PRE DEPARTURE KIT
Chao! That’s Vietnamese for ‘hello’!
Thank you for booking on our fabulous Inside Vietnam Tour. We are delighted that you’ll be joining us on this fascinating adventure and know you’ll have a wonderful time! We hope you find this Pre-Departure Kit useful and recommend that you take it with you on tour for easy reference. Please read it thoroughly. And if you can’t attend our Pre-Departure Workshop, we’ll phone you to go through it and answer any questions you may have. Please ensure you have completed and returned the forms in the back of the kit to us (they were previously emailed to you to save time at the workshop). You are looking forward to learning about the history and culture of this beautiful country from our expert local guide, Dat, to admiring the diverse scenery, sampling the delicious food and enjoying all the wonderful things you will do in Vietnam during our time together.
We look forward to sharing this adventure with you!
Website: www.vietnamrealtravel.com, www.vietnamprivatetour.com, www.vietnamprivatetour.vn
SUGGESTED PACKING LIST
…Shirts or long-sleeved tops (cotton is best)
…Track suit or similar for overnight train trips & Sa Pa tour
…Small or quick-dry towel
…Casual outfit(s) for evening
…Comfy walking boots/shoes
…Casual evening shoes
…Scarf or bandana
…Spare prescription glasses
…Sun protection – hat, sunscreen & lip balm
…Personal medical kit
…Antibacterial wipes & gel
…Anti-diarrhoea pills (Imodium or other)
…Gastrolyte or other re-hydrant
…This Pre Departure Kit (!)
…Insurance policy contact details
…List of important phone numbers
…Extra copy of important documents
…Money belt to carry passport, cash,
…credit cards, airline tickets, etc.
…Torch/head torch & spare batteries
…Camera/video & charger
…Spare memory cards
…Journal & pens
…International conversion plug
…Mobile phone & charger
…Laptop/i-pod/Blackberry/Kindle & charger(s)
…Small sewing kit
…Mini clothes-line & pegs
…Small amount washing powder
…Small gifts for children
GENERAL TOUR INFORMATION
Travellers holding Australian, New Zealand or some European passports are required to obtain a visa in advance. Visas can either be issued prior to departure by local consulates or embassies (the option we recommend) or by obtaining a pre-approved letter which enables you to obtain a visa on arrival at Vietnam's International Airports. Keep the customs and immigration form you receive on arrival as you need it to complete exit formalities on departure.
CUSTOMS & DUTY FREE
•Cigarettes: 400; Cigars: 100; Tobacco: 100 grams
•Alcohol: 1.5 litres
•Perfume and jewellery for personal use.
•Small gift items valued at not more than USD$300
Declaration required for:
•Foreign currency in excess of USD$7,000.
•Gold and jewellery not for personal use.
•Video tapes, DVDs and CDs
On domestic flights (and as a general rule, most international flights), each passenger is allowed to carry the capacity of liquids not greater than 1000ml with them or in his/her cabin baggage. (Exemption is made for liquids, gels and aerosols including medications and special dietary requirements or liquids purchased either at airport duty free shops or on board aircraft). All liquids are required to be carried in bottles, vials or containers with a capacity not greater than 100 ml and must be completely closed. Such bottles, vials and containers must fit comfortably within the transparent plastic bag; only one transparent bag per passenger is permitted. Medications have to be accompanied by prescriptions which clearly state the name and address of the doctor who prescribed the medicine & the full name of the person on the air tickets or boarding pass in case of electronic ticket.
The liquids purchased either at airport duty free shops or onboard the aircraft are exempted from the above limitation of capacity provided that such liquids are packed in a transparent sealed plastic bag provided by the seller. The proof of purchase at airport duty free shops, or on board aircraft has to be displayed with the name of the shop and date of purchase without the opening of the bag.
No food stuffs or perishables are allowed.
Travel insurance is compulsory for this tour. We recommend that you check the inclusions and procedures for lodging claims prior to your departure. Bring a copy of your insurance documents (especially relevant international contact numbers) with you & keep them stored separately from the originals. If you don’t yet have travel insurance, please arrange this ASAP.
