"I fell in love with Vietnam the minute I stepped off the aircraft into the warm humid air of Saigon; and by the time I was seated in a small family run restaurant that evening, tucking into a bowl of steaming noodles, I was completely besotted."
"There is just so much happening everywhere - the streets are alive with an army of bicycles and motorbikes, the markets are teeming with people jostling to buy exotic looking fruits and vegetables, the restaurants exude smells to tempt even the most discerning diner and the whole city is just infused with a sense of excitement. Elsewhere in Vietnam the pace of life is slower but every bit as alluring. Paddling through Mekong Delta in a small sampan and joking with the vendors at the floating markets, relaxing on the magnificent white beaches around Nha Trang, exploring the charming cobbled alleyways of Hoi An, wandering the refined streets of the laid back capital of Hanoi, canoeing through the magnificent karst scenery of Ha Long Bay, trekking through remote hilltribe villages....... everywhere I was overcome by the sheer beauty of the country, the friendliness of the locals, the atmosphere on the streets. My advice is to go now before the rest of the world discovers just how wonderful this country is!"
Liddy Pleasants, Head of Operations – The Imaginative Traveller
Official Language: Vietnamese
Religions: Buddhist 55%, Catholic 7%, Muslim 1%, others 37%
Voltage: Mainly 220 volts but in some areas 110 volts is also used, sockets are two pronged flat and round pin.
Visas are required by all nationalities. A tourist visa is normally valid for a stay of 30 days from the date of entry. Costs vary depending on how quickly you require the visa to be processed. Visas are refused without explanation to those the authorities consider a proscribed profession. Therefore it is advisable to avoid listing your profession as a journalist, editor or similar.
Please note: It has been known for the Vietnamese Embassy to make mistakes so it is important to check all of the details on your visa as soon as you receive it.
Regulations and costs do change frequently. For the latest information on your specific visa requirements you should contact the local Vietnam Embassy or Consulate close to your planned date of travel.
The Imaginative Traveller Recommends: Carry 2-4 passport-sized photos with you when travelling to Vietnam, as sometimes these are requested by Immigration officials.
The monetary unit in Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong or VND. Approximate exchange rates (as at Aug 2007) are as follows:
At present there is no restriction on the amount of foreign currency that a visitor may bring into Vietnam, however very large sums should be declared on arrival.
XE.com is a useful site for currency conversion.
Bank and exchange counters are everywhere in cities and towns. Larger hotels will also exchange cash and travellers cheques. We recommend that you take either US$ or GB£ currency and travellers cheques, however it is possible to exchange other major currencies (please note Scottish Pounds are not recognised outside of the UK). Credit Card advances are possible at banks and a few ATM's can be found in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City although these tend to only be located in HSBC or ANZ banks. Credit Cards can be used in larger restaurants (in cities) and for purchases in stores. In all cases you should never let your credit card out of your sight.
The Pre Departure Booklet that you will receive once you have booked your tour contains general information about organising your spending money. Your Tour Leader will be able to advise you on local facilities.
The Pre-Departure Information contains general information about the things you will need to consider when budgeting for your holiday. Below are some specific notes relevant to our tours in Vietnam.
Although our Traveller trips include entrance fees for all sites specified in your itinerary there are some additional sites that you may like to visit. Adventurer trips do not include any entrance fees. On average entrance fees in Vietnam vary between US$0.40 and US$4.00. Details of some popular entrance fees are as follows:
The Imaginative Traveller Recommends: Remember to bring your student card if you have one or are entitled to one as you may be able to get discounts on certain entrance fees, though the actual policy on this varies from site to site.
All of our itineraries include some free time, the amount of which usually depends on the style of tour you are travelling on (Adventurer trips generally have more than Traveller). If you wish to take optional excursions your Tour Leader will be able to advise you of the possibilities in each area.
Approximate costs (per person unless otherwise stated) for popular excursions and activities are shown below:
On all tours in Vietnam you will find the meal plan clearly indicated in the brochure and on your Trip Dossier. Breakfast is provided each day on most Traveller tours, and many tours also include a number of dinners. Lunches are rarely included to give you more freedom. On Adventurer tours meals are generally included while trekking, kayaking, cruising or staying in the Mekong Delta.
