Vietnam Travel and Country Information

Here is a concise list of useful Vietnam travel and country information for people visiting Vietnam on tour, for business or an extended stay. If you would like a copy of this information, a printable version (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader) is available HERE.

GENERAL INFORMATION

Capital: Hanoi
Total Area: 33 thousand sq km,
Population: 91 million
Official Language: Vietnamese
Time Zone: GMT+ 7 hours with no summer time (daylight saving time); the whole country is in a single time zone.

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Cruise Halong Bay – Asian Horizons

VISA REQUIREMENTS

A regular TOURIST VISA can be obtained by the traveller applying directly to an overseas Vietnam embassy. Asian Horizons can provide you with this service – for more information see our specialist visa pages at: http://asianvisas.co.uk/visa-services/vietnam-visas/

Arrival Procedures: After your passport is checked at the immigration desk, you will proceed directly to the baggage area. After collecting your checked luggage and clearing the customs inspection, you will go out to the arrival area where you will be met by your tour guide (if you are on an Asian Horizons escorted tour).

Customs Procedures: As a basic rule-of-thumb, all valuable items brought into the country such as jewellery, cameras, electrical equipment, etc. should be declared upon arrival and subsequently brought out of the country upon departure. (In actual practice however, it is not necessary to declare cameras or computers or even jewellery). To further improve the cash flow for tourists, now a new regulation allows foreigners to bring in up to US$10,000 per person undeclared into Vietnam.

No International Airport Departure Tax: Departure tax for international flights has been cancelled. Therefore Travellers no longer pay a separate departure tax as it is included in the ticket price.

MONEY MATTERS

The monetary unit in Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong (VND), also known as Dong (₫). This is the only unit of currency – there are no smaller denominations.

The bank notes are 100₫, 200₫, 500₫, 1,000₫, 2,000₫, 5,000₫ 10,000₫, 20,000₫, 50,000₫, 100,000₫, 200,000₫, 500,000₫. The first six notes (up to 5,000₫) are old issue but still in circulation. The following coins are also available: 200₫, 500₫, 1000₫, 2000₫, 5000₫

The Vietnamese Dong is not yet fully internationally convertible. You may be able to find a few places in the UK (such as American Express) where you can exchange your money but we suggest you to wait until you arrive in Vietnam to exchange your money due to a more favourable rate obtained in Vietnam. There are currency exchange booths in both major international airports (Hanoi and HCMC) where you can exchange your money immediately upon arrival. There are also branches of the State Bank of Vietnam throughout the country and various foreign banks (Standard Chartered and HSBC) in the two major cities.

Approximate exchange rates (as at 01 January 2015):

GBP £ 1                =             VND ₫ 32000

USD $ 1                =             VND ₫ 21000

EUR € 1                =             VND ₫ 23000

Cash (recommended): The Euro, Pound, US$, AUS$ and various other currencies are easy to exchange.  If you intend to change your home currency for Dong, ensure your notes are clean and undamaged, as banks and other exchanges will not accept any notes which are torn, excessively crumpled or have writing on them.

ATM (recommended): are available in all major cities and accept Visa / MasterCard debit & credit card with a PIN number. Please be aware of your daily withdrawal limit before you depart the UK. Please also be aware of personal security at an ATM as they can be hot-spots for pick-pockets. ATMs that are inside banks are more secure.

Advisory – Also contact your bank in advance to inform of overseas transaction as some banks may not allow overseas transaction without prior notice for security reasons.

Credit Cards (recommended as a back up): are generally accepted except at 3* (and above) hotels, large department stores, souvenir shops and top end restaurants. Tours with Asian Horizons are for the most part, inclusive and large amounts of cash are not necessary although you will have to prepare enough cash when getting around the cities for person expenses.

Vietnamese Dong in Cash: Make sure that the Vietnamese notes you receive are not torn, this is because many shops and restaurants will not accept them. Also try not to change too much money at one time, as you will end up with a large wad of notes. The largest denomination is currently 500,000 dong (approx. GBP£15). Remember the 20,000 notes look only slightly different from the 500,000 notes but the value is a big gap. We recommend you keep 500,000 dong notes separate from your other dong notes. All other paper notes; 1,000, 2,000, 5,000; 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, 100,000 and 200,000 Dong are identifiable by colour.

Advisory – It is generally a good idea to take along a credit card just in case of emergencies as few insurance policies provide instant cash for things like lost luggage or medical emergencies etc. Please contact your issuer to ask about service charges and to let them know you will be travelling in Vietnam so your card will not be flagged for “possible fraudulent use abroad”.