VACCINATIONS AND HEALTH
Contact your GP or the Travel Doctor for advice on vaccinations and travel health prior to departure. These will vary from individual to individual. You may wish to consider taking possible preventative measures against such illnesses as:
•Hepatitis A (highly recommended)
•Hepatitis B (highly recommended)
•Typhoid (highly recommended)
•Pertussis (whooping cough)
•Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Chickenpox
•Malaria, Dengue Fever, Japanese Encephalitis (insect avoidance is the primary means of defence for all mosquito-borne illnesses! Cover upat night & always wear mozzie repellent!
•Rabies (dogs are the main carriers but monkeys, bats, cats & other animals may also transmit the disease – please avoid all contact with animals!)
•Diarrhoea (very common)
Your Tour Escorts will carry a first aid kit, but you may also want to carry your own ‘personal medical kit’ containing any medication or medical equipment you may need such as:
•All prescribed medication (with a cover note from your Doctor listing any prescribed medication and/or equipment you will carry)
•Cold and flu tablets
•Travel sickness tablets
•Insect repellent and sunscreen
•Anti-bacterial hand wipes
•Anti-bacterial gel (use it often!)
If you need to purchase any pharmaceuticals or medical equipment while in Vietnam, ask our local Tour Guide, Dat, to help you locate a pharmacy, identify medication or to translate from the local language into English.
If you need medical attention, we will arrange a call from a doctor. However, the decision to purchase or take any non-prescribed medication while you are away is entirely your own. Your guides & escorts are not medically qualified and are unable to give any medical advice or administer medications. Public toilets may not measure up to Australian standards and may not have toilet paper. Some stops may also be at ‘bush toilets’ so carry your own toilet paper & disinfectant hand wash or wipes as recommended above.
Vietnam occupies a thin strip of land along the coast and covers a wide latitudinal range. Consequently, the climate varies from North to South & from sea level to mountainous elevations.
Overall, there is no bad time to visit as good weather can always be found in at least one region.
Northern Vietnam is usually warm from May to October with showers. Southern Vietnam will also be warm with frequent showers.
Those going on the Sa Pa excursion may wish to bring some warmer, layered things. Nights could get unexpectedly cool throughout the country so bring a light jacket and/or all purpose raincoat.
WHAT TO PACK?
The dress code throughout the tour is casual, however, it is important that we dress respectfully. Generally, lightweight drip-dry clothes are best. Loose fitting, lightweight cotton materials are themost comfortable for humid and warm conditions, layers of warmer clothes for cooler conditionsplus raincoat/umbrella. Smart/casual clothes are recommended for evenings. Refer to the
Suggested Packing Listin this Kit for more information.
Clients are limited to two items of luggage each - a suitcase with a maximum weight of 15 kg and one piece of hand luggage/backpack. We recommend your large bag has wheels and is lockable.
Please bring only what you can comfortably carry yourself!
The electricity supply in Vietnam is 110/220 volts & appliances requiring 240 volts will work normally. Plug design varies so bring an international adaptor. Two flat pins (USA style) or three-pronged angled pins (Australian style) are the most common. Bringing a torch or flashlight with extra batteries is also recommended.
GMT + 7 hours (one hour behind Perth).
The international dialling code for Vietnam is +84.Telephone calls, especially international calls, made from hotels, often attract significant servicecharges, even when the number dialled is notavailable. When possible, make calls from local telephone offices which are usually situated in or near the post offices. It is always advisable to confirm therates you will be paying before you make your call. Should assistance be required when you are ontour, please ask Dat to help you.
If you have a mobile phone & you wish it should be a relatively simple procedure to arrange ‘global roaming’ with your service provider; however, charges are high so be sure to check this option thoroughly. Also check with your service provider that your mobile phone is compatible with the networks used in Vietnam. You could also buy a pre-paid local SIM card to usein your phone (check first that your phone is ‘unlocked’ so it can be used overseas with other SIM cards). Or buy a cheap phone AND a pre-paid card once you get there. Whichever option youchoose, remember that it’s much cheaper to send text messages (or to use Facetime if both parties have i-phones) than to make phone calls. WiFi is available in many hotels, coffee shops & fast food outlets in major cities but will probably not be available in rural areas. The government censors the internet in Vietnam & some sites may not be accessible.