Approximate costs for meals and snacks not included are shown below:
For a guide to the type of food you will find in Vietnam see the Local Food & Drink section of this dossier.
Approximate costs for drinks bought in a shop in the street are shown below.
Note: Prices in restaurants and hotels can be as much as double those specified.
It is not recommended that you drink the local tap water in Vietnam however bottled water, carbonated soft drinks and fruit juices are widely available throughout the country.
In Vietnam metered taxis are generally clean, cheap and air-conditioned. Most fares in and around central Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City will cost approximately US$1.50. Cyclos are also a fun type of transport used in the cities; these are converted three-wheeled bicycles with the seat attached to the front (so the driver sits behind). Cyclo drivers are usually very adept at negotiating most city streets from small side streets to wide avenues. You can hire a cyclo and driver for approx US$1.50 per hour although you should always secure a price before setting off. Motorbike taxis (known as Honda om) are also a good way of getting around the cities and are invaluable in the highland regions. In the cities a short Honda om trip will cost approx US$0.60.
The Pre-Departure Information that you will receive once you have booked your tour contains a comprehensive list of items that you should consider bringing with you. There are certain items of equipment (e.g. sleeping bags, towels) that you will need on some tours and not on others. Please note that you do not need to bring a mosquito net on any of our tours in Vietnam although you should protect yourself with a good mosquito repellent spray. Nets may be required for trips which include trekking in the hilltribes however these can be hired locally. Check your Trip Dossier for any special requirements.
As a general guideline clothing should be lightweight, loose fitting, hard wearing and easily washed. Vietnam has a tropical climate and therefore the weather is generally warm to hot all year round. However the weather in the north and particularly in the hilltribe areas can become quite cool at night especially between December and February. You will generally find it is better to have several thin layers rather than one thick layer as it gives you more flexibility and warmth. A fleece can be invaluable and double as a pillow.
You should bear in mind that Vietnam has relatively conservative attitudes towards dress, particularly in remote areas. It is best to avoid displaying too much bare flesh although the most important point to remember is to keep yourself clean and tidy. The Vietnamese are most offended by scruffy, dirty travellers! Women, and also to a certain extent men, will find that the way they dress will often determine the degree of respect they receive from both men and women. The issue is not nearly of such importance in ‘touristy’ areas, such as the coastal areas and beaches, where you can be just about as casual as you like.
The Imaginative Traveller Recommends: Make sure you bring lots of clothing that covers shoulders and knees (for time away from the beach) and also at least one outfit which covers your legs to ankles and your arms past the elbows. A sarong is an invaluable item to carry as it can be used to instantly cover any exposed areas (i.e. head, legs). It also doesn’t go amiss to bring along a set of smart/casual clothes for the occasional night out.
In certain areas and religious sites, such as temples or family homes, your Tour Leader may ask you to dress conservatively. Out of respect for local values, we ask that you follow your Tour Leader’s advice at all times.
Whilst few of our tours can be described as physically demanding you will find all activities more enjoyable if you are reasonably fit and active.
Wherever you use a western or squat style toilet remember to place your toilet paper in the rubbish bin provided – do not flush it down the toilet as this may block the sewerage system. You may also want to carry your own toilet paper as not all toilets will supply it.
We encourage travellers to experience religious festivals and visit temples and shrines but ask that you follow religious rules such as removing your shoes. Your Tour Leader will be on hand to advise you of local sensitivities.
The Vietnamese are generally relaxed and easy going with regard to customs and you would find it difficult to unwittingly offend. In most cases your Tour Leader will brief you accordingly; however there are a couple of points which are worth noting.
It is very important that you remove your shoes if you are visiting someone's house and patting someone (even a child) on the head is considered to be rude and insulting. Open displays of affection (such as kissing and holding hands) will generally draw the wrong kind of attention. Anger, such as losing your temper and yelling will lead to a loss of respect and is highly unlikely to get you what you want!
Bargaining is a way of life in much of South East Asia. In Vietnam shops don't have fixed prices so the shop keeper will start with a high price which you are then expected to bargain down until you reach a fair price. Bargaining should always be relaxed and can be a lot of fun but you should remember that it is considered disrespectful to agree a price but then walk away.
