Money in Vietnam – Payments, Forex and ATM Tips

 

Which currency (money) you should be used when you go to a specific country is one of the most important subjects travelers should research before visiting, because you’re not going to get too far without knowing which currency is most commonly accepted.

The general rule is that it’s best to use the local currency when you travel because it should be accepted almost anywhere. In countries where the local currency is devaluing extremely quickly, however (e.g. Venezuela, Argentina), you don’t really want to be caught holding a currency that loses value every day. Additionally, many shops and restaurants in developing countries do not accept credit or debit card, so sometimes cash is the only option.

So, what’s the story on currency and money in Vietnam? Hopefully, this XO Tours blog post will take away most of the confusion regarding which currency to use in Vietnam, as well as the misunderstanding that usually comes with the topic of money in Vietnam.

Money in Vietnam Table of Contents:

  1. How to pay for purchases in Vietnam?
  2. How to Exchange your currency to VND?
  3. How to Withdraw Cash at ATMs in Vietnam?
  4. Using Creditcard in Vietnam
  5. How Vietnamese Dong Papers look like?

How to pay for your purchases in Vietnam?

The official currency of Vietnam is the Dong (VND). There is nothing that cannot be purchased in Vietnam with the Dong. It’s worth pointing out that it’s actually illegal in Vietnam to request payment in any currency other than Dong. If this is the case, you might ask why the prices at the market when you are shopping for souvenirs in Vietnam (e.g accommodation and tours), are listed in US dollars (USD)? The main reason is for comparison purposes, seeing as few people would understand how the Vietnamese Dong compares with their own country’s currency. Whereas most people would have an understanding of how their currency compares to the USD. For reference, as at March 2018, $1 USD is worth approximately 22,800 Dong.

Now, the big question! Can I pay for things in Vietnam using USD? Yes, it is widely accepted by many hotels, shops, and restaurants.

Now, the second part to the big question! Should I pay for things in USD when in Vietnam? While you can, there is a downside to doing so. The exchange rate will be one that will be set by the vendor, which is more likely to be to their benefit rather than yours. As such, whatever it is that you’re purchasing, it’s likely to cost you more than it should. Now that we know that we need Dong to survive in Vietnam, how do we go about getting it?

The saying ‘Cash is King’, is certainly very true in Vietnam. And because things are relatively cheap there, compared to ‘home’, it’s not difficult dealing solely with cash.

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How to exchange your own currency in Vietnam

First off, it’s important to mention that you will get a much better rate when you change your currency in Vietnam, as opposed to changing in your home country. So unless you like giving money away, it’s strongly recommended to wait until you arrive. Many currencies from around the world are widely accepted for exchange, including US dollars, Pounds, Euros and Australian dollars.

When it comes to exchanging foreign currency, you have a few options:

Banks and foreign exchange businesses being the main ones, but surprisingly some of the best places to exchange currency are gold shops/jewelry stores. Banks have more formal procedures which means you’ll need to show your passport, as well as fill out forms. You also might have to wait in line for a while if there are a lot of customers at the bank. Foreign exchange stores are very straightforward, in that you hand over your currency, and instantly receive the equivalent in VND. Exchanging money at gold shops, while technically illegal, is also very simple. No forms to fill out, and passport not required; again, it’s a straight swap. If you’re in a small town and cannot find a currency exchange or gold shop, many tour agents will also offer currency exchange.

Interestingly, even the airport exchange booths are very competitive on rates when compared with the exchange stores and gold shops, dotted around the cities. So, all very straightforward, but is there anything else you need to be aware of before you exchange your hard-earned currency for a fistful of Dong?

Yes, a few things…..

  • First, have an idea of what the current exchange rate is for the currency you are about to change. You can do this by downloading one of the many currency apps found on most smartphones, or even just simply having a shortcut link to a currency exchange website, on your phone. What the app, or the website, states as the most current exchange rate, won’t be exactly what you will be offered. But, it will give you an idea of what the rate is, and what you are offered should be reasonably close to it.
    If it’s not, walk out and try another place.
  • Second, make sure the notes that you are going to exchange are in good condition. Torn and damaged notes may not be accepted, and even notes that have been written on may be a problem.
  • Third, make sure you are given a range of VND notes, including some lower denomination ones. ‘Breaking’ 500,000 dong notes can be a problem when purchasing low-cost items, so having a range of notes that include 20,000, 50,000 and 100,000 Dong notes will make life much easier.
  • Fourth, make sure you count out the notes you receive in front of the person you are exchanging with before you leave the shop.
  • Finally, it’s best not to change too much money in one transaction.  Most likely, the Dong notes you receive are going to take up considerably more room in your wallet than your own currency.