Vietnamese is the main local language while Chinese, French, Russian and particularly English are also sometimes spoken. French, a legacy of colonialtimes, is used less and less these days. Like Thai, Lao and most other Asian languages, the Vietnamese language is tonal.
FOOD & WATER
With over 500 local dishes and a very heavy French colonial influence, Vietnam is a gourmet's delight. Not only is the food less spicy than Thailand making it a little easier on a Western palate, it is also incredibly good value. Vegetarians are not forgotten here. Because the local version of Buddhism dictates that monks should be vegetarians,the local cuisine has developed accordingly. Seafood is available throughout the country and is very good value. Bottled water is available through out Vietnam and it is important that you drink this and not tap water.
We will be staying in three-star hotels through out our tour (except for the nights spent on trains & the junk), but standards may not be quite what you would expect in a major European or Australian city. Differences in facilities and quality of accommodation do exist between star-ratings & standards for Australia and Asia. You may find thebeds a bit harder, for example, power supplies erratic or the plumbing not quite up to scratch. If you experience any problems, please speak to your guides.
Trains in Vietnam are quite basic in the standard of their facilities. Even though we will be travelling in ‘soft class sleepers’, it is by no means a luxury train journey. All other transport will be the most comfortable available.
The official currency in Vietnam is Dong (VND). TheDong is non-convertible & at time of writing the exchange rate isAUD$1 = 20,000 VND or USD$1 = 21,300 VND.
The US dollar, preferably crisp clean bills, is widely accepted among major shops and restaurants. Prices will be converted to Dong at the vendor's chosen exchange rate, which may or may not be close to the official exchange rate.
The best option is to carry a combination of local money & USD cash. You should need a maximum of about USD$500 per person in a combination of small notes up to $50 for the duration of the tour as most things are included. We recommend exchanging about USD$50 of this into local currency on arrival & exchanging the remainder as needed at reputable outlets such as exchange bureaux, airports or hotels. Don’t use street sellers who are well known for scams! Ensure the notes you receive are not torn as many shops and restaurants will not accept them. Also try not to change too much money at one time, as you will end up with a large wad of notes. The largest denomination is currently 500,000 dong (about USD$24). Be careful, the 20,000 note looks only slightly different from the 500,000 one!Handy tip to avoid confusion: Keep 500,000 Dong notes separate from your other dong notes. Other paper notes are 1,000, 2,000, 5,000; 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, 100,000 and 200,000 Dong. Most are clearly identifiable by colour. When you are agreeing prices with taxi drivers or shops, always use Dong to save arguments later about the exchange rate. While most will use the official rate of the banks, some do try to argue differently. Always double check the conversion rate you have been offered. Outside Vietnam the Dong is normally not accepted (excluding Cambodia and Laos), so before leaving the country remember to exchange any Dong you have left over.
We will also be bringing a ‘cash passport card’ anda VISA credit card which we will use to pay for personal hotel bills, emergencies & larger purchases ‘we just can’t live without’! VISA and Master Card are becoming more accepted in many of the bigger hotels and restaurants, especially in the larger cities. There is usually a fee of 3%. Several international banks operate in Hanoi and HoChi Minh City with 24-hour cash withdrawal facilities. Most ATMs enable you to get cash from VISA (most popular), MASTER CARD & some ‘cash passport cards’ (again VISA is the most popular).
Under Vietnamese law, ATMs may only dispense cash in Vietnamese Dong. Amounts that can be withdrawn at any one time are usually very low. Commonwealth Bank (Australia), SCB or Vietcom Bank offer the best rates.
Remember to tell your bank before travelling to Vietnam if you intend to use your credit card to withdraw cash from ATM's (their machines there use the magnetic strip not the more secure chip technology). You may also want to use a ‘card protector’ to avoid skimming.
