Vietnam, the Early Chapter 1

Travel Introduction and Tips

UNESCO: Halong Bay, North Vietnam, March, 2012
Although exploring the World Heritage sites in Vietnam is not hard in terms of geography. However, it is not easy, if the places are not popular. With the language barrier and some tasks waiting.
In the time of writing, Vietnam is listed of seven UNESCO World Heritage sites, most are popular destinations that could buy tours or to do by yourself. Buses or public transportations are available. However 1-2 destinations may not convenient and have insufficient information to visit. In addition, restrictions on travel in the socialist country in the period of rapid change and other aspects are factors. We need to understand and be prepared to travel smoothly and impressed with the charm of World Heritages of Vietnam.

My Tho Pier, Mekong Delta, South Vietnam, March 2012
I write this issue because I can't rely on any information from guidebooks, websites, tour guides and even hotel staffs about weather in Vietnam. Frankly, Vietnam climate is difficult to forecast. It's impossible to visit throughout Vietnam in good weather in the same period.

Vietnam is divided into three regions as Northern, Central and Southern, 1650km long from north to south. High season for tourism in each region will be different.

I went in March. For the North as Hanoi, Halong Bay and Ninh Binh had cold weather, drizzle of rain all day and poor visibility.  There was no sunlight, slushy and muddy. Photograph taking was not interesting.

When traveling to the Northern and Central regions, such as the Phong Nha, Hue and Hoi An weather warmed up. Cloudy with sunny to rain and drizzle. Some days were beautiful. Swimming in the river and sea was possible although water was quite cold.

Southern part such as Ho Chi Minh City and Mekong Delta was strong sun with a little sticky, heavy rain, but a brief. Different temperatures 15-25c from the Northern.

Vietnam has been influenced of typhoon and monsoon may be a barrier to travel. The storm caused flooding may cause the sudden cancellation of travel.

Language Barrier
Most Vietnamese do not speak and understand English, even the policemen, except people working in Hotel Management and Hospitality.

I had never seen government's tourist information centres in any tourist areas. I found a young man trying to get donation for needy children after acting as university student who was doing questionnaire from foreign tourists within area of ​​Ho Chi Minh Museum. When I went to report it to the police, he did not understand English.

A tip to communicate with the Vietnamese is the correct pronunciation such as street names. Street names are repeated in every city. They are the name of kings and heroes such as Hai Ba Trung, Nguyen Thai Hoc and Le Thai To.

To purchase tickets write down short words on paper. Vietnamese use the Roman alphabet like English.

Mobile Phone Usage
I bought a Viettel prepaid sim card at Noi Bai Airport for 150,000 VND and never top up throughout 20 days in Vietnam.

Air time fare is much cheaper than roaming service from abroad and possible to call back home conveniently.

Don't forget to ask the salesperson for international call code and other necessary information. The amount of digit phone number is varied in Vietnam.

Drinking Water
Retail business in North Vietnam is different from Central and South. There are fewer grocery stores in Hanoi than Ho Chi Minh City. I hardly found modern convenient stores. They have two-tier price for foreigners to pay more. And we cannot know the real prices.

Drinking water for foreigners in Hanoi for a small bottle is 10,000 VND and 1.5ml bottle is 15,000-20,000 VND. Bottles of water in the rooms of some hotels may not be the complimentary. Ask the staff beforehand is better.

While I bought fixed price water from the supermarket of Co Op in Hue; for a small bottle 3,000-4,000 VND and 1.5ml bottle 7,000-8,000 VND. I could buy fair price drinking water at any minimarts around Pham Ngu Lao in HCMC.

Do not forget to carry a bottle of water when you out. In the North, tour packages include meals, excluding water and beverages. They sell them to thirsty tourists by expensive prices. You may feel like an overnight stay on board at the World Heritage "Halong Bay" is not memorable. Drinking water on the junk is costly. This was less the case in Central and South.

Tour price: inclusive or not
Some tour packages may not be included the admission fee to visit places of interest. The visitors have to pay extra costs such as boat or bike rental, drinking water, food and drink. Consider by tour operator's reputation, package price, details specified in the itinerary, group size, our instinct and luck. We book the tour from agents, sometime they don't know the whole details either or they are liars!

Buying directly from the tour operator or through reputable tour desk of the top rated hotels which tend to take care of customers is the smart way to reduce risk.

Money Exchange
Vietnam is a country with high inflation rate every year. Products and services price may be much different from previous years. VND currency has a lot of zero. To carry a calculator is the good idea.

Exchanging money at the banks get better rate than exchange shops; some bank officials work with courtesy, transparency and understanding that foreigners may be easily confused with a lot of money with zero. They please provide an explanation with a receipt. Some officials may not have any documentation or explanation with sulky faces. I got a banknote with tear at the end. I didn't notice during the exchange.

If they are the independence money exchange shops. Please ask for the rate first. Because you may be mistaken from bank's rate at the near panel, which is not related to money exchange shop in any way. This occured to me at Ho Chi Minh Post Office. Fortunately, it was only 10USD. If you need to exchange money with these outlets should be a small amount of money for immediate use only.

There are some guides to exchange money at gold shops or jewelry shops which provide the best rate. I do not have this experience and is concerned to count the amount of millions in the place like this.

I appreciate the exchange service of BaoViet Bank, Huan Kiem Lake and have been the client of TechCom Bank at Noi Bai Airport (Hanoi). They are professional.

Cheap Camera Shop in Hanoi
My camera was broken while in Hanoi need to buy new. This is above and beyond. The dealer sells products such as Sony, Nikon and Canon cheaper than Bangkok with warranty and premium. However, there are not many models to choose from.

Camera shops in Hanoi, there are many stores around the Huan Kiem Lake. Metropole Hanoi Hotel staff recommended me to go to the store on Hang Bai Street named Digi World. It's the large gadget centre with courteous staff that speaks English.

In Case of Passport Lost

Go to police station for report issue. Take the report to the embassy.
Go to your embassy for Certificate of Identity (CI).
Certificate of Identity be used instead of passport for travel abroad.

For convenience you should ask the hotel staffs or someone you trust to assist and interpret with the police. There is a possibility that you have to pay some bucks to police (10-15USD).

Do not forget the passport copies.
Your embassy's address and telephone number in Vietnam.
For further details and others such as visa extensions: Vietnam Immigration Department, 40A Hang Bai Street, Hanoi

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