MONEY TALKS – How to use Dollars, Vietnamese Dong, Credit and Debit Cards in Vietnam

One of the foremost things on every traveller’s mind is money.  Where to get it, how much to keep, how to exchange it, or how to pay for things are all questions that one must think about and understand before visiting a foreign country.  In Vietnam, and generally in the rest of Asia, cash is king, but a complicated one at that!  Before you arrive in Vietnam, take a few minutes to read through this information so that your trip goes without a hitch!

How to Spend Your Money

The front and back images of the money bills in Vietnam.  Make sure you know the difference because some of the colours are repeated!

The front and back images of the money bills in Vietnam. Make sure you know the difference because some of the colours are repeated!

Vietnam offers many opportunities to spend money, whether it be on shopping, travel or delicious food!  You can pay for things in Vietnamese dong (VND), US dollars or by credit card.  Spending in VND is often the best way to go to ensure that you get the best price.  Be careful with the bills – even though all the denominations are different sizes and colours, it can still be hard to differentiate.  For instance, the 500,000 and 20,000 dong notes are both slightly varied shades of blue, and the 200,000 and 50,000 are shades of red.  It is entirely plausible to confuse one for the other.  At the markets or local shops, make sure you carry small bills (less than 100,000) because they may not have change for you.  Many places also accept USD but you will usually not get a very good exchange since the merchant can set their own rate.

Some large stores, hotels and restaurants may accept credit cards but most of them will not!  Make sure you check beforehand.  Firstly, any establishment that allows credit card purchases will generally only accept Visa and MasterCard.  You may have some difficulty in finding places that accept American Express, Diners International or credit cards from other charge card companies.  You will most probably be charged a 2-3% transaction fee for credit card purchases.  On top of that, you may be charged an international transaction fee through your credit card bank or company, usually 3-5% of the purchase price.  If you are an avid traveller, it may be beneficial to obtain a no international fee credit card.  The best ones are the Discover It Card, Capital One Venture Rewards Card, Chase Sapphire Preferred, or the American Express Platinum Card.

In many instances, paying by credit card may not be an available option or may not be cost effective, but there are certain advantages to paying with a credit card.  The first is that Visa and MasterCard give you the best exchange rate of the week.  The exchange rate that they will give you will be better than what you will get for cash at the banks.  Another important consideration when paying for things with credit card is that there is often inherent insurance provided by either the charge card company (Visa/MasterCard) or your credit card company.  For large amount items such as hotels or flights, it may be beneficial to use your credit card, just in case there is a discrepancy or emergency.  Depending on your coverage, you can claim or dispute all sorts of things if you pay by credit card – hotel burglary, fraudulent transactions, insurance for jewelry purchases and more.  However, be very, very aware of the transaction fees and the associated costs, because the cost of using your credit card in Vietnam may not be justified.

How to Exchange Money

Although it is becoming more rare, the practice of exchanging USD at gold and jewelry shops is still prevalent in Vietnam. The exchange rate used to be significantly higher than banks and currency exchange booths but the difference is much smaller now.

Although it is becoming more rare, the practice of exchanging USD at gold and jewelry shops is still prevalent in Vietnam. The exchange rate used to be significantly higher than banks and currency exchange booths but the difference is much smaller now.

If you come with some foreign cash, you can exchange it for VND at banks or currency exchange establishments.  You may get a slightly better rate of return at banks but you will always lose a little bit in the exchange.  The disadvantage of going to a bank to exchange money is that you need to show a passport for identification and you need to fill out a form first.  It can be a hassle when you want to do a quick exchange and then go.  Alternatively, at currency exchange booths you can exchange money instantly.  For USD and CAD, exchange money in increments of $100 to get the best exchange rate.  The currency exchange booths around tourist locations such as Ben Thanh market may charge a higher transaction fee so it is best to avoid them unless you are in a hurry.  Also please note that many exchange places will not accept old or torn bills.  Bring new and crisp bills in order to get the best exchange rate.  If you happen to have damaged bills that no one else will accept, simply go to a bank and exchange it for a new note for a nominal fee.

