A Comprehensive Guide to Vietnam Visas

*** Disclaimer: We believe all the information in this article was correct at the time it was published however, regulations in Vietnam change often so we urge travelers to not rely solely on the information in this blog post when planning their trip to Vietnam. We cannot be held responsible for any lost monies or travel time due to any incorrect information. ***

 

So, you’re thinking about Vietnam as your next holiday destination?

Great choice!  It is a wonderful country, full of equally wonderful people!  Whether you’re interested in food, culture, adventure or just relaxing by the beach, Vietnam has something for everyone!

Before you rush online to book your plane or bus ticket however, you should make sure you do your research to ensure you get the most out of your adventure. One of the first things that you will need to find out is if you need to obtain a Vietnam Visa. Most travelers to Vietnam will need to get a visa before being allowed into the country; there are some exceptions however.

VISA EXEMPTIONS

If you hold a passport from one of these 6 countries, and your stay is 30 days or less, then you do not require a visa to enter Vietnam:

  • Thailand
  • Cambodia
  • Malaysia
  • Singapore
  • Indonesia
  • Laos

*** All foreign travelers flying direct to Phu Quoc Island are also given a 30 day Visa Exemption. If you plan on traveling to the mainland however, and you are not holding a visa exempt passport, then you will need to obtain an embassy issued Visa or VOA ***

If you hold a passport from the Philippines, and your stay is 21 days or less, then you do not require a visa to enter Vietnam:

  • Philippines

If you hold a passport from one of these 13 countries, and your stay is 15 days or less, then you do not require a visa to enter Vietnam:

  • Japan
  • South Korea
  • Denmark
  • Norway
  • Sweden
  • Finland
  • Russia
  • Belarus*
  • Germany*
  • France*
  • United Kingdom*
  • Spain*
  • Italy*

Countries marked with an asterisk “*” are exempted from July 1st, 2016 to June 30th, 2017. An announcement has yet to be made on whether this will be extended.

If you hold a passport from one of these 2 countries, and your stay is 14 days or less, then you do not require a visa to enter Vietnam:

  • Brunei
  • Myanmar

*** For the latest information regarding Visa Exempt Countries, click HERE ****

To be entitled to visit Vietnam on the visa exemption, there are a couple of things you need to be aware of:

  1. The day you arrive is counted as your first day. Whether you arrive at 12.10am or 11.45pm, that is still counted as day one. The day you leave is also counted as one of your days. So, in effect, if you have a 15 day Vietnam Visa exemption you are allowed to stay in Vietnam for up to 14 nights. If you have a 30 day Vietnam Visa exemption you allowed to stay for up to 29 nights, etc.
  2. You will more than likely be required to show proof of onward travel, or proof of exit. Example – an airline, or bus, ticket out of Vietnam dated within the period of your visa exemption.

Also, be aware that there are restrictions on when you can re-enter Vietnam using a visa exemption. If you want to re-enter Vietnam again within 30 days of your last visa exempt entry, you will need to apply for a new visa in order to be allowed back in. That is, you must stay out of Vietnam for at least 31 days before you can enter using a visa exemption again. ** This rule does not apply to citizens of Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, Brunei and Myanmar **

There is nothing stopping you from returning to Vietnam within 31 days, but you will need to arrange a Vietnam visa to re-enter. This is quite common as many people enter Vietnam, stay for a few days, and then do a side trip to to another country, before returning to Vietnam.

In a situation like this, one of the entries can be under the visa exemption, and the other using an embassy issued visa or VOA (Visa on Arrival). It doesn’t really matter which is used for which entry, so long as the exemption is used for a stay of 15 days or less. If you decide to get a VOA (visa on arrival) instead of an embassy issued visa, please be aware that a VOA is only valid for air travel. A VOA cannot be used at a land border crossing.

 

If you come from a country where the visa exemption doesn’t apply to you, or you’re planning on staying longer than the period you are visa exempt; you have a couple of visa options:  Embassy issued visa, or VOA.

EMBASSY ISSUED VISAS

You’ve chosen Embassy issued?

Ok, you’ll need to contact the Vietnam Embassy or Consulate in your home country to find out exactly what they require, as well as the cost.

Here is a link to a list of Vietnam Embassies around the world:

http://embassy.goabroad.com/embassies-of/vietnam

Fees obviously vary from country to country, and, if you don’t live near the Embassy, you may have to post your passport in to receive the visa stamp. This will add to the overall cost of your visa however, and you will risk putting your passport in the hands of your postal service. Some Embassies may offer you the option of a loose leaf visa, which would negate the need to post your passport.

Once you have your passport back with a Vietnam visa, you are good to go.  There will be nothing more to pay on arrival in Vietnam, and when you do arrive, proceed directly to Immigration / Passport control.

 

Embassy issued Visa Sticker

VISA ON ARRIVAL (VOA)

Not interested in using the Embassy, and like the sound of using VOA? And you’re entering by air at one of these airports?

