I decided to go to Vietnam less than 24 hours before hopping on a flight. Most people want to know why, and how is that possible. As for the why– I had the opportunity to go, a wonderful travel companion to meet in Saigon, and have a keen interest in Asia. How could I say no? And as far as the how– I filed rush paperwork for a visa on arrival and was able to enter the country and secure the visa at the airport.
So, for anyone planning a (last minute) trip to Saigon here are a few things that I think you will find helpful, some of these will be relevant to other cities in Vietnam as well:
VISA: you can apply for a visa in your country through the consulate or you can use an online resource in Vietnam to secure paperwork to get you a visa on arrival.
VISA ON ARRIVAL: I used Vietnam Visa Pro and did the most expedited version possible. The paperwork arrived quickly via email and everything went smoothly once I arrived at the airport in Ho Chi Minh. Please note that you need to have a printed copy on you while traveling, because if you are connecting the gate agent in the connecting city will need to see and verify this paper or your physical visa in your passport before allowing you to board. It is a good idea to keep one copy in your carryon as well as a backup copy in your checked luggage. Also, you will need a passport sized photo and the fee ($40 when I went in 2014) to submit once reaching immigration in Ho Chi Minh. The entire process for me took about 20 minutes.
CAR SERVICE TO HOTEL: If possible I would book this in advance through your hotel. I was not sure how long my immigration situation would take so I didn’t book through my hotel, and that was a mistake. My taxi should have been about $7, but my driver pulled off to the side of the road and demanded that I pay $50. I was alone and it was after midnight, and here I found myself spending my first minutes in Ho Chi Minh arguing with a driver over the fare. Fortunately I knew the actual cost, but unfortunately I felt pretty intimidated. I refused to pay him $50, but think we agreed to about $25 or $30 which was simply because I wanted to get away from him and safely… Anyone who approaches you at the airport is likely trying to take advantage of the fact that you’re foreign and (hopefully for them) oblivious to how much things should cost.
TAXIS IN THE CITY: I always had my concierge arrange my taxi when leaving the hotel to go out for the day. Returning to the hotel was a different story as I was on my own in the city and had to hail one. I would look for VINASUN taxis as I seemed to have the best luck with this company. Always use metered taxis– the taxi prices are crazy cheap so you really cannot go wrong with a meter. Also, it’s prudent to keep a printed version (a business card works) of your hotel’s address. Sometimes accents can cause a lot of confusion with taxi drivers, and other times they simply are driving you to the incorrect location because they want the meter to continue running.
MONEY EXCHANGE: In general, I exchange very little money in America. I typically withdraw cash in the US then exchange a very small portion of that in the foreign airport (enough to get a taxi and for the first day/hotel fees) and then use a currency exchange spot near the hotel. These are typically plentiful– I had no issue finding several in Saigon. I exchanged cash daily as I needed it. I bring big bills ($100) as these typically get the best exchange rate.
FOOD: I didn’t take any probiotics before this trip and didn’t have any issues with food, however if you are concerned I suggest you take olive leaf extract and jarro-dophilus. I operate by a general rule of thumb that I want to see my food being made– I don’t eat any food that has been sitting for any length of time. Also if you have food allergies I would be sure to research dishes which will be safe along with the words of your allergies. Your best bet would be to have a written “I am allergic to __ and __” in Vietnamese and show it when ordering.