Updated: Dec 20, 2019
Do yourself a favor and download the XE Currency Exchange App (it's free!). It will help you to easily and quickly convert your currency. The conversion rate for Vietnamese dong was particularly confusing. And, even better, the app works even when you're not connected to the internet.
2) How to Get Around
We managed to set a lot of our transfers up prior to our arrival through our hotels but from talking to other travelers, they relied upon catching a taxi from place to place. Vietnam does not have Uber but does have something similar called Grab. We downloaded it and attempted to use it one day but ended up canceling it because it was going to take 10 minutes for the car to arrive (typical!).
We preferred to travel by car set up through the hotel because it was easy and convenient and affordable, when compared to US prices. Of course, if you're on a strict budget and trying to stretch your money out, you can negotiate a much better deal grabbing a taxi.
3) Travel Reviews & Doing Business
Competition for tourism dollars is intense in Vietnam. It's not to the point where businesses are literally fighting over your business, as we've seen in other places in the world, but they are quite resourceful in getting your business. We've even heard of businesses putting up fake reviews on Trip Advisor and other sites in an effort to get your business. Do not be afraid to negotiate and do not be afraid to walk away.. It is not rude in their culture; it is expected!
You will also find that many of the businesses will ask you to leave reviews on Trip Advisor. Some will even ask you to do it right then and there in front of them. Feel free if you feel it was deserved or you can politely decline and leave a review later if you so wish. I always try to leave reviews when I've had excellent or sub-standard service. Remember, it's travelers like you and me who depend on these reviews to be honest.
Do not fall for the "you are my first customer of the day so I'm giving you a good deal" non-sense. Also, when it comes to products and goods, we found that everyone will tell you "my dad made this." Again, don't fall for it because we saw that same thing in Hanoi and Hoi An Mary!
4) Phone Service/WiFI
I have AT&T service and Brandon has Verizon. Previously, I had always used the AT&T International day pass for $10 a day but this was not available in Vietnam. Instead, I used the International Passport plan, which was $70 for unlimited talk and messaging and 2 GB of data. I tried to use WiFI when available but wasn't afraid to use my data if needed. I found that the 2 GB was perfect for me. We also noticed that AT&T's service seemed to work better than Verizon's in Vietnam.
Other travelers we met picked up SIM cards for cheap at the airport and reported that these worked really well for them. I personally didn't mind paying a little more knowing that I could keep my names and numbers saved, as is, in my phone.
WiFi was available pretty much everywhere. We even had WiFI in the luxury car that transferred us to and from the hotel in Hoi An.
Motorbikes are everywhere in Vietnam. It was quite hypnotizing to watch the never-ending flow of motorbikes meandering their way through intersection in Hanoi. It's not for the faint of heart but the organized chaos of it all was super impressive.
Driving a motorbike in the city seemed a bit intimidating for us so we opted to do a motorbike tour instead. One, we had no idea where we were going, and two, it's probably not a good idea to be driving around on a motorbike while looking at Google maps. For our motorbike tour, we had two people take us around on the backs of motorbikes to all of the must-see sites. It was efficient, adventurous, and fun!
While in Phu Quoc, we decided to rent our own motorbikes. The traffic was more manageable and it was an island so we figured we couldn't get too lost. We had no problems but it does not go without saying that motorbikes can be dangerous. Wear a helmet, don't drink and drive, and drive at a speed with which you're comfortable.
First things first, notify your bank that you'll be going out of the country. The last thing you need is to be in a foreign country, trying desperately to reach Peggy over at Chase customer service to let her know that "Yes Peggy, it was me. I am actually in Vietnam." Just avoid that and let your bank know before you go. We bank with Chase and they make it easy to set up travel notifications online.
Sure, you can take traveler's checks or some of your local currency to exchange, but we have found the easiest approach is to just withdraw money from ATMs. Take some back-up cash to have, if needed (make sure it's clean and crisp to exchange), but we had no issues with this method of exclusively using ATMs. By the time you account for the exchange fees, ATMs are just as reasonable and give you a favorable exchange rate.
ATMs are all over the place in Vietnam - that's not an issue. The issue is that they limit how much you can take out per withdrawal. The most we could get out at one time was 3,000,000 VND (~$130 USD). If there were other ATMs that allowed you to withdraw more, we never found them. And who wants to run all over the place looking for one that does? The best thing you can do is to take an ATM card that does not charge a fee (i.e. Charles Schwab).
You'd be surprised how far this seemingly small amount of money (3,000,000 VND) gets you. Remember, Vietnam is pretty cheap for tourists.
I got charged $5.00 for each time I took out of the ATM. In the grand scheme of things, this was not a lot of money but it would have been nice to avoid.
7) Drink Egg Coffee
Egg coffee is unique to Vietnam, particular Hanoi, though you can find it in other spots in the country as well. What is egg coffee? I'm glad you asked. It's this rich smooth creamy frothy concocted goodness composed of Vietnamese coffee, condensed milk, sugar, and egg whites. We stopped for egg coffee as a pick-me-up several times during our visit in Hanoi and Hoi An but it very well could be served as a dessert because it's absolutely delicious.
In Vietnamese, it is called "cà phê trúng," but most will know what you mean when you say "egg coffee." Check out where it all started at Cafe Dinh in the Old Quarter.
8) Eat the Street Food
One of our favorite things about Vietnam was the food. The food, in all its wonderful, glorious forms, simply exceeded our expectations. The freshness, the simplicity the flavors, the juxtaposition of sweet and spicy, cold and hot, crunchy and soft, proved to be a defining characteristic of Vietnamese cuisine.
At the market in Hoi An, we stumbled upon a lady who was selling this snack called Banh Chouy Chien. Imagine thinly sliced sweet potatoes and bananas dipped in a delicious batter and deep fried and served hot and crispy. See below. Be sure to snap a picture with it all over your face like I did.
Tipping is not necessary in Vietnam but from our experience, it was much appreciated. While there's no need to tip 20 percent, we found that tipping ten percent was sufficient and often elicited a big smile and praises of gratitude.
What is a small amount of money to us can be a nice amount of money for someone living in Vietnam where the average monthly income is equivalent to around $200 USD. Don't be afraid of being generous.
The Vietnamese culture is a respectful one. It is also a culture where PDA is generally frowned upon no matter who you are. There is a sizable LGBT population in the bigger cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh but it understated in a lot of ways. There was one LGBT bar in Hanoi (GC). GC was nice to pop into for a drink. We heard from other travelers it was quite fun and busy on a Saturday night. It's worth checking out at the very least to say you did.
As a gay couple traveling through Vietnam, we never felt threatened or discriminated against. We booked king or queen size beds and went about our normal ways without any issues.