Shallow Pockets: Traveling Vietnam on a budget

Travel Vietnam on a budget

Travel Vietnam on a budget

Vietnam is one of the most popular budget travel destinations in the world.  Although one can have a very lavish vacation in this Asian paradise, it is still quite easy to travel on a tight budget.  The easiest way to travel frugally is to know how and where to find the bargains!

HOW TO TRAVEL VIETNAM ON A BUDGET

(Please click on the link below to jump directly to the category you would like to see)

  1. Food and Drink
  2. Transportation
  3. Lodging
  4. Activites and Shopping 

Food and Drink

Relatively speaking, food in Vietnam is cheap, especially if you avoid expensive restaurants which are generally targeted towards tourists.  One of the cheapest meals you can find is banh mi (a Vietnamese sandwich).  They are filling, non-fussy, and tasty!  Another budget food option is to visit a Com Binh Dan – a type of street food establishment with a wide array of dishes.  For less than 50000 VND, you can have a hearty and authentic lunch.  Less than $2 will also get you a hot bowl of pho, a cold glass of Vietnamese iced coffee or fresh cut fruit at the market!  The great thing about eating on a budget in Vietnam is that you don’t sacrifice taste and quality.  If you’re looking for cheap international eats, the backpackers’ area of Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi are the best places to go.  Many small establishments and restaurants cater to the tourist crowd and provide no-fuss basic international meals at a very low price.

A streetside food joint, a Com Binh Danh is a popular lunch place for locals. Look for a place that is packed with people, indicating that the food turn over might be high!

A streetside food joint, a Com Binh Danh is a popular lunch place for locals. Look for a place that is packed with people, indicating that the food turn over might be high!

When purchasing bottles of water, try to buy them at small stores or stands.  Bottles of water at hotels or restaurants can be very expensive.  Another cheap option to hydrate yourself at a restaurant is to order tra da, or iced tea.  It’s very refreshing on hot days and usually safe.  A glass of tea will cost much less than bottled water.  Although alcohol is very expensive in Vietnam, beer and vodka is quite cheap!  Beer costs less than what it would cost in the US or Australia – $0.50USD can buy you a big bottle of beer!  Even some imported beers are inexpensive.  As a contrast, wine is incredibly expensive as Vietnam is not known for producing wine.  Most wines are imported into the country primarily for tourist consumption so the markup is very high.

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Transportation

It is common knowledge that planes will be more costly than buses and trains but if time is of short supply and if there are many destinations on your travel schedule, planes may be the best option for you.  Vietnam Airlines is the national airline company and although they have seat sales sometimes, they are not a budget airline.  That being said, Vietnam Airlines offers huge discounts if you book tickets during the last five days of every month (you don’t have to travel on the last five days, just book them when the discount is offered).  Alternatively, Air Asia flies to many destinations in Vietnam and is a pocket-friendly airline.  During busy season to a popular destination, we have found that there is little difference in price between the two airlines.  In these cases, and if demand for seats is high, booking early can sometimes be beneficial as prices may increase closer to the flight date.

For those with more time to travel by ground transportation, open tour buses are an excellent way to get from one destination to another.  Open tour buses are those that operate independently of an organized tour.  They are, by far, the cheapest way to travel longer distances in Vietnam.  For instance, you can take a bus from Ho Chi Minh City to Mui Ne (a 4-7 hour drive) for $6USD.  Or, for around $50-60, you can stop at multiple destinations along your journey and stay as long as you want (as long as you give 24 hours notification before boarding the next bus).  There are many different companies that operate long-distance buses – the tickets can be booked at a travel agency or at the actual company’s office.  In the backpackers’ areas, the offices are lined up one after the other.  The buses are assigned seating so it may be a good idea to get tickets early in order to get a seat that you want.  Trains are also a popular mode of transportation for long voyages.  On one train, Vietnam Rail operates the majority of the cars but many other private companies operate tourist cars on the same train.  The private tour companies are targeted towards tourists but Vietnam Rail cars are generally $7-10 cheaper than the tourist cars.  To save your precious Vietnamese Dong you can travel on night buses or trains and save a night’s accommodation!

