GENERAL INFO
VIETNAM Capitol : HANOI

Min.Traveling Cost $20/day, $1=16,200D, July, 2007

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Travel Planning in General
 
Vietnam is a long country in the north - south. Therefore the traveling in Vietnam should be in one direction only. We recommend to travel from S to N, if possible, because the cost of the tourist bus is cheaper and discount airlines are flying from Hanoi to Bangkok(no from HCMC).
The popular destinations for foreign travelers are Mekong Delta in the south, Hoian and Hue in the middle, Ha Long Bay and Sapa(hill tribe minorities live).
Buses and trains are common to travel. If you want to travel for all major tourist destinations, you need 1 month to travel.
The common route:
1.) Direct from your home country:
Home - Ho Chi Minh(HCM) - Mekong Delta - HCMC - Nha Trang - Hoian - Hue - Hanoi - Ha Long Bay - Hanoi - Sapa - Hanoi - Home
2.) Grand SE Asia route #1: Thailan(BKK) - Cambodia - HCMC - Mekong Delta - HCMC - Nha Trang - Hoian - Hue - Hanoi - Ha Long Bay - Hanoi - Sapa - China - Laos - Thailand(BKK)
3.) Grand SE Asia route #2: Thailand(BKK) - Cambodia - HCMC - Mekong Delta - HCMC - Nha Trang - Hoian - Hue - Savannaket(Laos) - Don Kong(Laos) - Savannaket(Laos) - bus - Hanoi - Ha Long Bay - Hanoi - Sapa - China - Laos Northern part - Thailand(BKK)

LANGUAGE
 
National : Vietnamese
Foreign Language :
English
- Widely spoken in all major tourist destinations. Hardly no problem to travel.
French - amongst older Vietnamese in tourist areas.
Lonely Planet Vietnamese language book: (pirate version) $1-2 widely available in tourist area.

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CLIMATE
North(Hanoi):
Wet:
May - Sep, Dry: Oct - Mar, Hot: May - Sep, Cool: Dec - Feb.
Best season: Very difficult to say when.
Winter: Dec - Feb Cold and cloudy. Not heavy but it rains. You need a long sleeve jacket specially if you want to visit Sapa.
Summer: Hot and rainy. Storms may come in Aug - Sep.
Middle(Hue):
Wet:
Aug - Jan, Dry: Mar - Aug Hot: All year around, Cool(Relatively): Dec - Jan, Storms: Aug - Sep
Best season: Feb - July,
South(Saigon):
Wet:
May - Oct, Dry: Nov - Apr, Hot: Feb - Oct, Cool: Relatively Dec - Jan
Best season: Dec - Apr,
Clothing: North: In the highlands Nov-Mar, it is very cold, especially mornings. Jacket necessary.
South: T-shirts are enough all year around, except in the highlands, where it can be cooler. Apr-May is very hot. Hats are essential to avoid sun stroke.

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TRAVELING COSTS
Vietnam has been changed a lot for last 10 years. Train fares are no longer expensive. Therefore the bus fares have been dropped. The bargaining in markets or on street is not hard as it used to be. (Only the old ladies are tough to bargain. Avoid them.) There are many reasonable hotels in most of the tourist destinations, thought single rooms are hard to find so you may travel with others to share a room.
Basic minimum prices for tourists
Room: single $5, twin $8, dormitory $3(not many found). Most of rooms are double rooms. Very few single rooms are found. $1 discount for single usage for double rooms is common.
Restaurant Meal: 30,000D+, (Tourist Cafe) 15-25,000D, Local restaurants 8-12,000D
Breakfast(American): 15,000D+
French bread sandwich: 2-3,000D
Black coffee: 5,000D Coffee with milk: 7,000D
Mineral Water 1.5-liter: 6,000D+
Beer: 6-12,000D Coke(bottle): 4,000D
Coke (can): 7-15,000D Fruit shake: 3-4,000D
Ice cream: 3,000D Toilet paper: 2-3,000D
Shampoo(S): 11-14,000D T-shirt: 10-20,000D
Post Card: 3,000D (some have  6,000D for 10 cards)

