Advance Planning

Three months before Book hotels, trains and flights if travelling in peak holiday season; contact tour operators about excursions to popular destinations such as Halong Bay.

One month before Organise visas, if needed, and visit a health clinic to check which medications and vaccinations are recommended.

One week before Make restaurant reservations and book daytrip excursions; check weather forecasts.

Resources

  • The Word (www.wordhcmc.com) This superb magazine has comprehensive coverage and excellent features.
  • Vietnam Coracle (http://vietnamcoracle.com) Excellent independent travel advice, including lots of backroads content.
  • Vietnam Online (www.vietnamonline.com) Good all-rounder.
  • Coast Vietnam (www.coastvietnam.com) Classy website concentrating on Vietnam's central coast.
  • Rusty Compass (www.rustycompass.com) Useful online travel guide with itineraries and videos.
  • Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com/vietnam) Destination information, hotel bookings, traveller forum and more.

Top Tips

  • Expect crazy driving: traffic can come at you every which way, and in the cities swarms of motorbikes reach biblical proportions. When crossing busy urban roads maintain a slow, deliberate walking pace.
  • Try not to lose your temper; shouting and aggression cause a loss of face for both parties.
  • Vietnam has more than its fair share of scams; most concern overcharging. Though very rare, more serious dangers (such as unexploded ordnance) can be a real concern.
  • In towns such as Hue and Sapa, and on beaches popular with tourists, expect plenty of hustle from street vendors, cyclo (pedicab or bicycle rickshaw) drivers and the like. Off the beaten track there's little or no hassle.
  • Prepare your bargaining head before you arrive.
  • Very few locals speak English away from tourist centres; try to learn a few words of Vietnamese.

What to Take

  • Good footwear – Vietnam's streets are bumpy and lumpy
  • Photocopies of passport and visa details
  • Good mosquito repellent with DEET
  • Rain jacket
  • Electrical adaptors
  • Extra phone-charging cables
  • Torch (flashlight)
  • Flip-flops or sandals
  • Binoculars
  • Fleece or jumper if travelling to the north

What to Wear

There are no serious cultural concerns about wearing inappropriate clothing in Vietnam. In religious buildings and government offices (or if attending a formal dinner), legs should be covered and sleeveless tops avoided.

Yes, Vietnam is in the tropics, but visit anywhere north of Hoi An between November and March and it can be cool, so pack some layers (a fleece or two). The rest of the year, and in the south, flip-flops or sandals, a T-shirt and shorts are likely to be your daily uniform.

Pre-departure Checklist

  • Check out the visa situation; you may need to apply in advance
  • Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months past your arrival date
  • Check your immunisation history
  • Arrange appropriate travel insurance
  • Pre-book internal flights and trains
  • Inform your debit-/credit-card company