Pre-Arrival to Vietnam
First and foremost, you have to figure out the documentation required to get into Vietnam. Depending on your home country, the process for gathering all the required documents may slightly differ. Here is a list of documents you have to sort out before visiting:
How to Arrange a Tourist/Business Visa
Well, Vietnam still requires a visa for the majority of countries, but it’s extremely easy to get a tourist visa for up to 3 months. The country allows visa on arrival for 150 countries, so check out the list to be sure what’s the process for getting a visa for your country.
To get a visa on arrival, you need to have a letter of approval that you show at the airport and they make a visa for you. There are many tourist agencies that will make a letter for a visa you want for a really small cost.
We always get a three-month tourist visa letter for $15 - $30.
We wrote a complete guide on getting a Vietnam tourist visa where you can get all the information about the process, costs, types, and exempts.
NOTE: Be sure that you have the letter with you when coming to the airport as you may face problems getting into the plane without the letter. If you're flying into Vietnam, then you don't have to have an original letter (red stamp). It's enough to just print out the letter the agency sent to you. For land borders, it's important that you have an original letter with you.
Getting the Cheapest Flight Ticket
Once you figured out your visa, it’s time to book a flight ticket. My favorite way to do it is by checking aggregator sites like Skyscanner or CheapOair. They collect the cheapest tickets around the world and present them to you. Also, don't forget to check Kiwi.com.
NOTE: Be cautious with Kiwi since the service combines different flight companies and there is a probability they won't cover your missed flight (they also have the insurance for missed flights!). Also, don't forget to search for flight tickets in incognito mode on your browser. The only advice for buying a flight ticket is to pick the right season.
For example, the period from July - September is known as a rainy season and that’s the time when there are not many tourists around, so tickets and other things in the country are priced a bit lower. If you’re scared that you will only experience the rain, please don’t be as the country is very long and the north mainly experiences a lot of rain, while central and southern parts of the country usually have great weather all the time.
Which Travel Insurance to Get?
Always have travel insurance as you never know what may happen on the road (advice from a guy without travel insurance who paid $500 for a simple check). Hopefully, nothing bad will happen, but you never know, especially when you’re traveling through rough terrains of Vietnam. The hospitals are very good and clean in the big cities (expect to spend a lot without insurance) but in the small towns around the countryside, the hospitals might look like you've got into a horror movie.
Countryside hospitals are usually full, the staff doesn't speak English and the cleanliness level is questionable.
NOTE: After Antonio crashed the bike, he went to a local hospital in the countryside and he had a good experience. Doctors knew how to speak basic English and they treated him well. On the other hand, he went to an international hospital and he said the service was outstanding, but it costs a small fortune without insurance.
International Driving License - Is It Necessary?
Before coming to the country, even if you don’t plan to travel around the country by motorbike, don't forget to get an international driver's license. There are so many stunning places around the country and experience is by far better driving on your own. Police in Vietnam is very corrupt and they usually don’t target foreigners (in the countryside), but if you have the accident and you don’t have a proper license, then the insurance won’t cover your costs.
In case you're planning to stay in Vietnam for a while, the viable option would be to get a Vietnamese driving license.
Essential Things for Your Backpack
Vietnam has a monsoon and tropical climate through almost a whole year, so pack light clothes if you’re planning to visit anytime except December - March. These few months are a bit colder, especially in the north, so prepare accordingly. Temperatures and stability of weather get much higher after Tet holiday that falls in the first week of February. Last year, from November all the way to early February, it was raining a lot in central Vietnam.
In cold months, temperatures reach 15°C but don’t get fooled as it is extremely cold because of the high humidity in the air. You will be fine, but always check the weather in the part of the country you’re planning to go.
Friendly tip: Bring sunscreen and any other cosmetic things from your country. Sunscreen is so expensive in Vietnam, taking into account the quality. Also, it's almost impossible to find a sunscreen without whitening effect (read: some hard chemicals).
Now when you have sorted out the documentation and have proper things in your backpacks, it’s time to talk a bit about the budget and transportation around Vietnam.
Budget & Transportation Options
Vietnam became a very attractive country for backpackers as it is relatively cheap compared to the western world, but also, it gives a variety of options when it comes to luxury travel. No matter your style of traveling, you will definitely find what suits you in Vietnam for a reasonable price. If you’re planning to travel around the whole country in a month or a similar period, then this guide would be perfect for you as we did it, so we can share some tips with you!
Check out our detailed post where we shared all details on how much money we spent during our one-month motorbike trip.
Budget Breakdown of Our Motorbike Trip in Vietnam
I traveled around the whole country in 30 days driving the motorbike. That way is becoming more and more popular, especially after Top Gear’s special episode where the crew did the motorbike trip around Vietnam.
