Here’s a comprehensive packing list for Vietnam to help you bring all the essentials and enjoy your Vietnam trip to the max.
Vietnam is one of South East Asia’s most popular destinations and with good reason – in-between the capital Hanoi in the north and historic metropolis Ho Chi Minh City in the south stretches centuries of culture and natural wonders, all hugging a coastline thousands of miles long.
This Vietnam packing list covers not only the essential items you should consider bringing but also the preparation you should do first before you start packing anything.
Preparing For Your Vietnam Trip
Check your passport is valid for at least six months before your arrival date in Vietnam
Apply for a Vietnam visa if you need it, either at the Vietnamese embassy in your home country, or in Bangkok if you’re on a multi country trip around South East Asia. Some nationalities are now exempt from needing a visa in advance if only staying a short time. You can also buy a Vietnamese visa online for collection at the airport on arrival but this has a few issues – see the separate article for more details. To locate your nearest Vietnamese embassy at home, check this comprehensive Wikipedia list.
Plan your budget. It’s important to have a rough idea of how much it’s realistically going to cost you to get to Vietnam, get around the places you want to go and get home. Figure out your Vietnam flight costs and hotel costs with a quick look at Skyscanner.com and Booking.com – these will let you get exact prices for flights to Vietnam and a sense of what you can expect to pay for hotels. Look at 12Go for the costs and duration of bus and train journeys. (The train is a great way to see Vietnam if you’ve got the time to take a long trip). Check Travel Happy’s 1 Week Vietnam Itinerary and 2 Week Vietnam Itinerary pages with hotel suggestions for every budget. Also see our one page Quick Guides to Saigon, Hanoi, Halong Bay and How Much Money Do I Need For Vietnam to help figure out your budget. Or be old school and buy an actual guidebook like Lonely Planet Vietnam.
Order a Vietnam SIM card – you can buy a Vietnam SIM card online with Klook and pick it up at the airport on arrival in Vietnam. This can be more convenient than going direct to a telcoms shop.
Get travel insurance. Seriously. You need to make sure you’re covered in case you have an accident – imagine if you break your leg or worse. Vietnamese health care is good, but it will also be pricey. Besides medical costs, travel insurance will cover you for flight cancellations and other disruptions beyond your control. World Nomads is experienced at providing travel insurance for backpackers and you can do it online in a couple minutes.
Check what vaccinations you need for Vietnam. The FitForTravel website gives you a comprehensive breakdown of which ones you’ll need.
Get some US Dollars cash to use in Vietnam. The official Vietnamese Currency is the Vietnamese Dong, but US Dollars are widely accepted everywhere and you can withdraw Dollars from ATMs in Vietnam. Do not leave Vietnam with Dong in your wallet: you can’t exchange it once outside Vietnam – it’s only of worth within the country. You might want to invest in a travel wallet too (one that you hang around your neck) as a way to securely stash cash about your person. Ideally, put it in several locations on yourself.
Check your debit and credit cards will work in Vietnam. Notify your bank of the dates when you’ll be in the country. VISA and Mastercard are widely accepted, American Express not so much. Bring more than type of credit card as backup if you can.
Take photos with your cell phone of your passport data page, and all of your credit cards and debit cards – front and back. That way you have the card details and the emergency phone numbers to call if you lose the cards. Email them to your Gmail account (or Hotmail or Yahoo or any other free online email provider) so they are accessible to you anywhere.
If you have prescription medicines that you take regularly, talk to your doctor ahead of time to get a supply that will last throughout your trip.
What Luggage To Use In Vietnam?
If you’re travelling around, nothing beats a backpack for sheer portability, especially as not everywhere in Vietnam has pristine pavements that will make manoeuvring a wheelie suitcase easy.
Invest in a well made backpack – if you need to economise, this is not the item on which to do it. Osprey is a solid choice in a variety of sizes. Remember to get a daypack too.
Use travel cubes to organise items in your backpack so you don’t have to empty the whole pack to get to what you want.
Luggage locks are useful for peace of mind while your bags are away from you in transit. Get TSA approved locks if you’re going in and out of the USA.
Packing To Protect Your Health And Well Being
Travel can be a dirty business, and having the right things in your toiletry bag can make a huge difference to how you feel and, more importantly, to protecting your health and wellbeing.
