Our Raw tours are best suited for those with a sense of adventure, are willing to step outside their comfort zone and don’t mind being thrown in at the deep end. For independent travellers who want to travel with others. Just the ticket for those aged between 18-35 or anyone young at heart who has an open mind, an eye on the budget and a nose for adventure. Authentic experiences that expand the mind rather than hold the hand.
This document contains essential information that you need to prepare for, as well as information you will need during your holiday with Imaginative Traveller.
We ask that you read it carefully and that you take the document with you on your holiday. It contains information on visas, vaccinations, spending money, etc, as well as a detailed, day by day itinerary of your trip.
International flights, arrival and departure transfers, departure and airport taxes, visas, all other meals, all optional tours or activities during free time, transfers outside of the tour program, travel insurance, tips and items of a personal nature.
Please note that visa requirements can and do change. It is essential that you confirm requirements with the nearest relevant embassy or check with your travel agent before you travel. At the time of writing, a visa for is required by most travellers visiting and/or transiting Vietnam including Australians, New Zealanders, Americans, British and Canadians. All other nationalities should check with the Vietnamese Embassy or Consulate in their country for up-to-date visa information. Your visa must be obtained prior to the commencement of your tour, as visas are not normally issued to travellers on arrival in Vietnam. In fact you will are likely to be denied boarding your aircraft bound for Vietnam without a visa.
Many governments publish up-to-date travel advice for countries around the world. Information is gleaned from both local and international sources as well as ‘friendly’ governments, and the notices are often on the cautious side. Sometimes there will be conflicting information. For example, the Australian, UK and Canadian governments may agree on the nature of the advice; however, frequently they do not. And sometimes the views expressed by a particular government can be coloured by political considerations. We will monitor these travel advisories closely and may alter itineraries or cancel trips as a result. However, it is also your responsibility to stay informed and form a balanced view. We recommend that you visit the websites or contact the departments listed below. Unless otherwise stated, it is not normally the intention of the relevant government travel advice to dissuade you from travelling. Rather, it is to inform you of where and when you should exercise caution to avoid problems. Please also note that, as a responsible tour operator, we maintain constant links with our ground operators and your safety - at all times - is our paramount concern. You can check your government's latest travel advice at one of the links below:
Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office
Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
U.S. Department of State New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade
We strongly recommend you visit your doctor to discuss health requirements for your trip. They will advise you regarding the appropriate inoculations. In some places anti-malaria medication may also be required. Some vaccines need to be administered a few weeks before departure so allow yourself plenty of time. Obtain a certificate of vaccination and carry this with you on this trip. A dental check up is also highly recommended
Vaccinations may be required for this trip. Please consult your doctor or a travel health specialist. The choice of vaccinations can depend on a range of issues including the specific destination, the duration of the trip, your personal health and of course what vaccines you have had before.
Routine Background Vaccines: We strongly endorse current public health recommendations that all travellers should be up-to-date with their routine vaccines such as tetanus, diphtheria, measles/mumps/rubella, polio and influenza, and paediatric vaccinations for children.
Travel Vaccinations: While the food and water-borne diseases such as hepatitis A and typhoid will apply to most of our travellers, other travel vaccines such as hepatitis B, rabies, meningitis, Japanese encephalitis and cholera may apply to select travellers, especially long-term travel. Travel health experts can advise on what is required and also what is not required!
It is your responsibility to ensure that you obtain any vaccinations or preventative medicines for the countries you are visiting – or any which may be required by your home country upon your return. To find out which, if any, vaccinations are mandatory or recommended for your destination contact your local doctor, immunisation centre or medical centre for up-to-date information. If you need to arrange vaccinations or a supply of preventative medicine (e.g. malaria tablets), you should contact your doctor at least two months before you depart. Some inoculations require more than one visit and can take several weeks to administer the full course.
For travellers from Australia and New Zealand, we recommend the Travel Doctor-TMVC clinics (see www.traveldoctor.com.au or phone 1300 658 844 for an appointment in Australia). Travellers from countries other than Australia and New Zealand should contact similar organisations or their travel doctor for advice. General health and vaccination information is available to all travellers at
www.traveldoctor.com.au/travelreport. Some vaccines require more than one dose, so arrange for your visit at least 4-6 weeks before you travel.
Carry Your Certificate
You should be issued with an International Certificate of Vaccination booklet that records each vaccination. Always carry this with you on your travels; it could provide essential information for doctors in the event that you fall ill whilst travelling.