Upon arrival at Hanoi, please look for our representative who will be holding a sign with your name or The Imaginative Traveller on it. He should be waiting for you in the Arrivals Hall (i.e. after exiting the Immigration and Customs area).
On arrival at Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) Airport your transfer driver should be waiting for you with an Imaginative Traveller sign outside the Arrival Hall. However if the exit is extremely congested as is often the case, and you are unable to find your driver, you should make your way out of the building and look for the "Airport Taxi Stand" on the LEFT. Do not take a taxi but wait until you see the Imaginative Traveller sign and driver (as he will meet you here if unable to make contact in the Arrival Hall). If you fail to make contact with the driver half an hour after exiting the building you should take a taxi to your hotel. Providing you were eligible for a transfer you will then be reimbursed for this cost on arrival. If you have any problems you should call our local office on (090) 297-9170.
The Meeting Point for your tour should be clearly marked on your travel vouchers.
It is a relatively simple matter to make your own way to the meeting point if you are not being transferred. Whether you are arriving at Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi airport, it is best to take a metered taxi to the hotel meeting point. Drivers may want to negotiate a price before leaving the airport, but it is best to make sure they switch the meter on and pay the amount it displays when you reach your destination. Taxi fares vary according to the type of vehicle (i.e. a modern air-conditioned car is more expensive than an older non air-conditioned vehicle).
Approximate taxi fares (All prices are per taxi) from the airport to our hotels are:
On entering Vietnam all visitors must complete an entry/exit card. The exit section will be returned to you and this should be kept safe for presentation to Customs and Immigration upon departure.
Most people find that Vietnam is a very friendly and hospitable country and feel quite comfortable wandering around alone during the day. However, as with any country you are not familiar with (and in particular in large cities), it is recommended that you exercise more caution at night and generally take taxis rather than walk especially if you are a lone female. You should also be aware of petty thieves and pick pockets especially in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). It is best not to wear expensive jewellery or watches and you should be extra vigilant with cameras and bags.
Your Tour Leader's role is to ensure all aspects of the trip run smoothly. He/she will share their local knowledge, advise on how to fill your free time and co-ordinate the day to day running of the tour – although occasionally he/she may need your understanding if things do not go according to plan. If you have any problems on the tour, please let your Tour Leader know so that steps can be taken to put it right. Tour Leaders are supported by our regionally based office staff and, in most cases, a locally based manager.
In Vietnam we also use the services of licensed guides at sights of particular historical interest such as the Old Quarter of Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Hue, Hoi An and Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City).
Please note that some styles of trip, such as Imaginative Escapes or Imaginative Honeymoons, do not have a Tour Leader. However, there will be representatives on hand who will be able to assist you in arranging any excursions that you wish you take.
Our main criterion for choosing hotels is cleanliness. On Adventurer tours hotels are simple, but comfortable. Bathroom facilities may sometimes be shared and rooms may sometimes be multi share rather than twin (in particular this is the case on Whale Island). Hotels on Traveller tours almost always have private bathrooms, air conditioning and bar / restaurant facilities. Please bear in mind that hotels can sometimes suffer from minor problems and technical difficulties.
At each hotel your Tour Leader will try to organise the rooming arrangements to suit everyone's requirements. If you are travelling alone you will be allocated a room with another group member of the same sex (unless you have paid a single supplement*). If you are travelling as a couple please note that we cannot guarantee the availability of double beds.
*Note: Single supplements are only applicable to single travellers who wish to have their own room. Single supplements are also only available on Traveller tours and are not applicable on overnight boats and trains.
Vietnam is currently experiencing an extreme shortage of hotel rooms although the government and private sector are moving to resolve this shortage. This means we may need your patience and understanding when it comes to hotels in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and Hanoi. If there is a change to your Meeting Point hotel we will endeavour to notify you prior to your departure. If this is not possible a local representative or your Tour Leader will be on hand to assist in any changeover.
