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Your Vietnam Travel FAQs — Questions and Answers

YOUR TOP VIETNAM TRAVEL FAQS


Watch/listen to our recently recorded Vietnam FAQ webinar on Youtube here.

Listen to the full audio on Soundcloud here.

How has Vietnam travel changed over the years?

In the early days of Vietnam opening up to adventure travel, there were certainly not as many travellers there as there are today. However, it is still very possible to get off of the beaten track when travelling in Vietnam so that you do not feel you are just surrounded by other tourists. Overall though, numbers of travellers are definitely increasing as Vietnam becomes an increasingly popular destination.

Listen to a more detailed answer HERE.

What is the best time of year to travel to Vietnam?

The best months for travel to Vietnam are October through May, after that it turns into the wet, typhoon season. Any month between October and May is a great time to travel to Vietnam. April and May is a popular time to experience Vietnam.

Listen to a more detailed answer HERE.

Is Vietnam cheap? What are standard expenses in Vietnam?
Compared to the costs in North America, Vietnam is very economical. For example, a foot message for an hour costs a mere $5. Meals are very inexpensive and you’ll be served multiple plates of food in the restaurants. Hotel prices vary depend on the class of hotel, but overall the prices are relatively cheap. A three star hotel in Vietnam is also much nicer than a three star in North America, and often would be more comparable to a four star in terms of the rooms comforts, views and style. Three star hotels, though very economical, are often much like boutique hotels in North America and very tastefully decorated. Vietnam is an amazing destination for shopping, offering a great variety of arts and crafts. Hanoi, in particular, is great for offering fantastic selection of goods and crafts at very economical prices. Usually, on a package tour, you can easily get by with $300-500 spending money for the duration of your trip to include extra meals, shopping, tips and and other incidentals.

Listen to a more detailed answer HERE.

What city should one fly into to start a trip in Vietnam?  

For BikeHike Adventures trips, many travellers fly into Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Many major carriers fly into Vietnam, including Thai Airways, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Korean Airlines.

Listen to a more detailed answer HERE.

Do you need a visa to enter Vietnam? 

This depends on your country of citizenship. However, Canadians and Americans do require a visa to enter Vietnam. It is possible to do a visa in advance, which we highly recommend to allow you to pass through customs much more quickly and easily. However, it is possible to get a visa last minute, though this requires a few added steps including a letter of recommendation from your tour operator stating your tourism activities in the country, and upon arrival in Vietnam you will enter a special customs line. At times, this line can be quite long. So, whenever possible, it is always better to try to arrange your visa in advance to save time at customs.

Listen to a more detailed answer HERE.

How fit do you need to be to go on an adventure travel vacation to Vietnam?

This depends on the actual trip you choose. However, for BikeHike Adventures’ trips to Vietnam, there are two styles of Vietnam trips. Both of these trips, however, are rated as “moderate” trips. These trips include 4-5 hours of physical activity throughout the day, with many breaks along the way. The biking portions of BikeHike Adventure’s trips are the most cardiovascular portions of the trips, but there are always support vehicles available on our BikeHike Vietnam trips. During the biking section, our travellers don’t have to carry anything on their backs as any packs can be carried in the support vehicle.  During the hiking portions of the trip, the most you would have to carry on your back is a daypack.

Listen to a more detailed answer HERE.

What kinds of cultural interactions can one expect travelling in Vietnam?

There is a lot a cultural interaction possible in Vietnam, as it is a very culturally rich destination. There are over 50 ethnic groups in Vietnam, each with their own languages, their own customs and dress. You’ll encounter them on their water buffalos as they’re working their rice fields.  Sometimes we’re even able to visit schools on our BikeHike trips. In the Sapa Valley, hikers actually pass through villages and have the chance to interact with locals in their homes. Even Hanoi, and its colour and chaos, is an incredible cultural experience.

Listen to a more detailed answer HERE.

Is it possible to use foreign cell phones or wifi while traveling in Vietnam?

