I’ve been fascinated with Southeast Asia ever since I read Loung Ung’s novel, First They Killed My Father. A lot of my friends and favorite travel bloggers have visited Thailand and Indonesia. However, I’m more interested in less explored countries, like Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.
If you’ve read my post on how to maximize your paid time off, then you know I’m a fan of taking trips during weeks that include a holiday (President’s Day, Labor Day, etc…). I came across a deal on TheFlightDeal.com to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam from Washington, D.C. for $571 RT. After shooting some texts to friends to see who was interested, I requested the days off of work and purchased my ticket.
One of the most exciting aspects of planning for this trip was discovering just how few bloggers have written about this beautiful country. I’m very Type A and typically plan out my itinerary in advance, however with this trip I decided to write down a few key activities I wanted to do then go with the flow once I arrived.
But without further ado, below are the 5 most important tips to know before planning a trip to Vietnam:
- US passport holders need to apply for a visa. If you’ve never had to apply for a visa before, this process may seem daunting. However applying for a visa here will make everything easy. You simply pay the fee for either a multi-entry or single entry visa and when you receive an email 2-3 days later, print out all the attachments. At the Vietnam border you enter through you must provide all the printed attachments, 2 passport sized photos, and $25USD.
- Luxury accommodations are very affordable. It should come as no surprise that traveling throughout Vietnam is inexpensive due to USD being stronger than VND. I’ve always been a budget traveler, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to stay in 5 star hotels for a fraction of the price that they would be in the States. My friend and I stayed at the following hotels (listed in order of preference):
- The Reverie Saigon – $259.01/per person for 2 nights
- Pictures of this hotel’s grounds convinced my friend and me to book it. Once we arrived, the customer service and food at the restaurants assured us that we had made the right decision. It’s in a central location and walking distance from plenty of historical sites, shops, and restaurants. I would stay here again, without a doubt and intend to checkout other properties in the Leading Hotels of the World portfolio.
- Royal Hoi An – $95.66/per person for 2 nights
- The food and service at this hotel was also good. However, not as good as at The Reverie. The room was gorgeous and so was the rest of the property. Yet it was a little difficult to hail a taxi outside, since the hotel is located on a side street. I would look into other options in Hoi An before booking this hotel again.
- Pullman Saigon Centre – $62.32/per person for 1 night
- We stayed at this hotel for less than 24 hours, so I can’t give it a lengthy review. The rooms were basic, with great views of the city. Also, the location is central and the spa is amazing. I received a 90 minute Ayurveda massage here that was excellent.
- The Reverie Saigon – $259.01/per person for 2 nights
- Hit more than one city. I’ve learned that I’m what’s considered a “fast traveler”. Meaning that I don’t like to stay in one place for too long. I try to visit more than one city in every country I’ve been to and I encourage you to do the same. Each city listed below offers different attractions and paces.
- Ho Chi Minh (also known as Saigon): named after a former Prime Minister of Vietnam, this is the most populous city in the country. It is extremely fast paced and has a big city feel, comparable to New York City. Some “must see” sites here are Ben Thanh Market, Notre-Dame Basilica, and Ho Chi Minh City Hall.
- Da Nang: this coastal city contains the airport you must fly into if you intend to visit Hoi An. It’s along the coast of Vietnam and contains many beautiful beaches. It is the 5th largest city in the country, preceded by Ho Chi Minh. Some sites to see here are the Marble Mountains and Sun World. The GIF you see below of me cringing was taken inside the cable car up Ba Na Hills to Sun World*. If you’re scared of heights reconsider visiting this attraction. It it one of the highest non-stop cable cars in the world and that ride up is terrifying.
- Hoi An: located less than an hour from Da Nang, this city contains a plethora of custom tailors, restaurants, and spas. It is slower paced than Ho Chi Minh and gave me beach town vibes, similar to Tulum, Mexico. The night market here is a site to behold.
- Only trust Vinasun taxis. I always say, if you’re going to get scammed in any country, chances are it’s by a taxi driver. The bellhop at one of our hotels told us to only trust Vinasun taxis, as they are the most reliable company in Vietnam. The one time we didn’t follow this advice we ended up in a taxi that attempted to make us pay 10 times the standard rate. Note I said attempted, because he tried that and failed. There is a wide range of other taxi services available in the country, but I can only vouch for Vinasun.
- Ask if dishes contain pork. Before visiting Vietnam I knew pork was popular in in non-Muslim Asian countries. However I didn’t realize how popular it is. If you don’t eat pork, like my friend and I, be sure to ask before ordering anything. We found it was included in many dishes, even if it was not listed in the description.
Bonus Black fact: Vietnamese people will attempt to take your picture (with and without your consent), touch your hair, and stare at you. My friend warned me about this in advance, since she experienced similar treatment in Bali. I did not waste energy getting angry, but instead politely refused requests for pictures and snapped pics/videos of those attempting to take them without my consent (I packed my petty in my carryon 🙃).
If you’ve been to Vietnam and have some tips to share that I might’ve missed, please drop them in the comments. If you’re planning a trip to the country I hope you have a wonderful time.