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Patrick and I had a wonderful time in Vietnam - a holiday to remember. We loved the whole experience from the beautiful scenery, the delicious food, the friendly people and all the different modes of transport! By the end of the holiday we'd travelled by plane, boat (stunning trip around Halong Bay), train, car, horse & cart!!! The tour was very well organized. Our guides were always on time to meet us (this was especially good when arriving at stations after long train journeys) and were well informed. A special mention must go to our guide for the central region around Hue & Hoi An, Mr Chun (can't remember the correct spelling). He was exceptional. He had an amazing knowledge of the history, people and area and really impressed us. All the guides were friendly and helpful, however Mr Chun stood out for us.
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Vietnam Travel Guide
 

 

Getting there Culture
Getting around Holidays
Visa & Passport Customs
Essentials Transports
Geography Health
Weather Food
Maps Money
History Tips

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GETTING THERE

From Europe
Paris is the best starting point for the direct flights. Both Vietnam Airlines and Air France have direct flights: Paris-Saigon (3 flights a week) and Paris-Hanoi (5 flights a week).
From Frankfurt, Lufthansa Airline has 3 flights to Saigon per week

From Asia
From Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Airlines have 1flight/day to Hanoi and 2 flights/day to Saigon. Thai Airways operates several flights per day to Hanoi and Saigon and SGN plus some flights to Danang. Singapore Airlines has daily flights to Saigon and 4 to 5 flights/week to HAN.

Japan Airlines, China Air and Korea Airlines also have several flights to Hanoi and Saigon from Seoul, Tokyo, Osaka, Beijing.,.ect

From America
United Airlines has opened a hot line San Francisco and Ho Chi Minh city.

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GETTING AROUND

Cyclos
Known elsewhere as rickshaws or pedicabs, the cyclo's design slightly varies according to what part of the country on is in. These are a fixture in all major and minor cities in Vietnam. Cyclos should be booked through your tour company or through the doorman or concierge of your hotel. Any trip to Vietnam without riding a cyclo is a trip deprived.

"Xe Om"
This term literally means to "hug the motorbike." Xe Om drivers (motorbike taxis) peruse the streets in the cities and in the countryside looking for fares. An excellent and ready means of transportation only for the very brave hearted. How to hail a Xe Om: extend arm and hand directly outward; flutter your wrist as if waving goodbye to someone . . . this will hail the first available Xe Om . . . or perhaps even a mob of them.

Taxis
Perhaps the best taxi service in the world exists in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City; the taxis are new, reliable and economical. Always take a metered taxi. Some taxi companies:

Saigon
M Taxi - 822-2666
Mai Linh Taxi - 822-6699
Vina Taxi - 811-1111
Saigon Taxi - 424-242
Hanoi
Duong Sat Taxi - 864-5645
Hanoi Taxi - 535-353
Mai Linh Taxi - 822-2666
Taxi CP - 826-2626
City Buses
None.

Cars and Vans
Late model Toyota, Honda, GM, Ford, Mercedes Benz cars and vans are available for hire (with driver) through your tour company or your hotel. Self-driven rental cars are not recommended for the rules of the road are entirely different from North America.

Bicycles
Not recommended for Saigon but for the more calm and quaint streets of Hanoi they are strongly recommended. Bicycle rentals can be made through your tour company or through the concierge or front desk of your hotel.

Motorbikes
Motorbikes are available for rent but are strongly not recommended. They are well worthy of watching for their amazing feats. A terrific book "Bikes of Burden" by Hans Kemp displays Vietnamese motorbike ingenuity at its very best. www.bikes-of-burden.com 

Notes: You can email us at info@privateasiatours.com for more Advice on traveling around in Vietnam. The service is free of charge.

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VIETNAM VISA AND PASSPORT

Except for a number of ASEAN countries a visa is required to visit Vietnam. If your itinerary requires two entries into Vietnam then a double entry visa must be obtained. If your trip is postponed or delayed it may be necessary to obtain another visa if your original visa is not valid for your new dates of travel.