Yes, wifi and cell reception is available in most areas of Vietnam, mainly in the cities. However, while hiking and biking in Peru, there are perhaps a few areas where cell reception is unavailable. Most hotels are equipped with wifi in Vietnam. Whenever you are at a homestay in Vietnam, you’ll likely be without wifi as these families are unlikely to have a wifi connection.

Listen to a more detailed answer HERE.

 

Cuban Cuisine, A Beginner’s Guide

Cuba cuisine guide pic

While Cuba’s restaurant scene is improving, no trip to Cuba is a gourmet tour. Formerly, all restaurants were owned and run by the state. However, slowly, private restaurants are beginning to emerge.

It is definitely worth trying some excellent home-style cooking at one of the country’s few family-run restaurants, called paladares. In Havana, some of the paladares are so sophisticated that they could actually compete with a top international establishment’s cuisine.

Outside of Havana, chefs have to work with a substantially limited range of ingredients and the cuisine has very little foreign influence so meals in Cuba can sometimes be rather bland. Be prepared that the staples of all Cuban meals are rice and beans – sometimes combined together to make congri and sometimes cooked separately and served as white rice and black bean soup (potaje). Cubans eat these staples every single day.

On the menu, you’ll notice that fish, chicken and pork are the most common meat options, with rice, beans and plantain also featuring quite heavily.

Vegetarians beware… Fresh vegetables are limited in Cuba and in Cuban cuisine. However, fresh cabbage, tomatoes or cucumbers will usually accompany your meal. Vegetarianism is a relatively new concept in this part of the world, and vegetarian cuisine is therefore rather basic. Gluten-free and dairy-free products are also very limited.

If you will be traveling around the country for a few days, pack plenty of snacks to avoid overloading on biscuits. Granola bars and protein bars are not available in Cuba. So, pack these from home.

Desserts are quite common in Cuba, with popular choices being ice cream (of varying flavors), sponge cakes, flan (a caramel custard), and marmalade and cheese.

Coffee lovers will delight while in Cuba as Cubans absolutely love their coffee, thought it is quite strong. It is typically served at the end of each meal, espresso style. Local beers are also quite good, particularly Cristal or Bucanero, and beware that imported brands are available but at a premium price. However, a trip to Cuba should include at least a sip of its most famous local alcoholic beverage, rum. National cocktails include the Mojito, made with white rum, sugar, lime juice, ice and a sprig of mint. The Cuba Libre and the Daiquiri are other popular options.

Bottled mineral water and soft drinks are readily available. Fruit juices and batidos, fruit drinks blended with milk and ice, are commonly available. However, avoid drinking local water or local drinks blended with ice.

Vegetarian restaurant options in Havana:

Al Medina
El Bambu
La Lluvia de Oro
El Rapido
La Dominica

Take a Hike! FIVE WORLD-CLASS HIKES

Chile — Torres del Paine National Park

DSC_5801

When travelling to Chile, you won’t want to miss out on the breathtaking natural wonders of Torres del Paine National Park. Among those wonders, the famous Towers of Paine are a must see.

A perfect day hiking/trekking to sight these massive sculpted granite peaks starts with a hike along dirt trails that carry you through this region’s gorgeously rugged wilderness. As you head towards the valley, you’ll pass dry mountain spots, beech forests and small rivers. While the first bit of the hike is meandering and relaxed, the last two miles is a slightly more challenging scramble on foot, along steep and rugged terrain, to arrive at the base of the incredible Towers of Paine. The Towers will suddenly come into full view, rising majestically before you, the sparkling glacial lake visible below. This is certainly one of the most breathtaking sights in the world. The Torres del Paine granite monoliths, at 2,900 m/9,400 ft, have been carved away by the forces of glacial ice. Sitting beneath the spires is the perfect place to enjoy a picnic lunch as you marvel at the intense power of the natural world.

BikeHike Adventures’ “On the Trail of Chile’s Patagonia” trip includes hiking Torres del Paine National Park

Northern Vietnam — Sapa Valley

Rice Paddies with Locals

The highlights of travelling to Vietnam include not only the landscapes, but also the culture. Both of these highlights can be combined in an epic hike through the Sapa Valley.

