Viet Nam Travel Tips
Banks: 08:30 to 15:30, Monday to Friday; 08:30 to 11:30, Saturdays.
Post Offices: 08:00 to 17:00, Monday to Saturday; regional post offices may close earlier on Saturdays.
Government Departments: 08:30 to 16:30, Monday to Friday.
Business Centres:08:30 to 16:30, Monday to Friday.
Shops: 09:30 to 21:30, daily; many shops close on Sundays.
Vietnam has a decent tourist infrastructure in the larger cities and tourist hotspots. Flights go to most major cities, although many towns are still only accessible by road. Scams and rip-off artists are a part of Vietnam’s fabric unfortunately, especially in the north where hard-sell tactic in the markets can be off-putting.
Violent crimes against foreigners in Vietnam are rare as there are very strict laws in place to prevent the country garnering an unfavorable image to the outside world. Having your bag snatched or pocket felt is the biggest risk here, although common sense should see you don’t fall victim to petty thieves. Keep cards, cash and passports in a hotel safe and be especially vigilant in crowded touristy areas and at bus and train stations.
If you travel by taxi, it is wise to find one that has a meter and to ensure that the driver uses it. Taxi touts in Vietnam are a big problem and if you end up in an un-metered taxi, you will have a high chance of being ripped off. If you take a pedicab, always agree on the price beforehand and ignore any changes to the price en-route.
Ambulances are thin on the ground in Vietnam and government hospital emergency services are not on a par with similar services in Western counties. There are, however, a growing number of international hospitals sprouting up in the main cities. Arranging travel insurance is a must.
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Health facilities in Vietnam’s large cities are adequate, but lacking in many rural areas. Make sure you take precautions against dengue fever and malaria, while health insurance is also advised. Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi have international hospitals should you become sick and most towns have a clinic and a pharmacy.
One major worry about visiting rural Vietnam is the incidence of avian influenza (bird flu), which is a serious disease. Avoid coming into contact with birds, especially those in remote country villages.
Dengue fever and malaria, two major mosquito-borne diseases in Vietnam, are a problem in remote areas, particularly near the Cambodian border. Visitors should ensure they wear insect repellent when in high risk areas and may like to consider taking preventative medication.
Diarrhea and heat stroke are other common problems for tourists to Vietnam. Undercooked food and too much sun are obvious causes. You should ensure food served from a street stall is well cooked. Wearing a hat and sun block and drinking lots of water is the best protection against heat stroke. Drinking contaminated water is a common contributor to stomach upsets. The tap water is not potable and you should only drink water bottled.
First-timers to Vietnam should spend the first few days taking it easy and adjusting to the food and climate. Ducking into an air-conditioned mall when you can is a good reliever from the heat, while avoiding alcohol will also help prevent dehydration.
Vietnamese is the main spoken language. It is tonal and has five accents and is thus tough for first timers to master. The Roman alphabet is used, making reading maps and street signs fairly straightforward. Many younger Vietnamese have a grasp of English and some older folk have rudimentary French vocabulary due to early language schooling.
The dong is Vietnam’s currency which comes in denominations of 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, 100,000, 200,000, and 500,000 dong notes; and 200, 500, 1,000, 2,000, and 5,000 dong coins. US dollars are accepted all over yet the exchange rate is not so favorable on the street. Higher value dollar notes including US$50 and US$100 bills receive better rates, but you should be aware that tatty dollar bills may be refused.
It can be tough getting hold of Vietnamese dong outside of Vietnam. Most visitors choose to withdraw money at an ATM once in Vietnam. ATMs are becoming more and more prevalent in the larger towns and cities, and generally accept credit and debit cards including Visa and MasterCard, and Maestro and Cirrus systems.
Vietcombank has the best reputation regards accepting foreign bank cards. Be aware that the Vietnamese banks are likely to charge you for the privilege of local ATM withdrawals, along with the standard charges from your own bank.
Traveller’s checks are still a viable form of foreign currency, although expect to pay two or three per cent commission at the banks and hotels. Virtually all hotels will deal in US dollars and even small shops may quote in dollars. Having a supply of dong and dollars when travelling in the country is a good idea, as ATMs can be hard to come across in rural areas.
If you are bringing in personal items that will also be travelling back out with you, such as laptops and cameras, you do not need to declare them. You can import 200 cigarettes, two litres of alcohol and perfume, and must declare cash in excess of US$3,000 (or similar value of foreign currency). One valuable tip is to make sure you retain your yellow entry/exit slip on arrival or you may be fined on exit.
Vietnamese people are very friendly and welcoming and will take great joy if you learn some civilities of their language. Don’t be taken aback if you are greeted with ‘hey, you’, or something similar; this is a typical greeting.
Like most Southeast Asians, the Vietnamese place great awareness on dress and hygiene. Try and dress modestly and keep beach attire for the beach. Walking around the city wearing just a vest and swimming shorts, especially for women, is considered disrespectful and may get you looks of disdain. Topless bathing on Vietnam’s beaches is also not acceptable.
The Vietnamese are a fairly touchy bunch and hand holding, touching and friendly patting are common ways of being polite and friendly. Men usually shake hands while women do not.
It is not taboo to talk about the war. However, much of the population was born after the conflict and will find little interest in discussing it. Political debates and confrontation should be avoided.
Table manners are not strict in Vietnamese restaurants and you can use either a fork and spoon, or chopsticks, to eat with depending on the meal. Locals typically eat breakfast early before it gets too hot, and have long lunches and early evening meals. Many noodle stands stay open late to catch tourists and youngsters, as do restaurants in tourist areas.
When you have finished your meal, don’t pick at your teeth with your hands; cover up and use a tooth pick. Tipping is not expected but is appreciated in the touristy areas. Rounding up the bill is recommended rather than giving a percentage of the total.
Visa and Passports:
Citizens of most countries will have to apply for a visa before arriving in Vietnam. US citizens and citizens from the UK are among those who must have a visa, while citizens from countries that have bilateral agreements with Vietnam don’t need a visa. These countries include Scandinavian countries such as Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland, as well as most Asian countries including Korea and Japan. Tourist visas allow for a stay of 30 days.
Visit this website for further information about Vietnam Visa.
Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months beyond your intended stay in Vietnam. Vietnamese Immigration has repeatedly refused entry to people who fail to pay notice to this, regardless of whether they have a visa.
Visit this website for further information about Vietnam Visa.
Tourist Information Offices:
The headquarters of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism is at 80 Quan Su, Hanoi, Vietnam. Fax: +84 4 9424115.