Malaria: There is no vaccination against malaria, which is transmitted by mosquito bites and is a risk in the tropical areas. Protection against mosquito bites is essential and where the risk is considered high, anti-malarial medications are recommended. Anti-malarial medications should be discussed with experts as there are different medications available and not all medications suit all people or all destinations. We prefer that trekkers to altitude try to avoid the use of mefloquine (Lariam) if possible.
We recommend that you photocopy the main pages of your passport, your airline ticket, itinerary, insurance policy, traveller’s cheques and credit card. Keep one set of photocopies with you, separate from the originals. Leave one set of copies at home with family or friends. It is also worth taking some extra passport photos with you in case of additional visas, permits or other unforeseen paperwork.
A reasonably good level of fitness is required for this holiday and you should be in good health especialy as you will be trekking (Approximately 12kms through mountainous terrain). Any physical preparation will always be to your advantage. Anyone with respiratory or cardiac problems, or over the age of 60, should fully consult their medical adviser prior to booking and we may require full medical clearance.
Remember - the lighter you travel the better! You may be buying things as you go, so you should not bring too much from home. Many people find a backpack the most suitable type of luggage for our holidays. Medium-sized suitcases can also be used; however, you should avoid the large, bulky cases that are difficult to carry. The lockable suitcases on wheels are the best types to use. Be aware that some hotels in Asia are not over-endowed with lifts (elevators) and there may be occasions when you need to carry your luggage up stairs or along railway platforms, etc.
When packing, consider cultural differences which may mean that some attire that we wear at home is not appropriate in Asia and may be offensive to the local people. Beachwear in towns is not appropriate, nor is 'short' shorts, particularly for women. Light cotton pants are a better option. When visiting sites of religious significance, modest clothing should be worn. Sandals, thongs, flip-flops or jandals are appropriate footwear in the tropics.
Please refer to the specific country section for climate details. When you pack your clothing, consider the climate at the time of year you are travelling and any specific requirements for your trip as at certain times of the year some of the items suggested in the list that follow may not be necessary. Bear in mind that the weather will vary significantly from place to place. The majority of time the weather is warm in South East Asia; however, it may be distinctly cold up in the highlands. If there are specific requirements for a trip, these will be noted in the separate country section, or in the Trip Notes relating to that trip. Please note that in the last few years, the world’s weather pattern has gone somewhat awry. The effects of ‘El Nino’ and ‘La Nina’ are very real and this has resulted in unseasonable droughts followed by unseasonable deluges. Be prepared for the unexpected! Laundry facilities are available in some destinations.
Below is a list of equipment and documentation that we suggest you take with you. Please use this checklist as a guide when packing for your holiday.
It is a good idea to take a small medical kit with you, and you should consider packing the following items:
Antibiotics, Lip-balm, moisturiser, sunscreen, headache tablets, antiseptic (e.g. Betadine), anti-diarrhoea tablets (for changes in diet and water), laxatives, band-aids/moleskin/dressing strips for blisters, small scissors/tweezers. Note that moleskin is particularly good for blisters and can be obtained from any pharmacy.
It is also recommended to carry a letter from your doctor explaining any less common prescribed medications that you may be carrying.
Diarrhoea Stomach upsets are not uncommon when travelling through new destinations (usually a 24 - 48 hour 'bug') and this may cause diarrhoea, leading to dehydration. Should you develop a stomach upset you should eat only in moderation and drink plenty of fluids. It is a good idea to carry a couple of sachets of rehydrants with you (such as Gastrolite). We also suggest that you carry one of the common anti-diarrhoea tablets such as Imodium.
Sunstroke It can be quite easy to get sun burnt when you are not accustomed to the sun in new climates. You should take sensible precautions such as wearing a hat and using a good UV sunscreen. Finally, drink plenty of fluids - preferably water.
Water In general, water is not safe to drink in the areas through which we travel. Bottled Water is widely available and most travellers prefer to drink this. Your guide can assist you in regards to the relative safety of tap water and the availability of bottled water on each tour. When walking, or in hot conditions, you must make a conscious effort to maintain your hydration, drinking as much water/tea as possible to offset fluid loss.
The unit of currency is the Vietnamese Dong (VND). Bank notes come in denominations of 200, 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, 100,000 and 500,000 VND. Polymer notes of 50,000 VND (pink), 100,000 VND (light green) and 500,000 VND (dark green) are now used together with the old paper notes.
Check out www.xe.com for current exchange rates.
