VIETNAM TRAVEL GUIDE

ATMs: for withdrawing Vietnamese Dong are available in major airports, hotels, towns and capitals of provinces throughout Vietnam. Most ATMs have an English language version. Ask your tour guide for help when you need to locate an ATM.

CLOTHING: Comfortable lightweight clothing in natural fabrics such as cotton is most suitable for travelling in Vietnam. The dress code is fairly casual as in most parts of the tropics but it is advisable to cover arms and legs in the evenings against biting insects. A lightweight raincoat and umbrella are a good idea in the rainy season and an umbrella can also offer useful shade from the sun. Evenings in the north and the centre can be quite chilly so bring a sweater and a good jacket especially from November to February. Visitors should not wear shorts, short skirts or other revealing clothing when visiting pagodas and monasteries. Shoes must be removed before entering some religious building or a private home. It’s therefore useful to wear shoes without too many laces and which can easily be taken off.

CREDIT CARDS:  Most credit cards are accepted in Vietnam. Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted. JCB and American Express are also accepted in some outlets. Not all hotels, commercial centres, shops and restaurants accept credit cards. Check with the cashier before making any purchases. Bear in mind that in some places a surcharge applies for credit card purchases: Visa and MasterCard charge approximately 2.2% surcharge, JCB: 2.75% surcharge, American Express: 4% surcharge.
NOTE: Surcharges can change without prior notice. Check the percentage charged before you pay
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ELECTRICITY: Vietnam mainly uses 220V but in some areas, 110V is also used. A mixture of flat and round 2-pin outlets are used throughout the country. It is recommended to bring a universal plug adaptor.

ENTERTAINMENT: There are plenty of entertainment options in Vietnam and restaurants, bars and nightclubs open until late at night/early in the morning. A wide variety of restaurants are on offer, with everything from Vietnamese, Asian, Italian, French cuisine, etc. to fast food.

FOOD: Vietnamese cuisine comes as a pleasant surprise to many visitors and is definitely a part of the Vietnam experience not to be missed. One of the characteristics of Vietnamese food is that it is always bought fresh from the market the same morning. Food is usually prepared with a minimum of oil and served with the ubiquitous fish sauce called nuoc mam. Typical Vietnamese dishes you can expect to try include pho, a type of rice noodle soup eaten for breakfast, cha gio, deep-fried spring rolls and goi ngo sen, a delicious salad made with lotus stems, shrimps and peanuts. Due to the strong Buddhist influence in Vietnam, vegetarian food is widely available.

HEALTH: No vaccinations are mandatory except for yellow fever if you are coming from an area where the disease is present. However visitors should be inoculated against typhoid, cholera, hepatitis A & B, tetanus and polio. Malaria is present in most of the region and it is advisable to take precautions, especially if travelling off the beaten track. Medical facilities are limited and it is essential to take out a good medical insurance policy before travelling in case evacuation is needed.

NOTE: Consult your doctor for up-to-date information and prescriptions for vaccinations, anti-malarial tablets and any reasonably foreseeable illnesses whilst travelling in Vietnam. Some vaccination courses may need time to be completed. If you plan to take anti-malarial tablets, you usually need to start one week before arrival. We recommend that you carry a first aid kit as well as any personal medical requirements (including a spare pair of glasses).

HOURS OF BUSINESS: Offices are usually open from Monday to Friday from 07:30 or 08:00 until 17:00 or 18:00 and often close for lunch between 11:30 and 13:00. Some offices also open on Saturday morning. Shops open early and close any time between 18:00 and 22:00. Most shops are open 7 days a week.

INTERNET: Major hotels have business centres with PCs connected to the Internet. Some of them have wireless broadband access in rooms or public areas. Cybercafés are available everywhere and are easily found in major towns and cities. Prices are reasonable, usually below US$1 per hour. In many Internet cafés, you can buy pre-paid international phone cards to dial from a computer to a landline or mobile phone worldwide. Most Internet cafés are equipped with webcams, headsets and microphones.

LANGUAGE: The national language of Vietnam is Vietnamese. In big cities and in places with many tourists, people will speak basic English. The younger generation will be more adept at speaking English, while the older generation still speaks some French. Because Vietnamese has six different tones, it is a difficult language for most foreigners to speak despite the fact that the Roman alphabet is used in modern Vietnamese. The same word can have six different meanings depending on the tone used to pronounce it. Russian and Chinese are also spoken by some people.