  • HCMC – Tan Son Nhat International Airport
  • Hanoi – Noi Bai International Airport
  • Danang – Danang International Airport
  • Nha Trang – Cam Ranh International Airport

Advantages?

You’ll save some money, and you won’t have to trust your postal service with your passport.

The downside?

You will have to spend a little extra time at the airport organizing your Vietnam visa when you arrive.

How much time?

Well, that depends on how many other people arrive at the same time, who also require a VOA. The wait could be anything from 10 minutes to 2 hours, with it generally being much closer to the shorter time frame, than the longer. You can pay extra for expedited service, but it’s often not required.

So, what do you need to do to arrange a VOA?

First, you need to get an official approval letter from one of the many VOA agents out there. The fee for this service varies from provider to provider, but starts at around $6 USD. You can find links to some reputable VOA providers here:

https://xotours.vn/links.html

Your VOA agent should email you your approval letter a few days after you pay their service fee. Please keep in mind that the VOA approval letter is not an actual visa, but a letter that is handed in at the VOA counter, to enable you to receive a visa stamp once you arrive at the airport in Vietnam.

Do not be concerned if there are other names on the letter as it’s quite common for agents to make visa applications in bulk. If this does concern you, then most agents can arrange a private letter for you. There is normally an extra fee for this however.

 

Copy of an approval letter

 

Once you have received the approval letter, print it out in its entirety. The VOA agent will also send you an “Entry and exit” form, and this also needs to be printed out. This form needs to be filled in, and it’s a good idea to do this prior to travelling, so as to save time when you arrive.

Entry and Exit form

 

You will also need to supply a passport sized photo, as well as the visa stamping fee in US dollars.

When you arrive, head straight to the VOA or Landing Visa window. Do not line up at Immigration / Passport control.

 

VOA / Landing Visa window

 

Once you are at the window, hand over your passport, the approval letter, the completed “Entry and exit” form and one passport photo. Then take a seat and wait for your name to be called.

When your name is called, return to the counter and collect your now stamped passport. The stamp looks much the same as the Embassy issued visa.

The visa fee is now paid, which is $25 USD for one and three month single entry visas, and $50 USD for one and three month multiple entry visas. Be sure to check the visa dates in your passport while still at the counter.

When all this is done, you can proceed to the Immigration desk, followed by collecting your luggage on the way out.

It’s now time to enjoy the wonderful country that is Vietnam!

E-Visa

On February 1st, 2017, a third option for obtaining a Vietnam visa became available.

This self-service option is very new and there have been reports of a few bugs in the system already, but hopefully once these are ironed out, it will be a simple and viable alternative to the existing system.

The link to the new Vietnam E-Visa system, with information on eligible countries can be found here:

https://evisa.xuatnhapcanh.gov.vn/web/guest/trang-chu-ttdt

Once we receive more reports from travelers using this new visa system, we will update this XO Tours blog post.

 

We hoped you found this Vietnam Visa guide useful. If Ho Chi Minh City is one of your stops in Vietnam, you might consider checking out one of our 4 acclaimed city tours. XO Tours has been the #1 ranked tour company in Vietnam for over 6 years running, as voted by the users of Tripadvisor. Our XO “Foodie” tour is the original Vietnam street food tour and was recently named one of the top 9 food tours in the world by Forbes magazine.

The Best Day Trips from Hanoi

Beware! XO Tours does not operate in Hanoi. If you book with a tour operator in Hanoi that claims to be XO Tours, you have been defrauded!

Hanoi sits on a bend in the Red River. To the south and east lies the watery world of the Red River Delta, where farms and villages continue as they have done for millennia: producing crops and crafts to supply the capital. To the north and west, the Red River Valley extends all the way to China. Here, mountains rise from the flood plains of the great river, forming deep ravines surrounded by misty peaks and forests. The Red River Valley and Delta is also the historical, mythological and spiritual heartland of Vietnam. It was here that the country’s first great kings ruled; its first citadels constructed; and military triumphs gained. As such, the area is strewn with temples, pagodas and shrines. In short, there’s a lot to see and do around Hanoi.

In this XO Tours Blog, we outline the best day trips from Vietnam’s capital. For the best day trips around Ho Chi Minh City, click HERE.

