Guide for first – time travelers to Vietnam
Before visiting to Vietnam, travelers may feel reluctant to go because of worrying about language barriers, tourist traps and culture differences. As a tourist, you will always be vulnerable to certain things; however, with a sensible planning and taking extra precautions of your surroundings, you can have a smooth trouble-free trip.
When to go
Travel to Vietnam is possible all year around. It always has some part of the country with nice weather for you to explore. However, keep in mind that the seasons vary across the country. The Northern part of Vietnam (e.g. Hanoi, Halong Bay and Sapa) has 4 seasons – spring, summer, autumn, winter, while the South has only 2 seasons – dry or rainy. The further to the south, the hotter and more humid the weather is. Temperatures in mountainous areas in the North can get below 10 Celsius degree in winter while the average temperature in the South is about 24- 31 Celsius degree year around. For countrywide exploration, the best times are probably March to early July. Storms and downpours normally happen in the end of July and August. Anyway, you should also be prepared to encounter some rain whenever you decide to travel.
What to bring
Bring specialized medicine for your need. Although regular medicines such as vitamins, sunscreen, insect repellent, diarrhea medication, or aspirin are widely available in every drugstore, some specific medicines can be hard to find in Vietnam and the price of them might be third or fourth time more expensive than in your home country. There is no free medical treatment available in Vietnam and the standard of local health facilities is below international standards.
You can buy clothing and shoes there. However, Vietnamese are Asian, so their clothes are often in small size. Good news is that you can buy European size in shops with sign “Made in Vietnam” – shops selling exported clothes.
The country’s total length is about 1,650kmover 2500 km stretching from north to south. Therefore Vietnam is characterized with both a tropical and a temperate climate. Remember to bring a hat, sunglasses with UV protection and be prepared for adverse weather conditions.
Electrical plug in Vietnam are mostly 220V with 2 holes, so a kit of adapter plugs is recommended.
How to transport
The roads are chaos: countless with thousands of motorbikes carrying families, fridges, and even pigs. Be brave, keep looking to the left and right and walk slowly when crossing the road as motorbikes find their way around you and quite frequently run along the roads the wrong way.
For many, motorcycle taxis are the only way to truly discover the crowded streets of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. However, considering the traffic chaos in these cities, bike-riding is only suitable for strong-hearted travelers, otherwise, you had better choose taxi as the safer option.
Stay away from the random taxis, motorbike taxis and cyclos. For motorbike taxi and cyclo, it is best to agree on the price of the ride (with the suggestion of local people) before hopping on it as the price is likely much higher once you decide to go without knowing it. For taxi, scams may happen when drivers try to drive the longer way to the destination or taxi meters are set to run extremely fast. Some recommended taxi company is Taxi CP – Tel: (024) 3826 26 26 or Mai Linh – Tel: (024) 38 222 666.
Finding tickets for flights/ trains in Vietnam during public holidays, especially Christmas and Lunar New Year are hard and expensive. If you will be in Vietnam during these times, make reservations well in advance. The chaos often begins a week before Lunar New Year and can last for about two weeks after it.
What to do
Prior to your journey, research destinations a little first on the Internet. A good resource is Tripadvisor (tripadvisor.com), Lonelyplanet (lonelyplanet.com) where tourists share their travel experiences in Vietnam. This way you can have some ideas of itinerary and places of interest. If you have trouble in planning a suitable trip for the length of your stay, the best way is contact with recognized, reputable tour operators in Vietnam such as Eviva Tour which offer many innovative trip styles which range from sight-seeing to free exploration or even staying with locals.
How to behave
The Vietnamese will highly appreciate if appreciate if they see you respect their customs. When you visit pagodas, temples or spiritual places, you should dress smartly. Never wear shorts, mini shirts, tank tops, bare shoulders or flip-flops as this is considered to be extremely offensive. Sometimes, shoes needed to be taken off left out door. If unsure, just follow what the locals do.
Instead of offering money directly to beggars, offer a small useful gift, such as food or clothes, otherwise the rumor will spread round and many of them will try to approach you.
Be aware of your surroundings. Always keep an eye to your cash, credit cards, and passport. Do not wear valuable jewellery and do not show off your expensive high-tech devices. You might be the target of pickpocket or scam.