As with any trip, there ought to be proper planning. This time, it had to be much more detailed.The scope of winging it in a foreign country was limited.
Visa: Vietnam offers Visa On Arrival (VOA) for Indian citizens, if they have the approval letter already. Obtaining the letter was not a difficult job to accomplish. We searched for visa to Vietnam on Google, and then it was just finding out the cheapest option. We went ahead with this website. We had to pay 8 USD per person for the approval letter. The letter arrived within a couple of days, along with a copy of the form that we would have to fill. A mandatory visa stamping fee of 25 USD per person is to be paid during immigration at the point of entry.
Flights: We had booked our flights, to and fro well in advance. This may appeal to the mass, as it did to us. Make it a point to book the tickets from the airline company’s website. ENSURE that each booking are on a single PNR. Since the flights have a stop invariably, which will either be in Singapore or Kuala Lumpur, having the booking on a single PNR ensures that you do not have to go through immigration at the intermediate country and that your luggage is counted as a through baggage, so you check in your luggage at home, and retrieve it right at the destination. In case you have a long layover and want to check out the country, make sure you have a visa prior to your arrival. Do not depend on a VOA. Flights within the country is fairly easy and cheap. Make sure that you are at the airport at least 2 hours prior to the flights for the domestic flights while it should be minimum 3 hours for the international flights.
Hotels: We also had our hotels booked at the places we would stay. It should be noted that if its just you, or max two of you, staying at the backpackers’ hostels is the best way to go. You get to meet people of various countries, interact with them and make friends. While if you are travelling in a bigger group, it is better if you book hotel rooms. The cost per head will be similar, but you shall have multiple bathrooms at your disposal. This is preferable if you guys need to leave at the same time. Since we were 4, we had hotel rooms booked. While booking the hotels, we tried to go go for the ones which have been vetted multiple times by travellers across the world and were within walking distance of the tourist hub. I shall tell more about the hotels we were in as and when we reach each city.
Trains: Vietnam has a limited number of train plying their reunification route, starting right from Ho Chi Minh City ending at Hanoi. It passes through picturesque routes, hills, sea shores, markets and even doorsteps. We had ours booked from Da Nang to Hue. You can book the tickets from the Vietnamese Railway’s website. Do check out this website for a treasure trove of information about the travel.
Food: You must understand that vietnamese people are primarily meat eaters. Beef and pork are the most commonly available kinds of meat. Chicken is a rare find. Egg is common though. In the week that we were there, I did not spot any place serving lamb or goat. If you go to places like Da Nang or Hoi An, which are beach towns, you can get ample sea food. Fried food is not common. Most of the food is baked or boiled. Noodle soups or Pho, are most commonly available. A food that kept us alive, for it was healthy, readily available and cheap on the pocket was Bahn Mi. It is a baguette with shredded meat and some sauces and comes mainly in beef, pork and egg variety.
Drink: Packaged drinking water is fairly easy to obtain, but it does not hurt having some sort of water purifying options along. Beer is cheap and plentiful to choose from. The most common were Bia Ha Noi, Bia Saigon, Bia Huda and Heineken. The beer felt toned down, and I would feel more fuller than being tipsy at all.
Clothes: Restrictions on what you wear exist at the religious spaces where it is expected that one would wear clothes which are not revealing. Other than these places, we didn’t see any signs or reactions which would suggest that the people are remotely bothered of what you wear. I suggest you have a look at the weather forecasts and pack accordingly prior to your trip. In case you want new clothes, night markets are present in the tourist places, which are amazing places to get stuffs cheaply. Do remember to haggle about the price.
Currency: The local currency is Vietnamese Dongs. 1 INR = 350 VND roughly. Do not get excited about the exchange rate for the minimum denomination we came across was a 1000 VND and it was not enough to buy a bottle water. So often you shall find yourself moving about with millions of dongs, just be careful with the money as you pay. It is easy to confuse a 10000 VND with a 100000 VND. With a little practice, it shall be fine. Also, the big shops have card swiping options. Do note, the cards swiped do not require a pin to complete the transactions, they just make you sign the slip, so hold on to your cards real tight. You shall need to convert INR to USD here, and then use them to convert to Dongs at Vietnam. You can pay by USD, but you shall be overcharged invariably, hence, stick to Dongs.
Now, that you have a back ground about the country, we shall continue post the arrival at HCMC.
Feel free to reach out to me for any doubts and clarification that you may have till now.