Tourist Visa
A Vietnam Tourist Visa is valid for the period of 30-days and for a single entry (unless endorsed for a double entry at additional cost). The cost charged by the Vietnamese embassy is $65 for a single entry visa and $130 for a double entry visa. Your passport must be sent to the embassy along with payment with prepaid shipping arrangements with Priority Mail with Delivery Confirmation, FedEx, etc., two completed visa applications and two passport photos. Allow five-business days for processing.

Visa-on-Arrival
A Visa-on-Arrival is available if you are pre-approved for the visa. In lieu of a stamped visa in your passport prior to departure a fax from the Department of Immigration is issued and used as your travel document for boarding your international flight to Vietnam. This system has been working for a number of years now and is extremely reliable. Visa-on-Arrival processing charges are normally $25 and a $25 fee is payable directly to Vietnamese Immigration upon arrival.

Double Entry Visa
A Double Entry Visa is a Tourist Visa endorsed for a double entry. If your itinerary requires a double entry be sure and obtain the Double Entry Visa.

Re-Entry Visa
Re-entry Visas, prior to departing Vietnam, are possible to obtain in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City through authorized agencies for a fee of approximately $25, however it requires one-to-two days and the deposit of your passport. This is not advisable unless your itinerary allows ample time and you remain in the city where the application was filed until the visa is issued. It is strongly advised to obtain a Double Entry Visa prior entering Vietnam.

Business Visa
Business Visas are valid for a period of 30-days to six-months and can be issued for multiple entries. A sponsoring company in Vietnam is required to sponsor your visa.

Passport Validity Dates
Your passport must have a validity date of at least six-months remaining after your visit to Vietnam is completed.

Travel Document Companies
Unless you live nearby a Vietnamese embassy or consulate or are experienced in dealing with embassies by mail or telephone, it is advised that you use a travel document company to obtain your visa.

Notes: You can email us at info@privateasiatours.com for more advice on Vietnam Visa information. The service is free of charge. All the emails will be replied within 24h.
Application form for Vietnam visa: Find it here 

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GEOGRAPHY

Location
Vietnam is bounded by the Gulf of Tonkin and the Eastern Sea (South China Sea) on the east; on the west by the Gulf of Thailand, Cambodia and Laos; on the north by China; and in the south by the confluence of the South China Sea and the Gulf of Siam.

The North
The flat Red River Delta dominates the northern part of the country which is surrounded by mountainous areas along the borders China and Laos. Rivers:

The Day, the Hong (or Red River) and the Da Rivers, all with headwaters in China, and all of which distribute into the Red River Valley.

The Ma River with headwaters in Laos which distributes south of the Red River Delta through Thanh Hoa.

The Ca with headwaters in Laos distributes to the South China Sea through Vinh.

The Central
A coastal littoral runs the length of the central part of the country, bounded by the Central Highlands (Truong Son Mountain Range) to the immediate west which proceed into Laos; smaller river valleys proceed inland at points along the coast.

Minor rivers with headwaters in Laos flow from the west to the east creating small fertile river valleys along the coast of central Vietnam.

The South
Rolling areas from Saigon north with some hills, gradually inclining into the Truong Son Mountain Range. From Saigon South the land becomes a vast flat plain, interlaced with vast distributary rivers of the Mekong.

Rivers
The Saigon River, with headwaters to the north and northwest of Saigon reaching into Cambodia, flows into the South China Sea at Vung Tau.

Vam Co Dong River (East River) with headwaters in Cambodia flows southeast to the south of Saigon.

Vam Co Tay River (West River) with headwaters in Cambodia flows to the southeast south of the Vam Co Dong River, before joining it and emptying into the South China Sea.

Tien River (the Mekong River) with headwaters in the Himalayas and in China the river laces its way though Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, where it splits into the Mekong and Bassac; the Mekong proceeds into Vietnam and has five-major distributary rivers which empty into the South China Sea across the Mekong River Delta.

Hau (or Bassac) River parallels the Mekong to its south on its southeastern journey to the sea.

Elevation Extremes

Lowest Point

Eastern Sea (South China Sea)

Highest Point
Mount Fan Si Pan, 3,144-meters, in the Hoang Lien Mountain Range in northwest northern Vietnam.

