Worry-free wandering: How to survive a Vietnam Holiday

Rates and fees last updated on

Planning a Vietnam holiday? Read this guide for some first-hand tips on how to make your Dong go farther.

I grew up in Sydney’s inner-west. I thought I had experienced Vietnam without ever having to go further than the Pho restaurant around the corner. I was very, very mistaken. Real life Vietnam is far from the pork-roll version I was raised on, but after holidaying there I learned a thing or two that might prove useful to future travellers such as yourself.

Prep-work: booking flights, accommodation and your visa

I spent a total of ten days, nine nights in Vietnam, starting in Ho Chi Minh city followed by Hoi An, rounding up the trip in Hanoi. Flight costs made up the bulk of my trip expenses as accommodation was mostly quite cheap and eating there is a steal.

As with all airline booking, the best bit of advice I can give is to do your research before forking over any cash. I was prepared to fly budget (think Tiger or Scoot), but Qantas were having a sale at the time that basically matched the lower prices available. Bonus, I was served a pretty decent meal (by airplane standards) onboard and didn’t have to pay extra for checked-in baggage. I booked together with the people I travelled with and paid all at once – which means I scored a bunch of reward points in the process, even though I had to pay surcharges.

Rewards credit cards to earn loads of points:

Rates last updated August 23rd, 2017
Name Product Bonus Points Rewards Points per $ spent (VISA/MC) Rewards Points per $ spent (AMEX) Purchase rate (p.a.) Annual fee Product Description
NAB Rewards Platinum Card
50,000 bonus points
1
19.99% p.a.
$195 p.a.
Take advantage of a double points earn rate offer for the first six months. Plus, seven complimentary insurances.
HSBC Platinum Credit Card
1
0
19.99% p.a.
$99 p.a.
Transfer existing debt at 0% p.a. for 22 months with a one-time 2% BT fee, plus, receive a complimentary insurance package.
Citi Rewards Platinum Credit Card
1
0
20.99% p.a.
$49 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($149 p.a. thereafter)
Consolidate your debt with a low balance transfer offer of 0% p.a. for 24 months and get a host of platinum privileges.
Virgin Australia Velocity Flyer Card - Bonus Points Offer
60,000 bonus points
0.66
20.74% p.a.
$64 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($129 p.a. thereafter)
Earn up to 60,000 bonus Velocity Points in the first 3 months on eligible spend and enjoy a discounted annual fee of $64 for the first year.
HSBC Platinum Qantas Credit Card
60,000 bonus points
1
0
19.99% p.a.
$199 p.a.
Offers complimentary membership to the Qantas Frequent Flyer Program and international travel insurance included.
American Express Explorer® Credit Card
100,000 bonus points
2
20.74% p.a.
$395 p.a.
Receive a $400 Travel Credit every year and up to two entries per year to the American Express Lounge at Sydney International Airport.
ANZ Rewards Black Credit Card
75,000 bonus points
2
18.79% p.a.
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($375 p.a. thereafter)
Offers unlimited access to participating Véloce airport lounges outside of Australia and a personal 24/7 concierge service.
Virgin Australia Velocity Flyer Card - Balance Transfer Offer
0.66
20.74% p.a.
$129 p.a.
Earn 3 bonus Velocity Points per $1 for the first 3 months, a first year annual fee refund and a yearly $129 Virgin Australia Gift Voucher.
Qantas American Express Ultimate Card
100,000 bonus points
1.5
20.74% p.a.
$450 p.a.
Receive a complimentary Qantas domestic return economy flight and 2 American Express Airport Lounge entries each calendar year.
Suncorp Clear Options Platinum Credit Card - Exclusive Offer
1.25
20.74% p.a.
$99 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($129 p.a. thereafter)
Exclusive to finder, receive a long-term, no fee balance transfer and earn up to 1.25 Suncorp Rewards Points per $1 spent.
ANZ Rewards Platinum
50,000 bonus points
1.5
18.79% p.a.
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($95 p.a. thereafter)
This card comes with complimentary insurance including travel and medical insurance, purchase security insurance and extended warranties.
Virgin Australia Velocity Flyer Card - 0% Interest Offer
0.66
0% p.a. for 12 months (reverts to 20.74% p.a.)
$129 p.a.
Save with 0% p.a. on purchases for 12 months. Plus, a $129 Virgin Australia Gift Voucher every year you hold the card.
Bank of Melbourne Amplify Platinum - Qantas Rewards
40,000 bonus points
0.5
0
19.49% p.a.
$99 p.a.
Take advantage of a 24/7 concierge service and complimentary travel, purchase protection and extended warranty insurance.
NAB Rewards Signature Card
75,000 bonus points
1.25
19.99% p.a.
$295 p.a.
Offers an introductory rate on balance transfers of 0% p.a. for 6 months with no BT fee. Plus, double points for the first 6 months.
St.George Amplify Platinum - Amplify Qantas
40,000 bonus points
0.5
0
19.49% p.a.
$99 p.a.
Earn uncapped Qantas points on your eligible spending and receive complimentary travel and purchase protection insurance.
St.George Amplify Signature - Amplify Qantas
60,000 bonus points
0.75
0
19.49% p.a.
$279 p.a.
Amplify Qantas members receive two complimentary Qantas Club Lounge invitations per year, plus bonus points on travel spending.