Credit cards have recently become more acceptable in Vietnam and ATM machines are now available in all the major tourist centres, including Saigon, Hoi An and Hanoi. The easiest manner to change money in Vietnam is to carry US dollars in cash as this is widely accepted throughout the country. However, it is not safe to have all your money in cash, so we suggest carrying half in cash and using an ATM card (Cirrus or Meastro). Traveller's cheques in any of the major currencies can be exchanged in the bigger cities, although banks in the provincial centres may take only US dollar cheques. If using traveller's cheques, please carry your purchase receipt, as this may have to be produced before you can cash your traveller's cheques in certain banks in Vietnam. Note that traveller's cheques attract a commission fee of around 3% and are sometimes difficult to cash. It is recommended that you change money through banks, hotels and authorised moneychangers only: it is easy to be short-changed if you change money on the street. You can also change money in banks at the airport, upon arrival in Vietnam.
You will need to take money with you to cover sightseeing, entrance fees, meals and drinks. Other costs to consider are drinking water, tips, laundry, souvenirs, additional activities during free time and possible delays. It is much better to come with more than you would expect to spend and to end the trip with a surplus, rather than being caught short! It is always useful to carry an additional amount for emergencies that could happen en route. If there is a medical emergency you are sometimes required to pay at the source and be reimbursed later by your insurance company.
How Much Money? In our trip notes we have suggested an appropriate allowance for additional meals. This does not include alcoholic drinks, e.g. beer. In addition to this you should carry sufficient funds for optional activities, additional sightseeing, shopping and tips. As a guideline we suggest that you allow $US15-20 per day (or maybe less!) in Asia would allow you to eat and drink reasonably well. Emergency Funds In the unlikely event of an emergency of a personal nature or unforseen changes to the Gecko's schedule, we recommend you have access to an additional US$300 to cover any costs that may arise as a result of these events.
In our brochure we have suggested an appropriate allowance for additional meals (US$290). As a result of customer feedback we recommend you allow a figure of between US$200-$300 for your DRINK and SNACK requirements, additional to the amount suggested in the brochure for meals. Use a higher figure particularly if you are travelling during the hot season when you will require more fluids.
In addition you should carry sufficient funds for extra sightseeing and optional activities.
Shopping is a personal thing that, again, varies enormously. On average, people spend anywhere between US $50 and US $300 on souvenirs, art, tailor-made clothes etc.
International airport departure taxes are included in the price of International airline tickets.
Like in most places around the world, the tourism and hospitality industry in Asia has developed a culture of tipping. Often this is the way where someone such as a waiter in a restaurant makes a living. However, we realise that people of some nationalities still find it quite uncomfortable when confronted by this custom. On our trips your tour leader can advise you on this matter, however, as a guideline we would recommend a tip of 10% in restaurants and US$1 to US$3 per person, per day for a local guide. Taxi and rickshaw drivers do not expect a tip. If you are unhappy with a service, of course, you are under no obligation to leave a tip. However, if the service has been satisfactory, please consider our advice above.
To avoid embarrassment and to protect you from the sometimes seemingly endless soliciting of tips, we have developed a tipping system to help you. At the start of your holiday we collect a tipping kitty. We suggest you contribute US$3 per person, per day. Your leader can then distribute tips along the way, as appropriate. The kitty will be distributed to people such as bellboys, local leaders, drivers and staff on board the cruise. This kitty is not designed to provide a tip for your tour leader, so, if you would like to reward your leader for their services, you can do so individually or make a group presentation at the end of your tour.
It is customary to tip your tour leader, at the end of the trip, if you are happy with the service. A minimum tip of US$3 per day, from each member of the group, is the usual amount expected.
Please refer to your tour itinerary for the joining hotel name and address. If you have not pre-booked an arrival transfer, you will find metered Airport Taxis available on arrival at Saigon's Tan Son Nhat Airport. Make sure the driver turns on his meter before you set off into town. You can expect to pay around US$5 (about 75,000 VND) for the 20-minute drive into the city centre.
If you have booked an airport arrival transfer with us, please meet your driver outside the arrivals area as you exit from the customs hall. Your driver will be holding a Gecko's sign. It is important that your driver is holding this sign or displays some identification identifying him or her as an official Gecko's transfer staff. We have received reports of thieves parading as transfer drivers at the airport; please do not go off with anyone without proper identification.
There will be a pre-departure briefing with your tour leader about 6pm this evening. Check the notice board in the lobby of the joining hotel for details of this meeting and for any other messages from your tour leader. Please bring your passport and travel insurance documents to the briefing.
