VIETNAM TRAVEL TIPS
Vietnam, officially Socialist Republic of Vietnam, covers an area of 332,000 square kilometers. It share borders with China in the north, Laos and Cambodia in the West and the Pacific Ocean in the East. With population of more than 86 million, it is the most populated country in Southeast Asia. Mainly of population is Vietnamese living with others 53 ethnic groups including Chinese, Muong, Thai, H’mong, Khmer, Meo, Cham, Tay, Nung. Vietnam’s geography varies from low, flat delta in the south and north to hilly, mountainous terrace in the central, far in the northwest. Three – quarters of Vietnam is hilly and Mountainous, there are 2 large delta are Red river delta in the north and Mekong delta in the south, this is 2 main rice basket of Vietnam.Vietnam, once a forbidden country for tourists, now attracts millions visitor every years. Rich culture, strong tradition and friendly people make characterize of country. This exotic destination offers such wonders as magical islands set in pristine waters as well as historic, cultural sites likes temples pagodas and a listed of world heritage. Travelling to Vietnam will be an unforgettable experience and will leave visitors deeply impressed.
AIR PORT TAX: All the airport tax and fees are included in the flight ticket from November 2006 except some budget airlines
CUSTOMS and FORMALITIES: All visitors when arrival to Vietnam must fill the declaration forms and show their luggage to customs officials on request. Visitors can bring unlimited amounts of foreign currency, objects made of gold, silver, precious metals and gemstones or plated with silver or gold, all of these things must be declared in detail on the customs forms.
ENTRY: Tourists are authorized to bring in the following items duty-free: Cigarettes: 400,Cigars: 50-100,Tobacco: 100 gram,Liquor: 1.5l.
Gilt: small gift items valued at not more than US$ 500.
Note: 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.
It is prohibited for any visitor to bring into Vietnam the followings:
1. Weapons, explosives and inflammable objects.
2. Opium and other narcotics.
3. Cultural materials unsuitable to Vietnamese society.
EXIT: 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.
REGISTRATION: Hotels and private hosts must register your presence with the police. You will be expected to hand over your passport, together with your visa number. It is suggested to photocopy your passport details several times and than hand this copy in instead of your original passport.
COURTESY: Vietnamese people are very friendly, polite and generous in general and will make every effort to have foreign guests feel comfortable. In the cities and country towns alike, do not be surprised to be invited home to meet the family of someone you have just met, these are the experiences that will enrich your visit to Vietnam.
We are conservative in our dress. Wearing shorts are tolerated, unless you enter a culturally sensitive area such as a temple or pagoda. Keep in mind that, although tolerant, people may be judgmental.
Unfortunately, there are still some problems with petty theft and pickpockets. This is more prevalent in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Nha Trang. You should not be paranoid about this but just be aware of your surroundings
FOOD: The Vietnam cuisine would bring a surprising gift for visitors and definitely a part of Vietnam experience not to be missed. One of the characteristics of Vietnamese food is that it is always fresh being purchased the same day from market. Food is usually prepared with minimum of oil and served with Fish sauce. Some Typical Vietnamese dishes you can expect to try include Pho ( a kind of rice noodle with beef or chicken), Cha gio ( Pork pie or Beef pie), Deep fried spring rolls, Goi ngo sen ( a kind of salad including lotus root, shirms, peanut, herb). Vietnamese is influence by Buddhism so vegetarian food is widely available.
ELECTRICITY: Mainly 220V but in some areas 110V is also used. The 2 prongs plug is suggested to bring.
TELECOM: International phone charges are steep in Vietnam and many hotels, especially up market ones add extra fees. International phone would suggest to be made by internet phone at some internet cafe is much cheaper.
Faxes can be sent from hotels bussiness centers and post offices. Again rates vary. You will be able to use your mobile phone as long as it is programmed for roaming internationally. You may also rent a mobile phone, which may be easier, or buy a pre-paid phone card. There are several mobile telecom company got widely cover like Vinaphone, Mobiphone, Viettel, be side that is S-phone in main city.
E-mail and Internet services are available in most hotels and posts in Vietnam. In major cities, there are also a number of internet cafes available.
