Ten things you need to know before you go to Vietnam

Marybeth Bond, Gutsy Traveler

I just returned from Vietnam, an outrageously exciting country to travel to. A little preparation before you go can take the headache out of simple things like crossing the street or avoiding dog or cat meat.

Learn how to pronouce 'pho' before you order.

Figure out the crazy ‘dong’ currency before you spend $5.00 for a donut.

Learn how to pronounce the national dish: 'pho' before you order it.

Learn how to pronounce the national dish: ‘pho’ before you order it.

1. Learn how to cross the street

(–and stay alive), slowly wade out into the moving traffic of cars, motorbikes, rickshaws and food carts. Keep moving at a steady pace. Do not hesitate, stop, text, or read a map while crossing. Trust me, they will careen around you.

  1. Vietnam 205

    When you see the words Thit Meo and a cat’s photo, you know cat meat in on the menu.

    Thit meo means cat meat on the menu.

    They know how to get around in traffic safely.

    2. To avoid eating dog or cat meat

    , learn the Vietnamese words: thịt chó,dog meat and thịt mèo, cat meat. Despite laws passed in 1997 banning the consumption of cat meat, more and more pet cats are snatched off Vietnamese streets and are smuggled in from China and Laos. The delicacy appears on the menu as “little tiger.” Beware of restauranteurs who boast about an exotic surprise.

    3. Figure out the crazy currency

    before you go or as soon as you arrive, so you won’t tip $ .05 or $ 50.00 by mistake. All the extra zeros can be very confusing. Memorize the currency by color. A blue bill is approximately $5.00, etc. A currency converter is helpful too.

    4. Pronounce Vietnam’s national dish ‘pho’

    correctly. Pho, pronounced like “go” means “street” in Vietnamese. The soup is pronounced “fuuh” like the first syllable in “phenomenal.” A  handy app for languages will also help with pronunciation.

5. Pack for the right season.    In the summer, Vietnam is hot and humid, so you can leave your jeans at home. In the winter months North Vietnam can be extremely cold so be sure to pack a warm jacket. Check the weather reports before you go and bring a cheap umbrella to protect you from common rain storms. Use a packing check list to make it easier.

 

6. Ask for the price of a private car, driver, and guide. If there are three people in your group it is often the same price or less expensive to hire a private car and guide than to pay for a pre-arranged tour. On a private tour you call the shots: when to leave your hotel, if you want to eat at a huge tourist buffet for lunch or visit four temples, or when you’ve had enough and want to return to an air-conditioned hotel room.

7. Beware of taxi scams. There are numerous rogue taxis at the airport. Book a transfer through your hotel from the airport to your accommodation. You do not have to pay for tolls. Drivers in Vietnam routinely disobey traffic laws. Insist your driver does not talk on his cell phone while driving. Brush up on Safety Tips before you go.

8. Your passport must be valid for six months after your arrival in Vietnam. The passenger in the seat next to me on the flight into Hanoi had been denied entry a month earlier because his passport had only five and a half months of validity. Vietnamese officials take this requirement very seriously and it could be a costly and time-consuming oversight.

9. Visas can be obtained two ways. You can send your passport to the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington, DC, which can take up to a month. You can also get a visa upon arrive, which require an “approval letter” from the Vietnamese immigration service. Such letters are frequently offered as part of a tour package, for example, a cruise to Halong Bay, or you can purchase one online through a registered agent for a nominal cost ($50).

10. Unlock your phone before you go and buy a SIM card when you arrive. When you run out of minutes, you can easily “pay as you go” for more minutes from any road side stop. If you use your smart phone abroad, it can cost a lot, so be careful. You can check to see if your phone plan offers global messaging or if there are phone apps that offer international texting for reasonable fees. Use SKYPE when you have free Wi-Fi to make free phone calls.

We shopped around for hotels, guides and airfares during the planning process and saved tons of money. Think outside the box for airlines, consolidators and hotels, such as CheapFlights UK, We used the TripAdvisor suggestions for a hotel in the old quarter and were disappointed. The second day we found the Zephyr Hotel, with a small Lake View from our windows, a large room, fabulous breakfast and very reasonable.

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Category: Adventure, Best Travel Apps, Cultural Exploration, Safety Tips, Travel, Travel Magazine

About the Author ()

Marybeth Bond, National Geographic author, writer. Twelve books, explored overed 100 countries on 7 continents. Featured guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show and founder of www.GutsyTraveler.com She has been featured over 1,000 times on TV, radio and print. She is a Contributor to National Geographic, Yahoo Travel, Travelgirl Magazine, CNN, CNN Airport Network. Speaker, spokesperson, author, travel expert, Marybeth, the Gutsy Traveler walks the talk. She's an adventurer; biked 3,200 miles, two months across the USA, traveler to over 100 countries. Media travel expert for CBS News, CNN, ABC, NBC, NPR and National Geographic.

Comments (2)

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  1. They have special spring rolls with goat meat and lemon grass covered in a very perfectly
    pressed rice sheet. When investing in this train trip, make sure you
    book a sleeper car; otherwise, your holiday won’t be any convenient than standing on a bus.
    Picture seeing all of the wonders with this country without a guide and
    other people following closely behind you, it
    gives you the opportunity sometimes be intimate with all
    the history, culture, and natural stunning landscapes that you just pass on your way.

    • Thanks for the train trip tips. Hiring a guide or taking tours is not very expensive in Vietnam and I highly recommend doing it so you get to know the guides and local insider places.

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