As my days in Vietnam dwindle down, I wanted to include tips that I have learned from living in Vietnam for anyone who stumbles onto this blog for some help. I’ll include the disclaimer that this information is only accurate NOW (2008).
Side Note: As for posting on this blog, I have maybe a couple of posts left. I am debating whether I should visit Seoul during my layover there. If I do, I will definitely post the pictures here. After that, my trip will be over. However, I am planning a new blog based at home. I’ll share the details soon on my final post!
When to travel in Vietnam
I can only comment on my own experience. We arrived in Vietnam in February, on the first day of Tết (Vietnamese New Year). I have always wanted to go to Vietnam during Tết. What I found is that most stores and business are closed for a week. There is not much to do other than staying home with your family. As well, in February, while it is hot in southern Vietnam, it was cold in the north, and close to freezing temperature in Sapa. Just keep that in mind if you were imagining warm weather all year round throughout the country – like I did and didn’t pack the right clothing…
Train and Luggage Tickets
In Vietnam, you have to show your train tickets getting on AND off the train. I believe you get fined if you don’t. I think it’s to avoid having people cheating and buying cheaper tickets with the incorrect (shorter distance) destination. As well, when you leave the airports, they actually check that your luggage match against the luggage tags. It’s actually good when you think about it so no one can walk out with your suitcase! So be diligent in keeping ALL of your tags and tickets!
Multiple Entry Visa
After applying and paying for a multiple entry visa, I thought I had a multiple entry visa. Can you predict the rest of this story? To my surprise upon my return from the Philippines, I was told that my visa was not valid. My visa was a single entry visa even though I forked out an extra $50 for a multiple one. After being threatened by officials to be deported back to the Philippines, being reminded that entry into Vietnam was not a right but rather a privilege (yes, I understood all of that in Vietnamese!), I was able to get a new visa for double the normal fee but who is going to complain? When I asked if I could finally leave, one official even joked that I could only leave with one of them. I kept my cool and did not react. It was a nightmarish night. As The Boyfriend pointed out, I was lucky to be granted another visa and they could easily have refused me entry. Moral of the story? Check that your paperwork is what it should be.
My issue with rent here is that our rent was quoted in USD and The Boyfriend was paid in VND (dong). I recommend to anyone who is not being paid in USD to negotiate paying rent in VND instead. This is because we had a problem with having two different exchange rates: bank and black market rates. This is not an issue anymore as both rates are now the same but it could be an issue again with potential speculation. If you are being quoted in USD and want to pay in VND, ask that the contract specify which rate to use (bank rate is most beneficial) so no conflict occurs (as we had to deal with!); I think it’s actually illegal to use anything but the bank rate, but try to argue that with an old, stubborn Vietnamese landlady!
On the topic of exchanging money, currently many banks will not exchange VND currency into any foreign currency. It varies from bank to bank. At Vietcombank, they will only allow The Boyfriend to convert his assets when he closes his account after it has been approved by the director. HSBC will allow exchanges only for their customers (who have accounts at the Vietnamese branch) if you have proof that you are leaving the country. The moral of the story is that you should not exchange more than you have to or you might get stuck with VND (or get charged a black market exchange rate as an anonymous commenter experienced).
Two great websites that I used for restaurants in Vietnam is noodlepie and Gastronomy (yes, I’ve mentioned this site before and I’ve had the chance to spend time with the lovely Gastronomer!). They both have a pull down of Vietnamese dishes that is very helpful. Another helpful site is Chez Moz Dining Guide.
For vegetarians like The Boyfriend, a good tip is that on the 1st and 15th of the lunar month, Buddhists follow a vegetarian diet. It is quite easy to find vegetarian Vietnamese dishes on those days.
My favourite subject! There are good deals to be had in Vietnam and it can be overwhelming. Here are a few things I think worthwhile:
- Custom clothing: My experience with getting custom clothes sewn is limited. I would suggest that you bring your favourite piece of clothing if you want a guaranteed product because Vietnamese tailors are great at copying. I was very happy with my pants. If you do get something made from a picture, you should try it on and ask the tailor to make the necessary tweaks. The Boyfriend got pants made he felt were too tight (even though measurements were taken); luckily, the tailor left some allowance so he could loosen them. In addition, you might want to bring your own fabric. Vietnamese fabric is limited and a lot of it is the shiny synthetic material that locals prefer.
- Bootleg DVD’s from China: You can buy the latest movies (that are still in the theatre) for 15,000 VND (about 1 USD). You can also buy TV shows on DVD’s. I just bought all 7 seasons of Sex and the City for 150,000 VND. The only caveat is that the quality is inconsistent. We’ve watched good quality movies and TV shows but some will freeze or you’ll see someone walking in front of the camera.
- Custom Paintings: There are many shops that do custom paintings. They offer everything from cheesy paintings to any replicas you'd like. If you want a picture of your family or dog painted on canvas at a good price, this is your chance. They are good at copying.
60cm x 80 cm painting for my sister for 550,000 VND.
- Eyewear: Forget about Lens Crafters. Eyewear is ridiculously affordable here. I got a pair of glasses made for 450,000 VND and it only took a day to get them. The frame I picked did say CK and I ended up with a pair of D&G, but at that price who can complain? So bring your prescription with you!
I can’t think of anything else. If I do, I will simply add on to this page.