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CURRENCY/MONEY
 
US dollar is the best currency. The rate and T/C commission varies slightly between banks but the differences are minimum.
Not much difference in rates between T/C & cash. The rate is slightly higher for larger notes.
When prices are quoted in US$, you can pay in dollar or Vietnamese Dong. Sometime paying in VD is better because of the exchange rate they use.
Other major currencies: either in cash or T/C can be exchanged at bank with relatively fare rates.
Exchange Rate: At bank $1=16,200D
Exchange Commission: Cash to VND -None,
$T/C to VND 0%-1%, $T/C to $ cash 2%
Bank Opening hours:
M-F 8:30-11:30,13:00-16:00, Sa 8:30-11:30, Su Closed.
Black market: Very hard to find.
T/C commission(com.): Only American Exp, City Bank, Visa are accepted. The rate varies slightly between Banks. $1=16,200D commission 0-2% (0% for American Express, 1% for others) min$2 so, the best T/C is American Express.
Credit Cards: Visa, Master Card Amex, Diners Club. Accepted only at high class hotels, restaurants, airlines. Places in the north tend to accept only Visa.
Cash Advance: Visa, MC can be used at some banks. For the fee see below.
ATM's: Available in major cities, such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Hue, Hoian. Minimum withdraw 2,000,000VD and the commission 20,000VD.

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HEALTH
 
See SE Asia Health section.

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IMMIGRATION
 
Tourist Visa : Usually 30 days. Apply at embassies/consulates.
You have to specify the date of entry. You can enter after the day but you will be permitted to stay for 30 days from the date you specified.
90 days, 90 days multi, 180 days multi visas are also available.
Visa fee for 30 days
See each city embassy info for more updated info
Thailand: Bangkok:
At Vietnam embassy $50, agents on Khaosan Rd. 2000Baths 4 days (Reported: don't issue overland permits. you have to change later.
Cambodia:
Phnom Penh, at agents
$30
(need 4 days), $35(3 days), $55(2 days),$60(1 days), at embassy 1 month $30, 90days $45, 90 day multi 4$90, 180 days multi $150.
Battamgbang and Shihanoukville Cambodia: embassy $30
(5 min) Also other visas are available.
Myanmar: Yangon, 1-month Visa $55 4days
Laos: Vientiane, Pakxe, Savanaket, $55, takes 5days
Hongkong: HK$580 4 days. By agents only
Beijin China: embassy 425yuen ? days
Kunming China: consulate $50 3 days
Guanshu? China: $50 6days
Visa extension: At the immigration office in Hanoi 1 week only $10(may depend on personnel).
More than 10 days you should apply through travel agents.
1month $23+(need 3 days)-40(1 days), 2month $50(need 3 days)-70(1 days), 3month $60(need 3 days)-80(1 days), 6month $90(need 3 days)-120(1 days)
Re-Entry Visa: Apply through travel agents $3, takes 3 days.

