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Practical info about Vietnam

Posted on 2012-02-02 12:17:23 by sjv


A valid passport and a visa are required of all foreigners visiting Vietnam. With very few exceptions, there is no such thing as a "visa on arrival." Visas are issued by Vietnamese embassies and consulates. Some overseas offices of Vietnam tourism are able to issue tourist visas. Entry to Vietnam may be refused if your passport has less than six months validity.

You should apply for tourist visas at least for the duration of your project in Vietnam. It will be difficult for short term volunteers to extend your visas when you have arrived, do not presume it will be cheaper to extend your visa when you are in Vietnam as this will not be the case! Do not complete your visa application until your travel plans are certain. You are required to state your intended ports of arrival and departure (for example, arriving in Hanoi and departing from Ho Chi Minh City). Changing either of these upon or after your arrival could result in a mountain of red tape and extra expense. Submit your application along with two standard passport photos, your passport and the required fee.

You don’t need invitation letter from us, apply for tourist visa ONLY.

Don’t start to explain that you come here to be a volunteer, to help the poor children, etc. Except if you want to spend three days of explanation at the embassy and not receive your visa for “national security reasons”. Apply for your visa at least three weeks before your trip to be completely sure to get it in time! Make at least three photocopies of your passport and visa and put them in different places. Give one photocopy to your workcamp leader. Keep the other photocopies for yourself, they can be very useful if you lose your papers. If you lose your passport or have over-stayed you will need to apply for a new visa from the Immigration authorities in order to leave the country. This can only be done during working hours and usually takes three to five working days. For further information, check with your nearest Vietnamese Embassy.


Don’t travel without insurance: an emergency abroad can be extremely expensive! The volunteers need to have their own travel and medical insurance. Before you go, you need to make sure you have adequate insurance cover.

What is the very minimum your travel insurance should cover?

- Medical and health cover for an injury or sudden illness abroad

- 24 hour emergency service and assistance

- Personal liability covers in case you’re sued for causing injury or for damaging property

- Lost and stolen possessions cover

- Cancellation and curtailment (cutting short your trip) cover


You can find a good quality medicine infrastructure in the big cities and even hospitals with foreign doctors (e.g. the "French Hospital" or "International SOS hospital") in Hanoi but these private hospitals are extremely expensive so you absolutely need to have a good travel insurance before starting your trip! We advise you to visit a physician and your dentist before travelling and also to check your vaccination status on time!

Vaccination against

yellow fever :

* Not compulsory if arriving from Europe, North America, Oceania and Asia
* Compulsory only if arriving or transiting from infected areas

Additional vaccination(s):

* Japanese encephalitis: vaccination can be justified in case of long-lasting stays in rural areas
Hepatitis A: vaccination justified
Hepatitis B: vaccination justified
Rabies: vaccination can be justified for long-lasting stays or risky trips
Tetanus-poliomyelitis: vaccination justified
Typhoid: vaccination justified

We also suggest you bring a simple medical kit. Your doctor should advise you what to include AND HOW TO USE IT; however as a minimum we suggest you bring:

* Aspirin (for pain or fever)
* Cold and flu tablets
* Anti diarrhea medication
* something appropriate for nausea and vomiting
* Insect repellant
* Antiseptic and bandages
* Sunscreen and lip balm

We will provide you fresh water in bottles; you don’t need mobile water filters or chloral pills.

For extra info about traveling health advice:

You can also download from our web server an extract (163 pages) of the guide published by the World Health Organization called INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL AND HEALTH 2008 here


The Vietnamese currency is the "Vietnamese Dong" (VND). The exchange rate in November 2010 was:

1 USD = 19,480.00 VND

1 EUR = 27,015.72 VND

Be sure that you understand how to convert your national money to/from Vietnamese dong before coming! Always count the money that you receive back when you change your money. If your currency is Euro or Yen all the change offices in Hanoi will change your money so you do not need to purchase US Dollars before your trip. Do not change money in the street!!! It is illegal and it is the best way to get fake money. You can find ATM machines everywhere (especially Vietcombank ATMs) which accept a wide variety of bankcards. Credit cards are not used in day to day life; you can only use them to take cash out from ATM machines and in expensive hotels and restaurants. In general, avoid paying in Dollars (especially motorbike and taxi).

Some prices:

Entrance at swimming pool: between 30.000 VND (close to SJ Vietnam House) and 150.000 VND (Sheraton)


You can easily get around in Hanoi by city bus. One bus ticket costs only 3.000 VND. For long term volunteers we will provide a monthly bus pass. Another way to go around Hanoi is by motorbike taxi (called ‘Xe om’). Depending where you want to go you pay the driver around 10.000 -30.000 VND. Remember always to bargain on the price. There are of course usually taxis in Hanoi. If you go by taxi do not forget to tell the driver to switch on the taxi meter. It is also possible to discuss the price before you leave.


Traffic in Vietnam is VERY chaotic. You will notice very quickly when you will arrive here that the most dangerous thing is crossing the street. Be very careful with the road traffic, even after few days, don’t be too confident! Traffic accidents mostly involve motorcycles and often resulting in traumatic head injury.

Traffic drives on the right hand side of the road, although drivers frequently cross to the left to pass or turn and motorcycles and bicycles often travel (illegally) against the flow of traffic. Horns are used constantly, often for no apparent reason. Streets in major cities are choked with motorcycles, cars, buses, trucks, bicycles, pedestrians and cyclos. Outside the cities, livestock compete with vehicles for road space. Sudden stops by motorcycles and bicycles make driving a particular hazard. The number of traffic lights in Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh City is increasing, but red lights are often ignored so take care.