Qantas American Express Premium Card
30,000 bonus points
1.25
20.74% p.a.
$249 p.a.
Enjoy two complimentary Qantas Club lounge invitations per year, plus the protection of complimentary travel and purchase insurance.
NAB Qantas Rewards Signature Card
75,000 bonus points
1
19.99% p.a.
$395 p.a.
Receive complimentary insurance, a 24/7 concierge service and a promotional balance transfer offer of 0% p.a. for 6 months.
St.George Amplify Signature
60,000 bonus points
1.5
19.49% p.a.
$279 p.a.
Designed for travellers, this card offers a personalised call centre service, bonus points on travel spending, targeted luxury travel offers and more.
American Express Velocity Platinum Card
50,000 bonus points
0
1.5
20.74% p.a.
$375 p.a.
Receive a complimentary Virgin Australia return Economy domestic flight each anniversary year and complimentary travel insurance.
Virgin Australia Velocity High Flyer Card - 80k Bonus Points offer
80,000 bonus points
1
20.74% p.a.
$289 p.a.
Take off sooner with up to 1 Velocity Point per $1 spent and earn up to 80,000 bonus Velocity Points. Plus, complimentary travel insurance.
St.George Amplify Platinum
40,000 bonus points
1
0
19.49% p.a.
$99 p.a.
Earn up to 2 Amplify Rewards Points per $1 spent and receive complimentary overseas travel insurance.
ANZ Rewards Travel Adventures card
40,000 bonus points
1.5
20.24% p.a.
$225 p.a.
Receive 40,000 bonus Velocity Points when you spend $500 on eligible purchases in the first three months.
Qantas American Express Discovery Card
1
20.74% p.a.
$0 p.a.
Earn Qantas points that can be redeemed for a one way, return or multi-destination Classic Flight Reward on over 50 partner airlines.
Bank of Melbourne Amplify Platinum
40,000 bonus points
1
0
19.49% p.a.
$99 p.a.
Earn up to 2 Amplify Rewards Points per $1 spent and receive complimentary travel insurance and purchase protection.
NAB Velocity Rewards Premium Card
0.5
1
19.99% p.a.
$150 p.a.
Offers up to 1 Velocity point per $1 on purchases, combined with complimentary insurance covers and a concierge service.
Citi Qantas Signature Credit Card
50,000 bonus points
0.5
20.99% p.a.
$199 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($395 p.a. thereafter)
Earn from 0.5 Qantas Points per $1 spent on selected purchases and get a 2 airport lounge visits per year.
American Express Platinum Business Card
120,000 bonus points
0
1
$1,500 p.a.
Enjoy a platinum business concierge, complimentary Virgin Lounge access, worldwide travel insurance and luxury hotel benefits.
BankSA Amplify Signature
1.5
0
19.49% p.a.
$279 p.a.
Earn up to 3 Amplify Rewards Points per $1 spent, receive complimentary travel insurance and access to the Visa Luxury Hotel Collection.
American Express Gold Business Card
10,000 bonus points
0
1
$169 p.a.
Take advantage of no pre-set spending limit, data that feeds to MYOB accounting software and up to 51 days interest-free on purchases.
American Express Business Explorer® Credit Card
100,000 bonus points
2
16.99% p.a.
$395 p.a.
Earn 100,000 bonus points when you meet the requirement and 2 Membership Rewards points per $1 spent.
American Express Platinum Card
100,000 bonus points
1
$1,200 p.a.
Receive an annual $300 Platinum Travel Credit, membership to an elite tier of partner programs and access to more than 1,000 VIP lounges.
NAB Qantas Rewards Premium Card
50,000 bonus points
0.5
1
19.99% p.a.
$250 p.a.
A dual Amex and Visa card that earns up to 1 Qantas Point per $1 spent on eligible purchases, plus a 24/7 personal concierge.
NAB Velocity Rewards Card
0.5
0.75
19.99% p.a.
$95 p.a.
This dual Amex and Visa card offers up to 0.75 Velocity Points per $1 spent on eligible purchases and special Visa Entertainment offers.
NAB Qantas Rewards Card
0.5
0.75
19.99% p.a.
$95 p.a.
A dual Amex and Visa card that allows you to earn up to 0.75 Qantas Points per $1 spent, plus complimentary purchase protection insurance.
NAB flybuys Rewards Card
1
19.99% p.a.
$95 p.a.
Earn 1 flybuys point per $1 spent on everyday purchases and receive 7 complimentary insurance covers.
Citi Signature Credit Card
75,000 bonus points
1
20.99% p.a.
$199 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($395 p.a. thereafter)
Earn from 1 Point per $1 spent on selected purchases and receive a complimentary Priority Pass membership with two airport lounge visits per year.
Citi Prestige Card
70,000 bonus points
3
20.99% p.a.
$700 p.a.
Earn from 1 Point per $1 spent on selected purchases and enjoy unlimited airport lounge access with a complimentary Priority Pass.
David Jones American Express
40,000 bonus points
1
20.74% p.a.
$99 p.a.
Receive benefits through David Jones including complimentary standard delivery, gift wrapping and invites to exclusive fashion events.
Woolworths Everyday Platinum Credit Card
1
0
19.99% p.a.
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($49 p.a. thereafter)
Receive a $100 eGift Card when you apply by 30 September 2017 and make an eligible purchase by 31 October 2017.
David Jones American Express Platinum Card - Qantas Frequent Flyer
37,500 bonus points
0
0.75
20.74% p.a.
$295 p.a.
Fly faster with up to 3 Qantas Points per $1 spent and receive complimentary travel insurance when travel is booked on your card.