The lush mountain range in Northern Vietnam is where you’ll find the Sapa Valley, an area rich with rice terraces and Vietnam’s most remote hill-tribes, including the colorful Dzao hill tribe. Trekking through the Sapa Valley with a local guide will allow you the opportunity to learn about these families and gain insights into their daily lives in this valley. The hike is somewhat challenging at times, as lo you may need to balance your weight on the ledges of the terraced rice paddies and a trail that traverses the steep mountainside. If you are lucky, you may be able to have lunch with locals. If not, dining on a packed lunch along the side of a stream or rice field is equally spectacular.

BikeHike Adventures’ “Active Indochina” or “Hike, Bike and Kayak Northern Vietnam” both include hiking Sapa Valley.

Ecuador – Mount Fuya Fuya

Cuicocha - Ecuador

Fuya Fuya is located 20 kilometers (12.4 mi) south of the town of Otavalo. Hiking up this mountain will lead you to a spectacular view over one of Ecuador’s hidden gems, the Lagunas de Mojanda– three pristine crater lakes located at the base of the mountain. Mojanda, an inactive volcano of the Eastern Cordillera of the Andes in northern Ecuador, was last active 200,000 year ago.

A great hike to do starts from around 3,900m/14000ft and ascends to the summit of Fuya Fuya at 4,300m/14190ft. A typical area hike takes 2-4 hours and a typical hike is around 4km/2mi, making Fuya Fuya a very reasonable mountain hike, and a great introduction to the Andes before attempting even higher mountain peaks. When you reach the top though, the view of the collapsed crater of Mojanda is stunning and arguably one of the best views in Ecuador.

BikeHike Adventures’ “Andes to the Amazon” trip includes hiking Mount Fuya Fuya.

Panama – Amistad National Park

Panama-Waterfall

When most people think of Panama, they think about the Panama Canal, the massive manmade wonder of a canal that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. However, Panama boasts so much more than just this amazing canal. And a hike through Amistad National Park, Central America’s largest nature reserve, is an absolute must during a visit to Panama. Amistad National Park was carved out by Quaternary glaciers and tropical rainforests now cover most of the park. In this very special rainforest, you’ll discover more than 100 species of mammals, including many primates like the howler monkey and black handed spider monkeys, tapir, olingo and shrew. During a hike through the park, you may also witness extraordinary cultural diversity. Four distinct indigenous tribes continue to occupy the area, and archaeological sites suggest that this area has also been occupied by many millennia.

With the guidance of a local, a perfect hike lasts about three hours, taking you just deep enough into this wild paradise to experience its splendor. Wander across rustic bridges, past secondary forests and through extraordinary bamboo groves. Waterfalls and natural swimming holes provide refreshment from the heat and provide a perfect stop along the way.

BikeHike Adventures’ “Rumble in the Jungle” includes hiking in Amistad National Park.

Galapagos – Sierra Negro Volcano, Isabela Island

Galapagos-Animals

It’s nearly impossible to think about the Galapagos Islands without thinking about Charles Darwin’s legendary research and discoveries there.

Isabela island is the perfect place to hike around while marvelling at the land that inspired Darwin’s research, Isabela’s rich biodiversity being unparalleled. The island is home to more wild tortoises than any of the other Galapagos islands because these extremely slow moving turtles were unable to cross lava flows to the expand their territory.

Wild tortoises roam roam free across the island and can best be spotting when hiking through the calderas In fact, spotting these tortoises is often a highlight on any Galapagos trip. However, you’ll also have the opportunity to many other incredible forms of wildlife, including huge land iguanas, Darwin’s finches and many more. Along the west of the island, you’ll find the best place in all of the Galapagos for spotting whales and dolphins.

BikeHike Adventures’ land-based trip, “Galapagos Multi-sport,” includes hiking on Isabela Island.

Five Life-changing Trips

Only available to those with a local guide and connections, these are the sorts of experiences that are most likely to forever change your world-view.

