has been a hot travel destination for a few years now and although tourist infrastructure has improved, there are still a number of stumbling blocks for first-time visitors. Luckily, there is a lot of help at hand, starting with the information below, which should help to prepare you for your incredible journey to the likes of Hanoi, Halong Bay, the Mekong Delta and Hoi An.
You’ll be pleased to hear that it all got a bit easier for Brits wanting to travel to Vietnam in July 2015. A visa exemption was put in place to help boost tourism to the country. Despite being stated as a temporary measure – of 12 months – it is likely to be extended to a more long-term solution.
This visa exemption is only valid for trips of 15 days or less and your passport must have at least six months left to run on it. Anyone wishing to leave Vietnam and return using the 15-day exemption, such as to visit Angkor in Cambodia, must do so within 30 days for it to be valid.
For longer multi-centre holidays in Vietnam, you can opt to arrange a visa from the UK consulate prior to travel or obtain a visa-on-arrival at your port of entry into Vietnam. The former option means you know you have the right documents prior to your trip. This is also a must if you intend to arrive in Vietnam via a land border, including Mekong River cruises, as the visa-on-arrival scheme is not valid for this type of travel.
Anyone flying into the major international airports in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City or Danang can get a visa-on-arrival. To do this you will need your passport, two passport photographs, a visa authorisation letter, which is obtained from an agent in advance, and the application form that is available at the desk. On top of this you will need to pay the visa on arrival fee in US dollars. It starts at $25 (£16.50) for one to three months on a single-entry basis and increases depending on the time and number of entries required.
Modern society in the West has become so accustomed to using debit and credit cards that the cash culture of Vietnam can come as a bit of a shock. Large tourist-orientated places, such as hotels, accept cards, but more frequently than not, you will need cash, which can be in the form of the local currency – dong – or American dollars. Dong is especially useful for smaller purchases.
There is now an extensive ATM network in Vietnam, meaning drawing money out in this way is possible on a day-to-day basis. The exchange rate tends to be higher than when exchanging cash and it’s always a good idea to have dollars as a back-up in a different place to your cards. When venturing off the beaten track, be sure to exchange money in advance or withdraw from a cash point, otherwise you may find yourself stranded without any means of payment.
Even if you’ve planned your trip to Vietnam to get away from many of the trappings of your modern life, we bet there’s still a few things you want to charge. Your camera battery, for example, is really important for capturing those incredible holiday moments. Vietnam works on a 220-volt system and plugs have two round or flat pins to connect them with the supply. While some hotels will have adapters, not all accommodation will provide them, so purchase one before your trip – it will become your best friend.
Wi-Fi is becoming more and more common throughout Vietnam, with many hotels offering it free of charge to guests. This extends from large cities to medium-sized towns and means you should be able to access the internet from your own device. Once you start to get to more remote, the chances of such connectivity become less likely. Get round this by telling loved ones you’ll be out of range for a few days so they don’t worry. Vietnam has pretty good mobile signal just about everywhere, but it roaming fees that are a concern, so purchasing a local SIM card may be a good idea.
Tap water in Vietnam is not suitable for drinking, so it is important to keep a small supply of bottled water on you and in your accommodation. When purchased, always check that the seal is unbroken to ensure it is safe to drink. Other water-related things to look out for are ice in drinks and fruit and vegetables that may have been washed in contaminated water.
Vietnamese is the official language, with various regional dialects present across the country. As few tourists speak these, French is a good alternative, as Vietnam was once under its colonial rule. More and more Vietnamese are learning English, but picking up a few key local phrases shows you are willing and will often help to ingratiate you with locals.
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