If you are thinking about heading overseas, you would hard pressed to find a better destination than Vietnam. This Far East country not only boasts friendly people and great cuisine, it’s also has hundreds of miles of shoreline and mountains, and one of the most intriguing cultures in the world.
But before you hope on the next plane to Saigon, there are a few things that you should know about Vietnam.
1. You Need a Visa to Enter Vietnam
Unlike some other countries in Southeast Asia, you cannot simply arrive in Vietnam and pay for your visa on arrival. Instead, you will need to complete a Vietnam visa application ahead of time, and arrive with your visa already approved. The easiest way to get a visa is by applying online through one of Vietnam’s designated visa partner sites. The staff of these sites handles all necessary paperwork, and your visa is usually ready in a few days.
2. The Traffic Shouldn’t Be Scary
If you fly into Vietnam, odds are that you will arrive in either Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi. And once you travel from the airport to the centre of either city, you will get one of the classic Vietnamese experiences: navigating traffic. Even if you aren’t driving (and you probably shouldn’t), you will frequently need to cross streets that are completely filled with passing motor bikes. At first, walking through this thick traffic can be intimidating. But don’t let it scare you. If you simply walk out into the street, as though you have right of way, the motor bike drivers will move to avoid you. Follow the lead of nearby Vietnamese, and you will be just fine.
3. Beware of Dog!
If you are eating in a major city and you would prefer not to eat dog meat, be careful about what restaurant you walk into. This isn’t just a stereotype. In Vietnam, people do indeed eat dog, and many regard it as a delicacy. If you dine in a restaurant outside of the tourist zones, there is an excellent chance dog meat will be on the menu. You can avoid it by dining with Vietnamese, and asking their assistance with ordering dishes that do not include dog.
4. The Cheapest Tailors Are in Hue
If you’ve done any research on Vietnam, you’ve likely learned that one of the country’s biggest attractions are its highly skilled and very inexpensive tailors. Wherever you are in Vietnam, you will likely encounter people trying to sell you cut-rate clothing and textiles, but the real bargains are in Hue, a beach town about halfway between Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. If you really want to save some money, head there.
5. Vietnamese Love Westerners, Including Americans
Many tourists—especially those from the United States—worry that historical tensions between their country and Vietnam will make the native Vietnamese unfriendly or even hostile towards them. Nothing could be further from the truth. The vast majority of Vietnamese, even in the north, are very welcoming and hospitable towards Westerners, and especially towards Americans, who are relatively uncommon in Vietnam as compared to Europeans.