Next country on my three months trip around Southeast Asia is Vietnam. This is my second visit to this beautiful country and I’ll be concentrating on the things and parts that I’ve skipped the last time. I’ve already spent some time in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) and the Mekong River Delta before crossing to Cambodia last year, so I’ve decided to fly into Vietnam right in the middle – to Da Nang. From there I went straight to Hoi An and will be moving up north, before crossing the northern border to China.
Apart from Hoi An I really had no plan on where to stop on the way to Hanoi, I’d just ask everybody I met (together with all the guesthouse and restaurant owners and workers) on what they would recommend to see and went from there. This way I found out about a little less visited Dong Hoi (a good base to visit the caves of Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park) and the beautiful Ninh Binh province.
Anyway, after flying in from Kuala Lumpur and having a quick Pho Bo (noodle soup with beef) just outside the Da Nang International airport, I was set for Vietnam – the land of awesome food, a diverse mix of cultures, amazing landscapes, a sad war history and Bia Hoi, the cheapest beer in the world!
If going to Vietnam, you’ll need a visa. You need to apply for a visa approval letter before arrival and that should cost around 19 USD.
I’ve used Vietnam Visa Corporation twice and would recommend them. The process is pretty straightforward. You apply for the invitation letter on their site, pay with PayPal and get a scan of the invitation letter via email 24 to 48 hours later (together with an application form).
You need to bring a print of the visa approval letter and the visa application to the “visa on arrival” office when arriving to the airport and pay a fee of 45 USD for the stamping (for a 1 month, single entry visa). US dollars are prefered, so bring them with you. You’ll also need two 4×6 cm photos with you (note: these are bigger than normal ID photos!). At the end, they just take one photo, so I don’t know why you need to bring two, but well … better this than paying another 5 USD for the pictures at the airport.
You can enter Vietnam after the date stated in the visa approval letter, but not before.
Data SIM cards in Vietnam
You can buy a cheap unlimited prepaid data SIM card from all providers at the airport on arrival (even on the smaller airport in Da Nang) and they are widely available in the shops across Vietnam. I’ve researched around which one is best and Viettel was recommended in the past, but now it seems Mobifone unlimited prepaid data only SIM card is recommended by most, with good value and decent coverage.
The SIM card costs 250.000 VND and you have an option to get 600 MB of data for 70.000 VND or 1.5 GB of data for 120.000 VND (which I bought) and 3 GB is 250.000 VND. The data use is unlimited for 30 days, but the speed is capped to 256 kbps after you’ve used the selected amount (which is still ok for emails, Google maps and such).
Getting to Hoi An from the airport
It takes around 30 to 45 minutes to get from Da Nang international airport to Hoi An and there are a few options.
Every hotel, homestay or guesthouse will probably offer a ride to you upon reservation (for around 12 to 20 USD). The homestay I reserved offered me a car pickup for 14 USD one way (a price for a car that can take four people). A good option if you are traveling in a group. The Mailinh taxi (green cars, metered – recommended in Vietnam) from the airport should cost around 380.000 to 450.000 VND (17 – 20 USD).
If traveling alone Hoi An Express is a very good and cheap option and the one I would recommend. Their shuttles leave each full hour and it costs only 110.000 VND (4.95 USD) one way. They wait for you with a sign with your name at the airport exit and can drop you off at your hotel if it’s on the way to their office in Hoi An. If not you are dropped at their office and can take a cheap motorbike ride from there.
So far Vietnam has been amazing and blog posts about the ancient town of Hoi An, the must do motorbike ride from Hoi An to Hue through Hai Van Pass, my short visit of Hue, the Vinh Moc Tunnels in the DMZ (demilitarized zone), Ninh Binh province, Hanoi, riding the Northeastern loop with a motorbike and trekking Sapa before moving on to China will be published in the upcoming weeks. So, stick around and please like the Travel Photoblography Facebook page where I also publish the daily snippets of my trip that probably won’t be included in the blog posts.