VIETNAM
Old World Charm

Vietnam Trip of a Lifetime BikeHike

Dial back time and experience Vietnam on your mountain bike,  snaking along dirt roads that carve around steep mountains, through remote villages and alongside fertile meadows. Kayak in UNESCO recognized Halong Bay, exploring hidden caves, stunning lagoons, pearl farms and fishing villages. Hike through remote villages, past terraced rice paddies, meeting locals and learning about Vietnam’s hill-tribe culture. You’ll return home with a greater appreciation for wide open spaces, a slower pace and all of the simple things in life.

BikeHike Adventures offers two multi-day itineraries in Vietnam: Bike, Hike & Kayak Northern Vietnam and Active Indochina.

GUATEMALA
Mayan Dreaming

BikeHike Guatemala Trip of a Lifetime
photo: Guatemala (on a BikeHike Adventures tour)

Explore colonial towns, visit indigenous villages, explore ancient Mayan ruins. Historically, Guatemala is the true heart of Mayan culture and has more Mayan ruins than even Mexico. Guatemala’s most famous Mayan remain is at Tikal, the largest Mayan city uncovered there and one of the grandest ever built in Mesoamerica. No matter where you venture in Guatemala, the streets are alive with modern Mayan descendants, colours and culture. Meanwhile, wandering through the colonial, cobble-stone street scenes of towns such as UNESCO heritage listed Antigua (founded around the year 1600) will remind you of the country’s more recent, Spanish history. There’s not doubt that you’ll return home from a trip to Guatemala with a greater appreciation of history.

BikeHike Adventures offers a 9 day Guatemala itinerary, including hiking Pacayo Volcano and sea kayaking Lake Atitlan among local fishermen: Guatemala Mundo-Maya Multi-sport.

GALAPAGOS
Beyond Darwin

Galapagos Trip of a Lifetime BikeHike
photo: Swimming in the Galapagos (on a BikeHike Adventures tour)

The Galapagos Islands are still a hub for groundbreaking research due to their astonishing biodiversity. Bob through the ocean on sea kayaks, paddling alongside giant sea turtles, seals and bottle-nosed dolphin. Go for a hike to watch giant tortoises foraging for food. Dive in and snorkel with sea lions and turtles. Perhaps even pay a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Center in Santa Cruz. February through March are some of the best months to visit Galapagos, as this is when the marine turtles emerge. Returning home from a trip to the Galapagos, you’ll have a great appreciation of the wonders and diversity of life on this glorious planet.

BikeHike Adventures offers a 10 day Land-based Galapagos trip year-round, visiting Isabela, Bartholome, Santa Cruz and Sante Fe islands: Galapagos Multi-Sport.

CUBA
Time Capsule

Trip of a Lifetime Cuba BikeHike

Cuba is a country on the cusp of great change, its internal and external politics having taken center-stage lately, especially in the United States.  Filled with crumbling colonial architecture, vintage cars and vibrant music, Cuba is a country seemingly captured in time. The most authentic way to explore the country is by bicycle, as the country has impressive roadways but relatively few cars. Cycle beside vintage American cars and ox carts, through rural villages, colonial towns and the Cuban countryside. Cuba offers a rare blend of classic culture and raw spirit. After a trip to Cuba, you’ll likely feel quite reflective about the modernities and everyday conveniences you enjoy in your much more modern corner of the globe. You may also carry with you more than bit of inspiration from Cuba’s incredibly vibrant music and art scene. It’s nearly impossible not to be inspired by the Cuban people’s love for art, music and life in general!

BikeHike Adventures offers a 9 day cycling itinerary to Cuba, October through April: Cycling Cuba, Havana to Trinidad.

