Prepaid GSM
Getting around

Part 1: Introduction

18.12: Phnom Penh -> Saigon
19.12: Saigon
20.12: Saigon
21.12: Saigon -> Hoi An
22.12: Hoi An
23.12: Hoi An -> My Son -> Hue
24.12: Hue -> Hanoi
25.12: Hanoi
26.12: Hanoi -> Halong bay -> Hanoi
27.12: Hanoi
28.12: Hanoi -> Kuala Lumpur

Overview and overall impression

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 the country is worth  visiting.
From a touristic point of view Vietnam does not have too many impressive sites. Hoi An is nice, My Son is interesting, although there is too little left here (probably a result of US bombings during the Vietnam war). Saigon is a bit messy and does not have that much to see, also considering that it's a big city. Hanoi however is more interesting.
I suspect that the interesting parts of Vietnam lie in the areas off the tourist track. Haven't been for instance in the northern highlands and I haven't visited the Mekong delta and the islands in the southwest of Vietnam.
Halong bay is nice, although at the time of visiting the weather was bad. In December it's better spending the 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.

Pre-departure plan

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.

Dec 8 Munich-Dubai
Dec 9-10 Dubai
Dec 11 Dubai-KL
Dec 12-13 KL Get  Vietnam visa
Dec 14 KL-Siem Reap
Dec 15-16 Siem Reap
Dec 17 Siem Reap-Phnom Penh
Dec 18 Phnom Penh
Dec 19 Phnom Penh-Saigon
Dec 20-22 Saigon
Dec 23 Saigon-Hue
Dec 24-25 Hue
Dec 26 Hue-Hanoi
Dec 27 Hanoi
Dec 28 Hanoi-KL
Dec 29-Jan 3
Jan 4 KL-Munich

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.

Money  / Exchange rate (December 2006)
1 Euro = 21500 dong
For current exchange rates check 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.

Mobile 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 access
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 5C (which is why I skipped it). December is the dry season in the north of Vietnam.

Health / Vaccinations
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 requirements
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.


Getting around
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 inexpensive.

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.

Copyright 2007 Alfred Molon