It only seems like everyone now goes just to the South East Asia. In reality, there are only so many places that active tourism can ruin, especially when it comes to backpacking in Vietnam!
So here are a few things you ought to know before you head into the country of gongs, motorbikes and potbelly pigs, yes, the ones that are kept as pets!
Visa on Arrival
Get your Visa on Arrival. To obtain it you till need a passport size photo, 25 USD (it might vary depending on your passport) and the letter of invitation. You can get it online, there are several websites you can apply for it, I used http://www.getvisavietnam.com/content/visa-fee and it worked almost fine. It is one of the cheapest I could find, however it had issues with privacy. My invitation letter also contained other travelers’ personal data.
When you arrive to Noi Bai airport in Hanoi, move directly to visa on arrival desk, it is before the passport check and prepare for some 1,5 hour procedure.
Travel by any means
Bus, train, plane, you name it – it all costs very similar when it comes to backpacking in Vietnam. Make sure you try as many of them as you can as each provides a quite different experience. When it comes to flights, it costs similar to sleeper train or a bus. A VietJet flight from Hanoi to Da Nang was 39 euro, while the same distance night train was 34 euro.
It’s Cash world
In Vietnam, cash is king. It’s best to have Vietnamese Dongs, but usually you can use USD in touristic places. Some hotels or shops accept credit cards but they charge you extra 3%. When withdrawing money in Vietnam bear in mind that different bank’s ATM may charge you different commission, so try several to know what fees apply.
Bargaining is not something Vietnamese are happy about, yet you should do it. Depending on what you are buying, you can get as much as 50 % off the initial price. E.g. if you rent a scooter, you can get round 30% off, but have in mind that it will have an empty fuel tank. The closest place you will be able to get fuel will probably locals selling plastic bottles of 1-1,5 l. Their price is more or less double of what fuel costs at a proper petrol station.
Chi Minh vs Hanoi
When selecting your destinations for backpacking in Vietnam, I would advice to go for Ho Chi Minh instead of Hanoi. Even though it is the capital, I personally found it much less interesting than Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) or Da Nang.
Hire a guide
Consider going on a tour, especially if your time is limited. The largest part of tour consists of ticket fees, so if you go on your own simply backpacking in Vietnam, you still need to pay these, while transport can cost you less with a tour than on your own.
Communism is still present
The gold five-pointed star in Vietnam’s flag symbolizes the five groups of workers in the building of socialism (the intellectuals, peasants, soldiers, workers and youth), yet else you won’t feel communism that much. I have noticed some propaganda posters and managed to get into discussion with a local, don’t be surprised if you share different interpretation of history and other topics.
Wi-Fi is everywhere
You will stay connected while traveling in Vietnam. Wi-Fi is the one thing you don’t have worry about. Most bars, restaurants or public areas have access to Wi-Fi. Even bus from Hanoi’s airport to the city center had Wi-Fi, so you can stay connected almost all the time.
Interested to learn more?
Check out the neighboring Cambodia!