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BORDER CROSSING
 
AIR
Departure Tax: International $10, Domestic 25,000D
Ho Chi Minh: Tan Son Nhat Airport shuttle $4/p, city bus 1000D
Hanoi: Noi Bai Airport
shuttle bus $3, city bus 2000D?
Danang:
No detailed info.
Land
Entering Vietnam, small fee, 1000-2000k, is asked with a receipt.
From Laos:
There are many border points for foreign travel can pass.
1.) "Lao Bao" : Savannaket(L) - Hue/Danang route
By local bus:
Take a local bus from Savannaket to Lao Bao, After passing both Immingration, walk (very far, maybe 30 min.)or take bike taxi to Vietnamese bus station. Then a bus to Dong Ha. From Dong Ha, you can get to major cities, such as Hue/Danang.
By Tourist Bus/Direct Public Bus: : Savannaket(L) to Hue/Danang International bus daily
2.) "Cao Treo": Laksao(L) to Vinh(V) route
By local bus:
Take a bus from Vientiane to Laksao, then take a taxi to the border. There is a report, you can get another transport after passing the border to Vinh. Also you can travel from Savannaket to Laksao(You may take 2 buses.)
By Tourist bus:
Vientiane(L) to Hanoi(V) Daily
No detailed info. Ask Vietnamese embassy/consulate.
3.) "Nam Can": Phonsavan(L) to North part of Vietnam border(V), :
4.) "Nameo": Nam Xouai, road #6(L) - North part of Vietnam border(V)
Vietnam (Hanoi) to Laos (Vientiane), Cau Treo crossing- Travelers report: Peter Lascher (2000 info)
Train ticket from Hanoi to Vinh is 128 000 Dong but if you are in a hurry take the mini bus to Hue (starting around 7 pm) tell the driver to drop you at the market area in Vinh (2 am) and take the bus...
In Vinh the bus-stop is near the Vinh market. They charge 50 000 Dong for the bus ticket (Cau Treo is written on the ticket). The bus (the first goes around 6:30),drops you around 25 km before the border and heads to another destination. There is no direct bus. A jeep waits for you and in the middle of nowhere the jeep stops and one of the guys starts to bargain. We paid 3$ for the ride. For another $1 at the border they skip the Vietnam customs. Walk three minutes to Laos immigration. Laos is easy, choose between Paksan and Tha Khaek. Pay the driver of the song thaew to Paksan to take you to Vientiane or take a Vientiane bound bus in Paksan.
It's possible to make the H - V trip in 24-28 hours (some people do that!). Around 30$ altogether.
From Cambodia:
1.) "Moc Bai": Phnom Penh(Cam) to Ho Chi Minh(VN)
Daily tourist direct buses. $4-6 Ask travel agent in Phnom Penh.
2.) "Caudoc": Phnom Penh(Cam) to Caudoc(VN): Daily tourist boat trip
regular boat $7-8, fast boat $15 Ask travel agent in Phnom Penh
From China
1.) He Kou(Ch)/Lao Cai(VN):
No international trains are running between Kunming and Hanoi. Take a train/bus from Kunming to the Chinese border He Kou (about 15 hours), walk across the border(3 min), then take a taxi(5000-7000VD) or walk 15mins to Lao Cai Train Station. Then take a train to Hanoi. There are some morning trains and some night trains. To take a morning train, you may have to stay in He Kou or Lao Cai. To take a night train, it is very hard to get a sleeper seat. Many people are fighting for limited number of seats/beds. Go to the train station at least 16:00 and wait in a line for LC train(Many lines and One line is for only aone train. ) and ask a sleeper seat. If your line's train is full, ask the officer to find other trains' sleeper availability. They are very kind to ask other line's officers to find one. If not, you have to travel with 3rd class seat.
To Sapa from the border. Walk along side of the river and cross the river and wait for a minibus to Sapa.
2.) Huu Nghi(Friendship) near Dong Dang(V): Take a train to Binshan, then a truck to the border town, Huu Nghi (Friendship) walk across to Vietnam town, then take a train to Hanoi.
Also take a train from Beijing/Nan Ning to Hanoi. Now operating, 1-2 trains/week. The train runs via Dong Dang, where you can change to Vietnamese train to Hanoi(reported)
For either route, you must already have a Visa - issued in Kontou,Beijing, Hongkong.

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MAIL/TELEPHONE
 
Post Office
General opening hours: varies - check local info.
Opening hour varies between towns, but post office generally open on Sa & Su 7:00-21:00 as well.
There are many post boxes, but locals don't trust them. It's recommended to go to the PO.
Mail: Charges
Europe USA Australia Asia
Post Card 8,000 9,000 7,000 7,000
Stamps from machine are 500D cheaper. In Dalat, 400D extra fee required.
Letter min. weight 12,000 14,000 10,000 10,000
Parcel sea mail 20kg 1060,000 1370000 876,000 740,000
Telephone
IDD telephones is available at GPO telephone offices. Private telephone offices in town are slightly more expensive. Phonecalls from hotels are the most expensive.
Internet Cafes provide cheap and reasoanble fee.
3-5000VD/min
Mobile Phone:
Cheap SIM cards are sold with very good price. A big saving promotions are common. For example, SIM cards with $10 credit can be just $7. Phoning abroad with mobile phones are also very cheap. 5000VD/min(Confirm the exact rate at shop.)
Vietnam Country code: 084
Collect call & charge: possible for USA, UK, AZ, Japan
Local Calls: can be made from GH. free or small fee.(1,500-2,000D).
You can often use private phones in town.