USEFUL TELEPHONE NUMBERS
National Domestic Direct Dialing Access Code
International Direct Dialing Access Code
Social and Cultural Information Clearing up Queries Service
WATER: It is not advisable to drink the tap water in Vietnam, but bottled mineral water is safe and available everywhere. Ice in drinks is generally Ok in good standard hotels and restaurants but it is best to avoid it on street stalls or in country areas.
BUSINESS HOURS: Offices are usually open from Monday to Friday from 07.30 or 08:00 until 16:30 or 17:00 and often close for lunch between 11:30 to 13:00. Some offices are also open on satuday morning or whole day. Shops and Restaurants open early and close at about 18:00 and 22:00. Most of the shops open 7 days a week.
CURRENCY and EXCHANGE: Vietnam currency is Dong (VND) bank note are available of 200VND; 500VND; 1000VND; 2000VND; 5000VND; 10,000VND; 20,000VND; 50,000VND; 100,000VND; 200,000VND; 500,000VND. The exchange rate at this time of typing (January 2011) is vnd 20,700vnd to one US dollar.
Most of hotel and restaurant in main city are accepted credit card, you also can use your credit card to withdraw money at ATM in all the main city in Vietnam.
WHAT TO BRING: One medium sized back pack and a day pack bag will provide enough room for you to carry during the trip in Vietnam. There are plenty of goods available at all main city so don’t be worry about running out of somethings. You can follow some demo check list as below.
- Wearing: Lightweight and quick dry clothing for summer months and warmer clothing for the winter months, sun hat, swimming suite, raincoat or umbrella, good hiking shoes
- Travel documental: Passport, visa, travel insurance, air tickets, a torch, alarm clock, sunglasses, Sunscreen, insect repellent, personal first aid kit, cable lock, personal toiletries.
- Money: US dollars or travelers cheque or credit card, most of hotel and restaurant in vietnam accept credit card.
LANGUAGE:Vietnamese is the only official language of Vietnam and spoken by great majority of the population (around 90%), those who do not speak it is largely ethnic minorities in the rural highlands. vietnamese itself was originally written in Chinese characters, which is adapted to fit the indigenous vocabulary, the Chinese transcrition was called Nôm. in Seventeenth century French Jesuit misionary Alexandre de Rhodes adapted Vietnamese to Latin alphabet, using an ingenious system of diacriticals to transcribe the tonal qualities of words. The result call Quoc Ngu ( National language) and today it is exclusive written form of Vietnamese.
* Foreigner languages: Special for English is popular among young people. Tourist guides are available for English, French, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, German, Russian, Spainish.
* Some useful words and phrares when you travel to Viet nam
I am sorry
Toi xin loi
It is too expensive
Chao tam biet
See you again
Hen gap lai
Toi an chay
I do not know
Toi khong biet
International new year
28 Jan – 31Jan
Lunar new year
INSURANCE and HOSPITAL: It is advise to buy the travel insurance at your country before your trip start.
* Useful telephone and address of Vietnam Hospital:
Bach Mai hospital
Sait Paul hospital
Viet Duc hospital
Vietnam – France hospital
IN HO CHI MINH
Cho Ray hospital
Vietnam – France hospital
Hung Vuong hospital
Sai Gon general hospital
IN DA NANG
AIRPORT TAX :
International airport tax: US $ 10 per outgoing international passenger at Vientiane Wattay airport, at Luang Prabang and Pakse airports.
Domestic airport tax: US $ 0.5 per outgoing domestic passenger at all domestic airports.