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Using ATMs in Vietnam

ATM location Agribank, Sacombank, BIDV Bank

Withdrawing money in Vietnam

 

So, not interested in exchanging currency, or just don’t feel comfortable carrying around that much cash? Or perhaps you’d just like another option? ATM ’s are your answer, then.

ATMs are everywhere in Vietnam. You generally won’t have to walk too far in most cities to find one. But, like exchanging currency, there are some things that you need to know about Vietnam’s ATMs.

  • ATMs in Vietnam only dispense Vietnam Dong.
  • All ATM machines have varying withdrawal limits for each transaction. The limit varies from machine to machine, and from bank to bank, and can be anywhere between 2,000,000 and around 10,000,000 Dong, with most being towards the lower end of that range. This doesn’t stop you from making several withdrawals, one after another, but you do need to be aware that there is an ATM fee for each withdrawal. This fee again varies from bank to bank, but is usually somewhere between 20,000 and 50,000 dong, per transaction.

What about the ‘hidden’ charges your own bank is going to sting you on international transactions? These charges could actually make the ATM fee look like small change. And if you’re using a low limit machine; needing to withdraw several times to get the amount you require, you could well be in for a rude shock when you check your bank statement when you get home. These charges will vary from bank to bank, but you could be looking at a fee of around $5 per transaction. This might not sound like a lot, but it quickly adds up if you’re restricted to withdrawals of around $100. So if you’re planning to use ATMs in Vietnam, try to apply for a card from a bank that does not charge you extra for withdrawing money internationally.

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How to use Credit Cards in Vietnam

Visa and Mastercard Credit Cards

Visa and Mastercard Credit Cards

Although the number of businesses in Vietnam that will accept credit card has increased dramatically in recent years, aside from large Vietnam hotels, some tour operators, large supermarkets and some restaurants, most businesses in Vietnam still do not accept credit card. Even for businesses that do accept credit cards, be aware that some merchants will add a minimum 3% surcharge onto the purchase price in addition to the foreign transaction fees that your own credit card company may charge you. As with the advice we gave regarding ATMs cards, try to sign up with a credit card provider that does not charge international transaction fees before traveling. In summary, we would only recommend using credit card for large purchases where you can earn reward points or in case of emergency.

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VIETNAM DONG – NOTES

Vietnamese notes come in various denominations, with the main ones being of the plastic polymer variety.
The denominations in plastic include 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, 100,000, 200,000 and 500,000. To avoid common scams pay attention on the following paper notes.
There are also some older paper notes, and these come in denominations of 1,000, 2,000 and 5,000

WHAT THE PLASTIC NOTES LOOK LIKE

money in Vietnam

500,000VND Note front

money in Vietnam

500,000VND Note Back

500.000VND = 21.95 USD | = 29.07 AUD (May 2018)

money in Vietnam

200,000 VND Note front

money in Vietnam

200,000 VND Note back

 

money in Vietnam

100,000 VND Note front

money in Vietnam

100,000 VND Note back

 

money in Vietnam

50,000 VND Note front

money in Vietnam

50,000 VND Note back

 

money in Vietnam

20,000 VND Note front

money in Vietnam

20,000 VND Note back

 

money in Vietnam

10,000 VND Note front

money in Vietnam

10,000 VND Note back

 

As you can see, there are lots of zeros. And that can be a little confusing at the start. Adding to the confusion is that some of the notes are of a similar colour, so make sure you are aware of which note you are handing over, as well as any notes you are receiving.