While in the city, the choices for transportation are the city bus, xe om (motorbike taxis) and taxi.  City bus is generally the cheapest but certain places in the city can be less accessible.  Taxi fares in the city  are relatively high and it can add up quickly!  A practical and economical alternative to the city bus and taxi is the xe om, which translates literally to ‘hug taxi’. A ‘xe om’ is easily identified – you will see many people waiting on their bikes on street corners looking to give a lift to a tourist.  They can be quite cheap assuming you will negotiate a price down.  Of course, the price depends on where you want to go, but if you are going from one place to another in District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City, a xe om should cost you no more than 20,000 VND.  As a comparison, a short taxi ride within District 1 may be roughly 30,000 VND.  If you want to venture into some of the other districts that are farther away, hiring a xe om is not only more economical but also a great way to experience the city!

Xe om drivers are found everywhere and are generally eager to give you a ride, if they aren't taking an afternoon nap... :)

Xe om drivers are found everywhere and are generally eager to give you a ride, if they aren’t taking an afternoon nap… 🙂

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Lodging

Budget lodging options are plentiful in Vietnam!  In the cities, many of the tall and narrow homes have been converted to guest houses or small hotels.  Although there is quite a range in price from city to city, it’s very easy to find a room for $10-30 a night.  Most will also have some sort of included breakfast – eggs, pancakes, bread, butter, tea, coffee, juice and more!  Finding a hotel with an included meal may save a lot of money in the grand scheme of things.

Many of the tall narrow houses in Vietnam have been converted into hostels or budget hotels.

Many of the tall narrow houses in Vietnam have been converted into hostels or budget hotels.

Homestays have become an increasingly popular form of lodging, especially in the smaller towns in Vietnam.  Not only are they budget-friendly, it’s a great way to understand a little bit about daily life in Vietnam.  Most homestays are booked through travel agencies, except for tourist villages like Sapa where you can walk up to the many homestays advertised.  In Vietnam, one requires a license to host travelers in their home.  Homestays turn out to be an excellent bargain!  Meals are also often included and although they are not fancy, they are usually more than sufficient.  We recommend buying water and any other drinks that you might need beforehand at a store or street vendor rather than at the homestay – the markup for bottled water is very high.

Another type of lodging option that may be of interest to you is ‘couchsurfing’.  This phenomenon has been a part of Vietnam travel for a long time and is becoming increasingly popular among backpackers in the country.  If you are not familiar with that term, Couchsurfing is a means for people with homes (and couches) to connect with travelers who need a place to crash.  The biggest appeal of Couchsurfing – it’s free!  If you are traveling on a really tight budget, we recommend that you check this service out (www.couchsurfing.org).

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Activities and Shopping

Activities and attractions are usually the biggest expenses during your stay in Vietnam.  Places like the Cu Chi tunnels or various monuments can charge an entrance fee and if these are places you’d like to visit, there isn’t much you can do about it.  If you are fond of tours or attractions while traveling, we recommend factoring this into your budget.  It can be an excellent way to understand the culture and you can trim your expenses in other ways.

When shopping for souvenirs or goods, avoid tourist markets like Ben Thanh Market.  It’s very tempting to shop in such places because of the convenience.  But simply go outside and visit the street vendors.  The prices are much lower and they are more open to bargaining.  If you are able to, visit Cho Lon market in District 5.  This is a wholesale market and you will be surprised at the price difference in goods between District 5 and District 1!

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We hope we helped you save a litte bit of money during your time in Vietnam!  To find great shopping bargains around Ho Chi Minh City, join us on our Shopping Spree Tour!

Vintage Skyscrapers? The Evolution of the ‘Tube House’ in Vietnam

The tube house in Vietnam

The tube house in Vietnam

The architecture in Vietnam is heavily influenced by the cultures who have played a big role in the country’s history.  It’s difficult to miss the French-inspired homes with yellow walls and black wrought iron balconies or the Chinese style heavily ornamented pagodas.  Although these types of structures are found throughout the country, the one type of building that exemplifies iconic Vietnamese architecture is the “tube house”.

Tall and densely packed homes are very common in Vietnam. They are colloquially referred to as 'tube houses' because of their narrow tube-like shape.

Tall and densely packed homes are very common in Vietnam. They are colloquially referred to as ‘tube houses’ because of their narrow tube-like shape.

When spending time in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City , you are sure to recognize these unique looking homes – usually 3+ floors, incredibly narrow and long, and packed like sardines in a can!  These homes are usually only found in cities because of high population density.  Historically, when people started migrating to the cities looking for work, land was scarce and the population was relatively high.  This is a stark difference from architecture in the countryside, where houses are wide with gardens on three sides of the building.

