Asia,  Travels,  Vietnam

What should you know before visiting Vietnam

Vietnam, officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, is an easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula. It borders by China to the north, Laos, and Cambodia to the west, part of Thailand to the southwest, and the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia across the South China Sea to the east and southeast.

Below I have prepared for you the most important information you will need while planning trip to Vietnam.

Visa requirements

Before your trip to Vietnam, you have to check if you need a visa (check here). There are some countries which citizens traveling for tourism or business purposes, can enter Vietnam for a maximum of X days without a visa (for example, for Germans it is 15 days, for Philippines 21 days). For polish citizens, a visa is required.

E-visa

Vietnam e-visa is a simple way to obtain a visa. Unfortunately, this option is available only for citizens of 80 countries (check here). An e-visa allows to a single entry to Vietnam and it is valid for 30 days from a proposed date indicated during the application. Additionally, thanks to an e-visa you can enter Vietnam through 33 international checkpoints within the country, including 8 airports, 16 land-ports, and 9 seaports.

Applying for an e-visa you will need a passport. Note that your passport should be valid at least 6 months from a planning date of your arrival. Additionally, you will fill in information about a type of visa, a purpose of entry, an entry date to Vietnam, and an airport of arrival.

Link to an online application for a visa: https://www.vietnamimmigration.org/vietnam-visa-application-online

For a tourist e-visa, you will pay 35$, whereas a business e-visa costs 55$. You will receive your visa within 2-3 working days from the date you applied for it (please note that working days means weekdays, excluding Saturday, Sunday and Vietnam holidays).

Confirmation of Vietnam e-visa
Confirmation of Vietnam e-visa
Visa on arrival

A visa on arrival is one of the several ways to obtain for a visa. It is the approval letter signed by the Vietnam government, which allows to pick up the visa at Vietnam airport. This option is recommended for people who plan a trip to other countries with a return to Vietnam. Note that in Vietnam there are a lot of airports, but you have to enter the country through international airports only. With the visa on arrival, you are not allowed to enter Vietnam by seaports or border checkpoints (if you wish, you have to apply for a Vietnam e-visa). After getting a stamp on your passport you can exit the country at any ports you want.

List of the international airports which accepted the visa of arrival:

  1. Noi Bai (HAN) international airport – Hanoi city.
  2. Tan Son Nhat (SGN) international airport – Ho Chi Minh city.
  3. Cam Ranh (CXR) international airport – Nha Trang city.
  4. Da Nang (DAD) international airport – Da Nang city.
  5. Cat Bi (HPH) international airport – Hai Phong city.
  6. Phu Quoc (PQC) international airport – Phu Quoc island.
  7. Lien Khuong (DLI) international airport – Da Lat city

A visa on arrival is available for citizens of all countries around the world.

1. Necessary documents while applying for a visa on arrival

Generally, while applying for a visa on arrival, you will need only basic personal information, e.g. full name, gender, date of birth, nationality, etc. In some special cases, the applicants have to attach the following documents: hotel booking confirmation, round-trip air ticket confirmation, and passport copy.

You will get a visa on arrival within 2 to 7 working days from the date you applied for it. In case you need a visa on arrival faster, you have to pay an extra fee for express service.

2. Visa on arrival fees

A fee for a visa on arrival is divided into two types: service fee and stamping fee.

You pay service fee before processing your application. The fee depends on applicant nationality and a type of visa. The stamping fee you will pay later, on arrival, to collect the visa sticker into your passport. Just cash is accepted at the airport.

More information about fees you can find here: https://www.vietnamimmigration.org/fee-for-vietnam-visa

3. Where to pick up the visa on arrival

Upon arrival at one of the international airports, in front of the passport control counter, you will see an office called “ landing visa counter” or “visa upon arrival”. You have to come to this office and submit some documents to collect a visa for your passport. Please check your visa carefully.

You can also apply for a visa in Vietnam Embassy or Consulate in your country.

More information about visa to Vietnam you can find at the official website: https://www.vietnamimmigration.org/

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The best time to travel to Vietnam

Before your trip, you should know that the climate in Vietnam is different in each region. It causes that you can visit it during the whole year included these facts. This diversification is a result of country size and shape and geographical and natural conditions.

There is three main climate zone separated into the north, the south and the central regions of the country. The north part is hot and humid with high rainfall from May to October. Between November to April, the climate is cooler and dry. In the far north, the mountainous region causes that December and January can be particularly cold. My trip to North Vietnam took place on October 2018. There weren’t rains but during almost the whole journey, the sky was clouded. Nevertheless, the views were amazing.

The central part of the country characterizes by hot and dry weather between January and August. The temperature can reach more than 30 Celsius degree. In September, October, and November can occur high levels of rainfall. It is also a time when central Vietnam experiences the northeast monsoon which brings strong winds and large swells.

In South Vietnam, warm temperatures remain constant year-round. Here seasons are simply: dry (from November to mid-May) and wet (from May to early November). From February to May is more hot and humid. In June, July, and August start the highest rainfall of the year which is generally heavy but short-lasting, often occurring in a mid-afternoon heavy downpour.