THE LOWER VALUE PAPER NOTES

money in Vietnam

1,000 VND Note

money in Vietnam

2,000 VND Note

money in Vietnam

5,000 VND Note

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You will receive the lower denomination paper notes quite often as change, and while they are worth very little, they do add up when you have a lot of them. These smaller notes can be very handy for low-cost items such as bottled water, either off the street from a vendor, or one of the many small convenience stores you’ll see on your travels. Which brings us to which are the notes that you always want to have on hand? While the 500,000 dong notes are great for larger purchases, like accommodation and paying for tours, they’re not so ideal for everyday purchases like drinks, food, souvenirs, and even taxi fares. Many of the day to day things you’re likely to be buying will be less than 100,000 dong, and if that’s the case, then handing over a 500,000 dong note for a 50,000 dong purchase can be problematic when it comes to receiving change. Always try and keep a few 20,000, 50,000 and 100,000 dong notes in your purse or wallet for those smaller purchases. And if you’re finding yourself running low on those denominations, look for opportunities to ‘break’ a 500,000 dong note. Those convenience stores mentioned earlier, can be handy for that.

So, with a bit more of an understanding about your options when it comes to money, hopefully now you’ll have the confidence to go out and really enjoy Vietnam.

If you want some help in making the most of your time in Vietnam, you might consider booking one of more tours with XO Tours in Ho Chi Minh City or Hoi An. XO Tours was recently named one of the top 9 food tours in the worlds by Forbes!

Day Trip to Can Gio – Visiting a UNESCO Biosphere

Can Gio – The UNESCO Protected Mangrove Biosphere Reserve was mentioned one of our previous blog posts (Top 5 day trips you can easily go from Ho Chi Minh) as one of the top Ho Chi Minh City day trip for travelers who would like some fresh exotic nature outside of bustling Saigon, XO Tours will get bring to you a comprehensive guide so you can DIY your Can Gio – Ho Chi Minh City day trip

In this article, I have provided some updates, more detail, and also some insights( mangrove forest and Monkey Island) and a few other interesting local spots so that you can tailor the day out to your liking. I suggest reading the previous blog post first as a primer.

The reserve core lies pretty much in the center of Can Gio and consists of some 7% of its surface area (Can Gio is one of Saigon’s 24 districts). Roughly the same amount of land to the core’s south-southwest was declared a forestry park (Lam Vien Can Gio). The rest of the surroundings is the buffer zone, where very few people live.

The remaining land consists of transition zones away from the core and is shown in beige and white on the map below.

Zonation of Can Gio Mangrove BioSphere reserve Can Gio - Ho Chi Minh City day trip

Zonation of Can Gio Mangrove BioSphere reserve

Can Gio - Ho Chi Minh City day trip

Credit: Unesco 

 

These communes are sparsely populated (not unlike the far rural areas of the country), except for the town of Can Thanh – the district seat – in the coastal southeast of Can Gio

The main road (Rung Sac) starts at the Binh Khanh ferry in the north-northwest, slices through the district – slightly to the west of the core area – and ends at Duyen Hai road (the main coastal thoroughfare that runs east-west). As noted in the above map, the red lines designate the major roads in Can Gio.

There’s a host of Can Gio – Ho Chi Minh City day trip tour operators offering a variety of combination of transportation method to visit the biosphere reserve: shuttle van, bus, bicycle, motorbike, junk boat, or canoe from Saigon. Many of these tours include motorized boat and/or sampan ride while inside the reserve

How to get to Can Gio without joining a tour

If you like to DIY, you can take bus no. 20 from the station at the 23/9 Park (near the backpacker area in town), at the new central station along Ham Nghi Blvd. (in front of the Ben Thanh market), or at any station along the route. Ferry and Bus fares go for practical peanuts.

 

Bus Route 20: Ben Thanh – Nha Be

  • Distance: 16.85 km
  • Vehicle type: 39 – 80 seats
  • Operation time: 04:20 – 21:00
  • Fare price: 5,000 VNĐ
  • Total trips: 328 Trip/day
  • Trip time: 50 minutes
  • Trip spacing: 4 – 20 minutes

This bus will take you to the Binh Khanh ferry in Nha Be district, on the other side of the Can Gio reserve

(Note: The bus authority is notorious for making changes to the locations of the stops and the operating time without updating its website; the same goes for occasions when they need to alter the route due to constructions or holiday road closure. For instance, at the moment of this writing, I notice numerous discrepancies between the English and Vietnamese versions regarding a number of bus routes.)

