Eco Travel

Things you need to know | Ultimate Vietnam Checklist

Vietnam is a great country to visit, especially if you are looking to do some backpacking or when you are traveling on a budget. There are some things you need to know before and during your travel through Vietnam. To make your trip a lot easier, make sure to check the following tips on this list:

Getting a Visa:
Let’s start with the obvious one. Before you can enter the country, you will need to get a visa. There are several options to get one all depending on where you are from and how long you intend to stay. A single entry visa is obviously cheaper than a multiple entries one, so if you want to visit more than just Vietnam when traveling through Asia, I suggest you to book your flight back from another country. The cheapest visa is the one you get directly at the airport on arrival before entering the country. You can order a visa on arrival letter from multiple websites for a few bucks, you then just have to bring that letter to the customs where you then paid for the visa you desire. Be sure not to forget a passport photo,  you will need one to get your visa.

How to get around:
You can either travel from North to South or do it the other way around, just like we did. We started our trip in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and ended it in Hanoi. The easiest (and cheapest) way to get from A to B is by bus. Vietnam has sleeper buses where you can lay down and get some rest, especially during the long trips through the night. Beware! Traveling by land in Vietnam is slow; 200km will take you around 4:30 hours.
My recommendation: book your bus ticket through your hotel, it is easy, cheap and they will make sure you get a transportation to the bus station.
Other options are traveling by
– Train: more expansive and when you are traveling through the night its not always certain that you can flatten your seat and depending on your final destination (but mostly all), the train station usually isn’t very close to the actual city centre.
– Renting a motorbike: definitely an adventure, we heard a LOT of bad stories about the bikes breaking down all the time and you definitely don’t want to risk driving at the night.
-Plane: recommendable if a bus ride is just too long! Domestic flights are really affordable (cheap even), we flew from Hue to Hanoi for 23$ per person (incl. bags) with VietJet.

Taxi vs. Grab:
My absolute best and secret tip is downloading the App: GrabGrab is like Uber and by far the cheapest way to drive through the cities. We took a Grab taxi from Hanoi to the airport and from bus stations to our hotels. We unfortunately discovered Grab somewhere Half way through our trip and wished someone would have told us about it sooner. When it comes to taxis, as an easy rule; only take the green ones and maybe risk the ones that look like a professional taxi company if the wait is too long. There are a lot of fake taxi’s that will be more expensive and unreliable, so always make sure to drive by meter or negotiate the right price before you get in (or just book a Grab car).

Compare prices:
Just like I mentioned above; Grab cars are cheaper than any taxi you will find in Vietnam. But not just transport; also compare prices when it comes to booking tours. Especially the tours to Sapa and Halong Bay. We booked our tours through a hostel in Hanoi and paid 68$ p.p. for a 3days 2nights trekking tour through Sapa (incl. meals). When you are sleeping in a Home Stay always make sure that you book a private room, otherwise you might end up sleeping with random other tourists. We paid 83$ p.p. for the Halong Bay tour (3 days 2 nights/ one on a boat and one on the island, incl. meals). We had other tourists join us that paid double or even more for the same tour, so make sure to shop around before you buy your tour!

Flying a drone:
FIY: Flying a drone is forbidden in Vietnam. I didn’t know that when we flew our drone, I read about it online afterwards and I am lucky we didn’t get caught. So, my tips are: don’t fly your drone without getting a permit, don’t fly over any cities and especially don’t start your drone on the street (obviously), because the police will find you pretty fast. When in Halong Bay only fly over the water, not over the island and always ask your tour guide for permission first. They will usually allow it and also show a lot of interest in your drone footage. Its probably best to even tell them to stand back when you take off and land your drone, because they just don’t seem to understand that drones can be dangerous. If you fly your drone for business reasons definitely get a  company to apply for the government permission but be aware that they cost around 700$ and take a very long time to get. Unfortunately that is the only legal way that I have heard/read of.

Vietnam is NOT known for its Beaches:
Don’t have too high expectations of the beaches in Vietnam. There are a lot of hotels you can book that are directly at the beach, but don’t expect turquoise water and white sandy beaches. I heard the most beautiful ones are down south on the island Phu Quoc and on the Nha Trang/Dalat the coastl line. Especially in Mui Ne and Hoi An, the beaches aren’t that nicely maintained or even cleaned. If you feel like relaxing on your trip just book a hotel in the city center with a spa and a pool. I recommend the … Hotel in Hoi An. We had a beautiful big room in the city center for just 20$ p.n. and it came with a relaxing pool area.

Backpack vs. Suitcase:
It is definitely easier to travel around with a backpack than with a suitcase, unless you have booked a full on tour where you don’t have to worry about your luggage.
Leave your luggage at the hotel:
This tip is quite useful when you book a tour from Hanoi to Sapa, Halong Bay or Ninh Binh. Just ask the Hotel to leave your large luggage in storage there and just bring the essentials for a few days. It is so much better, easierer and hassle free to travel around with just a small bag.

Book last minute:
You never really know how much you will like a place unless you have actually been there. We just booked the first and last nights of out trip in advance and from there on out decided last minute where we would go and sleep next. There are plenty of hotels available and we had no problem booking them the very last minute through mostly and other big sites. We mostly paid around 10-20$ per night. Booking last minute is especially great when you aren’t quite sure about the weather and don’t know where you will be heading to next. We ended up doing Sapa earlier than planned just because we wanted to have the sunniest days in Halong Bay.

Of course, before flying to any country you simply have to check the weather. Vietnam has different seasons, which means it can get cold and will get wet, especially up in the north. We traveled through Vietnam in February, but the best months (when it comes to the weather and avoiding tourists) are probably March and April. It can be 30 degrees (celcius) down south when its not even 5 degrees up in the north (Sapa). Make sure to pack accordingly when you travel during the winter (trekking shoes/jacket), since they don’t have or just not use heating and without the proper clothes you won’t enjoy trekking trough the rain, slipping and falling in the mud.