Vietnam: Travel Tips

  • © Makeba, marcopolo.de

    © Makeba, marcopolo.de

Holiday from start to finish: the most important addresses and information for your Vietnam trip

ARRIVAL

Vietnam Airlines fly non-stop every day from London to Saigon and Hanoi (approx. £600). A number of airlines, including Vietnam Airlines, Qatar Airways and American Airlines, fly from New York, Los Angeles and other cities (from US$800). When booking onward flights within Vietnam or to neighbouring countries, the Vietnamese national carrier often grants a discount of 50%. www.vietnamairlines.com

BANKS, MONEY & CURRENCY

Opening times for Vietnamese banks are normally as follows: Mon–Fri 7.30am–11.30am and 1.30pm–3.30pm or 4pm. However, these times can often vary.

Even if prices are given in US dollars, always pay in the local currency, the Vietnam dong (VND). There are ATM machines in all towns, and you can use your Visa and MasterCard cards to draw Vietnamese dong from them, but you should expect to pay a small fee. You can change dollars and travellers cheques without any problem (make sure you have your passport with you). Large hotels, tourist restaurants, travel agencies and airline offices accept credit cards (1 to 3% handling fee). For safety's sake, it's a good idea to keep a few US dollars and some travellers cheques on you, particularly if you're planning to move on to Cambodia, or are likely to arrive at Hanoi airport late at night.

Always check the digits when handling Vietnamese dong polymer notes. They range in value from 500 to 1,000,000 VND. For everyday transactions use the 10,000 (£0.30/US$0.40), 50,000, 100,000 notes and in more expensive restaurants the 500,000 note (£15/US$25).

The official bank exchange rate is often less favourable (by approx. 2500 VND) at the airport, in hotels and in large towns. You could also use the licensed, privately-run change bureaux (usually open from 7am−10pm, e.g. in Dong Khoi street or in Saigon's General Post Office), or in larger jewellery shops.

As the theft of smaller sums of money from rooms, luggage and even room safes is not uncommon, if possible leave your money in the safe at reception and ask for a receipt.

CONSULATES & EMBASSIES

UK EMBASSY HANOI
Central Building, 4th floor | 31 Hai Ba Trung | Hanoi | tel. 04 39 36 05 00 | ukinvietnam.fco.gov.uk/en/

UK CONSULATE SAIGON
25 Le Duan Street | District 1 | Saigon | tel. 08 38 25 13 80

US EMBASSY HANOI
2nd floor | Rose Garden Tower 170 | Ngoc Khanh Street | Hanoi | http://www.embassy-worldwide.com/embassy/american-embassy-in-hanoi-vietnam

US CONSULATE SAIGON
4 Le Duan Blvd. Dist. 1 | Saigon | tel. 35 0 20 42 00 | hochiminh.usconsulate.gov

CUSTOMS

1.5l of high-percentage alcohol or 2l wine, and 400 cigarettes or 100 cigars or 500g tobacco may be imported into Vietnam duty-free. If you wish to export antiques, you will need to obtain an export certificate. The following quantities may be imported into EU (per person aged 18 or above): 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars or 250g tobacco, 1l alcohol above and 2l alcohol up to 22 vol.%, 500g coffee, other goods such as tea, perfume and gifts up to a value of £390/US$574.

ELECTRICITY

Mains voltage is usually 220V. Remember to pack a universal adapter.

HEALTH

No vaccinations are required, unless you have arrived from a yellow-fever zone. However protection against polio, tetanus, diphtheria, hepatitis A/B and typhus is recommended. A stand-by medication, e.g. Lariam or Malarone, is advisable in malaria regions. To avoid diarrhoea, do not drink tap water or even use it to clean your teeth. Do not eat unpeeled fruit or salad, unless you are dining in an international hotel. The same advice applies to ice-cream. Because of the risk of cholera in north Vietnam (mainly Hanoi and Ninh Binh), it is probably better to avoid it altogether.

Vaccination against cholera is no longer a requirement for entry into any country, but an oral vaccine against cholera is available, so if you consider yourself to be at risk, contact your doctor. Dengue fever has been reported in the south of Vietnam, mainly in the Mekong Delta region, but also in other parts of the country. The virus is transmitted by a mosquito, which is active during the daytime. The best form of prevention is to wear bright, long-sleeved clothing and use a mosquito repellent as there is no vaccine. For up-to-date information, contact your doctor's surgery, or consult the website of a hospital specialising in tropical medicine. A health insurance policy is essential, and make sure cover includes medical evacuation costs.

