What You Need to Know And Do When Traveling Throughout Vietnam
From the rice valleys of Sapa in the north of the country, to the Mekong Delta in the south, Vietnam provides visitors to the region with a wealth of experiences and attractions to suit the solo traveler, from the budget conscious to the high end of the luxury spectrum.
From Vietnam’s war torn history together with influences of the French, American and Chinese, each have left their imprint on this stunning country. Amazing cuisine, beautiful beaches and shopping are just some of the reasons to travel to the this uniquely Communist nation.
When Is The Best Time To Visit?
The weather in Vietnam varies greatly from the north to the south of the country with added variety in the timing of the wet season along the central coast.
- The dry season falls between December through until May.
- The wet season falls between May to November.
- The dry season falls between September to February.
- The wet season falls between March to August.
The Central Coast
- Nha Trang's wet season falls between November and December.
- Hue and Da Nang's wet season occurs between September and February.
The best time to visit Hanoi is between the months of October to April and for Ho Chi Minh City, the months January to March are best. For those looking to visit Nha Trang the best months to visit are between February and June.
Monsoon rains can cause flash flooding, delaying transport and cutting off remote village, and during the summer period temperatures can reach as high as 40°C or 104°F particularly in the south of the country, making a visit during the summertime hot, humid and sticky.
In winter, temperatures rarely drop below 20°C or 68°F in the south, however its worth noting the northern winters can get quite cold, with highland regions experiencing occasional snowfall and frost.
The central coast of Vietnam is prone to typhoons and although they can be hard to predict, August to November are said to be the peak time for these weather events.
The busiest tourist season is during July and August when foreign and domestic school holiday makers converge on all parts of the country, driving prices high and making hotel availability more difficult than outside these periods.
Vietnamese New Year (Tet Nguyen Dan) is celebrated in January or February (dates are aligned with the lunar calendar the same as Chinese New Year) and Tet is when most of the local population take their holidays traveling home to visit family and friends. As a consequence visitors to the region can expect large crowds, high prices and more difficulty securing their preferred bookings.
For tourists seeking to avoid the crowded masses, mid-February to mid March are considered to be one of the quietest times of the year when tourists can grab an a low season bargain on both flights and accommodation.
In spite of the heat locals dress conservatively and visitors are expected to do the same. Shorts should only be worn at the beach, in particular female tourists caught wearing short skirts or tank tops when walking around the cities or villages are highly likely to draw unwanted attention from the local male and female population.
Vietnamese people are known for their friendliness, generosity and sense of humor so interact and engage with the locals to get a true flavor of the people.
Much like the rest of Asia the Vietnamese people rarely loose their cool, so avoid losing yours as raising your voice and arguing with someone in public is considered extremely embarrassing for all involved, and can in fact be dangerous.
Before taking a photograph, always seek and gain permission before taking a person's photo. Under no circumstances should tourists take or use their camera in ethnic minority villages, as it's considered an invasion of privacy and you will attract the attention of the locals for all the wrong reasons.
When visiting temples or pagodas, its important to be respectful to the culture and the religious significance at the site. This goes for both men and women who should wear long sleeved shirts, long trousers, or a long skirt for women.
Much like other areas of Asia cultural taboos do exist. In Vietnam these include public displays of affection, pointing or beckoning with your finger, standing with your hands on your hips, touching a person on the shoulder or head, passing items over a person's head and passing items with one hand instead of two.
Tipping is not expected, but is appreciated since many workers earn very low wages, so if the service is considered to be worthy of tipping, then by all means do so. Some international and local hotel chains and restaurants add a 5 to 10% service charge to the bill which covers the cost of tipping at the venue.
To enter Vietnam visitors are required to have a valid and appropriate visa, visa exemption document or a written approval letter for a visa to be issued on arrival.
Some private online visa services and travel agents continue to scam travelers when processing their application. A number of these agents have been involved in the public disclosure of personal information of applicants for visas and 'visa issued on arrival' approval letters.
