U.S. citizens traveling to Vietnam by air can apply for a Visa on arrival (VOA) with the acceptance of an approval letter. What’s an approval letter? An approval letter is a legitimate document issued from Vietnam Immigration that grants Visa applicants the ability to pick up their Visa on arrival at any of the international airports in Vietnam. The price for the approval letter starts at $8 and up depending on what site you use. Once approved, you will be sent the approval letter via email in 3 to 5 business days. The accepted approval letter includes your name as well as the name of 7 of applicants (Vietnam processes 8 applicants at a given time). When I bought my airline tickets I was actually given a promotional deal that included a free approval letter, so I recommend buying your flight ticket before applying for the approval letter.
When You Arrive in Vietnam
Once you land at any of the international airports you are directed to the Immigration Office where you will finish applying for your Visa. There you will fill out your Visa application form and wait in line to submit your forms. You will need your passport, passport photo, approval letter, and $25.00 USD for the stamp fee. Once you submit all that to the immigration official at the counter you can take a seat and wait for your name to be called. When your name is called you can pick up your passport that has your Vietnam Visa in it and be on your way!
Before Applying for Visa on Arrival Make Sure You Have:
A Passport with 6 months validity
A Passport picture 2x2in (you can take your passport at the Immigration Office at the airport for about 5.00 USD)
Vietnam is one of the most sought after destinations in South East Asia by backpackers across the world. Here are a few tips and tricks for those thinking about making the journey to this beautiful country.
Most Places Accept U.S. Currency
Most if not all places in Vietnam accept USD($)as a form of payment, but to get the most out of your money it’s best to use Vietnamese Dong.
Majority of Places will Charge 3% More if You Use Your Credit Card
Hotels, restaurants, and even some tour agencies will allow you to use your card, but will charge you 2-3% extra. As convenient as it can be to just charge things on you card, it’s still best to use cash to save the most money.
Look for Accommodations that include Breakfast
Booking a room that includes free breakfast can help save you tons of money. Plus, aren’t the best things free?
Arrange to Have Your Hotel Send a Car to Pick You Up
When arriving to a new city either by plane, bus, or train you will be bombarded by taxi drivers looking to rip off tired travelers. To avoid scams its safer to have your hotel arrange a car to pick you up.
Tipping is not Expected Except Near Tourist Spots
In general, most Vietnamese restaurants don’t expect you to tip. Due to the influx of tourism in the recent years, restaurants in and near popular tourist destinations have become more accepting of tip. An acceptable tip for good service is about 5-10%.
Bargaining down prices at street markets is widely acceptable and, if done right, can get the item down 50% of the asking price! A good technique to use is the “walk away”. Simply by saying that the item is too expensive and walking away from the merchant will usually cause the merchant to drop the price considerably. Even tours and accomodations can be talked down in price. One exception to bargaining is never to bargain over the price of food. That’s just rude.
Take Overnight Trains and Sleeper Buses
A great way to save money traveling through Vietnam is to take the overnight trains and sleeper buses. Like killing two birds with one stone, an overnight train or a sleeper bus takes care of both travel and lodging for the day. Be sure to stock up on snacks before getting on a sleeper bus because you never when the bus is going to stop and for how long. Also be conscious about your water intake during a bus ride; some sleeper buses do not contain bathrooms.
Download the Google Translate App
A shout out to Google for creating the amazing Google Translate app! This app has helped me out many times in my travels in Vietnam when it came to overcoming the language barrier. The app is completely free and will come in handy when trying to communicate to hotel staff, taxis, and merchants.
Lisa and I visited the old Indian capital of Agra to see the infamous Taj Mahal. The only problem though, is that the Taj Mahal is closed every Friday. Guess what day we happened to be there? Yep, it was Friday. And of course we had a train to catch that evening so we weren’t able to extend our stay. Feeling a little down, we wanted to make use of our time in Agra and decided to see the famed Agra Fort where Indian royalty once called home.
The Agra Fort is an immense fortress that over looks the city of Agra, India. Also known as the Red Fort of Agra, the Agra Fort was used as a military fortress as well as a royal palace for the emperors of the Mughal Dynasty. The third Mughal Emperor, Akbar, rebuilt the fort using red sandstone from Rajasthan and completed the remodel in 1573. From the fort you can see the great Taj Mahal looming in the distance.
