A rising star in southeast Asia, Vietnam punches above its weight in many ways – lush landscapes in every shade of green, powdery white beaches as if from a postcard, limestone islands that dramatically dot the coast, charming villages with warm and curious inhabitants and a haunting history that packs an emotional punch – nothing is average in Vietnam. Here are some things to note before your stay.
A long, slim waif of a country, the weather in Vietnam is diverse depending on where you’re travelling, so expect the unexpected when packing. Hot in the south can mean chilly in the north, but an element that can almost always be counted on is the humidity – days are often sticky and during monsoon season, filled with rain. Even in high season though it can feel fresh in the early mornings.
If it wasn’t for the weather in Vietnam, we would say a credit card and a toothbrush are enough for your packing list – travellers with a few t-shirts slung in a bag winging it from day to day are a well-known trope of the region, and there’s more than a grain of truth in it. Of course, Vietnam certainly has its fair share of luxury with boutique hotels and high-end spas, but it’s status as a key part of the well-trodden southeast Asia travelling path gives it an easy-going, free-spirited vibe that attracts visitors from all over.
Pretty much everywhere in Vietnam, aside from small street vendors, will take payment via credit card. The currency is the dong and expect to feel rich all at once after exchanging it, with £1 getting you roughly 29,650 dong. Haggling is commonplace in Vietnam and prices in popular tourist areas are often inflated, so if something takes your fancy, turn on the charm and put your bartering hat on. Executed with a hint of humour and a dollop of banter and it’ll almost certainly be mirrored by the seller (and hopefully bag you a bargain). Get familiar with the currency as it’s common for tourists to lose 10 minutes to knock off 3,000 dong from a price to later realise they saved around 10p.
Tipping is not necessarily the norm in Vietnam, but it is very much appreciated and as little as £1 or £2 is enough so show appreciation for a job well done. For a friendly, informative tour guides, £2-£5 per person per day is a good guideline, drivers £1-£3. Vietnam is renowned for incredible street food and it’s inevitable you’ll buy at least a portion of your meals this way. Vendors don’t expect a tip and it’s fine not to give one unless you are blown away. Restaurants on the other hand, especially nicer ones, often add a 10% service charge to the bill, but if that’s absent, around £2-£4 extra is fine. The same amount goes for other services like porters and housekeepers.
Vietnamese people are incredibly inviting, friendly and generally curious towards tourists. There are one or two traditions to be aware of when traversing the country, but most Vietnamese are tolerant and forgiving, so a misstep here or there isn’t a disaster. Ensure you cover shoulders and legs in places of worship and always remove shoes. Do not touch the heads of adults, or children, and don’t point using your feet.
Take your time in Vietnam and get used to the slower pace of life that the balmy weather and relaxed atmosphere beckons. And never lose your cool – shouting is considered the utmost in rude behaviour and whatever the situation, anger will almost always not work. In Vietnam, smiles are everything and a pleasant approach always trumps an outraged one.
Vietnam is a relatively safe place to travel to, but like anywhere that attracts tourists, there are pickpockets and scammers waiting to take advantage of easy targets. Be aware of bags and any expensive items like jewellery and watches when among big crowds. Always keep money and tickets and passports separate, so if the worst happens you haven’t lost everything in one fell swoop.
A holiday to Vietnam is admiring thriving rice paddies that spread out as far as the eye can see, sampling delicious street food on buzzy streets, soaking in history in war museums and ancient temples, exploring secret caves tucked away from white sandy shores and admiring the colours of the sunset from a city rooftop while sipping a sundowner – Vietnam is Asia as its most magical.