This past November, we spent the month traveling Southeast Asia & it was absolutely amazing. Having never stepped foot on the continent before, we decided to do what most first timers do: hop around from city to city, place to place so that we can fit in as much as possible and see a variety of different places & things.
We started in Vietnam, and while so many friends had told me how incredible it was, it lived up to my expectations & more. We were there for 12 days total and I can say that I immediately fell in love with the people, the culture, and the FOOD—and I was genuinely sad to leave. I’m not exaggerating when I say Vietnamese is officially my new favorite cuisine; I can’t wait to get back to NYC and try the Vietnamese spot on our block that I’ve been ignoring for 2 years. (I’m sure they will charge me $20 for a bowl of bang average pho, but that’s beside the point).
Without further ado, read on for more about our time in Vietnam, including preparation + things to keep in mind if you’re planning a trip for yourself. At the bottom, our itinerary links to separate articles for each location.
I know this is the boring stuff, but if you’re preparing for your own trip to Vietnam, I hope you find this helpful! It’s basically all the stuff I wish was compiled into a blog post for me while we were planning our trip.
The biggest thing to know in preparing for traveling to Vietnam is that you need to get a visa ahead of time. It’s called an e-visa and it’s pretty simple to get online, but you should give yourself at least a week (ideally more) to get it.
After having a bit of an “oooops!” moment myself and having to pay a third party company to expedite my application at the last minute, I highly recommend using a third party to begin with rather than trying to do it yourself with the Vietnamese government. If you give yourself a week, it will only be a small extra fee and a huge weight off of your shoulders. I ended up using vietnamvisapro.com because of the credible Reddit reviews (NOT because of their website design, which looks like a literal scam lol). Skip the janky online form and just WhatsApp them directly for a super easy process!
Hanoi was warm but pretty mild, Ho Chi Minh City was hot hot hot & humid. We were there in November which isn’t rainy season, but look up what season you’re in so that you can plan accordingly because the rain can be crazy. For our entire month-long trip (which also included Cambodia and Thailand, city and beach), the TLDR of what I packed is a whole lot of athleisure (workout shorts & tanks & tees) and a few long flowy dresses, all in my carry-on sized Away suitcase. Full packing list coming soon!
Flying domestically proved to be incredibly easy (and pretty cheap). Just make sure to have the proper amount of baggage purchased before heading to the airport! We ended up checking our carry-on bags every time because most airlines only allow 7kg, and they will weigh them at the check-in desk.
There is also the option to do sleeper vans to travel within cities, which I’ve heard of many travelers doing successfully. It’s a hard no from me but an option nonetheless!
A note on getting to & from the airport: Luckily Vietnam is cheap, so don’t be a cheapo. Take the extra step (and maybe pay a few extra Vietnamese Dong) to arrange taxi pickup from the airport ahead of time. The convenience of having a prepaid car waiting for you to take you to your hotel is so worth it.
Basically everywhere in Vietnam favors cash, other than your hotel or some larger businesses. Even restaurants in the airport were sometimes cash only. ATMs were easy to find in all the big cities, and we’d take out about 2,000,000 VND (about $80 USD) at a time, which would get us pretty far. You’ll almost always get screwed with the conversion rate, but it helps to have a debit card that refunds you your ATM fees so that you don’t have to worry about how often you’re hitting up an ATM in these cash cities (I love Charles Schwab for this).
It’s worth bringing a few hundred dollars of USD to have too, for bigger purchases that favor cash (we got a significant discount on our HaLong Bay cruise by paying cash, but we would’ve been hard pressed to find an ATM that would’ve spit out the equivalent of nearly $10 million Vietnamese Dong for us).
Grab is Southeast Asia’s version of Uber (which also includes a moped option, where you can hop on the back of a strangers moped. Yay!). I recommend downloading & creating your account before you get there.
Don’t drink the water. But don’t be all uptight wondering if the street food is washed in filtered water. It probably isn’t, but we survived. Take some probiotics leading up to the trip & enjoy the food.
Never, literally not once, did I feel unsafe or even uncomfortable while traveling around Vietnam. I was traveling with Ryan, but there were a few things we did separately, and even walking around at night as a woman, I always felt safe. Obviously I practiced all of my usual precautions, but this is among the safest I’ve ever felt while traveling.
I used my AT&T International Passport, which is $10/day to keep the same phone plan at home so that, in theory, I had unlimited data. But the cell phone service was basically useless everywhere in Vietnam. Most places had Wifi and were more than happy to share their password when I needed it.
There, of course, are a ton of different ways to break up your travel to Vietnam. Some do north to south, others south to north. For us, Vietnam was our first stop and flying to Hanoi happened to be one of the cheaper options from the States, so that’s where we started. Here’s how we broke up our time. Click on the links to be directed to my individual posts on each place!