Worry-free wandering: How to survive a Vietnam vacation | finder.com
How to survive a Vietnam vacation

Worry-free wandering: How to survive a Vietnam vacation

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Planning a Vietnam vacation? Read this guide for some first-hand tips on how to spend dong.

I thought I had experienced Vietnam without ever having to go further than the Pho restaurant around the corner. I was very, very mistaken. Real life Vietnam is far from the version I was raised on, but after traveling there I learned a thing or two that might prove helpful for fellow travelers.

Prep-work: booking flights, accommodation and your visa

I spent a total of ten days, nine nights in Vietnam, starting in Ho Chi Minh city followed by Hoi An, rounding up the trip in Hanoi. Flights ate up a large chunk of my expenses and the accommodation was relatively cheap — eating there is a steal.

The best bit of advice I can give for booking flights is to do your research before forking over any cash. I was prepared to fly budget, but I found an airline that was having a sale and basically matched the lowest prices available. I booked together with the people I traveled with and put all of the flights on my rewards credit card – which means I scored a bunch of reward points in the process, even though I had to pay surcharges.

In the end, my flights cost me about $1,000 including the two short flights within Vietnam itself. I traveled in May which isn’t peak season and that helped with prices too.

Choosing where to stay was a bit tricky. Don’t bother looking for hostels to stay at as the hotel prices are pretty low anyway.

Nice hotels, bustling cities and tropical retreats abounds in Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh (right) is bustling and hectic, so it was nice to stay in a sprawling resort style hotel (center) while we were in Hoi An (left).

Hoi An is a small town and the prices reflect that; split with friends, I ended up paying less than $30 a night there on our hotel room — and it was really nice. The other hotels we stayed at were a bit less luxurious, but all three provided a buffet breakfast. Prepare to see Pho and noodles on the menu for breakfast wherever you go.

When heading to Vietnam, you’ll need a visa. You’ve got a few options to do this, but the easiest is to get it done online. There are a lot of scam websites out there that will offer Vietnam visas but not deliver, so be careful. Personally, I used Vietnam-eVisa.org on a recommendation from a friend. I received my visa request in an email a few days after I applied and paid.

Another must-have before flying out to Vietnam is travel insurance. In Vietnam, you can rent a jet ski for half an hour for about $25, but it comes with a life jacket and nothing else – no boundaries, no rules. It’s fun, sure, but I wouldn’t do it without insurance as my safety net in case anything happens (like crashing into a fishing boat which can – and to me, almost did – happen).

Compare travel credit cards

Rates last updated June 19th, 2018
Name Product Foreign Currency Conversion Fee Overseas ATM Withdrawal Fee Overseas Cash Advance Fee Annual fee Product Description
Luxury Card Mastercard® Titanium Card™
0% of transaction value
$195
Enjoy unique excursions, privileged access to exclusive events and insider opportunities.
Luxury Card Mastercard® Black Card™
0% of transaction value
$495
Mastercard Black Card members receive an annual $100 air travel credit toward flight-related purchases including airline tickets, baggage fees, upgrades and more.
Luxury Card Mastercard® Gold Card™
0% of transaction value
$995
Earn points every time you spend. Luxury Card enhances your purchasing power by providing you with one (1) point for every one dollar ($1) you spend. Every purchase gets you closer to the rewards you want.
Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card
0% of transaction value
$0
20,000 online bonus points offer. Ditch the restrictions of typical airline rewards cards. Any airline, any hotel, anytime. No blackout dates.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card
0% of transaction value
$0 annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
Earn 50000 points when you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of your account opening, and an additional 30,000 points when you spend a total of $30,000 on purchases within the first year of your account opening.
Venture® from Capital One®
0% of transaction value
$0 annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
Earn 50000 bonus miles once after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.
HSBC Cash Rewards Mastercard® credit card
$0 per transaction
$0
Earn unlimited 1.5% cash rewards on purchases.
Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Credit Card
$0 per transaction
$95
Earn unlimited 2 points for every $1 spent on travel and dining purchases and 1.5 points for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
Uber Visa Card
0% of transaction value
$0
Get 4% points back on dining, 3% on travel, 2% on Uber rides and online shopping and 1% on other purchases, and redeem points for Uber credits, gift cards or cash back.
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
0% of transaction value
$450
Earn 50000 BONUS POINTS after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening* — that's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
The Platinum Card® from American Express
0% of transaction value
$550
Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel and 5X points on eligible hotels booked on amextravel.com.
United℠ Explorer Card
0% of transaction value
$0 annual fee for the first year ($95 thereafter)
40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.* Plus a $100 statement credit after your first purchase.

Compare up to 4 providers

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    Departure day: First impressions of Vietnam

    After a nine hour flight, I got my baggage and went through immigration. Landing in Ho Chi Minh, we had to head off to a small counter after baggage claim to receive our visa on arrival before heading outside.

    You’ll stumble upon some outdoor ATMs that charge marginally less than those inside the airport. Cash is necessary if you want to enjoy Vietnam on the cheap, as many restaurants and stores prefer cash. It converts roughly so that 20,000 Vietnamese Dong is just short of a dollar.

