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Travel tips

1. Air access

This is the most convenient way to enter Vietnam. Formalities at Vietnam’s international airports are generally smoother than at land borders, as volume of traffic is greater.
 Network of Airports in Vietnam
• For both International and Domestic flights: Noi Bai (35km northwest of Hanoi), Tan Son Nhat (in Ho Chi Minh City), Danang (in Danang city).
• For Domestic flights only (North to South): Muong Thanh (in Dien Bien), Son La (in Son La), Cat Bi (in Hai Phong), Vinh (in Nghe An), Phu Bai (in Hue), Pleiku (in Pleiku), Buon Ma Thuot (in Buon Ma Thuot), Cam Ranh (in Nha Trang), Dalat (in Dalat), Can Tho (in Can Tho) and Phu Quoc (in Phu Quoc island).
For international flights
Cities having direct flights to Noi Bai and Tan Son Nhat airport includes: Bangkok, Beijing, Franfurt, Fukuoka, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Kaohsiung, Kuala Lumpur, Kunming, Manila, Melbourne, Moscow, Osaka, Paris, Phnom Penh, Pusan, Seoul, Siem Reap, Singapore, Sydney, Taipei, Tokyo, Vientiane. 
If entering through Danang airport, you can only fly from Bangkok.
If there’s no direct flight to Vietnam, the best way is taking a flight to Bangkok or Hong Kong and gets a connecting flight on arrival. You can either stay there several days for leisure (recommended for shopping) before flight to Vietnam. As they are two greatest hubs of Southeast Asia (many flights daily), you can depart at flexible time and have significant savings on ticket prices.
Below are some major airliners flying to and from Vietnam which you can search for information and reservation:
 
Name
Website
Hub
Airline Code
Aeroflot
www.aeroflot.com
Moscow
SU
Air France
www.airfrance.fr
Paris
AF
All Nippon Airways
www.ana.co.jp
Tokyo
NH
Asiana Airlines
www.us.flyasiana.com
Seoul
OZ
Cathay Pacific
www.cathaypacific.com
Hong Kong
CX
China Airlines
www.china-airlines.com
Taipei
CI
China Southern Airlines
www.cs-air.com
Guangzhou
CZ
Japan Airlines
www.jal.co.jp
Tokyo
JL
Korean Air
www.koreanair.com
Seoul
KE
Lao Airlines
www.laoairlines.com
Vientiane
QV
Lion Air
www.lionair.co.id
Jakarta
JT
Lufthansa
www.lufthansa.com
Frankfurt
LH
Malaysia Airlines
www.malaysiaairlines.com
Kuala Lumpur
MY
Philippine Airlines
www.philippineair.com
Manila
PR
Qantas
www.qantas.com
Sydney 
Melbourne
QF
Siem Reap Airways
www.siemreapair.com
Phnom Penh
FT
Singapore Airlines
www.singpareair.com
Singapore
SQ
Thai Airways
www.thaiair.com
Bangkok
TG
Vietnam Airlines
www.vietnamairlines.com
Hanoi
Saigon
VN
 
Domestic routes
Domestic flights are operated by Pacific Airlines (airline code: BL - www.pacificairlines.com.vn) and Vietnam Airlines (mostly), the state-owned flag carrier with modern fleet of Airbuses and Boeings. They offer a lot of daily flights and give many options for air travel throughout the country. But due to the low infrastructure, flights are always overbooked and cannot be reserved overseas. Cancellation and late flight are common.
As they’re our only choices in Vietnam, you’d better have a travel agent to book and secure domestic flights and keep informed on its status. Check the domestic flights here  Vietnam Airlines Timetable 2006
Ticket reconfirmation
Depended on airliners’ policy, when you are in Vietnam, you should reconfirm the tickets 48 hours or 24 hours prior departure time to avoid any delay or cancellation or unsecured seat (automatically cancelled by system). Please check with ticket seller whether your tickets are required to do or not. Reconfirmation can be done at any their booking offices in Vietnam. Normally, your travel agent in Vietnam will do it as it takes a bit time.
2. Vietnam airport taxes
Applied for both domestic and international departures.
With international flights
Passengers have to pay US$14 per person for leaving Vietnam at Noi Bai airport (Hanoi) or Danang airport (Danang), US$12 per person for leaving Vietnam at Tan Son Nhat airport (Ho Chi Minh City).
