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Impressions of Vietnam - FAQ
With such a rich and varied itinerary and so many aspects to touring Vietnam, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure about where to start preparing for the tour. We are here to help. Below, you'll find some useful information you'll need as you get ready for your Vietnamese adventure.
Vietnam is 11 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time in the United States. There is no daylight saving time in Vietnam, so in October the time will be 11 hours ahead of EST. When it's noon in Saigon, it's 11:00p.m. in New York and 8p.m. in San Francisco. On November 3, 2019 Daylight Savings Time will end in the United States, and at that time Vietnam will change to 12 hours ahead of Easter Standard Time.
There are many beautiful things to bring back with you from Vietnam, so make sure that you have enough space left in your suitcase. You do not need formal clothing for this trip. Some people like to dress up for dinner, but it is optional. Since we'll be walking quite a bit, you should pack your most comfortable walking shoes to bring with you. There is quite a variation in weather conditions and in temperatures between Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in the South and Hanoi in the North, so you may want to bring clothing for both hot and humid weather and for rainy and cool weather. You should bring both an umbrella for the rain and a hat for sun protection. We will be changing hotels and traveling by air several times during the tour, so your experience will be less stressful if your luggage is not too heavy and easily manageable. The domestic flights that we'll be taking allow checked-in luggage to be a maximum weight of 44 lbs., plus the carry-on luggage up to 15 lbs.
To enter Vietnam, visitors from the US, Canada and Australia need a passport, valid at least 6 months past the expected date of departure from the country. A tourist visa is also required. After receiving your final payment, we will send you an official invitation letter which is the basis for obtaining your tourist visa on arrival in Vietnam. The tourist visa is valid for 30 days and costs $25US, payable in clean US banknotes, without tears. You will also need to bring with you the printed invitation letter and two passport size photos. If you prefer, you can obtain your visa from any Vietnamese embassy, but it requires mailing your passport, and the cost is $65US. Before traveling abroad it's a good idea to make two photocopies of your passport, your driver's license and your credit cards. Leave one copy at home with a trusted person and another in your suitcase.
|ARRIVAL AND DEPARTURE INFORMATION |
This tour starts in Hanoi (airport code HAN) and ends in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City (airport code SGN).
The tour starts at 7:00PM on Tuesday, October 13, 2020 in Hanoi, so your flight should arrive no later than 5:00PM. You will probably depart North America in the morning of Monday, October 12 or the evening of Sunday, October 11. If you are prone to jet lag and travel fatigue, we recommend arriving a day early. We have arranged for individual airport transfers in accordance with your flight arrival time, and you will be met by a chauffeur on your arrival in Hanoi.
This tour ends on Saturday, October 24, 2020 in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City (airport code SGN). No activities are scheduled on the last day, so you can book your return flight any time during that day. If you are continuing on the post-tour optional extension to Cambodia, your group flight will leave for Siem Reap after breakfast on Monday, November 4th. If you need help with your flights to Vietnam, please feel free to give us a call.
To avoid jet lag (common when crossing more than five time zones), you should drink plenty of nonalcoholic fluids and eat light meals. Upon arrival, get exposure to natural sunlight, exercise and readjust your schedule (for meals, sleep and so on) as soon as possible.
The Vietnam tour group is limited to the maximum of 16 women + the tour director. The minimum group size is 6 women + the tour director. In addition to the tour director, travelers will be assisted by professional local guides and bus drivers, who will accompany the group throughout the tour.
The main health concerns in Vietnam and Cambodia are tropical diseases carried by mosquitoes: such as malaria, dengue fever, and Japanese encephalitis. The best way to avoid mosquito-borne diseases is to avoid being bitten. Repellents that contain between 25% and 50% DEET are the most effective. Also be aware that malaria mosquitoes bite most frequently around dawn and dusk, so exercise caution especially at those hours (wearing long sleeves and long trousers and burning mosquito coils is a good idea). Dengue-fever mosquitoes bite during the day. However, visitors to the major cities and standard coastal tour areas in Vietnam have a very low chance of contracting malaria. Be sure to peel all fruits and vegetables and avoid raw shellfish and seafood. Carrying antiseptic hand-washing liquid is also a good idea. Air quality is not good in the larger cities like Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, and visitors with respiratory concerns should be aware of this. Limit your exposure to the sun, especially during the first few days of your trip and between 11am to 2pm. Use a sunscreen with a high protection factor and apply it liberally. The only high-quality healthcare facilities are located in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). In rural areas, the local apothecary shop often acts as a catchall triage for what ails you, and over-the-counter medications are available anywhere from small storefront pharmacists who, with little more than a brief chat and description of a problem (with the use of a phrase book or some creative charades), will dole out affordable prescriptions for anything from antibiotics to sleeping pills. Pack prescription medications in your carry-on luggage and carry them in their original containers, with pharmacy labels, otherwise they might not make it through airport security. Carry the generic name of prescription medicines, in case a local pharmacist is unfamiliar with the brand name.
Tap water is not potable in Vietnam. Outside of top-end hotels and restaurants, drink only beverages without ice, unless the establishment promises that it manufactures its own ice from clean water. Bottled mineral water, particularly the reputable La Vie and A&B brands, is everywhere. Counterfeits are a problem, so make sure you're buying the real thing, with an unbroken seal. Beware of big typos: "La Vile" water speaks for itself. Always drink bottled water (never use tap water for drinking). To be safe, you should even brush your teeth with bottled water.
