To tour Vietnam in comfort, it helps to be prepared. “Vietnam travel tips” contains a compendium of information, advice and suggestions to avoid potential pitfalls. The subject matter is based upon enquiries and feedback from customers. It isn’t a comprehensive list so if there’s something missing as for as you’re concerned, let us know and we’ll rectify the omission.
Health and security matters are obviously high on the agenda for safe holidays. Neither is a major issue on a Vietnam holiday, but some basic commonsense strategies can prevent problems.
TIPPING AND BARTERING
Also of frequent concern are aspects of the delicate topic of relative wealth. Vietnam is a poor country – a day’s pay for a middle class ‘Westerner’ is on a par with a year’s income for a Vietnamese farmer in a rural area. In this section, you’ll find advice about tipping, responding to beggars, bartering and so on.
WHAT TO BRING AND TAKE BACK
Customers often enquire about what they should bring with them – it’s always frustrating to carry heavy suitcases halfway across the world and return with much of their contents unused.
Although it’s somewhat previous, we’ve also added a section on some of the things you might want to take back with you. Choosing suitable souvenirs can be a stressful business as the time runs out at the end of your holiday – having ideas in advance often helps.
AVOIDING CULTURAL FAUX PAS
Lastly, we want you to like us, but we want Vietnam to like you as well, so there’s advice about etiquette, and a ‘How to be Popular’ page to smooth off some of the cultural rough edges
Vietnam’s elongated shape stretching from the tropics to the subtropics zone accounts for the varied climate in the country. Vietnam is an year round destination, when one part of Vietnam is cloudy and rainy, there are other parts of the country that can be sunny and warm
North Vietnam enjoys 4 seasons, meanwhile Central and South have 2, rain and dry seasons. Heat and humidity are typical weather of Vietnam.
Weather is often a determinant factor in travel planning. Since Vietnam covers several climatic zones, the weather can change significantly traveling north to south. The chart below provides average daily minimum/maximum temperatures in degrees Celsius and average rainfall in millimeters. Please refer to this chart and our suggested packing list later in this document when deciding what to pack for your trip.
Light, comfortable, easy to launder clothing is recommended. Winter months in Hanoi and rainy season in the central region can get cool so a sweater or light jacket will come in handy. Good walking shoes and sandals that can be easily removed are recommended especially when visiting temples and people’s homes. Ensure you have suitable clothing packed for visiting temples and pagodas that you can cover up with. E.g. Shirts and long pants. No dresses, shorts, singlets, string tops or revealing clothing should be worn to temples and pagodas.
WHAT TO PACK
Vietnam is generally a casual country by western standards although people do like to dress in their Sunday best whenever the opportunity arises therefore simple and casual clothes are appropriate for almost any occasion.
The year round heat and humidity in the south, especially Ho Chi Min City makes lightweight quick dry clothing the most appropriate. The north and central highlands get cool enough for sweaters or light jackets for much of the year but the northern highlands will require cold weather clothes in the winter.
If you are not participating in any trekking tours sandals and lightweight shoes are sufficient. If trekking is included in your itinerary you will need trekking boots.
The cuisine of Vietnam is excellante. Rice and noodle dishes are the staple of Vietnamese food and are garnished with aromatic lemon grass and/or fresh coriander. Fish, chicken, and/or pork dishes along with cooked vegetables and rice form a typical meal.
Asian and European food are available throughout the country.
Drinking tap water or ice is not recommended. Bottled water is readily available but remember to check the seal for possible tampering. You should be drinking a minimum of 1.5 liters of water per day. This should increase as the temperature increases or you are engaging in physical activities.
Vietnamese coffee is usually very strong and has a punctuated mockup aroma and flavors. It is usually served in a small glass or cup with a drip filter and additional hot water in a thermos. As the filter empties you top it up from the thermos until you have the required amount of coffee. Condensed milk is added as a whitener and sweetener as it is usually not possible to find fresh milk away for the main cities.
Beer is available just about everywhere. Most places stock a selection of local and some imported brands. Draught beer comes in two varieties, Beer Hoi or Beer Tuoi. Beer Hoi is draught beer found on the street stalls and poured straight from the keg. Vietnamese quite often add ice to their beer when drinking. Beer Tuoi is found in the bars and restaurants and is chilled and served under pressure from the keg in a more conventional method.
GETTING THERE & AWAY
Ho Chi Minh City’s (Saigon) Tan Son Nhat Airport is Vietnam ‘s busiest international air hub, followed by Hanoi ‘s Noi Bai Airpot. A few international flights also serve Danang. Singapore, Hongkong, Bangkok have emerged as the principle embarkation points for Vietnam but it’s still possible to get direct flights from a number of major Asian and European cities and a few American, Australian cities. Departure tax is US$14 in Hanoi and 14 US $ in Saigon, which can be paid in Vietnam Dong or US dollars.
