Vietnam is a truly stunning and amazing country with its hospitable people, breathtaking natural settings, and amazing food scene. But if you want a hassle-free trip to Vietnam, these tips and guides will certainly come in handy, especially for Americans.
Vietnam visa guide for US passport holders
Aside from citizens from visa-exempt nationalities (exempted for less than 15-30 days), to prepare for your Vietnam tour, you are required to either have a visa prior to arrival or an approval letter, including Americans. Getting a Vietnamese visa can be a bit more involved compared to that of its peers in Southeast Asia. Particularly, when entering by land at remote borders, you must obtain a visa at a Vietnamese Embassy.
Vietnam Embassy in Washington DC
There are several ways of obtaining a Vietnamese visa if you’re planning on traveling to Vietnam: on your own (online, via mail or at the Embassy - 1233 20th St NW, Suite 400 - Washington, DC 20036) or via a third party such as your Vietnam tour operator.
Also, your passport must have at least six month’s worth of validity and two blank pages left; Vietnamese officers are quite strict when it comes to these things so keep that in mind.
1. Traditional method
To apply for a visa, you need to complete an online application form first, print it out, sign it, and attach 01 photo. After that, submit it via mail together with your original PASSPORT, visa fees, and a prepaid return envelope.
Normal processing time is expected to be within 05 business days. Expedited processing takes 1-2 business days from the time the application is received, with an additional fee. A visa Approval Letter is very important and you can obtain it online for a small fee.
When applying for a visa directly from the Vietnamese Embassy, you’re expected to pay $25 for a single entry visa (1 month) and $135 for a one-year multiple entry visa.
This method is applicable for visitors entering Vietnam at all border crossings (by air, land, and sea).
A printable Vietnam E-visa
2. Apply for an online visa approval letter to get a visa on arrival
Using a third party (a travel agent or visa agent) is very convenient and is the easiest way as they make everything straightforward and super easy for you.
The price can range from one agent to another and is generally around $15/person for a one-month single entry or one-month multiple entry visa. American tourists who book with helloVietnam can obtain one for free.
Normal processing time is within 3 days and expedited processing time (within the day) can be arranged with an express fee of about $10-$20/person.
Print out the approval letter and present it together with your passport and two passport-sized photos to an immigration officer at the VOA counter when arriving at the airport. The stamping fee is $25/person/one-month single entry visa and $45/person/multiple entry visa.
For detailed information, you can visit https://www.vietnam-visa.com/how-vietnam-visa-on-arrival-works/
Note that it might take a while to get the visa stamp and this method is preferred for visitors coming to Vietnam by air.
3. Via the E-visa system
In early 2017, the Vietnamese government announced a 2-year pilot plan to implement an E-visa system for foreign tourists from 46 countries, including the US. The processing time is 3 business days.
Note that this method is only used for obtaining a one-month single entry visa, which is $25/person.
Here is the official link to apply for one: https://evisa.xuatnhapcanh.gov.vn/trang-chu-ttdt
Controversial dishes ranging from exotic, strange, to weird
There is no doubt that Vietnam has one of the best food (and coffee) scenes in the world, but certain dishes receive mixed feelings from locals and foreigners. You might want to take a look at this list to avoid accidentally eating them.
- Dog meat (Thịt chó): This used to be really popular but younger generations are less fond of it.
- Cat meat (Thịt mèo): Even though cat meat has been banned by the Vietnamese Government since 1998, chances are, you will find it under another name: Ti?u h? (little tiger).
- Duck embryos (Trứng vịt lộn): These are sold pretty much anywhere in Vietnam.
- Fermented shrimp paste (Mắm tôm): This is an indispensable ingredient of several quintessential dishes in Vietnam such as (Hue Beef Noodle Soup, fermented shrimp paste with fried tofu and rice vermicelli, etc.). Most Vietnamese people love it.
- Raw (pig, duck) blood (Tiết canh): This used to be really popular in the past, mostly eaten by men as a finger food.
- Rat meat (Thịt chuột): This can only be found in some small, rural parts of the country.
- Snake meat (Thịt rắn): This isn’t very popular, it is mostly eaten by men as a finger food.
- River worms (Rươi): An expensive dish, only available in certain regions of the country.
- Internal organs of animals (Lòng): A very common dish, popular amongst the locals.
- Medicinal liquor (Rượu thuốc): Distilled liquor with herbs, whole animals, animal parts, and bugs (scorpions, crickets, grasshoppers, ants, live larvae coconut worm, etc.). Medicinal liquor is very common, especially amongst drinkers.
These dishes are not really considered morally wrong in Vietnam as some of them were the result of poverty. If you’re a vegan (which might limit your food choices by a lot) or a food enthusiast looking forward to the colorful food culture of Vietnam, a tailor-made tour is the safest option. Tell your agent (helloVietnam tour operator) your likes and dislikes and they’ll arrange your itinerary accordingly.
Get around Vietnam
1. On local transport
If you travel in one of these 5 big cities: Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Danang, Khanh Hoa, and Quang Ninh, then lucky you! Both Grab and Uber are available for you to book a taxi or motorcycle taxi, freeing you from the fear of getting ripped off and the language barrier.
Vinasun – A reputable Vietnamese taxi company
If you’re traveling to smaller cities and provinces, make sure to always ask for the price beforehand, and negotiate a bit if possible. Motorcycle taxis might be cheaper for one, but if you travel in a group, the cheapest and most convenient way is to grab an ordinary taxi.
Watch out for taxi touts: Mai Linh (drivers wearing white shirts and green ties) and Vinasun (drivers wearing white shirts and red ties) are some of the most reputable taxi companies in Vietnam. Use your GPS and research directions prior to getting in the taxi.
2. Cross the street
Crossing the street in Vietnam is not for the faint of the heart to the point that it can be some sort of nightmare for first-time travelers. It takes several attempts and you need to test out different methods in order to figure out how to cross the road in Vietnam. Here are a few tips and tricks to zigzag through the crazy traffic without getting hit:
- Follow the pros, a.k.a. the locals. Most of them have mastered the art of crossing the road. Stay close to them and follow them closely!
- Always keep your eyes steady on the road, and look BOTH WAYS! Motorbikes and scooters in Vietnam are like ninjas; they come out of nowhere, at the last minute and from the least expected places such as crosswalks, or stoplights.
Crossing the road in Vietnam
- Keep calm! Do not panic, run, or stop out of nowhere. Remember that once you’re in the middle of the traffic flow, there is no going back, and I mean that! Avoid going back, most of the time, drivers can read your body language but they do not expect you to take a step back.
3. Learn to drive a motorbike
Vietnam is a nation that runs on two wheels, so a motorcycle road trip is one of the best ways to create a once-in-a-lifetime memory. You have the option of renting or buying a motorbike (then later selling it). Either way, you’re expected to spend between $10-$20 a day for one. You’re supposed to change your driver’s license into a Vietnamese driver’s license; however, the police rarely stop foreigners except when an accident is involved.
Traveling Vietnam by motorcycle gives you utmost flexibility and helps you save tons of time and money on public transport. Stop wherever and whenever you want to admire the rich abundance of breathtakingly astonishing natural landscapes as well as enjoy the unique and exotic food scene along the road.