a part of the country is seasonable at any time of year.
The north, overall, tends to be cooler than the rest of the country. During the winter, from November until February, the day time temperature is pleasantly cool and the weather is often damp. To the far north in places like Sapa, there is occasionally freezing temperatures during this time. The north begins to warm up in March and stays dry and warm until May. From June to October, the north is hot and rainy making it a fairly unpleasant place to travel. Overall the best time to visit the north is from November until April.
Central Vietnam experiences warm weather from July to October and wet, colder weather from November to May. Frequent typhoons hit the central coast from August to October which can cause flooding and disrupt travel plans.
Although the temperature remains fairly steady throughout the year, Southern Vietnam has two seasons. The dry season lasts from December to May, while from May to November is the rainy season. Most of the rain is in the afternoon and only lasts a short time so it is unlikely to disrupt touring plans.
The Chinese new year of Tet is celebrated throughout Vietnam in late January or early February. During this time, transport options fill up quickly and lots of restaurants and tourist sites are closed so it is not recommended to travel to Vietnam then.
Quick Facts about Vietnam
Vietnam, officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, covers an area of 332,000 square kilometres and shares common borders with China, Laos, and Cambodia. With a population of more than 86 million, it is the most densely populated country in Southeast Asia and likely to grow rapidly as 75% population is under 30 years old. The vast majority of the population is Vietnamese and other ethnic groups include Chinese, Muong, Thai, Meo, Khmer and Cham.
Vietnam's topography varies from low, flat delta in the south and north to hilly, mountainous terrain in the centre, far north and northwest. Three-quarters of Vietnam is hilly or mountainous. One of the country’s main attractions is its 3,444 km of coastline bordering the South China Sea.
Hanoi is the capital with a population of 3.1 million, and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) with a population of 6.6 million is the largest city and business centre of the country. Vietnam is a rapidly modernizing country thanks to its industrious population. Vietnam, once a forbidden country for tourists, now attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors (with numbers increasing) every year. Rich culture, strong tradition, and a patriotic people characterize this fascinating country. Images abound, but to most people Vietnam is the rumble of a million motorbikes, a patchwork of emerald-green rice paddies, throngs of women in conical hats, a long idyllic coastline and superb food!
Generally we recommend bringing light loose fitting cotton clothes for the warmer months and for Southern Vietnam. If travelling to the north some form of layering is required as Hanoi can experience wide temperature changes from one day to the next. During the winter months in the north and for travelling to the mountains it is imperative to bring warm clothing. An umbrella is definitely useful during the rainy periods. Formal style clothing is not required. A sarong with its multi uses is a very useful item to bring. Laundry facilities are widely available and quick. When visiting a temple or pagoda, you should wear long trousers and dress respectfully.
Currency And Exchange
The local currency is the Dong (abbreviated "d" or VND). Bank notes are 500d, 1000d, 2,000d, 5,000d, 10,000d, 20,000d, 50,000d, 100,000d & 500,000d. Coins include 200d, 500d, 1000d, 2000d & 5000d.
The exchange rate is approximately Dong 19.500 to one US Dollar.
Money and travellers’ cheques, particularly US Dollars, can be exchanged at banks, hotels and authorized money-exchangers. It is advisable to carry US Dollar bills in small denominations.
Credit cards are generally only accepted in major hotels, and in some up-market shops and restaurants in major cities. ATM facilities are available in all major cities.
Customs and Formalities
All visitors to Vietnam must fill in declaration forms and show their luggage to customs officials on request.
Visitors can bring with them unlimited amounts of foreign currency, objects made of gold, silver, precious metals and gemstones or plated with silver or gold, all of which must be declared in detail on the customs forms. Commercial video films and printed materials that are considered offensive are normally confiscated and sent to the Ministry of Culture for inspection.
Goods prohibited importing: weapons, ammunition, explosives, military technical equipment, drugs, toxic chemicals, debauched and reactionary products, firecrackers of all kinds, toys with negative impacts on the dignity education, social security and safety, cigarettes beyond the stipulated quantity, etc.
Goods prohibited exporting: weapons, ammunition, explosives, military technical equipment, antiques, drugs, toxic chemicals, wild animals, rare and precious animals and plants, documents related to the national security, etc. Duty free is limited to 1.5 litres above 22% and 2 litres below 22% per person plus 400 cigarettes per person. There is a declaration limit for foreign currency of USD 7,000.