INFORMATION

ICS TRAVEL GROUP
870 Market Street, Suite 923 | San Francisco, CA 94102 | USA | Tel. 0415 434 4015 | www.indochina-services.com

VIETNAM TOURISM
30 A Ly Thuong Kiet | Hanoi | tel. 04 38 25 99 42 | www.vietnamtourism.com | www.vietnamtourism-info.com | www.vietnamtourism.gov.vn

SAIGON TOURIST
– 55 B Phan Chu Trinh | Hanoi | tel. 04 38 25 09 23
–23 Le Loi | Saigon District 1 | tel. 08 38 29 22 91 | www.saigontourist.net | www.saigon-tourist.com

FOCUS ASIA
235/3 VO Thi Sau | Saigon | tel. 08 39 32 07 32 | www.focus-asia.biz

If you want to know whether there is a tourist office where you are staying, ask at your hotel.

NEWSPAPERS

There are two English-language newspapers: Saigon Times Weekly and Vietnam News (www.vietnamnews.com.vn). Most large hotels, international bookshops and street vendors in town centres sell the main foreign press titles. Tourists often find Time Out Vietnam and The Guide useful.

OPENING TIMES & ADMISSION CHARGES

Do not expect opening times to be punctually adhered to. Many places of interest are open at all times, some are even open in the evening. Unless otherwise stated, admission is free.

PHONES & MOBILE PHONES

The country code for the UK is 0044, USA 001 and Vietnam 0084. Then dial the local area code without the zero, followed by the number you are calling. Calling abroad from your hotel can cost less than £0.80 (US$1.20) per minute using VoIP codes, e.g. 171, so for the UK, it‘s 1710044. Normal hotel self-dial connections, i.e. landline Vietnam to landline UK, cost approximately £1.20 (US$1.90) per minute. However, the 171 prefix does not work in all hotels. It is often cheaper to use an IDD phone obtainable from post offices and some telephone kiosks (up to around £0.30/US$0.50 per minute). Cheapest of all are the internet cafés (e.g. with Skype or Yahoo! Voice it‘s free, but often with poor connections. Turning off the webcam can help to improve sound quality). The mobile phone providers are Vinaphone (www.vinaphone.com.vn) and Mobiphone (www.mobifone.com.vn). Using a foreign SIM card in Vietnam can be expensive. If you are using a British or American provider, extra hidden charges are added by the Vietnamese companies to incoming calls, in some cases up to £0.80 (US$1.20) per minute. For information on the roaming agreement: www.gsmworld.com. One way to save money on calls home is to buy a prepaid 1718 card, so when you use the low-cost code 1718 (+0044), a call to the UK can cost as little as 2,000 VND (£0.08/US$0.13 per minute).

A much cheaper option is get family members or friends to call you back, use Skype or ring hem using scratch cards obtainable in Asian food shops. With the latter, you can speak for approx. 240 minutes for £5/US$8, e.g. www.nobel phonecard.com or www.nobel phonecard.uk. With a Vietnamese SIM card (£2.50−£12.50/US$4–20 for the card with approx. £5/US$8 credit), you can call Europe and North America for approx. £0.15 (US$0.25) per minute and send text messages (approx. £0.08/US$0.13), however you will need an unlock code, and you will be allocated a new telephone number. As there are a wide variety of expensive telephone numbers in Vietnam (e.g. the expensive, but easy to remember 4 00 40 04 00), when you buy, make sure you ask for a 'cheap' number.

POST

Airmail deliveries to Europe and the USA can take up to three weeks (a stamp for a postcard is approx. £0.35/US$0.50). Only post letters or cards in post offices in the larger towns or in quality hotels. If you want to send a parcel, it can be expensive and unreliable, so it's better to use a courier service, such as DHL (counter in Saigon General Post Office).

TAXIS & RICKSHAWS

In Hanoi and in Saigon, many taxis have taximeters (approx. £0.25/US$0.40 per km) with the taximeter set to 11,000 VND when you start your journey. Unfortunately, some taxi drivers in Hanoi and Saigon do use various tricks to swindle their passengers. Often 'false' taxis are fitted with doctored taximeters, so that the fare for a journey within the city can end up amounting to several million VND. If the figure on the taximeter appears to be rising rapidly and the driver keeps beeping his horn, ask him to stop, pay the stated sum and get out quickly. If you want a taxi from your hotel, order an official taxi or only use official, reputable companies.