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NATIONAL TRANSPORT
 
AIR: (2003 info)
very expensive.
Ho Chi Minh - Hanoi: - OW $136 RT$261
Daily flights between major cities.
Tickets can be bought from travel agents
(com. $2)
Train: time table Official Web Site
Foreigners' fare is not longer asked.
More than 6 trains/day. Duration and price depends on the train. Tickets can be paid with Dong.
Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi takes about 48 hours on local train. Reunification Express takes 36 hours. The ticket price includes some food(good).
Hard seats: Wooden seats. Very uncomfortable on long journeys.
Soft seats: Padding. More comfortable. Tall westerners will find them a bit tight.
Hard berth: Wooden beds with just a slight touch of padding, 6-person compartments.
Soft berth: Very comfortable but expensive. 4-person compartments.
Reservation necessary. Recommended to reserve 2 or 3 days in advance. Tickets sold at train-station booking office(Hanoi and HCM station have the special counters for foreigners.) and travel agents (com $1-2) Travel agents can sometimes still secure tickets even when the station tells you that they are sold out.
Vietnamese Train Code
Code Vietnamese English
B Ghe ngoi cung Hard Seat
A Ghe ngoi mem Soft Seat
AL Ghe ngoi mem may lanh Superior soft seat
Bn 1,2,3 Giuong nam cung khoang 6 giuong, tang 1,2,3 hard berth Low / Mid / Up
BnL1,2,3 Giuong nam cung may lanh khoang 6 gg, tang 1,2,3 A/C hard berth L / M / U
An1,2 Giuong nam mem khoang 4 giuong, tang 1,2 soft berth L / U
AnL1,2 Giuong nam mem may lanh khoang 4 gg, tang 1,2 A/C soft berth L / U
Long distance BUS
Cheapest transport. Long distance bus terminals are located far from town centers. Usually they are connected with public bus from the town center. Buses are very old, crowded and sometime no a/c. It is very common to see broken down buses on the roads. You can reserve a bus but not a seat. If you pay about double you may be able to secure a seat. Tickets can be bought at terminal. usually open from 4:00 to 17:00. No English understood. A/C mini vans are operating on certain routes with double fare.
Reservation is highly recommended.
Tourist bus/Mini bus
Tourist buses connect major cities Relatively new service, pickup service possible, usually have A/C. Very convenient. They take breaks on route, stopping at tourist spots. On arrival, they will stop at various hotels and wait while your checking the rooms. Slightly more expensive than public bus, but cheaper than train (soft seats). Tickets sold at tourist cafes, Travel Agencies, GH's up until the night before the journey.
If you will take tourist bus between Hanoi and HCMC, you may buy a "Open Tour" ticket which allows to break journey at Hue, Hoian, Nha Tramg and Dalat, Muine Beach. The fare is cheaper than buying individually because many travel agents are competing each other in Hanoi and HCMC. Also HCMC -> Hanoi fare is cheaper than Hanoi -> HCMC fare even at the same company, such as Sinh Cafe.

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LOCAL TRANSPORT
 
! Attention: To use Taxi or cyclo, its advised to write down the directions, and the agreed-upon price, to avoid confusion.
Local Bus
The most of the large cities in Vietnam now have good city bus system. It is very useful to reach the bus stations. But not so useful to go to tourist spots.
Taxis
Metered taxis are available in Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City. The cost varies. First 2km12,000D, add 1,600D/250m(Old info) Check that the meter is operating. Pay in Dong. The taxis, hanging around the tourist areas, sometime change the setting of the meter. So try to get a taxi running on street. They often take a longer route.
Cyclo
3-wheeled bicycle-rickshaw. A bit hard to find this recently, but still available. Passengers sit in front and driver peddles behind. Great views, though scary.
Bargain hard. Some drivers demand more money later. They are very aggressive. If you can't handle, this don't use them. Write the address and agreed price on paper. Same price for two people.
$1-2/hr
Motor Bike Taxi
Costs the same to ones of cyclo.
Bicycle Rental
8-15,000D/day Deposit may be required($20). Available from Cafes or GH's. Check the brakes & tires before you set off.
Motorbike Rental
$5-10/day. They often hold your passport as a deposit and want you to sign a form. Get a translation of the form in a language that you understand. Available from cafes or hotels. Ask your own hotel to give you a good rate. Check brakes, tires, and gas before you set off. Don't ride in the larger cities unless you already know how.