Area
Total: 329,560-square kilometers
Land: 325,360-square kilometers
Water: 4,200-square kilometers
Land Boundaries
Total: 4,639-kilometers
Borders
Cambodia: 1,228-kilometers
Laos: 2,130-kilometers
China: 1,281-kilometers
Coastline
3,444-kilometers
Maritime Claims
Contiguous Zone: 24-nautical miles
Continental Shelf: 200-nautical miles / edge of continental margin
Exclusive Economic Zone: 200-nautical miles
Territorial Sea: 12-nautical miles

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WEATHER AND CLIMATE

Vietnam is an elongated country which reaches from the sub-tropics in the north to the tropics in the south. The weather differs greatly in Vietnam from the north to the south, from four-mild seasons in northern Vietnam to sub-equatorial warmth in the Mekong Delta.

Geography also plays a role in Vietnam's weather: approximately one-third of the country is above 500-meters in elevation and those areas enjoy a sub-tropical climate; the areas above 2,000 enjoy a temperate climate.

Vietnam's climate is moderated by two-monsoons which create a lower than average temperature compared to other countries located in the equatorial regions:

Northeast Monsoon
The Northeast-Asian Monsoon, from late October and March, brings wet and chilly weather from the northeast to all areas from Nha Trang north, and dry and warm temperatures to all areas south of Nha Trang (Saigon and the Mekong Delta).

Southwest Monsoon
The South-Western Monsoon, from April/May through October, laden with moisture from its northeast movement across the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Siam, brings warm and humid weather to the entire country except for the Red River Delta (the greater Hanoi area) and Vietnam's Central Coastal Littoral.

The Northern Climate
The areas from Hue north experience a two-season a year: the winter and the summer. August through November is the rainy season in the north. Winter is usually from November through April and is cool during the day and crisp, and sometimes quite chilly, during the evenings. February and March are noticeable for their persistent drizzling rain ("crachin") while hot summers dominate months May through October.

The Central Climate
The Central Coastal Littoral does not receive the rainfall from the Southwest Monsoon rains which are stopped by the Central Highlands which are affected by these seasonal rains. Most of the rainfall received along the Central Coastal Littoral is during the Northeast Monsoon, from October and March, but especially in the months of October-December; overland travel during October-December can be interrupted by flooding.

The Southern Climate
The sub-equatorial climate of the south has two-seasons: the wet and dry seasons. The wet season lasts from May to November with June and August being the wettest months which bring heavy, albeit short lasting, downpours usually in the mid-afternoons. The dry season begins in November and ends in April with late February to May being hot and humid. The average temperatures in the south are relatively constant year-around: 25-35 Celsius (76-95 Fahrenheit).

Current Weather and Forecasts For real time weather information and forecasts go to: http://weather.yahoo.com/regional/VMXX.html 

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VIETNAM TRAVEL MAP

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THE FOOD AND CUISINE OF VIETNAM

No matter where you are in Asia, the local people will tell you that they have the best food on the continent -- perhaps in the world. The Vietnamese are no different...

Vietnam has three basic regional cuisines. The Northern Vietnamese food is not quite as rich or spicy as that of the country's South. Some would call it "subtle." It may be warm; but it is the warmth of black pepper, not red chilies. And North Vietnamese food looks much more like Chinese food than do the cuisines in other parts of the country.

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HOLIDAYS

1 January
International New Year Day (Official Holiday)

January - February
TET Nguyen Dan (Official Four-Day Holiday. 1st through the 4th day of the first lunar month however most celebrate the holiday through the 7th day. (Official holiday)

3 February
Founding of the Communist Party. Originally founded by Ho Chi Minh in a Hong Kong soccer stadium on 3 February 1930 (Official holiday)

8 March
International Women's Day.

March - April
Thanh Minh, worship and renovation of the dwellings of the dead. 5th day of the 3rd lunar month.

Vietnamese can be seen throughout the country cleaning the graves of their ancestors on this day.

30 April
Saigon Liberation Day. The day which the armed forces of northern Vietnam entered Saigon and reunified the country (Official Holiday).

1 May
International Labor Day (Official Holiday).

19 May
Ho Chi Minh's Birthday (Official holiday)

May
Buddha's Birthday. 8th day of the fourth lunar month (Official holiday)

1 June
Children's Day.

July
Feast of the Wandering Souls and Hungry Ghosts (Trung Nguyen). 15th day of the 7th lunar month. Paper money is burned for absolution and generous offerings of food are made to deceased relatives whom it is believed will wander into the homes of their offspring on this day.

