U.S. dollars are widely accepted, the standard exchange rate for small quantities being 18000 dong to US$1; this is some 5% below the bank rate, so it’s usually better to pay in dong. Inflation in Vietnam has been skyrocketing as a result of the world financial crisis, so expect the rate of dong-dollar as well as other currencies to go up in 2009/2010. Also note that dollar bills in less than perfect condition may be rejected. US $2 bills (especially those printed in the 1970’s) are considered lucky in Vietnam and are worth more than $2. They make a good tip/gift, and many Vietnamese will keep them in their wallet for luck. US$50 and US$100 notes get a higher exchange rate than notes of lower denominations. Note that all gold shops will exchange the majority of hard currencies (Sterling, Yen, Swiss Francs, Euro etc.) at reasonable rates. Be advised that travel agencies (like StaTravel in Saigon) will rip you off offering you a very low rate.
With Vietnam being a very safe country, when it comes to foreign tourists, you might opt for US$ cash as the basic staple of your money belt, but bear in mind that it is always wise not to rely on just one leg when walking.
Traveller cheques of well known companies are widely accepted, but usually a small fee is charged. Fees might also be the only thing that would keep you from getting cash advances on visa- or mastercard at most banks. Through both ways you can also get hold of U.S. dollars, though there will be even higher fees.
ATMs are getting more and more common and can be found in most bigger cities and every tourist destination. They will accept a selection of credit and bank-cards, including Visa, Mastercard, Maestro or Cirrus and several other systems. Not every machine will like your particular card, but “Vietcombank-ATMs” are known for the broadest variety. The amount of your withdrawal may not exceed 2,000,000 dong in one transaction. ANZ bank allows withdrawals of 15,000,000 dong per day. You will usually incur a charge of 20,000 dong for each transaction, in addition to any charges your bank will make.
There are branches of money transfer companies like Western Union, but this is always one of the more expensive ways to get money.
On most land borders connecting to Cambodia, China, and Laos there are freelance moneychangers to take care of your financial leftovers, but be assured they’ll get the better of you if you don’t know the going rate.
Prices such as hotel and bus fares are, by government mandate, significantly higher (typically three times) for “foreign guests” than for locals.
You can bargain on practically anything in Vietnam. Most merchants will start off charging foreigner prices, which you can easily bring down by a minimum of 10%, or more if you like bargaining.
Costs for a month’s stay can start from a backpacking US$250-500 Using basic rooms, local food and open bus transportation can keep it very close to the US$250 per month
Tipping is not expected in Vietnam, with the exception of bellhops in high end hotels. In any case, the price quoted to you is often many times what locals will pay, so tipping can be considered unnecessary in most circumstances.