frequently asked questions
Previously, Vietnamese people did not have the habit of tipping; however, a boom in tourism allows this western life style to be adapted by the local. The most common situations to give tips are eating at restaurants, taking a taxi or hiring a tour guide. It all depends on the quality of services they provide you as well as yours’ satisfaction. To a taxi driver, 50 cents to $1is greatly appreciated, but not common. In a luxury restaurant, you can leave the change or a VND 50,000 note (about $2.5) which is really generous. In some upscale spa or hotels, a service fee of 10% is often added, so tipping is not necessary.
It is quite hard to find a decent English bookstore in Hanoi, since the demand is pretty low and not frequent. The first and only English bookstore in Hanoi until now is Bookworm, which located on 44 Chau Long Street, near Truc Bach Lake. This bookstore trades only English books and magazines, both used and new, with a limitted French collection. There are also many discounted fictions if you want a quick read for your next trip.
Another bookstore, Trang Tien bookstore (44 Trang Tien Str., Hoan Kiem Dist.) also sells many English books, though it is mostly about learning and teaching. The majority of books here are still in Vietnamese.
In order to find English books, you might need to venture out to other book stores around the city. Phuong Nam company has three bookstores in Hanoi: one inside Vincom tower (191 Ba Trieu Str.), one at 20 Ly Thai To Str and one at 87 Lang Ha Str. All of them have foreign sections, with some books, magazines, artbooks and CDs/DVDs in English.
Fahasa bookstore (338 Xa Dan Str, Dong Da Dist) might be worth visiting as well, with around 100 English books of different types. Moreover, Fahasa recently open a new book store at 39 Kim Lien Moi Str., Dong Da Dist, doubling the number of English books, which include some famous classic novels such as Frankenstein, Gone with the wind, Breakfast at Tiffany, The lords of the rings, etc.
In addition, wandering around Dinh Le Str. (the so called book street of Hanoi), you can sometimes find good English books/novels/artbooks at quite low prices. In general, to find a good English book in Hanoi, you must have patience and time but the price is pretty reasonable.
The long plan trip across the ocean can be a nightmare for many travellers, including those experienced ones. A plane trip to Vietnam, unless departing from Hong Kong or Southeast Asia, will be a great pain for some. For example, from Toronto or New York to Hanoi, it takes 17 hours onboard, excluding the transiting time. Here is what you can do to alleviate the long trip pain:
1. Read your travel guide book: Sections in the Lonely Planet such as History and Geography are often scantily skimmed when you arrive. The time on the plane, however, can be an ideal period to know more about Vietnam. Imagine when you talk to the locals, you can be proud to think of yourself as "just-not-another-tourist".
2. Start your travel dairy: the boring landscape inside an airplane, with neither internet nor your favourite baseball match, can be an ideal environment for reflection. Think about where you are now, what you have prepared for the trip and what you are expecting. You will have fun revisiting these pages upon returning to your home country.
3. Make your to-do list: what food do you want to try, where do you want to visit, what do you want to learn, whom will you be telling your story along the way. Making to-do list can be a great way to make yourself satisfied after the trip to Vietnam.
4. Talk to your seat-mate: you never know whom you are sitting next to, until you TRY. Break the ice and make a new friend. Why not? You are going to Vietnam, a most-likely-totally-foreign place anyway.
5. Sleep: Sleeping is the best way to kill time and to help you avoid jetlag later when you land. Avoid caffeinated drinks whenever possible.
I am intolerant of gluten products and therefore not able to eat foods containing wheat. I would appreciate your advice on whether gluten free meals are available in major cities Vietnam?
Thank you for writing to us. Gluten-free travellers will not have a hard time in Vietnam, because the main meal in Vietnam involves rice instead of wheat (see how rice is used in Vietnam). Major dishes such as "Pho" (beef noodle), "Nem" (spring rolls) are made purely from rice.
The concept of gluten allergy and gluten free meal are not popular in Vietnam at all. You may find these niche products, however, in the expat area of Hanoi (Xuan Dieu road) and Ho Chi Minh City (Pham Ngu Lao street).
The advice we have for you is to check with the hotel and restaurants to verify that the ingredients do not contain wheat (bot my in Vietnamese). If you stay at upper-scale hotels in Hanoi or in Ho Chi Minh City, check with the hotel chef or restaurant head to ensure a gluten free meal.
A few popular food that will contain gluten for sure that you should avoid (this may help with the Vietnamese vocabulary):
- Any food with a "banh" (including baguette, baked goods, ..)
- Any food with a "my" (including egg noogle, instant noodle)
- Any food with a "quay" (fried fritter dough)
- Any food with a "tam bot" (Vietnamese term for fried fish or meat with a flour coating)
We hope this is helpful to you and your family. Bon Voyage!