The Evolution of the Tube House in Vietnam

Why do they look like that?

The population growth in Saigon is no different than other cities where houses naturally tend to be smaller to accommodate a large number of people.  Yet, these ‘tube homes‘ are a truly unique solution to that problem.  The reason for this form of architectural design has to do with old taxation laws in the city.  When Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi started to develop, the laws were such that one would be charged property tax only on the length of the front facade of the home.  Strange as it is, the overall square footage of the home made little difference!

This style of house is not new.  In fact, it dates back to the Le Dynasty (15-18th Centuries AD) where the idea was to pack as many shops and stores on a street as possible, and merchants would use the back or upstairs area as their living quarters.  These old style merchant homes are the most well preserved in Hoi An.  The multipurpose usage of space still exists today – many of these homes use their bottommost floor as a shop of some kind.  Of course, if more living space is needed, the only way to grow is up!  And, as Vietnam has a strong culture of multi-generational families living together, 4- or 5-story homes are quite common and some can be up to 7 floors high.

Tube houses can be very tall with more than 3 floors. It may initially seem like an apartment building but it is in fact just one house!

Tube houses can be very tall with more than 3 floors. It may initially seem like an apartment building but it is in fact just one house!

A bit of an extreme take on a narrow house, don't you think?

A bit of an extreme take on a narrow house, don’t you think?

Influence around the world?

Granted, the architecture in Vietnam is unique, but narrow homes are seen around the world.  In fact, the Philippines also has narrow homes that are only marginally different in design in comparison to the homes in Vietnam.  The State of California is also no stranger to multi-story tube homes.  San Francisco has a high urban density and some homes are generally narrower, although not as packed as in Vietnam.  New development along Santa Monica beach in California looks remarkably similar the Vietnamese tube homes, but with a bit more sophisticated flair!  Did Vietnam make them first and influence everyone else?  In comparison to the western world, Vietnam thought of the idea first of course but it’s doubtful that these homes were modeled after architecture in Vietnam.  Relative to the Philippines, it’s hard to say for sure.  Some ethnologists say ‘yes’, but many have noted that these homes in the Philippines and Vietnam came about at around the same time and perhaps influenced each other.  However, in terms of sheer number of these homes, Vietnam beats out its competition, hands down!  🙂

Tube style houses around the world - along Santa Monica beach in California and in the Philippines. The homes in California seem to take on this shape due to land value and space constraints. The homes in the Philippines look surprisingly similar to the tube homes in Vietnam.

Tube style houses around the world – along Santa Monica beach in California and in the Philippines. The homes in California seem to take on this shape due to land value and space constraints. The homes in the Philippines look surprisingly similar to the tube homes in Vietnam.

What’s inside?

These homes are also quite interesting in their layout.  The bottom floor is usually a shop or a reception area/garage.  Of course this is not a garage for cars but for motorbikes, the vehicle of choice in Vietnam!  The kitchen is usually at the back of the first floor or the second floor.  The floor with the main living space is also the floor for the grandparents.  The other floors are usually just bedrooms for everyone else living in the house.  The roof area, which is usually open air or partially covered, is reserved for a little garden, lounge space, exercise area and the water tank!

Here is a typical layout of a Vietnamese tube home!

The general layout of a 'tube house' in Vietnam.

The general layout of a ‘tube house’ in Vietnam.

 

We hope you enjoyed learning a bit about architecture in Vietnam!  To learn more about the architecture in Ho Chi Minh City, both old and new, join us on our XO Tours Sights Tour! Traveling in Vietnam is fun and here are some great tips on how to stay healthy during your time in Vietnam. Please take a look and stay safe during your trip.

Vietnam Female Solo Travelers – Cultural Sensitivity and Safety

Tips for women traveling alone in Vietnam

Tips for Vietnam female solo travel

In light of recent violent acts against women around the world, we think it is only fitting that we tell you a little bit about being a woman traveler in Vietnam.  We feel that it is important to understand the rules of the game when visiting a new country because women travelers may face unique challenges.

Major issues for women traveling solo around Vietnam

  • Unwelcome attention from men – Vietnamese men are usually respectful of women but there are occasions where they step over the line. It is much less common than in other countries, though.
  • Physical assault – domestic violence is quite common here but men attacking female travelers in Vietnam is extremely rare. Angry men tend to throw things, chairs, bottles, and fists, but rarely at people, they are not well acquainted with.
  • ‘Old-school’ perceptions of gender roles – if you are older than 30 and not married some Vietnamese will look askew as you travel their country without a husband but this will just be friendly banter for them and at worst, a minor annoyance for solo females on the backpacker trail.

