Vietnam has only recently become a tourist and business destination. Every effort has been made to make all guests to this country comfortable and safe. Do not take the following tips as warnings, only advice, remember being a knowledgeable traveller is a big step to a successful vacation. Some of the rules and regulations implemented in Vietnam are found nowhere else in the world so it's a good idea to become acquainted with them before you step off the plane.
Registration of Foreign Visitors All visitors must register with the police within 48 hours of arrival. If you are on a tour, this should have been taken care of (but check anyway).
The people in Hanoi and in fact throughout Vietnam are very friendly and are always willing to help. Do however be cautious and well aware of your personal belongings at all times. Pickpockets are a menace, and bag snatching, common. Never let someone you do not know watch your luggage and never accept rides from anyone other than official taxi drivers.
REMEMBER...You are the visitor! You are in another country with a different set of social rules and regulations. What might be acceptable at home is not necessarily acceptable in Vietnam. If unsure, ask.
BANKING Most banks are open from 7 or 8am to 11 or 11:30pm. Some are open from 1 or 2pm to 4 or 5pm.
BUSINESS HOURS generally from 7.30 am to 4.30 PM, closed on Sundays.
CREDIT CARDS American Express ,Mastercard and Visa are widely accepted by banks and retail establishments. Many hotels and shops accept Visa Cards in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi nowadays. It's virtually impossible to exchange foreign currency outside the major cities and tourist areas. Visitors heading off the beaten track will either need to stock up on dong or conduct a private cash transaction on the black market. It's a good idea to bring a small calculator with you for currency conversions, unless you're the kind of person who can divide or multiply numbers by 11,000 in your head.
CURRENCY The Vietnamese currency is the Dong. Foreign currencies can be exchanged at any bank or bureau of exchange. US$ is the most convenient currency. It's advisable to bring US$ traveller’s cheques and a little US$ cash. There are four ways to exchange currency: at a bank; through authorised exchange bureaus; at hotel reception desks; and on the black market. The best rates are offered by the banks, but the exchange bureaus are generally more conveniently located and have longer opening hours. The black market rate is worse than the legal exchange rate, so if you're offered better rates than a bank it's bound to be some sort of scam.
CURIOSITY If you see a hemp rope hanging in various places such as bus stations, with a burning end. They're for lighting cigarettes so don't put it out.
CUSTOMS Official declaration forms must be filled in and presented with your luggage to customs on arrival. Visitors may import 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars or 250g of Tobacco, 1 litre of wine, 1 litre of liquor and an unlimited amount of film. Commercial goods and items of high value being taken out of Vietnam require export permits from the Customs Service. Antiques may be confiscated permanently. The export of local currency is forbidden. Travellers can take with them unlimited amounts of souvenirs bought with receipts to show proof of purchase.
The Customs Service Headquarters
21 Ton Duc Thang St.
Ho Chi Minh City
DRUG WARNING Be aware that there are a number of less savoury habits evident in and around the cities and outlying areas of Vietnam. A common complaint from travellers is the amount of used syringes seen along roads, at street corners and even on some beaches. AIDS is rife in this country and if you do happen to step on a recently used syringe by mistake, you may get slightly more than a puncture wound in your foot.
All this does not mean drugs are legal, far from it! Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs are strict and convicted offenders can either expect long jail sentences or fines and often the death penalty, especially where foreigners are concerned, is applied.
ELECTRICAL APPLIANCES etc. The electric current in Vietnam is 220 volts AC at 50 Cycles per second. To operate small appliances, laptop computers or other electronic gadgets, you will need a multi-adapter. Check with an electronics store before you leave home.
HEALTH The following does not cover all possibilities and in case of problems you should always visit a qualified medical doctor.
Vietnam does have a wide variety of medicines, but you may not be familiar with them. In case of serious troubles consider leaving the country and going to a place with good facilities (e.g. Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, etc.)
Chinese people are very aware of health problems. The Chinese medicine is world famous and obtainable even in the smallest villages and also many of the surrounding countries. However, Western medicine is not very widely available. If you regularly need some medicine, bring enough of it with you since chances are that you will not get the same or a replacement for it. It is also recommended to bring one or two clean needles in case of an emergency.
Aids is a serious threat here, as in many other eastern countries. According to recent figures by UNAIDS, the United Nations program, about half of Vietnam’s prostitutes are HIV positive.
Doctors and hospitals normally expect immediate cash payment.
Inoculation Requirements Health risks - dengue fever, hepatitis, malaria, rabies, typhoid, tuberculosis and a minor threat (especially to pregnant women) of dioxins found in the defoliant Agent Orange. Please check with your local doctor or Tropical Diseases Hospital as to which vaccinations are necessary. For a longer stay, vaccinations against Hepatitis B are recommended.
Malaria There have been many discussions on how to best deal with the disease and even doctors cannot agree on a single opinion. It is known that taking preventative malaria measures doesn’t stop one from getting the disease and in fact makes the ailment harder to detect in the early stages, if contracted. The best prevention is wearing LIGHT COLOURED clothing at night and putting on protective skin insect repellent if mosquitoes are about. Speak to your local doctor or contact a Tropical Diseases Clinic near you before visiting Vietnam for advice. Anti malaria treatments may still be advised.
