What to bring ?
Comfortable lightweight clothing in cotton or other natural fabrics is the way to go in the tropics. Don’t forget if you are heading to Vietnam in particular you can pick up shirts, jeans, shorts and just about any other item of clothing you can think of for a fraction of the price back home so don’t pack too much. A long-sleeved shirt and long pants for evenings is a good idea to ward off biting insects and a hat is essential for the day time.
The northern parts of Vietnam can get a little chilly in winter so pack a sweater or two if going there. A light-weight raincoat or umbrella is handy if traveling in the rainy season although these can also be picked up very cheaply once in Asia. And remember to pack a good book or two to while away long journeys (or long hours on the beach) as the range of books available in Asia is probably not as great as back home.
To wear strong, easy to remove (for pagoda’s entrance) but light shoes are appreciated. For bathing, a sarong in a handy bag is pertinent. Mosquito repellent and sunscreen are recommended.
Respect Cultural Differences
Try to speak the local language: a simple “hello”, “goodbye” and “thank you” is always greatly appreciated!
Respect local dress standards and dress modestly, especially in the countryside or at religious sites, and Do not show affection in public. – Do not buy or use drugs of any kinds.
Do not give money to children or adults as it encourages begging but rather make gifts to village elders or organizations such as schools.
Buy locally made crafts to support and boost the local economy. Keep in mind that bargaining is accepted!
Southeast Asia is a photographer’s paradise and you will find endless opportunities. However, it is polite to always ask permission before taking pictures of locals. Please respect their beliefs and wishes.
Sun: Viet Nam is sunny all year around, it is warmly recommended to protect you against the sun to avoid heat stroke and sunstroke, to get sunburned. Sunscreen use is pertinent as well as to wear a hat and to protect your skin.
Eye trouble: it could be the result of dust, exhaust fumes. Do not wash with napkins and wash your hand before to clean your face. You may use eyes drops.
Food and water: keep in mind to always clean your fruits and vegetable with purified water or to peel them. Avoid not well cooked cuisine. Bottled water is safe for Westerner and easy to find in most of places and wash your hand before eating.
Medical Treatment: if you have a regular medical treatment, before leaving it is recommended to discuss with your doctor. Please do not forget to bring your own medicine because it is not sure that you could find them in the region and bring your prescription with the name of your medicine and the structural formula. The prescription can as well be a proof that you legally bought your medicine even if it could be a forbidden medicine at your new destination.
Respect the Law
Drugs: Do not buy or use drugs of any kind. Drug users are fully responsible for their actions and stiff penalties are in place.
Sexual tourism: Child sexual tourism (pedophilia) is strictly forbidden and you will be pursued and prosecuted, even back in your home country. Be advised sexual tourism concerns the dignity of everyone involved and is a consequence of poverty.
Support the local Economy
Buying locally goods and services supports a sustainable local economy, and ensure that your money is well distributed. Avoid purchasing products that exploit or destroy wildlife, including those that are made from animal skins, shells or horns. Remember that the region loses of its heritage every time antiquities and heirlooms leave the country. Bargaining with a smile is a perfectly acceptable custom and will only enhance your experience. Buy only food that is farmed, not taken directly from forests by poachers. There are plenty of delicious dining options available. Bottled water is always safe and available in most places. A local guide is the best way for you to discover interesting facets not found in your guidebook, while still respecting local customs. The best intentions can often offend local people. A local guide will ensure that no bad feelings result.
Dress & Behavior
Be sure not to offend by respecting local dress standards modestly and neatly. Men should avoid walking around bare-chested and women avoid wearing low-cut or tight sleeveless tops. At religious sites, knees and shoulders must be covered. Shoes must be removed at the entrances of temples, pagodas, some shops and homes. Avoid touching people on the head, as it may offend. Use your feet just for walking or playing sports, and do not place them on furniture or use them to point.
Locals are naturally curious about their foreign guests. Do not be offended by them as privacy can mean something very different in Asia. Your guide will advise you on proper behavior.
Things to remember?
It’s in your best interests not to drink the tap water, especially after flooding
Avoid rickshaw rides after dark.
Dress modestly and appropriately when visiting local dwellings and religious sites, etc.
Leave your valuables behind before a night out on the town, or going to the beach
When crossing the road – especially in Ho Chi Minh city – always keep looking to the left and right and walk slowly!
Don’t offer money directly to minority people – instead donate to a local charity or offer a small gift, such as pens.
However frustrated, don’t loose your temper (‘loosing face’), as it won’t get you very far!
By all means, sample the delicious street food but for hygiene’s sake only at venues that are busy with a big turnover.
Always ask permission first before taking photos, especially in minority areas.
Cash, credit card or traveler cheques?
As in many parts of the world, the US dollar is king in Asia and dollars can be changed just about anywhere. In Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos dollars also accepted for direct payment in hotels, restaurants, and shops although be warned your change may come in handfuls of the local currency! Some other currencies can also be changed in the major cities.
The currency in Vietnam is Đồng (Vnd) which is in notes and coins. Us dollars are widely accepted as payment for hotels., tours, transportation., etc. Currently the exchange rate is around Vnd 16.000 to US$ 1. When departing, change any remaining Đồng back into dollars.
In Vietnam, change your currency to Vietnamese Dong and withdraw money with your credit card at one of the ATM’s which can be found anywhere, but in local currency dong.
Vietnam is one of the safest countries for traveling. However, you should take great care with your personal possessions, especially in HCM city and Nhatrang, where there has been an increase in bag snatches. Leave all your valuables, documents, credit cards, etc. at home before venturing out at any time.
What about visas?
For most nationalities a one month tourist visa is available on arrival at the airport without prior arrangement for travelers to Cambodia, Thailand, Laos. Check with vietnambiketours.com first if you are unsure whether you are able get a visa on arrival. Visas for Vietnam are also available on arrival but authorization must be obtained in advance. To save delays at the airport on arrival, visas for Vietnam are best obtained from the embassy or consulate in your home country before traveling. And one more thing, do not forget to make sure your passport is valid for at least six-months.
What to buy there?
South-East-Asia is heaven for shoppers. Maybe not the greatest selection of everything under the sun, but certainly some of the best bargain prices you will find anywhere in the world. If you are in need of a new summer wardrobe head to Hoi An in central Vietnam. The town is teeming with tailors shops that can knock up a made-to-measure copy of the latest designs from Paris or London and have it ready collection within 24 hours.
In Vietnam, the graceful national dress for women known as ao dai can be made-to-measure in a variety of fabrics and makes a unique souvenir as does the ubiquitous conical hat.
If the conical hat is synonymous with Vietnam, then the checked scarf called a karma is the Cambodian equivalent undoubtedly spend some time exploring the temples of Angkor and a stone carving from the Artisans d’Angkor makes a wonderful souvenir while at the time supporting the needy in the community.
Jewelry, particularly silver jewelry, can be a good buy throughout the region and beautiful lacquerware products are a bargain in Vietnam.
Modern Vietnamese art has been gaining a deserved international reputation in recent years and Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh city have some fine galleries. Or perhaps you would like a copy of your favorite Van Gogh or Renoir? No problem, you can have an authentic faked painted to order in few days in downtown Saigon.
And finally, if you are buying from market or street stall don’t forget to haggle. In Asia street prices are nearly always “flexible” and you can bargain for the price you want. Just decide in advance how much you want to pay for, start out offering a lower price and as long as you desired price is realistic you should achieve it.