Traveller’s Cheques: Although this is still the most secure way of taking money abroad, they are now increasingly difficult to exchange. At this time it is our experience that many hotels and banks only exchange American Express’s own dollar travellers’ cheques and the process is often time consuming.

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Street Vendor, Hanoi Old Quarter Asian Horizons

LANGUAGE AND RELIGION

The official language of Vietnam is Vietnamese, which is widely spoken in the majority of the country. As Vietnam is a former French colony, French remains popular but is not an official language. Some English is spoken in larger cities and tourist areas but not outside them. The vast majority of Officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is an atheist state with 81% of the population classed as non-belief. Practised religions include Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Catholicism and Caodaism.

WEATHER

Because of differences in latitude and the marked variety in topographical relief, the climate tends to vary considerably from place to place. During the winter or dry season (November to April) most parts of the country are dry and quite humid. The rainy or summer season (May to September) has daily rain but usually in short, heavy bursts. Seasonal variations in the mountains and plateaus and in the north can be dramatic with temperatures varying from 5 °C (41.0 °F) in December and January to 37 °C (98.6 °F) in July and August. Temperatures vary less on the southern plains around the Mekong Delta, ranging between 21 and 28 °C (69.8 and 82.4 °F) over the course of the year.

Vietnam weather forecasts: www.bbc.co.uk/weather/

WHAT TO WEAR

If travelling in the north during winter, travellers should bring appropriate, warm clothing should the temperatures dip but for the most part, light clothing is quite adequate for the majority of tourist spots all year round.

Vietnam has a conservative culture still influenced by  Buddhism where suggestive or revealing clothing are not recommend (although swimwear is acceptable on the beach).

When visiting religious shrines and temples, modest dress is required. Easily removable footwear (such as sandals) is recommended as most temple grounds must be visited barefoot (sock should also be removed).

The sun is very strong in all parts of Vietnam so a high protection factor sun screen, hats and sunglasses are recommended, as is an umbrella for the rainy season. (May – September).

HEALTH INSURANCE & IMMUNIZATIONS

THE FOLLOWING IS GENERAL ADVICE ONLY. IN ALL EVENTS WE RECOMMEND YOU CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR ON FULL REQUIREMENTS:

Insurance (medical): Hospitals with the standard of care most tourists are used to are not commonplace in Vietnam. If a Traveller were to become seriously ill or injured, they may need to be medically evacuated (‘med-evac’) to the nearest major medical facility, most likely in Singapore or Bangkok. It is strongly recommended that Travellers purchase insurance which will provide medical-evacuation coverage should they require it.

While no immunizations are formally required, malaria prophylaxis is recommended. Mosquitoes are present year-round so insect repellent is essential to prevent mosquito bites and also protect from Dengue fever. Typhoid, Hepatitis A, tetanus and Japanese encephalitis vaccinations are also recommended.

Drink only bottled or boiled water and it is suggested that food not be purchased from sidewalk vendors. Travellers should also remember that temperatures in Vietnam are generally hotter than their home country and should pace themselves according to their fitness level to avoid any medical problems from over exertion, sun stroke or dehydration.

Below are some useful websites for more information on travel health advice:

UK Website: www.traveldoctor.co.uk
US Website: www.cdc.gov
Australian Website: www.tmvc.com.au

Disease Recommendation When to see a doctor
Typhoid Vaccinationrecommended 10 days before travel
Hepatitis A Vaccination recommended 2 weeks before travel
Japanese B encephalitis Vaccination recommended 1 month before travel
Diphtheria Vaccinationsometimesrecommended 3 months before travel
Tuberculosis Vaccination sometimes recommended 3 months before travel
Hepatitis B Vaccination sometimes recommended 2 months before travel
Rabies Vaccination sometimes recommended 1 month before travel
Meningococcal meningitis Not required
Yellow fever Not required
Tick-borne encephalitis Not required

ROAD SAFTY

Traffic may well be the biggest physical danger you face in all parts of Vietnam so be alert when crossing city streets. With more and more cars coming on to city streets, especially in the major cities, it is more important than ever to take care when crossing streets as many drivers are inexperienced and drive too fast. In general Vietnamese drivers expect pedestrians will make way for them. Pedestrian crossing do exist in urban areas but are not always observed by drivers.

