At A Glance
Vietnam Travel Notes
Greetings and thank you for joining us for the trip of a lifetime. First and foremost, despite the challenges you may have heard or read about the region, we are here to ensure your trip goes not only smoothly, but is one of the most remarkable you've ever had. For us, your trip preparation begins well before you depart with careful planning and arrangements. On your part, please relax, we'll let you know what and when we need anything from you and what you should be doing (if anything aside from browsing through a few books about where you will be traveling). Again, let us sweat the details, that's what you've entrusted us to do!
About 60 to 90 days before your depart, you will receive printed materials from us in your pre-tour packet. Please inspect and read thrse documents carefully, some, such as your visa on arrival authorization form, may be required for entry into the country you are traveling to. Most of these documents are posted here if you wish to get an early start. Of course, please don't hesitate to contact us with any questions you may have. We would also be happy to place you in contact with our past travelers for their advice.
Important: Your passport must be valid for six months beyond the ending date of your trip; please check your passport is indeed valid for this amount of time.
Myanmar, Vietnam, Bhutan, and China require visa or visa authorization before arrival, which Indochina Travel will assist with securing*. Unless transiting through the airport, these countries also require a re-entry visa if passing through more than once. For all other countries, your visa will be processed after arrival, including Laos and Cambodia. Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, and Singapore do not require a visa. For visa information by country, please see our Visa information page. For specific visa procedures and forms, also see by country (below).
*Although Indochina Travel may assist with obtaining visas or visa on arrival authorization, each traveler bears the ultimate responsibility to ensure they have the required documentation for entry.
Immunizations and Vaccinations
Health vaccinations are not required. However, health requirements may change and we recommend you check with a medical professional and the Centers for Disease Control Web site for current information on your destinations. Malaria does not occur in most places where you will likely be traveling. For an incidence map, please search on the CDC's Malaria Map Application. Although Malaria data is limted for Myanmar, it does not occur in cities (Yangon and Mandalay) and does not occur in Bagan nor Shan State over 1,000 meters (which includes Inle Lake, Kalaw, and Maymyo).
Emergency Contacts & Insurance
All travelers (except to China) are covered for emergency medical and air evacuation insurance through the Global Traveler Program by International SOS (Membership No: 12148-B). International SOS operates its own medical clinics and offices in-country with locations in Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Yangon, Beijing, Shanghai, Hue, Hanoi, and Saigon and provides our travelers with air evacuation services to Singapore or Bangkok if deemed necessary. Please note: the SOS Global Traveler Program does not cover air evacuation to any location but Singapore or Bangkok nor subsequent medical expenses after evacuation, please supplement this insurance with your own coverage. Indochina Travel is not affiliated with SOS International and does not warrant any claim or responsibility for their services: Travelers are ultimately responsible for contacting with SOS and arranging for services required.
Cancellation, Delay and Travel Insurance
Indochina Travel requires travelers are covered by some form of trip cancellation and delay insurance. Over the years we have experienced many travelers have to cancel or have their trip delayed for the most unexpected reasons. Such insurance will likely include additional medical, lost baggage, and other coverage. We are a longtime provider and have a good relationship with CSA Travel Protection, one of the major insurance companies and would be happy to provide a quote.
Despite the region's history, Indochina and Myanmar are now amongst the safest places in the world to travel where physical crime against travelers is unheard of and even theft is rare. When traveling with us, please entrust your your possessions and valuables to your vehicle, always carefully watched by your driver. When not with us, please leave your valuables and travel documentation in your hotel safe.
Airlines: if we’ve not arranged your international airlines, forward your complete flight itinerary with airline carrier, flight numbers, arrival and departure. Note: regional and domestic airline tickets are issued in country, almost always as e-tickets except for Myanmar. For e-tickets, no paper ticket, voucher, or reciept is required, simply check-in under your name with passport. Locator numbers listed as backup in itinerary.
Check-in luggage on most international carriers is now restricted to one bag weighing no more than 50 lbs. (23 kg). Regional and domestic carriers limit bags to 40-44 lbs (18-20 kg) and may charge steep overweight fees. There is no limit to hand luggage or carry-on luggage weight as it is not typically checked except for size.
Plan on bringing U.S. Currency for most expenses, which remains widely accepted throughout the region and indeed, is the only acceptable currency for some transactions such as visa fees or airline departure taxes. Although you may use credit cards (except AMEX) for fine dining and larger purchases in Indochina, only cash is accepted in Myanmar. Please refer to your country departure notes (below) for suggested amounts and denominations to bring. ATMs are common in larger cities but may be inconvenient and unreliable. Travelers checks carry a hefty 4% surcharge to cash.