Another place to exchange USD to VND is at the many gold shops in Vietnam.  This practice is technically illegal but if you have lost or forgotten your passport, banks are not an option for you so you will have to exchange money at booths or gold shops.  It used to be the case that you would get a significantly better exchange rate at the shops than at other places but now the exchange rate is no longer that different.

How to Obtain Money

ATMs are found throughout the city so you will be able to take out cash almost anywhere you are.  But remember to check the rules beforehand so you know how much your credit card company and the ATM will charge you for the withdrawal.  Keep in mind that Techcombank and HSBC bank machines allow the most amount of money to be withdrawn at one time.

ATMs are found throughout the city so you will be able to take out cash almost anywhere you are. But remember to check the rules beforehand so you know how much your credit card company and the ATM will charge you for the withdrawal. Keep in mind that Techcombank and HSBC bank machines allow the most amount of money to be withdrawn at one time.

To obtain more cash, you can always go to any of the ATMs around the city, but first you must know the rules of your bank and your debit or credit card.  There are many credit and debit cards that will charge a hefty fee for withdrawing cash overseas and it can get very expensive!  You will also have to find out what the transaction limit is per day for your card.  As for the ATM associated fees, the withdrawal fee is usually around 20,000 Dong (about $1 USD).  Some people have reported that DongA Bank ATMs do not charge a transaction fee but in our experience there is always a nominal fee.  That said, withdrawing from a credit card will cost you a lot because not only will you be charged for an international cash advance, that amount will start accruing interest immediately.  We recommend withdrawing funds through a debit card.

Most HSBC and TechCom ATMs allow a per transaction maximum withdrawal of 5 million to 6 million dong.  Other ATMs allow around 2 million dong.  For large withdrawals, the ATM will dispense 500,000 dong notes which you will then have to exchange for smaller bills for small purchases.  The ATMs around the city are generally safe but, just as anywhere else in the world, try to avoid ATMs in convenience stores and bars.

If you need really large sums of cash, Western Union is the best way to go.  It is less expensive and more hassle-free than bank wire transfers, and there are hundreds of locations within Ho Chi Minh City alone.  Depending on the amount, you may pay less in a Western Union transaction fee than on international cash advance fees through your bank or credit card.  Simply get a friend or family member to go to a Western Union branch back home and fill out the appropriate paperwork.  Be sure that the spelling of the name of the recipient matches exactly as it is shown on the passport – even one letter off is grounds for refusal.  Note that the money they send to you will be from their own account rather than yours, unless they have power of attorney or joint status for your account.

Remember that no matter what, be safe with the cash that you have.   Avoiding carrying large amounts of money and use a money belt if possible!

Hope you enjoyed another great travel tip brought to you by XO Tours, the most acclaimed food tour in Vietnam! 🙂

 

Shopping in Ho Chi Minh City – What to buy and where to buy it!

Ho Chi Minh City is truly a mecca for shopping enthusiasts!  Everything from handicrafts to imitation brand name clothes and shoes are available at a fraction of what it would cost overseas!  As tourism has increased over time in Ho Chi Minh City, so has the establishment of trendy boutiques that cater to the tourist crowd.  However, you can find the same treasures within the many shopping areas throughout the city.  Our aim in this post is to guide you in your shopping adventures and help you find what you’re looking for at bargain prices!

For our Hanoi Shopping Guide, click HERE.

CLOTHES

Vietnam is a manufacturing country so imitations of brand name clothes are generally cheaper than the suggested retail price!  You can find both high end brand clothing and mall brands like American Eagle Outfitters, Gap, Old Navy and more.  Many locals shop for clothing in the stores along Nguyen Trai street or at Saigon Square.  Keep in mind that there are 3 locations for Saigon Square (Saigon Square 2 is currently closed) and, oddly, they have the same name!  Many people refer to the new location as Saigon Square 3.  All 3 locations carry similar items but Saigon Square 3 is cooler and more spacious than the original location.