The urban speed limit ranges from 35 to 40 km/h and rural speed limit ranges from 40 to 60 km/h. Pedestrians should be careful as sidewalks are extremely congested and uneven. Drivers of bicycles, motorcycles and other vehicles routinely ignore traffic signals and traffic flows, some even drive on sidewalks. For safety, pedestrians you should look carefully in both directions before crossing streets, even when using a marked crosswalk with a green “walk” light illuminated.

Motorcyclists and cyclists both foreign and native, are obliged to wear helmets, it became illegal to ride a motorbike without a helmet as of January 1st 2008.


Vietnam Emergency Numbers are essential for you to know whether you are a short term or long term volunteer in Vietnam. In case of an emergency you can call these numbers and ask for help. The three main important numbers are the number of the police station: 113, the number of ambulance: 115 and the number of the fire brigade: 114.

There is no phone line in the youth house but your friends and family can call you in our office in the morning or in the evening (GMT +7), our phone number is +84 43 2154993 (in emergency).

You can buy a very cheap Sim-card for your mobile phone for around 75.000VND ($4.5), it is the best solution if you want to stay in touch with your family when you are abroad.

Public landlines telephone services are also available which are easy to find and a cheap way to call in an emergency. Just look for the sign: “Dien Thoai Cong Cong”. Furthermore, you will find internet cafés in the city with very cheap prices (about 3000-9000 Vietnamese Dong/hour).

What to bring?

When thinking about traveling to Vietnam, do not be misled by the cinema images of hot, steamy jungle. Although the country is located between the Equator and the tropic of Cancer, the northern part of Vietnam has a subtropical climate and can be very chilly in the winter months

If you forget something, it is not a disaster because you should be able to find a substitute locally. From December to April, the weather can be change constantly: warm during the day and quite cold in evenings, bring warm clothes and a raincoat! You should bring some winter clothes with you because it is about 12-20 degree Celsius in winter in Vietnam. Occasionally, it is 7-8°C which is really cold especially as there is no central heating in our accommodation. In spring, summer and autumn, the weather can be extremely warm and humid (up to 35°C and 90%), so take some light cotton clothes with you (for example, T-shirt).

Small list:


With a variety of altitudes and latitudes there's always somewhere that is pleasantly sunny and warm if you're prepared to search for it. The weather usually is hot and humid, around the low 30°Cs (high 80°Fs), but if you head north and along the coast they cool down to comfortable temperatures towards January. The weather is determined by two monsoons; the winter monsoon comes from the northeast between October and March bringing wet chilly winters to all areas north of Nha Trang, but dry and warm temperatures to the south. From April or May to October, the southwestern monsoon brings warm, humid weather and buckets of rain to the whole country except for those areas sheltered by mountains.

In Hanoi there are four distinct seasons: Spring, summer, autumn, and Winter. But it is possible to divide the climate here into two main seasons: the rainy season from May to September (it’s hot, heavy rain), and the dry season is from October to April (it is cold with very little rainfall).


Some of the major religious festivals follow the lunar calendar. They include: Tet (late January or early February), the most important festival of the year which lasts a week (with rites beginning a week earlier), marking the new lunar year; Wandering Souls Day (Trung Nguyen), held on the fifteenth day of the seventh moon (August), the second-largest festival of the year, when offerings of food and gifts are given to the wandering souls of the forgotten dead; Summer Solstice Day (Tiet Doan Ngo) in June which sees the burning of human effigies to satisfy the need for souls to serve in the God of Death's army; and Holiday of the Dead (Thanh Minh) in April commemorating deceased relatives.

Facts about Hanoi

Located in the northern part of Vietnam, Hanoi is the capital of this South-East Asian country. This thousand year old city situated on the banks of the Red River has an estimated population of about 4 million inhabitants. With many colourful districts including the French styled Old Quarter near Hoan Kiem lake and the modern New Quarter, Tay Ho, Hanoi is a buzzing and vibrant city with many interesting places to visit, a city never to forget.

Do’s and don’ts

Vietnam is a friendly and safe place to travel, with a sprinkling of common sense your trip should be smooth and trouble free. Tourists usually complain about over-aggressive street vendors, tour operators with a bad attitude and dangerous driving. However, with a cool head and sensible planning, one can avoid such problems.



Vietnamese food

Famous for its lively, fresh flavours and artfully composed meals, Vietnamese food and cooking is the true 'light cuisine' of Asia. Abundant fresh herbs and greens, delicate soups and stir-fries, and well-seasoned grilled food served on, or with, rice or noodles are the mainstays of the Vietnamese delicacies. Even the beloved sweets for snacks or desserts are often based on fresh fruits served with sweetened rice or tapioca. Rarely does any dish have added fats. While the Vietnamese cuisine relies on fresh vegetables, subtle seasonings and rice, Vietnamese cooking also reflects its Chinese and French influences and it has numerous regional difference; in the south, look for plentiful fresh seafood and in the colder north, you'll find slightly heartier meals with beef. In central Vietnam, around the ancient royal capital Hue, the food may contain influences of the former court cooks.

Rice is the staple food in the Vietnamese diet, present at all main meals, closely followed by the condiment added to most dishes: ‘nuoc mam’. This is made from salt and well fermented fish.

Useful sentences


Xin chào



Cám Æ¡n

Thank you


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Good night

Useful websites

Our Vietnamese Maps

Our Google Map Waypoints

Hospital and doctors in Hanoi

Vietnamese Music


Flight Information

Vietnam railways


Money Exchange


Time Zone

Extra Information

Un ETAI pour le Vietnam





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