Calling all Australian adventuresses! Seeing the world solo is life changing. It’s empowering. And it’s a must-do these days, whether you’re 25 or 55. As a veteran solo traveller, my heart belongs to Vietnam (my soul, my mind and my spirit is spread across greater South East Asia – you get spread thin when you travel a lot!) As a solo frequent flyer to Vietnam, these are my Vietnam travel tips for my sisters in adventure.
Over the past few decades, I’ve visited Vietnam so many times I can’t keep count. I’ve travelled with kids. I’ve travelled with groups. I’ve visited the big ticket attractions and taken the road less travelled, many roads less travelled.
In recent years, I’ve travelled solo. Vietnam for solo women is a different kettle (well, clay pot) of fish. It’s not just about safety either. Vietnam is relatively safe for solo women travellers always be sure to read up on it before you go at Smart Traveller but the solo experience isn’t just about staying safe. It’s about immersing yourself in a truly unique and vibrant culture. For me, as a woman travelling, it’s about empowering other women. It’s about ethical shopping and understanding how to spend your time, and money, in Vietnam in a way that benefits the women of Vietnam.
After talking to dozens of solo women with Vietnam on their must-do list, I’ve put together this list of questions and answers to help make your first trip to Vietnam alone, a life-changer.
It’s the same with all destinations, know before you go. If you’re interested in history, read up on the locations of pivotal historical events. Vietnam’s documented history dates back to the Hong Bang Dynasty around 2900BC and has experienced invasions, colonisation, communism… it’s a fascinating journey.
Modern history will paint Vietnam as one of the six “CIVET” nations, emerging economies with all the potential to take their place amongst the “BRICs” – the “next big economies”. In short, from an economic perspective, Vietnam is listed in the “ top ten” potentially powerful emerging industrialised economies (up there with China, India, Indonesia to name a few). This is both good and bad for Vietnamese people and knowing more about the modern economic state of Vietnam will give context to the problems Vietnamese people (especially vulnerable people like women and children) are facing.
For family history, research where your parents or grandparents fought in the Vietnam War so you can visit locations and connect with their stories (check that these are now open to visitors in advance).
Passionate about religion? Vietnam, although technically a secular country, is a melting pot of beliefs. You’ll find Buddhism, Caodaism, Islam, Hinduism… with “folk religions” being prominent across the country. Learn more about these beliefs to make a visit to a temple a far more interesting and enlightening experience.
Hustle and bustle, history and culture, see and taste, rest and relaxation. The beauty of Vietnam is that there’s “all the things”. I’ve met a lot of solo women travellers who focus on one area of things to see and do in Vietnam and miss out on the other good stuff. For every temple, there’s a world class beach, for every raucous marketplace, there’s a peaceful view… don’t forget to slow down and soak up all elements of Vietnamese culture. There’s just SO MUCH to see and do.
Many solo woman travellers choose to travel independently to Vietnam, as there is a wealth of information online and in guide books advising where to go, and how to get there. Hotels and homestays are used to women travellers all over Vietnam, and are generally welcoming. You can easily join tours for a day or two in each destination you visit, and you'd be advised to do this to get the most out of Vietnam's culture and history.
In terms of “specialised tours for solo women” there are a few tour organisers that only permit women to join (women in groups is fine but the tour doesn’t admit men and is specially tailored to suit women travellers).
Shop Eat Love Our Vietnam tours for women in Vietnam is all about bringing like-minded women together to experience Vietnamese “Untourism”. Vietnam for travellers, not tourists. It’s about spending quality time with quality women, sampling street foods, uncovering “un-touristy” shopping destinations and spending a day experiencing REAL Vietnam. It’s also about kicking back and connecting – a day to look after yourself and indulge a little while someone else does all the logistics.
If you love local food and want to really make the most of trying the amazing cuisine Vietnam is famous for, there are street food tours aimed primarily at women travellers which are run by women, In Ho Chi Minh we love saigonkisstours and in Hanoi chefduyen
Remember the spiel about emerging industrial economies above. This is where that information becomes very important.
Shopping in Vietnam can really be split into two parts. The big markets and souvenir shops are known for their "designer and brand copies" and this is what many visitors want to buy. Sadly there are a lot of sweat shops in the free trade zones in Vietnam. They flood the markets with cheap, poorly made items and "fast fashion". Research the brands that you LOVE before you go and seek them out in the markets and shopping hubs. You'll still get a bargain but you won't cost local women.
No matter where you go, shopping ethically is a minefield. Ever walked into a Kmart in Sydney? Chances are you’ve made an unethical purchase – “trusted brands” love sweatshops. Researching this stuff in a whole other country is doubly hard.