Location of Nguyen Trai Street shopping
Location of Saigon Square 1
Location of Saigon Square 3

Screen Shot 2013-02-20 at 12.10.19 PM

SHOES

Ho Chi Minh City seems to have a specific street for everything, and shoes are no exception.  In fact, the city has two streets dedicated entirely to shoes!  As is the case with clothes, you will find great imitations of brand name shoes.  Be careful with the quality of these imitations as the heel or main body of the shoe may show wear and tear very quickly.

Ly Chinh Thang street is lined with shoe shops which carry shoes in a variety of sizes and styles.  The other shoe street is just outside of Ben Thanh Market and one block away from Le Loi street.  The shops on this street have more sports shoes and sandals whereas the shops on Ly Chinh Thang street carry more fashion shoes.

Location of Shoes Street 1 (Ly Chinh Thang)
Location of Shoes Street 2 (Luu Van Lung)

Shoes in Ho Chi Minh City

HANDBAGS AND LUGGAGE

If you need to buy luggage to transport your newly purchased goods, visit Le Lai street between New World Hotel and Ben Thanh Market.  You will see an entire street of luggage shops with the most well known brands such as North Face, Samsonite, and more!  Alternatively, if you need a fashionable handbag or wallet, visit Saigon Square or Binh Tay Market in Cho Lon.  If you plan on using the handbag around the city, make sure the straps are secure enough so that you are not a victim of petty theft.

Location of Le Lai Street luggage shops
Location of Saigon Square 1
Location of Saigon Square 2
Location of Binh Tay Market in Cho Lon

Handbags and Luggage in Saigon

WATCHES

Find the best fake watches here in Ho Chi Minh City!  Name the brand and you will find it!  Many of them are impressive imitations but you will have to feel the weight and inspect the metal on the watch to ensure that the quality is good.  Of course, Ben Thanh Market has countless stalls selling watches but expect to pay a hefty price.  If you have time to explore, check out Binh Tay Market at Cho Lon or the many small shops around the market for a better bargain.  Shop owners around the city buy their stock at this market at wholesale prices.  You can also go to the top floor of the Saigon Tax Center where they have a few jewelry stores which carry watches.

UPDATE: Saigon Tax Center is now closed

Location of Ben Thanh Market
Location of Binh Tay Market in Cho Lon
Location of Saigon Tax Center

Fake Watches Ho Chi Minh City

HANDICRAFTS

Vietnamese handicrafts are very unique and intricate.  Vietnam is especially famous for lacquerware and coconut dinnerware.  Bowls, plates, spoons and chopsticks make great gifts and decoration!  You can also find fabulous fabric creations with pathwork and threadwork embroidery.  Or, if you prefer wood items, you might like the handcrafted wooden boats and figurines that are often sold at the markets.

The best place to find a huge variety of lacquerware at the best bargain prices is An Dong Plaza, near Cho Lon in Chinatown, or for someplace more accessible, try the top floor of the Tax Center.  For being so central within Ho Chi Minh City, the lacquerware at the Tax Center is a great bargain!  What’s more, many people do not know about it as it’s well hidden – go to the very top floor even if you think you can’t go up anymore.  The entire top floor is dedicated to lacquerware crafts!  We find that the choices for fabric and wood crafts are the best at Ben Thanh Market.

Location of An Dong Plaza
Location of Ben Thanh Market
Location of Saigon Tax Center

Handicrafts Vietnam

ANTIQUES

Try antiques street (otherwise known as Le Cong Kieu street) just outside Ben Thanh Market.  People have commented that the stores are riddled by imitations but you may find a diamond in the rough!  Items include old money, stamps, war memorabilia, figurines made of ivory or bone and more.  Be careful when buying “antiques” in Vietnam however as it is illegal to export real antiques out of the country.

