Currency? Vietnamese Dong (VND) ($1USD = 22,000VND, £1 = 29,000VND, €1 = 25,000VND)

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District 1, near the Ben Thanh market seen on the right. Taken from the E01 Heli Bar, atop the Bitexco Financial Tower

Visa required? Yes.  The ‘visa on arrival’ actually requires you to have a pre-acceptance letter from one of the Vietnamese embassies or consulates prior to arrival, this costs about $25USD.   3 month multiple entry visas are also available for $50USD.

 

Weather? Varies according to which part of the country you’re in.  Southern Vietnam is hot and humid with lots of rain during the rainy season (May to November) while also having the occasional typhoon.  Temperatures rarely fall below 20 Celsius and the rains tend to stick to the late afternoon/evening and only for an hour or so before dissipating.  Weather in the North is more varied with scorching temperatures of low 30s to low 40s in the hottest months (May-August), pleasant sunny weather between October and December, and cooler weather for the first four months or so.  The further north from Hanoi you go the colder it gets, naturally.

When to visit? With such varied weather it is hard to say and should depend more on where you plan on going and what you want to do. Tet would also be a great cultural event to experience.

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Food? If Thailand is famous for its spicy food then Vietnam is more renowned for its subtler delicacies. Pho is unquestionably Vietnam’s most famous culinary export but if you’ve never tried Vietnamese food you’re missing out.  Personally my favorite is the humble banh mi.  It is a baguette stuffed with a variety of fillings such as fried eggs, slices of pork, pate, chicken, hot sauce, and vegetables.  They typically only cost a dollar or two and they are simply amazing after a few beers.  My go to drunchie food in Vietnam.  Other than that Vietnamese dishes at small local restaurants or food carts again can be bought for only a dollar or two making food one of the biggest bargains.

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50 cent beers and thus popular with budget conscious backpackers

Alcohol prices? Bia hoi, a locally brewed beer can be bought for as little as 30cents! Local beers cost 50 cents with imported beers more expensive but cheaper when purchased at supermarkets.  Cocktails start at about a dollar or more but the better deal is to take advantage of the 2 for 1 specials and of course, buckets.

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Merchants at the Cai Bei floating market

Top destinations? (South to North) Phu Quoc island, Ho Chi Minh City, Nha Trang, Da Nang, Hoi An, Halong bay, Hanoi, Sapa

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Fairy stream, outside of Mui Ne, a small beach town 3 hours from Ho Chi Minh City

National holidays? Tet, Vietnamese  New Year.  Usually starts late January and lasts about two weeks.  Expect to not get much done during this time as people nationwide get time off work and travel home to see their families.  It is a good idea to book transport ahead of time should you be traveling through Vietnam at this time.

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Cu Chi tunnels, near HCMC

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Top backpacking experiences? The quickly developing island paradise of Phu Quoc, a cruise down the Mekong river with a 1960s classic rock playlist, crawling through the Cu Chi tunnels, the bustling streets of Ho Chi Minh City, taking the Reunification Express  train from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, getting a motorbike and ripping it along the world famous Ho Chi Minh trail, the towering lime karsts of Ha Long bay, and the stunning visits from the heights surrounding Sapa overlooking the rice terraces virtually unchanged for hundreds of years

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Fishing boats near at Mui Ne