Despite temperature fluctuation in each region, Vietnam enjoys a warm and sunny climate.

Public transport

Vietnam has well developed public transportation. I was only in the north part of the country, but I heard that there is a train which goes from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi and it is very popular among tourists. There is no problem to get from one place to another. You can easily travel around the whole Vietnam, choosing between many means of transport: trains, planes, buses, scooters, taxis, and Grab. Sometimes the journey can be a little time-consuming, but every option offers a lot of unforgettable memories. If you don’t have enough time to travel by train or bus around the whole Vietnam, the best option is plain. The journey takes about 2 hours from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi. 

Airport in Hanoi

The international airport Noi Bai is located about 30 km from the city center. You can easily get from the airport to the city center by bus, minibus, taxi or Grab.

Private minibus

Directly to your hotel or residence takes you minibus, which leaves the airport when full. For foreigners, it costs 32 000 VND. Before boarding minibus, confirm final fare and destination.

From the city center to the airport minibusses depart from opposite the Vietnam Airlines Office on Quang Trung in Hanoi.

Public bus

Another option, the cheapest, is a public bus. The bus stop is just on the right side of the terminal exit. There are two bus lines which connect the airport with Hanoi city center. Bus number 7 runs from the airport to Kim Ma bus station and bus number 17 goes from the airport to Long Bien bus station. Buses run every 15-20 minutes from 5.00 am to 10.00 pm. The ticket costs 5 000 VND (0.3 USD). The journey takes about 1 hour.

Taxi

The most expensive option of how to get to the city center from the airport is a taxi. The journey takes about 30 minutes and the approximate fare is 320 000 VND (taxis are metered). A taxi rank is located on the arrivals level at both Domestic and International terminals.

Remember that all road fares are included in a final price of a journey and take only legal taxis to make your journey comfortable (Mai Linh – green taxis, Vina Taxi – yellow taxis, Vinasun Taxi – white taxis with green and red stripes).

From Hanoi to Sapa

Before our journey, I have read about two options on how to get from Hanoi to Sapa.

The first option is a train which goes to close town named Lao Cai. From there you should take a direct bus, jeep, or a taxi to Sapa (a 50 minutes journey). This option for me was time-consuming. The cost depends on a seat or berth you choose (hard, soft or VIP) and a train. There are 12 trains. The most popular are Victoria Express, Sapaly Express, Chapa Express, Dream Express, Fanxipan Express, Livitrans Express, King Express, and Orient Express. Trains depart from Tran Quy Cap (Hanoi Station B). You can book tickets earlier online or by phone. Just go to official Vietnam Railway’s website.

The second option is the bus. You can choose between a day and a night bus. I recommend the second option, because of saving time while traveling at night and money, because night buses have special sleeping seats and you won’t pay for accommodation. From Hanoi to Sapa bus goes about 6 hours. It costs about 12 $ depending on the bus company. The big plus is the possibility to sleep in a bus till 6.00 am.

If you need transport, you can easily book a seat online or ask for help in your hotel/hostel.

Special sleeping seats in nigth buses
Special sleeping seats in nigth buses
From Sapa to Cat Ba

We decided to leave Sapa immediately, because of bad weather. Due to the dense fog and rain the following days, we couldn’t see and do anything. After asking for help our hotel to organize transport to Cat Ba, we took a direct night bus. We didn’t want to waste a time while traveling from one place to another. The journey takes about 11 hours. The ticket bus costs 24$ depending on a bus company. There are also buses from Sapa to Cat Ba with a stop in Hanoi, but travel takes about 13-17 hours.

Interesting facts

1. Dog meat in Vietnam

Before my journey, I have read about a dog eating in Vietnam. Officially, In September 2018 Vietnamese government announced that dog and cat meat should no longer be served in the inner districts of the capital city Hanoi because it’s offensive to tourists and can spread diseases like rabies. I was surprised when I saw a grilled dog in Hanoi. For me, it was disgusting. A lot of people treat a dog as a pet and can’t imagine how it is possible to kill and then eat their friend.

2. The sewer system in Vietnam

Don’t be surprised when you ente the toilet and you will see a hole in a floor. In some places, you can find squat toilets, but the majority of tourist places have western-style toilets. The big problem with Vietnamese sewer system is a narrow drain. In almost every place you will see signs informing that you can’t throw a paper to a toilet. I have one tip for you. When you enter to toilet take with you plenty of tissue.

In some places in Vietnam you can find squat toilets.
In some places in Vietnam, you can find squat toilets.
3. Vietnamese cuisine

As I mentioned earlier, Vietnam is divided into regions: north, central, and south. The interesting fact is that every region has a different cousin. For example, in North Vietnam, where the colder climate limits the production and availability of spices, dishes are less spicy than those in other regions. I was only in the north part, but I can say that every meal was delicious. I like most Pho soup.

Vietnamese Pho soup
Vietnamese Pho soup
Delicious Vietnamese spring rolls
Delicious Vietnamese spring rolls
Delicious Vietnamese food
Delicious Vietnamese food

Do you need more information about Vietnam? Don’t hesitate to contact me!

Read my new post about my top 3 places in Northern Vietnam! Enjoy!

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