Is Vietnam tourism safety an issue for women? Fortunately, the answer is: “no.”

In general, it is a relatively safe country for women travelers as the incidence rate of violent crime is quite low.  Unlike other parts of the world, women are seldom the victims of sleazy gazes or derogatory advances.  Although there is inherent conservatism in the Vietnamese culture, women are well respected in multiple echelons of society.

That being said, there are certain things that female travelers should keep in mind when traveling in Vietnam.  Aside from the very obvious points such as ‘don’t walk down dark alleys alone‘ and ‘don’t drink too much and let your guard down’,

What are some Vietnam-specific things you should take into consideration?

1. Clothing – Although travelling by yourself is not dangerous in itself, it is common for female travellers to be less covered up, due to the heat.  It is probably safer to be more respectfully dressed.

Vietnam is by no means a place where women have to be covered from head to toe.  In fact, local women can be quite stylish!

However, local residents are usually not skimpily dressed and travellers should follow suit.  As we said earlier, aggression or assault from men is not common here and we are not implying that a woman’s clothing choices should provoke any ill behaviour. But making smart clothing choices is the easiest way to not attract unwanted attention.

Additionally, women should be particularly respectful with clothing choices when visiting a pagoda or temple.  At these places of worship, short shorts, tiny skirts, low cut tops or bare shoulders are not considered appropriate attire.

2. Personal belongings – We have said this before in this blog and here we reiterate.  In order to stay safe and avoid scams, please be careful with your purses, phones and jewelry.  Thieves will go to great lengths to snatch purses or other valuable items.  We have read all too many stories where thieves on motorcycles have tried to grab a woman’s purse and dragged the poor woman until the purse was freed from her.

If a situation such as this arises and the perpetrator is stronger than you, the last thing you want is to be physically hurt.

3. Behaviour – Vietnam is a rapidly developing country and western trends are quickly influencing both pop culture and everyday culture.  Many youngsters are seen holding hands and being affectionate.  Although holding hands is fine, other public displays of affection are not deemed respectful.  It is not advisable to kiss excessively in public.

4. Personal Questions – In Vietnam, it is quite common to ask about the marital status of a woman.  There is also a fair chance that some lifestyle choices may not be fully understood or supported.  Many women travelers have reported that they wore a wedding band or said that they were married simply to avoid these questions.

The locals’ exposure to tourists has grown substantially over the past few years but it is possible that you will encounter some people who do not agree or understand why a woman is unmarried past a certain age or is in a common law relationship.

Another question you may encounter often is about your age.  It is very common to establish your age in comparison to the person asking because it denotes how they address you in the Vietnamese language.  For a westerner, this notion can be a bit strange because one never asks a woman’s age unless you’ve reached a certain comfort level!  Though these questions may come across as offensive, it is not the intention.

5. Transportation – The motorcycle is definitely the vehicle of choice in Vietnam.  One form of public transportation here is the ‘xe om’, which literally means ‘hugging bike’.  Many men around the city will offer rides to tourists on the back of their motorbike for the fraction of the cost of a regular taxi.  The xe om is fast, cheap and more agile in the crazy city traffic.  Many tourists, including women, take the xe om without consequence.

Traveling alone as a woman in Vietnam is fairly common at all ages so a foreign woman will not raise any eyebrows for simply being a ‘woman’.  Some women may have a difficult time getting on a bike with a stranger but for the most part they are safe.

Important Note for Women Travelling Solo at Night in Vietnam

The etiquette when on the bike is that if you are a woman, you can put your hands around the driver’s waist (but you may certainly ask first if it makes you feel more comfortable).  Men are to put their hands on the driver’s shoulder (or holding the rail at the back of the seat for avoiding human contact).

At night, however, we highly advise women to take taxis rather than xe om mainly because of the personal safety factor.  An added reason is that drinking and driving is becoming an increasing concern in Vietnam so it is more likely that taxi drivers will drive responsibly since they are actually ‘on duty’.

Female tourists do take the xe om to get around the city, but we advise this only during the day time.

Solo female tourists do take the xe om to get around the city, but we advise this only during the day time.