Laos – 3rd edition 2003 – Asia Horizons – Pat Parisot and Vincent Marchand
Laos – 4th edition 2002 – Lonely Planet – Joe Cummings
Luang Prabang – 2001 – SEAMEO Regional Center for Archeology and Fine Arts – Barbara Pavlic
Treasures of Luang Prabang – 2000 - Editions Routes de la Soie – H. Rattanavong, B. Siripaphanh, M. Derepas and P. Gay
Petit Fute Laos - 1999 - Nouvelles Editions de l`Universite – Collectif
Laos – 1999 – Hirmer – Ann Helen and Walter Unger
Laos Handbook – 1998 – Footprint Handbook, Joshua Eliot and Jane Bickersteth
Treasures of Laos – 1997 - Editions Routes de la Soie – H. Rattanavong, B. Siripaphanh, M. Derepas and P. Gay
Lao Textiles and Traditions – 1995 – Oxford University Press – Mary F. Connors
Laos can be visited throughout the year. However those planning to travel extensively by road in the Northern part of the country and/or in the south of the Boloven Plateau should avoid the last two months of the rainy season when some countryside roads may be impassable.
Laos enjoys a tropical climate with three distinct seasons. The dry or cool season begins end of October and lasts until end of February (average 20-25° C). Take along a pullover or jacket during the cool season, as nights can be cold, especially in the mountainous areas such as Luang Prabang, the Plain of Jars, Saravane and Houeixai (0-5° C). The hot season lasts from March to June, light cotton clothes and hats are recommended (average 35° C). From June to early October is the rainy season (average 25-30° C). Most precipitations come in the afternoon and in the evening. Rainfall varies considerably from area to area with the highlands in the Phou Louang range along Lao / Vietnam border receiving the more precipitation (300+ mms per year). Vientiane average 150/200 mms per year and Luang Prabang 100/150 mms per year.
Visitors traveling between end of March and beginning of April should be aware that in the mountainous areas, slash and burn cultivation causes smoke that alters the weather. Domestic flights may also be delayed or cancelled.
CURRENCY AND EXCHANGE:
The local currency is the KIP. Notes come in denominations of 100, 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10.000 and 20.000 Kips.
The rate of exchange as per the time of printing is approximately 10,450 Kip to one US Dollar and 13,340 Kip to one Euro. In Vientiane, notes of most international currencies can be exchanged either at banks or at licensed moneychangers. Outside Vientiane, most provincial banks and licensed moneychangers accept only US Dollars, Thai Bahts and sometimes Euros. Only major banks accept traveler’s cheques. It is best to carry U.S Dollar bills in small denominations. Credit cards are accepted only at major hotels and up-market shops and restaurants in Vientiane and Luang Prabang.
CUSTOMS AND FORMALITIES:
Arrivals at Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Pakse International airport are generally rather casual events. Carry-on bags are usually not inspected if that is all you have brought. For checked-in baggage, when claimed at counter, passengers are sometimes required to declare if they have brought antiques and silver items with them. Simple formalities should be observed also when entering the country overland.
Passengers have to complete immigration and customs declaration forms during the arrival flight or upon arrival and must submit these documents on arrival. Discovery Indochina representative or guide will meet travelers at the exit point in the arrival hall after immigration and customs clearance. Our representative or guide will display a Discovery Indochina signboard with the name of guests or group for easy recognition.
The electric current is 220 volts AC, 50 cycles.
Starting from July 2005, Lao Airlines operates domestic flights from Vientiane Wattay airport on Turboprop ATR 72 for main domestic destinations such as Luang Prabang, Houei Xay, Xiengkhouang, Oudomxay, and Pakse, and Y 12 Chinese aircrafts for other domestic destinations such as Luang Namtha and Samneua. From province to province, domestic flights are operated on Y 12. International flights are operated either on Turboprop ATR 72.
Lao Airlines & Thai Airways International operate daily flights from / to Bangkok.
It is possible to fly daily from / to Hanoi, four times a week from / to Ho-Chi-Minh City and six times a week from / to Phnom Penh with Lao Airlines or Vietnam Airlines. Lao Airlines operates three times a week from / to Siem Reap and Chiang Mai and twice a week from / to Kunming ( Yunnan, China ) , China Eastern flies once a week from / to Kunming.
Eva Air flies from Taipei to Vientiane twice a week .
Direct flights from / to Bangkok are operated daily by Bangkok Airways which flies also five times a week to Danang. Lao Airlines operates three times a week from / to Chiang Mai .
Thai Airways International flies twice a week Chiangmai to /from Luang Prabang .
Lao Airlines operates directs flights three flights a week from / to Siem Reap .
