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What to Pack for Vietnam: A Packing List for Travelers

What to Pack for Vietnam: A Packing List for Travelers

Packing for a trip to Vietnam is more than just throwing everything that you think you need into your suitcase or backpack. There are a few things that you should consider before hopping on your flight, such as the time of the year of your trip, the season in Vietnam, public holidays, the places you will be visiting, and most importantly, taking into account Vietnamese culture.

While there is no specific dress code in Vietnam, if you are visiting places that are sacred or religious, as most travelers do, there is a way to dress that would be respectful, while some items that you consider casual beach or travel wear could come across as offensive. This usually only applies to temples and pagodas in Vietnam, but there is a good chance you’ll be visiting some on your trip.

Besides clothing choices, there are some other items you may or may not want to bring to Vietnam, whether you are going there for backpacking, working, or something else. If you are moving there for some time, though, you’ll be better off reading out packing checklist for moving to Vietnam.

Factors Affecting What to Pack

A person packing her luggage for Vietnam

No matter what kind of traveler you are, going solo or with the fam, there are some factors that are inevitably going to affect what things you’ll need for traveling in Vietnam. Here are some important questions you should ask:

Which season(s) will it be?

Vietnam’s geographic location makes its weather and climate a little complicated. Because the country is very long and skinny, the weather in the north is different than that of the south.

In Hanoi and the north, which is subtropical, there are four distinct seasons. Winter can be quite cool, with temperatures in the teens or below 10°C. That may not sound so cold, but with the humidity, it can really get under your skin. In spring, things warm up, and in summer it gets really hot, but also rains a lot. Fall is probably the best season for Hanoi. Read more about Hanoi’s seasons here.

Meanwhile, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Southern Vietnam is tropical, so there are only really two seasons. Dry season (winter), which is warm, and wet season, or monsoon season, in summer. This makes winter an ideal time for the south.

It’s actually a little more complicated than this. Learn more in our guide to the best time to travel to Vietnam. But for our purposes here, the most important thing is to know whether you’ll be packing for cool or hot weather, and rainy or dry weather.

Where are you going?

If you’re planning to go to the north in winter, then you’ll be needing more warming clothes. Think thermal under layers plus hoodie or light jacket for colder days or going out in the evening.

And if you plan to venture into the northwestern highlands, such as Sapa for hill tribe trekking, it will be even colder. Imagine temperatures around zero, but you could be staying in places with no internal heating or insulation to keep the cold out.

Or perhaps you’re mainly traveling in the south, doing a lot of beach hoping or perhaps going on a getaway to Phu Quoc island. In that case, your wardrobe is going to look a lot different.

For many travelers, they cover both north and south in one trip. If you’re coming in winter, or late fall/early spring, this means you sort of end up packing for all seasons, so you really need to pick and choose your outfits carefully, because you definitely don’t want to overpack.

How long will you be traveling?

How long you are planning to travel can definitely affect your packing list. But don’t let this be an excuse for overpacking. Fortunately, most hotels in Vietnam offer very affordable laundry services.

If you’re traveling for longer, take a look at your travel itinerary and find some places where you’ll be stopped for a few days. Make those your designated laundry days, and just pack enough to get to them.

See our recommended itinerary for one week / two weeks in Vietnam.

What activities are you going to do?

Anything adventurous such as motorbiking, hiking, water activities? Visiting temples and churches?

If you are planning to hike, get the best hiking shoes you have, if you are going to do professional sports, it’s better to pack your own gear for it. And if you are going to visit temples, make sure to pack appropriate clothing.

Will you be visiting a lot of temples on your trip? Don’t forget to pack a few more conservative sets of clothes. Will you be exploring caves or hiking? Then bring your sportswear.

Are you overpacking?

A pile of luggage in an airport, a sign of a traveler who over packed

Overpacking for a trip to Vietnam, or to anywhere for that matter, is a classic traveler’s mistake. Unless you’re going on a chartered tour, and someone else will be carrying all your gear, you don’t want to bring more than you can easily carry or lug down the street.

And keep in mind that streets in Vietnam are often cracked, potholed, or otherwise NOT flat, so a heavy burden with wheels is not the solution, either. A good rule of thumb is to take everything you think you might need while packing before you trip, then only put the items into your backpack or luggage that are absolute essentials.

Which other countries are you going to?

If you’re going on a longer, multi-country trip, you’ll have to balance any specific travel items you need for those ones with the ones you’ll need for Vietnam. Sticking to absolute essentials becomes even more important.

But, crucially, keep in mind that you aren’t flying to another planet or unchartered territory. Chances are, if you’re traveling and really need something, you can probably buy it in Vietnam or wherever else you’re going. It might even be cheaper than what you’d pay for it at home.