 

We wish you safe travels from XO Tours!  If you want to learn more about how we ensure safety on our tours, read about the XO Tours Accident Insurance!

TOP 10 THINGS TO BRING TO VIETNAM!

Things to bring to Vietnam

Things to bring to Vietnam

 

After weighing the pros and cons, most can agree Vietnam is a great travel destination. As with other travel destinations, there are certain things you should bring with you to minimize hassle during your trip.  Use the following list to appropriately pack for your travels.

Top 10 things to bring to Vietnam

  1. The Essentials
  2. Appropriate Luggage
  3. Appropriate Clothing
  4. Appropriate Shoes
  5. Medication
  6. Bathroom Supplies
  7. Sun Protection
  8. Insect Protection
  9. Electronics
  10. Proper Information

 1. The Essentials 

Passport and Visa!! – In addition to the originals, keep photocopies or scanned copies of your passport and visa in case you lose your passport.

Travel medical insurance information – Keep a printout with you.

Cash – Keep enough cash with you as many stores and restaurants only take cash.  Many tourist restaurants and stores take credit card but they will often add a surcharge of 2-3% on top of the international transaction fees you will incur through your credit card company.  ATMs and banks can be found throughout the city if you need to take out cash.  Money exchange booths are also plentiful, especially around tourist haunts.

Money belt – Remember, like any large city, be cautious of petty theft and use a money belt to keep your money secure.

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2. Appropriate Luggage

Soft shell bags – If you plan on taking bus or train rides in the region, soft bags are recommended as the overhead luggage compartments can be quite small.  Keep in mind that the baggage tariffs on internal flights and flights in the region can be quite high so soft shelled bags can save a lot of extra weight and therefore a lot of money.

Daypacks or backpacks – For short excursions, treks and day trips around the city, a daypack is essential for carrying a water bottle, snacks, sunscreen, insect repellent, and shopping.  A secure and sturdy daypack is the perfect thing to keep all your belongings with you as you go about your day.  And, any souvenirs you buy along the way can be kept safe in your bag without having to carry extra plastic bags.  Be careful with how you choose your daypack – a bag that sits close to your body and has thick straps is advisable as thieves can cut the straps and take your bag before you even realize what has happened. It’s a common scam in Vietnam.

Note: If you are planning on a serious adventure tour across Vietnam on a motorbike, consider packing much lighter than normal and plan to stash your gear on a motorbike rack. 15kgs or less is what is recommended.

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 3. Appropriate Clothing

Ponchos are a popular rain attire for bikers around the city.

Ponchos are a popular rain attire for bikers around the city.

Moisture wicking clothing – In Ho Chi Minh City, rainy season is from June to November and dry season is during the rest of the year, although it stays between 25-35C throughout the year.  Lightweight clothing is important for this kind of weather.

Light rain jacket – For the rain, a light jacket is fine but a plastic poncho may also work well.  You will see many locals wearing ponchos while riding their bike in the rain so the poncho may be more suitable if you plan on doing cycling or motorcycling tours around the country.

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4. Appropriate Shoes

Walking shoes – Ho Chi Minh City and other cities in Vietnam are very conducive to walking, once you get past the occasional motorbike driver on the sidewalk!  You may find that you end up walking several kilometres a day so good walking shoes are a must.

Activity based shoes – If you plan on doing outdoor activities or trekking, special shoes are very important.  If you forget to bring them, many hostels and hotels can provide shoes that guests have left behind but your size may not be available.  Even buying shoes here may be difficult if your shoe size is larger than that of the average Vietnamese person.

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5. Medication

Brand name medication – The medication regulations in Vietnam are different than in other countries such that over-the-counter medicines are both cheap and readily available.  Many of the brand name medicines like Pepto Bismol and Tylenol are quite expensive but their non-brand name counterparts are very cheap.  If you prefer to take a certain brand of medicine, bring extra!

Special medication – Some non-mainstream medications may be difficult to find here.  Bring enough for your stay.

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6. Bathroom Supplies

Toilet paper – It may be beneficial to keep toilet paper with you while traveling, especially on long bus rides.  Most hotels, hostels and restaurants in the city have conventional toilets but many bus stop bathrooms have squatting-style toilets without toilet paper.

Female supplies – Sanitary napkins are easy to find here but tampons are not.

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7. Sun Protection

Aloe vera, called "nha dam" in Vietnamese, is readily available at the markets but it's impractical to carry the leaf around during your travels.