A hat, decent sunglasses that actually block UV light and protect your eyes, and sunscreen are obviously essential. I like Banana Boat sunscreen as it rubs in easily. For sunglasses, spend the extra cash on ensuring they will properly protect you – Vietnamese sunlight can be quite vicious to your eyes. You can get affordable real sunglasses on Amazon.
A decent toiletry bag that keeps all your stuff organised so you don’t have to dump all its contents on the floor every time you want to find something is a huge timesaver. Plus it minimises the space it takes up in your backpack. The Magicdoor travel kit is a good, cheap example of this.
Mosquito spray is essential – mosquitos tend to be most active at dusk and they love to go for bare flesh. Spray yourself liberally in mossy spray every day and wear long trousers or skirts at the end of the day- keep your ankles covered too. It can really make your holiday miserable if you get covered in mossy bites early on and then you have to contend with the scratching and general irritation for the rest of your trip. I can’t emphasise the importance of this enough.
Diarrhea remedies and upset stomach medicine are also important. These things obviously put a bit of a downer on your trip but they are usually caused by big changes in your standard diet rather than food poisoning per se. Usually one dose of medicine is enough to set you back on the right track – just perhaps stay away from any super spicy stuff.
Painkillers are useful for headaches and generally feeling under the weather (hello Bia Hanoi hangover!). Make sure you are staying fully hydrated – in a tropical country, you should be drinking at least 2 litres of water a day (4 pints). If you are getting regular headaches and/or your pee is yellow, you are dehydrated.
A quick dry towel is also worth investing in – they’re super light so barely take up any room and mean you don’t have to rely on wherever you’re staying to provide a towel of whatever varying quality – or, quite often, no towel at all.
Condoms should be in your bag just in case you get lucky. All joking aside, everyone should carry protection with them to ensure safe sex and fun holidays. it’s important to take care of yourself and your partner, even if fooling around with an irritating bit of rubber is the last thing you feel like doing in the heat of the moment.
A small first aid kit is definitely a good idea – you’ll be wanting plasters for blisters and small cuts, plus disinfectant for the same. Remember in the tropics smalls cuts etc can get infected quick so it’s important to clean and self-treat them immediately.
The clever invention of camping toilet paper is a godsend for when you stumble into a toilet that’s lacking in any paper or just not very sanitary looking. Hand sanitiser is also a good idea.
A travel pillow is a good call if you will be doing a lot of moving around during your trip and will be needing to catch up on sleep. Ditto noise cancelling headphones which are an expensive but very worth it addition to your packing list if you can afford it.
A small but powerful torch like the Nitecore Tube that fits in your pocket is extremely useful for after the sun goes down – not everywhere you go will have adequate street lighting – or any lighting at all. A personal attack alarm is a good idea for extra peace of mind.
Clothes for Vietnam
Vietnam has distinct seasons and different climates in different locations. In generals during Summer – May to October – it’s hot and humid as you’d expect for a tropical country, but temperatures drop to 17 to 22 degrees Celsius during the cool season – November to April.
As always, pack light and pack items that you can reuse over and over again. For clothes, aim for layers – t-shirts, thin jumpers, baggy trousers, long skirts that let your skin breathe and keep flesh protected from mosquitoes.
Cotton and linen are classic choices, but modern technology moisture wicking garments like UnderArmour are more effective at beating the heat and feeling dry rather than soaked in sweat. This is particularly true for tshirts, tops and underwear – UnderArmour boxer shorts and ladies underwear will help you stay cool, especially as you’ll most likely be doing a lot of walking around. (UnderArmour is just the brand I use myself, after years of thinking linen was the best – there are plenty of other brands that do the same kind of thing). Avoid denim or other heavy fabrics – they will soak up sweat and get super heavy on you, plus they don’t dry quickly. You might also want to consider using KY Jelly or a similar water-based lubricant on your skin to stop chafing from underwear: if you go on a bike ride or long walk, trust me, this will make a huge difference even if it sounds a bit weird.
You probably only need 3 or 4 tshirts or tops but don’t skimp on underwear – wearing the same pair of underwear for more than one day makes you feel remarkably unpleasant. That said, places to get laundry done are cheap and plentiful in Vietnam.