For hard-to-find special items (for example, specific meds, uncommon batteries/chargers for your devices, prescription contact lenses, and so on), those obviously should make the final cut when packing.

Our Recommended Packing List

A person's hand checking a list of things to pack for Vietnam

Without further ado, here’s our recommended packing list for Vietnam, separated into sections of documents, luggage, clothing (for men, women, kids, and motorcyclists), accessories, toiletries and, of course, electronics.

Hopefully this is obvious, but just because we list an item, doesn’t mean you have to bring it. In the end, the more minimal you can be, the more you probably thank yourself on the road.

Essential Documents

Before you even start packing, you’ll want to make sure you have all the documents you need for entering Vietnam.

We also recommend taking photos of all your important documents AND emailing them to yourself. This way, even if you were to lose all your things and even your phone, you could still access the documents online from any digital device.

  • Passport – must be valid for at least 6 months from the point when you arrive in Vietnam.
  • Visa – because it is often changing, especially post-COVID, find out whether you need a visa and how early you should apply for it. Read our guide to applying for a Vietnam visa, the different visa types, visas for Americans, work permits (if planning to work), and how to extend your visa if you need to.
  • Return ticket – when you enter Vietnam, immigration doesn’t usually ask for proof that you will leave the country (such as a return ticket), but sometimes they do. One option is to just tell them that you intend to travel overland from Vietnam to a neighboring country, like Cambodia or Laos, and they may ask to see proof of that. Another option is to buy a dummy ticket ticket. The latter is a good idea if you plan to stay in Vietnam for a long time and don’t want to buy a return ticket yet.
  • Accommodation confirmation – this is also not super common, but depending on your nationality or length of stay, you may be asked for proof of where you will be staying. A simple confirmation from Booking, HostelWorld, or something like it will suffice.
  • Travel insurance – while this is still officially required, most travelers report that it isn’t being asked for anymore. However, activities in Vietnam can be extreme and unpredictable – I was hit by a motorbike whilst crossing the street in Ho Chi Minh City, I have a friend who was involved in a motorbike accident, and other friends who had their belongings stolen. Be prepared and have the peace of mind rather than take the risk as it could save you a lot of money and stress – especially if you are planning to go motorbiking or do adventurous activities. We recommend this travel insurance provider. Learn more in our guide to insurance for Vietnam.
  • Degree, background check, other certificates -for prospective teachers only. Originals will be required. See more info here.

Luggage or backpack

This is obviously a personal preference. Because Vietnam is a popular country for backpackers, you’ll see a lot of travelers there with big backpacks. If that’s they way you’re going, we recommend going for comfort first.

And don’t go too big – if you have the space, it will be that much easier to fill it, and have too much. Almost all backpackers end up throwing our or wishing they hadn’t brought certain items. Also, if you can manage to keep your pack size to carry on, you will be thanking yourself as you stroll through the luggage area at the airport while everyone else waits. Also, I’ve had more than a few friends show up in Vietnam, but their checked luggage didn’t follow until days later.

As for more traditional suitcases or luggage on wheels, keep in mind the advice I already shared above. Vietnam’s pavement is notoriously not flat or even, so you don’t want to go too big or heavy and expect to be able to wheel it around all the time. It’s also very rare to find hostels in Vietnam that have a lift which can also make rolling a suitcase more difficult.

If traveling with a laptop, a lot of luggage nowadays have special compartments for them. The more concealed the zipper for that part is, the better. Some also have special pockets or holders for tripods, but note that some airlines don’t allow tripods in carry-on.

Clothing

A pile of folded clothing made by someone who is packing for their trip to Vietnam

This is going to vary a lot by the individual and his/her/their clothing preferences. Still, below are some clothing items we think would be useful for you to pack for your trip to Vietnam. And keep in mind that laundry services are affordable, fast, and readily available.

For women

For women travelling to Vietnam, here are some important things you may want to pack for your trip. This list should fit in a carry-on bag plus a personal bag (along with your toiletries and gadgets) if you have great packing skills. You may want to adjust numbers depending on your length of trip or laundry plans, but this is exactly what I would bring:

  • 1 cotton shirt – preferably coloured, but avoid black in summer
  • 2 thin dresses – 1 maxi, 1 shorter
  • 3 pair of shorts – 2 sports types, one board/denim type
  • 1 pair of leggings – won’t use it as it is but perfect to use underneath a skirt 
  • 1 long sleeve – will be useful for places where you need to cover up (doesn’t have to be thick)
  • 4 pair of socks – especially if you are planning to hike a lot (thick ones if you are going during winter in the north)
  • 2 sports bras, 2 regular bras
  • 5-7 pairs of underwear
  • comfortable walking/hiking shoes – if you have North American or European size, those sizes cannot be found here
  • 1-2 bikinis
  • 1 lightweight big scarf/sarong – use it with leggings when visiting sacred places or blanket in airports or bus journey
  • 1 walking shoes/hiking shoes
  • 1 pair of flip-flops – don’t bring expensive ones, you will probably lose or break them at some point anyway
  • 1 pair of cute sandals for evenings out
  • 1 rain jacket – lightweight and can be packaged small
  • 1 quick-dry towel this is not essential, because most hotels provide towels, but they tend to be small, and not provided 100% of the time. Also, even quick dry towels can take a little while to dry.
  • 1 day pack or purse: A small backpack, purse, or something you can keep on you 100% of the time, large enough for your water bottle, wallet, passport, and comfortable enough to be on you at all times. I personally prefer this to money belts, which can be uncomfortable, but you do need to be more careful with your day pack.

For men

For men who are going backpacking or travelling in Vietnam, here is a sample packing list of items that you may want to have before setting off. These should also be able to fit in a carry-on backpack (plus the toiletries and gadgets) if you have great packing skills. The quantities of course are adjustable.

  • 3  pairs of shorts – think thin/fast drying and comfy
  • 3 T-shirts – cotton and/or athletic
  • 2 tank tops – depending on seasons, whether you’re going to the beach
  • 1 pair of long trousers
  • 1 long sleeve thin shirt
  • 4 pair of socks – especially if you are planning to hike a lot (thick ones if you are going during winter in the north)
  • 5-7 pairs of underwear – also go thin and quick drying if you can
  • 1 lightweight scarf/sarong – can be useful for sacred places and as a blanket
  • 1 quick-dry towel (not essential, as most hotels provide towels, but they tend to be small)
  • 1 pair of flip-flops – don’t bring expensive ones, you will probably lose or break them at some point anyway
  • 1 hiking/walking shoes/boots
  • 1 pair closed shoes
  • 1 day pack Big enough for the things you want to carry around with you every day – wallet, passport, water bottle, phone, etc. But as comfortable as possible. Hidden zippers are a plus.
  • 1 swimsuit – fast drying and lightweight

For motorcyclists

If you are planning to ride a motorbike in Vietnam, you might want to add these to your packing list:

  • 1 extra pair of trousers – to cover and protect your skin under the very hot sun, dust, and possible crash
  • 1 pair of good boots or aqua shoes  – something that can get wet, muddy, etc.
  • 1 polarized sunglasses for those strong UV rays
  • 1 face mask – to cover your nose and mouth from dirt and smoke
  • 1 helmet – only if you already have one you prefer/love and have space to carry/bring it to Vietnam. Otherwise, just buy one in Vietnam for cheaper.
  • Translation app for getting help/directions in remote areas
  • Offline or online map on your smartphone for finding the way

For families/kids

Travelling with kids will be a great experience for them but it could be a nightmare if you fail to pack essential items and accessories:

  • medicine – even though it can easily be found in Vietnam, having them readily available could save time and stress (diarrhoea relief and constipation relief tablets are a good idea)
  • cotton clothing – cotton shirts can be expensive in Vietnam while the sizes can be an issue too
  • entertainment items – such as colouring books, toys, shows to watch
  • wet wipes and toilet paper – an emergency supply is always a good idea
  • bag for rubbish – sometimes it’s impossible to find a bin
  • comfortable shoes
  • swimwear
  • sunblock for kids
  • floaters and goggles optional
  • hat/sun hat
  • underwear
  • de-tangling hair spray, hair comb, and hair ties optional
  • water bottle
  • their own suitcase – if your kids are big enough, you should let them have their own suitcase

Accessories

Here are some other travel accessories you may want to pack.

General

To help you pack wisely, here are some packing accessories that can be useful:

  • packing cubes – will help you pack faster and access whatever you need in your luagge easier
  • ziploc bags – very useful for keeping your gadgets and documents dry especially during the rainy season or if you will be travelling by motorbike
  • laundry bag – the best ones are plastic with a Ziploc to contain the dirt and smell

For motorbiking

If you are going motorbiking in Vietnam, make sure you have these with you as well:

  • rain cover for your backpack
  • rain cover for yourself
  • rain boots
  • phone holder – so you can look at the map easier and faster. They can be bought in Vietnam, but best to get from your home country if you are using a newer phone model or to want to spend the time finding one when you arrive
  • dry bag – place items that you will need often so you can reach them easily