So, without getting all preachy on my sisters, I’ve dedicated much of the last decade of my life to helping ethical providers be heard, and accessed. It’s part of my passion for South East Asia. You can’t love the country while watching the people suffer in free trade zones.
So, when I started working on Shop Eat Love Our Vietnam, I did ALL the research so that ethical tourists didn’t have to. I wanted to make it simple to make good choices and empower women fleeing human traffickers, low paying factories and old fashioned poverty.
I believe in women’s empowerment. I believe that to truly understand feminist issues, you need a global perspective – and to hear the voices of the women first hand. This is the kind of travel experience that changes you as a person. It transforms you from a tourist to a traveller and gives you perspectives you’ve never considered before. Pretty powerful stuff.
The green movement, and Vietnamese ethical retail fashion, homewares and gifts is absolutely going from strength to strength. You'll see signs outside reputable stores saying "handmade in Vietnam" or "sustainable crafts". You might have to venture away from the very touristy streets or markets to find the ethical brands but you'll be glad you did. What's more - you're notice very quickly that it is Vietnamese women who are running businesses all over the country.
They even joke that the men do nothing but sit around drinking coffee or beer while they do this – yes that’s right, some experiences are shared by all women. Give them the support they deserve. They are incredibly resourceful, resilient and hardworking and their entrepreneurial spirit is awe-inspiring. That right there, is a piece of Vietnam all women travellers should experience.
Culture shock is very common amongst first time travellers and even seasoned travellers. While culture shock isn’t a recognised “illness” it’s got very, very real symptoms. Similar to anxiety, you may experience overwhelm, sensory overload, panic, frustration and general regret at having stepped out of your comfort zone. Vietnam is a feast for the senses, so can cause culture shock amongst visitors. As a solo female traveller, you may feel more out of your depth than those on group packages or those travelling with partners. If you find yourself standing on the side of a busy road, feeling anxious about how to even get across the chaos, you’re not alone.
My hot tip for dealing with Vietnam culture shock is to book organised day trips in the first few days of your trip. This means, at first, at least, someone else can organise the transport, pick you up, return you safely, find you lunch etc. Easing into a new and exotic culture is the best way to feel right at home in no time.
Booking day trips early on in your tour will also give you the opportunity to meet other solo women travellers and pick their brains for amazing things to see and do which may not feature in the standard guide book. If you’re planning a prolonged visit to Vietnam, consider doing a structured tour with other women up front. Learn more.
Vietnam has a relatively low violent crime rate in comparison to its South East Asian neighbours and is generally considered a safe destination for solo travelling women.
Like the rest of the world, there are dangers for women in Vietnam. Vietnam is a relatively safe destination for solo women travellers - the biggest issues are theft and petty crime. While Vietnam isn't especially well known for sexual crimes against women, be sensible, watch your drink, dress modestly (as the culture prescribes), and don’t flash too much cash. Read up on Vietnam for solo women travellers before you go and always listen to your “women’s intuition” to stay safe.
International driver’s licences are NOT recognised in Vietnam. Motorcycles under 50cc are the only vehicle you can drive legally without a local licence. These can be dangerous. Check safety standards, insurance and always wear a helmet. Only use registered taxi companies as 'hailing a random vehicle" can result in being scammed or worse. In my experience, taxi drivers in Vietnam aren’t always ethical people (insert eyeroll). When you get into a cab, use your phone to take a photo of the driver’s credentials. This tells the taxi driver that you’re an experienced traveller and any fare rorting could result in consequences that are simply too hard to deal with.
Wherever you travel, you should have a good basic understanding of local laws. Use common sense and read your guide book before doing anything off the beaten track. You may need written permission to visit "border regions" and you are not permitted to take photographs of border crossing areas or some military sites. If you're travelling with the intention of learning about the Vietnam War, be clear on what constitutes a tourist permitted site, and what does not. Leave your religious trinkets, restricted medicines and anything considered even slightly risqué at home. While Vietnam is a tolerant and accepting culture, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Don’t worry, even the most seasoned solo traveller dreads a foreign toilet. If you’re from a country that traditionally uses squats, you dread putting your butt on a seat that’s had countless butts before you. If you are from a land that washes, you may be disgusted by the “poor job” done by paper. It’s all relative. Nobody likes using a different kind of loo.
Yes, Vietnam has western toilets, although they are few and far between outside the main tourist areas. Most of Vietnam uses squats. Wear closed shoes. Seriously. Note that overnight buses and trains in Vietnam may have toilets on board but they can be... out of order or in rough shape. Always carry tissues in your bag as toilet paper may not always be available.