    As soon as you step outside, taxi drivers will swarm you. There are two golden rules you have to follow when you get a taxi in Vietnam: one — never get in one without first agreeing on the price, and two — never accept the first price you get.

    I made my first big mistake when we arrived at our hotel. I had booked the accommodation with my rewards credit card but I hadn’t brought that card with me. At check-in, they requested my passport, a copy of the booking receipt and the credit card used to pay for the room. Uh-oh. Luckily, I knew my credit card number by heart and had my passport as proof of identity which they accepted, otherwise I have no clue what I would have done.

    During your stay: What to do and how to pay for it

    To truly enjoy Vietnam, you’re going to have to learn to haggle. The normal tourist tax is about a 70% to 100% markup, so always start your bids for at least half of the asking price. This goes for everything: taxi rides, cart and stall food, souvenirs, etc. The worst that can happen is you get told it’s a set price. At best, you save some cash.

    Seeing he Cu Chi tunnels and My Son are must-have experiences
    The Cu Chi tunnels are really interesting and I fully recommend a day tour there. The ruins at My Son are also breathtaking, so make sure to visit them.

    The one thing you may want to pay for with your credit or travel card are the tours and travel packages. You can avoid credit card fees and get a straight price if you have a card that has no foreign transaction fees.

    Credit cards with no currency conversion charges:

    Rates last updated June 19th, 2018
    Name Product Product Description Foreign Currency Conversion Fee (MC) Foreign Currency Conversion Fee (VISA) Foreign Currency Conversion Fee (AMEX) Overseas ATM Withdrawal Fee
    Luxury Card Mastercard® Titanium Card™
    Enjoy unique excursions, privileged access to exclusive events and insider opportunities.
    0% of transaction value
    Luxury Card Mastercard® Black Card™
    Mastercard Black Card members receive an annual $100 air travel credit toward flight-related purchases including airline tickets, baggage fees, upgrades and more.
    0% of transaction value
    Uber Visa Card
    Get 4% points back on dining, 3% on travel, 2% on Uber rides and online shopping and 1% on other purchases, and redeem points for Uber credits, gift cards or cash back.
    0% of transaction value
    Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card
    20,000 online bonus points offer. Ditch the restrictions of typical airline rewards cards. Any airline, any hotel, anytime. No blackout dates.
    0% of transaction value
    HSBC Cash Rewards Mastercard® credit card
    Earn unlimited 1.5% cash rewards on purchases.
    Venture® from Capital One®
    Earn 50000 bonus miles once after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.
    0% of transaction value
    Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card
    Earn 50000 points when you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of your account opening, and an additional 30,000 points when you spend a total of $30,000 on purchases within the first year of your account opening.
    0% of transaction value
    Bank of America® Premium Rewards® Credit Card
    Earn unlimited 2 points for every $1 spent on travel and dining purchases and 1.5 points for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
    Chase Sapphire Reserve®
    Earn 50000 BONUS POINTS after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening* — that's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
    0% of transaction value
    The Platinum Card® from American Express
    Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel and 5X points on eligible hotels booked on amextravel.com.
    0% of transaction value
    Luxury Card Mastercard® Gold Card™
    Earn points every time you spend. Luxury Card enhances your purchasing power by providing you with one (1) point for every one dollar ($1) you spend. Every purchase gets you closer to the rewards you want.
    0% of transaction value
    United MileagePlus® Club card
    Enjoy United Club membership, Premier Access® travel services, free checked bags, plus earn miles on every purchase.
    0% of transaction value
    Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Card
    Buy one ticket, get one for just the taxes and fees ($0 fare plus taxes and fees from just $22) after you make $1,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of your account opening. There are no blackout dates.
    0% of transaction value
    Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card
    Earn 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) and 35,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new card in your first 3 months.
    0% of transaction value

    Compare up to 4 providers

    You’ll have to pay for most everything else in cash though. Hanoi has an especially good night market that you must visit, while Ho Chi Minh and Hoi An both have huge, sprawling markets set up during the day. Make sure you pick up a bottle of snake wine here; bit tricky to get past customs, but it makes a great souvenir.

    Temples everywhere, bustling markets and Snake Wine with Cobras and Scorpions!
    Beautiful temples, bustling and traditional markets with some … interesting souvenirs too; Vietnam is bursting at the seams with culture you’re sure to enjoy.

    There are also beautiful shrines and temples littered throughout the cities that you have got to see. Most you can just walk into off the street and enjoy for free, but some will require a “donation” to enter.

    Don’t bother packing a travel sim card or putting your phone on roaming; everywhere in Vietnam has free fast and stable Wi-Fi. Even the beach and parks have free public Wi-Fi. Download Skype or set up your iTunes account for Facetime before you leave and you’ll be all set.

    My last bit of advice to you is to take flip-flops or closed, waterproof shoes. When it rains in Vietnam, it pours. Usually the showers only last less than an hour before it becomes muggy and hot again, but it’ll drench your shoes and leave them grimy if they’re made of canvas or similar materials.

    There you have it – a traveler’s guide to Vietnam, complete with travel money, shopping and fashion advice. Have you traveled to Vietnam your and have a hot tip of your own? Share it by leaving a comment below.
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