Details about traveling in Vietnam can be hard to come by on the web, and also seem to be changing frequently. Here's some more detailed information about our trip along with some other useful information gleaned from our travels.
Yes, you need one. Every visitor does except holders of passports from member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). How long it takes, and even how much it costs, seems to vary from place to place. Two days seems to be the shortest amount of time, and involves extra charges. The Bangkok consulate of Vietnam has a good reputation for issuing visas in four days, but can do it in the same day if you pay about 25% more. Your travel agent can usually take care of this for you. You will need to supply two passport photos along with your application. Your visa application has to specify the purpose of your visit, length of stay and where you will enter and exit the country. These cannot easily be changed, so make sure your travel plans are finalized before you go.
At the Airport
Be prepared for a long, slow queue at immigration. It seems to take forever for each passenger, even though they all have visas already. Also be advised that there is no "green line" through customs. Every bag gets x-rayed, both when you arrive AND when you leave.
The immigration form (as of January 2003) is a rather large lightweight paper duplicate form. The top portion is retained by immigration when you arrive. Be sure to keep the bottom (yellow) copy for your departure.
The departure tax at most airports for international flights is US$12, payable in US Dollars only. The tax is usually paid after having your bags x-rayed and before going through immigration.
The local currency is the Dong. Until quite recently, all the money was in paper form and there were no coins. Coins come in 200, 500, 2,000 and 5,000 Dong, while paper bills denominations range from 10,000 to 100,000 Dong. See our currency converter to check current exchange rates.
There are few banks in Vietnam. You can change money at your hotel, which is something you usually don't want to do, but there really isn't another option once you get outside of the big cities. Hoi An was the only town outside of Ho Chi Minh City where we spotted more than one exchange. However, make sure to bring a lot of US Dollars with you, in small denominations, as a lot of places will take dollars in place of, or even in preference to, Vietnamese Dong.