8th Lunar Month
Mid-Autumn Festival. September/October: 15-day of the 8th lunar Month. Children parade through the streets following lanterns and generous portions of "Moon Cakes" made of sticky rice and lotus seeds, the yokes of duck eggs and sugar are consumed.

2 September
National Day of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Commemorates the Vietnamese declaration of independence from the French on 2 September 1945 in Ba Dinh Square in Hanoi. Excellent day for photography throughout Vietnam. (Official holiday)

20 November
Teacher's Day. Teachers throughout Vietnam are honored this day with gifts from their students.

25 December
Christmas. Vietnam is only 10% Christian, the country has designated this holiday as a national one. (Official Holiday)

The TET Holiday

TET Travel Considerations

TET (the Chinese New Year) is not a good period to visit Vietnam for several reasons: the streets are near empty on the first day of TET and remain so for up to 4-days; Vietnamese want to be with their families, not working; airline tickets to and from Vietnam during the TET period are difficult to obtain and are offered at a premium price.

While the days leading up to TET are joyous days, at midnight on the commencement of TET, the country goes silent. Only very gradually over the next week does it return to normal.

Lunar New Year Dates
Based on the lunar calendar, the dates for the commencement of the TET holidays change each year:

2007 - 18 February
2008 - 7 February
2009 - 26 January
2010 - 14 February
2011 - 3 February
Each year is a different year under the twelve Zodiac signs: dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, pig, rat, cow, tiger and rabbit. Each of these twelve Zodiac years sequentially rotates and thus reappears in 12-year cycles.

The TET Holiday
TET is the most important holiday of the year to Vietnamese; in fact, Vietnamese from all around the world return to their ancestral homes for this special holiday. It marks the beginning of the Lunar New Year, a new beginning and an end of the old. Though it is officially a four-day holiday, in reality it is a week or longer to many Vietnamese.

But TET in rooted deeply in the past, in the rice culture of the millennia which have woven Vietnamese and Chinese civilizations together in tight family units. TET is the end of 12-months of labor and a period of festivity, rest, contemplation, a time to memorialize and remember one's ancestors, and a time to aspire for the future. It is a time to end the quarrels of the past and to resume one's activities with a new vigor, outlook and attitude.

The days prior to TET are joyous and the holiday can be seen on the faces of all; people clean their homes and paint them; homes are decorated; joyful scenes fill the streets and moon cakes area sold. Prior to TET is an occasion for shopping for new clothes, TET flowers and foods, and gifts. It is a time to pay off all debts and returning all things that were borrowed and for all to indulge in sweets: dried sugared fruits and shredded coconuts, lotus seeds and ginger roots find there way to tables across the land.

In the south and north homes are decorated with blossomed branches of peach and plumb trees, yellow in the south and red in the north.

On the eve of the lunar New Year houses of worship conduct masses, and ceremonies in pagodas and temples are preformed and family altars are adorned with fresh flowers, fruits and joss sticks.

Before 1996 TET was greeted by the loud sounds of firecrackers and fireworks; that year the firecrackers and fireworks were silenced forever in Vietnam: they were banned by the government; too many people were injured as a result of the fireworks. Now the most sounds that one will here at midnight on the beginning of TET are the clanging of lids and shouting.

One week before midnight of TET the "Kitchen God," Ong Tau, the Taoist God of the Hearth, is sent to the heavens to inform the ancestors of the TET Holiday and report on all of the activities of the household for the past year.

In the evenings prior to TET sticky rice is cooked in large containers on the streets throughout the country. There are two different types of sticky rice: in the north Banh Chung is prepared while in the south Banh Tet is prepared; the main differences being the shapes of the rice cakes: the northern one is square and the southern one is round, but the ingredients are nearly the same: glutinous rice is placed on banana leaves followed by yellow beans and pork. It is then wrapped and boiled for about 10-hours.

