Worry-free wandering: How to survive a Vietnam Holiday

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 May 25th, 2018
Name Product Bonus Points Rewards Program Rewards Points per $ spent Purchase rate (p.a.) Annual fee Product Description
Virgin Australia Velocity Flyer Card - Bonus Points Offer
60,000 bonus points
Velocity Frequent Flyer


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 and enjoy a discounted annual fee of $64 for the first year.
HSBC Platinum Credit Card
HSBC Rewards Plus


1
19.99% p.a.
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($129 p.a. thereafter)
Offers a 0% p.a. for 22 months balance transfer, $0 annual fee for the first year and an annual fee refund each year when you spend $6,000.
ANZ Frequent Flyer Black
75,000 bonus points
Qantas Frequent Flyer


1
19.99% p.a.
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($425 p.a. thereafter)
Get 75,000 bonus Qantas Points when you meet the spend requirement, a $0 first year annual fee & 2 yearly complimentary Qantas Club invitations.
Virgin Australia Velocity Flyer Card - Balance Transfer Offer
Velocity Frequent Flyer


0.66
20.74% p.a.
$64 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($129 p.a. thereafter)
Take advantage of 0% p.a. on balance transfers for up to 18 months. $64 in the first year ($129 p.a. thereafter), plus, bonus Velocity Points.
Virgin Australia Velocity Flyer Card - 0% Interest Offer
Velocity Frequent Flyer


0.66
0% p.a. for 14 months (reverts to 20.74% p.a.)
$129 p.a.
Buy now and pay later with 0% p.a. interest on purchases for 14 months. Plus, 0% p.a. on balance transfers for up to 6 months.
HSBC Platinum Qantas Credit Card
60,000 bonus points
Qantas Frequent Flyer


1
19.99% p.a.
$199 p.a.
Receive 60,000 bonus Qantas Points when you spend $3,000 within 3 months of card approval, plus enjoy complimentary travel insurance.
St.George Amplify Platinum
50,000 bonus points
Amplify Rewards / Qantas Frequent Flyer


0.5
19.49% p.a.
$99 p.a.
Receive 50,000 bonus Amplify or Qantas Points when you spend $2,000 within 90 days and earn 0.5 Qantas Points or 1 Amplify Point per $1 spent.
Bendigo Bank Platinum Rewards Mastercard
Bendigo Rewards


1.5
19.99% p.a.
$89 p.a.
Earn 1.5 Bendigo Rewards points per $1 spent. Receive complimentary insurance covers, plus, access to Mastercard Priceless Cities.
Citi Platinum Credit Card - 100k Bonus Points
100,000 bonus points
Citi Rewards Program


1
20.99% p.a.
$49 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($149 p.a. thereafter)
Earn 100,000 reward Points, enjoy a long-term balance transfer offer, a discounted first year annual fee and complimentary travel insurance.
Westpac Altitude Black
80,000 bonus points
Westpac Altitude Rewards


1.25
20.24% p.a.
$250 p.a.
Earn 80,000 bonus Altitude Points when you spend $5,000 on eligible purchases. Plus, 2 yearly Priority Pass lounge invitations.
ANZ Frequent Flyer Platinum
65,000 bonus points
Qantas Frequent Flyer


0.75
19.99% p.a.
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($295 p.a. thereafter)
Receive 65,000 bonus Qantas Points when you spend $2,500 on eligible purchases within the first 3 months. Plus, a $0 annual fee for the first year.
Qantas American Express Ultimate Card
55,000 bonus points
Qantas Frequent Flyer


1.5
20.74% p.a.
$450 p.a.
Receive 55,000 bonus Qantas Points, a $450 Qantas Travel Credit each year and 2 yearly complimentary Qantas Club lounge invitations.
ANZ Rewards Black Credit Card
75,000 bonus points
ANZ Rewards Program


2
18.79% p.a.
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($375 p.a. thereafter)
Receive 75,000 bonus points when you meet the spend requirement. Plus, complimentary lounge passes and a $0 annual fee for the first year.
American Express Velocity Escape Card
Velocity Frequent Flyer


1
20.74% p.a.
$0 p.a.
Earn uncapped Velocity Points on purchases, pay $0 annual fee for life and take advantage of a 0% p.a. for 12 months balance transfer offer.
Qantas American Express Discovery Card
Qantas Frequent Flyer


1
20.74% p.a.
$0 p.a.
Earn uncapped Qantas Points on purchases, pay $0 annual fee for life and take advantage of a 0% p.a. for 12 months balance transfer offer.
NAB Qantas Rewards Signature Card
100,000 bonus points
Qantas Frequent Flyer