 

Route 90: Pha Binh Khanh – Can Thanh

  • Distance: 45.60 km
  • Vehicle type: 25 – 29 seats
  • Operation time: 04:45 – 21:30
  • Fare price:6,000 VNĐ
  • Total trips: 152 Trip/day
  • Trip time: 75 minutes
  • Trip spacing: 6 – 90 minutes

Once you’re on the Can Gio side, take bus no. 90 traveling southbound on Rung Sac road. The first major point of interest is just before the Dan Xay bridge (Cau Dan Xay). Make sure to tell the driver or show him the name in writing beforehand – say, like when you board the bus – as it is not an official stop. Unless he’s a rookie, the driver should be familiar with dropping off visitors here. Don’t forget that the bridge is particularly a good spot for photography.

There’s also bus no. 75 that runs basically the same route, but it makes several stops on this stretch – albeit not at this particular location either. Still, the adventurous souls may want to make a note of this bus if they wish to explore the local areas that I will talk about later on. Keep in mind, once again, that there are disparities between the English and Vietnamese version on the website.

 

Route 75: Saigon – Can Gio

  • Distance: 64.20 km
  • Vehicle type: 25 – 29 seats
  • Operation time: 04:00 – 16:30
  • Fare price:  30,000 VNĐ
  • Total trips: 6 Trip/day
  • Trip time: 140 minutes
  • Trip spacing: 167 minutes

At any rate, you have two choices at this stop: The various programs offered by the Vam Sat Ecological Tourist Center (Khu du lịch sinh thái Vàm Sát) mentioned above or those offered by the Dan Xay Mangrove Park (Khu du lịch sinh thái Dần Xây).

The Vam Sat Ecological Tourist Center 

The Vam Sat ETC is operated by Phu Tho Tourist and is geared more toward entertainment. They have a boat dock near the Dan Xay bridge to transfer visitors to the center (some 8km as the birds fly to the west.) The two main attractions here are the Vam Sat bird sanctuary (Tràm Chim – with its 28-m tall observation tower) and the Flying Fox Bat Habitat (Đầm Dơi). The best time for bird watching is the wet season from April through October. You will get to travel the rivers and canals by motorized boat and sampan.

Tourists are feeding Crocodiles at Vam Sat Center Can Gio - Ho Chi Minh City day trip

Feeding Crocodiles at Vam Sat Center

These are Other attractions and activities include:

  • Crabbing by setting traps from a sampan or with a pole.
  • Feeding the crocodiles from a metal floating enclosure.
  • Fishing in the ponds, particularly for the Gobiidae (cá thòi lòi), a native to the mudflats that are common near the estuaries from here on westward, toward the Mekong.
  • Working out your leg muscles in a paddle boat or testing your skill in a basket boat.
  • Walking the trails.
  • Visiting the wildlife preservation center (deer, monitor lizard, saltwater crocodiles, sea otters, etc.)
  • Joining in a mangrove forest tree planting session.
  • Testing your balance and skills on a suspension bridge (not for the faint of heart).
  • Catching some fish – Mekong-style – by wading in the mud to dredge a ditch, leaving the victim with nowhere to hide.
  • Enjoying your catch at the on-site bistro.

The two main affiliates of the Vam Sat ETC are Saigontourist (with multiple offices in the tourist area of Dist. 1 and 3) and the Dam Sen Water Park (in Dist. 11). You can get more information from them or the numerous Can Gio – Ho Chi Minh City day trip operators all around town – even if you decide to DIY.

(Note: Actually, Saigontourist is a giant state-run entity with listed current capital at 1.5B USD. Most of the names mentioned in this article, particularly the major ones, are operating under its umbrella one way or another. Their offices can be a good source of information. You definitely don’t need to use them; this is JFYI (just for your information) only.

The Dan Xay Mangrove Park

The Dan Xay Mangrove Park is operated by the Can Gio Mangrove Forest Management Board. It aims to provide an interactive learning experience and give visitors more direct access to the core of the reserve as it is located right on its edge. This rather new entity (since 2014) also has a website, but their English version is practically worthless as of this writing.

It’s probably best for groups, but certainly not exclusive to the solo travelers or couples.