At midnight on TET the Vietnamese conduct a ceremony in front of the family altar raying for ancestors, happiness, prosperity, and longevity, and inviting ancestors in the form of their spirits to return home to enjoy a meal with the family. The ensuing week is marked by festive foods, rituals and superstitions: for example, whom one meets first, second and third after the commencement of TET is a fortuitous sign for the new year; people have been known to flee when hey do not want to accost someone. The first day of TET is thought to be the propitious day for the entire New Year and will determine one's fortune for the entire year and the first person entering one's door determines the entire year. In many cases nothing is left to chance: invitation letters are pre-issued to successful, good natured, well-to-do people to be the first to enter their home and bring a year of good luck and prosperity.

Li xi (pronounced: lee-see), or "Lucky Money" is expected to be given by older people to younger people in brightly colored red envelopes.

Nearly everything is closed during TET: banks, private offices, government offices, restaurants, and just about everything else. It only slowly comes to life again four-or-more days after TET.

On balance the TET holiday is an intensely personal family holiday, much the same as Christmas is in Western countries.

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VIETNAM CUSTOMS AND MORE

Tea
Upon meeting a person either in a business environment or at home it is customary to invite the guest for a cup of tea; to decline such an invitation is tantamount to an insult for if one does have time for tea then one has time for little else. Drink the tea and chat.

Visiting Pagodas
It is abhorrent to the Vietnamese to visit the inside of a pagoda with ones shoes on; this shows the greatest disrespect; shoes should be deposited at the door. It is further unthinkable to depart the pagoda without making an offering in the collection box; any sum will do. It is this box by which the pagoda supports itself. Likewise, visiting a pagoda or church in shorts, a t-shirt or a sleeveless shirt shows the greatest disrespect.

Service
There is a sense of the individual which appears in the slow service, not so much because of the customer but because of the value with which the individual is held in Vietnamese society. There is also the sense of grace and serenity. As much as one could listen to the complete silence of a Chinese women washing dishes one could hear the service of the Vietnamese. It is something to be savored and enjoyed.

Smiling
In the event of anger or embarrassment smiles hide the situation. If you become angry and receive smiles in return know that the best face is being put upon an already regretful situation.

Deprecating an individual in front of others will cause a loss of face and obviate any chance for the resolution of a dispute.

Showing Anger
Showing anger is a sign of immaturity, a lack of grace and a strong indication of an unworthy upbringing. Dignity and face are maintained by demonstrating adult control over one's actions.

Respect of Age
Age in Vietnam is highly respected; deference is always shown to one's elder. Anyone who is five-years older then you is your "elder," even if you are 70 and he is 75.

Handshakes and Greetings
A gentle handshake is the appropriate manner of greeting; a firm handshake is considered disrespectful. When meeting people, especially older people, it is polite to remove one's hat and to indicate a bow; to not do so is considered rude.

Body Posture
Crossing one's legs when sitting is considered impolite as the soles of one's feet facing other people, or a sacred monument such as a statue of Buddha, is disrespectful.

Displays of Affection
Public displays of affection are considered extremely impolite.

Women in Society
Women in Vietnamese society are not docile, nor subservient, nor meek. The role of women in Vietnamese society is equal to that of men. But polite women never drink nor smoke; to do so indicates that one is probably a prostitute.

Family
Family is at the vortex of every Vietnamese; to not have a family, or a small one, is considered pitiful. To be unmarried beyond the age of 30 for a man or 25 for a woman is considered very unlucky. Divorce is rare. You will be pitied if you are single.

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VIETNAM TRANSPORT - INTER-CITY TRANSPORT

Railways
Highways
Waterways
Hydrofoil Services
Mekong Delta Boat
Ha Long Bay Boats
Boating Throughout

For day trips outside of the major metropolitan cities or for overnight trips to areas not served by Vietnam Airlines ground transport is the only realistic option available.

Cars and Vans
A wide variety of late model vehicles of Japanese, European and North American design are readily available. Contact your tour company, a local tourist company or the front desk of your hotel.

Buses and Coach Services
Every city and town has its bus station, and in the case of the larger cities such as Saigon or Hanoi, several or more. These stations have bus transport and coach transport; bus transport is not recommended. Coach transport however is an economical way to travel for those on a budget. Coaches are similar to those used in North America by rental car companies at airports, however they generally run full and oft times travel all night and at full speed ahead. Plan to check bus schedules and purchase your tickets the day before your travel.

