Do you remember how I witnessed all these scams in Cambodia, and thought I was on top of it? Well, it turns out you never are.
You’re not allowed to enter Vietnam without a visa, so I had arranged ours ages ago in Australia. A visa valid for three months, with multiple entries. Online this had cost us $160 AUD. There are many websites you can go through, so I asked a friend who’s been to Vietnam before. I ended up using a Dutch website: www.e-visums.nl You pay the money, fill out your details and then wait for your confirmation. Ours came in a few days later, with two forms. One form to fill out your details again and hand in at the airport, the other one as proof of your visa grant.
Once at the airport in Ho Chi Minh, we had to hand in our forms and passports, and wait until our names got called to pay “stamp fee”. No Vietnamese Dong (currency here) yet, so my boyfriend went out to get a cash out. When the lady at the desk told us the amount, I thought they must’ve made a mistake. Surely the stamp fee couldn’t be another $70 each? “Yes is correct”, said the lady with a friendly smile. At least she smiled. Not me. My smile had disappeared.
To skip the queue, you can contact the Vietnamese embassy in your country of residence, send them your passports and get them sent back with a stamp.
I seated myself in the plastic chairs to await the process, and then saw James coming through the gates, struggling with both our backpacks in his hands. It turns out Tan Son Nhat airport makes you pay a fee if you don’t get your luggage of the belt within an hour. He secretly grabbed them of the pile when the guy was arguing with someone else about the fee. Badass.
Next step, buying a SIM card. After comparing the stands with different options, we thought we found a good deal that would last us the entire 6 weeks. Don’t listen to people who say any plan will last longer than a month, because it is rubbish. It seems obvious now, but yet I was quite surprised after 2 weeks when the phone displayed ‘no service’. Going into a Mobifone shop, taught us this number has expired as its not been updated for over three months.
We both bought a new card at the shop. The display said 70,000 Dong (about $4 AUD) for 7 GB of data. When we finally got to pay, the price magically had added up to 240,000. Another 50’000 per sim.. So be aware!
Things to watch out for in Vietnam:
1. SIM cards. As much as you want one as soon as you’ve arrived, try and wait until you get a proper store. We went through Mobifone, which seems to be the main provider in Vietnam.
If you really want to get a sim at the airport, make sure you watch their every step like a hawk, as in these countries they set up the plan for you on your phone.
2. Use Uber. It’s the same principle as in other countries, yet local tariffs, and you know you’ll get the best deals. You can pay cash or just put your credit card details in the app to be safe. The application will show you your payment method. Don’t fall for drivers saying your card doesn’t work if your phone tells you differently. (This happened to us in The Philippines though, not in Vietnam).
3. Get your luggage of the conveyor belt rapidly, as otherwise you have to pay a fee to get your beloved underwear and toothbrush back.
4. Eat street food, as it is amazing and cheap. Be aware that vegetarian is not much of a concept here, and it’ll take your best attempt of gesturing to get something without meat. You might get sick once, but it’s not necessarily the banh mi and rice paper rolls that makes you sick.
Try and avoid ice in drinks, as far as that’s possible. They love their icy cold drinks here, but once you see how they carry ice in bags on the motorbike, or even rest it on the streets, you will be more tempted to order a hot latte instead of the iced version.