Aloe vera, called “nha dam” in Vietnamese, is readily available at the markets but it’s impractical to carry the leaf around during your travels.

UV protection – The sun is very powerful here so high SPF lotions or sprays are a must.  Even local residents protect themselves from the sun by wearing long sleeves, hats and sun umbrellas!  Of course long sleeves in this heat is not very pleasant but neither is sunburn!

Aloe vera gel – Aloe vera gel in a bottle is very difficult to find here but fresh aloe vera is readily available at the market.  Using real aloe vera is very soothing but it is not efficient or practical when traveling by bus or train so bottled aloe vera gel can be quite handy in these situations.

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8. Insect Protection

Insect repellent with Deet – Dengue fever and malaria are transmitted by mosquitos so an insect repellent with Deet is a good thing to have.  Although malaria is rare and is confined to the rural areas, dengue fever is more prevalent.

Cortisone cream – Bites can be highly unpleasant and the last thing you need is an infection from scratching too much!

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9. Electronics

Many outlets in Vietnam are of the combination type and will accept three different plug shapes.

Many outlets in Vietnam are of the combination type and will accept three different plug shapes.

Chargers and backup chargers – Remember to bring all necessary chargers for your electronics.  Pre-charged battery packs are very useful for long bus and train rides.

Shape converter – Most hostels and hotels will have outlets that accept multiple plug shapes but the voltage is still 220V.  A shape converter may come in handy for outlets that don’t accept your plug type.

Computer-like gadget – A smartphone or iPod is a great thing to have!  WiFi is readily available almost anywhere.  You can call home for free or use GoogleMaps, which works very well in Ho Chi Minh City.  A laptop might be too bulky to carry around and too expensive of an item to have stolen.  When you are using your phone on the street, make sure to do it discreetly and away from the curb.  It is all too easy for someone to grab the phone while on their motorbike.

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10. Proper Information

Travel books – Travel books can be invaluable here for important information about hospitals, money, embassies, and more.  Keep in mind that the latest edition of a travel book is usually a year out of date so locations and phone numbers for restaurants or stores may change.  Fortunately, the location of public service offices are usually less transient.

Translation cards – If you have food intolerances, make sure you print out your translation cards before you come here.

Location information – Have with you the addresses, phone numbers, location and maps for your hotels before arriving so that you can relay information to your taxi driver.

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If you forget any items, most things are available here but at a premium.  Proper packing will ensure that you have a relaxing and hassle-free vacation!

 

If you want to do an off-beaten track Vietnam tour, you can book our Ho Chi Minh City or Hoi An tours.

Eating Gluten Free and Other Food Restrictions in Vietnam

Food allergies in Vietnam

Food allergies in Vietnam

Vietnamese food is among the most delicious in the world, and is generally very fresh and healthy. You can try the famous Vietnamese sandwich Banh Mi. However, food allergies and restrictions are less common here than in many parts of the world.  In fact, many people here may not even know what a food allergy is.  Because Vietnamese cuisine is quite versatile, there are always ways to accommodate for food allergies, as long as you can communicate what you are able and not able to eat.  Here are some words of advice on working around your restrictions while still enjoying the delectable treats this country has to offer!

FOOD ALLERGIES IN VIETNAM

  1. No gluten
  2. No dairy/ no peanuts
  3. Vegetarianism/Veganism

NO GLUTEN

This simple Vietnamese rice dish with grilled meat and vegetables is a safe bet for those who eat a gluten-free diet.

This simple Vietnamese rice dish with grilled meat and vegetables is a safe bet for those who eat a gluten-free diet.

Eating gluten-free is not as difficult as it may seem because Vietnamese food is heavily rice-based. However, there are several things to be cautious about.  Most noodles, rice paper products, and rice sheets are primarily made of rice but they can often contain tapioca flour and wheat flour.  The best option is to stick with dishes with names that contain “com” (which translates to steamed rice).

Another important precaution is to avoid all dishes with soy sauce.  Those of you who adhere to a gluten-free diet already know that most soy sauces contain wheat.  However, you may not know that many Vietnamese sausages and patés may also contain soy sauce and wheat products, even if you don’t detect the flavour in the food.  It is best to avoid processed meats altogether for this reason.  Fortunately, fish sauce is the primary condiment in Vietnamese food so flavour is not compromised if soy sauce must be eliminated.

