Why do you need a packing list for Vietnam? The amount to which you prepare for a trip can either make or break a vacation. Let Christina’s help you make the correct decisions, all the while giving you ample space to bring home souvenirs and all those tailor-made outfits you’ll be lugging back home. As our gift to you, there’s a nice printable checklist that you can customize at the bottom of this article. Happy packing!
PS: We’ve divided this article into sections that include travel essentials, electronics, clothing, toiletries, particularities and miscellaneous.
PPS: This packing list is not just for Vietnam and can be used for any country in Southeast Asia: Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Myanmar…take a pick!
Vietnam’s Many Climates
Vietnam’s wide-ranging geographical traits include lush green mountain ranges, continuous coastline, tropical jungles, and muggy riverside outposts that are spread across a long slender, snake-shaped terrain. Most people forget that Vietnam is split into two climate zones. That being said, the weather is completely variable depending on where are you in the country. For example, if you’re visiting the northern region sometime in December or January, chances are you’ll be freezing your butt off. A little more south, in the central coastal area, the weather is best the months of February and March before the heat and humidity become intolerable. The southernmost part of the country, home to Ho Chi Minh City, Vung Tau, and The Mekong Delta will either be cripplingly hot or super wet when you arrive. So keep all these geographical and weather-related items in mind while you’re packing for you Vietnam trip.
For a quick overview of the Vietnam packing list, check out this video:
1. Travel Essentials
Passport and visa
Make sure your passport is valid for more than six months prior to departure and that you have your visa sorted. Vietnam does not offer visas on arrival without an approval letter that should have been acquired at least a month in advance. Every country has a different visa requirement so do the proper research before visiting.
For in-depth info on getting Vietnamese visa: All-You-Need-To-Know about Vietnam Visa
You will easily be able to take out Vietnamese dong from an ATM. Make sure to notify your bank before traveling so they won’t freeze your card while you’re abroad. But carrying around some USD cash, around $80-100, is a pretty smart move. Some transactions at tourist sites like Ha Long Bay, for example, will be easier made in USD or if you’re renting a motorbike for example.
Read more: Cash, credit cards and ATMs in Vietnam
Photocopies of your credit cards and travel documents
Make two copies of your passport, credit card both front and back and any travel bookings you’ve made. Leave one set with someone at home, just in case you’re the victim of theft, which is commonplace in Vietnam. You will be thankful to have that information if ever you have to file a report or cancel cards *knock on wood.* Also, by carrying around a copy of your passport, you won’t have to bring your actual passport book out on the streets with you. Booking agents and motorbike rentals will take the passport copy.
Write down the addresses and contact information of places you’ll be staying at so that in the event you don’t have internet access or your phone dies, you can always get home safely.
Phone and charger
If you bring a smartphone with you, make sure to keep your belongings close and do not use it while walking on busy streets, especially closer to the edge of the sidewalk. Driveby snatchings happen frequently and local police are helpless in these types of predicaments. Make sure to bring a phone charger, although if you forget it, you’ll be able to find one at a mobile store especially in the larger cities. Make sure your smartphone is unlocked or else you won’t be able to use a sim card.
Camera and charger
Same goes for a camera. Be vigilant about a camera and if you need to tote it around, at least carry it on a camera strap cupping it as you’re walking outdoors. Sometimes, outlets can short circuit so be advised that if you’re charging a lot of items, it’s best that you time your charging accordingly.
Keep your accessories neatly tucked away in a packing cube or in cord tacos. A quick fix is wrapping them with a hair elastic.
The voltage is 220 volts. Most sockets accommodate plugs with two round prongs. Adaptors can be found at any electrical shop but they might not be that common in more remote areas so just bring your own.
Noise canceling headphones are nice for long sleeper buses but make sure that you’re not packing ultra bulky/flashy pair. Try not to attract too much attention to yourself to avoid becoming a quick target.
For the most part, Vietnam will be very warm, if not hot during your visit. That being said, bring lightweight clothing that quickly dries. Some prefer to dress “liberally” to stay comfortable, but easily investing in clothes made out of moisture wicking material can help you not cringe at how sweaty a walk has made you. Also researching the local temperature will help you to adjust your packing list accordingly. Fair warning: there is a ton of shopping to be done in Vietnam, especially on a clothes front, and chances are you will buy clothes or at least have them tailor-made in Hoi An. Make sure you have enough space and do not over pack for fear of missing out! And don’t bring clothes you’re in love with just in case you need to make space.