Location of Antiques Street (Le Cong Kieu)

Antiques Ho Chi Minh City

PAINTINGS

Ho Chi Minh City is home to many art galleries which host the most talented local artists.  However, for copies of famous pieces of art or for original paintings by lesser known artists, visit the “painting street”.  Like shoes, there are not one but two streets that are chock-a-block full of painting shops!  More locals shop at the painting stores in District 5 than the one in District 1, but you will surely find a great selection wherever you choose to go!

Location of Paintings Street 1 (Tran Phu Street, District 5)
Location of Paintings Street 2 (Bui Vien Street, District 1)

Paintings Ho Chi Minh City

FABRIC

Vietnam is often touted as the next custom tailoring capital of the world!  If you have time to tailor custom outfits, we strongly recommend that you visit ‘fabric street’ to find an excellent selection of cloth for your tailored creations.  Fabric street is located directly across from Tan Dinh Market.  You will find even better deals on fabric inside the market, although the stores across the street have a wider selection of fabric types.  You can also visit Soai Kinh Lam material market in Cho Lon.  This is a wholesale market so the prices are cheaper and the choices are more abundant.  Tailors will charge less if you come with your own fabric but make sure you check with the tailor first with regard to how much material is needed for your garments.

Location of Tan Dinh Market 
Location of Fabrics Street (Hai Ba Trung)
Location of Soai Kinh Lam Material Market

Fabrics Ho Chi Minh City

Vietnam is a cash based society, which means that there is no such thing as a fixed price.  You must absolutely bargain for the goods you wish to purchase. Remember that, in a market, there will be several stores that carry the items that you want.  Therefore, the best strategy in getting things at an appropriate price is not getting attached very quickly to what you want to buy.  In many cases, the owner will call you back if you walk away and agree on a reasonable price!  Use the following phrases to help you with your negotiations!

Shopping Phrases in Vietnam

If you are in Ho Chi Minh City for a limited amount of time, you can visit either Ben Thanh Market, Saigon Square or An Dong Plaza for a one-stop shop experience.  Keep in mind that Ben Thanh Market, albeit convenient, can be much more expensive than the other markets due to its central location and frequency of tourist shoppers.  When shopping at Ben Thanh Market you should start with 40-50% of the original asking price and negotiate from there.  If the store owner does not lower the price, you can just as easily go to the next stall.  In comparison, you should expect to get no more than 10-20% discount on goods that you purchase at Saigon Square 1 & 2.  You will see more locals shopping at Saigon Square or An Dong Plaza.  Wherever you choose to shop, we are confident that you will be thoroughly impressed with what Vietnam has to offer.  We wish you an enjoyable shopping experience in Ho Chi Minh City!

This is another great Vietnam travel tip brought to you by XO Tours, the best motorcycle tour in Vietnam! 🙂

TOP 5 REASONS TO VISIT HO CHI MINH CITY DURING TET

tet vietnam

Lunar New Year, or more commonly known as Tet, is a wondrous and prosperous time in Vietnam, and is an event that is anticipated throughout the year!  It marks the arrival of spring, a brand new start for many of life’s endeavours, and is a time to appreciate and spend time with family.  If you are considering traveling to Vietnam during Tet, here are the top 5 reasons to be a part of this joyous celebration in Ho Chi Minh City.

1. Spectacular Sights – Ho Chi Minh City is incredibly festive on the days leading up to Tet.  Magical is the best way to describe the city during this time!  Imagine an entire street closed off to traffic and dedicated to flower displays and fascinating works of art created entirely by lights!  Tet is such a special time of year for the Vietnamese people and the country spares no effort or expense in creating a beautiful atmosphere for everyone to enjoy.  It is definitely a sight to see!

Tet 2013 - Year of the Snake!  Spectacular sights around the city.

Tet 2013 – Year of the Snake! Spectacular sights around the city.

2. Special Tet Food – certain foods and treats are only served during Tet and are considered auspicious and significant for a multitude of reasons.  For instance, one of the items you will see at food stalls during Tet is Banh Chung or Banh Tet.  It’s a mixture of glutinous rice, mung beans and pork covered with banana leaves and moulded into a square shape.  The ingredients and the colour of Banh Tet symbolize the offerings of the Earth, and this treat is offered at shrines or temples in order to pray for health and prosperity in the new year.  Be sure to give it a try!

