Vietnam has become a popular destination for adventure seeking travelers. It is a beautiful, friendly, country welcoming to visitors. The US Dollar stacks up well against the Vietnamese Dong - allowing you to live like a king or queen on the cheap. But to have the best experience in Vietnam, it will help to understand the currency, the weather, geography, culture, and food.
Let’s walk through a brief primer of Vietnam basics for travelers so you can best enjoy your time in this wonderful country.
Vietnam is a much bigger country than most people realize. There are multiple regions with distinct features. You can have access to beaches, jungles, and mountains throughout the country. Each area has a slightly different flavor with different cultures and traditions.
Most people don’t have the opportunity to spend a full month exploring the country, but if you can devote 2 weeks to the country you can explore all the amazing places Vietnam has to offer.
Unlike many countries in Southeast Asia, you are not able to arrive in the airport and get your passport stamped for entry. There’s a little bit more work you need to do. Every US Citizen is required to obtain a valid visa for Vietnam.
You have two options: the eVisa and the Visa on Arrival, and both will need approval before you touchdown in the country.
Because of the length of the country, it can be daunting to travel by vehicle from the tip of the northern part of the country to the southernmost point. If you want to do extensive travel in the country, air travel between the major cities of Saigon, Danag, and Hanoi is your best bet.
For travel between smaller towns and cities you can travel by bus or minivan. Do a little research on your transportation options before you arrive. Sometimes it can be hard to find a travel agent inside the country you can trust. Booking transportation online is probably your best option rather than contacting a local company in person.
Weather in Vietnam can be diverse depending on the region you visit and the time of the year.
Overall, Vietnam has a mild-tropical to subtropical climate. Hot and humid weather is standard daily fare. The rainy season is between July and November. If you travel during that time of the year, be prepared to bring rain gear and a travel umbrella.
The Northern part of the country has four full seasons, and during the winter months it can get down to 40° F. If you venture into the mountains during that time it can be much colder. The summer months can hit the 90° F range.
Central Vietnam has warm temperatures throughout the year, and during the summer many people find it extremely hot. The South is pretty similar except it tends to be dry and cooler from Nov-April. May-October is the wet season for the South.
The local currency in Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong (VND).
As of Dec 2020, the exchange rate for the Dong to the USD was 23125.00 to $1 USD. So if something in Vietnam was 75,000 Dong, it would cost you around $3 USD.
You need cash in Vietnam. Before you travel make sure you get plenty of currency. It’s rare to find restaurants and shops that take credit cards. You are limited by how much you can get from local ATMs as well. Also, the transaction fees and exchange rates are not very favorable from any local money changers - including ATMs.
Some of the name brand international hotel chains take credit cards, but you shouldn’t rely on it. Be prepared with cash.
For more info on the Vietnamese Dong, we wrote an extensive article on the history and value of the Dong.
Only 20% of the land is actually flat, and this may surprise you. Much of our imagery of Vietnam are pictures of rice fields and sprawling flat jungle.Along the coast, the country is dotted with beautiful white sand beaches.The flatter portions of the country lie along two main river deltas: The Mekong and the Red River Delta.
As you explore deeper in the country, mountainous jungles dominate. Some are almost impenetrable to travel.The highest peak in Vietnam is Mt Fansipan at 10,311 ft.One thing you will enjoy about Vietnam is the diversity of the landscape.
The majority religion in Vietnam is Buddhism. However Catholicism has a strong presence due to French colonial influence.
One town in Vietnam in the Mekong Delta is the Holy See of the Cao Dai religion. This religion was founded in the 1920s. It fuses elements of Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, and tribal occult practices.
You are likely to see and interact with Buddhist monks. Be respectful of them and do not approach unless they speak to you first.
Many shrines and places of worship are open to visitors, please make sure you understand the respect protocol before entering these buildings. Many will require an offering or removal of shoes. Headwear may need to be removed as well.
Food in Vietnam is a unique fusion of Southeast Asia traditions with a mix of French influence.
The most common food you will find in Vietnam is Pho. You have probably eaten Pho in the US at Vietnamese restaurants, as it is the most popular dish. Pho is a hot soup full of noodles, vegetables, and various types of protein. It has a thin broth with a tangy flavor. Many Vietnamese will raise the heat of the soup by tossing in chopped hot peppers.
The Bahn Mi is a traditional sandwich on French baguettes filled with local veggies and sliced meat. Not only will you find French baguettes in the country, but also French crepes. The French crepe took hold in the country, but rather than being filled with sweet treats, it is usually filled with veggies, pork, or shrimp.
Rice is the main staple crop. As you travel throughout the country you will see large fields of rice paddies. Don’t be surprised to be served rice with any meal you order. Usually the noodles are even made of rice flour rather than wheat.
The great thing about food in Vietnam is that it is everywhere. Street food is highly popular, and you could eat your way through Vietnam without ever having to enter a restaurant.
As you get closer to the ocean, you will find a wide variety of fish and seafood on many menus. The Central Region of the country tends toward spicier dishes, while the food of the South tends to be sweeter.
Unlike the US where you are expected to tip when you eat at restaurants. Tipping is not expected in Vietnam, but is optional and will be appreciated.
Vietnam is a highly enjoyable country for US Travelers. Be prepared before you go and plan your trip accordingly. Be willing to be adventurous and enjoy the hospitality of the friendly Vietnamese.
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