With domestic flights
From Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City or Danang, the tax of VND25,000 per person (around US$1.7) is always added in your ticket fare. Tax for departing from Hue and Hai Phong is VND20,000 per person (US$1.3) and from other airports is VND15,000 per person (US$1).
3. Business hours in Vietnam (GMT +7)
A normal working day in Vietnam starts from  7am to 8.30am and finish between  4pm to 6pm, from Monday to Friday and until noon on Saturday, leave the afternoon (most) and Sunday off.
Lunch is taken very seriously and virtually.  Everything shuts down between noon and 1.30pm. Government workers tend to take longer breaks, so figure on getting nothing done between 11.30am and 2pm.
Post offices keep longer, from 6.30am to 9pm.
Banks open from 8am to 4pm and Saturday’s morning.
Museums also open in the weekend for visitors but close on Monday.
Temples and pagodas open every day, from around 5am to 9pm.
Markets open at 7am and close at 5pm, except Night market (from Hang Dao Str. to Dong Xuan market – walking streets, in the evening of Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 8pm to 3am)
Super-markets (mini-marts) open from 8am to 8pm or 9pm.
Most private shopsrestaurants and street stalls stay open seven days a week, often until late at night.
Bars and night clubs generally open in the afternoon and to midnight (official closing time) but always till 1pm or 2pm (most)
4. Climate of Vietnam
The climate of Vietnam varies considerably from region to region. Although the entire country lies in the tropics and subtropics, local condition varies from frosty winters in the far northern hill to year-round, subequatorial warmth in the Mekong Delta.

Vietnam’s weather is indicated by  two monsoons. The  winter monsoon comes from the northeast between October and March, bringing wet cold winter to all areas north of Nha Trang, and dry and warm temperatures to the south. From April or May to October, thesouthwestern monsoon bring warm, humid weather to the whole country except for those areas sheltered by mountains.
  • For the best balance, try the months of April, May or October;
  • For those sticking to the south, November to February is dry and a touch cooler;
  • From July to November, violent and unpredictable typhoons hit central and northern Vietnam.
It gets pretty crowded from November to March and in June and August. Prices tend to peak over the Christmas and New Year period, but if you don’t fancy sharing the sites with the masses, try to avoid these busy times.
Some travellers like to time a visit with  Tet (Vietnamese New Year), which is the biggest festival in the calendar in late January or early February. A nice idea but not ideal, as the whole country is on the move.
5. Vietnamese currency - Vietnam Dong (VND)
The currency of Vietnam is  "Dong" (abbreviated  "d" or  VND). Bank notes are: 100d , 200d and 500d (too small value - rarely used); 1,000d; 2,000d; 5,000d; 10,000d, 20,000d, 50,000d and 100,000d (each has two versions - cotton and polymer), 200,000d and 500,000d. Coins have recently come into circulation but not widely been accepted due to inconvenience, including: 200d; 500d; 1,000d; 2,000d and 5,000d. Their photos are as below.
US dollar is widely accepted while most major currencies can be exchanged at leading banks in Vietnam (Vietcombank, ANZ, ACB, VIB Bank…) or some hotels and jewelry shops. The official rate of exchange is approximately VND15,500 to US$1. With the relatively low value of Dong, you are recommended to carry US dollar in small notes; it will help you to change easily.
ATMs can be a choice as it’s very popular in most of tourist destinations now. Vietcombank (VCB) has the best network in the country. Withdrawals are issued  in Dong (50,000d and 100,000d only). There is a  limit of 2,000,000d (about US$125) for each withdrawal and a daily limit of 20,000,000d. Fee is 50,000d (US$3) each time.
Visa,  MasterCard and  JCB cards are widely accepted. Some merchants also accept  Amex. A  4%-commission charge on every transaction (3% for other cards) is pretty common, due to bank’s policy. Getting cash in advance from cards is possible at Vietcombank and some foreign banks in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
Travellers Cheques are accepted at most of hotels, restaurants but in major cities. If you only have travellers cheques, stock up on US dollars at a bank, which usually charge anywhere from  1.25% to 3% commission to change them into cash. VCB charges no commission to changing travellers cheques for Dong. If your travellers cheques are in currencies other than US dollars, they may be useless beyond the major cities. Hefty commissions are the norm it they can be exchanged at all.
Photos of Vietnam Dong
 
6. Vietnam custom regulations
Arriving in Vietnam, all visitors must fill in  declaration forms and show their luggage to Customs Officials upon request. There are no limited amounts of foreign currency, objects made of gold, silver, precious metals and gemstones or plated with silver or gold but visitors must declare these in detail on the customs forms.