Banh Tet is the iconic food of Tet celebrations.  It is made with glutinous rice, mung beans and pork along with various spices.  The mixture is wrapped up in banana leaves in a distinctive square shape.

Banh Tet is the iconic food of Tet celebrations. It is made with glutinous rice, mung beans and pork along with various spices. The mixture is wrapped up in banana leaves in a distinctive square shape.

3. Less Traffic – people generally visit their families either in their hometowns or in the cities, so you will hardly see people out and about!  The hoards of motorcycles and the usual hustle and bustle of the city are at a minimum.  It’s a great time to cross the street without fearing the worst!

The area at the entrance of Ben Thanh market is one of the major intersections in Ho Chi Minh City.  During Tet, all the traffic almost disappears for about 3-4 days!

The area at the entrance of Ben Thanh market is one of the major intersections in Ho Chi Minh City. During Tet, all the traffic almost disappears for about 3-4 days!

4. Hotel Availability – traveling within the country is generally a little difficult during Tet due to the lack of transportation options or expensive prices.  Hotels, on the other hand, are more available because tourists tend to just stay where they are for Tet.  Some smaller hostels and bed and breakfasts may close for a few days but most hotels are open through Tet and have ample availability.

5. Pleasant Weather – late January to February is a great time to visit Ho Chi Minh City because the weather is mild.  Of course, Ho Chi Minh City has a tropical climate so it never really gets cold but the heat is more bearable than during other times of the year, and it is still within the dry season.  The nights get cooler too and you may even get a pleasant evening breeze!  The cooler weather coupled with less traffic make for a great opportunity to wander the streets peacefully and enjoy the sights during Tet!

Wishing you a Happy New Year and a prosperous and healthy road ahead! Chuc Mung Nam Moi!

What’s the Buzz in Vietnam?

The First Starbucks in Vietnam

The First Starbucks in Vietnam

Well, it has happened – Starbucks has finally opened shop in the coffee capital of Asia!  You may be wondering how Starbucks will survive in the strong coffee culture of Vietnam.  How will it compete with the long standing Trung Nguyen Coffee or Highlands Coffee?  Will it hurt local coffee shops or will people continue to frequent roadside coffee stands?  These are questions that will be answered only with time.  In the meantime, let us teach you a little bit about coffee production in Vietnam and, more importantly, how to make a perfect Vietnamese coffee at home!

Fun Facts:

  • Vietnam is now the number one C. Robusta exporter in the world, beating out Brazil in 2012!
  • Vietnam specializes in crap coffee!  Yes, you read that right… perhaps you have heard of weasel coffee?  The weasel eats the finest coffee fruits and excretes the bean.  It has a definite distinct taste and “weasel coffee” or “ca phe chon” is a delicacy enjoyed around the world!
  • Vietnamese grown coffee beans are a major component in most grocery store instant coffee brands.
  • Coffee producers in Vietnam are making an effort to grow the finer and more expensive C. Arabica in order to make Vietnam a coffee production powerhouse (if it isn’t one already).
  • Ca phe sua, coffee with condensed milk on the bottom Vietnamese style, is delicious!  Condensed milk was originally used in place of fresh milk because of difficulties with milk storage in a tropical climate, but we just think it’s genius.  🙂
How it all begins... a weasel enjoying delicious coffee berries!

How it all begins… a weasel enjoying delicious coffee berries!

Coffee beans in weasel excrement before being roasted and packaged...

Coffee beans in weasel excrement before being roasted and packaged…

From Farm to Home:

Vietnam primarily grows the C. Robusta variety of coffee.  The berries are manually picked during harvest season, which is usually November to February.  In the "dry method" of coffee production, the berries are directly dried without removing the fruit.  Workers will sometimes walk over the drying fruit to press them down and turn them.  The dried berries go to the mill to remove the outer layers until the bean is exposed.  Vietnam mostly exports "green coffee", which is the dried inner bean that has yet to be roasted.