Any flight in your itinerary is in economy class, unless specified otherwise. Flight times quoted are local and subject to change. Domestic flights require a check-in 1 hour prior to the flight departure. Vietnam Airlines has frequent flight time changes and cancellations often occur at short notice even after confirmations for a flight have been received.
Carry-on luggage is limited to one piece plus a camera. All “carry-on” hand luggage must have luggage tags which are provided by the airlines when passengers check in at the airports for their flights. Security regulations at airports are strict. Appropriate announcements may or may not be made for this procedure. In economy class air travel baggage allowance is 20kg per person. Excess baggage may be subject to overweight charges by the airline. Diethelm Travel Vietnam cannot be held responsible for any loss or damage to passenger’s belongings. Please retain your luggage tag as you will be required to show this against your suitcase on arrival before being allowed to exit the airport.
Vietnam has three International Airports: Hanoi / Noi Bai, Ho Chi Minh City / Tan Son Nhat and Danang / Danang Airport. There are numerous direct flights from and to Vietnam operated by various international airlines.
International flights require a check-in 2 hours prior to the flight departure. Please retain your luggage tag as you will be required to show this against your suitcase on arrival before being allowed to exit the airport.
Food / Cuisine
Vietnam has abundant food supplies and an elaborate cuisine. Cooking is seen as an art and some Vietnamese dishes have achieved international fame, including such traditional dishes as noodle soup (pho), pork sausage (gio lua), spring rolls (nem ran), and fish balls (cha ca). In addition to Vietnamese food, the larger hotels also serve a wide variety of Continental and Chinese cuisine. In the smaller cities, where hotels only have one restaurant, ordering a-la-carte may involve a slight wait. Consequently, it is advised that if in a rush, you take advantage of the large and diverse buffets available at these hotels to minimize any delay.
Never drink water from the hotel tap, no matter what category of hotel you are staying in. Bottled mineral water is available at all hotels throughout Vietnam. Do not have any ice in your drinks as this is often made from water that has not been purified.
Joining in a half or full day cooking class is a fun and unique way to become more acquainted with Vietnamese cuisine. Please see our excursions in Hanoi, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City for detailed information about cooking classes.
Vietnam has some excellent and atmospheric restaurants. Please refer to our list of restaurant recommendations or contact your local tour guide for more suggestions.
No actual vaccinations are officially required. Visitors are advised to check with their doctor or travel immunization clinic regarding the advisability of inoculation against polio, typhoid, tetanus, hepatitis A & B and Malaria.
Those visitors taking medicine for certain conditions such as diabetes or heart problems should make sure that they carry these medications in their hand luggage at all times in case the main luggage should be delayed.
The sun is strong throughout the year so proper care against sunburn and dehydration must be constantly taken. Vietnam is a tropical country so insect repellent is essential. It is recommended that all travellers take out comprehensive Personal Travel Insurance to cover personal expenses, in case of accident, illness, etc.
Vietnamese is the official language of Vietnam. Learning foreign languages, particularly English, is currently popular amongst young people in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hue, Danang and other cities. Tourist guides are available for English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Japanese and Russian speakers.
The road system in Vietnam is reasonable in the main urban cities. The drives through the countryside can be a wonderful sightseeing experience. However, it must be noted that the roads are narrow and some may be poorly paved when outside the main cities, and as a consequence the drives can be rough and difficult at times. Traffic drives on the right-hand side of the road. Drivers are very unlikely to speak any English.
The journey timings described in your itinerary are based on the usual amount of time a particular journey will take. However, please appreciate that not all roads can be checked for their condition throughout the year.
Most cars used are manufactured locally by Toyota, Honda and Ford and are for the most part comfortable and ideally suited to local roads. Smoking is not permitted in any vehicle, under any conditions. There is ample opportunity to smoke during photographic, luncheon and sightseeing stops.