Malaria is a risk in remote areas in the mountains in Vietnam. Zika and Japanese Encephalitis are bigger risks from mosquitos. Get your Japanese Encephalitis shot (it's not always considered the standard when you get your travel vaccines – do your homework and get your shots from a proper travel doctor – as any seasoned traveller will know, some GPs are USELESS when it comes to travel vaccines). Most importantly, be "mozzie smart" - loose fitted long sleeve clothes and DEET spray are essentials. Stay in accommodation that is well "sealed" so mozzies can't get in at night – and if you’re hitting remote villages where mosquito borne disease is a big issue, carry a mosquito net. Remote accommodation can be rudimentary to say the least. It only takes a tiny gap to let mosquito borne diseases into your bed. Talk to a travel doctor before you go as Vietnam has issues with Rabies and other diseases that require either vaccinations and/or vigilance.
And, remember, solo ladies, HIV and other STDs are problematic EVERYWHERE. Stay safe when you “experience any aspect of another culture”
The problem isn’t how to buy one, it’s how NOT to buy one. There are literally thousands of opportunities to pick up a sim card in Vietnam. Too many choices, and a lot of them are traps for naïve tourists!
Don't buy a SIM card from a street vender unless you're willing to check its validity. Unfortunately, fake SIM cards (deregistered SIMs) have been an issue in Vietnam. Best to stick to the bigger stores; it may cost you a few extra dollars but it will save you the anxiety of tech problems in a new land.
The card itself will cost a small fee - around $3 Australian. You may be asked to pay AU$30 or more for a sim card. Don’t get your card from this vendor!
Coverage is patchy in Vietnam and that will be a big issue if you’re heading outside of the major cities. Generally Vittel gives the best coverage of all the major brands telcos.
Prepare to be frustrated by slow internet and drop outs especially in Hanoi and Saigon. It's a thing.
Take an "unlocked" phone. There are TONS of deals from the three main providers (MobiFone, Viettel, Vinaphone) and most pre-paid packs are under $AU20 and will last you for an entire short to mid-term trip (provided you're not live-streaming the whole thing!)
You'll be able to find "tourist sim cards" at airports and just about everywhere. Look for unlimited 4G data, calling minutes, the ability to call Australia (some don't cover calls to all countries) and the ability to hotspot.
Note that most pre-paid sims last just thirty days. If you're in Vietnam for longer than thirty days, you may need to top up. Provided you buy from a major provider, top up vouchers are available at pretty much all tourist destinations.
Tourists do, you will not be alone if you choose to sport a two piece. Generally, it's not against any laws but the fashion in Vietnam is more modest than in Western countries. You may attract attention in an itsy bitsy teeny weeny somewhat revealing string bikini... for safety and cultural appropriateness, a one piece or even swimming shorts may be a better choice. It’s about respecting the culture you’re experiencing – any feminist issues aside.
Nope. Bottled or boiled only. Consider taking a reusable water bottle and boiling water at your hotel. Bottled water is readily available and is generally affordable but you may pay tourist prices in tourist areas. If you can’t peel it or cook it, don’t eat it.
The most important question to ask! Vietnamese wine is wine made right in Vietnam’s warm sunny climate. It's... different. Fruit wines, grape variations you've not tried before. Try all the wine. But if you're looking for a nice Sauv Blanc by the pool, it is readily available but you'll pay a premium import price. Beer is cheaper in Vietnam and there are local spirits to try too. And cocktails are popular and much more affordable than back home. Don't worry, you'll be fine. Seriously, you were worried about this right? You are not alone sister.
Street vendors sell the BEST BEST BEST food for foodies but always look for street vendors used by the locals. You're not really experiencing the real Vietnam unless you're eating in local street food establishments and on plastic stools. There is just so much to choose from and each area of Vietnam has its own plethora of unique dishes to try.
Because water is not potable, avoid street food that is uncooked or washed in water. If you can't boil it or peel it, don't eat it. In main tourist areas, usually ice is made from bottle water. Vietnam relies on tourism so it is widely known that tourists want clean ice. It is always better to ask though if you're unsure, nobody wants to spend valuable travel time in the loo (Western or otherwise!)
Tipping is not the law, nor is it customary in Vietnam however service industry workers don't earn a lot in Vietnam so a few extra dong here and there makes a big difference. For solo female travellers, you may wish to subscribe to the "Women Supporting All Women" approach to travel. Shop ethically, empower local women and tip a sister worth tipping.
Hit a sister up! I literally love sharing insights about my favourite places. I am always happy to share information and even contacts if you need it. Just get in touch!
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