Sangeeta Kocharekar

Emerald green rice fields, bright blue skies, and colourful towns are what immediately sprang to mind when I thought about Vietnam. I’d seen countless photos and heard so many stories about the Southeast Asian country that before visiting it on a two-week trip in February, I felt as if I already had.

Fast-forward to my holiday and I found myself covered in mud and shivering in my imitation Northface jacket, a purchase I’d picked up at a street stall. Frost-dusted rice fields surrounded me.

sapa vietnam

I was in Sapa, a mountainous town in the northwest of Vietnam, which as it turns out gets bitterly cold… and very muddy. The holiday scene was far from what I’d pictured.

It was one of the many situations in Vietnam that had me wishing I’d done more research beforehand and knew what to expect. To avoid anyone else making the same mistakes or wishing they too had known a few very obvious things before heading over, I thought I’d share some words of advice.

Check the weather

First off, as I mentioned, Vietnam gets cold. Again, I could’ve easily known that had I checked the weather, but I hadn’t. From December until the start of March, the average temperature in Hanoi is around 17 degrees. Occasionally, it can even drop below 10 degrees.

In Sapa, temperatures can plummet to a very chilly one degree at night. If you’re headed to Hanoi or anywhere further north of there, check the weather beforehand and pack accordingly.

sapa vietnam group

You’ll need to get a Visa

Regardless of your length of stay, you may be required to have a Visa before entering Vietnam. There are a few ways to go about getting one, but the simplest is to apply for a single entry, 30-day electronic visa online if you're eligible. Once it’s granted, it will need to be printed so you can present it when you land.

The other option is to apply for a Visa on arrival, which as the name suggests, is a visa you pick up at the airport in Vietnam. There are several sites that offer the service, but do your homework to ensure it’s a legitimate one.

Book activities and tours when you arrive

kayaking in vietnam

If you have a Type A personality or are a nervous traveller, chances are ‘winging it’ with no pre-booked activities and tours before you arrive somewhere will give you some anxiety. But in Vietnam, and in many other countries too, it’s the best way to go about travelling.

vietnam mountain

Instead, booking things when you’re already there allows you to get immediate feedback from other travellers on what’s worth seeing and what isn’t, and ensures you’re getting the most competitive rate. In Vietnam’s major cities in particular – Hanoi, Hoi An, and Ho Chi Minh – there are travel agents on almost every corner. Stop by a few to get an idea of prices and itineraries, and then take your pick.

Most costs are negotiable

Some establishments like restaurants, bars, and hotels have fixed costs, but at almost every other place in Vietnam, prices are negotiable. When a price is said, it’s almost always inflated as customers are actually expected to haggle and bring it down.

scooter vietnam

For those who get awkward around money, bargaining is something you’ll have to get used to. To make it easier to do however there are a couple things to keep in mind. First off, always remember that it’s just a game. The minute you find yourself getting upset with a vendor, walk away. The pennies you’re likely fighting over are not worth ruining any part of your holiday.

The other thing to keep in mind is that the vendor could likely use said pennies. If you’ve brought him or her down to a reasonable price, leave it at that and know that the money could go a long way towards helping a family.

Don’t bother with hostels – hotels are cheap 

If you’re a solo traveller and are keen to meet new people, book a hostel or shared space homestay. If you’re any other type of traveller however consider booking a hotel. Unlike in many other parts of the world, a clean hotel room will usually not cost much more than a hostel bed. So, unless you’re after the social aspect of hostels, sharing a room with strangers won’t save you much in Vietnam.

hotel in vietnam

Be prepared for the sleeper trains and buses

One of the most common ways to get around Vietnam is by sleeper trains and buses. Both are as adventurous as they sound. Similar to bargaining however there are a few things to know about them beforehand so the process becomes much easier.

Firstly, know you may not get much sleep. You’ll be sharing a common space – most train cabins accommodate six – and it can get noisy. Mostly everyone will be ready to sleep at night, but sometimes you can get stuck with two people or a group that won’t stop talking.  

Secondly, come prepared. Bring an eye mark, earplugs, extra layers, entertainment, and snacks.

And finally, be open-minded. It may not be the most comfortable journey you’ve ever made, but it’ll definitely be there among one of the most interesting.

vietnam train tracks

In fact, that frame of mind should be adopted towards travelling in Vietnam in general. Though parts of the country are becoming developed with high-rise hotels and sprawling shopping centres, many other areas remain untouched with the traditional culture still perfectly preserved.

It’s for this reason that researching the specific village, town or city you’re heading to beforehand is recommended. Reading this article should be a good start.

 

Sangeeta Kocharekar is a freelance travel and life (vague, she knows) writer. When she’s not hunched over her laptop, she spends her days browsing plant stores and taking photos of beaches and brunches for Instagram. You can view said photos here.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the Policy Documents available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.

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