Baggage allowance on international flights and between Vientiane and Luang Prabang is limited to 20 kg per person and 15 kg on other routes. Baggage can be stored at hotels until return.
Domestic flights in Laos are prone to last minute schedule changes and cancellation without ANY advance notice, especially during the peak travel season of October through March. It is not uncommon for flights to be delayed or even canceled once passengers have checked-in at the airport. Discovery Indochina Laos makes every effort to keep clients informed about flight timings, however, travelers must be reminded of the vagaries of air travel due to local weather conditions, etc. Our offices will advise you of any change affecting your itinerary and if required will book alternative travel plans. These may be at a reduced or increased cost. Should there be an increase in cost. Should there be a reduction in cost and a refund will be considered if any.
Laos has abundant food supplies and their cuisine is simple and fresh. Sticky rice is the staple of the Lao diet and food is enhanced by such spices as lemongrass, hot chilly , peanuts, coconut milk and ginger. In addition to Lao cuisine, the larger hotels also serve a wide variety of Continental, Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine. In the smaller cities, when the hotels only have one restaurant, ordering a-la-carte may involve a slight wait, consequently it is advised that you take advantage of the large and diverse buffets available at these hotels to minimize any delay.
Never drink (or brush your teeth with) water from the hotel tap, no matter what category of hotel you are staying in. Bottled mineral water is available at all hotels throughout Laos. Do not have any ice in your drinks as this is often made from water that has not been purified. The most popular beverage in Laos is the domestically produced Beer Lao. Lao coffee, grown in the fertile south of the country, is some of the best in the world.
All Discovery Indochina tours are based on full board arrangements with Continental or American breakfast, lunch and dinner. For full day excursions or overland journeys, picnic lunch can be provided if no adequate restaurants are available.
Use an insect repellant against mosquitoes, especially when traveling up-country and in forested areas.
Since Laos has a hot and humid tropical climate, casual and light clothing is best all year round, preferably made from natural fibers. A sweater or jacket may be useful in hill areas, particularly during winter months, when evenings can be quite cold. A windproof jacket is essential when touring along Mekong River during November to February. An umbrella or raincoat is recommended if visiting the country during the monsoon months (June-September). A hat and a high-factor sun block cream are advisable a protection against the hot tropical sun when sightseeing outdoors. Shoes are generally removed at the entrance to temples.
Color standard films (such as Kodak, Konica or Fuji) are available in the main cities. But slide films, B/W films, video films and camera batteries as well as any specialized photo or video equipment should be brought with you. Photography and video in airports and near any military installations and government offices are forbidden and discretion should be observed when photographing people especially monks and hill tribes.
Useful, too, is a flashlight, for exploring caves or details of temples interiors, which are often not properly illuminated.
An adequate supply of any essential medication should be brought along, as certain medicines may not be available locally. A spare pair of eyeglasses or contact lenses is also advisable. Extra personal insurance is recommended in case of illness, or situations where medical evacuation by air is required, as Laos hospitals are generally not up to international standards.
HOW TO GET TO LAOS:
By air: Presently, Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Pakse are the three international airports where arrival / departure of international passengers is allowed.
Overland: The country can be entered or exited overland at the following immigration checkpoints, which are open daily from 08.30 AM to 05.00 PM:
* Friendship Bridge from / to Nongkhai (Thailand) crossing Mekong River by shuttle bus (from 06.00 AM to 10.00 PM)
* Houei Xay by crossing Mekong River by ferry from / to Chiangkhong (Thailand) (from 08.00 AM to 06.00 PM)
* Thakek from / to Nakhon Phanom (Thailand) by ferry
* Vangtao from / to Chongmek and Ubon Ratchatani (Thailand)
* Savannakhet from / to Mukdahan (Thailand), actually by ferry. At the end of 2006, the bridge crossing Mekong river will be completely finished
* Sam Neua ( Nameo) / Pa Hang on route N0 6 to Vietnam
* Nonghet, Xiengkhouang Province, from / to Nam Kan (Vietnam)
* Denesavanh from / to Lao Bao (Vietnam)
* Namphao, Borikhamxay province, from / to Lak Sao (Vietnam)
* Tong Kham /Chalo , route N0 12, which link Thakek to Vinh or Dong Hoi (Vietnam)
* Attapeu/Kontum (Bo-Y border)
* Veunkham from / to Stung Treng (Cambodia) by boat
* Boten, Luang Namtha province, from / to Bohan and Mengla (Yunnan, China)
Laos is at the first stage for Internet global network. Following are the Internet addresses, which provide relevant information on Laos
The official language of Lao PDR is Lao. It is spoken throughout the country as well as the Vientiane’s dialect. In spite of the colonial past, French remains the second language and English is in common use among business sectors and young generations, even though they are not widely spoken except in the capital and in major tourist sites such as Luang Prabang.