Compare up to 4 providers

In the end, my flights cost me about $900 - $1,000 all up, including the two short flights within Vietnam itself. I travelled in May which isn’t peak season and that helped with prices too. I strongly suggest an off-peak trip – Vietnam broils all year round, save for when it is raining buckets, so trying to plan your trip around the weather won’t do you much good.

Choosing where to stay was a bit onerous. There are thousands of options and each one is priced pretty well (unless you’re going for a 5-star resort). Don’t bother looking for hostels to stay at as the hotel prices are pretty low anyway. If you go as a big group, it might be worth it, otherwise hotels will still be cheap and likely more comfortable.

Nice hotels, bustling cities and tropical retreats abounds in Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh (right) is bustling and hectic, so it was nice to stay in a sprawling resort style hotel (center) while we were in Hoi An (left).

Hoi An is a small town and the prices reflect that; split with friends, I ended up paying less than $30 a night there on our hotel room and it was really nice. The other hotels we stayed at were a bit less luxurious, but all three provided buffet breakfast standard, without having to add it to our room. Prepare to see Pho and noodles on the menu for breakfast wherever you go.

Booking a flight and a place to stay aren’t the only requisites for travel to Vietnam. You’ll need a visa to get past the airport if you’re flying from Australia. You’ve got a few options to do this, but the easiest is to get it done online. There are a lot of scam websites out there that will offer Vietnam visas but not deliver, so be careful. Personally, I used Vietnam-eVisa.org on a recommendation from a friend. I received my visa request in an email a few days after I applied and paid.