You also don’t have to worry about a dress code. I’m not saying you can walk out with next to nothing on you, but Vietnam is not very conservative, and a pair of shorts and a tank top are a-ok. Just be comfortable!
If you’re traveling up north during winter times (Oct – Feb), you want to pack a light windbreaker and some long pants because it can get cold! Leggings are great, especially if you’re gonna go up to Sapa and do some hiking! 😉
1-2 pairs of bathing suits
Obviously for beaching and any other water-related activity. No need to be demure, Vietnamese are not crazy conservative. There are tons of beaches in Vietnam and if your accommodation doesn’t have a pool, you can visit another hotel’s pool for a minimal fee.
Many religious sites have strict dress codes so it’s best that you bring T-shirts or short-sleeved dress shirts that cover the shoulders.
1 pair of trousers
Don’t bring jeans, it’s simply too hot and constricting. Bring lightweight trousers, also to be worn when visiting official/religious sites, for example, The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum or the Pillar Pagoda. Jeans will be a good idea if you want to go clubbing or to a fancy rooftop bar (for men, of course!).
1-2 pairs of shorts
Shorts that are made from thick denim will have a hard time drying, especially if you’re looking to do your laundry DIY in the sink. Many laundry services also still air dry.
1-2 pair of socks
Socks are a must for when you’re chilling in a sleeper bunk and are afraid of whose feet have been in your pod (so to speak) or for sneakers when going on hikes. They also become padding if you buy fragile ceramics.
Socks serve two functions – act as socks and as paddings if you buy fragile ceramics!
1-2 tank tops
When the temperatures are scorching, you may want to just wear these and that’s okay. So long as they’re not crazy low-cut and you’re not wearing them to temples, you are good.
Ladies, you will find more dresses so bring 1-2 that are versatile and not too risqué. Maxi dresses help you stay conservative and cool at the same time.
Usually, the rule of thumb is to bring one piece of underwear per day, plus one extra but if you’re staying there for more than 2 weeks, just cap it at 10 pairs and wash at will. Washing outside of hotels is much cheaper, but of course, less convenient.
Depending on the time of year you visit, you might be running into very frigid temperatures. But even so, public buses tend to crank the AC quite high and the shifting temperatures might cause a cold so just stay prepared with a sweater to make sure you’re regulating your body temps properly.
Good walking shoes
It is strongly advised that you go with good walking sandals to let your feet breathe. Make sure your shoes are the waterproof assortment, say Tevas or Crocs, if you’re visiting during the rainy season. Birkenstocks are also a popular choice for travelers. We’re not endorsing one or the other; just make sure you have good sole support. But if you’re going canyoning, you might as well invest in Tevas.
Flip flops serve a dual purpose: for the beach and for communal showers.
These are only necessary if you will be participating in more outdoorsy affairs (think: marathons, hiking, trekking, caving.) But you can actually rent hiking shoes while in Phong Nha (listen to our podcast about this town and its caves here) so don’t feel like you need to pack your own unless you have extremely big feet… those may not be accommodated.
You will get sweaty and stinky. Pack a strong deodorant stick and make sure you swipe some on at the beginning of each day.
While razors are easy to come by at convenience stores, they may not be equipped with enough blades to do a proper job. If you’re the hairy sort, bring your own grooming equipment.
Oddly enough, many hotel/hostel bathrooms are not outfitted with hair dryers, even at high-end properties. If you are someone who needs to style their hair, bring a travel-sized tool and make sure that it’s the right voltage as hair styling appliances usually tend to blow fuses.
For extra sweaty days or long hikes, having a small towel will keep you feeling dry. Can also double as a shower scrub.
Sarong and/or quick dry beach towel
Keep all towels light. Remember space is of the utmost importance. The sarong is the most versatile travel tool as it can double as a bed sheet, towel, beach cover, scarf, purse, etc. See ways to use a sarong. A quick dry beach towel like a microfiber towel or a Turkish towel are compact and highly absorbent.
Bug spray is not as easy to come by as you might think and therefore strongly recommended on your part. The mosquitos come alive during the wetter seasons and are particularly nasty on the coastline. Bring your own and be vigilant. Also, if you are doing more outdoorsy-type activities, try to bring sprays with DEET to ward off any mosquitos carrying tropical diseases like dengue.
Bring your own sunblock as many of the lotions in Southeast Asia are filled with whitening agents and are fairly expensive. Make sure that you wrap some tape around the bottle cap as they tend to explode midflight, leaving your belongings goopy and stained.
While fresh aloe vera is easy to come by, chances are you probably don’t want to find stalks of aloe vera when trying to soothe a nasty burn. Bring your own bottle of after the sun as the tropical sun beats down viciously.
