Vietnam is still predominantly a cash society – the majority of shops and restaurants, with the exception of international chains and some tourist-orientated places in the big cities, do not accept debit or credit cards, though they can be used in many hotels. The currency in Vietnam is the Dong (VND), and though US dollars are accepted in many popular destinations and attractions, the majority of transactions are conducted in Dong.
In general terms the USD is the most widely and easily exchanged currency in Vietnam, as it is in the majority of Asia, with the Euro as a distant second. British pounds, Canadian dollars or Australian dollars are not widely accepted in either banks or hotels, and where they are the exchange rate is unfavourable. There is no longer a significant currency black-market in Vietnam, and most hotels offer roughly the same US dollar exchange rate as banks or exchange-desks, making this often the easiest option. USD cash is also required to obtain a Visa-on-Arrival in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, so we recommend you bring a cash float in USD or at least Euros even if you intend to obtain most of your currency through the ATM network.
Credit / Debit cards
ATMs are now widespread in all but the most remote destinations in Vietnam, and although rates and withdrawal charges will generally be higher than for exchanging cash, this is a reliable and largely secure method of obtaining VND cash.
Traveller’s cheques will be accepted at major international banks in big cities, but generally not in hotels, and the process may both be more time-consuming and incur higher charges than exchanging cash. These should be USD denominated to ensure the best chance of acceptance, but we would generally not recommend them.
In conclusion we recommend using debit cards to withdraw cash from local ATMs, backed up by a cash float of USD brought with you from home. A good selection of low denomination USD bills (USD 1 and 5) are very useful for tipping and bargaining purposes.