MONEY: The currency in Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong (VND). US Dollars and Euros are accepted in many hotels, restaurants and shops. Banks are open Monday to Friday from 08:00 to 05:00 and some on Saturday morning. In the major cities, some exchange offices open long hours near places frequented by tourists and most hotels will change US Dollars and Euros at very reasonable rates.
For everyday expenses, we recommend carrying a mix of US Dollars and VND in cash. For larger items or when the exchange rate works in your favour, use US Dollars. For cyclos, local food stalls and small purchases, it’s best to use VND. In either case, make sure you always have a stock of small notes so that you don’t have to worry about change. You receive a slightly better exchange rate for $100 and $50 notes than for smaller denominations.

Vietnamese Dongs come in the following forms:

Bank notes: 200; 500; 1,000; 2,000; 5,000; 10,000; 20.000; 50,000; 100,000; 500,000.

Coins: 200; 500 (silver) and 1,000; 2,000; 5,000 (gold)

PHOTOGRAPHY: Normal print films are available in Vietnam as well as professional quality films (like slide films).  Digital photos can easily be downloaded and loaded onto a CD-Rom in case you run out of memory.

POSTAL MAIL: Postcards are sold at all main tourist sites and stamps are available from post offices and some hotel reception desks. A postcard to Europe costs VND 9,000 (0.5 USD) to send and can take up to two weeks to reach the country of destination.

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PUBLIC HOLIDAYS

January        1

New Year's Day

February      13-16

Tet or Vietnamese New Year. The actual dates vary from year to year according to the lunar calendar. Officially a three-day holiday but many businesses close down for a full week. This is the busiest time of the year for travelling in Vietnam and hotels, flights and trains are often full.

March           10

Hung King's Birthday

April              30

Liberation of Saigon Day

May               1

International Labour Day

September    2

National Day

RELIGION: Buddhism is the dominant religion in Vietnam and is usually combined with elements of Confucianism and Taoism. About 10% of the country's population is Catholic and there are also communities of Protestants and Muslims. Vietnam is also home to a unique religion called Cao Dai, a religious cocktail of all the world's major faiths.

SAFETY: Vietnam is a safe country to visit. As a global rule, never leave your belongings unattended and always maintain eye contact or a firm grip on cameras and shoulder bags. Avoid cyclos late at night and choose reliable metered taxi companies as they are really cheap and air-conditioned.

SHOPPING: Souvenirs to look out for in Vietnam include lacquer ware, silk, conical hats, woodcarvings, hill tribe fabrics and handicrafts, embroidery, marble, ceramics, silver jewellery, antique watches and paintings. Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi have the best choices when it comes to shopping but Hoi An is also a very good place to hunt for bargains.

TELEPHONE: If you have worldwide coverage, you can bring your own mobile phone and use it to make domestic or international calls. Check with your mobile phone provider for the costs before using it abroad - it may be expensive. Most hotels now have IDD phones in rooms and it is possible to send faxes from hotels and post offices although these services are expensive. It may not always be possible to make international calls in remote areas.

TIME:  Vietnam is GMT 7 and does not operate daylight-saving system.

TIPPING: Tipping for good service is not expected but is always appreciated in a country where the average annual income is quite low compared to Europe for example. It is customary to tip tour guides and drivers at the end of a tour. Hotel and station porters should also be tipped. Do not let the guide talk you into tipping more than you plan to. It is totally up to you who you tip, when and how much

TRANSPORTATION: Vietnamese law does not allow foreigners to rent and drive a car. It is highly advisable to rent a car with a driver who knows the roads and can speak Vietnamese in case of any problems. Traffic and roads conditions may be very different to what you are used to.
Generally drivers do not speak English although you might get lucky.

TRAVELERS CHEQUES: Banks such as Citibank, ANZ Bank. HSBC and Vietcombank can change your traveller’s cheques for VND or US Dollars but a commission applies (1% to 2%). Very few shops, hotels or restaurants accept traveller’s cheques.
NOTE: Travellers cheques can be difficult to change outside of major cities.

VISAS: Most visitors to Vietnam require a visa to enter the country and all travellers must have a passport valid for 6 months after their planned exit from Vietnam. Exceptions: Nationals from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Russia travelling to Vietnam and staying for 15 days or less do not need to apply for entry visas, provided that their passport is valid for at least three months and they can show their return ticket. Those who wish to stay longer than 15 days will need to apply for a visa. Tourists holding ASEAN passports do not need a visa for a visit up to 30 days. Philippines passport holders do not need a visa for a visit up to 21 days. Japanese and South Korean passport holders do not need a visa for a visit up to 15 days.