Vietnam primarily grows the C. Robusta variety of coffee. The berries are manually picked during harvest season, which is usually November to February. In the “dry method” of coffee production, the berries are directly dried without removing the fruit. Workers will sometimes walk over the drying fruit to press them down and turn them. The dried berries go to the mill to remove the outer layers until the bean is exposed. Vietnam mostly exports “green coffee”, which is the dried inner bean that has yet to be roasted.

 

How to Make the Perfect Cup of Vietnamese Coffee:

These are things you need to make Vietnamese coffee: a special kind of coffee filter called a "phin", really strong and bitter coffee (traditionally the C. Robusta type of coffee is used which is naturally more bitter than other coffee types), and sweetened condensed milk.

These are things you need to make Vietnamese coffee: a special kind of coffee filter called a “phin”, really strong and bitter coffee (traditionally the C. Robusta type of coffee is used which is naturally more bitter than other coffee types), and sweetened condensed milk.

  • Add 1-2 tablespoons of condensed milk at the bottom of the glass.
  • Put the chamber of the phin on top of the glass and add 1.5 tablespoons of filter coffee.
  • Place the press on top and push/screw it down to the level of the coffee grounds.
  • Add a little bit of hot water to allow the grounds to swell.
  • After a minute, add hot water up to the top of the chamber and put the lid on to keep everything hot.
  • After 3-5 minutes of brewing, remove the whole phin and stir your milk and coffee creation.
  • Enjoy your coffee piping hot or add a bit of ice for a hot summer’s day!
Give the coffee a few minutes to brew completely through the phin filter before enjoying a hot cup of coffee.  Or, pour it over a cup of ice for a cold drink on a hot day!

Give the coffee a few minutes to brew completely through the phin filter before enjoying a hot cup of coffee. Or, pour it over a cup of ice for a cold drink on a hot day!

 

TOP 10 THINGS TO BRING TO VIETNAM!

Vietnam is a great travel destination and, as with other travel destinations, there are certain things you should bring with you to minimize hassle during your trip.  Use the following list to appropriately pack for your travels.

 1. The Essentials

Passport and Visa!! – In addition to the originals, keep photocopies or scanned copies of your passport and visa in case you lose your passport.

Travel medical insurance information – Keep a printout with you.

Cash – Keep enough cash with you as many stores and restaurants only take cash.  Many tourist restaurants and stores take credit card but they will often add a surcharge of 2-3% on top of the international transaction fees you will incur through your credit card company.  ATMs and banks can be found throughout the city if you need to take out cash.  Money exchange booths are also plentiful, especially around tourist haunts.

Money belt – Remember, like any large city, be cautious of petty theft and use a money belt to keep your money secure.

2. Appropriate Luggage

Soft shell bags – If you plan on taking bus or train rides in the region, soft bags are recommended as the overhead luggage compartments can be quite small.  Keep in mind that the baggage tariffs on internal flights and flights in the region can be quite high so soft shelled bags can save a lot of extra weight and therefore a lot of money.

Daypacks or backpacks – For short excursions, treks and day trips around the city, a daypack is essential for carrying a water bottle, snacks, sunscreen, insect repellent, and shopping.  A secure and sturdy daypack is the perfect thing to keep all your belongings with you as you go about your day.  And, any souvenirs you buy along the way can be kept safe in your bag without having to carry extra plastic bags.  Be careful with how you choose your daypack – a bag that sits close to your body and has thick straps is advisable as thieves can cut the straps and take your bag before you even realize what has happened.

 3. Appropriate Clothing

Ponchos are a popular rain attire for bikers around the city.

Ponchos are a popular rain attire for bikers around the city.

Moisture wicking clothing – In Ho Chi Minh City, rainy season is from June to November and dry season is during the rest of the year, although it stays between 25-35C throughout the year.  Lightweight clothing is important for this kind of weather.