Vietnamese sausage should be avoided if you are unsure of how it was made as it may contain wheat or soy sauce.

Vietnamese sausage should be avoided if you are unsure of how it was made as it may contain wheat or soy sauce.

Please note that if you wish to cook a meal at your home/hotel, gluten-free products are available at An Nam Gourmet Grocery Store, located at 16-18 Hai Ba Trung Street.

Use these guides to communicate your restrictions to restaurant staff and to learn the names of foods you should avoid:

Gluten Free Translation Card 1
Gluten Free Translation Card 2

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NO DAIRY/NO PEANUTS

Vietnamese coffee is often served with a generous serving of condensed milk at the bottom.

Vietnamese coffee is often served with a generous serving of condensed milk at the bottom.

In Vietnam, peanut sauce is a very common accompaniment to certain dishes.

In Vietnam, peanut sauce is a very common accompaniment to certain dishes.

 

 

 

 

Peanuts are often served as a garnish in many dishes.

Peanuts are often served as a garnish in many dishes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Avoiding dairy in Vietnam is quite simple – avoid coffee with condensed milk and most sweets.  However, be cautious with bread products.  Some breads, especially white breads, will contain small amounts of milk.

Vietnamese food is much harder to navigate for people with peanut allergies.  Peanuts, and other nuts such as cashews, are ubiquitous in Vietnamese food – it is present as a garnish, as an oil for cooking, and is ground in sauces and condiments.  If you eat at a restaurant, you will have to rely solely on your communication skills and your willingness to trust the chefs!  However, please be aware that at a restaurant, even if your dish does not have peanuts, it is very likely that your food may have been in contact with them simply because nuts are a staple of a Vietnamese kitchen.  Pho or other soup-like dishes are usually a safe bet as it rarely contains nuts and nut oils, although you will still have to make sure the chefs know about your allergy.

To learn some keywords in recognizing allergens in your food or to communicate your allergy to restaurant staff, please use the following:

No Dairy Translation Card
No Peanuts and Nuts Translation Card

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VEGETARIANISM/VEGANISM

In Vietnam, people are able to find vegetarian and vegan food quite easily.  Vietnam has a heavy Buddhist influence and although most of the country eats meat, many people will eat vegetarian food once a week or during certain holidays and auspicious times.  For instance, according to Buddhist tradition, followers will eat vegetarian food on the 1st and 15th of the lunar month.  On these days, vegetarian restaurants may be packed with local residents.

There are many vegetarian restaurants in Vietnam who will cater to your dietary needs and many restaurants are strictly vegetarian.  But, if you are traveling with people who prefer eating non-vegetarian food (see: Vietnam with kids), restaurants that cater to tourists are a safe option.  For example, in the backpackers’ district in Ho Chi Minh City, many local eateries not only offer a wide array of dishes but usually have a whole page of just vegetarian dishes.  Or, along the major tourist haunts such as Dong Khoi Street or the major shopping centres, the restaurants are quite accommodating to vegetarians.  However, one thing to be aware of is that although many local restaurants may not add meat to your food, avoiding condiments such as fish sauce may be difficult.  For particularly strict vegetarians, eating bread products here can be a problem as many baguettes are made with egg yolk.

Fish sauce is the most frequently used condiment in Vietnamese cooking.

Fish sauce is the most frequently used condiment in Vietnamese cooking.

Veganism is not too different from vegetarianism in Vietnam.  Western food items that distinguish the two such as dairy and honey are not as commonly used here.  Give the restaurant staff the following statements to ensure there are no meat products in your food.  If you want to take a hand at pronouncing these words, be extra cautious when saying the word for vegetarian (chay) as the colloquial word for dog meat is very similar (cay)!!

Vegetarian/Vegan Translation Card

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The best way to navigate around your intolerances and allergies is to be prepared.  Print out the translation cards and communicate it with the restaurant staff and learn to recognize the keywords.  Although it may seem challenging at first, it is entirely possible to have a unique and complete culinary experience without worrying about food poisoning. With a willingness to understand Vietnamese food ingredients, the adventurous but restricted dieter can enjoy unlimited possibilities.  Bon appétit!

We hope that you found this Vietnam Travel Trip from XO Tours – Vietnam Motorcycle Tours useful!  If you want to safely eat some amazing street food while in Saigon, you might consider booking our highly acclaimed “Foodie” tour by clicking on the banner at the top of the page.