In a tragic twist of fate, the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, (the Emperor who commissioned the construction of the Taj Mahal), was imprisoned at the Agra Fort by his third son Aurangzeb during an overthrow. From 1658 until his death in 1666, Shah Jahan could only gaze upon his beloved Taj Mahal from the confines of his cell. It is rumored that Shah Jahan was imprisoned in the tower known as Muasamman Burj which has a marble balcony that faces the Taj Mahal.
The architecture of the fort is truly astounding. From the intricate inlay carvings to the massive sandstone walls there’s a lot to behold. Personally, I loved the decorative arches above all the hallways of the fort. Along with the sandstone, the arches made the fort truly feel like a palace.
The entrance fee for the Agra Fort differs between foreigners and locals. For foreigners, the price of entry is 550 rupees while local price is only 40 rupees each. Be aware that camera tripods are not allowed inside the fort, but in case you happen to bring one there is a cloak room where you can store it free of charge.
Like any touristy place, be sure you visit the fort as early as possible to avoid the big crowds as well as the heat. Bring water to stay hydrated as well as some snacks. There are guides available at the fort if you would like more in depth knowledge about the history and architecture.
While walking around one of the gardens in the fort, I heard Lisa burst into laughter. I turned around to see her holding a squirrel in the palm of her hand! Apparently the squirrels in the fort are so use to visitors that they will just come right up to you. There are even people inside the fort that will give you food grains to place in your palm for the squirrels to eat. Just be sure to tip the guys!
As with most countries, there are those out there that prey on unsuspecting tourists and try to swindle whatever money they can out from under people’s feet. India is no exception to this. During our travels, Lisa and I came across a few scams that can be found in India. Thankfully, we had read from other blog posts about the scams and knew how to avoid them. Here are a few common scams in India and what you should do to avoid them.
Your Hotel/Hostel has closed down
In this scam, you are taking a taxi to your accommodation when you are informed by your driver that your hotel has been closed down. The driver will then tell you about another hotel or hostel that they recommend and will promptly drive you to it. In this scenario the driver gets a commission for taking you to said hotel and you would be overcharged for staying there.
To avoid this, it helps to have a working phone so you could call your hotel and confirm that they had indeed not closed down. Having the app Maps.Me downloaded with your hotel saved on it also helps to show that your hotel does exist and can help you make sure your driver is going in the right direction. If all else, Uber exists in India! Take a prepaid ride in an Uber car that guarantees you’ll arrive at your destination.
Buy me Milk or Food from this Store.
While walking through cities and villages you may be approached from a beggar on the street asking you to buy them food or milk from a specific store. In this scam, the beggar and the store owner have a deal with eachother. When you purchase items from that particular store and give said items to the beggar, the beggar will then return the items to the store for a small amount of money. The store makes money off of you and keeps their products while the beggar only gets a small cash cut.
To avoid this scam, be able to recognize it while it happens. If someone is asking for food and is pointing to a specific store, they are probably a part of this scam. Trust your gut feeling on this one.
I’m Not Trying to Sell You Anything, but You Should Check Out this Tourist Center…
Lisa and I encountered this scam during our first day in New Delhi. While walking through Connaught Place in New Delhi, we were approached by a young man claiming to be practicing his English. Right away, he states that he isn’t trying to sell us anything and that he truly just wants to converse with English speakers. The young man asked us where we were from, where we are traveling to, and how long we are traveling for. The young man then informed us about this Tourist Center a few blocks away that could give us free information that could help us during our stay in India. I was totally swayed by how nice this guy was being towards us and fell for the trap. Lisa was still very wary and was relatively silent as the young man and I conversed on our way to this Tourist Center.