There are currently six border crossings for travellers coming to Vietnam, but more may open soon. All crossing points suffer from heavy policing and often requests for ‘immigration fees’.
For getting to from China, it’s become very popular to cross the border at Friendship Pass or Dong Dang, 20km (12mi) north of Lang Son in northeast Vietnam , to get to/from Namning. There is a twice-weekly international train between Beijing and Hanoi that stops at Friendship Pass. The other popular border crossing with China is at Lao Cai (near Sapa) in northwest Vietnam, which lies on the railway line between Hanoi and Kunming in China ‘s Yunnan Province. There’s also a seldom used crossing at Mong Cai, Quang Ninh Province.
It’s possible to enter Laos from Lao Bao in north-central Vietnam; there’s an international bus from Danang to Savannakhet ( Laos ). The other crossing is at Keo Nua Pass/Cau Treo, west of Vinh.
The only crossing to Cambodia is via Moc Bai; an international bus links Phnom Penh with Ho Chi Minh City .
The majority of the population is comprised of the Viet or Kinh (87%) people who speak the Vietnamese language. The minority population is made up of 54 ethnic hill tribe people who mainly live in the extreme south, central and northern mountainous areas of the country. The best-known hill tribes are the TÃ y, Hmong, Zao, White and Black Thai, Muong (both mainly from the north), and the Hoa, Khmer in the South. Each hill tribe has its own unique customs and dialect and some are able to speak official Vietnamese language.
The most important and widely celebrated public holiday of the year is Tet , the Lunar Chinese New Year , which coincides with the cycle of the moon. This public holiday usually takes place in late January or early February and lasts officially for three days although many businesses are closed the entire week. Other important public holidays include Saigon Liberation day (30 April), International Worker’s Day (May 1), and Vietnamese National Day (September 2).
The official currency, the dong and is non-convertible. There are coins 200, 1.000, 5.000 used in the local currency and the notes come in denominations of 100, 200,) 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000 (2 notes), 100,000 (2notes) and 500.000 dong notes.
The US dollar, preferably crisp clean bills, is widely accepted among major shops and restaurants. Travelers checks can be cashed at authorized foreign exchange outlets and banks, and require presentation of passport. There is normally a 2 to 5 percent transaction fee for cashing travelers checks. Visa and MasterCard are accepted in some of the bigger hotels and restaurants. Prices are usually quoted in USD so if you are paying in Dong check the exchange rate first.
ATM machines are available at major cities: Hanoi , Halong, Haiphong , Hue , Danang, Nha Trang and Saigon .
At the time of writing trades at approximately 16,000 dong to US$ 1 and 20,000 VND to 1 Euro.
No vaccinations are officially required by the Vietnamese authorities, however immunization against cholera, hepatitis, typhoid, tetanus, polio and Japanese encephalitis is advised. Please consult your doctors for further medical advice.
You should carry a basic medical kit that includes anti diarrhoea tablets and re-hydration salts. Medical standards outside Hanoi and Saigon are lower that those found in western countries.
COMMUNICATIONS & BUSINESS HOURS
Vietnam is 7 hours ahead of GMT and does not observe daylight saving time.
Communication fees in Vietnam are quite high but impeccable. You can use pre-paid card phone services for your hand phone, the sim card costs around 15 US$. Prepaid card costs 100,000, 300.000 and 500.000 VND.
The best International rates are from the post offices that have a pay per call service and a fax service. The central post offices in Hanoi , Saigon and Hue also accept calling cards from various international telecommunications companies. It is not possible to make collect calls from Vietnam .
For lower cost, dial 171+00+ number you want.
Internet and e-mail services are readily available in most major places throughout the country. Some hotels will have this service available and there are many Internet cafes in the major areas. The speed of your connection will vary however depending on the time of day. Average charge for Internet usage is around 4.000 VND per hour in cyber cafe internet.
Several hotels for business travelers in Hanoi and Saigon are equipped internet with high speed access in business center and in room guest.
Government offices and banks are open Monday to Friday. The banks close at 3:30 p.m. If you need to visit a government office do not do it during lunch periods. These usually last 1 to 2 hours. Post offices are open 7 days a week.
Most shops will be open until around 9 p.m. Snacks and bars will close around midnight however there a few new nightclubs in Hanoi and Saigon that stay open into the wee hours.
Souvenirs to look out for in Vietnam include lacquer ware, silk, conical hats, woodcarvings, hill tribe fabrics and handicrafts, embroidery, marble, ceramics, silver jewelry, antique watches and paintings. Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi have the best choice when it comes to shopping but Hoi An in the Centre of Vietnam is also a very good place to hunt for bargains.