Internet & Telecommunications
Wifi or wired Internet is now ubiquitous in regional hotels, airports and even cafes. Myanmar and northern Laos can have reduced speeds, but connection is still easy to obtain. Note that your mobile phone will work fine with a roaming plan in Indochina (coverage in Vietnam is excellent), even in remote areas, except in Northern Laos where coverage can be sptty. In Myanmar, no foreign carriers have coverage. For Myanmar, mobile phones with international calling capability may be rented at the Yangon airport with pre-paid SIM cards from US$20-50.
Most hotels in Indochina and Myanmar now use clever dual French and American style outlets, accepting both type of plugs (right). Your iPad, Kindle, laptop, mobile phone, and camera adapter will likely accept the 220-volt current automatically, but check the fine print on the adapter.
Note that with the exception of Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore, all tipping in Indochina and Myanmar tipping is preferred in US dollars. Tipping is not expected in restaurants, where like in Europe a service charge is typically included in the bill. For informal, street cafes a small tip is appreciated. An appropriate tip for hotel porters and other service providers is $1-2. Cleaning staff get about $2 a day, left at the end of your stay on the nightstand, where it's easily visible. Masseuse, $5 to $10. For guides, the range for tipping, dependent on your satisfaction of course, is from $20-100 per day for a couple (double this amount for families or small parties). For larger groups, an appropriate range is $100 and up for your entire party/per day. Drivers are tipped about half the guide rate. Two dollar bills are valued souvenirs in Vietnam. In Vietnam, baseball caps and hometown collegiate t-shirts are also prized gifts.
Please note: a comprehensive, printed pre-tour packet will be mailed upon confirmation of your trip. The pre-tour materials cover far more than the brief listing of key topics here and contain a wealth of advice and essential information to make your trip as enjoyable as possible. Please read them carefully before your arrival. You may also peruse our Traveler Resources Page for more detailed information regarding visas, packing and reading lists and more.
V I S A S & P A S S P O R T R E Q U I R E M E N T S
All visitors to Southeast Asia must be in possession of a valid passport, with at least six months unexpired validity from the date of your departure from the area. A visa or visa on arrival (VOA) must be obtained before entering Vietnam (obtained through Indochina Travel. Visas for Cambodia and Laos are issued upon arrival with no prior permission required. Thailand, Hong Kong, and Singapore require no visa for U.S. or U.K. travelers. Although Indochina Travel may facilitate the securing of visas, it is ultimately the responsibility of each individual traveler to ensure that they are in possession of any necessary and valid visa and/or documentation and Indochina Travel assumes no responsibility for the consequences of any failure to comply.
When traveling in a developing country, preparation is our hedge against unexpected but common issues that may arise during a trip. Enclosed in your pre-tour packet is a Tour Guide booklet, which provides useful information about Myanmar and your tour, please read the enclosed documentation carefully to prepare for your trip. Despite careful prep era ti on and planning, please be prepared for events which may change our plans.
L U G G A G E
Regional and domestic airlines restrict luggage to one piece with a weight of no more than 20 Kilograms (44 pounds) per person. Your passport, travel documents, jewelry, money, camera, fragile items and any medication should be hand-carried and not checked in. On domestic flights, each passenger is allowed one piece of hand luggage. When planning your packing, please bear in mind on your trip may be constantly on the go, staying in a new hotel at least every other day and you'll want to pack lightly for mobility and convenience as well as have a day pack for your van. Checked luggage is required by the local authorities to be at the airport two hours prior to your flight departure. If we are arranging check-in for you, then we need to arrange collection of all bags before your departure in order to complete all check in formalities for you. Please remember to retain your travel documents and any hand baggage.
T R A N S P O R T
Some road conditions in Indochina remain quite poor and travelling by car, bus, and bike can be bumpy. Most available cars and coaches are quite old and therefore not in perfect condition, however rest assured we will always do our utmost to arrange cars or buses of the best possible local quality available for your transfers and tours.
H E A L T H & I M M U N I Z A T I O N S
While no immunizations are formally required, malaria prophylaxis is often recommended for travel in remote areas. As health requirements change without notice, please check with Centers for Disease Control, physician or public health service for current required or recommended inoculations. The biggest health risk and the most common with our past travelers is stomach issues. Drink only bottled or boiled water and tea. Food should not be purchased from sidewalk vendors without recognizing you face a greater risk of getting a bug and avoid any raw greens and vegetables.
Insect repellent should be brought, especially up-country and in wooded areas (we recommend 3M's Ultrathon in spray bottle). Recent news articles have mentioned a general increase in Dengue fever risk in SE. Asian countries. The tropical sun can burn in minutes, bring wide brim hat, sunshirts and a sweat proof sunscreen (we like Bullfrog gel and spray). All travelers are required to have medical-evacuation insurance. Hospitals in Indochina are inadequate for advanced medical care, although a few private clinics may provide emergency care, in the event of serious illness or injury, medical evacuation to Bangkok or Singapore will be recommended.