Another must-have before flying out to Vietnam is travel insurance. I recommend getting sports cover added to your policy; in Vietnam, you can hire a jet ski for half an hour for about $30 (AUD), but it comes with a life jacket and nothing else – no boundaries, no rules. It’s fun, sure, but I wouldn’t do it without a strong policy as my safety net in case anything happens (like crashing into a fishing boat which can – and to me, almost did - happen).

Insurers that provide sport cover on travel insurance policies:

Brands Product Product Details Apply
Virgin Money International Comprehensive

Unlimited overseas emergency assistance

Unlimited overseas medical expenses

Unlimited cover for cancellation fees and lost deposits

$10,000 luggage and personal effects

Get quoteMore info
1Cover Comprehensive Single Trip

Unlimited overseas medical expenses

$1,000 disruption of journey

Unlimited cancellation fees and lost deposits

$15,000 luggage and personal effects cover

Get quoteMore info
Travel Insurance Direct The Works

Unlimited overseas medical expenses

Unlimited overseas emergency medical assistance

Unlimited cancellation fees and lost deposits

$12,000 luggage and personal effects

Get quoteMore info

Departure day: first impressions of Vietnam

After a nine hour flight (from Sydney), I got my baggage and went through immigration. Landing in Ho Chi Minh, we had to head off to a small counter after baggage claim to receive our visa on arrival before heading outside. Once outside, prepare to be buffeted by the heat and the crowd.

Walk a little ways out of the crowded area and you’ll come to some outdoor ATMs. They charged marginally less in access fees than those inside the airport proper, but if you want to withdraw cash, it’s a fee you’ll have to bear. Cash is necessary if you want to enjoy Vietnam on the cheap as many restaurants and stores, and especially the markets, won’t have eftpos. It converts roughly so that 20,000 Vietnamese Dong is 1 Australian Dollar.

It’s interesting to note that ANZ and Commbank ATMs are actually quite popular in Vietnam. If you bank with either of those (or have a Bankwest Easy transaction account), then you won’t have to worry about foreign ATM access fees (which can be about $5 or so for each withdrawal). Also present are Citi and HSBC, although I didn’t find one personally while I was there.

As soon as you step outside, taxi drivers will swarm you. There’s also a counter you can approach to get a taxi at a set price but you can haggle for a lower fare with the drivers that crowd around, even if it is more of a hassle. There are two golden rules you have to follow when you get a taxi in Vietnam: one - never get in one without first agreeing on the price and two - never accept the first price you get. Be on the lookout for your name here if you booked a hotel with airport pickup. It can be a lot easier to rely on your hotel to organise a driver but it’ll likely be pricier too.

I made my first big mistake when we arrived at our hotel. I had booked the accommodation with my rewards credit card but I hadn’t brought that card with me. I had my 28 Degrees card to avoid foreign transaction fees and didn’t think I’d need the rewards card during my trip. I was wrong. At check-in, they requested my passport, a copy of the booking receipt and the credit card used to pay for the room. Uh-oh. Luckily, I knew my credit card number by heart and had my passport as proof of identity which they accepted, otherwise I have no clue what I would have done.

During your stay: What to do and how to pay for it

To truly enjoy Vietnam, you’re going to have to learn to haggle. The normal tourist tax is around 70 - 100% markup so always start your bids at least half of the asking price lower. This goes for everything: taxi rides, cart and stall food, souvenirs, etc. The worst that can happen is you get told it’s a set price. At best, you save some cash.

Seeing he Cu Chi tunnels and My Son are must-have experiences
The Cu Chi tunnels are really interesting and I fully recommend a day tour there. The ruins at My Son are also breathtaking, so make sure to visit them.

There is one thing you may want to pay for with your credit or travel card: tours and travel packages. You can often find travel agents fairly easily and they’ll charge you less than if you book direct through your hotel. The catch though is credit card surcharges. It might be cheaper to pay in cash and wear the currency conversion fee than taking the surcharge, depending on what your particular card provider charges you.