To avoid these types of scams only ever use official Government of Vietnam services to arrange a visa. Use the Government of Vietnam's online information portal to access official visa information, including the type of visa you should apply for. Complete the visa application form online, then print it and take it to the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Vietnam in your home country.
If your visa expires or is otherwise no longer valid, visitors face delays and fines when leaving Vietnam. Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) change regularly. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Vietnam for the most current information prior to travel.
Health And Safety
Tap water in Vietnam is not safe to drink, and wells in the Red River Delta have been found to contain arsenic at levels that exceed World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. Boiling water does not remove arsenic and other heavy metal contaminants so always stick to bottled water, avoid ice in drinks and steer away from salads that have (in all likelihood) been rinsed in tap water.
Traveler's diarrhea is common. Always wash hands regularly and eat fresh food which has been fully cooked. Carry anti-diarrheal medication with you as a precaution, as the chances of contracting a stomach bug are probable during the trip.
Mosquito borne diseases including dengue fever, malaria and Japanese encephalitis are a risk in Vietnam. Consider vaccination against Japanese encephalitis and if you are traveling to remote areas of the country speak with your doctor about malaria prevention medication. Avoiding mosquito bites is the best protection so take plenty of insect repellent and regularly apply throughout the day and during evening times.
Hand, foot and mouth disease and conjunctivitis are common in Vietnam, particularly among children. Wash hands regularly to avoid cross contamination and infection. A number of disease risks exist in the country including measles, hepatitis, rabies, typhoid, tuberculosis and meningitis.
The quality of medical care varies in Vietnam and is on average pretty poor in comparison to western countries. Most doctors in Vietnam will demand payment upfront, emergency or otherwise although some may be willing to treat you if you have proof of travel insurance.
There are a number of English speaking private clinics located in cities and tourist areas however if you become extremely ill when in Vietnam you may need to be evacuated to Bangkok, Singapore or another country at your own expense so it's paramount visitors to Vietnam take out travel insurance before leaving home.
Depending upon the region in which you are considering traveling to some medications may be hard to find or may even be counterfeit. Bring all regular medication with you, making sure it remains in its original packaging along with the original prescription.
Personal Safety And Security
There is no minimum legal drinking age in Vietnam, the country it has strict drug laws with severe punishments, including the death penalty so don't get caught up in the party culture as guilt by association is entirely possible.
Gambling is illegal in Vietnam however foreign passport holders can gamble at government licensed casino venues.
Political actions are illegal in Vietnam, so making known your political beliefs including your thoughts around communism should be avoided at all costs. This also applies to activities online such as social media, which is monitored by the Government.
Do not take photographs of demonstrations, border crossings, police or military installations.
Religion is barely tolerated by the government of Vietnam and while it's not a problem if you are a religious person westerners who have tried to openly preach Christianity have been detained, fined and deported from the country. Again the same applies in the online world too.
It is illegal to export antiques from Vietnam without the correct type of permit.
Violent crime against travelers is rare however petty theft such as bag snatching and pickpocketing is relatively common particularly in areas frequented by tourists.
Taxi companies, Mai Linh and Vinasun have been recommended by tourists to be the most reputable taxi transport around however visitors should be beware of impersonators pretending to be members of these fleets which an be difficult for a novice traveler to identify.
Scams in Vietnam can be wide, varied and ever changing so check out websites such as TripAdvisor to get the latest on scam activity.
When making purchases or bookings, its standard for locals to quote a high price for goods and services. Visitors must then negotiate to reduce the price. Don't be offended as this way of doing business is a normal part of life in Vietnam.
Finally, when traveling through Vietnam visitors to the country should remain vigilant and always ask for recommendations from other travelers, as they journey through this fascinating country. Remember, there is not a doubt in the world that you will be ripped off or exploited in some way during your travel to Vietnam, so smile and chalk it up to part of the 'Vietnamese experience'.