 A tourist visa is normally a single entry visa, which means that if you exit Vietnam (for example for a side trip to Cambodia), you will require a new visa to re-enter (or apply for a Multiple Entry Visa). The validity of a Tourist Visa is 30 days and is normally a single entry visa is given unless a multiple entry is requested.

There are 2 ways to obtain a visa: 

1: Visa application in your country before departure
   In case there is a Vietnamese Embassy or Consulate in your home town:
    Apply directly at the Vietnamese embassy or consulate. The length of the process can vary.

 
2: Pre-arranged “Visa on arrival” at international entry points
 Send us all passport details as required below and we will process a pre-approval letter from Vietnam. Bring the “Visa pick-   up upon arrival approval letter” (see below) to the airline check-in counter. Without this letter airlines may refuse you boarding.

On arrival in Vietnam, proceed to the Visa on Arrival counter at the airports. You will be asked to fill one more form, give 2 photos and pay USD 25/person (Single entry) and USD 50/person (Multiple entry) in cash before the visa is stamped into your passport and before going through passport control.
Such a procedure is possible at the international airports in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon and Danang) and at the land border of Moc Bai (coming from Cambodia near Ho Cho Minh City – here you need the ORIGINAL paper and a copy will not be accepted – please allow for extra time to have original sent to you by DHL). Before departure, prepare some bank notes in US Dollars to pay the visa stamping fee on arrival.

We can facilitate the visa application procedure and obtain the necessary visa pre-approval from the Vietnamese Immigration Department in advance. We need the following details from all applicants:

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Full name as it appears in your passport

Date of birth DD/MM/YY

Gender

Passport number

Issue date and expiry date of your passport

Place of issue (e.g. London, England)

Arrival date and flight number (e.g. 24th of March 2009 by Vietnam Airlines flight VN532) and Port of entry (e.g. Ho Chi Minh City, Tan Son Nhat airport)

We will send you in time the official document issued by the Vietnamese Immigration department.  The approval process usually takes 5-7 working days. A processing fee is charged for this service. In urgent cases (less than 5 days) an express surcharge will be charged.
A supplement for DHL fees will be charged in case you need the original document (land crossing Moc Bai from Cambodia to Vietnam).

NOTE: All the above information may change without prior notice. It remains the traveller’s responsibility to verify whether or not you are subject to a tourist visa for Vietnam.

 WEATHER: Hanoi and the north of Vietnam have distinct winter and summer seasons. The mainly dry winter lasts from November to April with average temperatures of 18-20°C. Summer lasts from May to October and is hot and humid with temperatures around 30°C. Hue and Danang, in the centre of the country, see very hot, dry weather from February to August with temperatures reaching the mid-30's°C, but can experience some heavy rainfall between September and January. Ho Chi Minh City and the south have a hot, dry season from December till April with average temperatures hovering around 28°C and a warm rainy season from May to November. In the rainy season, most rain comes in short, heavy bursts.

There is good weather somewhere in Vietnam all year round! Vietnam stretches over 2000 km from North to South. The climate differs all year round from one region to another. The North can be chilly during winter months (December to March). North and Central Vietnam can encounter tropical storms and typhoons from October to January. Overall, the north of Vietnam experiences more marked seasons than the rest of the country with two distinct seasons: wet and dry.

The South, including Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta, benefits from sunshine and warm weather all year round. However, the rainy season lasts from May to November (with showers once or twice daily in general) and a dry season from December to April. The Central Highlands can be chilly. Nha Trang has warm – sometimes hot - weather all year round, with a rainy season from the end of September until December.

IMPORTANT: Unless you intend to visit friends, relatives or your family, we do not recommend visiting Vietnam during the Lunar New Year or Tet holiday (Vietnamese New Year falls between late January and February). Tet is the most important period of the year for many Vietnamese who take time off to visit their families in the countryside. All hotels, buses, trains and flights are full, and there is almost no activity in the markets and shops. Some hotels and restaurants are under-staffed and in some cases the quality of the service may suffer. This period of reduced activity may last from a week before and a week after the Tet period. It is also impossible to get a “visa authorization letter” processed during this period.

NOTE: As a reminder, the peak season lasts from October to May. To avoid disappointment because hotel rooms or domestic flights are fully booked, reserve your travel arrangements early. Contact us to discuss your travel plans.

WATER: It is not advisable to drink tap water but bottled mineral water is safe and available everywhere. All hotels provide a complimentary bottle of local mineral water per person in the room. Ice cubes in drinks is generally okay in good standard hotels and restaurants but it is best to avoid it on street stalls or in country areas. Some minor stomach problems are always possible when travelling in exotic countries. Bring a supply of your usual anti-diarrhoea medicine.