Traveling With An iPhone: My Experience in Vietnam

By , Apr 14, 2010

iphone vietnamI had done a little research online before flying to Vietnam about the communication network there. Reading the many positive comments about the infrastructure of this country, I flew there very confident that it wouldn’t be much of a hustle to find a SIM card for my iPhone.

After going through the very unfriendly Vietnamese customs, I headed straight to the Viettel booth inside the airport. Viettel was not my choice. It just happened to be the only phone store I saw inside Hanoi’s airport.

A woman welcame me and asked me what I wanted. As usual, I was pretty clear that all I wanted was a good data plan for my iPhone as well as a few minutes of communication so we can call hotels, etc, in the country.

For about $8, I got a SIM card, 100,000 Dongs of talk time and an extra 50,000 Dongs of bonus time. To activate the data plan, she took my iPhone and sent “3G on” as a text message to the number 161. I immediately got a text message back saying that 3G was activated. Very good.

Now what I wanted to know was the cost of 3G. She was unable to tell me and after calling her own customer support, she came back to me saying they didn’t know but that I shouldn’t worry too much about that because 3G is very cheap in Vietnam. Ok, not really the answer I expected but there was nothing I could do.

On my way to the hotel, I tried to call Viettel customer service myself, only to be turned down several times in Vietnamese. Since my taxi driver spoke English, I asked him to tell them I wanted to know the cost of 3G and if there was any monthly plan I could sign up for. They didn’t know. Hmm, I started wondering if they knew anything at all. Anyways.

I decided not to worry too much about that and started surfing the Vietnamese 3G to email, tweet, blog and more. Turns out I used crap loads of data until I had to recharge my SIM. I didn’t make any “scientific” study about it but it was clear that data was dirt cheap.

Viettel doesn’t allow internet tethering but I remembered that someone commented on my last travel post about Laos, giving me information about custom APN settings to allow tethering. Sweet! I had tried help.benm.at and unlockit.co.nz to download the custom APN but none of these site had them available.

A big thank you to Thy for telling me about custom APN for Viettel and VinaPhone. Without him, I would have probably been incapable of tethering my iPhone while in Vietnam.

Those of you interested in downloading the custom APN settings to tether your iPhone in Vietnam on Viettel or VinaPhone should go to Giaitri.net. The site is very slow and all in Vietnamese but it clearly says “Internet Tethering” at the top. Then you just need to select your carrier and install the custom APN, then reboot (don’t forget to reboot).

While I can’t say I’m impressed in any way by Vietnam (no offense to my Vietnamese friends but many bad things happened to me there), I have to admit that their network seriously kicks ass! It is my far the best network I’ve seen so far in my travels. That’s mostly due to the fact that their network is so new that they pretty much have the latest and best technology available.

The only time I didn’t have signal was when I was 30 feet underground visiting the tunnels of Cu Chi. At all time I had coverage, with at least Edge and in most cases 3G. 3G is burning fast too, which was really handy when looking for hospitals… but that’s another story…

I had to recharge my SIM with 150,000 Dongs, which is about $8 and this last me forever. Definitely the best and cheapest data plan I had been on.

As a side note, it is very easy to find free Internet everywhere in Vietnam. 90% of hotels, bars or restaurants have free wifi available (not even password protected). Vietnam is the most “Internet friendly” country I have ever visited (except for the censorship of Facebook.com in North Vietnam).

I’m now back in Thailand and I am typing this post from the airport, tethering my iPhone thanks to the great (but slow) DTAC network. The network is not as good here as it is in Vietnam but I don’t mind it if I can get my health back. We’ll be in Thailand for about 3-4 weeks, then heading to Kuala Lumpur to catch a flight to Paris.

If you’re traveling with an iPhone in Vietnam, I hope this article will help you figure things out, especially for tethering your iPhone.

Questions or comments, please feel free to write a comment below!

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  • David

    Are you able to finance your travels from this blog?

  • http://www.iphonedownloadblog.com/ Sebastien

    Partly yes. I do other things online too.

  • Bart

    Seems to me you had a nice trip in vietnam, you have said a lot of bad things happened to you there, but you seem to like the country as well. Anyway i’m heading to Indonesia myself in the up comming autumn. If i read youre travel expierience there, its all good and nice! So thanks for this blog and the Iphone news of course.
    Regards! ( Sorry for the bad grammar im dutch ;)

  • Eldaria

    I’m going to Ukraine this summer, and was wondering if you or anyone else who read this blog, can recomend what carrier to get with a not to expensive dataplan?
    I tried to search google, but could not find anything.

