• Storm Olivier

A note or six before heading to Vietnam.

Planning a trip without actually planning a trip? It’s harder than you think.

Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo by Linh Pham on Unsplash.

Vietnam is the end result of a two month back and forth conversation between William, his best friend Glenn from the UK, and myself. William and Glenn’s friendship dates back to University, since they’ve graduated theres been a travel trip every year. This year, I was invited to join, and so the discussion began. Once everyone had their say, we were left to narrow down: Ethiopia, Vietnam, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Poland, Myanmar and Brazil.


Pros and cons lists were drawn up, weather reports pulled, flight costs deliberated, and accommodation debates. Many Google searches later, we settled on Vietnam.

Did you know that Vietnam is the 66th largest country in the world ? Where would we go, what would we see? All three of us have rather different interests and ideas when it comes to a holiday but we found common ground in Hanoi and Da Nang.


There we had it, our first two weeks planned. Now what?


We had our location, our dates and all that was left — was everything else. William and I travelled to Namibia and somewhere between entering the border, and leaving it, we decided to book a one way ticket to Vietnam and take it from there.


We booked our flights through https://www.skyscanner.net/ — a rather useful website when you’ve got a budget to stick to. Scouring through Airbnb was the hard part. We had persuaded Glenn out of staying at the Hilton hotel and now we had to find something budget friendly as well as upmarket. After all, he was going on holiday — not planning to travel for an undecided amount of time.


We found a beautiful apartment with a rooftop balcony in Hanoi, central to all of our interests. Da Nang took a little longer as we wanted to be sure of our location here. We chose a home walking distance to the beach and in a quieter neighbourhood, fitting in a little R&R before we start off on our backpacking adventuring.

Da Nang, Vietnam. Photo by Anh Nguyen on Unsplash.

Plane ticket — check.

Accommodation for two weeks — check.


Then reality hit, there was a list of things to consider before embarking on this journey that although we didn't want to plan — we had to. The internet is vast and varied on requirements for Vietnam and I think i’ve spent over a week deciphering the in’s and outs of essentials.


Can you enter Vietnam without a return ticket?

The answer varies, a lot. However, the problem is not with immigration once you arrive in Vietnam, but your airline before you even board your plane. So it’s safest to check with your airline specifically. Your exit ticket does not need to be a plane ticket, so we’re booking a bus from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh in Cambodia a few days before our single entry tourist visa expires.


Visa requirements for Vietnam?

In short, you are able to obtain a tourist visa on arrival at the airport of arrival. You’ll need to get a pre-approval letter beforehand though as they’ll ask to see this on your airline and when you arrive at the visa desk at the airport. There are many sites that’ll do the letter for you but they are complicated, hard to navigate and confusing.


Working through https://www.myvietnamvisa.com/apply.html was the best for us. The website was helpful, easy to navigate and they kept in contact with us via email until our letters were done, which took about three days. Once we get to the airport, we will have to pay the fixed stamping fee of $25 for single entry visa.


William and Glenn are both UK citizens, meaning that they can be in Vietnam for 15 days without a visa. Lucky for Glenn, but William will have to get his visa done too.


Please note: Visa on arrival is applicable for air travel only. If you enter Vietnam by land or cruise, you are required to obtain a full visa before you arrive.

Pre approved visa letter for Vietnam.

In your hand luggage make sure you have:

  • Printed letter of approval

  • Printed and completed visa application form (available from the same website)

  • Two recent passport photos (4x6 in centimetres, no glasses, no smiling, hair may not be in face.)

  • Exchange some USD before you fly as this is the currency you have to pay for your visa with at the airport.


Vaccinations?

Finding an answer to this question is like finding a needle in a haystack. The last thing we wanted was to arrive at the airport and find we didn't have the right medical certificates. Before doing research we assumed we’d need Yellow Fever, Typhoid and Hepatitis A, B and C. I asked friends who’d travelled to Vietnam and they too had varied responses. Eventually I found a link that clearly outlined the answers for us (http://www.d2medical.ie/vaccine_detail.asp?countryId=VM).


No vaccinations are compulsory but Typhoid, Hepatitis A & B and Tetanus are strongly recommended. (If you’re travelling from a yellow fever area you’d be required to present a certificate.)