Some of its features:

  • An exhibition center.
  • A 36-m tall observation tower that allows visitors a close-up view of the core of the biosphere reserve.
  • A wildlife center (mainly wild boars and monkeys).
  • Motorized boats, kayaks, electric shuttles, bicycles.
  • Mangrove Forest tree planting sessions.
  • Ditch dredging for fish.
  • Guided trekking tours.
  • Camping facilities.
  • Homestay in stilt houses with forest rangers.
  • Your own lodge, Japanese-style, if you so choose.

At the moment, there’s no entrance fee. You will find a big sign complete with rates for canoeing, kayaking, among other things, on the ground. Its main affiliates are Dong Nam Tourist (Phu Nhuan District), Du Ngoan Viet – Viet Excursions (District 7) and Cho Lon Tourist (with offices in Dist. 1 and 5).

Monkey Island

Further south, bus no. 90 will make a stop at the Junction to the Monkey Island (Ngã ba đảo khỉ).

 

Tourist taking photo of monkeys Can Gio - Ho Chi Minh City day trip

Taking photos on Monkey Island

The “Monkey Island” is part of the Can Gio Forestry Park (Lâm Viên Cần Giờ), along with the Rung Sac Museum and the Vam Sat guerrilla base. Here, you can also find saltwater crocodiles, wild boars, sea otters, wild cats, monitor lizards, and if you’re lucky (or unlucky – depending upon your definition), a python or a cobra.

The real attraction here – at least to those that love nature – is the mangrove forest itself. After all, the political-correct name for the place is “Lâm Viên Cần Giờ”, which means Can Gio Forestry Park.

This area is under the management of Can Gio Eco-Tourism Company, a subsidiary of Saigon Tourist, which also runs the beachfront Can Gio Resort about 4km down the road.

(A quick note, as our previous blog had warned, is not to expect anything from the beach. The darkish soil here is rich with alluvium from the Dong Nai river system and the water is murky – though safe to swim)

if you’re looking for activities at the beach, XO Tours recommends you to take a look at 13 To-Do activities in Vietnam so you won’t be missing out the fun.

Don’t forget to pay attention to things on the road

So far, I had covered the “usual” stuff about Can Gio. Even so, you should find it quite unique on a normal weekday. As one travels from district 1 through district 4, 7, and Nha Be, the traffic thins out a little more and more – most usually.

Enjoy the ferry ride while it’s still there. In a few more years, the planned Binh Khanh bridge will render it obsolete. Already, one can see another bridge, the Phuoc Khanh bridge, going up a short distance away, across the Long Tau river – the eastern border of Can Gio.

The ride through the countryside along Rung Sac road is a pleasant one, though I heard recently that the road can use some maintenance.

During your Ho Chi Minh City day trip back from Can Gio, don’t forget to take a stop at a few bridges for the view and some photos.

Water Coconut

Enjoy some water coconut drink at a roadside stand. See if you can manage to find the young male vendor that is known to offer to fix bikers’ flat without charge. Or simply take in the sight and sound of it all at the various stalls (the prime season for water coconut is between August and October.)

A smiling woman selling Dua Nuoc on the road from Can Gio to Sai Gon during a Ho Chi Minh City day trip

A smiling woman selling Dua Nuoc on the road from Can Gio to Sai Gon from Ho Chi Minh City day trip

Credit:zing.vn

Hoang Yen Yellow Osaka Cassia Fistula Flowers.

If your arrival is between March and April, you can catch the spectacular blooms of the Hoang Yen Yellow Osaka Cassia Fistula Flowers.

Bougainvillea

Or perhaps, it’s the Bougainvillea that strikes your fancy, especially at the height of summer.

We hope you found this blog post about the Can Gio Biosphere Reserve helpful. Can Gio is just one of the many interesting day trips you can take from Ho Chi Minh City. Most travelers to Ho Chi Minh City use it as a base to travel to the Mekong Delta and Cu Chi Tunnels and it should be in your Vietnam Tour. For the best day tours to these 2 fascinating, you might consider booking with a company called Drive Vietnam. Drive Vietnam runs the most acclaimed private day tours to the Cu Chi Tunnels and Mekong Delta area.

 

If you stop by Ho Chi Minh City and want to discover Saigon through the unique view of our guides, please book our Sights tour.

