Tips for budgeting:
This year, 2016, Vietnam is more affordable than it was two years ago. Street food is cheap and convenient, with meals costing between US $1-3. Mid-range Vietnamese and backpacker restaurants will charge $4-6 per dish. Budget travellers can realistically get by with as little as US$25 per day for food, drinks, room, transport and sightseeing. A mid-range budget is about US$40-60 per day.
It is common practice for the Vietnamese to charge different rates for foreigners and locals. This was once mandated in the government-run establishments, but has largely been abolished. Despite this, most Vietnamese see foreigners as an opportunity to make extra profit. One should generally assume that a quoted price is at least double the normal rate (though more than 4X is not uncommon), and bargain the price down. Knowing the street price can help, but it doesn’t mean the seller will be willing to agree to it.
What kind of climate to expect:
Given Vietnam’s length–it stretches 1,650 km (1,000 miles) from north to south–its topography and the effect of the monsoon tropical climate, temperatures and rainfall patterns can vary widely from one region to another. The hottest time of the year for the north (Hanoi) and center (Danang) is June/July. Ho Chi Minh’s weather peaks a little earlier–in April. Rainfall also happens to peak in summer months for the north and south.
The south has two seasons, wet and dry. During the rainy months, between May and November, it rains fiercely for about 30 minutes a day (but some days not at all), normally in the afternoon or early evening. The north experiences four seasons. The summer months, from May to September, are almost always hot and humid.
Bring casual, lightweight clothing of natural fabrics, which offer the most comfort in the humidity and heat. Rain gear, including a small folding umbrella, is a good idea, as it is always raining somewhere in Vietnam. Here is a link to REI’s page on how to choose travel clothing: https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/travel-clothing.html
Bring more than one type of shoe if you are travelling through varied terrain and social contexts. Closed-toe shoes with some support/traction is advisable.
Crime and security:
In general, Vietnam is a safe country to travel in and violent crimes against foreigners are rare, though they do happen. Petty theft and robbery, on the other hand, are very common. Always leave valuables in a hotel safe, and when you must carry cash, put it in a money belt worn inside your clothes. When walking, or travelling in a cyclo, keep one hand firmly on handbags and cameras. When travelling on buses or trains, always stay with your bag. If you travel by train, bring a cable lock to secure your bags to your bed frame when you are sleeping.
Be careful of pavement vendors, especially in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. They can easily distract you while a friend slips a hand into your pocket, grab your wallet and disappear. Mobile phones are easy prey, and it’s not uncommon to have things snatched by passing motorcyclists.
The Vietnamese are extremely friendly and generous, but caution must be taken when making casual acquaintances. Vietnam has its fair share of con artists who hustle everything from Cambodian gems to “genuine” bones of missing American servicemen. Beware of people who suddenly approach you in tourist areas (especially in HCMC) and engage you in conversation and try to persuade you to go somewhere with them.
Women travellers should take extra precautions when travelling alone, as some Vietnamese men can be very aggressive. Also, Vietnam can be a very difficult country for an Asian woman, or a woman of Asian descent, travelling with a white male companion. Some Vietnamese men mistakenly assume such women to be Vietnamese and prostitutes, and can often be verbally abusive.
In an archaic throwback to old-style communism, movements of “suspicious” foreigners may be monitored by the local police. In reality, most tourists never come into direct contact with police. However, visitors who spend more than a few days off the beaten path, or who are suspected of engaging in criminal or politically sensitive activities will be closely watched. Likewise, any mail sent or received in Vietnam may be searched for political or religious materials. Don’t put your new Vietnamese friends in jeopardy–leave your political views at home.
Censorship is a way of life in Vietnam. By law, all tourists are required to be registered with the local police station. When checking in at hotels, the staff will take your passport to the local police for registration. They will normally return it to you the next morning.
Please review the CDC website to prepare for your travel in Vietnam:
Vietnam’s unit of currency, the dong, currently circulates in bank notes of 500,000, 200,000, 100,000, 50,000, 20,000, 10,000, 5,000, 2,000, 1,000, and now, infrequently, 500, 200, and 100.
All transactions are supposed to be conducted in Vietnamese dong; in practice a dual currency system exists. That is, most purchases can be made in US dollars as well as the dong.
Exchanging money on the street is never a good idea. In addition to banks, establishments that cater to foreigners, like hotels, travel agencies, and restaurants will also exchange dollars at bank rates. Traveller’s checks in US dollars are accepted in most banks and in major hotels, but not in shops and not in smaller hotels. Major credit cards are accepted at upscale hotels, restaurants, shops and many tour offices. Note: fairly high commission rates (usually 3%) are tacked onto your bill when using credit cards.
Arguing in a loud and aggressive manner will get you nowhere in Vietnam. Complaining about bad service in an internal standard hotel is one thing, but such actions will fall on deaf ears at a humble guest house. The very notion of service is alien to the majority of the Vietnamese, and vociferous complaining won’t persuade them otherwise. On the other hand, a smile can go a long way, open doors and win favors. The Vietnamese prefer a cooperative rather than confrontational approach.
As with many other parts of Asia, Confucian attitudes remain strong, and seniority demands respect whatever the circumstances. The eldest male member of any group is invariably “in charge.”
At temples: Anyone visiting the inner sanctum of a Buddhist temple will be required to remove their shoes and hat. Temples administered by the government as “cultural relics” generally require men to wear shirt and trousers, and women to wear a modest top with skirt or trousers. Contrary to what is often written, such dress is not required to visit most pagodas. Be respectful when inside and always point your feet away from any Buddha image.