TURKEY
Turkish Delights

Trip of a Lifetime Turkey BikeHike

Colorful bazaars, underground cities and so much more await an adventure in modern Turkey. However, the country’s rich history is evident all around you as you explore this vibrant country. Istanbul is home to thousands of volumes of written treasures from the Ottoman Empire more than 1000 years ago. A visit here is your chance to see these rare masterpieces up close. Kayak on the Mediterranean coast alongside ancient tombs carved into the shoreline.  Mountain bike through and around the rock-cut dwellings of Cappadocia. There’s not doubt that you’ll return home from a trip to Turkey having been wowed by out-of-this-world landscapes while also being in complete awe of the world’s incredible history in this fascinating region.

BikeHike Adventures offers a 12 day Turkey itinerary, an adventurous quest through fairytale landscapes: Turkey: Cappadocia & the Mediterranean

Take Your Fitness Goals With You On Your Next Vacation

At BikeHike Adventures, we believe your vacation time is a perfect opportunity to continue pushing forward with new and exciting fitness goals, all while actively exploring the world.

During the past 21 years, BikeHike Adventures has stockpiled a number of inspiring stories about the people who have travelled with us. You’d be here reading for days, if we wrote about them all…

ALifeMoreExtraordinary

Michele and Glenn in Ecuador with BikeHike Adventures photo courtesy: A Life More Extraordinary blog

So, this is the story of just one inspiring couple — Michele and Glenn, both in their mid 40s — who are currently travelling with us in South America. They’ve graciously allowed us to retell their story as a beautiful example of the ways some of our travellers actually use travel as a motivator to help themselves set and maintain fitness goals. Over the past two years leading up to her current adventures with us in South America, Michele has shed nearly half of her body weight, reducing her weight by more than 130 pounds!

During her younger years, Michele says she could most easily have been described as an adventurer. A skydiving enthusiast, she couldn’t resist jumping out of planes at every opportunity, and by the age of 20, she had already obtained her pilot’s license. “[I had] a desire to see and experience all life had to offer.” Yet, she admits that if you were to view a picture of her dated more than 2 years ago, adventurer would not have been your first thought.

“Somewhere along the way I lost that spark,” she admits, as jobs and the daily grind of life took over. And then pounds steadily piled on, and her previously adventurous life remained only a distant memory.

Until one day, while planning a vacation to Vietnam, she had an AHA moment. A glimmer of her former adventurous self lit up inside as she browsed photos of Vietnam’s exotic landscapes. However, much of the trip seemed impossible as she couldn’t imagine herself biking or hiking the distances required to experience those parts of Vietnam.

“I realized, quite to my astonishment, that I had somehow become a spectator in my own life.”

Michele decided to make a change, and steadily began making very deliberate daily decisions, together with her husband, to stay active by setting health and fitness goals, both small and large. Fast forward to today, two years later, and she is 130 pounds lighter and  the couple’s dreams have steadily been becoming realities, one by one. Not only did they manage to complete that once daunting trip to Vietnam, actively biking and hiking across much of the country, but they have also just taken a 6 month sabbatical from work to hike, bike and kayak their way around South America, a way of continuing their incredible health and fitness momentum.

The couple began their 6 month trip by biking and hiking on the Galapagos Islands and in the Ecuadorian Andes, with BikeHike Adventures. While in Ecuador, Michelle wrote to tell us that one of her proudest moments so far was when our BikeHike guide told her, “Wow! I’m not worried about you on this trip. You can handle anything!” They had just accomplished a difficult, high altitude hike at Fuya Fuya, one many travellers find challenging. She said that this accomplishment really meant to the world to them, and it truly strengthened her confidence after their long fitness journey leading up to this trip.

Their next stop? Cycling the high altitude Salt Falts in Bolivia, again with BikeHike Adventures, and it is yet another challenge they are excited to face.

During her two year health and fitness journey, Michele credits travel and adventure as being a great fitness motivator.

“In many ways our journey toward health has been an adventure all on its own.”

We are so incredibly proud of Michele and Glenn’s accomplishments, and we’re equally honoured to be able to share their story about taking back control of their lives. And we’re so happy that some of our trips were able to provide the motivation and challenge they desired to keep pushing themselves further on that journey.

Michele currently chronicles their active adventures on a blog, called “A Life More Extraordinary.”