VietnamTravel Tips & InfoWhat to Expect from Your First Time in Vietnam

What to Expect from Your First Time in Vietnam

The dynamic cities, the pristine beaches, and incredible food attract many tourists from every corner of the world to discover Vietnam. There are wonderful things waiting for you ahead and they will definitely make your journey a meaningful adventure. As a tourist coming to Vietnam for the first time, you can expect many surprising things besides getting a warm welcome from the Vietnamese.

Vietnam’s Geography

Located in Southeast Asia, the S-shaped country shares its borders with Laos and Cambodia to the West, Thailand Gulf to the South, China to the North, and the South China Sea to the East. With an area of 331,698 square kilometers and the coastline’s length of 3,260 km, Vietnam possesses a variety of terrain types including highlands, lowlands and 2 main deltas of the Red River Delta and Mekong Delta.

The Fansipan mountain’s peak is the highest point of Vietnam, and it is also called the roof of Indochina. Also, there is a dense river network in Vietnam, most of which flow out to the South China Sea, which consists of islands including Spratlys and Paracel Islands.

what to expect for first time to vietnam geography

The impressive S-shape and geographical position of Vietnam

Weather in Vietnam

Situated in the tropical zone, Vietnam is under the tropical monsoon climate but actually, the weather differs among the areas. Generally speaking, regarding the climate of northern provinces (to the north of Hai Van Pass), there are 4 seasons with the cold and dry winter, wet and rainy summer. The area to the south of Hai Van Pass experiences the tropical savanna climate with the high temperature the whole year and 2 seasons of the dry season and rainy season. The dry season starts from November to April and the rest of the year goes for the rainy one.

The mountainous area in South Central Vietnam is reputed for cool and temperate weather and the mountainous area in Northwest Vietnam is known for frost in winter, even below zero and you might catch snowfall there.

what to expect for first time to vietnam weather 2 what to expect for first time to vietnam weather 1

A snowy mountain and sunny rice filed in Vietnam

Vietnam International Ports of Entry

There are currently 10 official international airports in Vietnam and they are:

  • Noi Bai International Airport (HAN)
  • Tan Son Nhat International Airport (SGN)
  • Da Nang International Airport (DAD)
  • Cat Bi International Airport
  • Vinh International Airport
  • Phu Bai International Airport
  • Chu Lai International Airport
  • Cam Ranh International Airport
  • Can Tho International Airport
  • Phu Quoc International Airport

International Airports in Vietnam are for commercial and traveling purposes. They are the busiest airports in Vietnam, offering domestic and international flights with highly trusted service. Tan Son Nhat is ranked as the airport with the largest number of passengers while Noi Bai International Airport is in top 100 airports in the world in 2018 by Skytrax.

what to expect for first time to vietnam international airport

Tan Son Nhat International Airport, Ho Chi Minh City

There are many airlines operating frequent flights from and to these airports such as Vietnam Airlines, Vietjet Air, Jet Star Pacific Airlines, and Asia Airlines, so Vietnam is now totally approachable for many overseas travelers.

Regarding the international seaports, Vietnam has approximately 49 seaports, which play an important role in boosting the development and integration with other countries. Some of the biggest ports are Hai Phong Port, Vung Tau Port, Saigon Port, and Dung Quat Port.

Besides international airports and seaports, border crossings are also of great importance in Vietnamese international exchange. There are over 10 international crossings to 3 neighboring countries of China, Laos, and Cambodia that many choose to come to Vietnam via the land border crossings.

Time in Vietnam

Vietnam has adopted the standard time of GMT/UTC+7 since June, 13rd, 1975. There is no daylight saving time and the whole country shares the same time zone. Here are some differences with other country time zones; Vietnam is about 12 hours ahead of time in the US, 7 hours ahead of time in the UK.

Vietnam Visa

All the visitors must have a Vietnam visa entry except for specific cases of visa-exempt countries or visa-exempt individuals. There are certain governmental policies regarding the visa exemption for most citizens of ASEAN to Vietnam within 30 days, Korean to Vietnam within 15 days or APEC business travel card holders from APEC members coming to Vietnam in 60 days and so on.

Also, at the moment, visitors from 46 countries can get an E-visa from the immigration authority, and the policy effectiveness will be within 2 years starting from February 1st, 2017.

See more in our other guides How to Obtain Vietnam Visa and Vietnam Visa on Arrival.

Vietnamese Currency

Vietnam Dong (VND) is the official Vietnamese currency. There are two kinds of banknotes, the paper, and the polymer. They range from low cash units like VND 1,000 to high cash units like VND 500,000.

what to expect for first time to vietnam currency

Vietnamese polymer banknotes

Transportation in Vietnam

You must have heard of the motorbikes’ predominance in Vietnam many times. That is the truth. The most popular and convenient mean of transportation in Vietnam is the motorbike which allows you to travel far or near distance, in alleys or on bigger roads. Sitting on the back of a motorbike when traveling Vietnam will be something wonderful and memorable.

