There are no compulsory vaccinations for travel to Vietnam, but talk to your GP about whether you should consider Typhoid, Hepatitis A, Tetanus and Polio vaccinations or a course of anti-malaria tablets. If you are on prescription medication, you should carry a note from your doctor stating the treatment, drug name and dosage.
Do not drink tap water. Your hotel may provide bottles of water in your room – if it is in the bathroom it is free, if it is elsewhere, you will be charged for it. When buying water always make sure the seal around the cap is unbroken.
Avoid ice in your drinks, salads and unpeeled fruit, which can all lead to upset stomachs.
If you are a British passport holder you will need a visa to travel to Vietnam. You can obtain one from the Vietnamese Embassy in London, and should enclose a passport-sized photograph and the applicable fee of around £38. Please ensure you have a full empty page in your passport and that it is valid for at least six months after the date you are due to exit Vietnam.
To download a copy of the visa application form, visit http://www.vietnamembassy.org.uk/consular.html#VISA
On arrival in Vietnam you will be given 2 forms to complete, a Health Declaration Form which you hand to Immigration, and an Entry and Customs Declaration Card which will be stamped and which you need to keep carefully to hand in on your departure from Vietnam.
When you collect your luggage on arrival at an airport in Vietnam, either from a domestic or international flight, you should make sure you keep safe the baggage receipt issued to you on check-in, and these are inspected when you leave the airport.
The baggage allowance on domestic flights in Vietnam is 20kgs.
The currency in Vietnam is the dong, currently 30,000 dong = £1 sterling, or US$17,500 approx. You cannot obtain dong before you arrive in Vietnam, although there are exchange bureaux at the airport and your hotel will usually have exchange facilities or be near a bank. There are also many cash machines throughout the country. It is very common for prices to be given in US$ and these are accepted very readily by shops, restaurants, as tips, etc. which is very useful if you are concerned about changing too much money into dong as you cannot change it back once you leave Vietnam.
A dollar goes a long way in Vietnam. Tipping is not expected like it is elsewhere in Asia, but it is still genuinely appreciated rather than taken for granted, and you will reap the benefits.
Vietnam is seven hours ahead of GMT.
There is no perfect time of year to visit Vietnam as the country is so long it covers different microclimates and when it is dry in the north for example, it could well be wet in the south. Always pop a light cagoule or long plastic mac in your luggage. Generally speaking, the climate falls into these 2 regions;
Northern and central Vietnam has cool and wet winters which last from November to April, while summers are hot and humid, and last from May to October with occasional typhoons. Southern Vietnam has fairly constant temperatures, with the rainy and humid season from May to October, and the hot and dry season from November to April.
The standard power source in Vietnam is 220v, 50hz AC with either flat or round two-pronged plugs, similar to those found in Europe, so you can bring those adaptor plugs.
Many hotels now provide internet access free of charge.
Offices, museums and shops tend to open early in Vietnam, between 7am and 8am, and close between 4pm and 5pm on weekdays, with lunch taken between 11am and 2pm. Most government offices are open till noon on Saturdays (Sunday is a holiday), and museums are closed on Mondays. The Post Office is usually open from 6am to 8pm all week, and sometimes even during public holidays. All banks are closed on Sundays, and foreign banks close on Saturdays as well.
Many of the handicrafts on offer in Vietnam are similar to those you would find in China, and may well come from there – silk clothing, ceramics, lacquerware, embroidery and the like. In Saigon the Parkson department stores offer up-market international brands, and at the Binh Thanh and Binh Tay Markets there you can find ‘designer’ bags, watches and sunglasses, usually fakes of course, but cheap as chips if you bargain well!
In the old town of Hoi An there are endless silk shops, and you simply have to pick one you like the look of! It is a good idea to have some clothes tailor-made for you very reasonably in Hoi An – but you might like to check the origin of your chosen silk (Vietnamese, Chinese, Thai, etc,) and whether it is 100% silk or with some polyester.
Strings of pearls are also commonly found in markets and souvenir shops but they may be fake – have a close look and if the stones seem perfect, they may be plastic.
You will need to bargain and the golden rule is, unless you would like to buy it, don’t ask the price, as you will then find yourself on the bargaining merry-go-round which is difficult to get off with any dignity. Think about how much you would be prepared to pay for the item, then ask the price. If that is still too high after a couple of minutes, walk away, and if they are keen to sell at your price, they will call you back to agree. Don’t drive too hard a bargain – a dollar to you is probably negligible, but can be a day’s wage for many Vietnamese.