Language – Vietnamese. Note: there are regional differences in the language. For example, the word áo dài (the Vietnamese national dress) is pronounced “ow-yai” in the south and “ow-zai” in the north.
Currency – The unit of currency is the ₫ Vietnamese Dong (VND). There are no coins, only paper bills in denominations of 100, 200, 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, 100,000, 200,000 and 500,000 VND. Some tour operators take payments in USD. You can exchange USD to VND at the daily exchange rate at jewelry shops and money exchange kiosks.
Transportation – Taxis are the preferred method of transportation in Vietnam, although scams are rampant. To avoid any scams, like rigged meters, stick with reputable vendors like Main Linh or Vinasun (in Ho Chi Minh City) or Hanoi Taxi Group and ABC (in Hanoi). Make sure your meter starts fresh and if your driver attempts to negotiate a flat rate, leave the cab and hop in another one. If you have mobile data and a working phone number, you can order a Grab taxi. Grab is the only ride-sharing app available in the country and the cheapest way to get around. You can even opt for a Grab bike (ie. a motorbike) to beat traffic. Grab accepts both cash and credit. Note: Grab drivers have limited English skills and tend to get lost so having a map of your route on your phone, as well as Google Translate in Vietnamese can assist with language barriers.
Climate – There is a wide regional variance in weather, making packing a bit of a headache if you’re trying to travel light. Southern Vietnam is always hot and partially wet. May to November marks the rainy season. The dry season is December to April. This is the best time for sightseeing, but March and April are unbearably hot and being outside can be inhospitable. In central Vietnam, the rainy season lasts from September to January. June to August is when you’ll see the best beach weather. Hanoi experiences all four seasons, although snow is a rare occurrence in the city. But you can find snow in Sapa. The best time to visit Saigon is December and January, while April is your best chance for clear skies in Hanoi and Halong Bay.
Food – Vietnam has become a leading culinary destination thanks to an abundant use of fresh herbs and aromatics. In Vietnam, all dishes are served with a mountain of herbs, known collectively as “rau thom,” meaning fragrant leaves. This basket usually includes mint, cilantro, and basil. Noodle dishes are typically eaten for breakfast, and street food
Safety – Vietnam’s primary safety issue is petty theft. The country is rife with pickpockets and foreigners fall victim of theft on a daily basis. Exercise extreme vigilance with your personal belongings, especially with things like purses, bags, and smartphones. For example, do not pull out your cellphone on a busy road.
Health – For those with sensitive stomachs, stay away from ice and street food. Poor air quality due to unregulated motorbike emissions can irritate those with respiratory conditions. Invest in filtered masks if you plan to stay in major urban areas for a long time. Use bug spray when traveling to the countryside, especially if you are visiting the areas of Hoi An and the Mekong Delta. Heatstroke and sun poisoning is a common ailment for those traveling during the dry season, so wear sunblock, drink plenty of water, and stay indoors as much as possible. If you find yourself suffering from heatstroke, purchase rehydration salts at a local pharmacy.
WIFI/SIM Card – Wifi is readily available across Vietnam, making it an ideal location for digital nomads and location independent workers. Click here for a map of all the free hotspots around the country. A head’s up — Halong Bay is a dead zone for cell service. If you have an unlocked phone, you can purchase a month’s worth of data for 200,000-250,000 VND (less than $11 USD). The top mobile carriers are Mobiphone and Viettel or Mobiphone. The only place to pick up a Simcard is at the airport. Vietnam is also on the KeepGo mobile hotspot list.
What To Bring Home – Laquerware, Marou chocolate bars, coffee and drip-coffee (phin) filters, fruit teas, tailormade clothes, tribal textiles, conical hats (nón lá), propaganda posters