We arrived at the Tourist Center, which was off the beaten track. Once there, our new “friend” informed us that this place would help us and thanked us for allowing him to practice his english. We walked in and immediately was ushered into a room where a man was waiting for us. He gave us a friendly greeting and asked us what are plans were for India. After explaining a simplified version of our India trip, the man started giving us tour offers and began even planning out our entire India trip for us. We stated that we were still unsure on what we were doing and were going to play by ear. The man insisted that his plan was our best option to have the best experience in India. Lisa stated that we had already booked a train leaving New Delhi and his reply was, “Don’t worry we can cancel it for you and book you a better train”. It was now apparent to me that we were being scammed into buying over priced tour packages. Lisa and I thanked the man and said that we needed time to think about it. The man was clearly upset about our response and repeatedly told us that his travel arrangements were the best bargain we could get anywhere.
Lisa and I had read that scammers in big cities such as New Delhi will lure tourists to these centers and would get paid commission if the tourists purchase any packages. It was made obvious that this was a scam when we were approached by at least a dozen other men asking the same exact things as the first guy; claimed to be wanting to practice English, was not trying to sell us something, and informing us of some tourist center nearby that we should visit. Seriously, it felt as if all of these guys had the same script that they would recite to tourists. Once we told them that we were fine and didn’t need any help they would get agitated and storm off. We even ran into the first guy again and he was visibly upset when we told him that we left the tourist center without booking anything.
So, how can you avoid this scam? Be wary when a stranger approaches you and asks you about your travel plans. Once they mention that you should visit a tourist center, that’s your first red flag that this could be a scam. Once you realize it’s a scam, politely let the person know that you’re not interested and walk away. They will try and convince you that they are not trying to sell you something, but you must be persistent.
Don’t Let the Scams Ruin Your Trip
I know these scams can sound like a deterrent to even consider traveling to India, but don’t let them. India is an amazing country that has beauty that you cannot find elsewhere. When it comes to the scams, being educated about them is your greatest weapon against them. If I hadn’t read about the scams before my trip to India I know I would have fallen for them easily.
I hope these tips help you out on your trip to India. As always be safe, alert, and keep an upbeat attitude to ensure an amazing trip through the beautiful country of India.
I have read from other blogs that if you can travel to India, you can travel anywhere. Honestly, I think there is some truth in that. India is an industrious third-world country that is in between old tradition and modernization. India can be overwhelming at times, but it is definitely worth visiting once if not multiple times. Here’s a few things I put together to give you an idea on what to expect while traveling through India.
India is Huge
India is a lot bigger than you think. With over 3.2 million square kilometers of land, it could take days to travel city to city by land travel.
There’s a lot of Dudes
Due to the preference for sons, the ratio from men to women in India is quite high. Not saying that it was bad seeing men everywhere, it was just very apparent that there was a lack of female presence in most public spaces.
Expect a lot of Selfies with Locals
This one gave me quite the laugh. While visiting the Red Fort in New Delhi, Lisa and I were approached by locals asking to take selfies with them. At first one person would politely ask us if they can take a picture with us and before we knew it we had small groups coming up to us asking to take pictures with us. It was really entertaining because it made us feel somewhat like celebrities. It even got to the point where we had to start declining offers to take pictures.
It wasn’t just at the Red Fort either. At just about all of the tourist hot spots we would have people ask to take pictures with us. What was nice is that everyone would ask permission first before snapping away. So be prepared for random selfies with locals throughout your stay.
The Railway System is the way to Travel
Taking the train in India is the best and most budget friendly mode of travel through India. It is also a great way to see the beautful country side outside of the the busy cities. Book your train tickets in advance! We learned the hard way that train tickets sell out fast, so be sure that that’s one of the first things you do.
Cows are Everywhere
In Hinduism, cows are a very sacred animal. As India is home to the largest population of Hindus, therefore the people there treat their cows with a lot of respect. It’s a common sight to see a small heard of cows casually walking through city streets. Seriously I’ve seen more cows in India than I have seen cats in India.
India is a conservative country that requires you to dress appropriately, especially near religious sites. Unfortunately, the dress code is more aimed towards woman. Shoulders and legs should be covered at all times unless you want to be starred at by both men and women. As a man, you can pretty much wear whatever you want without any harassment from locals.
Most Restaurants are Vegetarian
Again, cows are sacred in India, so don’t expect to find beef anywhere. If I came across any place that sold meat it was always chicken.
Be Wary of Scams
As in most cities, there are people who are trying to swindle money out of you any way they can. Read my post of the most common scams in India here.