Generally, your room will be available from around midday as Check In and Out times are midday according to hotel policy. Sometimes it may be available mid-morning but this is in no way guaranteed. If your flight is scheduled to arrive in the early morning you may have to wait until a room becomes available. Alternatively you can book one night's 'pre-tour accommodation' which will ensure that your room is ready whenever you arrive. Please refer to the 'Additional Services' panel in the pricing page of our brochure. When arriving early after an overnight rail journey, it is not always possible to check into your hotel immediately. Please be patient and wait for your tour guide’s instructions. Normally the leader will arrange a day room for guests to share if it is not possible for all rooms to be ready at once. Rooms must generally be vacated by 12.00 noon unless you have made prior arrangements with the hotel reception. If you want to keep your room for longer you may have to pay an additional charge. Please ensure that you settle all bills (eg mini-bar, phone calls) when you check out. If you are sharing a room with someone who is checking out before you make sure they pay their bills at reception or you collect some money to cover their bills as you will be asked to pay upon check out.
Please ask first if you want to take someone's photograph. This is just a normal courtesy and if you are refused permission please abide by that person's wishes. At certain ancient sites, and in most museums, photography (video or still) may be forbidden, or may incur an extra charge for camera-use. Do not take photos of buildings, structures and personnel of potential military significance (including airports, bridges, and police stations).
Travelling with us can provide you with some really rewarding travel experiences. Our tours visit countries where travel modes and lifestyles are often not as sophisticated as our own. There is also a laid-back attitude amongst workers and there will often seem to be huge amounts of red tape and bureaucracy when doing the simplest things. You will enjoy your trip much more if you slip into the rhythm of local life and are prepared to take things as they come.
In most countries even the smallest quantity of an illegal substance is considered a very serious offence and can carry lengthy jail terms. Avoid any contact with illegal drugs. Don’t put yourself and others at risk and never carry bags or luggage for other people. Any person found to be carrying or using illegal drugs will be asked to leave the trip immediately without the right to any refund.
You can eat and drink very well in Vietnam for a very small amount of money, this country is a bargain! A bowl of pho ga or pho bo (chicken or beef and noodle soup) will cost the equivalent of around US$0.60 from a street stall. In a restaurant a meal will cost around US$3-US$7 and if you want to wash it down with a beer, the beer will cost around US$1. A litre of water is only US$0.70 or thereabouts, depending on where you buy it from.
When you are taking a tour that travels through South East Asia, you will be tempted at times to draw comparisons between the countries. However, you will get the most of your travel experience if you try to understand and respect each culture and the people living there, regardless of whether you preferred the destination you were in previously.
There are some cultural elements that do cross over between countries in South East Asia:
At some of the tourist sites and in the cities it is possible you will come across beggars. This can prove an uncomfortable encounter especially for inexperienced travellers. There are many genuine beggars, however there are also those who find the lifestyle easier than working and these people often see tourists as easy prey. As a general rule, if you feel the impulse to give, you should be discreet in the giving. Never make a show of it, as you will attract a crowd, which brings with it its own set of problems. There are often charities that take care of the needy and it may be wise to give to them rather than to individuals begging.
In places you should dress conservatively to avoid attracting unwanted attention and so as not to offend the local population. This is especially applicable to women travellers. Dress rules also apply at many of the religious sites.
By employing and training local site guides to lead our group holidays, there is a two-fold benefit. Firstly, we provide employment opportunities for the local community. Just as importantly is the benefit to you, the traveller. Your tour guide’s friendship, humour, passion and intimate knowledge of the region will be key factors in making your holiday a success.
Tipping has become an accepted part of tourism in South East Asia. Your tour guide will be able to advise you in this area; however, as a guideline we would recommend tipping 10% of the total bill in restaurants and a small tip to hotel bellboys for carrying your bags.
At you pre-tour briefing your tour guide will discuss with you the idea of running a tipping kitty, whereby everybody contributes an equal amount and then the tour guide pays the tips and keeps a record of all monies spent (except restaurant tips). The record can be checked at any time and any money remaining at the end of the tour is returned to group members. This is often the easiest way to avoid the hassles of needing small change and knowing what is an appropriate amount to tip.
It is customary to tip your tour guide, at the end of the trip, if you are happy with the service. A minimum tip of US$2 per day, from each member of the group, is the usual amount expected.
Please note that Vietnam is a developing country whose infrastructure may differ from what you expect in your homeland. Be prepared for some inconveniences due to such things as restaurants or tourist sites being closed and our regular transport services not always being available, especially so during the Tet holiday period (Vietnamese New Year).
Tet (Vietnamese New Year) Is a time where most businesses will be closed as Vietnamese people usually spend this period returning to their homes and celebrating with their families. This will involve a major burden on all forms of transport, and despite booking in advance, tickets for planes and trains especially are extremely difficult to obtain. Even if bookings are obtained, transport services during this period will be overcrowded and heavy delays are to be expected, so you will need to make sure that you pack your sense of humour. In order to facilitate your travels during the Tet period, we may need to substitute your train/plane journey with a private bus trip, if required. Please check with your booking agent when Tet is this year.