CaiBeMarket,MekongDelta

Mekong Delta Boat Woman

VOLTAGE

The voltage throughout Vietnam is 240 Volts AC. Because the voltage may be inconsistent, valuable or sensitive equipment like stereos and computers should have appropriate electronic protection. Electrical sockets may be two pronged, usually able to take round or blade style plugs although sometimes you need a 3 prong adaptor.

Plug types

Most 3* (and above) hotels provide conversion plugs but we recommend you take a universal adaptor able to fit any of these configurations for electronic items you carry with you.

PHOTOGRAPHY

Cameras, (including video) are permitted in Vietnam. Restrictions on photography include military facilities and any structure considered strategic – this includes bridges and train stations (although it may be only loosely enforced).

COMMUNICATIONS

Mobile phones – Mobile calls on overseas SIM cars will be very expensive. For cheap mobile calls we recommend purchasing a local SIM card. The most reliable operators are Mobilefone, Vinaphone and Viettel.  The current law in Vietnam requires that pre-paid mobile phone users have to register their identity before the simcards can be activated although shops often sell simcards that are already activated to side-step this formality. You can use mobile phones to access the Vietnamese mobile Internet service which is inexpensive on a local SIM card.

Internet and land lines – In hotels, guests should always check the rates before using IDD lines as the service charges can be quite high. In Hanoi and HCMC (Saigon) overseas communication is fairly easy. Sometimes at the beaches and in remote locations it may be more difficult. There are some Internet Cafes in most tourist areas. Major hotels will have internet and email as well.

DOMESTIC AIRLINES IN VIETNAM

The quickest and most comfortable mode of domestic travel is by air and an extensive domestic service is operated by Vietnam Airlines. There is a 20kg luggage limitation on domestic flights on an economy fare. Excess baggage charges are often not enforced on tourists but this is not guaranteed so we recommend staying under this limit whenever possible. There are no domestic airport taxes to pay at the airports (they are already included in ticket price).

SOCIAL CUSTOMS & CULTURE SHOCKS!

Toilets: Away from your hotel, toilet paper is not always provided, even in locations such as restaurants, trains and public toilets, even at tourist destinations. Remember to carry yours when going out! Re recommend taking a supply from your hotel room on a daily basis, Hand washing facilities are also not always adequate and we recommend you carry alcohol hand wash with you.

Bargaining: Expected for tourist souvenirs and at local markets. The shop keeper will start with a high price which you are then expected to bargain down until you reach a fair price. Consult your local guide about the standard price. Bargaining can be a lot of fun and sometimes top up your shopping experience!

Opening Hours: Most banks, business, and government offices are open Monday to Friday only, usually from 9am – 5pm, some may close at lunchtime (12:00pm – 2:00pm). Tourist sites are generally open daily, from 8am – 5pm. Most restaurants open daily from 6am – 9am, 11:30am – 2pm, and from 5pm – 9:30pm. There are increasing numbers of restaurants operate non-stop from 6am to midnight, especially those around hotels and in city centre.

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Rice Teraces, Sapa

GRATUITIES AND TIPPING

No one should feel obligated, but it is common to tip drivers, guides, waiters at local restaurants and also usually hotel porters for good service. The following suggestions on tipping are meant as general guidelines. For exceptional service travellers may wish to give more.

Porterage at hotel: In general, if a porter carries the clients bags to the room, a tip of about US$.50 – $1.00 (about ₫5000 – ₫10000 local) would be appropriate, depending on size, weight, etc.

Restaurant tips: In general a tip of about 5–10 % is appreciated for meal service (in VND ₫). Some restaurants may add a service charge to the bill, in which case tipping is not normally needed.

Driver tips (including boats): The driver’s tip may be about US$ 2 – $4 per person per day (or in equivalent in VND₫) for individuals, couples or small groups (not including young children). For large groups, that is, more than 6 passengers, a tip of about US$ 1 – $ 2 (or equivalent in VND₫) per person, per day would be suitable. If the driver has an assistant, a tip of roughly 1/3 the amount given to the driver is considered appropriate.

Tour Guide: A fair average for tipping your tour guide is US$15 per person (or equivalent in VND₫), day for individuals or small groups (under 6 passengers and not including young children). For larger groups around US$10 per person per day (or equivalent in VND₫) would be appropriate. Note: Tipping your guides depends entirely on your satisfaction with their services. Clients are not obliged to tip for poor service whereas for exceptional service, clients may wish to tip more.