 

The best Hanoi day trips

 

In general, all of the day trips listed here can be easily organized through reputable Hanoi travel agents. Because there are so many great sights within reach of Hanoi, we’ve arranged them into three groups according to different categories. Click on a category below to read more about the day trips in that group:

 

 


 

PAGODAS, TEMPLES & HISTORY:

 

Thay & Tay Phuong Pagodas:

A mere 30 minutes west of Hanoi, these two pagodas are rich in embellishments and set in surprisingly (given their proximity to downtown Hanoi) serene locations. Built around craggy hillocks, these pagoda complexes offer lots of atmospheric chambers, anterooms, ponds and courtyards. Papier-mâché and jackfruit wood figurines populate the prayer halls, some of which date from the 16th century. Thay Pagoda was founded nearly a thousand years ago, and there’s a suitable sense of time and history here, especially since there are very few tourists compared to other historical sites. Travel tips: combine with a trip to Ba Vi National Park (see below) Time: a few hours

Thay Pagoda, Hanoi Day Trips, Vietnam

 

Perfume Pagoda:

Long considered the Hanoi day trip, the Perfume Pagoda is a mystical journey southwest of the capital: by road at first, then by boat through a limestone valley, and finally by foot up the long stairway to the sacred grottoes housing temples and shrines. In many ways, this is the perfect day trip: a mixture of natural beauty, history, culture and architecture. But over the years it has become increasingly busy with domestic and foreign tourists and pilgrims. The crowds can’t detract from the natural beauty of the area, but the litter, trinket selling and constant hassle, can make it feel like a bit of a circus, and certainly detracts from the spirituality of the occasion. Travel tips: book onto an all in one tour from Hanoi so that you won’t have to deal with the queues and hard bargaining once you arrive. Time: half or full day.

Perfume Pagoda, Hanoi day trips, Vietnam

 

Hoa Lu Ancient Capital:

Strategically located in a forest of limestone hillocks, Hoa Lu was the capital of Vietnam from 968-1009AD. The physical setting is very pretty indeed, with rivers and moats bisecting dozens of limestone ‘molehills’. Most of the original structures have vanished, but several temples dating from the 16th century still stand. These buildings are dedicated to the worship of Emperor Dinh Tien Hoang and Le Dai Hanh, both of whom ruled from Hoa Lu. The temples are dark and atmospheric, but the best place to view Hoa Lu is from the hilltop where Dinh Tien Hoang’s tomb is located: from here there are superb views of the site and surrounding countryside. Traval tips: combine with other sights in the area, such as Bai Dinh Pagoda (see below). Time: a full day (if combined with nearby sights).

Hoa Lu Citadel, Hanoi day trips, Vietnam

 

Bai Dinh Pagoda:

Just a few minutes’ drive from Hoa Lu, Bai Dinh Pagoda is an enormous complex of brand new religious buildings. Although built on the site of an old temple, Bai Dinh was constructed between 2003 and 2010. The scale alone is reason enough to visit. But there’s also artistry and finery in the smaller details of this gigantic, modern monument to Buddhism. For example, of the 500 statues lining the initial courtyard, each one has been individually designed, and there’s a beautiful symmetry and rhythm to the general layout of the complex, which stretches across 700 hectares. As far as scale, awe, pomp and ceremony are concerned, there’s nothing else quite like it in Vietnam. However, Bai Dinh Pagoda has quickly become popular with domestic tourists, so expect crowds and a certain theme-park atmosphere. Travel tips: combine with other sights in the area, such as Trang An boat rides (see below). Time: a full day (if combined with nearby sites).

Bai Dinh Pagoda, Hanoi day trips, Vietnam

 

Ho Ancient Citadel:

The most southerly of all the sights in this list, it’s worth the extra mileage to visit Ho Citadel, especially if you’re a history buff. A UNESCO World Heritage site since 2011, the citadel’s imposing walls and wide enclosure date from the late 14th century. Only recently beginning to attract tourists, the old gates and walls of Ho Citadel are surrounded by a fertile, rural landscape typical of the Red River Delta region. The remains of this royal enclosure are impressive and extensive. But another appealing aspect of this historical site is that farming and rural life continues inside the ancient compound. Travel tips: combine with the Ho Chi Minh Road (see below) for a scenic drive to and from the citadel. Time: a full day, including travel time.

Ho Citadel, Hanoi day trips, Vietnam

 

Phat Diem Cathedral:

Visited by Graham Greene in 1951 and featured in his novel, The Quiet American, Phat Diem Cathedral is an architectural mélange of Christian, European and Asian elements. The result is an enchanting, East-meets-West version of a cathedral. The curved, tiled rooftops, stone nave, and wooden pillars of this 1891 church are very exotic. The cathedral serves the large Catholic population in the area, which has been exposed to Christianity for almost four centuries, since the arrival of Portuguese missionaries. Travel tips: combine with nearby attractions, such as Tam Coc boats trips (see below). Time: a full day (if combined with nearby sights).

Phat Diem Cathedral, Hanoi day trips, Vietnam 

[Back to Contents]


 

NATURE, NATIONAL PARKS & OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES:

 

Ba Vi National Park:

A former French colonial hill station, the forested slopes of Ba Vi Mountain rise to the west of Hanoi. Roughly 70km from the capital, this national park is an easily accessible slice of nature: a dose of greenery, birdsong, and clean air just a couple of hours’ drive from Hanoi. A road leads almost to the summit, where there are excellent views over the Red River Valley and back towards to the urban sprawl of the capital. Hiking, bird watching, and waterfalls are all on offer. Travel tips: combine with Thay and Tay Phoung Pagodas (see above). Time: half a day.