Depending on your purpose and the length of your stay in Vietnam, you can find support for renting a house or a room from different people. If you are on a business trip to Vietnam, you might have useful advice from your colleagues about where to stay. A room at a hotel near your company will be ideal for a short stay while a rental room/apartment will work for longer stay (more than 1 month).
District 2 and District 7 offer high standard rooms which are suitable for foreigners who are willing to spend more on the accommodation part. However, it is a little bit far from the city center. Some rooms are also available in District 3, Tan Binh District at a lower price.
District 1 is the most expensive to rent a room for a permanent stay. Price also varies depending upon the size and amenities of the room. If you are backpackers to Vietnam, you can find affordable rooms along the streets wherever you go. Price should not exceed $10/person/night for a hostel or motel. Again, do not hesitate to bargain!
I am planning to visit Vietnam in the next days. I know several parts are still flooded, my questions is in how far this affects tourists? Is it safe to come? Are busses still running?
Thanks for your email and your interest in visiting Vietnam in the next few days. You are right, there are several parts still flooded in Vietnam (information as of October 26th, 2011). At this time every year, the Mekong Delta area often gets flooded because it is rainy season in the South of Vietnam. However, if you travel around Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi, it’s not a big deal at all. You can find more information about weather in Ho Chi Minh City here.
There are foreigners visiting Vietnam and being on the Mekong Delta Tour, though. For safety reasons, booking a tour at a travel agency is recommended. Floating market is a piece of Mekong Delta culture you should experience.
Besides, there are usually some upcoming storms in the Centre of Vietnam at this time of the year which makes the weather cooler than usual and more appealing to foreigners. If you are planning to stay in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi only, weather would be calm and will not to ruin your vacation.
Hope you find it helpful.
As you do not mention clearly about your travel time as well as your budget condition, so we can only give some general advices.
To travel to Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon, you need to have enough money for these main spendings: transportation, food, accommodation and entrance tickets to tourism destinations, not to mention your spending on shopping and other unexpected fees.
Saigon is such a big city that in order to visit all of the most well-known tourism destinations, you need at least two or three days.
Normally, the minimum budget spent for accommodation will range from VND 150,000 to VND 300,000/day, depending on the quality of the hotel and its location. Public transportation is quite cheap, which will cost you about VND 50,000 to VND 70,000/day if you move around inside the city. However, if you choose taxi as a means of transportation, the fare will be about VND 11,000/ km so each journey will cost you VND 50,000 on average.
As every other city and province in Vietnam, Saigon is a heaven of street food. If you do not mind eating like the locals at street vendors, you will only need to spend about VND 100,000 each day to have very good meals. The ticket for museums will take you about VND 10,000- VND 30,000; while most of other tourism destinations like Notre-Dame Church or Central Post Office have free entrance.
In sum, if you want to travel on a shoe string, you can do so with only VND 1.5 million (or $75) for 3 days in Saigon. $120 will probably give you mid-range hotel and more flexibility with travelling. For top hotels and sit-down restaurants, expect your budget to start from $500 for 3 days in Ho Chi Minh City. You can also refer to our guide to cost of living in Ho Chi Minh City for further information.
We hope this helps!
The safest place in the world can also be the most dangerous and vice versa. It also depends what you mean by “safe”.
In general, Vietnam is safe compared with most other Southeast Asian countries in terms of political stability. There is hardly any riots and absolutely no bomb attacks. The only concern is about road safety.
Protect yourself by taking a ride with trustable bus company, though they can be more expensive. Please see “safety” section for more details.
A camera store can be easily found in the city center. Just walk along Le Loi street, Nguyen Hue Street or Le Thanh Ton street, you can find what you need to shoot a perfect image such as: lenses, films, chargers, battery, tripods.
If you use traditional cameras which use Fujifilm and need a lab to process, you can find one at 82 Nguyen Hue or 114 bis Nam Ky Khoi Nghia. Kodak process labs are more popular and easily found on these two streets also. For digital cameras, please be aware of having the adapter or outlet conversion for the chargers. These can be found on Huynh Thuc Khang Street. Some camera stores have the adapters also.
Do not hesitate to bargain unless you want to be overcharged. Lenses cannot cost you much more than what you are supposed to pay in your home country. Charger, depending on its brands and authenticity, has various prices but cannot cost you more than $15. Adapters or outlet conversions are available at less than $5 in some stores. It costs you 15-20 cents on average to develop a 10cm*15cm (6in*9in) image at a lab.
If you are travelling away from the city center, limited camera accessories may be found at camera stores at the place you are visiting. Batteries and films can be found there but lenses might be too costly to sell at these places.
Vietnam uses 127/220 V, 50Hz electricity. The power plug is mostly the 2 parallel flat prongs, 2 parallel prongs- French type (round) and the 2 parallel flat prongs with an earth connector. If your appliance uses different type of power socket, you can always buy an adapter from most tourist area or at the airport.