Updated some things new you should know for Vietnam travel guide 2016.
Getting there & leaving
Most visitors arrive in Vietnam through one of the country’s major international airports – Noi Bai in Hanoi, Tan Son Nhat in Saigon.
Daily flights to and from most destinations in Asia are offered by a whole range of major airlines, especially in Saigon. Just recently low cost airlines such as Tiger Air (departs to Singapore) and Air Asia (to Bangkok) have entered the market lowering fares. The national airlines is Vietnam Airlines, which also has a controlling stake in Pacific Airlines.
Most nationalities entering Vietnam require a visa. Except: the ASEAN countries, Belarus, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Russia, Japan, South Korea. And the nationals of the following countries are eligible for the visa exemption program from 01 July 2015 to 30 June 2016: United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Italy.
Tourist visas generally valid for 30 days and can be extended depending on the policy in operation at the time, or converted to business visas etc at a price. Business visas are necessary if you intend to conduct any busuness at all, and are generally valid for three to six months. Work permits are required for foreign workers in Vietnam, which involves getting medical checks, police reports from home, etc although some ignore this regulation at their own risk.
Customs limits are 200 cigarettes and one litre of alcoholic beverage (including spirits) per person. Foreign currency in excess of US$ 7,000 in value must be declared on arrival. Be careful about carrying what the authorities refer to as ‘culturally offensive’ items. These might include foreign DVDs, any anti-government literature (this can be widely interpreted so it’s best to play if safe), pornography, weapons and explosives.
The Vietnamese currency is the dong (VND). Notes come in 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, 100,000, 200,000, 500,000 dong denominations. The currency is being slowly devalued against the US dollar which will currently buy around 22,000 dong.
Dollar can also be exchanged for dong in banks, most gold shops, and on the street, thought the latter is not advisable as customers are often cheated.
Travellers’ cheques can be exchanged in most banks and a few hotels, but cash in US dollars is favoured. Credit cards are generally accepted only in western-oriented hotels, shops and restaurants in larger cities, yet cash machines (ATMs) are sprouting all over Vietnam, with many in the major cities.
The international prefix for Vietnam is: 84 plus city code – Hanoi 04, Saigon 08, Phan Thiet 062, Nha Trang 058, Dalat 063, Hoi An 0510, Danang 0511, Hue 054 (drop the first 0 when dialing from overseas of course). Mobile coverage is pretty good, and the local operators have reciprocal arrangements with many international mobile companies.
The Vietnamese telephone system has been radically overhauled and expanded over the last decade, and is generally of a good quality, especially in urban areas. International call charges however remain high. You can save significantly on international calls by using an ‘internet phone’ in many of the internet cafes.
Most hotels have International Direct Dialing (IDD) and more up-market operators provide fax facilities, sometimes even in-room. Be warned all will add a hefty surcharge to your bill. There are however a coupon of cheap rate service. Dial 171 or 178 before making international calls to significantly reduce rates to a pretty comprehensive range of countries.
Most of the hotels, cafes and restaurants in Vietnam are now offer wireless services.
Crime & Dangers
Crime against the person is not generally a problem in Vietnam – the penalties for harming a foreigner for locals are severe. However, as anywhere else, it pays to take care especially after dark.
Cyclos, that ubiquitous form of transport in Saigon and Hanoi, should never be taken after dark, and care should also be taken when taking a motorcycle taxi at these times, especially if you are a woman.
Begging is problem, especially in downtown Saigon, and visitors can be sure that they will be hassled at some point or other during their stay in Vietnam.
Prostitution in also a growing problem in major towns, and proposals from the back of a motorcycle should be studiously ignored, especially if they offer you a ‘massage’.
A final word of warning – do not carry proscribed drugs and narcotics into, out of or around Vietnam. Narcotic smuggling is taken very seriously here, and is punishable by death.