Cards which you preload with one or more foreign currencies are generally poor value. To make up for "no fees", they generally offer a poor exchange rate. Getting any unused funds back once you're home may also be difficult so this is not a particularly good option.
Vietnam has some great bargains for the discerning shopper. Lacquer ware is probably the most notable purchase, but other quality items include silver, jade, porcelain, local handicrafts and Vietnamese silk. Most shops work on the ‘bargaining’ system and will generally accept US dollars. There are a couple of government-run shops in Hanoi and Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) where prices are fixed. It is illegal to list prices or ask for payment in any currency that is not the Dong.
As a company policy, Global Gypsies believes in tipping for good service, particularly in developing countries where tourism employees work for low wages. In Vietnam, for example, the average annual wage is about USD$500, so while tipping is not mandatory there, it is certainly appreciated. Therefore, your Tour Escorts will be collecting AUD$200 per person prior to our departure and will distribute a ppropriate tips to the main service providers – guides, drivers, hotel/restaurant staff – on your behalf as we go. Any other tips, such as for bathroom attendants or hotel porters or when you are travelling independently is at your discretion based on satisfaction of services received, as are gratuities for additional requested special services.
ENTRY FEES & CAMERA FEES
Your tour includes single entry fees to all sites in your itinerary and any additional sites will be at an additional cost. Your entrance ticket is valid for one visit or one day depending on the attraction. If you want to photograph locals, ask for permission & find out if there is a cost involved before you start snapping.
SAFETY & SECURITY
We recommend that you maintain a high level of personal security, especially in crowded places. Although Vietnam is considered fairly safe for travellers, petty theft can happen anywhere. Ensure that you keep belongings on you at all timesand that your suitcase has a lock on it, especially in crowded areas like market places and train stations. Do not leave any valuables unattended in your hotelroom or unattended on the various forms of transport we will use. Lock away any cash, credit cards, airline tickets, passports, jewellery, etc in the room safe (if one is provided) or at hotel reception. It is your own responsibility to ensure that you carry your money and valuables on you at all times. Wearing a money belt under your clothing is strongly recommended.And it’s best not to bring any valuable jewellery with you at all.
ETIQUETTE & CUSTOMS
The Vietnamese are a proud race of people & are extremely welcoming and tolerant to foreign visitors. However, their cultural identity & traditions are complex & the following forms of etiquette should be observed:
• Elderly people always have the right of way and should be treated with great respect.
• Address the eldest person in a group first.
• When giving or receiving a business card, do so by holding it with both hands.
• If discussing a business matter, start with small talk about families and personal life first.
• When dining with a Vietnamese family, wait for the head or the eldest member of the family to begin eating before you do.
• Vietnamese often serve food in your rice bowl. Thisis an act of hospitality.
• Always take your shoes off when entering a Vietnamese home.
• Never show your anger. Saving face is extremely important in Vietnamese society. If you are not happy with something, discuss the issue in a calm and respectful manner. Showing anger or shouting will have the opposite effect to what you wish to achieve.
• Vietnamese society is quite reserved about showing affection for the opposite sex. While a kiss or a hug with your partner is considered acceptable in the main cities of Hanoi and Saigon, it is a social taboo elsewhere, particularly in rural areas.
• When meeting with Vietnamese of the opposite sex a handshake is considered the standard greeting. A kiss on the cheek is not recommended practice and will only cause embarrassment.
PLEASE BE PATIENT & TOLERANT
•We will try to adhere to our day to day itinerary but the order of events and sightseeing may vary according to local conditions.
•Expect NOT to get some of the foods you enjoy at home.
•Participants require a reasonably good level of fitness and mobility.
•Clients who embark with a sense of humour and adventure and who accept that things can and sometimes do go wrong are those who will find the tour most rewarding!! Put on a smile & read the “Verse for Vietnam” at the back of this kit for more insight!
FAST FACTS ABOUT VIETNAM
Area : 331,210 sq kms (Australia is 7,692,024 sq kms)
Phone code: +84
Time: GMT + 7 hours (1 hour behind Perth)
Money: Dong (VNG). AUD$1 = 20,000 VND. USD$1 = 21,300 VND.