Border crossing into Vietnam is possible from China, Laos and Cambodia. Regulations for crossing overland borders can change at short notice. Tourists can pass borders at the following checkpoints:
Vietnam side /China side
Huu Nghi (Lang Son province) / Pinxiang (Guangxi province)
Lao Cai (Lao Cai province) / Hekou (Yunnan province)
Mong Cai (Quang Ninh province) / Dongxin (Guangxi province)
From Laos: Vietnam side / Laos side
Tay Trang (west of Dien Bien Phu valley) / Muang Mai - Phongsaly Province
Na Meo (Thanh Hoa province) / Nam Sooy - Huaphanh Province
Nam Can (Nghe An province) / Nam Khan - Xieng Khouang Province
Cau Treo (Ha Tinh province) / Nam Pao - Bolikhamxay Province
Cha Lo (Quang Binh province) / Naphao / Khammouane Province
Lao Bao (Quang Tri province) / Lao Bao - Savannakhet Province
Bo Y (Kon Tum province) / A Ta Pu - A Ta Pu Province
From Cambodia: Vietnam side / Cambodia side
Moc Bai (Tay Ninh province) / Bavet (Svay Rieng province)
Tinh Bien (An Giang province) / Phnom Den (Takeo province)
Xa Mat (Tay Ninh province) / Trapeang Plong (Kampong Cham province
Vinh Xuong - by Boat (Chau Doc province) / Kaom Samnoar (Kandal province)
When travelling by train, please be prepared for the fact that schedule changes occur frequently and sometimes without prior notification.
Visas are required for nearly all nationalities entering Vietnam.
Tourist visas are granted for a 30 day stay and are easily obtained at your nearest Vietnamese Consulate or Embassy.
Entry without visa*
Visas are not required for a stay for the following nationalities: Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Laos, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Japan and South Korea.
* This information is prone to change and should always be cross checked with your nearest Vietnamese Embassy or Consulate.
Entering Vietnam without a valid Visa will ensure you will not be able to board your flight to the country or will be asked to return to the country of origin at your own expense.
Please note that if you are exiting Vietnam and returning at a later date (e.g. travelling to Cambodia and returning to Vietnam thereafter) you will require a double or multiple entry visas. A double or multiple entry visa will not be required if you are in transit to a same day flight upon your return to Vietnam.
Visa status cannot be changed once you enter the country, although extensions to tourist visas are possible for a fee.
For those visitors that may not be able to obtain a visa prior to departure Global Travel is able to arrange a visa on arrival with advance notice as per the following procedure:
Procedure for obtaining Vietnam Visa on arrival
Client passport information must be received by Global Travel at least 10 working days prior to client arrival. The following information is required at this time:
• Full name as it appears on passport
• Passport number
• Date of Birth
• Arrival date into Vietnam
• Flight number and time of arrival
Global Travel applies for a Visa Approval. When this is received, Global Travel will fax or email a copy to the agent in order to pass on to clients. This service costs US$ 20 per person.
Guests should complete 1 each Visa application Form and should have 1 passport-sized photo per person. This form can either be completed prior to travel (Global Travel can supply) or on arrival. Visa forms are not typically given on the flight.
On arrival at either Saigon; Hanoi or Danang airport, each guest hands over to the Immigration Officer at the ‘Landing Visa’ counter:
• 1 Visa Application Form
• passport-sized photo
• Entry/Exit/Customs Form
• Faxed or scanned copy of visa approval
• US$ 25 in cash
Visa is then issued directly into guests’ passport
Guests then proceed through Immigration and Customs in the normal manner
Should passport information be received from 9 – 4 working days prior to client arrival, an urgent fee of US$20 per person will be applied, payable to Global Travel.
Should passport information be received from 4 – 1 working day prior to client arrival, an urgent fee of US$50 per person will be applied, payable to Global Travel.
Please always contact your consultant at Global Travel Vietnam for the most up to date advice on visas.
Vietnam is generally a safe country. However some simple common sense precautions with possessions lessen the chances of becoming a victim to petty theft. Carry your handbag or rucksack to the front of you and be particularly aware that handbag snatches / thefts from motorbikes occur especially in the larger cities and crowds. It is advised to keep luggage locked while travelling, whether it is stored in the hold of a car or bus, during flights or train journeys. Virtually all hotels have safe deposit boxes. The Vietnamese are a shrewd people and whereas certainly not everyone you meet is out to cheat you, it is well worth being on the alert!
Foreign visitors to Vietnam have the opportunity to buy souvenirs made of rattan, gold, silver and stone. There is a diverse range of products, from woodenwares such as wooden buttons or sindora beds to lacquer paintings, bowls and chopsticks, bamboo screens and stone tea sets. Woven tapestries, “tho cam” handbags and other handicraft are produced by the traditional skills of the women of ethnic minorities in such rural regions in the north as Sapa, Mai Chau and Dien Bien. When shopping please consider individual customs and import regulations of your own country as well as regulations regarding the protection of species.
Tipping for service is not expected in Vietnam but is most certainly appreciated. A tip of one or two dollars for a meal or $1 to a cyclo driver can be a substantial bonus in a country where the annual average income is only $US300! You should tip at your own discretion however we recommend you allow $10 per day for your driver and guide.