Ba Vi National Park, Hanoi day trips, Vietnam

 

Tam Dao Hill Station:         

Yet another French colonial hill station nestling in the mountains northwest of Hanoi, Tam Dao is larger, greener and wilder than Ba Vi. Three main peaks rise out of the mists to form tam đảo (‘three islands’). The area is a national park, with many varieties of flora and fauna on its jungled slopes. Tam Dao town itself is a tourist trap, but from here there are hikes to bamboo forests, waterfalls and orchid gardens. At almost 1,000m above sea-level, temperatures here are noticeably cooler than Hanoi, which is particularly appealing if you’re visiting during the hot and humid summer months. Travel tips: avoid weekends, when Hanoians flock here in great numbers. Time: a full day.

Tam Dao National Park, Hanoi day trips, Vietnam

 

Mai Chau Valley:

Although most visitors will want to spend more than a day in this green valley, if you’re pushed for time it’s possible to get to Mai Chau and back in one day. Improved road connections from Hanoi mean that the verdant valleys, terraced hillsides and minority villages of Mai Chau are more easily reached from the capital than ever before. They’ll be a lot of time spent in the car, but it’s a fascinating journey and by lunchtime you’ll be in the green embrace of one of Vietnam’s prettiest valleys. Relax in a wooden stilt home belonging to a White Thai minority family and dine on superb home-cooked food while looking out over a sea of rice paddies, before taking a gentle trek through the valley. Travel tips: start as early as possible to make the most of the day. Time: a full day.

Mai Chau, Hanoi day trips, Vietnam

 

The Ho Chi Minh Road to Cuc Phuong National Park:

One of Vietnam’s longest and most scenic highways, the Ho Chi Minh Road starts just an hour west of Hanoi. From here, follow it south through a memorable landscape of limestone outcrops broken by blue rivers and dotted with small agricultural towns. In a day, it’s possible to reach as far south as Cuc Phuong National Park where, weather permitting, you can swim in the river before heading back to Hanoi. Travel tips: combine with a trip to Ho Citadel (see above). Time: a full day.

Ho Chi Minh Road at Cuc Phuong National Park, Hanoi day trips, Vietnam

 

Trang An & Tam Coc Boat Rides:

Trang An and Tam Coc both offer boat rides through a beguiling landscape of limestone caves and pillars, creating a natural maze which can only be negotiated via narrow waterways, channels and canals. The wooden canoes are piloted by Vietnamese women, many of whom steer the boats using their feet to operate the oars. The scenery is incredible: it’s everything you wanted exotic Southeast Asia to be. But be warned that both Trang An and Tam Coc are firmly on the domestic and international tourist radar and as such can become very busy. Try to go early in the morning or after midday when the crowds tend to lessen. Travel tips: combine with nearby attractions, such as Bai Dinh Pagoda (see above). Time: a full day.

Tam Coc & Trang An boat rides, Hanoi day trips, Vietnam

 

Bac Son Valley:

A fair drive north-east of the capital, Bac Son is emerging as an alternative destination to Ninh Binh. Bac Son Valley is a corridor of bright rice paddy along a gently meandering river, towered over by majestic limestone pinnacles: a landscape worthy of Lord of the Rings. However, unlike Ninh Binh, mass tourism has yet to arrive at Bac Son, which means there’s far more sense of adventure when visiting this region. There’s not much in the way of tourist infrastructure yet, so driving the loop around the pretty valley and stopping for lunch in Bac Son town is likely to be you’re only itinerary option. Travel tips: it’s a long way, so start early in the day. Time: a full day.

Bac Son Valley, Hanoi day trips, Vietnam 

[Back to Contents]


 

CRAFT VILLAGES:

 

Bat Trang Ceramics Village:

Of all the craft villages surrounding Hanoi, Bat Trang is probably the most famous, the easiest to get to and, therefore, the most-visited. Bat Trang is known for its ceramics: bowls, plates, tiles, and pottery of all shapes and sizes. Not 15km from central Hanoi, the narrow, winding lanes of Bat Trang village feel like a medieval suburb, still fueled by the industry that has kept its inhabitants busy for centuries. The famous blue and white ceramics are on sale throughout town, but to see some of the actual work taking place, wander down some of the smaller, back-alleys, where you’ll find coal and gas-fired kilns. Just a short jaunt east across the Red River, Bat Trang can be visited by bicycle or even on foot from central Hanoi. Travel tips: combine with other sights close to Hanoi, such as Thay Pagoda (see above). Time: a couple of hours.

Bat Trang ceramics village, Hanoi day trips, Vietnam

 

Van Phuc Silk Village:

Just 10km southwest of Hanoi, Van Phuc is known for its silk production. With a long and proud tradition of producing some of the finest textiles in the country, you’ll find material for tailor-made clothing as well as off-the-peg outfits, both of which are cheaper here than in central Hanoi. There are many workshops in the area – the sound of electric looms is deafening – and no one seems to mind if you wander around them. Travel tips: combine with a trip to Ba Vi National Park (see above). Time: one hour.

