Vietnam Pre-trip: First timer’s guide to Vietnam

Sang Nhun “horseshoe” Hill

Planning a trip to Vietnam? Here is a beginner’s guide to Vietnam. General facts & information about Vietnam street food, handy travel tips, currency…

The following information will prepare you for getting the most enjoyment out of your Vietnam holiday. We wish you an exciting and memorable visit with us and hope that you will one day come again.

Trip planning


Advise your bank you are traveling overseas. Organize 2 methods of accessing money, i.e. an ATM card plus a credit card and keep your cards in separate places.


If you wish to bring cash the best currency is US$. Traveler’s cheques are problematic and not recommended. The ATMs in Vietnam, Thailand & Laos will dispense local currencies. In Cambodia they dispense US$. Access to ATMs in Laos is limited.


If you are going to bring expensive electronic equipment, ensure you have these included in your insurance policy.

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Contact your mobile phone carrier to change your service to ‘roaming’. If you wish to use a Vietnamese SIM card you will need to bring a mobile phone that is ‘unlocked’ i.e. not tied to your local carrier.

Phone calls with a Vietnamese SIM card are vastly cheaper than using an overseas SIM. You can order a SIM from us & we will have it ready for your arrival. Do not forget to pre-book this.

Family Photos

Bring a small collection of family photos, as this is a fantastic way of interacting with the locals. They will love to meet your family.


Bring a copy of your passport and details of your bank account and the bank’s hotline phone number. Also, bring details of your insurance company and the hotline number.

What to Bring

Do not pack the documents, including your passport photo, for your Visa On Arrival in your checked-in luggage. It is not necessary to bring a rain jacket, as a western jacket is not effective in Asian rain.

An inexpensive poncho that protects your entire outfit is available here.

Suggested packing list


  • Passport, Itinerary & tickets.
  • Copy of your passport.
  • 2 methods of accessing your money, e.g. ATM & credit card.
  • Bank account details & phone number Insurance company phone & policy number

General Clothing

  • Long Pants /Trousers
  • Shorts / Skirt / Dress T-shirts / Polo shirts.
  • Underwear, socks & thermals for winter.
  • Swimmers
  • Comfortable walking shoes, Scarf, hat & accessories.


  • Shampoo and Conditioner Shaving supplies.
  • Female sanitary supplies.
  • Deodorant.
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste moisturizer.
  • Sunscreen
  • Make-up/perfume/aftershave

Personal Medical Kit

  • Band-Aids paracetamol.
  • Imodium – or other “blockers”.
  • Antihistamines Personal medications.
  • No water/gel hand sanitizer Lip balm.
  • Insect repellent.


  • Camera with charger/battery.
  • Camera memory card.
  • Mp3 player or iPod and charger.
  • Neck Pillow or eye mask for traveling sunglasses.
  • Earplugs umbrella

Day Pack

  • Camera
  • Tissues, sunglasses & hats.
  • Sunscreen
  • Wallet
  • Hotel address details or area map.
  • Water

Handy Travel Tips


Walking around Vietnam is an exciting new adventure, however, you will feel intimidated by the chaos at the initially. It is important that you cross the road slowly and NEVER RUN. The traffic will weave around you if it knows where you are going, so be predictable.

Watch how the locals do it and at first cross with them and you will get the hang of it if you just relax. Before venturing out, be sure to take a hotel business card. It will be a godsend when you are tired and lost.

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Respectful dress

Before entering temples and homes, generally, it is polite to remove your shoes. Look to see if there are shoes at the door – if so follow suit. Therefore slip-on shoes are the most convenient footwear.

Wear long skirt/pants or trousers when visiting the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum in Hanoi and other historical or religious sites as access will be denied for men or women with bare knees and shoulders.


Tipping is not compulsory, but always appreciated and most people do so if the service is good. This is merely a suggestion and depending upon the performance of your leader or guide you may wish to give more or less.

Private full-day tour from $5-8/tour for guide and $2-4/driver. Private half-day tour from $2-5/tour for guide and $2 for the driver. $1 for cyclo driver, porter, bus driver, boat driver, etc. Tipping at restaurants at your discretion.


When to bargain – Where a shop displays a set price then bargaining is not appropriate. Items such as water and snacks will have a set price but you can bargain when buying fruit.

Remember a smile and a laugh will go a long way. Have fun and enjoy the selling process. Just remember though that what you are haggling over may only be worth $1 at home, not much to you but quite a lot for a Vietnamese family.


When taking photographs of people do it with discretion and manners, ask permission and if they say no – don’t take the photo. If they ask for payment then definitely do not take a photo.

Happy house

A handy stash of toilet paper can be valuable as it is not always available when you need it! Some sewage systems here are not powerful enough to handle toilet paper: in this case, use the rubbish bin provided. You will know when you need to do this


Locals will frequently ask you the following questions: “How old are you? Are you married? Do you have any children?

Vietnamese have a complex hierarchy of addressing each other and they will call you ‘sister’, ‘uncle’, ‘grandmother’, etc. So it is important that they know these details that may seem to us to be quite personal.

Body Language

In Asia, it is shocking for couples to show excessive affection in public. However, it is normal for members of the same gender to walk arm in arm or hold hands.

Never raise your voice or show anger, it is best to keep smiling and remain calm, but firm.

Saving face in Asia is very important and the language barrier can be quite difficult at times. Asians do not like to admit they cannot understand you or don’t know. They may say yes when they should be saying no or perhaps simply walk away from you.


