Planning a trip to Vietnam? Here are 10 things you might want to know

Vietnam is one of the main countries people visit when they go to South East Asia. Because it still is very traditional but it is also “western” enough for people who might not be too comfortable outside their own comfort zone.
As you’ve seen from my blogposts here and here, I just came back from my trip there and discovered a few things that might be interesting to know when you plan your trip.


#1 It’s a big country!

Yes, that might be a given, especially when you actually look at a world map every once in a while. BUT, even though I knew that Vietnam was big I didn’t expect this.
I think the shortest bus ride I’ve taken there was around 3 hours from Hanoi to Halong Bay. All the other journeys are best to take over night, so you don’t lose too much time (especially when you’re on a tight schedule like I was). The longest bus ride I took? 18 hours, between Hoi An and Dalat.

I gotta say though, Vietnam might be big but in a country with very good infrastructure the journeys wouldn’t take that long. It’s just the fact that busses don’t go faster than 50 km/h maximum. Compared to Germany, where they go around 80 km/h (and smaller busses or cars even 150 km/h on average) it obviously takes you 1.5 to 3 times longer in Vietnam.

But no matter what the reason is for all those long journeys: Always calculate that in before you book your trip. It might take a bit of time away from your actual days you have to enjoy the beauty of the country!


#2 They have sleeper busses

Thinking back to my trip around Thailand and Cambodia and the very uncomfortable normal seats on overnight bus rides, Vietnam might even be very luxurious: they have sleeper busses! With actual beds!

But don’t get too excited. I, with a height of around 167 cm (around 5.5 ft), even struggled with fitting on that bed. Not only because of my height, also because there are not luggage compartments to store your hand luggage. So depending on how big your hand luggage actually is, your feet and your bag have to share all the space.

But a plus side of the bus: They have wifi! They might not announce it, but they do. So always check or ask for the wifi password!

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#3 Open bus ticket

Something that I unfortunately found out about way too late is the Open bus ticket for Vietnam. Basically, you can buy a ticket in the very beginning for a certain price, depending on how many stops you want to make, and then you are good to go. It’s definitely cheaper than booking bus by bus, but it also brings a few disadvantages with it: you have to be sure about how many stops you want to make in the beginning, you have to go to the travel agency (whereas you can just book individual busses in your hostel) and there are limited stops sometimes. But for some people those advantages are not too bad compared to the money you can save 🙂


#4 Rice Wine is a big thing

Vietnamese people like to drink. If you pass a small town or a local bar, you can see men sitting together, shouting Vietnamese drinking chants while sipping on their beer. But there’s another drink they love, something that is very special for Vietnam: Rice Wine. It’s, surprise surprise, made out of rice and you drink it as a shot. Apparently it is a big thing to drink it while snacking on crickets. Yes, I tried it. No, I didn’t like it. (Well, the rice wine wasn’t too bad, the crickets were though.)

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Also possible: Rice wine INCLUDING crickets

#5 Coffee is an even bigger thing

Yes, coffee is even bigger than alcohol probably. Especially in Saigon, I saw so many cafés selling typical Vietnamese coffee. A specialty for Vietnam is egg café. Yes it sounds disgusting. And I’ve definitely heard different opinions about it. I am not a big coffee drinker so I can’t tell you myself how it tastes but if I were, I guess I would have tried. Just to say I did.

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Coffee beans in Dalat

#6 And condensed milk is everywhere

Drinking your coffee with milk usually? Be prepared that the milk you normally get in Vietnam is condensed milk. So very, very sweet. They do have normal “fresh” milk as they call it, so you can ask for that. But if you are a sweet tooth anyways, maybe you like the condensed milk after all and will bring the tradition back home?! 🙂


#7 Vietnam is full of different ethnics

To be precise: Vietnam has 54 different ethics. So be careful when you talk about “typical Vietnamese”, because with all the different ethincs and their various dishes and traditions, there’s not really such a thing.

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Our Sapa guide from the Hmong tribe

#8 Traffic is insane

Traffic in Vietnam is crazy. Especially in the big cities, you just have to cross the street without hesitation or you might get hit by a motorbike. Or just scared by one.
Once you figure that out you are actually grand. One tip for the beginning: Just follow the locals. They know how to do it and traffic sometimes just magically stops for them.
Another characteristic of Vietnamese traffic is the constant beeping. Sometimes I assumed they don’t even know why they do it. They just know everyone does it, so why not join in?

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Traffic in Hanoi via Michael Goodine (flickr)

#9 Vietnamese nightlife doesn’t have to end early

Normally, people tell you that the bars and clubs close between 1 or 2am. And that’s actually true. But if you are sticking around until then you might get surprised: Most bars have a secret club hidden somewhere off the busy main streets where you can party until the early hours of the day.


#10 Budget

And because money is always important (and sometimes it’s okay to talk about it) here’s a rough calculation of what you need if you stay in hostels and travel by bus.

Busses are on average 10€ (it can be more or less, depending on where you go and how far the journey is). This obviously only applies if you are taking the tourist busses, there are local busses that are cheaper but I just always go for the tourist ones…
A hostel is normally around 6€ a night, obviously also depending on the room size and the status of the hostel itself. But you should be able to find places for that price anywhere.
Because most hostels have included breakfast you’ll only need money for one or two meals a day. You can pay between 1€ and 4€ for a meal I’d say, depending on if you eat street food or in a restaurant.
Bottled water is normally around 0.50€ for a large bottle (it’s always more expensive in hostels) and you can get a beer for around 1€ as well.

So on average, not including special tours, I would say you need around 70-100€ a week, if you take about 1-2 bus journeys and if you don’t go shopping or partying extensively 😀

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