17A Tran Dinh Xu, Dist 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Tel: (84.8) 8377881 – 8377882 – 8378072; Fax: (84.8) 8368385
Customs Procedures are always subject to change. You will be asked to fill out a form declaring the cash, jewelry and other valuables. Customs will review,, stamp and keep one copy. Keep your copy for your departure later. You cannot bring out more cash than you take in.
Electrical current Expect 220v, 50 cycles in most places. Your best bet is to bring dual voltage equipment. Almost all outlets have two prongs. Don’t forget to bring a surge protector for your computer equipment and a small flashlight.
What to bring Pack comfortable, light and easy to wash clothes made of cotton, but not a lot of it. T-shirts and disposable raincoats are on sale everywhere. Sandals and sneakers are a good way of getting around. Other ideas are: camcorder tapes (and extra batteries), fanny pack and money belt, books, magazines and your contact lens concoctions. Readily available everywhere in Vietnam are bottled mineral water, canned beer, toilet paper and Kleenex.
Weather With a coast line stretching 2,000 miles, Vietnam’s climate is as varied as its geography. Technically Vietnam is a tropical country, but the northern winters are chilly. The average temperatures rise as you go South. Remember the humidity intensifies the temperature and be prepared for the occasional monsoon or typhoon during the Summer (August to October). In general, the south rainy season is between May and November and the north rainy season is between April and October.
International airlines Most international carriers enter via Ho Chi Minh City, and/or Hanoi. Asiana, Cathay Pacific, China Airlines, Eva Air, Korean Airlines, Malaysian Airlines, Japan Airlines, Philippines Airlines, Qantas, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways. Luffthansa, Swiss air, Lauda Air, United Airlines, KLM…
Currency The official currency is the dong, with the exchange rate fluctuating around 15.450 VN dong to the dollar. Plan to carry enough cash or traveler’s checks to pay all your bills. It is possible to exchange travelers; checks at various bank, and most major hotels accept credit cards (we recommend Visa and Master card). The dollar is gladly accepted almost everywhere, please ensure that the bills are relatively new, with no markings or tears. Carry a small amount in small denominations for the few instances when you must convert to dong. You may be using dollars entirely while you’re in Vietnam.
Tipping Tipping is becoming increasingly expected in Vietnam, although it certainly isn’t required. You might be interested to know that the per capita income is $350 a year. Cash always makes everyone smile, but the following list might be helpful: T-shirts, baseball caps, school supplies (no candies please if you don’t want to further contribute to the decaying of children teeth), fashion magazines, cigarettes, booze. Please call us for guidelines about tipping your chauffeur and tour guide.
Health At present, there are many foreign invested hospitals in major cities providing medicare of international standard. The worry about the diseases such as Malaria…is no more neccessary. You’ll find plenty of mineral water, canned beer and soft drinks everywhere.
Store hours Most shops are open 7 days a week, with privately owned stores never seem to close. Shop owners usually live in the back of the store, so they keep the doors open until they go to bed, sometimes until midnight. Expect a siesta shut down between 12 to 2PM. Offices are closed on Saturday afternoons and Sundays.
International driver’s license Obtain your international license at the DMV or AAA. You will need it only if you plan on riding a motorcycle larger than 100 cc. Forget about renting an automobile and drive it yourself. All cars come with a driver practically attached to it, for insurance, security and safety reasons. In fact, your driver either owns the vehicle or had to put up a bond (worth a few years of income) to ensure his 100% attention to the safety of his vehicle. If he violates traffic laws, or loses car parts due to vandalism, he has to eat it. Don’t be surprised if he sometimes declines to join you for a meal, his priority is to watch the car, not having fun.
Telephones International calls can be made almost everywhere. If there is a post office in your hotel, make the calls there, it’s always convenient. Prices are better in the post office. Faxing is your best bet, the cost is about less than $1.3 a page. A phone call can run about $1-$2 a minute, and collect calls are almost impossible. It’s best to call home, leave a number where you can be called back.
CULINARY ART OF VIETNAM
French and Chinese influence
At an Asian crossroads, Vietnam has been under Chinese ruling and French colonization. Thus, its cuisine is a blend of French, Portuguese, Thai, Cambodian, Laotian, Indian and Chinese.
As with Chinese food, you will be given a bowl full of steamed rice to which you add meats, vegetables selected with chopsticks from central dishes. After years of French influence, Vietnam saw the introduction of sauteing, baking, dairy products and Western products, such as potato and cauliflower. The French also implanted a love of baguette sandwiches are server with liver, fish or pork pâté, mayonnaise, vegetables and chilies. They are considered mid-day snacks and are sold from carts throughout the entire country.
The Buddhist influence also led to a vegetarian cuisine that is remarkably varied and extensive. Laos, Cambodia and Thailand radically changed the flavor of Vietnamese cooking by introducing the Indian curries and spices, which the Vietnamese modify; so a spicy Vietnamese dish is usually milder than its Thai counterpart, even though both cultures use fish sauce, shrimp pâté, lemon grass, mint, basil, cumin and chili peppers.
What is the food like?
Vietnamese food is very healthy, thanks to its reliance on fresh vegetables, stir-frying and use of vegetable oil rather than butter.
Pork is to the Vietnamese what red meat is to us, but consumed in much smaller quantities, with rice, broth and vegetables as fillets. Free range chicken and their eggs are pricey delicacies. Although very tough and not gastronomically lavish by Western standards, a chicken is slaughtered for a feast commemorating a special guest or occasion.
Not to be missed
If there is one thing the Vietnamese epicures are passionate about, it’s their seasoning agent called “nuoc mam” (fish sauce). The ubiquitous liquid is used as a substitute for salt (or soy sauce), or when diluted, is used as a sauce in which to dip just about everything. It is used as a base, delicately diluted with a touch of sugar, garlic, lime juice and chili to make nuoc cham. The best known Vietnamese dish is the spring roll-“cha gio” in the South and “nem ran” in the North. They are lighter, smaller and crispier than the Chinese egg rolls. It may appear similar and crispier than the Chinese egg rolls. It may appear similar to egg rolls, but that is the extent of the similarity. The rolls are served with the ubiquitous “nuoc mam” sauce and lots of herbs and lettuce.
As popular as spring rolls, “Pho” noodle soup is mostly served as breakfast. Considered the national dish of Vietnam, the noodles are served in a bowl with the meat of your choice, paper thin slices of beef sirloin or chicken, sprinkled with a variety of herbs. Clear broth flavored with a touch of anise, cinnamon and ginger is ladled into the bowl, and a twist of lime juice and hot chili pepper added to complete the meal.
Some other specialties
One South Vietnamese specialty is “Bo bay mon”, or 7 courses of beef. The “famous 7” are served as fondue, wrapped in bacon & BBQ, grilled, flash fried on salad.