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!