While the Vietnamese dong is the official currency of Vietnam, three different currencies are used for different types of purchases. It is common for gold to be used for purchasing land and housing, while the dong is used for day-to-day items. The U.S. dollar is also readily accepted in most locations, but is commonly used to purchase luxury items. Many shops and restaurants will advertise that they take both U.S. dollars and Vietnamese dong, so it is worthwhile carrying both currencies. Many places will also convert cash for you, but be aware that you will probably lose anywhere from 5-10% in the transaction.
The largest cash note available is 100,000 VND (roughly USD $5.00). In 2003, the Vietnamese government reintroduced coins, in denominations of 200, 500, 1,000, 2,000, and 5,000 dong. Coins are most commonly found in the major cities. Many vending machines don’t accept coins, in fact, the only vending machines that do accept coins are machines that distribute condoms. This has led to coins being comically been linked to sex in popular Vietnamese culture.
There are many ATMs within the major cities, and they generally accept western cards such as Mastercard and Visa. The maximum withdrawal, however, is two million VND (USD $100) and you will usually get charged a withdrawal fee. Traveller’s cheques can be exchanged in most banks.
Cash is still the most widely accepted form of money and if paying by card, a surplus charge in the region of 3-4% to cover the transaction fee, will usually be added. Therefore, it is best to carry cash but take the usual precautions from thieves and pickpockets, and don’t carry all your money around with you!