Part 1: Introduction
This was my first trip to Vietnam. Despite having toured extensively
South East Asia since 1999, I've always skipped Vietnam, because I've
been skeptical about whether it's worth visiting the country. I haven't
seen too impressive photos of the country so far and I knew of no
impressive sites which you must see before you die.
Well, after travelling for 10 days from south to north through Vietnam
I'm still not too impressed by this country. From a touristic point of
view Vietnam does not have many impressive sites. Hoi An is cute, My
Son is interesting, but there is too little left here (here Vietnam can
thanks the US for bombing everything to rubble). Saigon is, well,
pretty messy and does not have that much to see (I've been flamed for
reporting this in the Lonely Planet forum). Hanoi is better, but even
Hanoi leaves somewhat to be desired. I suspect that the interesting
parts of Vietnam lie in the areas off the tourist track (haven't been
in the northern highlands for instance and I haven't visited the Mekong
delta and the islands in the southwest of Vietnam for instance).
Halong bay is nice, the only problem is the weather, which is most of
the time bad, at least in the winter season. You'll be better off
spending your time in Phang Nga bay in southwestern Thailand which has
the same scenery in a tropical setting and has good weather in winter.
Part of the problem of Vietnam is the high population density. Not so
many open, undeveloped spaces in Vietnam.
This time I leave without a precise idea of when I'll be where. I'm
rather planning to make a stopover in Dubai, then continue to Malaysia,
spend two days in KL getting the Vietnam visa there, then fly to Siem
Reap, do Angkor and then travel to Phnom Penh, Saigon and from there go
north to Hanoi, before heading back to KL.
||Siem Reap-Phnom Penh
|Dec 29-Jan 3
Travelling in Vietnam is still relatively cheap. I spent US $16-37 for
hotel rooms in Vietnam, meals were US$ 3-10, a car with driver costs
between US $25-60 per day depending on the distance you travel, cheap
tours can be booked everywhere.
/ Exchange rate (December 2006)
1 Euro = 21500 dong
the Universal Currency Converter.
It's easy to get cash with a Maestro/Cirrus ATM card in Vietnam, as
there are plenty of ATMs. You can pay with US dollars, but people in
Vietnam use mostly Vietnamese dong. No need to carry travellers cheques
or large amounts of cash.
phones and prepaid cards
I bought a prepaid card in Saigon for 100000 dong. Recharges are
available in 50000 and 100000 dong. I had to recharge it a few times -
I guess phone calls to Malaysia are not cheap. I had coverage in all
places where I've been.
Internet cafes are everywhere and are cheap. I used however mainly the
Internet line in the hotel room (I chose hotels with Internet access in
the rooml). After December 27th Internet access became very
slow, because an earthquake off Taiwan severed some submarine cables.
In December Saigon is tropically hot, while the centre and north of
Vietnam are noticeably cooler. The biggest surprise was Hue, only 600km
north of tropical Saigon, where it was really fresh (and overcast and
rainy by the way). Hanoi was cooler than Saigon too, but you could walk
around in shorts during the day. From what I've been told in December
it is very cold in Sapa, with temperatures around 5°C (which is why
I skipped it). December is the dry season in the north of Vietnam.
No idea, but I'd guess that you'll need the usual set of "tropical"
immunisations. I didn't do any
immunisations specifically for this trip, relying instead on the
protection gained through the immunisations of the previous years.
VISA / Entry
A VISA is necessary for citizens of most countries, except ASEAN
countries. I got mine in 10 minutes at the Vietnamese embassy in KL for
the steep fee of RM 240 (= 51 Euro). VISAs on arrival are not
available, except in some very specific situations (you have to book it
in advance through a travel agency in Vietnam, based on what I've read).
According to the Footprint Vietnam guide you have to be very careful in
Vietnam, not carry valuables with you, leave the passport in the hotel,
watch your belongings etc. Personally I didn't experience any problems
or hear of people who experienced problems.
I used flights to cover the large distances, which I
easily booked once there, either in the hotel's travel agency or in
other travel agency short term (the most short term booking was in Hue
at 6pm for a flight leaving just three hours later at 9pm). Flights are
Locally I relied on taxis and rented also in Saigon and Hue a car with
driver for one day. I also booked two tours in Hanoi.