Luggage of Prohibited and Restricted carriage
  • Following materials are prohibited accompanying baggage: corrosive, gas, explosive, toxic, oxygen, radioactive, flammable...
  • Following materials are not permitted accompanying baggage: knife, scissors, gun, cartridge, wheelchair with battery;
  • Passenger should not put money, jewel, document, important samples... in your baggage. Baggage should be covered and locked carefully;
  • Passenger should not put breakable materials such as china, electronic, bottle, jar... inside your baggage;
  • Following goods are prohibited carrying in flight: fish sauce, durian...
Entry Vietnam
  • Tourists are authorized to bring in the following items duty-free: Cigarettes: 400 pieces; Cigars: 50-100; Tobacco: 100 gram; Liquor: 1.5l.
  • Personal effects of a reasonable quantity
  • Small gift items valued at not more than US$500.
You are expected to declare:
  • Cameras, camcorders and other electric equipments not for personal use
    Jewelry not for personal use;
  • Currency over US$7,000 (There is no limit to the amounts of cash, precious metals and gems people can bring in, but amounts of over US$7,000 must be declared);
  • Video tapes (they may be kept few days and screened).
Exit Vietnam
  • Goods of commercial nature and articles of high value require export permits issued by the Customs Office.
  • Antiques, some precious stones and animals listed in Vietnam's red-book may not be brought out of the country.
  • Money: below US$3,000 of cash. 
7. Advice for disable travellers
Vietnam is not the easiest of places for disable travellers. Typical problems include the crazy traffic, a lack of pedestrian footpaths, a lack of lifts in smaller hotels and the ubiquitous squat toilets.
You should find a   reliable company to make travel arrangements and don’t be afraid to  double-check things with hotels and restaurants yourself. In the major cities, many three to five-star hotels (two-star one in some case) have lifts and disable access is improving. Bus and train travel is not really geared up for disable travellers, but a private vehicle with a driver can let you go almost anywhere.
Remember that anything is possible.  Vietnamese are always willing to help you.
You might try contacting the following police organizations for "113 Police"
8. Things to do or not to do in Vietnam
Dos
  • Store your cash, credit cards, airline tickets and other valuables in a safe place. Most 4-star hotels have in-room safes, otherwise ask the reception to keep your valuable things in their deposit facility.
  • Take a hotel business card from the reception desk before venturing out from your hotel. This will make your return to the hotel in a taxi or cyclo much easier.
  • Carry a roll of toilet paper in your daypack on long excursions from your base hotel. You never know when you might need it!
  • Dress appropriately. Not only for the prevailing weather, but also not to cause offence to the local people. Vietnamese have conservative dress codes, and it is only in larger cities that these codes are a little more relaxed. Do not wear revealing clothing.
  • If invited into a home, always remove your shoes at the front door when entering.
  • Ask for permission when taking a photograph of someone. If they indicate that they do not want you to, then abide by their wishes. DO NOT offer money or push the issue.
  • Drink plenty of bottled water. During the summer months you should be drinking a minimum of two liters per day. If you drink tea, coffee & alcohol you should increase you water intake accordingly as these will help to dehydrate you.   
Don’ts
  • Never carry more money than you need when walking around the streets. Do not wear large amounts of jewelry. There are two reasons for not doing this: 
    (1) It is considered impolite to flaunt wealth in public; 
    (2) It is more likely that you may become a victim of a pickpocket or drive-by bag snatcher.
  • Don't be paranoid about your security, just be aware of your surroundings.
  • Don't wear singlets, shorts, dresses or skirts, or tops with low-neck lines and bare shoulders to Temples and Pagodas. To do this is considered extremely rude and offensive.
  • Avoid giving empty water bottles, sweets and candies or pens to the local people when trekking through ethnic minority villages. You cannot guarantee that the empty bottles will be disposed of in a correct manner, and the people have no access to dental health. If you want to give pens, ask your guide to introduce you to the local teacher and donate them to the whole community.
  • Never sleep or sit with the soles of your feet pointing towards the family altar when in someone’s house.
  • Never lose your temper in public or when bargaining for a purchase. This is considered a serious loss of face for both parties. Always maintain a cool and happy demeanor and you will be reciprocated with the same.
  • Do not try to take photographs of military installations or anything to do with the military. This can be seen as a breach of national security.
  • Never take video cameras into the ethnic minority villages. They are considered to be too intrusive by the local people.