Most of the hotels we use in Vietnam provide a laundry service although this can be quite expensive, sometimes as much as US$1 per item. Alternatively the side streets of most towns and cities are teeming with laundries where the average cost per kilo of laundry is US$0.70.
Vietnamese food often comes as a wonderful surprise! It has a very distinctive style, although it is also clearly influenced by Chinese and, to a lesser extent, French cuisine. Freshness is of paramount importance so ingredients are bought fresh from the local market on a daily basis.
Meals will usually include rice or noodles as staples along with a vast array of vegetables, and meats like chicken, duck, beef, and pork. Good quality seafood (fish, calamari, prawns and crab) is widely available and you’ll find that fish sauce is a condiment which accompanies almost every meal. The most famous Vietnamese dish is spring rolls either deep fried (known as cha gio in the south and nem ranh in the north) or served fresh (bi cuon/bo bia) with a combination of raw vegetables and grilled prawns, crab, pork or chicken. Pho (noodle soup) served with either chicken or beef, fresh green leaves, beans sprouts, and red chillies is also found throughout the country. If you are after a snack try a banh cuo, a steamed dumpling stuffed with minced pork or prawns, black mushrooms and bean sprouts.
The French colonial period has left a legacy of delicious continental food. Often street cafés have a distinctly French feel with crispy baguettes, pate, crème caramel, banana flambé, and sweet pastries on the menu.
Tea, similar to Chinese green tea, is one of the most common drinks in Vietnam. Coffee was introduced by the French and is usually strong, thick and served complete with drip filter, so you know it’s fresh! If you ask for milk it will usually be sweet condensed milk.
Home brewed rice wine is often offered to guests, but watch out – it is extremely alcoholic! Light lager style beers such as Ba Ba Ba, BGI, Tiger, Carlsberg, Fosters and Saigon Export are commonly available and you may like to try bia hoi, which is home brewed and available cheaply on the streets. Western spirits are available in most big towns and good quality (but very alcoholic!) spirits, such as nep moi (a type of vodka), are also produced locally.
Vegetarians should not have any difficulty in finding a great selection of food in Vietnam as there is a strong Buddhist influence and Chinese and Vietnamese vegetarian dishes abound.
If you have food allergies or preferences, please make them known to your Tour Leader who will do their best to ensure that your requirements are met.
Please note: Unfortunately we can give no guarantee that special requirements can always be met.
Internet cafes can now be found everywhere in Vietnam. The cost for an hour is approx US$1.
A 3 minute call (to the UK) will cost approx. US$15.00 from a hotel. International phone calls can be made from Post Offices but these are generally expensive at approx US$3 per minute. Internet Cafés can provide cheaper calls over the Internet which are approx US$1 per minute.
The postal service is good and stamps are available everywhere. An overseas stamp will cost approx US$0.50 for most destinations.
Photo shops are in abundance and print film is widely available. Slide film is only available in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and Hanoi. There are photo shops where you can burn a digital camera memory card to CD.
Vietnam experiences a fair degree of diversity in climate. The north has distinct summer and winter seasons. Summer lasts from May until October, when the weather is hot and very humid with temperatures averaging about 30 degrees Celsius. November to April are the winter months when the weather is mainly dry and average temperatures are about 18-20 degrees Celsius. Please note that in the mountainous regions of the country, temperatures will be much lower than this, so warm clothing is required if you are travelling to hilltribe areas during the winter months.
In the centre of the country (e.g. Hue, Danang and Hoi An) the weather is very hot and dry from February to August with temperatures of around 33-36 degrees Celsius, but there can be heavy rainfall between September and January.
The south of Vietnam has a hot, dry season from December through until April with temperatures of around 28 degrees Celsius. May until November is the rainy season, although there are rarely long periods of rain – it is usually short heavy showers.
The following chart shows average daytime temperatures (in degrees celsius):
|City / Temp||Jan||Feb||Mar||Apr||May||Jun||Jul||Aug||Sep||Oct||Nov||Dec|
As Vietnamese is a tonal language (with six different tones), the particular tone used determines the meaning of a word. As the same word can mean many different things depending on the tone it is a difficult language to grasp but the locals will certainly appreciate your efforts!
The following words and phrases are spelled phonetically to help you with pronunciation.