The Poverty Can Be a Little Overwhelming
As with most developing countries, poverty is a very common sight especially in the larger cities. In India it is no different. You can be feet away from a brilliant historical monument and at the same time be right next to a slum with children begging for anything. It can be hard to witness, but it is a reality for a lot of people living in India.
India is an Ancient Land with Loads of History
There are texts in India that date back to over five millennia ago, making India home to some of the oldest civilizations in the world. There are temples that are still erect that date back thousands of years.
Hoi An was one of the most enchanting cities we were able to visit during our travels in Vietnam. From the pastel-colored buildings, delicious food, and rooftop cafes. It’s hard for one not to fall in love with Hoi An. If you find yourself in this beautiful city on the coast here’s a few things I recommend you try to enrich your stay.
The Cheapest of Beer
First things first, you have arrived in the land of incredibly cheap beer! I know other cities such as Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi boast about their cheap beer, but only in Hoi An can you find it everywhere! Some restaurants sell it as low as 3,000d ($0.13 USD)! The beer is brewed fresh from the restaurant you’re buying it from, which is why it is so cheap. I know what you’re thinking, because of the price it must be poor quality right? WRONG! I had a fresh beer at the Fish and Chips restaurant that was 3,000d and that was one of the most refreshing beers I had in Vietnam! Not saying that there are some out there that do taste like what you would imagine a beer under 0.50 cents would taste like. I had one beer near the night market that gave me a headache within a few sips, but that was the one out of 5 different restaurants that I sampled.
Get Something Tailored
You want to get a suit tailored just to your liking? Hoi An is the place to do it! With a plethora of tailors throughout the city you can find one that suits your needs (see what I did there?). Just making my way old town I biked by at least half a dozen tailors displaying their work in front of their shops. And by cheap, I mean custom three piece suit around $50 bucks kind of cheap. The shops are able to make a suit or dress for you in just a few days time making it very convenient for those spending only a small time in Hoi An.
Stay at a Homestay
If you’re planning on spending some time in Hoi An I highly recommend that you stay in one of the many homestays available in the town. Why a homestay? For one, most if not all of the homestays offer free bike rentals which is an awesome way to explore the town for no money. Two, the families at the homestays are incredibly friendly and will offer advice on what to do and see in Hoi An. The homestay Lisa and I stayed at, The Strawberry Garden Homestay, offered free bike rentals and free breakfast every morning. Our host, Ruby, helped us with any questions we had and even helped us arrange a private car to take us to Da Nang. Click Hereto read a detailed post about our stay at the Strawberry Garden Homestay.
Get a Custom Stamp Made
Do you wish to immortalize your face in the form of a stamp? Well I got some good news for you! There is a shop in Hoi An that will do just that! For just 300,000d($13.21 USD) you can get a custom stamp made of any picture. Located at 48B Bach Dang St. Hoi An, the lovely lady at Kha Dau Nghe Thuat shop will make you a customized stamp that she hand makes herself! Perfect for stamping all those postcards you still need to mail out! It takes about day to make and will last a lifetime.
Check out the Japanese Covered Bridge
Built in the late 1700’s, the iconic Japanese Covered Bridge is a sight to see for anyone visiting Hoi An. The Japanese Bridge is a reminder of how culturally diverse Hoi An was in the past and arguably still is. You can purchase the Hoi An Tourist ticket at the price of 120,000d to cross the bridge and see the temple at the other side. The Hoi An Tourist ticket allows you access to other historical buildings and landmarks in Hoi An. The Japanese Bridge can get pretty crowded so I recommend seeing it as early in the day as possible to avoid the crowds.
Shopping at the Night Market
If you love shopping as much as Lisa does, then Hoi An is your land of milk and honey. Hoi An has dozens upon dozens of shops sporting anything from homemade lanterns to custom leather boots. There is a night market located across the river from Old Town where you can find a whole bunch of goodies like paper pop-up cards, Vietnamese rice picking hats, and oriental fans. At the night market you can find the shops that sell the handmade lanterns that Hoi An is renown for. Even if you don’t buy one, they make for an amazing picture, just be sure to take it while the merchant is making a sale otherwise they might get annoyed. The night market also has a bunch of food carts so you can fill your appetite while you shop till you drop.