Van Phuc silk village, Hanoi day trips, Vietnam

 

Duong Lam Ancient Village:

About 50km west of Hanoi, Duong Lam is a preserved and restored, traditional village. Although many of its buildings are new, a good portion of older buildings (some as old as 300 years) still remain. It’s a very atmospheric place to walk around, and local villagers (many of whom appear to be octogenarians) are particularly friendly and keen to chat. The traditional architecture is beautiful: large stone courtyards, village gates, tiled porches, and local shrines. Travel tips: combine with a trip Thay Pagoda and Ba Vi National Park (see above). Time: half a day.

Duong Lam village, Hanoi day trips, Vietnam

 

We hope this guide helps you in planning your trip to Hanoi and the surrounding areas. XO Tours currently does not offer any tours up north however, if your trip includes a visit to Ho Chi Minh City, we would love to have you on one of our 4 acclaimed tours. To learn more about our tours, see current prices and schedules, please visit our website at xotours.vn.

13 Things You Must Do in Vietnam – Vietnam Bucket List

From exploring the depths of a mysterious subterranean world to bargaining in a Mekong market, from sleeping under a bamboo roof in the mountains to scaling waterfalls in the Central Highlands, Vietnam is bursting with exciting things to do. In this XO blog post we outline the very best activities across the country – from the thrilling to the serene – in order to create the ultimate bucket list of things to do in Vietnam.

 

1: CANYONING:

Scaling waterfalls in Dalat

Dalat might be famous as a former French colonial hill station in the Central Highlands, but these days it’s becoming the extreme sports capital of Vietnam. The rugged, mountainous terrain, forested hillsides, and mild temperatures make it perfect for outdoors activities: in particular, canyoning. Regular rainfall creates dozens of rivers and waterfalls in the area: canyoning essentially involves following the course of a river: clambering over boulders, climbing up rock faces, being taken along by the current, and – most thrillingly of all – abseiling down waterfalls. Check out dalat-canyoning.com for more details.

Walking on waterfalls: canyoning in Dalat

Walking on waterfalls: canyoning in Dalat

 

2: STREET EATS:

Take a food tour in Saigon

Street food is a highlight of Vietnam, and Saigon is the street food capital of the country. Every night, thousands of informal eateries, serving hundreds of dishes, grace the city’s streets. The variety and choice is dizzying. But don’t worry, street food tours do all the hard work for you, and XO’s Foodie Tour is the original and best. As the neon lights of the city flicker on, we roll our guests out on the backs of our motorbikes, and head to the lesser-known districts, where all the best street snacks are found. From the classic to the unusual, our all-female staff will guide you through a culinary adventure of Vietnamese flavours, textures and colours.

XO Food Tour

Street Eats with XO Tours

3: HIGHLAND HOMESTAY:

Spend the night in a stilt house

A night in a traditional wood, bamboo, and palm-thatched stilt house, perched on a mountainside or in a verdant valley of rice fields, is unquestionably the most romantic accommodation in Vietnam. Nestled in the Tonkinese Alps of northern Vietnam, homestays offer a genuine glimpse of rural life, and the chance to interact with Vietnam’s significant population of ethnic minorities. Prices are typically around $10 per person, and include delicious home-cooked meals. Sapa and Mai Chau are famous homestay hotspots, but for a bit more authenticity, we recommend branching out into nearby Pu Luong Nature Reserve.

Highland accommodation: a homestay in northern Vietnam

Highland accommodation: a homestay in northern Vietnam

 

4: SKY COCKTAIL:

Drink at a rooftop bar in Saigon

Saigon is Vietnam’s biggest, busiest, most intense city: a cauldron of noise, food, construction, people, and pollution. But seen from the top of a multi-storey building – with a Martini in hand – the city is beautiful and serene. Many new high-rise buildings host uber-cool bars on their rooftop. Take advantage of sunset happy hours and sample a slice of the high-life. We recommend Glow Skybar and OMG Bar.

Highlife: enjoy a 'sky cocktail' in Saigon

Highlife: enjoy a ‘sky cocktail’ in Saigon

 

5: GO UNDERGROUND:

Explore the Phong Nha-Ke Bang Cave Systems

In central Vietnam, a spectacular landscape of limestone mountains covered in jungle, straddles the border with Laos. In 2009, led by a Vietnamese farmer, named Ho Khanh, a British expedition discovered the largest cave system in the world here. Son Doong Cave is on a biblical scale: great hangers carved out of the limestone by underground rivers. Inside there’s a remarkable subterranean world of strange rock formations. Extremely exclusive tours spend days trekking through the cave. If this doesn’t suit your budget, the area boasts many more extraordinary caverns: trek to Hang En, an equally impressive cave with its very own beach and turquoise water; take a subterranean boat ride through Phong Nha, the Cave of Teeth; walk along the plank-way and admire the sparkling stalactites of Thien Duong, Paradise Cave. Oxalis and Phong Nha Farmstay offer excellent tours.