Menstruation Take note ladies, if you want to use tampons then bring them with you as you won't be able to buy them in Vietnam.
Water Be careful not to drink water directly from the tap. Although it is not a problem anymore in big cities, depending on your resistance it is better to be safe than sorry. A good tip is to keep away from ice cubes as one can never be too sure as to what water they have been made with, unless in classier hotels and similar establishments.
HOTEL REQUIREMENTS Most hotels in Vietnam require that your passport be kept with the reception during your stay If you are paranoid about leaving your passport with hotel staff, bring (as you may not find a photocopy machine nearby) a photocopy of the original and hand that over. Most hotels will accept photocopies as passport substitutes. On the other hand, it may be safer to leave your travel documents with the hotel reception if you intend to visit some unsafe locations.
INTERNET The going rate all over Vietnam is around 30 to 40 VND per minute. However, the Internet caf้es in some tourist spots seem to have teamed up to introduce new, outrageous rates. In Hoi An, the new rate, which had been introduced in mid-May 2000, was 1500 VND/minute. An alternative is the Post Office, which offers Internet time at a rate of 320 VND/minute. The Internet is slow everywhere in Vietnam and there seems to be no relationship whatsoever between the price and speed. Stick with the cheap ones and try to log on during the quieter times of day.
INTERNATIONAL TELEPHONE CALLS are expensive when made from Vietnam. Every time you try to get a line they charge you $5, regardless of whether you get through or not. So beware! Make sure the person you're calling is going to be home!
PASSPORT and VISA REQUIREMENTS A valid visa is required, obtainable at Vietnamese embassies and consulates abroad. Business visas can be applied for through a Vietnamese sponsoring agency, valid for up to six months and allowing multiple entries. The one-month visa fees are US$25 for single entry & transit visas, US$10 for extension of single entry visa, US$40-100 for multiple entry and US$26 for extension of multiple entry visa. This information should be checked prior to travel.
Before you leave home submit the following items to the Embassy of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in your country of residence for processing. Allowing approximately two weeks to process in the event that there may be delays.
Requirements (per person)
One (1) Valid/signed passport
Two (2) signed visa application forms
Two (2) photographs (passport size)
*NOTE: The information supplied here is meant as a guide only and is subject to change without warning. Therefore all travellers should check the visa and immigration details with their local Vietnamese Embassy or Consulate BEFORE departure for Vietnam.
SHOPPING Shops are generally open from 7 or 8am to 11 or 11:30pm. Some are open from 1 or 2pm to 4 or 5pm.
SMILE It is amazing what a difference it makes when you greet a person with a smile, whether it be a shop owner or a tour guide; it certainly makes them feel at ease and become more friendly and helpful.
TIPPING American's and others who come from countries where tipping is the norm, please don’t go overboard in the ‘tipping’ department as then you set a ‘tipping’ level that may not suit everyone else travelling to Vietnam and will eventually make people greedy as has happened in virtually every other country in the world. 10% is a good gauge to go by at 5 star resorts and hotels, otherwise 2% to 5% will do perfectly.
Porters: Porters, if they are available, can be tipped with American coins. Again DON'T go mad and tip, just because you can or it is your habit. You just ruin things for travellers that follow.
Hotel maids: Government-run hotels catering to tourists charge an automatic 10% service fee. Therefore it is preferred that you don't tip.
Taxis: Generous tips are not necessary. A small gratuity, however, is expected by cab drivers.
TIME Vietnam time as compared to GMT is GMT + 7.
THEFT While Vietnam is generally a safe country for travelling through, street crime is a serious problem in Ho Chi Minh City and to a lesser extent, throughout Vietnam. The isolated but persistent nature of incidents warrants caution on the part of the traveller. generally, crime is characterized by pick-pocketing or snatch-and-grab incidents, and the theft of unattended bags, briefcases and other items. You have been warned!
TRAFFIC Don't try to cross the street in a Western manner. Walk at a steady pace through the traffic, looking forwards and trust that it's the vehicles responsibility to avoid you. It is difficult in the beginning, but it works.
TRAVELLING WITH CHILDREN
Food An abundance of fresh fruit and plentiful supply of cooked rice and noodles means children needn't go hungry. Whilst you may be prepared to 'risk' the odd iced fruit juice or eat in dodgy looking road side stalls, it's a whole different story if your children get sick. For younger children, it's a good idea to travel with a supply of powdered milk. Most hotels provide thermos flasks of well-boiled water so if they do get 'picky' or you find yourself somewhere where the food preparation is of a questionable standard, at least you can always give them a big glass of milk. Keep the powdered milk well sealed, as it does attract bugs.
Accommodation Children under 12 stay free in hotels. This can mean different things in different hotels. In some you will get a double and a single bed for the price of a double. In others, you may get a bed wide enough to sleep two adults and one child at no extra cost. Elsewhere, you might get a mattress on the floor and extra bedding. Everything is negotiable.
Attractions and entry fees are either half price or free for children.
Annoyances one has to bear Vietnamese people find children, especially blondes, very beautiful and pinching their cheeks is a way to 'express her loveliness'. Unfortunately if your children get annoyed due to this behaviour you are advised to try and explain to them that it's done out of 'love'. You can try asking the Vietnamese to abstain from this pastime but you probably won't get very far.