Watch the Lanterns in the River
One of the most dazzling sights to see in Hoi An are the lanterns floating down the Thu Bon River. For a small fee, you can purchase a floating lantern from the dozens of merchants near the boats by the river. I enjoyed watching the lanterns from the bridges that stretched across the river. There’s something very mystical about watching them float on by past the sampans to their destination unknown.
Take a Cooking Class
Want to learn a new recipe to impress your friends back home? Try taking a cooking class at one of the restaurants in Hoi An. Learn how to make Cau Lau, a traditional noodle dish that is local to Hoi An and is a dish you can’t skip out on. Made with pork, noodles, and vegetables that traditionally can only be found in Hoi An.
Get Leather Made
For every tailor in Hoi An there’s a leather shop to match it. Leather is everywhere in Hoi An! You can get anything from wallets, purses, satchels to jackets, shoes, and even backpacks! Just make sure the shop you’re buying from is selling you “true” leather. Some shops sell a product si-mi-li which they try and pass as leather, but its not. The price for the leather goods is incredibly cheap for what they are. I almost bought myself a pair of custom oxfords for 1,300,000d (that’s $57.82 USD!) just because of the price! The turnaround time is unreal as well with most things taking only a few hours to a day to make.
Taking the train in Vietnam was an amazing experience that I was fortunate to have. I had read through other blogs that taking a train allows you see the more rural parts of Vietnam that are far from the main cities. Having never taking a train before, I was intrigued by the notion and wanted to experience it for myself. Lisa and I decided to to book the SE10 train going from Ho Chi Minh to Nha Trang as our first trip. The trip would take 7 ½ hours to complete and would take us through the rural parts of Vietnam. To get the most out of the experience we chose to take the day train so we could appreciate all the the views as we passed by. We brought two backpacks with us which we stored in the overhead storage compartments above our seats. Throughout the trip, the train would occasionally stop at other stations to pick up fellow backpackers and daily commuters on their way to work.
Where to Buy Tickets
There are a few different ways to purchase a train ticket. You can go to the local train station and purchase a physical ticket there. Go online to sites like Baolau.com, Vietnam-Railway.com, or 12go.asiaand purchase a digital ticket that you can download or print. Or you can purchase train tickets through your hostel, homestay, or hotel. Sometimes you can get a deal with your accommodation where they will arrange a car to drop you off or pick you up from the train station.
We chose Baolau.com to purchase our tickets to Nha Trang from Ho Chi Minh city. We purchased soft seats that cost 189,000VND ($8.32USD) + 10,000VND ($0.44USD) service fee. When we purchased tickets through Baolau.com we were first sent an email receipt of the tickets then had to wait a few minutes to an hour for the actual ticket to be emailed to us. Through Baolau.com we were able to download a PDF file of the train ticket onto our phones which was convenient.
Before boarding our train we took screenshots of our tickets just in case the PDF wouldn’t load and ended up using that to board the train with no problem at all. We met some other travelers who were panicking because they didn’t know if they needed a printed ticket or not, rest assured the screenshot of the ticket is more than enough. Keep in mind that if you are unsure about something don’t hesitate to ask any employee at the train station. Through our experience the train staff are very helpful and will approach you to see if you’re ok or if you have any questions.
Types of Seats
When purchasing train tickets you are given the option of what kind of seat you want. They range from hard seats, soft seats, four person berths and six person berths. The hard seats are the cheapest option, but the least comfortable. They are wooden benches similar to the ones you would find outside of a train station. The soft seat is a vinyl-covered seat and is one of the more comfortable of the seating options on the train. A four-person berth is a room with two bunk beds adjacent to one another. These are used primarily for night travel and are more costly than the soft seat and hard seat option. The six-person berth is a room with two three-person bunk beds that are adjacent to one another. The six-person berth is cheaper than the four-person berth however you are now dealing with six people sharing the same amount of space that the four-person berth would be sharing.
Benefits of Taking a Train
Amazing views of the countryside.
Inexpensive option for long travel.
By taking an overnight train you can eliminate having to find an additional accommodation for the night.