Bus Stations

Hanoi
Giap Bat Bus Station

(Points south of Hanoi)
At the end of Giai Phong Road
7 km south of the train station
Kim Ma Bus Station

(Points northwest of Hanoi)
Nguyen Thai Hoc Street
West of downtown Hanoi
Gia Lam Bus Station

(Points northeast of Hanoi)
Gia Lam District across the Chuong Duong Bridge
2 km northeast of Hanoi city center
Saigon
Cho Lon Bus Station

(Mekong Delta Destinations)
Le Quang Sung Street, Cho Lonv
Southwest of HCMC City Center
Mien Tay Bus Station

(Mekong Delta Destinations)
Ben Xe Mien Tay
10 km west of HCMC
Mien Dong Bus Station

(Points north of HCMC)
Ben Xe Mien Dong
5 km northwest of HCMC
Tay Ninh Bus Station

(Cu Chi, Tay Ninh Destinations)
Ben Xe Tay Ninh
Tan Binh district, west of HCMC

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HEALTH AND SAFETY

Common Health Problems
Water
Hydration is a concern in the tropics; the rates of water loss exceed those which most people are accustomed to in the northern hemispheres. Particular attention should to be paid to hydrating your body through above the average consumption of water. Bottled water is readily available throughout Vietnam and we strongly recommend that you carry a bottle with you . . . and drink it.

Sunburn
The sun in the tropics is not the sun in the northern hemispheres. Particular attention needs to be paid protecting your skin: bring and use sunscreen lotions. Even if you are not on the beaches, wear a hat and protect your arms and exposed skin with sunscreen if you are exposed to excessive hours in the sun.

Diarrhea
Diarrhea can be caused by simply a change of diet; it can also be caused by intestinal parasites or bacteria which are acquired by drinking non-boiled water or by eating vegetables which have been washed with non-boiled water such as lettuce and tomatoes; it can also be caused by drinking drinks with ice which was produced with non boiled water.

You can expect diarrhea as a normal result of changing diet, but if you suspect that the diarrhea is not the result of a change in diet or is ongoing for more than several hours, you should do something about it for dehydration is the major problem associated with diarrhea.

Either use medications which you bring with you (none of which I have found to be effective) or consider over the counter medications from a Vietnamese pharmacy. Diarrhea is a typical Vietnamese healthcare problem and all pharmacies in Vietnam sell pharmaceuticals which eliminate nearly all cases of it. My personal experience has been that within of hours of taking over the counter medication one is on the upswing and within 12-hours one is nearly restored.

Heat Exhaustion

The least common health care problem in Vietnam with visitors to Vietnam is Heat Exhaustion. Proper hydration and not being a fool by walking, hiking or unduly exercising in the afternoon peak heat of the day, is the solution. Siestas in Mexico and the Mediterranean countries are for a reason: to stay out of the heat of the sun. So too in Vietnam.

Health Concerns
Avian Flu
Avian Flu has been and still is a concern of many who are planning holidays to Southeast Asia. A U.S. Department of State Avian Flu Fact Sheet is published below providing excellent information on this topic.

Influenza, or simply "flu," is a yearly and ongoing problem for North Americans. Each year in the United States thousands of people die from flu, and this is not avian flu, but the annual flu's which appear in the winter months and are transmitted by human-to-human transmissions. The flu is a serious matter: the flu of 1917 killed millions of people worldwide . . . these annual strains of flu have the ability to metamorphosize quickly and into many different forms, and all are potentially deadly.

With avian flu deaths world-wide, numbering in the few hundreds over a two-year plus period, the threat pallor's in comparison to annual flu deaths in North America, gunshot wounds and highway automobile accidents. What sets avian flu apart from the normal reoccurring annual flu's is that its transmission is believed to be almost entirely from animal-to-human contact, not human-to-human contact. Therefore a number of specific precautions, outlined in the article below, are advised to further diminish the threat.

Like HIV/Aids, avian flu will probably be with us for a very long time, however one's chances of contacting the avian flu are minute.

U.S. Department of State Avian Flu Fact Sheet

Editor's Note: The following is a U.S. Department of State Fact Sheet published by the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City on 8 April 2005.