Subterranean: Son Doong Cave is another world

Subterranean: Son Doong Cave is another world

 

6: MASTER CHEF:

Take a cooking course in Hoi An

Increasingly famous throughout the world, Vietnamese cuisine owes much to the freshness of its ingredients, but don’t underestimate the obsessive attention to presentation, and the sophistication of preparation, involved in rustling up some of the country’s most popular dishes. Cooking courses in Hoi An give you a chance to try your hand at making a classic Vietnamese meal. Starting early in the morning at the local market to find the best ingredients, you’ll learn plenty of culinary tricks to take back home with you. Check out Green Bamboo Cooking School for more details.

Master chef: learn to cook classic Vietnamese dishes in Hoi An

Master chef: learn to cook classic Vietnamese dishes in Hoi An

 

7: HIT THE ROAD:

Take a motorbike road trip

An icon of Vietnam, the motorbike is the nation’s preferred mode of transport. With over 40 million and counting, motorbikes are one of the first things that any visitor to Vietnam notices. Get involved and get in the saddle: take a xe ôm (motorbike taxi) in the middle of Hanoi rush hour to experience the impossible jigsaw puzzle that is Vietnam’s urban commuter traffic; hop on the back of an Easy Rider for a tour of the Central Highlands; or go solo and hit the road on your own set of wheels, venturing into the spectacular scenery of the northern mountains. Check out Flamingo Travel for bike rental and tours.

Hit the road: tour the mountains on two wheels

Hit the road: tour the mountains on two wheels

 

8: A NIGHT AT SEA:

Spend a night on a junk in Halong Bay

As one of Vietnam’s most popular attractions, Halong Bay can get crowded with tourists during the day. But at night, it’s peaceful and calm. Avoid the booze cruises, and spend a night aboard one of the elegant wooden vessels, known as junks, floating among the limestone islands in the moonlight. In the morning, watch the sunrise from the deck with coffee and breakfast. Check out Indochina Junk and Bhaya Cruises for cruise information.

Serenity: a night afloat on Halong Bay

Serenity: a night afloat on Halong Bay

 

9: TOMB RIDER:

Cycling the Royal Tombs in Hue:

The last royal dynasty of Vietnam ruled from the imperial capital of Hue. After their deaths, the emperors were laid to rest in extravagant mausoleums on the outskirts of the city. Set in beautifully landscaped gardens along the Perfume River, the royal tombs are strewn over a large and scenic area, best explored by bicycle. Pedal your way through history as you ride from one emperor’s resting place to the next. The most elaborate is Minh Mang’s mausoleum, but the most mysterious is Emperor Gia Long’s forgotten tomb, reached via a wooden boat across the Perfume River.

Royal grandeur: Tour the emperors' tombs by bicycle

Royal grandeur: tour the emperors’ tombs by bicycle

 

10: SHOP LIKE A LOCAL:

Bargain in a Mekong market

Local markets still play a central role in most Vietnamese people’s daily lives. The Mekong Delta is home to the most colourful, bountiful, frenzied markets in the country. Prices are rarely fixed so bargaining is a rule, and this is a great chance to really act like a local. Learn a few numbers – it’s not that difficult – and try your hand at bartering. Pick up some exotic-looking fruit, ask how much it is, and let the contest begin. Be polite and keep a smile on your face – bargaining is expected so there’s nothing rude about it: in fact, it’s great fun! Our tip: settle for roughly 60% of the original price offered, and keep it friendly and good-natured.

Hard bargain: bartering in a market is as local as it gets

Hard bargain: bartering in a market is as local as it gets

 

11: MAKE A SPLASH:

Swim in the East Sea

With a coastline stretching over 3,000km, you’re never far from the beach in Vietnam. The East Sea is balmy and blue year-round. Fine sand beaches, rocky coves, rugged islands, and hedonistic beach towns abound: pick a spot, and take a plunge. We recommend the white sand and cobalt blue waters of Doc Let, just north of Nha Trang.

Take a dip: Vietnam has plenty of beach to go around

Take a dip: Vietnam has plenty of beach to go around

 

12: INTOXICATION:

Ride the high with locals

Whether it’s caffeine or alcohol, getting your fix in Vietnam is easy, and it’s a great way to meet local people. Coffee is typically strong and sweet, and cafe culture is thriving in Saigon. Pop into one of the many cool local cafés to get your buzz; or join locals for cà phê bệt – essentially street coffee, where students sit in public parks, socializing in the cool hours of evening: try the park near Saigon’s Notre Dame Cathedral. Beer is cheap and plentiful. In Hanoi, bia hơi (fresh beer) is served in small glasses for a fraction of a dollar, and it’s the fuel behind many a great night out: try Hanoi’s ‘Bia Hơi Corner’. Rượu (rice liquor) is especially popular in highland areas, where locals say it keeps you warm. Like a fire in the throat, rice liquor is potent stuff: it’s offered to foreigners as a prelude to socializing, especially during homestays with ethnic minorities.