Credit cards with no currency conversion charges:

Rates last updated August 23rd, 2017
Name Product Foreign Currency Conversion Fee (MC) Foreign Currency Conversion Fee (VISA) Overseas ATM Withdrawal Fee Overseas Cash Advance Fee Annual fee Product Description
Bankwest Zero Platinum Mastercard
0% of transaction value
$0
The greater of 2% or $4.00
$0 p.a.
Receive complimentary international travel insurance, access to a 24/7 concierge service and $0 foreign transaction fees.
ANZ Rewards Travel Adventures card
0% of transaction value
$0
$225 p.a.
Receive 40,000 bonus Velocity Points when you spend $500 on eligible purchases in the first three months.
28 Degrees Platinum Mastercard
0% of transaction value
$0
3% of the cash advance or $4 (whichever is greater)
$0 p.a.
Designed for travel, benefit from no international transaction fees on purchases and no currency conversion fees.
Coles Platinum Rewards Mastercard
0% of transaction value
$4
$4
$99 p.a.
Suited to cardholders with higher incomes and credit needs, plus collect 20,000 bonus flybuys points if you apply, and meet the spend criteria.
Bankwest Breeze Platinum Mastercard
0% of transaction value
$0
Greater of 2% or $4.00
$99 p.a.
Offers an introductory balance transfer rate of 0% p.a. for 13 months with a 2% BT fee, plus platinum perks.

Compare up to 4 providers

For example, I have a Bankwest debit card that charged 2.95% currency conversion plus a $5.00 overseas ATM access fee, but when I booked a tour to the Cu Chi tunnels, the travel agent had a 2% credit card surcharge. It made more sense to pay the 2% with my 28 Degrees card than to take out cash on my debit card and pay 2.95% currency conversion.

You’ll have to pay for most everything else in cash though. Hanoi has an especially good night market that you must visit, while Ho Chi Minh and Hoi An both have huge, sprawling markets set up during the day. The stalls are cramped and filled to overflowing with goods, but there’s not an eftpos machine in sight. Make sure you pick up a bottle of snake wine here; bit tricky to get past customs, but it makes a great souvenir.

Temples everywhere, bustling markets and Snake Wine with Cobras and Scorpions!
Beautiful temples, bustling and traditional markets with some … interesting souvenirs too; Vietnam is bursting at the seams with culture you’re sure to enjoy.

There are also beautiful shrines and temples littered throughout the cities that you have got to see. About three quarters of my photos are of gorgeous temple statues or magnificent artworks painted on the temple walls. Most you can just walk into off the street and enjoy for free, but some will require a ‘donation’ to enter.

Don’t bother packing a travel sim card or putting your phone on roaming; it’s a huge waste of money. Everywhere – everywhere – in Vietnam has free Wi-Fi. The roads are lined with massive wires – not the prettiest sight, but they work to keep you connected. Even the beach and parks have free public Wi-Fi. And it’s all fast and stable, too. Download Skype or set up your iTunes account for Facetime before you leave and you’ll be all set.

My last bit of advice to you is to take thongs or closed, waterproof shoes. Scotch-guard your sneakers or take a trusty pair of boots. When it rains in Vietnam, it pours. Usually the showers only last less than an hour before it becomes muggy and hot again, but they’ll drench your shoes and leave them grimy if they’re made of canvas or like materials.

There you have it – a traveller’s guide to Vietnam, complete with travel money, shopping and fashion advice. Have you travelled to Vietnam yourself and have a gem tip of your own? Share it by leaving a comment below.

Kelly Vieira

Kelly is brand manager and head of social media for finder.com.au. She's also a writer covering technology and mobile content and has written for lifehacker.com.au and macworld.com.au.

Was this content helpful to you? No  Yes

Related Posts

Ask an Expert

You are about to post a question on finder.com.au:

  • Do not enter personal information (eg. surname, phone number, bank details) as your question will be made public
  • finder.com.au is a financial comparison and information service, not a bank or product provider
  • We cannot provide you with personal advice or recommendations
  • Your answer might already be waiting – check previous questions below to see if yours has already been asked

Finder only provides general advice and factual information, so consider your own circumstances, read the PDS or seek advice before you decide to act on our content. By submitting a question, you're accepting our Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy.
Ask a question
feedback