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 June 28th, 2017
Name Product Product Description Bonus Points Rewards Points per $ spent (VISA/MC) Rewards Points per $ spent (AMEX) Purchase rate (p.a.) Annual fee
ANZ Rewards Black Credit Card
Receive complimentary overseas travel and medical insurance, unlimited airport lounge access and a 24/7 personal concierge.
75,000 bonus points
2
18.79% p.a.
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($375 p.a. thereafter)
ANZ Frequent Flyer Black
Receive 75,000 bonus Qantas Points when you apply online, are approved and spend $2,500 on eligible purchases in the first 3 months.
75,000 bonus points
1
19.99% p.a.
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($425 p.a. thereafter)
Citi Rewards Platinum Credit Card
Consolidate your debt with a low balance transfer offer of 0% p.a. for 24 months and a host of platinum privileges.
1
0
20.99% p.a.
$49 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($149 p.a. thereafter)
HSBC Platinum Qantas Credit Card
Receive 60,000 bonus Qantas Points when you meet the spend requirement and earn up to 1 Qantas Point per $1 spent.
60,000 bonus points
1
0
19.99% p.a.
$199 p.a.
American Express Velocity Platinum Card
Receive a complimentary Virgin Australia return Economy domestic flight each anniversary year and complimentary travel insurance.
100,000 bonus points
0
1.5
20.74% p.a.
$375 p.a.
Virgin Australia Velocity Flyer Card - 0% Interest Offer
Earn Velocity Points plus enjoy an introductory interest-free offer of 0% p.a. on purchases for 12 months, and 0% p.a. for 6 months on balance transfers.
0.66
0% p.a. for 12 months (reverts to 20.74% p.a.)
$129 p.a.
American Express Explorer® Credit Card
Receive a $400 Travel Credit every year and up to two entries per year to the American Express Lounge at Sydney International Airport.
50,000 bonus points
2
20.74% p.a.
$395 p.a.
HSBC Platinum Credit Card
Enjoy an annual fee refund every year if you meet the spend requirement, plus prestige services including a personal concierge service.
1
0
19.99% p.a.
$99 p.a.
Virgin Australia Velocity Flyer Card - Exclusive Offer
Earn 2 Velocity Points on top of the standard earn rate per $1 spent in the first 3 months, plus a $129 Virgin Australia Gift Voucher each year.
0.66
20.74% p.a.
$64 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($129 p.a. thereafter)
St.George Amplify Signature
Receive up to 60,000 bonus Amplify points on eligible spend and earn up to 3 reward points per $1 spent on eligible purchases.
60,000 bonus points
1.5
0
19.49% p.a.
$279 p.a.
ANZ Rewards Platinum
Earn up to 50,000 bonus Reward Points when you spend $2,500 in the first 3 months plus $0 in the first year.
50,000 bonus points
1.5
18.79% p.a.
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($95 p.a. thereafter)
Bank of Melbourne Amplify Platinum - Qantas Rewards
Fly faster with up to 1.000 Qantas Point per $1 spent and receive complimentary overseas travel insurance.
40,000 bonus points
0.5
0
19.49% p.a.
$99 p.a.
St.George Amplify Platinum - Amplify Qantas
Fly faster with up to 1 Qantas Point per $1 spent and receive complimentary overseas travel insurance.
40,000 bonus points
0.5
0
19.49% p.a.
$99 p.a.
St.George Amplify Signature - Amplify Qantas
Fly faster with up to 1.5 Qantas Points per $1 spent and receive 2 complimentary Qantas Lounge Passes.
60,000 bonus points
0.75
0
19.49% p.a.
$279 p.a.
Qantas American Express Premium Card - Exclusive Offer
Enjoy two complimentary Qantas Club lounge invitations per year, plus the protection of complimentary travel and purchase insurance.
50,000 bonus points
1.25
20.74% p.a.
$249 p.a.
Bank of Melbourne Amplify Signature - Amplify Qantas
Fly faster with up to 1.500 Qantas Point per $1 spent and receive 2 complimentary Qantas Lounge Passes.
60,000 bonus points
0.75
0
19.49% p.a.
$279 p.a.
BankSA Amplify Signature - Amplify Qantas
Fly faster with up to 1.5 Qantas Points per $1 spent and instantly become a Visa Luxury Hotel Collection member.
0.75
0
19.49% p.a.
$279 p.a.
NAB Rewards Classic Card
Earn 0.75 NAB Rewards Points per $1 spent and receive complimentary purchase protection insurance.
25,000 bonus points
0.75
19.99% p.a.
$95 p.a.
BankSA Amplify Platinum - Amplify Qantas
Fly faster with up to 1 Qantas Point per $1 spent and receive complimentary overseas travel insurance.
0.5
0
19.49% p.a.
$99 p.a.
BankSA Amplify Platinum
Earn up to 2 Amplify Rewards Points per $1 spent and redeem for a wide range of products including flights.
1
19.49% p.a.
$99 p.a.
Bank of Melbourne Amplify Signature
Earn up to 3 Amplify Rewards Points per $1 spent and receive an additional card at no extra cost.
60,000 bonus points
1.5
0
19.49% p.a.
$279 p.a.