Laos runs at GMT + 7 hours, it lies in the same time zone as its neighbors Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.
Working hours: Government offices are generally open Monday to Friday from 08.00 AM – 12.00 PM, and from 01.00 – 04.00 PM. Shop and private business offices open and close a bit later and usually stay open during lunchtime.
Discovery Indochina Laos opens from 08.00 – 12.00 PM, and from 01.30 – 05.30 PM from Monday to Friday. On Saturday, we open only in the morning from 08.00 – 12.00 PM.
The National Biodiversity Conservation Area (NBCA) system was established in Lao PDR in 1993. NBCAs are multi-purpose areas and not national parks in the conventional sense. This means people live inside the NBCA and harvest some animals and plants as rural livelihoods. There are 19 NBCAs in the whole country. Currently the NBCAs have very different levels of access to foreigners.
There are many unique animals still found in Laos, but they are hard to see, because they are still hunted. Several animal species are on the verge of extinction. To slow these declines, do not buy or eat wildlife in the restaurants and be very careful with fire especially during the dry season.
People living in the NBCAs often belong to minority ethnic groups. When traveling in these areas, please dress modestly and respect local traditions. Do not touch anything that may be of religious significance and always ask before taking close-up portraits. Also do not give anything to the children and do not give medicine but to a doctor or a nurse.
POST AND COMMUNICATION:
The General Post Office (GPO) is located next to the Morning Market in Vientiane. Its branches are available in the main cities and almost in all the districts through the country. It offers postal services and public telephone for local, national and international calls. In the major cities, telephone card cabins are available for domestic and overseas calls. Phone cards can be purchased at the shops nearby or at Lao Telecom Company. Most hotels in the main cities have IDD lines but calls are expensive. Mobile phones are also largely used in the main cities but roaming works only with Thai operators and the coverage does not extend to the whole country. The normal mail service is inexpensive and generally reliable. For urgent or valuable mail (either or to /from Laos), it is advisable to use EMS or other courier service.
PASSPORT AND VISAS :
Visas are required by all nationalities (subject to exceptions for local neighboring people and ASEAN countries )
Visas can be obtained either from Lao Embassies and Consulates abroad or upon arrival at following immigration checkpoints:
* Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Pakse airports
* Friendship Bridge in Vientiane (opposite Nongkhai, Thailand)
* Houei Xay (opposite Chiangkhong, Thailand)
* Boten, Luang Namtha province (opposite Bohan, Yunnan, China)
* Nonghet, Xiengkhouang Province (opposite Nam Kan, Vietnam).
* Savannakhet (opposite Mukdahan, Thailand)
* Denesavanh (opposite Lao Bao, Vietnam)
* Vangtao (opposite Chongmek, Thailand)
* Namphao, Borikhamxay Province (opposite of Lak Sao, Vietnam)
* Thakek (opposite Nakhon Phanom, Thailand)
Important note: Travelers arriving from Cambodia overland at Veunkham immigration checkpoint must have their Lao visa arranged and stamped prior to arrival at the Laotian border.
The visa fee is US$ 30 per person, 2 passport photos are required for each visa application.
FRI02 DEC Lao National Day
MON02 JAN International New year
THU08 MAR International Women Day
THU12 APR Lao New Year
FRI13 APR Lao New Year
SAT14 APR Lao New Year
TUE01 MAY Labor Day
If any of the holidays listed above falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the pre or post working day might also be observed as a holiday.