The above advice is meant to help you have a perfect trip to Vietnam. Do not be overly paranoid though. Generally, Vietnamese people are very appreciative if they see you trying to abide by the customs, and very forgiving if you get it wrong or forget. If you make the effort, you will be rewarded.
9. Don´t leave home without...
Following advice is collected from LonelyPlanet Guidebook
Bring as little as possible, Vietnam has pretty much anything you can find back home.
Necessary documents: your  passport and  visa (with their copies); 2 photos (3cmx4cm), tour dossier (if any) and others (if needed).
Cash in US$5’s, US$10’s, US$20’s and US$100’s (US dollars are commonly acceptable)
All the soaps and smellies are cheap and plentiful, and clothing, shoes and backpacks are all manufactured in Vietnam and available at a fraction of the price in the West. Tampons are available in all major towns and cities, but not in more remote areas.
A Swiss-army knife or equivalent come in handy, but you don’t need 27 separate functions, just one blade and an opener. A torch (flashlight) and compass are also useful.
Other handy things to bring are: name cards, as Vietnamese deal them out like a deck of cards; ear plugs to block the ever-present noise; a universal plug adaptor; a rain cover for the backpack; a sweater for the highlands and air-con bus trips; mosquito repellent to keep the bugs at bay; and a folding umbrella if you plan to visit during the rainy season (July and August are the wettest months).
Finally, the secret of successful packing:  plastic bags – not only do they keep things separate and clean, but also dry. That means a lot at the end of a long, wet day.
10. Electricity in Vietnam
The usual voltage is between  220V and 240V,  50 cycles; but sometimes you encounter  110V, also at 50 cycles, just to confuse things.
Two-pin (ungrounded) plug is more popular than three-pin one. If you have any devices needing a special outlet, please bring its adapter kit. The best investment is a  universal AC adapter, which will enable you to plug it in anywhere without frying the innards.
 
11. Vietnamese typical food and drinks
Eating in Vietnam ranges from cheap noodle soups on the street for about 25 cents to a banquet in one of the luxury hotels. Vietnamese restaurants offer a broad selection of international fare including French, Italian, American, Indian, Chinese and Japanese.
The most typical Vietnamese food is  Pho, the noodle soup with meat in it. It is very cheap at around 10,000d per bowl and usually well spiced. The main types are: Pho Bo with beef, Pho Bo Tai with rare beef fillets and Pho Ga with chicken.  Com – steamed white rice is eaten for lunch and dinner.  Nuoc Mam is the fermented fish sauce used to spice absolutely everything in Vietnam.
Seasonal fruits such as dragon fruit, rambutans and longans, fresh vegetables and local seafood are widely available, although supply can vary by region and season. All fruits and vegetables should be  cooked or peeled before eaten.
Drinking water or ice is generally  not recommended, even in the cities. Bottled water is cheap and readily available, so we recommend you don't take the risk.
Vietnam is a  beer culture and Hanoi is the “bia hoi” capital of Vietnam.  Bia hoi (draught beer) is one of things you  should not be missed. It’s the most popular beverage throughout the country and the  cheapest beer in the world, 2,000d a glass. For the higher quality, there are plenty of local as well as imported brands, such as 333, Carlsberg, Hanoi, Tiger, Saigon, LaRue, San Miguel and Heineken.
Beside beer, Vietnam is also a place to enjoy  tea (Thai Nguyen tea or “Thai tea”),  coffee (“Trung Nguyen coffee”) or something heavier,  wine (“Nep Moi” – the Vietnamese whisky).
TIP:  Tram phan tram! and Zho zho!
Remember these words well as all over Vietnam, glasses of beer or wine are raised and emptied, cries of “100%” or “bottoms up” and “cheers!” echo around the table.
12. Vietnam travel health
Travellers tend to worry about contracting infectious diseases when in the tropics, but infections are a rare cause of serious illness or death in travellers. Pre-existing medical conditions such as heart disease, and accidental injury (especially traffic accidents), account for most life-threatening problems. Becoming ill in some way, however, is a relatively common thing. Fortunately, most common illnesses can either be prevented with some common-sense behaviour or be treated easily with a well-stocked traveller’s medical kit.
Heath care in Vietnam
Health issues and the quality of medical facilities vary enormously depending on where and how you travel in Vietnam. Many of the major cities are now very well developed, although travel to rural areas can expose you to a variety of health risks and inadequate medical care.