Getting from Hanoi to Da Nang

The overnight train has had many mixed reviews out there but we’ve decided to add it list of to do’s on our trip. Stumbling upon https://12go.asia/ has been a great site for us so far when it comes to looking for reliable transport. We will be doing our overnight train trip through Vietnam Railways.


The most common tips I’ve found throughout the sites are:

  • Bring your own toilet paper

  • Bring your own food

  • Bring hand sanitiser

Cầu Long Biên, Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo by Hoach Le Dinh on Unsplash.

Travel Insurance

Living a normal day to day life, you grow accustom to having to pay your medical aid, car insurance, house insurance, cell phone contracts, gym contracts and whatnots. These things unfortunately don't just fall away, if possible, they become a little bit more of a pain.


My advice would be to:

  • Check with your medical aid if it covers you internationally — if so, great!

  • If you’re not selling your car or you’ll be returning to hit shortly, make sure to keep up with your insurance payments.

  • My house insurance only covers my cellphone and laptop and thankfully that’s covered internationally. Be sure to know if your insurance covers you internationally.

  • Cellphone contracts are tricky, if you’re planning to travel for longer than a month and have considered cancelling your contract — it’s very expensive and you may as well keep paying the monthly instalment. Otherwise, see if you can find someone to take over your contract.

  • Gym memberships are tricky, some companies will let you freeze your account for a maximum of three months and some may require you to pay a cancellation fee. Chat to the manager to see if you can come to an agreement.

On that note, William and I will be taking out travel insurance.


What is it and why are we doing it:


In an ideal world, nothing would go wrong and you wouldn't need medical aid or insurance. Unfortunately this is not the reality. Someone once told me, just because you’re travelling doesn't mean you're living a different life, you’re just doing it somewhere else.


Travel insurance is not designed to be a substitute to medical aid, it wont cover non-essential overseas medical treatments, like visits to the GP for a checkup. We’ll be going through the reputable World Nomads travel insurance ( https://www.worldnomads.com/travel-insurance/ )


They cover the basics of:

  • Overseas emergency medical and dental expenses

  • Emergency medical evacuation

  • Trip delay, cancellation, or interruption due to an unforeseen event

  • Delayed, damaged, or stolen gear or bags if they've been checked in with a carrier.

  • Remember: Terms, conditions, and exclusions do apply, so be sure to read your full policy wording to avoid surprises.

The main things that aren't covered:

  • Expenses related to pre-existing medical conditions unless your policy says otherwise

  • Non-emergency medical expenses, such as eyeglasses or contact lenses, routine medical check ups, or cosmetic procedures

  • Items left unsupervised in a public place

  • Gear damaged while in use


They’ll work out your quote for you on the spot based on where you are travelling to, your age and where you’re coming from.


Other tidbits of information I’ve found along the way

  • Have a PDF version of all of your important documents stored on your phone and in the Cloud/Google Drive/Dropbox.

  • ATM withdrawals are expensive so make sure to bring both Vietnam Dong and US Dollars before going.

  • Make sure your visa is valid for six months or more before your arrival date in Vietnam.

  • Download ‘MapsMe’ from your app store and update it with the maps of the places your bound to visit. It’ll store the details and allow you to use it offline.

  • Always carry a pen with you, you don't want to have to borrow one when you’re filling out visa forms and whatnots.

  • Have all your important information jotted down incase your battery dies on your phone.

  • Some ideas would be to jot down: accommodation addresses, phone numbers, airline ticket number etc.

Ha Giang, Vietnam. Photo by Frankie Shutterbug on Unsplash.

That’s what we’ve got for now. We’ll be sure to follow this up once we’re abroad and have actually experienced all of the above but for now, that’s it.

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As a born and bred South African, I've grown up along many coastal towns across the Western and Eastern Cape (Yes, this means I eat pineapple on my pizza). I have always had a niggling sense that I was born to explore and travel but up until now,have constantly squished that feeling. Mainly due to getting caught up in the ''rat race;'' university, move to a big city and work, work, work. For the first time in a long time, I'll be fully focusing on my passion for writing, designing,photography and of course, travelling. 

STORM OLIVIER

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From a young age I was captivated by the wildlife that surrounded me. Raised in Botswana, I was able to explore and discover the beauty of untamed wilderness, and it sparked in me a love for nature and travel. That is where my photographic journey began. As my hobby blossomed into a passion, and then became an income. ​I am fortunate enough to call photography my career, but first and foremost it is my passion. 

WILLIAM STEEL

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