Government: Socialist republic with a one-party system led by the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV)
Language: Vietnamese (other languages, particularly English, sometimes spoken)
Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Christianity (over time, Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism have merged to become what is collectively known asthe Triple Religion, or ‘Tam Giao’. Also in the south, is the mystical Caodai religion, which has two million followers. Founded by a Vietnamese national at the end of the 19th century,it incorporates elements of Taoism, Confucianism & Catholicism.
Vietnam was part of Imperial China from 111 BC to 938 AD. The Vietnamese became independent from Imperial China in AD 938, following the Vietnamese victory in the Battle of Bạch Đằng River. Successive Vietnamese royal dynasties flourished asthe nation expanded geographically and politically into Southeast Asia, until the Indochina Peninsula was colonised by the French in the mid-19th century. Following Japanese occupation in the 1940’s, the Vietnamese fought French rule in the First Indochina War, eventually expelling the French in 1954. There after, Vietnam was divided politically into two rival states, North and South Vietnam. Conflict between the two sides intensified, with heavy intervention from the United States, in what is known as the Vietnam War. The war ended with a North Vietnamese victory in 1975. Vietnam was then unified under a Communist government but remained impoverished and politically isolated. In 1986, the government initiated a series of economic and political reforms which began Vietnam's path towards integration intothe world economy (see “Economy”on next page). By 2000, it had established diplomatic relations with most nations. Since then, Vietnam's economic growth rate has been among the highest in the worldand in 2011, it had the highest Global Growth Generators Index among 11 major economies. Its successful economic reforms resulted in its joining the World Trade Organisation in 2007. However, regardless of the advancements which have been made in recent years, the country still experiences high levels of income inequality, disparities in access to healthcare and a lack of gender equality.
Vietnam's culture has developed over the centuries from indigenous ancient Dong Son culture with wet rice agriculture as its economic base. Some elements of the national culture have Chinese origins, drawing on elements of Confucianism and Taoism in its traditional political system and philosophy. Vietnamese society is structured around làng(ancestral villages); all Vietnamese mark a common ancestral anniversary on the tenth day of the third lunar month. The influences of immigrant peoples – such as the Cantonese, Hakka, Hokkien and Hainan cultures – can also be seen, while the national religion of Buddhism is strongly entwined with popular culture. In recent centuries, the influences of Western cultures, most notably Franceand the United States, have become evident in Vietnam. The traditional focuses of Vietnamese culture are humanity (nhân nghĩa) and harmony (hòa); family and community values are highly regarded. Vietnam reveres a number of key cultural symbols, such as the Vietnamese dragon, which is derived from crocodile and snake imagery; Vietnam's National Father, Lạc Long Quân, is depicted as a holy dragon. The lạc– a holy bird representing Vietnam's National Mother, Âu Cơ– is another prominent symbol, while turtle and horse images are also revered In the modern era, the cultural life of Vietnam hasbeen deeply influenced by government-controlled media and cultural programs. For many decades, foreign cultural influences – especially those of Western origin – were shunned. However, since the 1990’s, Vietnam has seen a greater exposure to Southeast Asian, European and American culture and media.
Until French colonisation in the mid-19th century, Vietnam's economy was mostly agrarian, subsistence-based and village-orientated. The French, however, deliberately developed the regions differently as they needed raw materials and a market for manufactured goods. They designated the South for agricultural production (rice and rubber) and the North for manufacturing and mining (mainly coal iron, and non-ferrous metals). When the North and South were divided politically in 1954, they adopted different economic ideologies: communism in the North and capitalism in the South. Destruction caused by the Second Indochina War from 1954 to 1975 seriously strained the economy. The situation was worsened by the country's 1.5 million military and civilian deaths and the subsequent exodus of one million refugees, including tens of thousands of professionals, intellectuals, technicians and skilled workers. After reunification in 1975, the economy of Vietnam was plagued by enormous difficulties in production, imbalances in supply and demand, inefficiencies in distribution and circulation, soaring inflation rates and rising debt problems. It was one of the few countries in modern history to experience a sharp economic deterioration in a post-war reconstruction period.