E M E R G E N C Y
Indochina Travel is proud to be the only tour company to provide International SOS Emergency evacuation insurance. Since 1998 we have experience using their emergency clinics and have used their private jet emergency evacuation services a few times. Although guides and local managers are trained in the procedures of working with SOS in the event of an emergency, travelers may also contact International SOS independently and use our contract number MEMBERSHIP #: 12148-B. Click to view [International SOS Alarm Centers and Clinics in Asia]
M O N E Y M A T T E R S
For convenience, plan to bring enough US cash for your trip (in mint-condition bills), as there are few ATM machines and credit cards are not widely accepted, and not all foreign currencies (other than US dollars) and travellers cheques are not accepted in Indochina. If you intend shopping for souvenirs, you will need to ensure that you are carrying sufficient US Dollars in small denomination notes that are in mint condition. Only payment for extra charges in larger hotels may be made by Visa and MasterCard. Note: American Express is not widely accepted in Indochina nor much of Asia). On tour your expenses will be limited to visa on arrival fees (US$25), some meals, souvenirs, airline departure fees, and gratuities (about $20-50 per day for your guide, about half that for your driver).
Vietnamese currency is known as the 'dong'. The official rate is about 21,000 dong to the dollar. Dollars may be changed into dong at a good rate in your hotel. Major hotels and a few restaurants will charge in USD but most other expenses in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia may be made in USD or local currency.
C O M M U N I C A T I O N S
Your mobile phone will work in Indochina, although at a high roaming rate. An inexpensive, international handset may be rented from Indochina Travel. Current rental rates from this vendor as of September, 2011 are $4/day for phone and $2/day for domestic SIM card, in additional to pre-paid cards from US$12 to $50 for international. Coverage is quite good along the "classic" route (not in very remote areas).
Internet is widely available at hotels with decent bandwidth, but is unreliable in remote areas. Please plan accordingly.
E L E C T R I C A L
Electricity in Indochina is typically 220-volt although 110 volts can found as well. What does this mean for you? Not much, your iPad, Kindle, mobile phone, digital camera and laptop adapter will take the higher voltage without issue. However, check the fine print just in case. Devices with motors and no adapter, such as hairdryers, will burn out (almost all hotels do provide hairdryers). Electric power sockets come in varieties, including round two-prong with dual US style outlets (at most luxury hotels). Your Kindle, camera, laptop or other device should automatically accept 220-volt without issue, but check your adapter fine print. Sporadic power outages are common.
W H A T T O W E A R
Light clothing is adequate for Indochina and most low-land tourist areas. High elevations around Luang Prabang may reach near freezing at night during the 'winter' season but is usually pleasant during the day. Travelers should bring appropriate cold weather clothing during the winter. Revealing clothing is not welcome in this conservative and largely Buddhist region. When visiting religious shrines and temples, modest dress is required and easily removable footwear is recommended since such sacred grounds must be visited only in bare feet (no socks). A sarong is handy for covering up before entering religious sites (not required for Angkor). Bring a hat and sunglasses, and umbrella for rainy season.
W H A T T O E X P E C T
This is not a grand tour of Europe, but hopefully why you have come - for an authentic, deep cultural experience in countries closed off to the world for decades. You will be very safe, always looked after, can expect wonderful service, and a comfortable and a typically pleasant if not exceptional trip. However, Indochina remains a primitive, undeveloped country with the inconveniences are random issues that arise with travel in such places.
F R E Q U E N T L Y A S K E D Q U E S T I O N S
Is Indochina safe for travel?
Very much so. Our past travelers always cite how warm and friendly people are, always one of their strongest impressions. Tourists have now visited going on two decades without any issues of violence. Rather, almost every traveler on our tours in the region have been struck how tranquil the country is and how warm and gracious people are to visitors and whose hospitality we've been enjoying since 1994. We'd be happy to put you in contact with our past travelers for their impressions.
What is the weather like?
Daytime temperatures can reach the high 70s between September through December. In January through April, temperatures steadily climb and at lower elevations we can expect 80 to 90s F. Higher elevations like Luang Prabang, located at nearly 1,000 feet is temperate and cooler this time of year.
G I V I N G
No doubt you will be moved by the wonderful people you meet along the way. many who live in poverty. It may be hard not to feel compelled to give something, but think about doing so will change the dynamic of your people encounters and those who follow you. If you do feel compelled to give, we recommend pens, simple to carry with you, useful and beyond the budget of most families. We never encourage giving money, candy or the like. For giving before or after your trip, we recommend these charities.
C O N T A C T U S
With 20 years experience in Indochina, we know our stuff! Please contact us with any questions you may have, either in our San Francisco reservations office at (415) 731-4377 or our headquarters in Hanoi at 011 (84-4) 3562-6665.
Our 20th Year 2012 Indochina Travel Company. All rights reserved.