Top 5 reasons to visit Ho Chi Minh City during Tet

Lunar Vietnamese New Year

Vietnamese Tet

Vietnamese New Year aka Vietnamese Tet ([tet˧˥] or [təːt˧˥]), or more commonly known as Tet, is a wondrous and prosperous time in Vietnam, and is an event that is anticipated throughout the year!  It marks the arrival of spring, a brand new start for many of life’s endeavours, and is a time to appreciate and spend time with family.  If you are considering traveling to Vietnam during Tet, here are the top 5 reasons to be a part of this joyous celebration in Ho Chi Minh City.

1. Spectacular Sights to celebrate the Vietnamese New Year

Ho Chi Minh City is incredibly festive on the days leading up to Vietnamese New Year.  Magical is the best way to describe the city during this time!  Imagine an entire street closed off to traffic and dedicated to flower displays and fascinating works of art created entirely by lights!  Tet is such a special time of year for the Vietnamese people and the country spares no effort or expense in creating a beautiful atmosphere for everyone to enjoy.  It is definitely a sight to see!

Saigon Walking street during Tet Vietnamese New Year

Tet 2013 – Year of the Snake! Spectacular sights around the city.

2. Special Tet Food

– certain foods and treats are only served during Tet and are considered auspicious and significant for a multitude of reasons.  For instance, one of the items you will see at food stalls during Tet is Banh Chung or Banh Tet.  It’s a mixture of glutinous rice, mung beans and pork covered with banana leaves and moulded into a square shape.  The ingredients and the color of Banh Tet symbolize the offerings of the Earth, and this treat is offered at shrines or temples in order to pray for health and prosperity in the new year.  Be sure to give it try!

Banh Chung is the iconic food of Tet Vietnamese New Year

Banh Chung is the iconic food of Tet celebrations. It is made with glutinous rice, mung beans, and pork along with various spices. Then they wrap The mixture up in banana leaves in a distinctive square shape and cook them for hours.

3. Less Traffic

– for Tet, people generally visit their families either in their hometowns or in the cities, so you will hardly see people out and about! The hoards of motorcycles and the usual hustle and bustle of the city are at a minimum.  It’s a great time to cross the street without fearing the worst!

empty streets during Vietnamese New Year

The area at the entrance of Ben Thanh market is one of the major intersections in Ho Chi Minh City. During Tet, all the traffic almost disappears for about 3-4 days!

4. Hotel Availability

– traveling within the country is generally a little difficult during Tet. It is because of the lack of transportation options or expensive prices.  Hotels, on the other hand, are more available because tourists tend to just stay where they are for Tet.  Some smaller hostels and bed and breakfasts may close for a few days. However, most hotels are open through Tet and have ample availability.

5. Pleasant Weather

– late January to February is a great time to visit Ho Chi Minh City because the weather is mild.  Of course, Ho Chi Minh City has a tropical climate so it never really gets cold. The heat is more bearable than during other times of the year, and it is still within the dry season.  The nights get cooler too and you may even get a pleasant evening breeze!  The cooler weather coupled with less traffic makes for a great opportunity to wander the streets peacefully and enjoy the sights during Tet!

Wishing you a Happy New Year and a prosperous and healthy road ahead! Chuc Mung Nam Moi!

We will be delighted to host you on one of our authentic Vietnam tours.

3 reasons you should not book with XO Tours

Although we are very proud of the acclaim our XO 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. XO Tours are not trying to serve you the most popular dishes in Vietnam, even the dishes we think are the most delicious (although most people LOVE the food!). Our Tours 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 tours. We also want to show you the huge contrast between the different districts. So we can 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 XO Tours 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 the 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!

Lady Tour Guides with great testimonial from Graham Caldwell from Scottish Daily Express

Why you should book with XO Tours

 

Not sure where to go in Vietnam yet? Check out our latest blog posts to the right of this page.

Top 8 Off The Beaten Track Destinations in Vietnam

Vietnam is seeing more and more visitors each year, with the actual number of tourists per year reaching to well over 12 million.  Some areas in Vietnam, such as Halong Bay, Sapa, and Hoi An, are very beautiful and are part of Vietnam itineraries but also packed with tourists year round.  Fortunately, if you want to get away from the crowds, you have several tour alternatives.  Here are some of the best suggestions you might consider adding to your Vietnam off the beaten track itinerary.