This is an 'adventure' trip and we hope to expose you to all aspects of the local cultures. Please be open-minded.
Please note that, on your tour, you may link up with passengers booked on other tours in our Gecko’s Asia program.
For some departures the overnight train will either depart late in the afternoon or arrive into cities very early in the morning. On these occasions we will have the opportunity to store our luggage and freshen up in multi share day rooms before either we depart for the early evening overnight train journey or checking into our evening accommodation later in the day respectively. Please note if you have booked a single supplement whilst on tour, it will not apply to these day rooms.
Due to the style of accommodation on our trips it might not always be possible to book you in a single room throughout the trip. If you book a single supplement it will not apply to nights on the overnight trains, homestays, Longhouses, village huts, mountain huts, rainforest lodges ,on hill tribe treks, on boats, Camp 5 in Sarawak, Iban Longhouse, ryokan’s and on the Kokoda Track. If you are unsure of where a single supplement will apply please check with your travel agent before booking.
Please remember that our tours are of an adventurous nature. Our style of travelling means that it is more desirable to carry a backpack and a day pack on our tours.
Please note that the accommodation facilities here are basic, but provide you with an authentic experience of how these people live. You may wish to bring an inner sleeping sheet for the train journeys and the village stay, but please note that this is not a necessity. For light sleepers, we recommend that you bring ear-plugs and eye-patches for the overnight rail journey and the village stay.
Occasionally it may be necessary to amend this itinerary for reasons beyond our control. Changes to domestic train schedules occur and sometimes with little notice. Expect poor road conditions and be prepared for some inconveniences due to such things as restaurants or tourist sites being closed and our regular transport services not always being available (this can be especially so during the Vietnamese Tet holiday period). Any such changes may necessitate some alterations to your tour.
Please note that Vietnam is a developing country whose infrastructure may differ from what you expect in your homeland. Some of the accommodation is of a basic nature, as our aim is to enable you to experience how the local people people live. This is an 'adventure' trip and we hope to expose you to all aspects of the Vietnamese culture. Please be open minded while travelling, as this will allow you to truly experience everything that the region has to offer
Saigon, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Hit Pho 2000 for the best pho in town (yep, we’re putting it out there) then grab a drink at Saigon Saigon, one of the oldest hotels in Vietnam.
Meals included: 2 breakfasts, 1 dinner
Cruise the mighty Mekong, stop by the Cai Be floating market and try elephant ear fish for dinner.
Meals included: 1 breakfast
Take a tour of the tunnel network and be thankful that some parts have been widened for us fatties.
Meals included: 2 breakfasts
Suck in a lungful of fresh mountain air and head to Coffee Street, which is packed with little coffee stalls (obviously). Combined with the clean, crisp air you’ll definitely be wide awake by now.
Meals included: 1 breakfast, 1 lunch
Pack your swimmers and towel for our cruise around the islands. You’re on your own for the day before we catch our overnight train to Danang then the bus to Hoi An.
Meals included: 1 breakfast
Hire a bike and check out the countryside, take a riverboat cruise, relax on a nearby beach, eat in the cheap cafes or update your wardrobe at one of the same-day tailors.
Meals included: 2 breakfasts
Packed with temples, tombs, palaces and pagodas, Hue is great for history buffs (and Instagram fans). Don’t miss the Purple Forbidden Palace and the Citadel walls.
Meals included: 1 breakfast
You can’t go past Minh’s Jazz Club for a good night out. Resident sax god, Quyen Van Minh, brings a bit of Coltrane and Parker to downtown Hanoi.
Meals included: 1 breakfast, 1 lunch, 1 dinner
They say the limestone karsts in Halong Bay were formed when dragons were sent to spit big lumps of jade into the water, creating a wall that would protect Vietnam from invaders. No dragons were harmed in the making of this legend.
Meals included: 1 breakfast
Grab some snacks in Hanoi before we jump on the overnight train. There’s a bit of free time before we leave, so pop into the mausoleum and see Uncle Ho in all his embalmed glory.
Meals included: 2 breakfasts, 1 dinner
Trek from Sapa into the surrounding hills and stay with a family in a remote hill tribe village.
Meals included: 1 breakfast
Back in Hanoi there’s free time to check out some art galleries or just stroll around after our epic trip.
The information provided here is given in good faith and has been compiled with all reasonable care. However, things change and some of the information may become out of date. Please ensure that you have the most up-to-date information for your trip. We recommend that you check the trip notes for your tour around one month before departure. If you have any queries, please contact us. We are here to help you!
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3 May 2013
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