Swimwear is crucial if you’re hitting the beach – it’s worth taking a couple of bikinis or board shorts so you can wash one and wear one to avoid any nasty rashes. A sarong is a great addition for both men and women – not only to cover up but also to use as a makeshift beach towel, pillow and so on. Remember Vietnamese culture is quite conservative so don’t wander round in just your swimmies when you leave the beach.
Pack a lightweight hoodie for colder evenings and arctic air conditioning on flights and bus journeys – it doubles as a usual blanket and pillow too. A hoodie is a better idea than just a fleece as most heat escapes from your head. Coupled with a baseball cap, a hoodie can also keep you dry and rain out of your eyes if you’re caught in a rainstorm.
Footwear for Vietnam
Sandals are popular but I prefer lightweight walking shoes that let your feet breathe but keep them a bit more protected from the gunk of the streets and countryside. I wouldn’t bother wearing your best Nikes etc as your footwear is going to get banged up over the course of your trip. Get some cheap flip flops for the beach.
Unless you are a hardcore trekker, you probably don’t need more than standard walking shoes for exploring Vietnam – big heavy trekking boots will quickly become irritating and a pain to drag around if you’re not wearing them.
If you plan to hit the town at night, having a “nice” pair of shoes is always good – choose something you feel comfortable in as you may have to negotiate unexpected obstacles between posh bars and restaurants.
Gents should note shorts are not a good look at more upmarket places after dark, although you can usually get away with it if you really don’t want a pair of lightweight trousers in your pack.
You’ll need a universal power adapter whatever gadgets you bring with you to plug it in. Vietnam uses a variety of different 2 and 3 pin plug sockets so an adapter is wise. Having surge protection built in is also good to avoid it getting fried.
Assuming you bring your cellphone with you, you can pick up Vietnamese SIM cards if you want to be fully connected rather than just hopping between wifi spots. There are SIM vendors at the airport and in the cities – not difficult to find. Free wifi is prevalent in Vietnam – well, in the main tourist areas anyway, but with SIMs so cheap and staff ready to help set it up, it’s a no-brainer to just get a SIM.
Remember to bring your cellphone charging cable. Same goes for laptops, cameras etc – double check you have the cable, the adapter and perhaps spare batteries if you’re planning a lot of usage of your electronics. A cellphone power bank is a good idea if you plan on heavy usage – you might not be near an electricity supply while on the move etc
It’s worth mentioning here that you should try to minimise the amount of expensive stuff you bring with you. Your cellphone will probably be the most expensive single item you have – if you bring a tablet or a laptop or a camera too, consider adding to your travel insurance specific insurance for those expensive items. You can do this with a World Nomads policy. This will mitigate the heartbreak if you lose or trash those items on your travels.
Also consider investing in a super sturdy case for your phone to protect it from being dropped and generally banged around – Otterbox has saved my phone numerous times. If you’re going to be near water, a waterproof case is also wise.
Now near ubiquitous amongst travellers in the selfie stick, which can make for some undeniably memorable photos. Just be careful not to whack anyone else in the face with it.
If you like taking lots of photos (who doesn’t?) back up frequently to the Cloud or your laptop, or iPad or external drive or whatever.
If you like reading, a Kindle is invaluable for long journeys etc – a lot less heavy than real books and you can add to your library wherever you’ve got internet. Great for history books about Vietnam too but I would stick to print versions of guidebooks – maps are unreadable on Kindle screens.
If you’re going to invest in noise-cancelling headphones, audiobooks are a great way to pass the time while on planes and trains. Audible offers a free trial and has thousands of best-selling audiobooks to access and download.
You can download a wide selection of TV shows and movies to your mobile device with Amazon’s Prime Video service, letting you watch them anywhere without any kind of internet connection – perfect for plane journeys. There’s a 30 day free trial available to test it out. Remember to download the shows you want before you go travelling as usually the content is not available in other countries.
Going through a packing list like this can seem daunting because there’s a lot of stuff to think about – but it’s all pretty straightforward. Check out HolidayPackingList.com for more ideas about what (and what not) to pack. The key thing to do is start as soon as possible and chip away at the list. Also, the golden rule is – if you can, leave it behind. Try and travel as light as possible. Beyond having access to money and passport, you can improvise pretty much everything else on the fly. Happy Travels!