Central Vietnam Caves

A few years ago, the largest caves in the world were discovered in central Vietnam.  These caves are a complete marvel, in pristine condition and also thought to contain the largest stalagmites in the world, up to 70 metres tall!  Currently, only a limited number of expeditions per year are allowed and come at the very hefty price of $3000 per person.  If this is out of your price range, fear not!  In the same area, you can visit the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, wherein lies two famous caves – Phong Nha cave and Paradise cave.  Up until the discovery of Son Doong cave, Phong Nha cave was thought to be the largest in Vietnam.  To put it into perspective,  Son Doong is more than five times the size of Phong Nha cave!  Nevertheless, the smaller caves are beautiful and unique in their own way.  The entire area is also very serene and peaceful, with many small lakes in the area and quaint lodging options.  

How to get there: From Dong Hoi train station or airport, arrange a pick up with your hotel or hostel in Phong Nha.  The drive is a little over an hour.  Otherwise, it is a 4-hour drive from Hue. 

Phong Nha Ke Bang Cave

Phong Nha Ke Bang Cave

Buon Ma Thuot

One of the unique places in Vietnam is Buon Ma Thuot, it is in the central highlands of Vietnam.  This area is most famous for generating a majority of Vietnam’s coffee for export and is often dubbed Vietnam’s “capital of coffee”.  Besides the coffee plantations, Buon Ma Thuot is also situated next to a large and beautiful lake which is still shallow enough in some areas to be able to cross on elephants!  This activity is a major draw for tourists, but still not enough to make this area touristy.  This is one of the few places in Vietnam where you can actually ride elephants, and it is much more ‘rustic’ of an activity than the organized elephant tours in Thailand and other neighbouring countries. 

How to get there: You can visit Buon Ma Thuot by road from DaLat or Nha Trang.  Or, you can sign up for a motorbike tour through EasyRiders where they have itineraries that take you to Buon Ma Thuot.  

Children riding elephants crossing streams in Buon Me Thuot

Buon Ma Thuot

Vietnam off the beaten track: Culture

Chau Doc

Chau Doc is a small city in the Mekong Delta close to the Vietnam-Cambodia border.  Due to its proximity to the border, the people of this region are either Cham, Cambodian, or Vietnamese in ethnicity, and they all live together in harmony.  The Cham people who live in Chau Doc are descendants of the Muslim Cham people who were displaced from Central and South Vietnam during the war in the 18th century. This unique mix of cultures and religions gives this town a different kind of vibe.  The main draw to this town, besides the slower paced life, is the religious architecture.  A few kilometers outside of Chau Doc is Mount Sam, where they have many temples and pagodas, and around the area, you will find many mosques as well.  Chau Doc has a very close trading relationship with Cambodia so this border crossing is very convenient if you want to continue your journey westward.  An interesting way to get to Phnom Penh from Chau Doc is to take a boat along the river.  

How to get there: By road from Ho Chi Minh City is the easiest route to Chau Doc, and the drive takes 4 to 6 hours. 

Boats on Mekong river in Chau Doc Vietnam

Chau Doc

Mu Cang Chai, Mai Chau

With towns like Sapa becoming more and more touristy by the minute, Mu Cang Chai or Mai Chau are great alternatives. Mu Cang Chai is a small town of 43,000 people in northwestern Vietnam is one of the most naturally beautiful places in the country, and Mai Chau is also very similar.  Many people have a romanticized view of rice terraces and open mountainous areas with farmers donning conical hats, and this is the place to see it!  Not only is it quiet and tranquil, the scenery is spectacular.  There are as many as 20 different ethnic groups, and in some areas, the Viet people are not the majority.  These different people live harmoniously with one another and live a very peaceful and self-sustaining lifestyle.  There is very little interference from modern culture and they adhere to their beliefs very strongly.  That being said, they are incredibly friendly and open with tourists.  You will find that they are also less aggressive than their counterparts near Sapa because these smaller towns have not been inundated with tourists in the way that Sapa has.    

How to get there: The easiest way to get to Mu Cang Chai or Mai Chau is by road from Dien Bien Phu or from Hanoi.  It is a long drive but so worth it.  Even though it’s a long drive, the journey is much shorter to get there in comparison to the journey time to Sapa.  