1
19.99% p.a.
$395 p.a.
Collect 100,000 bonus Qantas Points when you spend $4,000 within 60 days of account opening. Plus, earn up to 12,500 points per statement period.
CUA Platinum Credit Card
CUA Life Rich Rewards Program


1
19.99% p.a.
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($149 p.a. thereafter)
Collect 1 CUA Rich Life Rewards point per $1 spent, receive complimentary travel insurance, a $0 first year annual fee and a balance transfer offer.
Westpac Altitude Platinum Card
60,000 bonus points
Altitude Rewards / Qantas Frequent Flyer


0.5
20.24% p.a.
$150 p.a.
Earn 60,000 bonus Altitude or Qantas Points when you spend $3,000 within 90 days of card approval. Plus, complimentary insurances.
St.George Amplify Signature - Qantas
90,000 bonus points
Qantas Frequent Flyer


0.75
19.49% p.a.
$279 p.a.
Receive 90,000 bonus Qantas Points when you spend $4,000 within 90 days and receive two complimentary Qantas Club lounge invitations per year.
American Express Explorer Credit Card
50,000 bonus points
Membership Rewards Gateway


2
20.74% p.a.
$395 p.a.
Receive 50,000 bonus Membership Rewards points, a yearly $400 Travel Credit and 2 entries per year to the American Express Lounge.
American Express Platinum Edge Credit Card
Membership Rewards


1
20.74% p.a.
$195 p.a.
Receive a yearly $200 Travel Credit and complimentary domestic and international travel insurance, plus 0% p.a. for 12 months on balance transfers.
St.George Amplify Card
Amplify Rewards / Qantas Frequent Flyer


0.5
19.49% p.a.
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($79 p.a. thereafter)
Take advantage of 3% p.a. interest on balance transfers for 36 months. Plus, a $0 first year annual fee and Amplify or Qantas Points per $1 spent.
Citi Rewards Platinum Credit Card
Citi Rewards Program


1
20.99% p.a.
$49 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($149 p.a. thereafter)
Earn reward Points per $1 spent, take advantage of a 0% p.a. for 26 month balance transfer offer, plus complimentary international travel insurance.
Qantas American Express Premium Card
30,000 bonus points
Qantas Frequent Flyer


1.25
20.74% p.a.
$249 p.a.
Enjoy 30,000 bonus Qantas Points, 2 complimentary Qantas Club lounge invitations per year and the protection of complimentary insurance covers.
Bank of Melbourne Amplify Platinum
50,000 bonus points
Amplify Rewards / Qantas Frequent Flyer


0.5
19.49% p.a.
$99 p.a.
Earn 50,000 bonus Amplify or Qantas Points when you spend $2,000 within 90 days and earn 0.5 Qantas Points or 1 Amplify Point per $1 spent.
NAB Rewards Platinum Card
60,000 bonus points
NAB Rewards


1
19.99% p.a.
$195 p.a.
Collect 60,000 bonus points when you spend $2,500 within 60 days of account opening. Plus, receive complimentary travel and purchase insurances.
American Express Velocity Platinum Card
50,000 bonus points
Velocity Frequent Flyer


1.5
20.74% p.a.
$375 p.a.
Receive 50,000 bonus Velocity Points, a complimentary Virgin Australia return Economy domestic flight each anniversary year, plus, 2 lounge passes.
ANZ Rewards Platinum
65,000 bonus points
ANZ Rewards Program


1.5
18.79% p.a.
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($95 p.a. thereafter)
Receive a $0 first year annual fee offer, 65,000 bonus Reward Points when you meet the spend criteria and up to 1.5 points per $1 spent.
American Express Westpac Altitude Black Bundle
120,000 bonus points
Westpac Altitude Rewards


3


1.25
20.24% p.a.
$449 p.a.
Up to 120,000 bonus Altitude Pts when you meet the criteria with a Mastercard (issued & serviced by Westpac) & Amex (issued & serviced by Amex).
ANZ Rewards Travel Adventures card
40,000 bonus points
ANZ Rewards Program


1.5
20.24% p.a.
$225 p.a.
Receive 40,000 bonus Velocity Points, 2 yearly Virgin Australia lounge passes, plus enjoy $0 overseas purchase transaction fees.
Citi Signature Qantas Credit Card
50,000 bonus points
Qantas Frequent Flyer


0.5
20.99% p.a.
$199 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($395 p.a. thereafter)
Receive 50,000 bonus Qantas Points, 2 yearly airport lounge visits and complimentary travel insurance. Plus, a discounted first year annual fee.
BankSA Amplify Signature
90,000 bonus points
Amplify Rewards / Qantas Frequent Flyer