Get a buzz with locals: beer, rice liquor & coffee are plentiful

Get a buzz with locals: beer, rice liquor & coffee are excellent social lubricants

 

13: TRAIN IT:

Ride the railroad along the coast

The train has always been a romantic way to travel, and in Vietnam it’s no different. Stretching north to south – Hanoi to Saigon – the Reunification Express is a great way to travel between destinations on the coast, and it’s an experience in itself. The trains are in decent condition, clattering along at a leisurely speed, allowing time for passengers to watch Vietnam rattle by through the windows. It’s far more scenic and comfortable than the buses, and you’ll get the opportunity to interact with Vietnamese passengers. In the Great Railway Bazaar, Paul Theroux travels the world by train, and Vietnam makes a deep impression: “Of all the places the railway had taken me since London, this was the loveliest.”  Check schedules and fares at vietnam-railway.com

A romantic way to travel: take the Reunification Express along the coast

A romantic way to travel: take the Reunification Express along the coast

 

We hope this bucket list of the top 13 things to do in Vietnam helps add some fun and excitement to your Vietnam itinerary. If you travel to Saigon, and you find yourself looking for something fun to do, please check out our 4 acclaimed tours.

3 reasons you should not book with XO Tours

Although we are very proud of the acclaim our tours have received over the years, we realize that they are not suitable for everyone. These are the 3 main reasons we think some guests should not book our tours:

  1. If you are looking for a typical food tour – All the dishes and stops on the “Foodie” tour are carefully curated to offer you the most unique experience possible. We are not trying to serve you the most popular dishes in Vietnam or even the dishes we think are the most delicious (although most people LOVE the food!). We want you to eat the exact same dishes that the locals eat every day, so those are the types of dishes we offer on the tour. We also want to show you the huge contrast between the different districts and give you a feel for what life is truly like for the Saigonese people. If you’re just looking for a food tour that jumps from one food stop to the next however, and you don’t care to venture outside the touristy districts in Saigon to see a side of the city that none of the other tours go to, then this is probably not the tour for you.
  2. If you are not interested in Vietnamese history – On our “Sights” tour, not only will we provide some interesting historical background for each location we take you to, we will also share unique local insights that you won’t find in most guidebooks. Rather than just throwing facts at you, we try to connect each place to a human event, so that you will remember each location for the impact it had on the Vietnamese people. If you find history boring however, then you probably shouldn’t book this tour.
  3. If you want the cheapest motorbike tour –  At XO Tours we want to provide you with a boutique experience that you cannot find anywhere else, combined with the best customer service in Vietnam. We hire the best possible staff and train them to be great ambassadors for Vietnam. We believe the time, effort and attention to detail we put into creating our tours is reflected in the high quality of the tours. Everything we do to make our tours special increases our costs which makes our tours a bit more expensive than our competitors. We accept this fact however because we believe that majority of our guests are willing to pay a little more for a superior experience. For guests that just want to drive around on a motorbike for the lowest possible price, there are many other options in Saigon to chose from.

If you are like travel writer, Graham Caldwell or the majority of the 60,000 + guests that have gone on our tours however, we think you will love your time with us!

Why you should book with XO Tours

How to stay safe and avoid scams in Vietnam – Part 2: South Vietnam

In this, the second part of our two-part series on avoiding common tourist scams in Vietnam, we focus on popular tourist destinations in the south of the country. Saigon, Nha Trang and Hoi An all have their fair share of scams and safety hazards that travelers should be aware of. (Read Part 1 of this series HERE).

Famous for its beaches, the south has its fair share of scams to look out for

Famous for its beaches, the south has its fair share of scams to look out for

 

SAIGON:

Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) is Vietnam’s biggest, busiest, and most exciting city. In any such city there are always going to be scams and dangers to beware of.

Airport Taxi & Cyclo Scams: You can learn more about these notorious scams in this comprehensive blog post.

**** If you would prefer to avoid dealing with taxis altogether, or if you’re arriving to Ho Chi Minh City very late and/or you have young children, we can highly recommend Drive Vietnam for the best Ho Chi Minh City airport transfers ****

Hit-and-Run ‘Cowboys’: Drive-by snatchings (including backpacks, handbags, cameras slung around your neck, and ‘smart’ technologies held loosely in your hands) are pretty common in tourist hotspots, such as Ben Thanh Market, Pham Ngu Lao (the ‘backpacker’ district), and Le Loi street. Be particularly careful when crossing roads around Ben Thanh Market and when walking on the sidewalk close to the road in Pham Ngu Lao near the park. Always wear your backpack or handbag on your front, and don’t use your smartphones and tablets in crowded public areas. Another thing to look out for, especially in Pham Ngu Lao, are the adorable ‘street kids’ who wander the backpacker area befriending tourists and selling them chewing gum amongst other things. These children should be at school and the money they receive from you will only go back to the ring of adults (usually not their parents) who control them.

