You can enter Vietnam either via their three international airports (Hanoi, Danang and HCMC) or via one of the various crossings from Cambodia, Laos or China. A list of all border crossings will follow soon.
The Visa requirements for Vietnam are more restrictive than for Thailand, Laos or Cambodia, and you cannot just enter the country without a pre-arranged Visa or VOA letter (with the exception of the Visa Waiver). It is also a little bit more complicated as you can access four different Visa options, which you can obtain through two different ways. There is also currently a Visa-Waiver program in place for citizens for some countries.
The currency is in Vietnam is Dong. The exchange varies, but for initial information 23.000 Kip is around US$1. Due to the amount of 0s often prices are shown without the last three 0s, so 10.000 Dong is shown as 10, especially at taxi metres. Also be aware that some notes look similar, so be careful when getting change back that you get the right amount.
For first time visitors handling the larger notes can be very confusing, and some Vietnamese like to take advantage. But let them never take the wallet or notes out of your hand to count…you will loose out. Also, often vendors pretend they have no change and want to keep some money. To prevent this make sure you have enough 10.000, 20.000 and 50.000 Dong notes with you. I only use the 500.000 notes for restaurants, museums and accomodation. This way you can get easily change.
Some hotels, travel agencies and restaurants will show prices in US$. They only do it to “help” tourists with the unusual currency. But by law you must pay in Dong – it is illegal to pay with any other currency (the only exception is the Visa stamp at the airport). Persoanlly, I don’t like that they provide prices in US$, as that amount will be put into Dong, using their own exchange rate, which is most of the time worse for the tourist.
You can easily get Dong by either using ATMs or exchanging cash. The best places to exchange money are gold shops. However, I found the exchange rates at Hanoi and HCMC airport very good as well, and before looking around for gold shops to save maybe a $1 I would get enough Dong for the start there. You can exchange money at banks as well, but this can take a little bit longer, especially when exchanging higher values. In lesser tourist places they actually prefer US$ or €, I had issues to exchange £ (and as usual, do not bring Scottish £ with you anyway). You won’t find this issue when in the main tourist hubs.
The second options are ATMs. You will find ATMs everywhere in Vietnam, even in the rural area. However, most ATMs have a very low limit for each withdrawl. Some even allow you only to withdraw 2.000.000 at a time – so for more moeny you need to withdraw money several times. And each time you will be chraged a fee – and the fee varies from bank to bank. HCBC had the highest limit with 6.000.000 Dong, while BIDV offers a limit of 5.000.000. But apparently they charge a higher fee. Please note, that some ATMs only show options of 2.000.000. It is worthwhile to choose “Other amount” and check if you can withdraw more – this is the case for example at BIDV ATMs).
Several hotels, shops and restaurants might also accept payment by credit card. Please note that they will add a 3% surcharge on top of the price.
My advise is to take both cash and two cards with you – one for emergencies. Also, any Germans bringing an EC Card along should be aware that not every ATM or bank will accept them. Have an alternative card with you. I had some serious problmes the first time I had one with me. This issue does not exist for Visa Debit cards.
Healthcare in Vietnam has not Western standard, but is much better than in Laos and Cambodia. In the main cities like Hanoi, Danang and HCMC you will find Western doctors and GP who can provide good care. However, when in rural Vietnam it is not that good, and might need a transport to the larger cities. Therefore it is important to have good travel insurance in place – some dental work or first aid work is not expensive, but larger problems can lead to a very high bill. On the positive side Vietnam has no Malaria risk, though there is risk for Dengue Fever. Therefore it is important to use mosquito repellent, or wear long sleeve shirts, and ensure that your room has mosquito net if there is no A/C in the room. Remember that mosquitos carrying dengue fever are day – active, so repellent is needed during the day as well.
Vietnam offers everything for people with high and tight budgets. You wiull find everywhere cheap accomdoation, and in the tourist hubs there is also a good choice of high end hotels. In places like Hanoi or HCMC it might be even better going for a 3* hotel rather than a 5* due to the better service you receive there. For travellers on a lower budget therea are plenty of hostels, and often sharing a room in a guesthouse could be cheaper. As a solo traveller I managed to stay in places between 180.000 Dong to up 600.000 Dong, and except of once I never got a terrible place. In general the tourists hubs like Hanoi, Hoi An, HCMC and Phu Quoc are more expensive than rural areas like Quy Nhon or the Ha Giang region. Prices for food can be as low and as high as you want. If you prefer eating in local places you can have a nice dish from food stalls from 15.000 Dong, Banh Mis can be found for 10.000. Restaurants are obviously more expensive, though personally I am not sure they offer much better value. If you like beer try some of the locally brewed Bia Hoi – usually served on the street while sitting on a plastic chair. This can be as low as 5.000 Dong per glass!!! Bottled beer can cost from 15.000 upwards, depending where you drink it. Overall you can easily travel for 400.000 Dong a day on a low budget, I usually travel for
~ 800.000 Dong per day, which include thigns like renting a motorbike etc. So whatever your style is, you find the right options for you in Vietnam.
Unfortuantely Vietnam has a reputation that tourists get constantly get scammed and ripped off. While it is not as bad as the reputation make you think it is, there are a number of well known issues. This covers taxis with manipulated metres, cyclos, xe oms (motorbike taxis) and dodgy travel agents. Here is a list of some scams tourists need to look out for. This should help to avoid them and enjoy Vietnam to its fullest without the feeling of being constantly ripped off.
Due to the length of the country the various regions have their own weather pattern. For example the the northern part is a little bit cold December – February, and the rainy season June – August. In the central region the wet season is from the end of September until December. The central highlands on the other side is warm and dry from December until March, with rain level increasing afterwards. And finally the south is heavily affected by rain from June until September, though it is lovely between November and March. So when planning a trip it is important to consider the weathern pattern. Obviously you could visit all regions at any time, but you could be affected by floods during the rainy season, or fog and snow during the cold season in the north. But if you do not want to miss an area during your visit, do not elt the weather control your itinerary – just have an Option B in case the weather tunrs too bad.