The national electricity system is 220 volts. Connections are either a round two-pin plug or a flat two-pin plug. Beware if you are using electrical appliances and laptop computers, as there are power surges and frequent power cuts.
Vietnamese people are very gracious, polite and generous and will make every effort to have foreign guests feel comfortable. Most cafes and restaurants will have knives and forks as well as chopsticks for example. In the city’s and country towns alike do not be surprised to be invited home to meet someone’s family you have just met, these are the experiences that will enrich your visit to Vietnam.
From the workers simple outfits in the rice fields to western style business suits in the city, the Vietnamese are conservative in their dress. Visitors wearing shorts are tolerated, unless you enter a culturally sensitive area such as a temple or pagoda. Keep in mind that, although tolerant, people may be judgmental.
Unfortunately you can not expect hospitality at every turn and you may still experience some problems with petty theft and pick pockets. This is more prevalent in Ho Chi Minh City ( Saigon ) and Nha Trang. In other areas, especially in the north, reports of these activities are extremely minimal. It is not something to be paranoid about but be aware of your surroundings. Below is a list of do’s and don’ts to help you avoid some of the social taboos during your visit. Take heed of these pointers and you will be rewarded with a culturally and socially enriching experience.
It is possible to purchase most basic film requirements throughout Vietnam including Fuji , Kodak and Konica 100, 200 & 400 ISO films and some professional standard in Hanoi , Ho Chi Min city and Danang. Slide and APS films are also available in most places, however for more specialized films you would be better to bring a supply with you.
If you buy film in Vietnam check where it has been displayed in the shop (away from heat sources) and the expiry date before purchasing. Lithium batteries are easy to purchase in Hanoi . If your batteries are getting low you would be better to carry a spare with you though.
Taking photographs of anything to do with the military, airports, police etc. is prohibited. When taking photographs of local people, especially the older folk it is polite to ask their permission first and respect their wishes. We recommend you to develop photos in Vietnam for cheap price but high quality.
LONELY PLANET GUIDE BOOK , the comprehensive guide book about Vietnam . ROUGH GUIDE , VIETNAM The Rough Guide publications are easy to read and packed full of useful information. Whether you are travelling to Vietnam on your own or as part of a group this book is an invaluable aid.
FOOTPRINT VIETNAM HANDBOOK Full of facts about Vietnamese culture, history and society in general. It provides a comprehensive background read to anybody thinking of travelling to Vietnam.
INSIGHT GUIDE VIETNAM This guidebook contains some excellent photography and good firsthand accounts of travelers’ experiences as well as clear and concise information on Vietnamese culture. VIETNAM, A HISTORY A fascinating and all-encompassing history of Vietnam that won its author, Stanley Karnow, the pullitzer prize in 1983.
A BRIGHT SHINING LIE Neil Sheehan’s Pullitzer prize winning account of one man’s role in the American War. The book traces the career of John Paul Vann, a US Lieutenant who spend 10 years engaging the Viet Cong, the corrupt Saigon leadership & ultimately the American hierarchy.
DISPATCHES This is a no-nonsense account of one man’s experiences during the American War. The book certainly doesn’t pull any punches and at times is graphic in nature reflecting the subject matter. The author, Michael Herr was a former war correspondent during the conflict. A RIVER’S TALE, A YEAR ON THE MEKONG An excellent travelers’ story packed full of incident, humor and real life characters. This is Edward Gargan’s personal travelogue of his 4,500km voyage down the mighty Mekong River . THREE MOONS IN VIETNAM Although written nearly a decade ago, this is one of the wittiest and insightful accounts of travelling through Vietnam . The author, Maria Coffey, manages to negotiate Saigon traffic, local fishing boats and rickety bicycles whilst still retaining a sense of humor and an obvious passion for the country. THE SORROW OF WAR A harrowing tale of the American War from the perspective of a former North Vietnamese soldier. Bao Ninh’s true story is filled with emotion and highlights the futility and loss of war. RIVER OF TIME – In the words of author J.G.Ballard: “Jon Swain’s powerful and moving book goes further than anything else I have read towards explaining the appeal of Indo-China and its tragic conflicts. Part love letter to the land he so adores, part self-analysis of the most unsentimental kind, River of Time is both an eyewitness account of painful and often sickening events, and an almost poetic meditation on the mysterious appeal of war and death.
THE QUIET AMERICAN Graham Graeme’s wonderfully satirical and accurate portrayal of Saigon in the mid 1950’s. Set at the time when French colonial power is coming to an end, the novel predicts with amazing clarity the role that America would play in the fate of Saigon & Southern Vietnam in the coming years.
VIETFLOWER TRAVEL – To build the eternal confidence!