Water – Always drink bottled water, and lots of it to avoid dehydration. If you feel a headache coming on it is usually because of lack of water.

Traveler’s Diarrhoea – Very common and can be attributed to the change in climate, food, routine and water. If affected, drink plenty of bottled water and rehydration fluids and salts. Rest as much as possible and stick to plain steamed rice.

Cuts and abrasions – ensure you keep these clean as seemingly minor cuts can easily become infected in the humidity.

First Aid – bring a small kit with basic necessities to treat stomach upsets, dehydration, cuts, headaches and travel sickness.


Vietnam is deceivingly large. It looks tiny on a map, however, it is easy to underestimate the time it takes to travel from A to B. As a general rule, it takes one hour to travel 50 km.

Get a SIM Card

WIFI is prolific in Vietnam and free, however, it is also nice to have 4G so you can always be connected. The cost is unbelievably cheap and you can buy 20GB of data for less than USD 20. This will definitely last you for the length of your holiday.

Don’t worry – Be Careful

Vietnam is a very safe country to visit with virtually no threat of violence. However, there are thieves and conmen and these people will steal when given the opportunity. So let’s eliminate the opportunity.


Camera – always place the strap of your camera around your wrist. Snatchers can whiz by on a motorbike and relieve you of your camera/phone in the blink of an eye.

Handbag – wear a bag with a sturdy strap that loops across your body for carrying your valuables or use a money belt. Pickpockets operate in crowded areas.

Backpack – never place valuables in a backpack on your back that can be unzipped from behind, or keep it in front of you.

Hotels & Homestay – take advantage of the safes. If they do not have one in the room then use the reception safe. Avoid leaving valuables such as jewelry, iPods and mobile phones lying around. If you have a lock on your suitcase or backpack, use it.

Street vendors

If a vendor puts their baskets across your shoulder for the purpose of a photo you will be obliged to buy some extremely overpriced fruit. Best to avoid the situation by simply saying no thank you.

Avoid buying anything from the street vendors in the Old Quarter. They inflate their prices for tourists and in some instances, distract you whilst they steal from you.

Rip off

You will avoid being ripped off by quickly learning the value of the Vietnamese Dong (VND) and what it will buy. So here is a speedy lesson for each note using an easy but not exact conversion rate against the US$. You simply take off 4 zeros and halve the number.

500,000 25
200,000 10
100,000 5
50,000 2.5
20,000 1
10,000 .50
5,000 .25
2,000 .10
1,000 .05

Buying Guide

  • A small bottle of water – USD .65c
  • Local fresh beer (bia hoi) – USD .40c
  • Can of coke – USD 1.30
  • Bottle Tiger beer – USD 2.20 Local street food lunch – USD 2
  • Local Vietnamese restaurant lunch – USD 7 Western restaurant lunch – USD 10 – 15.


Exploring 36 Old Streets of Hanoi

The traffic can be a little hectic so when crossing the street, move at a slow and steady pace. Resist the urge to weave and run! Walk slowly and let the traffic flow around you.

Vietnamese Food

Eating from small roadside stalls with teeny-weeny plastic stools and at tiny local restaurants will give you the best “local” experience. These places sell only one dish and they do it extremely well. Here are just a few of our favorites.


pho (Vietnamese Food - Beginer guide to Vietnam)

Pronounced fur. The most famous food of Vietnam – fresh soup with an array of flavors bound to satisfy.

Vietnamese spring roll

Vietnamese spring roll (Vietnamese Food - Beginer guide to Vietnam)

The famous Vietnamese “spring rolls”: shrimp or pork (sometimes both) with herbs, rolled up in rice paper and served cold with a spicy peanut dipping sauce.

Bun cha

Bun Cha (Vietnamese Food - Beginer guide to Vietnam)

A lunch-time only Hanoi specialty, this is simply marinated grilled pork served on a bed of cold rice noodles with fresh herbs. The liquid it is served in has a delicate flavor & comes with pickled green papaya

Xoi xeo

xoi xeo (Vietnamese Food - Beginer guide to Vietnam)

Sticky rice. Chances are you will encounter this dish in almost every outdoors market. Xoi xeo is sticky rice topped with ground de-hulled mung bean and fried onion. Sometimes it can be served with eggs or steamed chicken breast on request.

Banh mi

banh mi (Vietnamese Food - Beginer guide to Vietnam)

Bánh mì or banh mi is the Vietnamese word for bread. In Vietnamese cuisine, it also refers to a type of baguette which is often split lengthwise and filled with various savory ingredients as a sandwich and served as a meal. Plain banh mi is also eaten as a staple food.

Vietnamese crepe

Banh Xeo (Vietnamese Food - Beginer guide to Vietnam)

Named for the loud sizzling noise it makes when the rice batter is poured into the hot skillet. This is a delicious Vietnamese savory pancake popular in the Central and Southern regions.

Rice Noodle and Beef Soup of Hue

Rice Noodle and Beef Soup of Hue (Vietnamese Food - Beginer guide to Vietnam)

Vietnamese soup, rice vermicelli with a predominant flavor of lemongrass. Beef & pork and sometimes cubes of congealed pig blood. It is commonly served with mung bean sprouts, coriander, raw onions, and thinly sliced banana blossom or purple cabbage.

Cao Lau

Cao Lau (Vietnamese Food - Beginer guide to Vietnam)

Only available in Hoi An, this dish is made with fat sticky rice noodles, pork, and greens. A wonderful mixture of flavors and textures.

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