In Saigon, Vinasun and Vinataxi are reliable, as are May Linh throughout Vietnam (hotline: 08 38 27 79 79). Cyclos, i.e. cycle-hauled rickshaws, are cheap and environmentally-friendly, but it is normal to negotiate a price in advance. Moped taxis are also popular, though you should always wear a helmet. In many cities, such as Can Tho, there are such things as motorised cyclo taxis, i.e. a moped in front of a two-seater carriage. As it is difficult for tourists to figure out how the rather sparse public bus service operates (only in Saigon and Hanoi), and Saigon‘s underground is not due to be completed until 2015/16, the taxi in all its different manifestations will for some time yet continue to be the main way of getting around.

TIME

Vietnam time is seven hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, during the summer only six hours ahead; it is 15 hours ahead of Standard Pacific Time and 12 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.

TIPPING

Feel free to tip good service, but in the better-class restaurants and hotels, it is often retained as a service charge. Tips are not expected at the food stalls.

TRAVEL & TOURS IN VIETNAM

Vietnam Airlines operate daily flights linking all the major cities. A Saigon to Hanoi return ticket (2-hour flight) costs from £120 (US$160), and you must book well in advance during the Tet Festival.

Trains also run regularly between Hanoi and Saigon. A journey on the Reunification Express between north and south is a good way to see the country, but the marathon journey takes 38 hours. Book a 1st class Soft Sleeper ticket and do so well in advance.

Travelling by public overland bus is not advisable, as there have been many serious accidents, especially at night. If you want to travel on a tourist bus, ask in the traveller cafés about Open Tours. The buses, with reclining seats, are new (Hanoi to Hue costs £5/8US$). Mai Linh Express Bus (tel. in Saigon 08 39 29 29 29) is a reliable bus company.

A hire car with driver is the time-honoured way for families or small groups to tour the country. Ask for details in your hotel, or better still at a travel agency. International car rental companies do not operate in Vietnam. Costs, including driver and petrol, start at approx. £20 (US%25) per day, depending on size of car and distance to be covered. Tourists are not allowed to drive, and even riding a moped is officially not permitted (and dangerous).

Mekong Delta tours: Mekong Eyes Cruise (Can Tho | www.mekongeyes.com) organise boat tours on a converted rice barge with 30 nice double rooms, under German management. Another good tour operator is Sinh Balo Adventure Travel (283/20 Pham Ngu Lao | Saigon | tel. 08 38 37 67 66 | www.sinhbalo.com | two days for two persons approx. £115/US$180 per person). Tu Trang Travel (www.tutrangtravel.com) is another company that arranges Mekong Delta tours. If you want luxury travel, then investigate Pandaw ships, which run between Saigon/My Tho and Angkor in Cambodia (www.pandaw.com).

VISAS

Tourist visas, issued only by Vietnamese embassies, are valid for up to four weeks and permit a single entry. The cost of a 30-day visa for an independent traveller is £44 (US$70), a fast-track service visa also for 30 days costs £59 (US$95). To apply for a visa in the UK or the US, check the website of the relevant Vietnamese embassy, where you can download an application form. The normal processing period for a tourist visa is 5 days, but an express service is possible for an extra charge. You must forward your passport, a passport photo and the payment by cheque. Alternatively, you can apply in person. When you arrive in Vietnam, you must fill in an entry form and customs declaration, a duplicate of which must be submitted when you leave.

EMBASSIES OF THE SOCIALIST REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM
– 12 Victoria Road | London W8 5RD | Tel. 020 7937 1912 | www.vietnamembassy.org.uk
– 1233 20th street | NW Suite 400 | Washington, DC 20036 | Tel. 0202 8 61 07 37 | vietnamembassy-usa.org

WEATHER, WHEN TO GO

If you go to the south, then the best months to go are between between December and March, when the temperatures are bearable and there is little rainfall. In April/May, it can be oppressively sultry ahead of the rainy season (from June to December). The months of June to October bring heavy storms, and occasionally floods, to central Vietnam and the Mekong Delta region. The further north you go, the greater the differences between summer and winter. Whereas sub-tropical summers from April onwards can be hot and humid, from December to February the temperatures on the central/north coast can fall well below 20°C/68°F. In addition, long periods of drizzle can spoil the enjoyment of travel.


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