Many handicrafts can be found at the common markets. The Morning Market (Talaat Sao) in Vientiane is known for its superior silk weaving, metal work, and woodcarving. The Central Market in Luang Prabang also offers a great variety of souvenirs, from silk weaving, Sa paper handicraft, silver items, basketworks to hill tribes’ costumes and jewelry. In Luang Prabang, traditional Hmong embroideries are to be found at the ethnic market as well as at the night market. Up market handicraft stores are available in Vientiane and Luang Prabang.
Travelers should avoid purchasing antiques and other cultural pieces, such as bronze drums or gongs and Buddha images. Since the export of antiques is subject to the approval of Ministry of Culture, souvenirs may thus be seized when leaving the country. If you travel in from a neighboring country and have bought any antiques or silver pieces, when arriving in Laos, you are recommended to declare these items to customs.
Bargaining is essential for all souvenirs shopping because most of shops do not stick selling prices on the items . Reduction may vary from 10-20%.
Silk and cotton are woven in different styles according to the techniques of each province. The best place to buy is in the villages themselves, where you can watch the weaving process and get wholesale prices.
The artisans produce well-crafted carvings in wood, bone and stone. Subjects can be everything from Hindu and Buddhist mythology to themes from every day life. Pipes seem to be plentiful in Laos and sometimes have intricately carved bone or bamboo shafts, along with engraved ceramic bowls. To shop for carving, look in antique or handicraft stores.
Please be aware that what may be described as authentic or valuable items such as gems, high value antiques or carpets are often fakes or highly overpriced. Several stores will offer you certificates of authenticity. In most Local shopping is ALWAYS at the discretion of the traveler.
The Northern hill tribes and Luang Prabang people do some of the best silverwork in Laos. Gems such sapphires and rubies are also sometimes available. However, jewelry is generally not up to international standards and buyers should use caution when purchasing gems.
Clients are NOT OBLIGED to visit any shops at the urging of the local guide or drivers. We make every effort to remind guides that clients are not to be pressured in any way regarding shopping.
Tipping is at the discretion of the client and is not required and obligatory . For those clients traveling on a group tour your tipping for porterage and all specified sightseeing is included. All of your guides have been fully pre-paid and you are under no obligation to tip them. However, if you feel that they have been particularly helpful and informative any tip you may wish to give is at your discretion and will be in addition to the tips paid to them on your behalf.
Depending on the road conditions of each province, visitors are provided with bus, minibus or car, most of the time with air-conditioning, for the excursions. In the remote areas as well as in the Northern part of Laos where the road condition is still poor, the transportation will be either by pick-up or 4x4 wheel drive and mostly non-air conditioned vehicles.
Yellow fever: Not obligatory if the travelers come from Europe
Japanese encephalitis: For long trips in rural area only
Hepatitis A: Vaccination is recommended
Hepatitis B: Vaccination is recommended
Rabies: Advisable if on a long or adventures trip
Tenatus – Poliomylitis: Check if your vaccination is up-to-date
Typhoid: Vaccination is recommended
Malaria: The country is classified as a zone 3 countries: Consult your doctor before your departure.
Cambodia shares borders in the north with Laos and Thailand , in the east with Vietnam and in the Southwest with the Gulf of Thailand. The landscape comprises tropical rainforest and fertile cultivated land traversed by many rivers. In the northeast area rise highlands. The capital is located at the junction of the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers. The latter flows from a large inland lake, also called Tonle Sap, situated in the centre of the
country. There are numerous offshore islands along the southwest coast. The Mekong River which flows through the country, and the Tonle Sap Lake is the lifeline of the people who live along the waterways. The Tonle Sap lake is one of the richest sources of fresh
water fish in the world.
Area: 181,035 sq km (69,898 sq miles).
Of the 12 million people, about 90% are ethnic Khmers. There are several minorities such as Chams Vietnamese and Chinese. Population density 70.6 per sq km.
Phnom Penh. The population is around 1.3 million (2001)
Local Time : 7 Hours ahead of GMT.