"This Fact Sheet alerts Americans to the occurrence of Influenza A H5N1 (avian influenza) in Asia. A number of countries have reported avian influenza, commonly referred to as "bird flu." "The H5N1 strain of influenza can cause sever disease in poultry. In addition, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam have reported a number of bird-to-human transmissions of the avian flu. The vast majority of human cases have resulted from direct contact with poultry, and there is only limited evidence to suggest human-to-human transmission. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Department are concerned about the potential for sustained human-to-human transmission of this highly dangerous flu strain, and we are working closely with other partners in an effort to address this outbreak.

"At this time, CDC and the WHO have not issued any travel warnings for avian flu-infected areas. However, CDC advises travelers to countries in Asia with documented H5N1 outbreaks to avoid poultry farms, contact with animals in live food markets, and any surfaces that appear to be contaminated with feces from poultry or other animals. CDC advises travelers to clean their hands often with soap and water or waterless alcohol-based hand-rubs to help prevent transmission. In addition, as a precaution, all foods from poultry, including eggs, should be thoroughly cooked. CDC further advises travelers with a febrile respiratory illness returning from countries affected by H5N1 influenza virus to seek prompt medical attention.

"The WHO does not at present conclude that any processed poultry products (whole refrigerated or frozen carcasses and products derived from these) or eggs pose a risk to public health.

"A specific vaccine for humans that is effective against avian influenza has not been developed, however the CDC has suggested that the anti-viral medication oseltamavir (brand name-Tamiflu) may be effective against avian influenza. Tamiflu has not yet been adequately tested for this purpose, so this recommendation is based on limited data. Based on this recommendation, the Department of State has decided to pre-position limited supplies of the drug Tamiflu at its Embassies and Consulates in the Southeast Asian Region for eligible US Government employees and their families serving abroad.

"Tamiflu may not be readily available overseas and the State Department encourages American citizens traveling or living abroad that are interested in obtaining this medication to consult with their physician.

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VIETNAM MONEY GUIDE

Banking Hours
Normal banking hours are from 8:00 to 11:30 am and from 1:00 to 4:00 pm Monday through Friday and 8:00 to 11:30 am on Saturday. A few banks in the major metropolitan areas will remain open during lunch hour and on Saturday afternoons and Sundays. Currency is also readily exchanged at official exchange counters at hotels and other retail establishments; the exchange rates are nearly identical to the bank rates.

Convertible Currencies
All major currencies including the sterling, the Yen, the Canadian dollar, the Euro and the U.S. dollar are convertible. The preferred currency is the U.S. dollar. Please note bills which are defaced, torn or simply old are often declined; be sure and bring fresh new bills.

Re-conversion upon Departure
It is illegal to take VND out of the country. Small amounts of VND can be redeemed upon departure at airport kiosks; large amounts require the initial transaction documents.

Vietnamese Dong
The currency of Vietnam is the "Dong" issued in the following denominations:

200d
500d
1000d
2000d
5000d
10,000d
20,000d
50,000d
100,000d
500,000d.
Recommended Currency for Spending

Vietnamese Dong. Spending in other currencies, including the USD, often results in "rounding off" to your disadvantage.

Exchange Rates
Please go to http://www.oanda.com for current Dong exchange rates. At the moment of this printing 1USD = 16,500d, and 1 EUR = 22,000d.

Black Market
It is strongly advised that you exchange your currency only at official currency exchanges; black market rates are less than the official exchange rate.

Credit Cards
Major credit cards (Visa, Master Charge and to a lesser extent American Express) are finally beginning to find wider usage in Vietnam as more and more establishments accept them; in major cities nearly all major and mid-level hotels, restaurants and major tourist shops now accept credit cards. Except for the higher end hotels most establishments charge a three-percent transaction fee; some establishments charge a five-percent surcharge.

ATM Machines
ATM machines have arrived in Vietnam. Vietcombank has an expanding network of ATM machines in the major cities of which many are open for 24-hours. The machines currently accept only Visa and Master Charge. The maximum daily withdrawal is two-million VND per transaction with a Vietnam 20,000 VND service charge which is in addition to your bank's charges. A four-digit PIN number is required. Foreign banks are also entering the ATM market. Larger cash advances require a visit to the teller.