The bus is also another popular means because of the low fare and advantage for longer trips. Besides, a lot of people use cars, taxis, and bicycles for daily transportation. Recently, with advanced technology, online booking for motorbikes and cars has become more popular for their convenience. The rickshaw in big cities is mostly for tourists and sometimes, shipping. There is currently no subway system in Vietnam, but the projects are underway and expected to be finished by 2020.

what to expect for first time to vietnam motorbike

Getting around a city in Vietnam on a motorbike could be a fun memory

If you want to get to other provinces in Vietnam, you can use planes, trains, or boats. There are booking stations and online bookings and knowing your itinerary in Vietnam will allow you to book and catch the routes easily.

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Vietnamese Cuisine

Whether you are a foodie or not, Vietnam will grant you such an amazing journey of food from the North to the South. With many signature dishes and tasty snacks, the restaurants or the small eateries and especially the street vendors can offer you the foods out of this world. You can also discover traditional food when you have meals in a local family. Besides Pho, Banh Mi, as you may know, a paradise of food served from daily meals to special occasions awaits you.

what to expect for first time to vietnam cuisine

Vietnamese Food Tour

Vietnamese Culture

There are features that make Vietnamese culture so fascinating to discover. You will see some similarities between Vietnamese culture and that of other Asian countries in their ideology. But the Vietnamese also have unique values or adaptations of general values. There are over ten official religions in Vietnam, both native and non-native, with folk religion and Buddhism being the mainstream.

As a colony of China for over one thousand years and of French in the 19th-20th century, the local culture was somehow affected by the foreign culture in food, architecture, and even language. However, the Vietnamese still preserve the core values and the irreplaceable traditions throughout the last 4,000 years. For example, traditional events like Tet and Hung Kings Memorial are still held, or the moral codes like patriotism, gratitude, and respect are still treasured.

Normal things in Vietnamese daily life in the past, like the graceful and persevered lotus (the elegance and perseverance) and the diligent buffalo have been selected to be the national symbols. They usually feature and the theme of Vietnam’s traditional costumes like elegant Ao Dai and Non la. On the other hand, another common piece of clothes in Southern areas which is still worn today, the Ao Ba Ba is associated with simple yet strong Vietnamese women, proving their power against the enemy in wartime.

what to expect for first time to vietnam culture

The younger paying respect to her senior

Moreover, there are certain manners followed by everyone including ones between the elderly and the young people, when dining, wearing clothes, and especially in communication. For instance, younger people have to be respectful to their seniors like their parents, grandparents, teachers, or even strangers who are older than them. Also, you will be seen as an impolite person if you point at people when making conversation or talking while there is food in your mouth. These manners, have existed for many years, are not strictly practiced in modern days but could still be used to judge how well people are educated.

Read more on Vietnamese superstitions.

Tips for Your First Time in Vietnam

There are tips you should know in advance so that your first-time travel in Vietnam can be the most satisfying.

  • Do research. There are many types of weather in different regions in Vietnam like we have mentioned above, so you need to know your destinations in terms of the geographical features and the weather, or their holiday season so that you will get ready to adapt and know what to pack.
  • Pack the right things. Some common things that should be in your backpack include durable shoes for long walks, comfortable footwear and clothes, electrical devices and their accessories, your prescribed medicine, etc. As Vietnam is a tropical country, sunblock and insect repellent are highly recommended.
  • Have an itinerary. For first time travelers, you should be more detailed with your plan, or you might get stuck at where to go or what to do next. Not only can it save you time but also money. Vietnam is attracting more visitors every year so do expect things to get a little pricey when peak season comes.
  • Check your travel documents. You need to double-check all the information in your visa and your passport like the valid date, the destination, or your travel insurance
  • Pick up some new skills. To easily adapt to life in Vietnam, you should be ready for many things. For example, learning simple phrases in Vietnamese, respecting other culture, bargaining when going to the local markets, crossing the streets in crazy traffic, and developing a six sense to detect pickpockets and common scams (or you just need to take good care of your valuable items, and do not flash your wealth). One of the best ways to learn is to observe the locals and try to do what they do.
  • Make new friends. There are certain problems you can encounter during your travel, but the Vietnamese are quite friendly and helpful in general. Just say hello or “xin chao” to them, and then you can get something cute like their smilings and nice conversations.

Check out our private motorbike tours with professional local guides
for fun and insightful trips in Ho Chi Minh City!

family outing in ho chi minh city motorcycle

Conclusion on What to Expect from Your First Time in Vietnam

When traveling to Vietnam, tasting the food, joining in their traditional events, you will find many surprising things or things you knew in books but different in experiences. Make sure to be prepared and open when you first come to Vietnam, then you will get more comfortable and enjoyable moments here.

If you want more research, check out more Vietnam travel information like:

Cheap flights to Vietnam

Precautions on Hired Transportation in Ho Chi Minh City

One-month itineraries in Vietnam


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