Food
 
The detailed information will be ready soon. However the food is no longer tasty.
monosodium glutamate(Ajimonoto): They often use excessive amount of monosodium glutamate, therefore taste seems to be always same.
Seafood is very tasty in south, such as HCMC and Nha Trang. Many sea shells are cooked on street. They are cheap and very delicious.
Coffee: very strong and rich. But they often add flavors, such as vanilla, caramel, etc. If you prefer normal coffee, ask normal taste coffee.

ACCOMMODATION
 
There are many GH's and basic hotels in the most tourist destinations. They are the budget options. Room prices start from $5 for single and $8 for double. But it is hard to find single rooms. Double rooms are usually twin rooms so it is possible to share a room with another traveler. Many have good quality and good facilities, $10-or- above rooms have ab HW CTV fr a/c. Bargaining is possible. Theft is rare but you shouldn't leave valuables in your room.
Recently, many budget hotels start offering free internet, with either PC in their lobby, in the rooms or "wifi".

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CUSTOMS
 
See SE Asia customs sheet.

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SHOPPING
 
Souvenirs:
Hand-embroidered T-shirts: The needle work is more detailed in Hanoi, but T-shirt material is better in Saigon. Print T-shirts: $1-2 hand embroidered T-shirts $2-3.
Post cards: Near tourist sections.
Books: Cheap, because many are pirate copies. (less than 1/3 of the price).
Bags: Cheap. But they are copies and low quality. Small bags are Ok but large backpacks, $15-20, are not recommended at all. Originals are also sold with a good price, $90-100 in HCMC.
Toys: made from empty soda cans $2
Aluminum Coffee filter, Large: 2,500-3,000D
Silk Ao Dai (Tailor made): $25. They will make it for a day.
Paper umbrella: 5,000-10,000D
Photo Developing/Quality: There are many photo shops in all major towns. 1-2 hour service available 4,000-5,000D + large 1,500D/print small 1,200d/p
English Newspapers
Daily:
Vietnam news, Weekly: Saigon Times, Saigon Newsreader, Vietnam Investment Review
Monthly: Vietnam Today (free), What's on Saigon (free)
Voltage, Plug type: 220V/50 cycles in main towns, 110v in country. 2 pronged.

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FESTIVALS / PUBLIC HOLIDAYS 2000
PH : Public Holiday.  If date not specified, it is movable.
Jan 1 PH New Year's Day
Feb 3 PH Vietnamese Communist Party day
early Feb PH? Traditional New Year's Day, (3 days) traditional birthday of all Vietnamese.
Mar PH? Banh Ba Trung Day
Celebration for Trung sisters who fought against the Chinese.
Apr New Year's Day for Dead
Apr 30 PH Liberation of S. Vietnam
May 1 PH Labour Day
May 19 PH Birth Day of Ho Chi Minh
May 28 PH Buddha 's birthday
Aug Trung Nguyen, Wondering Soul Day,
many offerings made at temples.
Sep 2 PH National Day, Independent Day
Sep 3 PH President's Birthday
Sep Trung Thu, Mid Autumn Festival Especially important for children,
Nov Confucius's Birthday

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@ INTERNET @
 
The internet in Vietnam is very popular. In most tourist destinations you can find internet facility very easily. HCM is the cheapest, 100D/min. Also IP phone is available at the internet cafes for international call. 3-5000D/min
Also many guest houses and restaurants are offering free internet facility, with PC and "wifi". It may be a good idea to carry a notebook PC in Vietnam.
Newly opened tourist information office in HCMC and Hanoi provide free internet facility. You can use web mail.
Web site: vietnamtourism.com

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Research Period Data: 97/1, 98/3, 2000/8, 2003/3