Mu Cang Chai highland

Mu Cang Chai

Vietnam off the beaten track: History

Hue

Hue has played a very important role in Vietnam’s history throughout the centuries, not just recent history.  This area was the capital of the Nguyen Dynasty almost 150 years just before the emperor abdicated to governmental pressures. The DMZ between North and South Vietnam is also located very close to Hue. During the war between North and South Vietnam, soldiers have built many tunnels near the DMZ. Those are very similar to Cu Chi Tunnels near Ho Chi Minh City. Cu Chi Tunnels are very touristy, so visiting these tunnels near Hue is a great alternative. There are many more historical sites and museums to visit in Hue. There are fewer tourists visit there than other cities in the region, like Danang and Hoi An.  If you can get past the notoriously bad weather, visiting Hue can be both an enjoyable and educational experience.   

How to get there: Hue is very accessible by road, plane or train since it is on the coast.  In order to visit the DMZ or the tunnels in the area, you will need to set up a tour or find a xe om.

"Tourist

Dien Bien Phu

Dien Bien Phu is the city that has been an important aspect of Vietnamese nationalistic pride.  During the French Indochina War, Dien Bien Phu was the site of the ultimate battle between the Viet Minh and the French Union . The battle led to the termination of French rule in Vietnam.  In fact, this battle is so famous that it has been depicted in paintings and caricatures. It also has even been featured in a movie of the same name. 

As a side note, the commander who led the Viet Minh into battle and secured this victory, General Vo Nguyen Giap. He has recently passed away and his death weighed heavily on the hearts of Vietnamese throughout the country. He played a very important part in giving Vietnam its independence. Interestingly, Dien Bien Phu was also once famous for being one of the strongest fertile areas in Vietnam at that time. The area was known for exporting rice mainly but also being at the center of opium export. You can experience some of this history first hand by visiting the bomb crater sites and museums in Dien Bien Phu. The surrounding area of this city is also breathtaking, with the hills and the greenery all around.  

How to get there: Dien Bien Phu is very close to the fringes of Vietnam and although it is accessible by road, it could be a long trip.  Fortunately, there is an airport there and you can fly in from many major cities in Vietnam and Laos.

Dien Bien Phu War Remnants

Dien Bien Phu War Remnants

Vietnam off the beaten track: Beach

Quy Nhon

With beaches in Vietnam becoming more and more popular in Southeast Asia, it can be difficult finding some quiet beach time.  During high tourist season, many of the beaches in Vietnam are riddled with tourists and locals.  Although this makes for a very lively atmosphere, it is most definitely not tranquil.  Quy Nhon is the perfect alternative to busy beach areas like Nha Trang and Hoi An. The beach is relatively untouched, there are very few peddlers, and it is not very commercialized yet.  There are very few resorts and hotels there and fishing is a major industry in Quy Nhon. This city doesn’t have the kind of nightlife that Nha Trang does, but you feel like you are much more connected to the local culture.  

How to get there:  Quy Nhon is actually quite accessible by train or road. Quy Nhon locates perfectly between Nha Trang and Hoi An.  You can stop over in Quy Nhon to break up the journey!

Vietnam off the beaten track: Quy Nhon beach

quy nhon beach

Con Dao

Con Dao Island, an archipelago off the southern coast of Vietnam, is actually an old prison island.  The Con Dao Prison is a historical site and held many political prisoners during the French colonization.  Today, it is a highly sought after beach destination in Vietnam. It is one of the few places in Vietnam where you have really white sand and turquoise waters!  These islands are very seldom visited by tourists because it is both remote and expensive. Some of the resorts on the island are very expensive. However, there are a few places to stay that are easier on the wallet. Nevertheless, The Island is very untouched and considerably more ‘off the beaten track’ in comparison to other beach areas in Vietnam.  

How to get there:  The only reasonable way to get to Con Dao is by plane.  The short flight from Ho Chi Minh City adds to the appeal of Con Dao. There are only a few flights a week and operate under a smaller carrier affiliate of Vietnam Airlines.

con dao island

con dao island

 

If you like off-the-beaten-track experiences, join us on our Saigon By Night Tour, where we take you to parts of the city that are less frequently visited by tourists.  For more Vietnam Travel Tips, check back on our blog often!