In the mid-1980s, Vietnam made a shift from a highly centralised planned economy to a socialist-oriented market economy. The government launched a series of reforms (Đổi Mới) to facilitate this transition which combined government planning with free-market incentives and the establishment of private businesses and foreign-owned enterprises. Within ten years the economy was growing at an annual rate of more than 7% and poverty had been nearly halved. The planned economy lost its momentum for productivity and sustainable growth (like most Communist economies) after the break-up of the Soviet Union. But Vietnam is slowly becoming a leading agricultural exporter and an attractive destination for foreign investment in Southeast Asia.
Unfortunately, official corruption is endemic and the country lags in property rights and efficient regulation of market, labor and financial reforms which could impact on potential future investment. More recent reforms have created a major boom in the stock market and confidence in the Vietnamese economy is returning. Almost all Vietnamese enterprises today are small and medium-sized enterprises. The good news is that according to a forecast by Price water house Coopers, by 2025 Vietnam may be the fastest growing of emerging economies with a potential annual growth rate of about 10% in real dollar terms.
Vietnamese cuisine traditionally features a combination of five fundamental taste "elements" - spicy (metal), sour (wood), bitter (fire), salty (water) and sweet (earth). Common ingredients include fish sauce, shrimp paste, soy sauce, rice, fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables. Vietnamese recipes use lemongrass, ginger, mint, Vietnamese mint, long coriander, Saigon cinnamon, bird's eye chili, lime and basil leaves. Traditional Vietnamese cooking isknown for its fresh ingredients, minimal use of oil, and reliance on herbs and vegetables, and is considered one of the world’s healthiest cuisines.
In northern Vietnam, local foods are often less spicy than southern dishes, as the colder northern climate limits the production and availability of spices. Black pepper is used in place of chillies to produce spicy flavors. The use of meats such as pork, beef, and chicken were relatively limited in the past, and as a result fresh water fish, crustaceans – particularly crabs – and mollusks became widely used. Fish sauce, soy sauce, prawn sauce, and limes are among the main flavoring ingredients. Many signature Vietnamese dishes, suchas bún riêu(meat rice vermicelli soup) and bánh cuốn (steamed rice rolls), originated in the north and were carried to central and southern Vietnam by migrants.
Suggested Further Reading
•The Quiet American - Graham Greene
•The Sacred Willow- Duong Van Mai Elliot
•Paradise of the Blind - Duong Thu Huong
•Vietnam: Yesterday & Today - Ellen Hammer
•One Crowded Hour - Tim Bowden
•Catfish and Mandala- Andrew X Pham
•Vietnam - Lonely Planet
•A Bright Shining - Lie-Neil Sheehan (on the Vietnam-American War)
A VERSE FOR VIETNAM
(Courtesy of VIETNAM REAL TRAVEL)
We’re going to visit Vietnam
What an adventure we’re going on!
But strange customs, food, traditions, too,
Sights & sounds that may challenge you.
Please put on a smile & count to ten,
If things don’t happen there and then,
Or if your shower is more like ice
And you’re sick to death of bloody rice!
When we’re on the move please don’t complain
If our transport’s cancelled or delayed again,
Or when our carefully laid plans unravel.
Sorry, but that’s all part of travel!
And if our hotel’s not a manor,
Please don’t grizz or whinge or clamour
Or if our tour bus gets a flat
No point in getting in a flap.
Please don’t get annoyed if you’re not understood
Speaking louder won’t do any good.
If you do get grumpy, stay nice & calm,
Help the locals save face, win them over with charm.
You might miss soft beds or traditional loos,
Breakfast may not be what you’d normally choose.
Want to leave a spot early? Stay forever?
We’re in a group so please stick together.
Make the most of your trip, enjoy the ride
Take all the differences in your stride.
Be tolerant, open-minded - please don’t moan,
Vietnam is wonderful - but it’s not like home.