16 things to know before you visit Vietnam for the first time

I couldn’t recommend Vietnam any more as a destination.

You could do a few days or a few weeks there and enjoy yourself just as much.

Less touristy than other parts of south-east Asia but gradually becoming more westernised, its culture, history and the way of life combine to create a fascinating clash of east and west.

The food, scenery and buzz there also make it a serious place to visit.

Here are some things that I learned while visiting Vietnam.

Choose your destinations wisely

Whatever you’re into, Vietnam likely has it. Figure out what you want to hit before you get there to make the most of your time. During our two week trip, we visited Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi for the history and to experience city life, Da Lat for a quiet mountainside getaway and Hoi An for the old town and to hit the beach.

Looking back, I could have stayed longer in Ho Chi Minh as there’s so much to do there, while a few nights in Da Lat, Hoi An and Hanoi were just enough for me.

Try as much of the food as you can, especially street food

You might not like some of it (or even most of it) but keep trying new things anyway. You didn’t travel thousands of miles to eat the stuff you have at home all the time and there will be things you’ll enjoy.

Oh, and the street food is grand to eat.

Everything is so cheap

Like, so cheap. Depending on where you go, you could feed yourself well for a couple of euro every day. We ate and drank like kings for two weeks and spent less than we would have in a few days somewhere in Europe.

It’s not just food either – the cost of living is quite low so you’ll find that everything from hotel stays to days out are very reasonable.

It’s a stunning place

If you’re planning on travelling to Vietnam, you’ll probably know this already but I wasn’t prepared for just how incredible the sights would be.The city streets feel like Where’s Wally pictures that you could look at forever and the beaches and mountains are breathtaking.

You can’t put toilet paper down the toilet

Instead of wiping with paper when you use the loo, you’ll be spraying yourself down there with a shower head/ hose attached to the toilet, drying off with paper and then putting the paper in the bin. Don’t be the dick who puts paper down the toilet – it’ll flood.

There isn’t a huge drinking culture

Apart from the backpacker area of Ho Chi Minh, you’re unlikely to find a thriving bar scene in Vietnam like you would in neighbouring countries like Thailand.

Do your research on airlines 

You’ll find that flights don’t always take off when they’re supposed to, so if you’re flying somewhere internally or elsewhere in Asia, check out reviews of different airlines and give yourself plenty of time for layovers.

We took a number of internal flights with VietJet over the two weeks and most were delayed.

But is worth flying within the country if you can

If you’re not on a shoestring, flying place-to-place is the way to go. It’s actually pretty reasonable and convenient (aside from the delays) and will help you make more of your time there than if you were going by bus.

Don’t pet the dogs

The doctor who gives you your travel injections will tell you this and you won’t think it’ll be an issue but you’ll get there and meet SO many cute doggos.

There are dogs everywhere on the streets there and they are precious angels but you’ll have to resist petting them as there’s a risk of rabies.

Tipping is not necessary

Vietnamese people are incredibly kind and welcoming but there’s no expectation on you to leave a tip. It is always appreciated though so if you’ve a bit of change at the end of a meal or a taxi journey, may as well leave it with them.

The locals will want a chat

Vietnam isn’t a touristy as other parts of south-east Asia so you might find that you’re a bit of a novelty. Many young children learn English at school and so families may send their little ones over to say hello and practice their vocab.

There’s Wifi pretty much everywhere

Smartphone culture is big in Vietnam and even the most basic restaurants we ate at offered free internet access to customers.

But ATMs could be hard to come by

They’re not on every street like they are in Ireland so you plan what cash you’ll need in advance.

Have a go on a motorbike or scooter

When we arrived in Ho Chi Minh, the traffic was what we noticed first – thousands of bikes with multiple people on each weaving along through the city’s streets and breaking every possible traffic law you could think of.

It’s alarming but if you can get a lift with someone or have a go yourself, do it. It’s great craic and the fastest way to get around.

There are loads of Irish there

My friend Kate was living in Ho Chi Minh and working in an international school. Her housemates and wider friend group were mostly made up of other Irish people teaching and living out there.

You’ll hear more Shayne Ward there than you ever have before

Yes, the guy from X Factor and Corrie. His music was everywhere in bars, restaurants and shops. Westlife and Shayne Filan are also inexplicably popular in Vietnam.