0.75
19.49% p.a.
$279 p.a.
Receive 90,000 bonus Amplify or Qantas Points when you spend $4,000 within 90 days and earn up to 1.5 Amplify or 0.75 Qantas points per $1 spent.
American Express Gold Business Card
10,000 bonus points
Membership Rewards Ascent


1
$169 p.a.
Take advantage of 10,000 bonus points, no pre-set spending limit, data that feeds to MYOB and up to 51 days interest-free on purchases.
American Express Platinum Card
80,000 bonus points
Membership Rewards Premium Ascent


1
$1,200 p.a.
Receive an annual $300 Platinum Travel Credit, 80,000 bonus Membership Rewards points and access to more than 1,100 VIP lounges worldwide.
NAB Qantas Rewards Premium Card
60,000 bonus points
Qantas Frequent Flyer


0.66
19.99% p.a.
$250 p.a.
Offers 60,000 bonus points when you meet the spend requirements and Qantas Points for your everyday spending. Plus a 24/7 personal concierge.
NAB Qantas Rewards Card
30,000 bonus points
Qantas Frequent Flyer


0.5
19.99% p.a.
$95 p.a.
Receive 30,000 bonus points when you meet the spend requirements and earn 0.5 Qantas Points per $1 on your everyday spending.
Citi Signature Credit Card
120,000 bonus points
Citi Rewards Program


1
20.99% p.a.
$199 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($395 p.a. thereafter)
Receive 120,000 bonus points, two airport lounge visits per year, complimentary international travel insurance and a reduced first year annual fee.
Citi Prestige Card
150,000 bonus points
Citi Rewards Program


3
20.99% p.a.
$700 p.a.
Reward yourself luxuriously with 150,000 bonus Points, free hotel stays, exclusive events and unlimited airport lounge access with Priority Pass.
David Jones American Express
20,000 bonus points
Membership Rewards


1
20.74% p.a.
$99 p.a.
Not just for David Jones shoppers, receive 20,000 bonus Membership Rewards points or 15,000 Qantas Points. Plus, uncapped points potential.
David Jones American Express Platinum Card - Qantas Frequent Flyer
30,000 bonus points
Qantas Frequent Flyer


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.
American Express Qantas Business Rewards Card
100,000 bonus points
Qantas Business Rewards


1.25
$450 p.a.
Earn up to 100,000 bonus points, 2 Qantas Points per $1 spent on eligible purchases and enjoy up to 51 days interest-free on purchases.
NAB Rewards Business Signature Card
100,000 bonus points
NAB Rewards


1.25
18.50% p.a.
$175 p.a.
Earn 100,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 on everyday business purchases in the first 60 days of account opening.
Bank of Melbourne Amplify Card
Amplify Rewards / Qantas Frequent Flyer


0.5
19.49% p.a.
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($79 p.a. thereafter)
Take advantage of a 3% p.a. for 36 months balance transfer offer, Amplify or Qantas points per $1 spent and enjoy a $0 annual fee for the first year.
BankSA Amplify Card
Amplify Rewards / Qantas Frequent Flyer


0.5
19.49% p.a.
$0 p.a. annual fee for the first year ($79 p.a. thereafter)
Receive a 3% p.a. for 36 months balance transfer and earn Qantas or Amplify Points per $1 spent. Plus, enjoy a $0 annual fee for the first year.
American Express Westpac Altitude Platinum Bundle
75,000 bonus points
Westpac Altitude Rewards


2


1
20.24% p.a.
$199 p.a.
Up to 75,000 bonus Altitude Points when you meet the criteria with this dual Visa (issued & serviced by Westpac) & Amex (issued & serviced by Amex).

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 for Tables 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 May 25th, 2018
Name Product Foreign Currency Conversion Fee Overseas ATM Withdrawal Fee Overseas Cash Advance Fee Annual fee Product Description
28 Degrees Platinum Mastercard
0% of transaction value
$0
3% of the cash advance or $4 (whichever is greater)
$0 p.a.
No foreign transaction fees on international purchases including international purchases online, together with a no annual fee.
ANZ Rewards Travel Adventures card
0% of transaction value
$5
$0
$225 p.a.
Receive 40,000 bonus Velocity Points, 2 yearly Virgin Australia lounge passes, plus enjoy $0 overseas purchase transaction fees.

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 a digital marketing specialist for finder.com.au and mostly handles email marketing. She also dabbles in writing occasionally and has covered topics like tech reviews and mobile content for lifehacker.com.au and macworld.com.au.

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