Light rain jacket – For the rain, a light jacket is fine but a plastic poncho may also work well.  You will see many locals wearing ponchos while riding their bike in the rain so the poncho may be more suitable if you plan on doing cycling or motorcycling tours around the country.

4. Appropriate Shoes

Walking shoes – Ho Chi Minh City and other cities in Vietnam are very conducive to walking, once you get past the occasional motorbike driver on the sidewalk!  You may find that you end up walking several kilometres a day so good walking shoes are a must.

Activity based shoes – If you plan on doing outdoor activities or trekking, special shoes are very important.  If you forget to bring them, many hostels and hotels can provide shoes that guests have left behind but your size may not be available.  Even buying shoes here may be difficult if your shoe size is larger than that of the average Vietnamese person.

5. Medication

Brand name medication – The medication regulations in Vietnam are different than in other countries such that over-the-counter medicines are both cheap and readily available.  Many of the brand name medicines like Pepto Bismol and Tylenol are quite expensive but their non brand name counterparts are very cheap.  If you prefer to take a certain brand of medicine, bring extra!

Special medication – Some non mainstream medications may be difficult to find here.  Bring enough for your stay.

6. Bathroom Supplies

Toilet paper – It may be beneficial to keep toilet paper with you while traveling, especially on long bus rides.  Most hotels, hostels and restaurants in the city have conventional toilets but many bus stop bathrooms have squatting-style toilets without toilet paper.

Female supplies – Sanitary napkins are easy to find here but tampons are not.

7. Sun Protection

Aloe vera, called "nha dam" in Vietnamese, is readily available at the markets but it's impractical to carry the leaf around during your travels.

Aloe vera, called “nha dam” in Vietnamese, is readily available at the markets but it’s impractical to carry the leaf around during your travels.

UV protection – The sun is very powerful here so high SPF lotions or sprays are a must.  Even local residents protect themselves from the sun by wearing long sleeves, hats and sun umbrellas!  Of course long sleeves in this heat is not very pleasant but neither is sunburn!

Aloe vera gel – Aloe vera gel in a bottle is very difficult to find here but fresh aloe vera is readily available at the market.  Using real aloe vera is very soothing but it is not efficient or practical when traveling by bus or train so bottled aloe vera gel can be quite handy in these situations.

8. Insect Protection

Insect repellent with Deet – Dengue fever and malaria are transmitted by mosquitos so an insect repellent with Deet is a good thing to have.  Although malaria is rare and is confined to the rural areas, dengue fever is more prevalent.

Cortisone cream – Bites can be highly unpleasant and the last thing you need is an infection from scratching too much!

9. Electronics

Many outlets in Vietnam are of the combination type and will accept three different plug shapes.

Many outlets in Vietnam are of the combination type and will accept three different plug shapes.

Chargers and backup chargers – Remember to bring all necessary chargers for your electronics.  Pre-charged battery packs are very useful for long bus and train rides.

Shape converter – Most hostels and hotels will have outlets that accept multiple plug shapes but the voltage is still 220V.  A shape converter may come in handy for outlets that don’t accept your plug type.

Computer-like gadget – A smartphone or iPod is a great thing to have!  WiFi is readily available almost anywhere.  You can call home for free or use GoogleMaps, which works very well in Ho Chi Minh City.  A laptop might be too bulky to carry around and too expensive of an item to have stolen.  When you are using your phone on the street, make sure to do it discreetly and away from the curb.  It is all too easy for someone to grab the phone while on their motorbike.

10. Proper Information

Travel books – Travel books can be invaluable here for important information about hospitals, money, embassies, and more.  Keep in mind that the latest edition of a travel book is usually a year out of date so locations and phone numbers for restaurants or stores may change.  Fortunately, the location of public service offices are usually less transient.

Translation cards – If you have food intolerances, make sure you print out your translation cards before you come here.

Location information – Have with you the addresses, phone numbers, location and maps for your hotels before arriving so that you can relay information to your taxi driver.

 

If you forget any items, most things are available here but at a premium.  Proper packing will ensure that you have a relaxing and hassle-free vacation!