Some international hospitals/clinics in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (American, French and German doctors on staff)
In Hanoi: (tel code: 84-4)
  • Hanoi French Hospital
    1 Phuong Mai Str.
    Tel: 577-1100, emergency: 574-1111
  • Family Medical Practice 
    Unit 109-112, Van Phuc, Blog A1, Kim Ma Str.
    Tel: 843-0748 (24hours))
  • International SOS 
    31 Hai Ba Trung Str.
    Tel: 934-0666, emergency: 934-0555
  • Vietnam-Korea Friendship Hospital
    12 Chu Van An Str. 
    Tel: 843-7231
In Ho Chi Minh City: (tel code: 84-8)
  • International SOS
    65, Nguyen Du Str.
    Tel: 829-8520, emergency: 829-8424
  • Saigon International Clinic
    8 Alexandre de Rhodes Str., District 1
    Tel: 823-8888
  • Gia Dinh International Hospital
    1 Trang Long Str., Bin Thanh District
    Tel: 803-0678
  • Franco Vietnamese Hospital
    6 Nguyen Luong Bang Str., District 7
    Tel: 411-3333 
13. National public holidays in Vietnam
 01 January
New Year’s Day (Tet Duong Lich)
January or February 
(3 days)
Tet (Vietnamese New Year - Tet Am Lich)
March or April
Hung King's ceremony day
30 April
Liberation Day (Giai Phong Saigon - the day on which Saigon surrendered – 1945)
01 May
International Labour’s Day (Quoc te Lao Dong)
19 May
Ho Chi Minh’s birthday (1890)
Eighth day of the fourth moon (usually in June)
Buddha’s birthday (Phat Dan)
02 September
National Day (1945)
25 December
Christmas Day
14. Shopping in Vietnam
Vietnam has some fantastic shopping opportunities, so it’s well worth setting aside half a day or so to properly peruse. Hotspots include  Hanoi, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City, each of which has a temping selection of everything from avant-garde art to sumptuous silk suits.
Some of the best buys are as following:
Vietnamese Art & Antiques
There are several shops to hunt for art and antiques. Both traditional and modern paintings are a popular item. More sophisticated works are displayed in art galleries, while cheaper mass-produced stuff is touted in souvenir shops and by street vendors. A Vietnamese speciality is the “instant antique”, such as a teapot or ceramic dinner plate, with a price tag of around US$2.
As Vietnam has strict regulations on the export of real antiques, be sure the items are allowed out of the country. Most reputable shops can provide the necessary paperwork.
Vietnamese Clothing
Vietnam is emerging as a regional design center and there are some extravagant creations in the boutiques of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
Ao dai, the national dress for Vietnamese women, is a popular item to take home. Ready-made ao dai costs from US$ 10 to US$20, but custom numbers can cost a lot more. There are ao dai tailors nationwide, but those in the tourists centers are more familiar with foreigners.
Hill-tribe gear is winding its way to shops in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. It’s brightly patterned stuff, but you may need to set the dyes yourself so those colours don’t bleed all over the rest of your clothes.
T-shirts are ever popular items with travellers, cost from US$1 to US$4.
Non (conical hats) are favorite items for women in both rainy and sunny times. The best quality ones can be found in the Hue’s area.
Vietnamese Handicrafts
Hot items on the tourist market include lacquerware, boxes and wooden screens with mother-of-pearl inlay, ceramics, colourful embroidery, silk greeting cards, wood-block prints, oil paintings, watercolours, blinds made of hanging bamboo beads, reed mats, carpets, jewellery and leatherwork.
War Souvenirs
It’s easy to by what looks like equipment left over from the American War, but almost all of these items are reproductions and your chances of finding anything original are slim. The fake Zippo lighters engraved with platoon philosophy are still one of the hottest-selling items.
TIP:  Bargaining
Bargaining should be good-natured, smile and don’t get angry or argue. Once the money is accepted, the deal is done. Remember that in Asia, “saving face” is very important. In some cases you will be able to get a 50% discount or more, at other times this may only be 10%.
15. Tipping and donation in Vietnam
Tipping is not expected in Vietnam but it is enormously appreciated. You should consider tipping guides, drivers, and staffs at hotels or restaurants if they have done good jobs.
How much you should tip? It’s up to you and depended on the situation. A good guide normally receives US$10 or more per day. A good driver gets US$5-10 daily.
It’s considered proper to make a small donation at the end of visit to a pagoda, especially if a monk has shown you around; most pagodas have contribution boxes for this purpose.
 
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