5 Things to Know Before Kicking Off Your Vietnam Vacation
Whether you’ve purchased your plane ticket already, or you’re still trying to decide whether you want to make the leap, Vietnam is calling your name. Here are five things you can do right now to begin preparing for your trip!
Get Your Paperwork Sorted Out
We’ll begin with the inglorious, nitty gritty details of traveling to a communist state. Your travel paperwork must be in order. Your passport must not only be current, but also valid six months beyond your planned stay.
After your passport is squared away, getting your visa application started should be your next matter of business. It’s a bit of a process, and you can get turned away at the airport if your visa information is incorrect or if you forget to print specified travel documents.
For international travelers arriving by airplane, applying for a visa online is a much simpler process than finding an embassy and applying in person. If you are crossing country borders by land however, be sure to check visa restrictions for red tape.
Backpackers should be especially aware of the technicalities. If you plan to backpack into Laos from Vietnam, for example, you have to be sure to obtain an adhesive visa (which gets stuck to your passport) rather than a detachable one. Vietnamese officials remove detachable visas when a traveler leaves Vietnam, leaving them without paperwork documenting their departure. To get into Laos from Vietnam, as it turns out, Lao officials require proof of departure, and if you don’t have it, you’ll be turned away. Getting these tricky little things figured out before you get into the country will save you huge headaches during your trip.
Plan Your Adventures
An unexpected perk of online visa applications are the travel resources offered by those who are invested in local tourism. The Vietnamese people are proud of their homeland and in sharing the best that it has to offer, both in terms of cultural experience and breathtaking natural wonders. Relying upon local savvy is likely to create more grand adventures than simply going off the big-name tourist books.
If you start researching for your trip early, you should be able to avoid pre-packaged day tours for the most part. Day tours can be as little as $5 a day, and can be a good option for some travelers, but planning a whole trip around them would be a mistake. Tours are tempting for the ease of it all — hop on a bus, get driven to a nice attraction, get driven home — but when an experience is so pre-determined, some of the adventure is most certainly lost.
Brush Up on Vietnamese History
Being knowledgeable about a region’s history and political climate is a must for any country you visit. Given Southeast Asia’s bloody history with the west over the past fifty years, it is an especially important task for anyone traveling to Vietnam.
Westerners traveling to Vietnam will be confronted head-on with the realities of the 20-year US-Vietnam war. While the country is growing and thriving, in many ways it is still healing from the ravages of war. Bomb craters are a regular part of the landscape in Vietnam; some have even become well-known fishing holes. Sadly, the remnants of war go beyond just scars left in the earth. To this day, explosives from the war impact the people of Vietnam and efforts to unearth deadly unexploded landmines are still underway.
In 2016, US President Obama visited Vietnam to attend the funeral of Ngo Thien Khiet, an unexploded ordnance (U.X.O) expert who saved the lives of thousands of his countrymen by locating and detonating landmines left over from the war. In a story chronicling the President’s visit, George Black of The New Yorker notes, “Since the end of the war, in 1975, more than forty thousand Vietnamese have been killed by U.X.O.”
When traveling to Vietnam, cultural awareness is key, keeping in mind that the US-Vietnam War is only the most recent chapter in the country’s history. People have been living in Vietnam for around 500,000 years. A visitor can never fully understand the intricacies of a culture, or why things are the way they are, but they can certainly arm themselves with knowledge and approach every interaction with an open mind.
Consider Price vs. Peace of Mind for Accommodations
In many places around the world and in Southeast Asia, booking hotels in advance will get you the best price. That doesn’t seem to be the case in Vietnam however. There, the price almost always seems to be cheaper when you walk into a hotel in person and ask for a room.
The only problem with that is, of course, you have to be comfortable with the idea of not knowing where you’re going to sleep any given night. If you’re down for that adventure, go for it, it’s likely to save you some cash.
If you want some adventure, but more predictability, then Airbnb is becoming an increasingly popular option for tourists traveling to Vietnam.
Forbes contributor, Brett Davis, surmises that the home-sharing platform is so successful in Vietnam because it’s suited to the entrepreneurial spirit that Vietnamese society values. The founders of Airbnb were quite clever to recognize the value in empowering people to rent out their own spaces, but it’s unlikely even they could have predicted how well the tenants that make Airbnb a success would translate into Vietnamese culture.
Reset Your Money Mind
Many travelers have a rough time adjusting to the way financial interactions are handled in Vietnam. Cultural expectations around money are deeply ingrained in us, so if you’re planning to travel to Southeast Asia, now is a good time to begin considering yours. There are plenty of ways to save money while traveling; take time to think about when and how you want to spend your money.
It’s normal in Vietnam for locals to overcharge or inflate prices if they think you are will to pay more for it. It’s just how the market works. The street market is highly capitalistic, even though the government is communist. Vendors do lie to try to make a sale, and if you’re not clear on the price, they’re likely to try to squeeze more money from you. Don’t take it personally. Decide early-on whether you’d like to play the game or pay the extra money. Around 22,000 Vietnamese Dong = 1 US Dollar.
Feeling inspired for your trip? Share your planning ideas in the comments!