Check this episode out to get an idea of what to expect during your motorbike trip around stunning Vietnam (not really! Always expect unexpectable in Vietnam).
We've traveled on a backpackers’ budget and I must say we didn’t lack anything. The majority of budget planning was related to accommodation, but sometimes we booked a more comfortable homestay or hotel to relax after a long time being on the road. Basically, for accommodation, you can expect to pay from 70,000 - 150,000 VND/person for a nice and cozy hostel in a shared room.
These rooms are amazing if you’re a solo traveler as you will always meet travelers who're doing the same trip. Also, if you want privacy, but don’t have an opportunity to pay more, go for capsule hostels! If you’re traveling in a group, I advise you to always book a homestay or hostel in the 4-bed-shared room. The prices will be similar for a person, but you will have more privacy for your group.
On average, we spent about 130,000 VND/person for accommodation. We really stayed everywhere; from dirty hostels all the way to very stunning private homestays. It really depends on your style of traveling how much you're going to spend. If you're on a shoestring budget, there are many backpacker's hostels with the price starting as low as 40,000 VND for a bed.
Friendly tip: Always check the user's reviews and the user's rating on the platform. Some hostels/homestays will have a great description and pictures, but when you come here, you will be disappointed with how misleading it is! Don’t make the same mistake as I did! :)
Food & Drinks
Believe me, there is an unlimited food option starting from the diverse street food, all the way to upscale restaurants with stunning views (do it if you're looking for a spoil, but the food can't compare to street food!). On our trip, we didn’t save much money when it comes to food, but we picked the places where the food was fairly priced (read eat where locals eat).
We usually spent around 50,000 VND for a huge meal (including drinks sometimes). Always go for the street food where you can find many locals eating as it means the food is great and not overpriced. If you can’t see the prices, always ask for the prices in front as some people will definitely take advantage of you being a foreigner.
Don’t be surprised if you see locals are paying less money than you as they are eating there probably every day and know people around. Even if you get charged a bit extra, it won’t affect you for sure! My advice always goes for street food as you will get amazing portions for a reasonable price and also the variety of food is amazing. If you’re scared that the food preparation or ingredients aren’t clean, don’t be!
Many people are eating there and nothing happens. Also, our travel group had three members and we never experienced any stomach problems, except when we were drinking their homemade rice wine. Be careful with that stuff! :) When it comes to drinks, expect to pay a peanut amount for domestic beers, delicious and strong coffee, and all other drinks.
Also, don’t forget to try their fresh beer (Bia Hoi or Bia Tuoi). It’s usually a homemade beer made by locals that goes so well with street food. In some places, we found 2L of fresh beer for whopping 20,000 VND which is less than a dollar!
Environmental tip: Please invest in a reusable water bottle as Vietnam is lacking the infrastructure for recycling so all the plastic is being burned or end up in the ocean. Good reusable bottles will cost you around $30. Another viable option is buying a plastic reusable BPA-free bottle for a few dollars in every bigger supermarket (BigC has many choices).
Almost every household has a huge water source and people are very hospitable, so they will welcome you with their hands opened if you ask for a bit of water. It saves the environment and also your wallet!
So, to conclude the budget for the food, expect to put aside about 200,000 VND daily for food and drinks (backpacker's budget).
Vietnam is a fast developing country, so transportation options won't lack. Traveling around the country is possible with shuttles, buses, trains, planes, taxis, cars, motorbikes, and a variety of self-made vehicles (don't try it please). We chose the last mean of transportation - a motorbike. This way became very popular among backpackers and hundreds of people are doing a trip every day.
It’s not a strange thing that the motorbike market became very huge and it is very easy to get a motorbike and sell it after you’re doing on a trip. Check out this backpackers group to see which motorbikes are on the market and what are the prices. I’ve got myself a Sufat Win (Vietnamese version of Honda) and I’ve got it as a gift in Hanoi.
Usually, these bikes have a price of around $200 and you can, with a bit of luck, sell it for the same price. If you decide on a motorbike, then expect to pay around $200 - $400 for a decent bike. I really advise you to invest a bit more as this extra buck will save you a lot of time on the road! More on that soon! :) We drove around 200 km on average on every trip.
It seems like nothing on the paper, but believe me, these rides can sometimes take you a whole day!
If you want to have an accurate time estimation, multiple Google Maps estimation by two! The roads are in very bad conditions in some parts, the traffic can be crazy and also, weather, nature and motorbike breakdowns will be your daily friends. The cost for gas is around 20,000 VND for a liter and you can usually drive up to 50 km on one liter.