You won't find public toilets or "restrooms" on the streets in most cities in Vietnam, but they can be found in hotel lobbies, bars, restaurants, museums, department stores, and gas stations. Be sure to carry tissues, as some of the restrooms do not have toilet paper. Large hotels and fast-food restaurants are often the best bet for clean facilities. Some of the public toilets may be Asian style (squat). Please keep in mind that some public toilets may require payment, so you should always have some small bills in the local currency with you to pay for them.
Overall, the security risk to travelers in Vietnam is low. Violent crime is almost nonexistent, and most incidents of street crime consist of theft of unattended items and pickpocketing. Try to stick to the well-traveled roads, especially at night; walking down dark alleys is never safe in any country. Western visitors may attract curiosity, and it is not unusual to hear greetings from complete strangers or to be asked to pose for a photo. The Vietnamese concept of personal space may be different than what you are used to in the US, but if the attention is unwanted then politely but firmly excuse yourself from the friendly inspection.
Women traveling alone in Vietnam face no particular safety issues, and common sense should keep anyone safe. No particular vigilance is required for female travelers, as violent crime is minimal in Vietnam, but the usual precautions about walking alone at night and hitchhiking certainly apply, as anywhere. "Catcalling" happens but is rarely sinister or followed by any action.
During the Impressions of Vietnam tour, we will travel by private bus, while some touring will be done by food, by a cyclo, and we will spend some time cruising Ha Long Bay by a boat. To be able to fully enjoy the tour and participate in scheduled activities, you need to be able to walk, at a leisurely pace, up to 4 miles throughout the day, frequently on uneven surfaces and on cobble stoned streets. You should be able to stand unassisted for up to 30 minutes, you should be able to climb stairs, get in and out of vehicles without assistance and manage your own luggage without assistance. Overall, this trip is not strenuous, although it is filled with outdoor activities, sometimes in hot weather.
Vietnam has a tropical climate with a hot, rainy season from May to September and a warm, dry season from October to March. Weather unpredictability is a major factor and it can rain any time during the year. The average daytime temperature for October in north Vietnam (Hanoi and Ha Long Bay) is about 77°F; in central Vietnam (Hoi An and Hue) is around 84°F; and in south Vietnam (Saigon, Mekong Delta) averages 86°F.
Internet access in Vietnam is quite sporadic, but in constant development. In tourist areas and developed cities, it is easy to find cyber cafes or public places providing cheap wireless Internet. Most hotels offer WiFi or high-speed Internet, although some may charge for the service. Pre-paid cell phones can be bought with affordable international calling, as well.
Vietnam's electricity carries 220 volts, so if you're coming from North America, you should bring a converter and adapter for electronics. Plugs are either the standard European type (C) with two round prongs or the standard North American type (A) with two flat prongs. If you're bringing a laptop, bring a surge protector.
Vietnamese is the official language of Vietnam. Older residents speak and understand French, and young folks are busily learning Chinese these days. While English is widely spoken by people in the tourism and service industry in Hanoi and Saigon, it is harder to find in other tourist destinations.
The Vietnamese currency is Vietnamese Dong (VND), and US dollars are widely accepted. During your trip, the most useful Vietnam Dong bills will be upwards of 10,000 VND. There are smaller bills (which are also physically smaller than the more frequently used bills of 10,000 VND and up) of 1,000 VND, 2,000 VND, and 5,000 VND, which are handy when making small purchases as drinks or snacks. For the most part, bills are distinguishable by color: The 500,000 VND is light blue, 100,000 VND is green, and 20,000 VND is dark blue. Be mindful of the 10,000 VND, 50,000 VND, and 200,000 VND notes: all are pinkish-red and are quite similar to each other.
ATM service is good in most cities and the machines accept four-digit PINs. Credit cards are widely accepted, though many smaller companies, such as tour agencies or boutique hotels, will charge a 2% or 3% commission. All hotels can do business in U.S. dollars. In some parts, everybody down to the smallest shop vendor quotes prices in U.S. dollars, and particularly the big-ticket items are best handled with dollars instead of large stacks of local currency.
While dealing in U.S. dollars can make things easier, always keep in mind the local currency values, so you know if you're being charged the correct amount or are given the correct change (usually in Vietnamese currency). Keep a good supply of $1US bills and/or 20,000 VND bills; these will come in handy when paying for cab and motorcycle rides.
Tipping is common in Vietnam. Tipping for group dining is included in the cost of the tour, but when you are dining on your own, some upscale restaurants add a service surcharge of 5% to 10%. If they don't, or if the service is good, you might want to leave another 5%. For tour guides, the standard international tipping amount is $10US per person per day and for the drivers, it's $5US per person per day. Tipping the guides and the drivers is not required, but it is appreciated, especially if they provided good service and/or have been particularly helpful.
What should you bring home from Vietnam? The popular items include clothing made from quality silk such as ao dai, the traditional long blouse and pants. Conical Vietnamese hats are another common souvenir, and handicrafts are plentiful: lacquerware vases, trays, rosewood boxes, wood-block prints, oil or watercolor paintings, ceramics, and leather works. When buying expensive items, beware that counterfeit "antiques" can be found in the market, as well as fake gems - if you don't have an expert with you to certify authenticity, stick to highly recommended outlets rather than street vendors for high-end purchases. The art of bargaining is a good skill to have in Vietnam, but remember to be polite, and smile - vendors are happy to haggle, but the aggressive approach is not the way to go. In Hoi An, there are dozens of tailor shops where you can have custom clothing, or even shoes, made to measure at a very low cost.