  • Lucky

    I will be waiting for your experience in Singapore and Bangkok as i will be travelling there in a month or two.
    My experience of 3G service in india is not really good.
    Well, Eventhough there are many carriers in India, very rare networks are providing 3G and those networks have very limited coverage too. even if you count networks providing 3G service in india, number won’t touch 2 digits even. rather than that you can go for USB data card. it is quite cheap too and gives you 3.1MBPS speed.

  • Thy Pham

    You’re welcome my man ,,,,, I love to help people , I wonder how long u gonna stay in VN , I plan to head back there in Summer , ( June to July ) anything let me know ^!^ I’m in Hawaii State … Phone Number : 808 469 9891 ….

  • http://www.sugoivg.com Quentin

    Hi there Sebastien.

    I have been in Vietnam for the past 3 days and followed your recommendation. I bought my Viettel card but eventually found out it was not recognized by my iPhone.

    I’m French, I bought my iPhone in France (it’s a 3G model, 8Gb) and the message I get is as follows : “Carte SIM non valide” (Unvalid SIM Card).

    Now, the Vietnamese guy at the booth told me I had to unlock my iPhone to make it work in Vietnam.

    My question is : was ur iPhone already unlocked/jailbroken before coming to Vietnam ? Did you do the thing on the spur of the moment, do you think that girl at the Viettel booth did some kind of software manipulation ?

    Anyway, thanks for this post, very useful I think !

    Take care.

    • http://www.iphonedownloadblog.com Sebastien

      hey Quentin,

      Yes indeed your iPhone has to be unlocked. Mine has been for a while so it wasn’t a problem.

      Unlocking is fairly easy if you have your computer with you. The unlocking method depends on your iPhone model and the firmware version. The latest 3.1.3 cannot be unlocked so far.

      More info about unlocking here: http://www.iphonedownloadblog.com/unlock/

      S

  • http://www.sugoivg.com Quentin

    Hi there again,

    Now I obviously have 3.1.3 installed. Is there a way to come back to an older version to unlock the phone and then reinstall 3.1.3 on top of it.

    Thx for the help Seb.

    Quentin.

    • http://www.iphonedownloadblog.com Sebastien

      No there’s nothing you can do at this time.

  • Linh

    So I’m assuming that any iphones bought now will have the newest firmware and not unlockable? I’m going to Vietnam in September and I’m trying to figure out internet access as I cannot live without it, lol.

  • ANG

    Thank you so much! i live in vietnam and i have not been able to find a data plan! even my vietnamese friend has an iphone im sure she may not even know herself!! I have been here 4 months and even though there is pretty much WIFI everywhere there is times you need to be connected!!

    You have saved my sanity!

    Cant thank you enough!

  • An

    Very helpful blog. Thank you. I’m heading to vn myself.

  • Dan@812

    Thanks for the info. We are heading to VN next week so very helpful. Question though – I have an iPhone3 but my wife has the newer iPhone4 with a micro-sim. Can Viettel help with a micro-sim? I’ve read that the micro-sim isn’t available and means the latest iPhone is a bit useless to travel with. Is that right or do you have an iPhone4 solution for Vietnam?

  • Quentin

    Hi Dan@812 !

    iPhone 4 has been officially available in Vietnam at the same time as in any other Western countries :-)

    So you will find micro-sim BUT be careful when you buy one ! Some sellers have tendencies to take normal SIM cards that they cut by themselves to make them become micro-sims (the “scissors” magic).

    So if a guy tries a SIM and tells you it does not work and tries to sell you his jailbreak/unlock method, force him to try with 2 or 3 more and it should work in the end.

    In terms of carriers, I indeed suggest Viettel since the 3G for this one is very good (Cracked App downloaded via 3G @ almost 300Kb/sec, even faster than my real Internet connection at home)

    PS : By the way, unless your iPhone 4 is jailbroken/unlocked already, you will have to proceed to it if you want to call from Vietnam with a Vietnamese SIM Card.

  • Alan

    Hi , thank for 3G info. I speak the language and I get rude treatment and ripped off by those damn Custom Agents too. That is the way the Communist behave.

  • Chau tran

    I’m Vietnamese and sorry for all the uncomfortable thingy we caused. For now, it’s quite easy to get the micro sim which is around 2 usd for the credit of 3-4 usd. U should ask for some command then u can get 3G which is very cheap too. Just send the command to the mobile company. Very easy and cheap. The main issue is we don’t speak English and it will be a little bit hard for u to find someone who can speak English fluently. Just email if u want to know and I’m willing to help. It’s about the person u ask and it’s nothing to do with communism. I don’t like it too. Rude and good people are everywhere.
    Bit

    • ella

      hello Chau tran. I’m going to Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh) this September. I’m using iPhone 4 and I would like to use my phone there. Where can I buy the micro sim and how to activate the data plan for 1 week? thanks