So, depending on your plan, the gas costs will vary. Also, you need to regularly maintain your motorbike which includes tightening the brakes, chain and changing the oil every 500 - 1,000 km. The oil change costs around 100,000 VND. Breakdowns are inevitable, but luckily small mechanic shops are on each step.
These people usually know how to fix everything when it comes to Honda (or replica) bikes. Read more about the costs of bikes and breakdowns in our guide on buying a motorbike in Vietnam. When we put everything on the paper, we spent around 250,000 VND per day for our motorbikes (gas, maintenance and repairs).
When it comes to budgeting, the buses are a bit cheaper but offering faster transport. You can also travel during the night and sleep there (sleeper buses can be a very good option if you’re not taller than 170 cm). It’s awesome as you can stop a bus everywhere on the road. Just stay on the road, wave to the bus driver and they will stop if they still have seats.
Be sure to prepare Google Translate and don’t accept the first price if it doesn’t seem right. Bus drivers will usually overcharge you, but with little bargaining skills, you will get a fair price.
Prepare your phone with handy mobile apps that will make your trip around Vietnam much easier! Although buses are very convenient to come from A to B fast and safe, they won’t give you total freedom and amazing scenery you can experience driving a motorbike. The rides that are around 200 km will cost you around 100,000 - 250,000 VND. Check out the website for timetables and detailed prices. For instance, Hanoi to Da Nang in a sleeper bus will cost you about 350,000 VND.
Trains are a bit more expensive and the rides are longer, but you’ll experience stunning scenery on every train drive.
The price is a bit higher and you need to book a ticket a few days before as many locals tend to travel by train, especially at a longer distance. For instance, the price from Da Nang (central Vietnam) to Saigon (South Vietnam) will cost you around 1,000,000 VND. Do the math and see what’s the best option for you! :)
Also, Vietnam is developing at a crazy fast pace, so almost every bigger city has its own domestic airport which means you can travel by plane between cities for a funny amount of money. For instance, Hanoi to Saigon can cost as low as $40. If you’re lacking the time, that’s the best option!
Don't forget to read our ultimate guide on public transport in Vietnam. You can find out all the details, websites, prices, and more for each means of transportation. Now you have many options on how to travel around Vietnam with different transportation options.
It’s up to you to choose your way, but if you have enough time (one month), just go for a full adventure and pick a bike and do the whole of Vietnam by the bike. That’s the experience you will always remember! :)
Safety in Vietnam
In general, Vietnam is one of the safest countries I’ve to have a chance to travel to. Through the journey of more than 1 year, driving the country twice, living in some crazy places, even crossing to Laos by motorbike, I must say that I never felt in danger. After doing comprehensive research on the internet, I can say that Vietnam is a relatively safe country, even for solo travelers, but just don’t forget to use your common sense.
Bigger cities like Saigon, Hanoi, and Da Nang tend to have a higher rate of petty crimes, so keep your belongings near you all the time, especially when walking around busy and touristic places. There are many tourist traps in Vietnam, so don’t buy things you don’t need and don’t be sorry for people offering you many things. Their job is to make you feel sorry, so you just buy overpriced things you don’t need.
There are many scams in Vietnam and so many tourists fall on cheap tricks! The biggest safety issue in Vietnam is definitely traffic.
Traffic is crazy and there is an enormous amount of motorbikes, trucks, and buses on the road. Don’t hesitate to use your honk as much as possible. Be careful of buses and trucks as they usually drive like in the video games and they are always the fastest on the road. Sometimes, it seems like they don’t care about others so you'd better move away from their way. At first, the traffic will look very terrifying, especially if you've never had a chance to drive in Asia.
After some experience, you will see that people are used to the traffic and they know how to go with the flow with other people in traffic. Always be aware of every moving and non-moving object and don’t look too much around, especially when you’re driving around the cities. I had a motorbike accident where I crashed into another motorbike in the city.
Thank God, nothing serious happened and everyone was fine. People were extremely helpful and everything was sorted out in minutes. I just wanted to tell you that no matter how good your driving is, never get too confident or cocky on the roads.
Always drive defensive and you will be fine! :)
Get Ready for Stunning Motorbike Trip in Vietnam
This was a huge guide of Vietnam, huh? You remembered that I told you to take a cup of coffee (or three) and find a comfortable place? Yeah, I think after reading this guide you will have a perfect idea of what you can expect during your motorbike trip in Vietnam.
If you have any other questions, feel free to ask, and also, if you have any things you’d like to add, don’t hesitate to contact us to make this guide more detailed and helpful for people who’re preparing for the adventure of their lifetime.