Virgin Australia Velocity High Flyer Card - 30k Bonus Points offer
Take off sooner with up to 1 Velocity Point per $1 spent and earn up to 30,000 bonus Velocity Points. Plus, complimentary travel insurance.
30,000 bonus points
1
20.74% p.a.
$144 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($289 p.a. thereafter)
St.George Amplify Platinum
Choose between Amplify or Qantas rewards program and enjoy uncapped points earning. Plus, receive up to 40,000 bonus points on eligible spend.
40,000 bonus points
1
0
19.49% p.a.
$99 p.a.
ANZ Rewards Travel Adventures card
Receive 40,000 bonus Velocity Points when you spend $500 on eligible purchases in the first three months.
40,000 bonus points
1.5
20.24% p.a.
$225 p.a.
Qantas American Express Discovery Card
A no annual fee frequent flyer credit card which lets you earn 1 Qantas Point per $1 spent.
1
20.74% p.a.
$0 p.a.
Bank of Melbourne Amplify Platinum
Earn up to 2 Amplify Rewards Points per $1 spent and receive complimentary travel insurance.
40,000 bonus points
1
0
19.49% p.a.
$99 p.a.
NAB Velocity Rewards Premium Card
Enjoy 0% p.a. on balance transfers for 6 months and complimentary insurance covers.
0.5
1
19.99% p.a.
$150 p.a.
Citi Qantas Signature Credit Card
Earn from 0.5 Qantas Points per $1 spent on selected purchases and get a 2 airport lounge visits per year.
50,000 bonus points
0.5
20.99% p.a.
$199 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($395 p.a. thereafter)
American Express Platinum Business Card
Enjoy a platinum business concierge, complimentary Virgin Lounge access, worldwide travel insurance and luxury hotel benefits.
100,000 bonus points
0
1
$1,500 p.a.
BankSA Amplify Signature
Earn up to 3 Amplify Rewards Points per $1 spent, receive complimentary travel insurance and access to the Visa Luxury Hotel Collection.
1.5
0
19.49% p.a.
$279 p.a.
American Express Gold Business Card
Take advantage of no pre-set spending limit, data that feeds to MYOB accounting software and up to 51 days interest-free on purchases.
10,000 bonus points
0
1
$169 p.a.
American Express Platinum Card
Receive an annual $300 Platinum Travel Credit, membership to an elite tier of partner programs and access to more than 1,000 VIP lounges.
80,000 bonus points
0
1
$1,200 p.a.
NAB Qantas Rewards Premium Card
This card comes with a low balance transfer rate and the ability to earn up to 1 points per $1 spent on eligible purchases.
0.5
1
19.99% p.a.
$250 p.a.
NAB Velocity Rewards Card
Get two cards and pay one annual fee plus enjoy a low introductory rate on balance transfers. Earn Velocity Reward points on every $1 you spend on eligible purchases.
0.5
0.75
19.99% p.a.
$95 p.a.
NAB Qantas Rewards Card
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.
0.5
0.75
19.99% p.a.
$95 p.a.
NAB flybuys Rewards Card
Earn flybuys points plus a low interest rate for 6 months on balance transfers.
1
0
19.99% p.a.
$95 p.a.
Citi Rewards Signature Credit Card
Get 75,000 bonus Reward Points on your first eligible purchase. Convert them to Qantas Points.
75,000 bonus points
1
20.99% p.a.
$199 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($395 p.a. thereafter)
Citi Prestige Card
Receive 70,000 bonus points on eligible spend. Option to earn opt-in to the Qantas Rewards program and earn Qantas Points.
70,000 bonus points
3
20.99% p.a.
$700 p.a.
David Jones American Express
Receive benefits through David Jones including complimentary standard delivery, gift wrapping and invites to exclusive fashion events.
30,000 bonus points
1
20.74% p.a.
$99 p.a.
Woolworths Everyday Platinum Credit Card
Receive a $100 eGift Card when you apply by 30 June 2017 and make an eligible purchase by 31 July 2017.
1
0
19.99% p.a.
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($49 p.a. thereafter)

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

$50,000 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 June 28th, 2017
Purchase rate (p.a.) Balance transfer rate (p.a.) Annual fee
Bankwest Zero Platinum Mastercard
Receive complimentary travel insurance for up to 6 months and up to 55 days interest-free on purchases.
17.99% p.a. 2.99% p.a. for 9 months $0 p.a. Go to site More info
Bankwest Breeze Platinum Mastercard
Offers an introductory balance transfer rate of 0% p.a. for 21 months with a 2% BT fee, plus platinum perks.
12.99% p.a. 0% p.a. for 21 months with 2% balance transfer fee $99 p.a. Go to site More info
ANZ Rewards Travel Adventures card
Earn up to 1.50 Reward Points per $1 spent on eligible purchases and receive complimentary overseas travel and medical insurance.
20.24% p.a. $225 p.a. Go to site More info

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.

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