Travel tips for Vietnam
Visas for Vietnam
Any citizens from the following countries do not need a visa for Vietnam.
- Denmark, Finland, Japan, Norway, South Korea, Sweden, Russia, Philippines, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand
All other nationalities require a visa in advance to visit Vietnam. Contact your local Vietnam embassy to enquire about prices and dates. Here’s a guideline for any UK gappers – prices confirmed as of January 2013.
- If you’re gaining your visa from the Vietnamese embassy in London a 30-day single entry visa will cost you £54 (£69 for 2 day service, £75 for next day), while a 30-day multiple entry visa costs £85 (£105 for 2 day service, £115 for next day). You must also pay up to £8 postage per passport (depending on how many are being processed) if you need it posted back to you.
- You can get a visa on arrival, but you’ll need to get a preapproved letter of approval before you arrive. Please beware of bogus companies offering this service. To save time, money and stress I’d get it all sorted before.
Weather in Vietnam
Vietnam covers such a length that the weather there varies greatly. April is generally the hottest month and midday temperatures can reach up to 33C in the cities. In the Highlands you’re looking at temperatures of 40C over the summer. If it’s Vietnam in the cold weather you’re after check out Hanoi in January time when the thermometer dips at 15C. The conditions are a lot milder in the south compared to the temperate north.
Money in Vietnam
The national currency of Vietnam is the dong (đồng, VND). You may find this hard to find or exchange outside Vietnam so change on arrival and try to get rid of any leftovers before leaving the country. The exciting news is that inflation and devaluation means you’ll be a millionaire as soon as you arrive with £1 = 32,250 dong (ish).
You’ll find prices are usually advertised in US dollars – although you will need to pay in dong. As usual, you’ll have to pay a 3% surcharge if paying on your credit card in Vietnam, and for cash advances on debit cards. You’ll find ATMs in all the big cities and withdrawals are limited to 2,000,000 dong per transaction, and will incur a 20,000 dong service fee.
Be warned that it’s very easy to change into dong, but trying to exchange out again can be more difficult. Budget carefully and just spend it all to save yourself the hassle.
Bargaining in Vietnam
Just remember that anything in Vietnam can magically change price before your eyes. Whatever number you agree on could be totally different by the time it comes to pay. Get around this by firmly repeating the agreed price at the start and keep small change on you so they can’t refuse to change big notes.
Don’t let any money issues spoil your travelling though. Vietnam is a really cheap country and you’re on your gap year, don’t let a tuk tuk driver just trying to earn a little extra for their family ruin your trip. Just give it him and learn for next time. If you’re in the queue to pay for something, get behind a local and listen to how much they pay. Obviously you’ll need to learn a little Vietnamese to get by on this trick though.
Tipping is not really expected in Vietnam, and the price you’re paying will be more than the locals anyway. So just use that as your tip if you need to rest your conscience.
Languages in Vietnam
The official language of Vietnam is Vietnamese. Anyone attempting to master the art will find it’s a tonal language that uses a change in pitch to inflect different meanings, but the grammar required is relatively simple. At least try and learn a few phrases if you’re travelling to Vietnam on your gap year – it’ll definitely enrich your experience. There are 4 main dialects:
- Northern: spoken around Hanoi
- North-central: spoken around Vinh
- Central: spoken around Hue
- Southern: spoken around Ho Chi Minh City
Most Vietnamese kids learn English in school and most people will have enough to communicate. Road and direction signs are generally in both Vietnamese and English.