Traveler's Checks
Traveler's checks denominated in most major currencies are accepted in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City but USD is the preferred currency. Traveler's checks issued by Visa, MasterCharge and American Express are the most widely accepted. Outside of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City it is often difficult to redeem traveler's checks. The purchase receipt and the traveler's check numbers should be kept separately from the traveler's checks in the event of loss. A redemption fee of up to four-percent is charged. Passport ID is required for redemption.

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VIETNAM TRAVEL TIPS

Taking into account the below tips before traveling to Vietnam

Photocopies

A photocopy of the information page of your passport along with a photocopy of your visa (or visas if you are traveling to more than one country) should be made and kept at a different place from your passport; it serves no purpose to loose your passport and the photocopies at the same time. In the event of loss these will speed the re-issuance of your passport and visas.

Clothing
One rarely needs a coat in Ho Chi Minh City but one nearly always needs a coat in Sapa in the winter. Vietnam reaches nearly from the Tropic of Cancer to the Equator and its climates range from tropical to temperate. Winter gets chilly in Hanoi and even moreso in the mountainous regions in the north and especially in the northern highlands. The Central Highlands in the center, as far down as Dalat, also get cold in the winter and chilly on summer evenings. The best strategy is "layering": a T-shirt, a long sleeved shirt along with a light coat will often suffice for chilly evenings. For colder climates and times of the year appropriate gloves, hats and even scarves are desirable. Hats, umbrellas and sunscreen work well to protect the skin.

Food
Three things to avoid: buffets where it is obvious the food has sat for a period of time; anything which has or could have a water residue on it (lettuce, tomatoes, unpeeled fruit); and mayonnaise which has a tendency to rapidly spoil in tropical climates and can cause food poisoning. Other than this Vietnamese food is a culinary delight: light, flavorful, delicate and filling but not "laden" as many Chinese dishes are. In the countryside, as well as in the cities, the many and varied soups of Vietnam are a delight with the ubiquitous "pho" being the national favorite.

In the major cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City a rainbow of culinary delights from all corners of the world awaits the traveler.

Bargaining
Rarely is the first price or the posted price the real price: bargaining is expected, however unrealistic offers to purchase should be avoided as they are considered insulting.

Tipping
Tipping, until Vietnam opened its doors to the outside world, was never expected in Vietnam. With the advent of tourism the times have changed but still tipping is not nearly as routine as it is in some Western countries. For services, a 10% tip is gracious. For guides (for one or two people) for extraordinary service, $10 per day (or more depending on the service) tip is good; for adequate service $5; for so-so service: nothing. Driver's do not expect tips but welcome them.

Laundry
All good hotels provide laundry services. Laundries in Vietnam offer the quality at bargain prices.

Maps
A good map always places time and space in a far more understandable sphere. There are numerous maps available in Vietnam at bookstores and good city maps of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City available at good hotels (sometimes for free), but the best country maps as well as the best city maps are ITMB Maps from Vancouver, Canada. For years Jack Joyce, in conjunction with geographic institutes in Vietnam, has been making the best maps available. These maps can be purchased at most good map stores and online.

Taxis
Vietnam has perhaps the best taxi services in the world. Always take metered taxis which are plentiful in the major cities.

Slow Service
Expect service which is not as rapid as it is in North America. Though much improvement in service has occurred over the past 10-years service is still slow compared to Western standards, and in some instances, very slow. To expect or to demand prompt service is considered impolite.

Always be Polite
Showing anger is a sure way to insure than you do not achieve the end you seek. Politeness is held in very high regard in Vietnam.

Bottled Water
Always drink bottled water; never drink tap water or any water that has not been boiled.

Cyclos
Agree on the price before you depart. It is always advisable to have the doorman or concierge arrange the cyclo for you.

Bed Time
It is not advisable in Ho Chi Minh City to be out and about after 10:00 pm, a time which it seems the police go home for the evening. Take a taxi back to your hotel.

Jewelry and Bags
Wearing earrings, necklaces, snap on wristwatches and the like is not advisable. Likewise it is a bad idea to show large amounts of cash. Purses, handbags, cameras, etc., should not be left dangling, but secured over your shoulder.

Unlocked Doors
Closed yet unlocked doors are considered an invitation for entry; if you do not wish to be interrupted by the maid lock your door.

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