Street life in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) is frenetic, but watch those valuables

Street life in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) is frenetic, but watch those valuables

 

NHA TRANG:

Vietnam’s favorite beach party town, most of Nha Trang’s scams revolve around nightlife and the beach.

Spiked Drink Buckets: Communal drink ‘buckets’ are great fun for a group on a budget, but sometimes bartenders spike these cocktails with their own ‘medicines’, which may lead to more than just a bad hangover. There have been instances where foreigners are robbed after drinking spiked bucket cocktails. Stay clear of the buckets or, at the very least, make sure you’re leaning over the bar staff as he/she pours the liquor.

Crowded House’ Pickpockets: Being such as party town, Nha Trang has more than its fair share of crowded bars and nightclubs. Naturally, this is a pickpockets dream. Keep your wits about you: if someone grinds up against you on the dance floor it’s not necessarily a prelude to hooking up; when the dance is over you might find your wallet and smart phone are no longer in your pockets. The same goes for busy bars where customers are cramped next to each other. Keep the cash you carry to a minimum (admittedly this can be difficult if you’re planning on a big night out). It’s a good idea to invest in a cheap ‘dumb-phone’ for nights out; a standard Nokia is only $20 in Vietnam. Or, quite simply, don’t get too smashed; it’s much easier to stay alert when you haven’t had 5 mojitos, 6 beers, and 3 shots of Jägermeister.

Beach Thieves: The long, lovely stretch of Nha Trang beach is fertile ground for opportunist robbers: a bag or phone left unattended for a couple of minutes while the owner paddles in the surf could be gone in seconds. As with nights out on the town, only take what you need to the beach. Also, drive-by bag snatchers can whip the bag off your back before you realize what’s happening, especially on the seafront road and the backpacker streets. Always wear your bag or camera on your front while in these areas.

Local Voyeurs: Young Vietnamese men have been known to take photos and videos of young foreign women in bikinis on Nha Trang’s municipal beach. Shooting from the beachside park, these people are not very subtle about it. There’s not much you can do other than ignore it, and it’s probably best not to sunbath topless, which is illegal anyway.

Long Son Pagoda: Don’t be fooled into a fake tour around this Buddhist complex by children with printed cards claiming to be guides working for the monks. After they’ve showed you around they’ll insist on a ‘donation’ for the monks or that you buy overpriced postcards from them. Say ‘no’ firmly and, if they persist, state clearly that you will not give them any money.

Nha Trang's beach is long and lovely, but beware of thieves

Nha Trang’s beach is long and lovely, but beware of thieves

 

HOI AN:

Thankfully, Hoi An is one of the safest tourist destinations in Vietnam. However, there are a couple of minor scams and inconveniences to look out for.

Tailors: Perhaps the thing for tourists to do in Hoi An is to get tailor-made clothes from one of the hundreds of fine tailors here. Prices vary from high-end to budget, but in general you will get what you pay for: if you go cheap there’s more chance of the fit not being quite right, the material being substandard, and the stitching coming apart as soon as you get back home to your country. Do your research and shop around before deciding where to go. (See this previous XO blog for more details)

Manicure scam: A common scam, run by very forceful ladies lurking in the old town, is to offer manicures and other beauty treatments for a dollar or two, only to demand far more once the job is done. Simple solution; do not get beauty treatment on the streets on Hoi An.

Thefts & Hassle: Hoi An may be a small place but it’s hugely popular with foreign and domestic tourists alike. The narrow old streets can get very crowded during peak months and public holidays. Pick-pocketing and bag snatching can be a problem at crowded places, particularly around the Japanese Bridge and riverfront during the full moon lantern festivities. Don’t carry too much cash or valuables, such as gadgets, on your person, and wear your bags and backpacks on your front. General hassle to buy things and book onto tours is fairly persistent, but strong-arm tactics are rare in Hoi An.

Floating lanterns for sale in Hoi An, one of the safest destinations in Vietnam

Floating lanterns for sale in Hoi An, one of the safest destinations in Vietnam

 

FINAL WORD:

Don’t let this list of scams scare you: Vietnam is an extremely safe place to travel, and its people are overwhelmingly hospitable, friendly and honest. Keep an open mind and if or when a scam occurs try to stay calm and put the relative loss of money or inconvenience into perspective. Remember that tourist scams mostly occur in tourist areas; the best way to avoid scams altogether is to get off the beaten path (see this previous XO blog for more details)

We hope you found this Vietnam blog post and our Vietnam Travel Tips useful. If you’re ever in Ho Chi Minh City and you want to see parts of the city that most visitors never get to see, you should consider booking either our “Saigon by Night” or extremely popular “Foodie” tour.