While you could easily buy an umbrella, it just so happens that the times you need it most are the times you won’t find it. Bring a small, travel-sized umbrella. Downpours happen but start steadily. Thankfully, the rain in Southeast Asia operates like clockwork allowing you to seek shelter when need be.
For all the day trips you’ll be taking to the Cu Chi Tunnels, the Mekong Delta, or My Son, you want to make sure that you can carry your possessions safely. Bring a lightweight, foldable bag, preferably waterproof just in case you’re caught in a spontaneous shower.
For those doing some island hopping, a dry bag is the safest best for all your possessions to stay in tip-top shape. Dry bags are relatively inexpensive so you should find some on the street, but if you don’t want to search, bring your own.
Medicine and prescription meds
Bring a mini first aid kit, which should include at a minimum: Immodium (diarrhea stopper,) band aids, Neosporin (aka bacitracin to clean infections,) aspirin, and hydrocortisone cream for itchy bites. If you have special prescriptions like birth control, make sure you’re readily prepared. While some might comment that it’s easy to purchase anything over-the-counter, that depends on where you are and if you’re willing to take the chance on accidentally buying expired meds.
English language books are hard to come by. If you’re an avid reader, bring one or two books (depending on how long you’re visiting) and trade them off at hostels. Christina’s has a growing library, welcoming guests to take books and leave books.
Travel-size hand sanitizer
You’ll find that many rest stops and public bathrooms don’t have soap and a lot of the food in Vietnam is eaten by hand. This is the first step to avoiding any pesky stomach bugs while on the road.
Staying at a hostel or in a shared accommodation space? Bring a lock for some peace of mind. You would hope one would integrity but better safe than sorry!
Want to stay fashionable while protecting your skin from harmful UV rays? Sunglasses and sun hats are the healthiest fashion statement around! You can also find cheap sunglasses out on the street, but don’t let the vendors mark up the price. Anything over 200,000 VND ($9 USD) is preposterous!
6. What to Buy There
Sim cards are available for purchase upon arrival at the airport. Unfortunately, procuring a sim card once you’re in the city can be somewhat difficult if not a long, drawn-out process. Get a sim card at the airport for less than $10USD for one month from either Viettel or Mobiphone.
Read more: Mobile in Vietnam
You can buy ponchos almost everywhere, from convenience stores to the little tiny vendors who’ve set up shop on the sidewalk. They’re priced at around 5,000 to 50,000 VND depending on their quality. Get the cheap stuff and dispose of it when you’re done using it.
All toiletries can be found at convenience stores or mom and pop shops. Ask for dầu gội for shampoo and dầu xả for conditioner. They almost always come in a travel-size version.
Popular brands like St. Ives and Cetaphil can also be found at convenience stores for around the same selling price back home. But it’s worth it to just buy it in Vietnam instead of lugging it around.
Toothbrush and toothpaste
Toothbrushes and toothpaste are INSANELY cheap in Vietnam. You can get them at any convenience store.
In Vietnam, you’ll find a number of shops selling knockoff brands like Jansport, Herschel, and Longchamp, all at an affordable price. Don’t be afraid to bargain! For those who love handmade goods, you’ll encounter a number of textile embroidered knapsacks, satchels, and crossbody bags that would make excellent souvenirs.
Call it a blessing but Lonely Planet guidebooks can be found somewhere in every major cities’ tourist district—in HCMC, that would be Bui Vien; in Hanoi, you’ll find everything at the Old Quarter. For the majority, they carry Vietnam-related guides but you’ll also find guides for popular Asian destinations like Cambodia and Thailand.
A small pack of wipes
Like hand sanitizer, these are especially useful when you’re stuck with greasy fingers from a messy lunch or in need of wiping a toilet seat. They ALWAYS come in handy.
These packs of tissues are especially helpful for the runny noses that come about on super-frigid overnight buses or a surprisingly spicy bowl of noodles.
For those looking to bring some artwork back home, you’ll find art shops might not have tubing in stock. Bring a cheap plastic pipe to transport your newly acquired commissioned pieces home safely.
Camping on your trip? Exploring the caves? Having your own headlamp or handheld mini torch is perfect for such ventures and will bring great relief to your not-so-prepared companions.
So there you go, that’s my general packing list for Vietnam. And now, a gift for you:
Complete our checklist below and you are ready to go!
If you enjoyed this article, follow Christina’s Blog for more fun info on what to do, see, and eat while in Vietnam!