TIP: Have this list of international hospitals all over Vietnam handy

For safety

Trouble and bad people can be found everywhere, however, if you come prepared, you can avoid or lessen the chances that these issues might happen if you pack some of these things:

  • padlocks – get a good one that is not too heavy to carry
  • RFID wallet – for passport and bank cards
  • money bag/waist bag – bring one that is thin enough to place on your waist and hide under your shirt
  • filtration water bottle – to avoid buying bottled water all the time and to make sure that you only drink clean water
  • head torch/torch
  • whistle
  • copy of your prescriptions – must be translated in English

Toiletries

So what should you toss into the toiletries bag? Here goes:

For women

Some of these items can be harder to find in Vietnam. Therefore, you should bring them with you from your home country:

  • menstrual cup/tampons – tampons with applicators are almost impossible to find
  • toothbrush and toothpaste
  • makeup – some international makeup brands are not available here
  • shampoo, hair conditioner, body gel – you don’t need to pack big sizes/bottles, they can be bought here easily and cheaply.
  • toothpaste
  • deodorant
  • sunblock and moisturizer/lotion – most moisturizers and lotions here have whitening agents in them
  • first aid kit – plasters, gauze pads, painkillers, menstrual cramp pills, rubbing alcohol, antiseptic cream
  • perfume optional
  • hair products – for curly hair
  • tissues/wet wipes – pocket size, but they are easy to buy here

For men

A few basic toiletry items and ones that you cannot get in Vietnam:

  • shower gel and shampoo – but it’s easy to buy in Vietnam
  • shaver and shaving cream – not impossible to find in Vietnam, but not cheap
  • deodorant
  • toothbrush and toothpaste 
  • cologne – optional
  • sunblock / moisturizer – essential / optional
  • first aid kit – plasters, gauze pads,  painkillers, rubbing alcohol, antiseptic cream
  • tissue/wet wipes – pocket size, but they are easy to buy here

Unisex

  • eyemask & neck pillow
  • travel journal or notepad for taking notes – unless you use online ones
  • waterproof watch – if you don’t use your phone for the time
  • mosquito repellent – but it’s easy to buy in Vietnam
  • chapstick, nail cutters & nail file
  • contact lenses/solution/prescription glasses

Electronics

Here are a few electronics and gadgets that you may want to pack both to keep you entertained and to help you with planning, getting around, and to keep in touch with your family and friends back home.

Gadgets

  • smartphone – will help you in many ways; digital maps, mobile banking, contacting your hotel/hostel, contacting your family, to download your bus, train, and plane tickets
  • camera – your smartphone can be good enough, while other travellers bring digital cameras
  • phone chargers – pack at least two sets of phone chargers in case one dies or gets lost
  • headphone splitter
  • external hard drive – at least 265 GB to save those photos
  • Power bank – 2 units would be better
  • 2 SD cards – for your camera
  • universal converter for plugging things in. There are three kinds in Vietnam.

Entertainment

  • Kindle/ebook reader – to kill time on those long bus journeys or flight connections
  • iPod/music player – again, the bus journey can be lengthy (obviously your smartphone can be used for these two functions, to save space)
  • laptop – unless you will use it for something like work or you will be travelling for a really long time, it’s probably best no to bring your laptop with you. Theft sometimes happens in Vietnam.
  • chargers – for every gadget that you will be bringing
  • headphones/earphones 

Final Packing Tips for Vietnam

A luggage suitcase that is packed and ready for a trip, with two hands holding two passports

If you are having a hard time deciding what to bring, here are a few final tips:

  • Pack only what you need – sounds easy but I understand it’s not. Try to forget the phrase “in case I need this”, and stick to “I definitely will need this” items.
  • Pack the ones you really need and cannot buy in Vietnam – like lotion without whitening or tampons or clothes in larger sizes
  • Do a trial packing – if you can’t fit everything in your bag or suitcase or you can barely close it, remove 1/4 of it. Also try walking for five minutes with your pack on. If this nearly kills you, some downsizing is needed.
  • The ideal weight – how long will you be travelling for, during what season? For one month in the hot season, you shouldn’t need more than 15 kgs or so. Also weigh and measure your pack to make sure it meets carry-on or check-in limits for your flight.
  • Avoid heavy and big items that can be bought there for cheap – unless you are bigger size, you should buy winter jacket and other heavy accessories such as shampoo or shower gel in Vietnam

We hope that this Vietnam packing list article has been useful. We also hope you only packed the essentials, without overpacking! Happy packing, and happy travels!

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Rolyne

Tuesday 1st of August 2023

Thank you for all this information. It has served as a great guide.

Isabelle

Monday 7th of August 2023

You're welcome!