      • Chau Tran

        Hi Ella,
        It’s quite easy to find a sim card in Vietnam. Actually you just ask them to buy a normal sim card, after that show them that you use iPhone 4. They can help you to cut it right after that. Normally they don’t charge, but if ur unlucky, you have to pay another 20,000 VND ( US$1). You should buy the Mobifone sim card ( There are quite a few companies) and pay around 70,000 VND ( about US$4) to get the credit around US$10. Normally whenever i go back to Vietnam, I pay US$2 for a 1 week data plan. You can just SMS to 999 this command: “DK DATA D7″ after that you will receive a message” Quy khach vua dang ky goi cuoc D7. De xac nhan gui Y den 999. Yeu cau cua quy khach se bi huy bo sau 10 phut….” ( it means you have registered the data plan D7. To confirm, sms Y to 999. Your request will be cancelled after 10 mins). After you send Y to 999 again, you could use 3G for 7 days. about 300 MB. Let me know if you want to Facebook. You can’t use this package to get into Facebook cause of the Vietnamese stupid government thingy. Hate that…

        I hope this help. Let me know if you want some advice. Where to eat or… whatever..:D

        Have a nice trip!

    • ella

      Hello Chau tran. thank you for your information. it helps a lot. where can I buy the sim card? do they sell it near the airport? you mean, if I want to buy the sim card, i should buy the Mobifone “brand”?
      It will be good if I can use facebook, but if I can’t, I’m ok with it. hehee.

      My Vietnamese friend recommend me to go to some places, but I don’t have the list with me. so what do you recommend me to go and eat? I’ll be in HCMC 5 nights. thanks a lot!

      • Chau Tran

        Hi Ella,
        5 nights is a bit too much with HCMC hah…:P… You can actually go to the Mekong delta or Mui ne for 1 night( Pretty good place with resort and beach thingy… and cheap too) On the way down from the air port to your hotel ( Dist. 1 I assume), there are many apple stores. You can just ask the Taxi drop you for 2 mins and get it. Make sure you take your belongings with you.:P (They are in Nam Ky Khoi Nghia street) Taxi fare if around 200,000 VND ( US$10 or maximum US$15). Don’t be cheated by them.

        Any restaurant in Dong Khoi street is nice and pretty expensive.( 10 bucks per meal or cheaper). There is 1 restaurant that i would recommend you:
        – Cuc Gach restaurant- 10 Dang Tat- Dist.1- About 70,000 VND taxi. it’s pure beautiful Vietnamese food, beautiful Architecture. it’s my friend’s restaurant and he’s the architect who designs that restaurant, Good for a beautiful dinner. Should go more than 1 people. Great to have a bottle of wine.
        – La Chuoi restaurant on Nguyen Du road ( Very near the Notre Dame Church)- Good for a normal Lunch.
        – Bui Vien street – Pack backer place road. You can a a beautiful mango smoothies with US$2.
        – Beautiful sushi restaurant along Le Thanh Ton street. Cheap and nice. You can try Tokyo Deli – No 240 Le Thanh Ton street. Less then 10 US$ per meal.

        I don’t know how do u want to enjoy food in Ho Chi minh city. If you prefer 5 Stars restaurants only. let me know. I know quite a few 5 stars restaurants there… But it’s pretty expensive…

        Hope this helps,

        Chau Tran

  • Sizarro

    Fortunately, there are more good people than bad worldwide. Some of those good people have blogged here. I’ve enjoyed reading the helpful comments and Vietnam sounds like a wonderful place that I hope to visit some day soon from the US.

  • Chau Tran

    Hi Siazzo,
    Thank you. Vietnam is a wonderful place. Im sure you will like Vietnam.:D

  • joanna

    Hi Chau Tran,

    Thanks for your useful answers. I have just arrived in hanoi with my iphone 4, that is unlocked. I went to a shop and they told me it would be 500,00d to unlock(even though it already is unlocked!) and they told me that their veitnamese sim would not work.

    I am going to try what you have suggested. As I am living here for 9 months what type of plan would you suggest? Or is it the same as you said to Ella and I just recharge when I finish my credit?

    Do you know any shops in Hanoi?

    Thanks for your help
    Joanna

  • http://about.me/noir127 An

    Joanna,

    All u need is an unlocked phone, and the directions to activate your 3G. Usually it involves texting tona specific number to get things activated. You might have to fiddle around with APN settings as a last resort.

    An

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_W3XOL42AIJK6V5EW5FD4D6JWMI Charles

    What I want is a sim card for my ATT iPad. Does that work with a straight swap or do I have to do some hacking besides?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Duy-Nguyen/668102643 Duy Nguyen

    Did you have any problems with Customs entering the country with your smart phone?