Area Codes -- The area codes for the provinces of Vietnam are as follows: An Giang 076, Bac Can 0281, Bac Giang 0240, Bac Lieu 0781, Bac Ninh 0241, Ben Tre 075, Binh Dinh 056, Binh Duong 0650, Binh Phuoc 0651, Binh Thuan 062, Ca Mau 0780, Can Tho 0710, Cao Bang 026, Da Nang 0511, Dac Lac 0500, Dong Nai 061, Dong Thap 067, Gia Lai 059, Ha Giang 0219, Ha Nam 0351, Hai Duong 0320, Haiphong 031, Hanoi 04, Ha Tinh 039, Ho Chi Minh 08, Hung Yen 0321, Hoa Binh 0218, Khanh Hoa 058, Kien Giang 077, Kontum 060, Lai Chau 0231, Lam Dong 063, Lang Son 025, Lao Cai 020, Long An 072, Nam Dinh 0350, Nghe An 038, Ninh Binh 030, Ninh Thuan 068, Phu Tho 0210, Phu Yen 057, Quang Binh 052, Quang Ngai 055, Quang Ninh 033, Quang Tri 053, Soc Trang 079, Son La 022, Tay Ninh 066, Thai Binh 036, Thai Nguyen 0280, Thanh Hoa 037, Thua Thien Hue 054, Tien Giang 073, Tra Vinh 074, Tuyen Quang 027, Vinh Long 070, Vung Tau 064, Yen Bai 029.
Business Hours -- Vendors and restaurants tend to be all-day operations, opening at about 8am and closing at 9 or 10pm. People are up and about very early in the morning in Vietnam -- in fact, some towns still follow the old socialist bell system over outdoor speakers that start with waking bells at 5am, exercise regimen at 5:30am, siesta bell at 11am, return-to-work bell at 1pm, finish-work bell at 5pm, and the news piped in at 6pm (this mostly in remote areas). Note that locals eat an early lunch, usually just after 11am, and some restaurants are all but closed at 1pm. Government offices -- including banks, travel agencies, and museums -- are usually open from 8 to 11:30am and 2 to 4pm. Streets are often very quiet during the siesta hours of the day, when the sun is most merciless. Restaurants usually have last orders at 9:30 or 10pm, and, with the few exceptions of city clubs, bars are rarely open much past midnight.
Drinking Laws -- There are virtually no age restrictions limiting when or where you can buy or consume drinks. Laws against drinking and driving are not enforced, so it is not uncommon to find that your motorbike or taxi driver has had a few. Be cautious, especially at night.
Electricity -- Vietnam's electricity carries 220 volts, so if you're coming from the U.S., bring a converter and adapter for electronics. Plugs have either two round prongs or two flat prongs. If you're toting a laptop, bring a surge protector. Big hotels will have all these implements.
Embassies & Consulates -- Embassies are located in Hanoi at the following addresses: Australia, 8 Dao Tan (tel. 04/3831-7755); Canada, 31 Hung Vuong (tel. 04/3734-5000); European Union, 83B Ly Thuong Kiet (tel. 04/3946-1702); New Zealand, 63 Ly Thai To (tel. 04/3824-1481); United Kingdom, 31 Hai Ba Trung (tel. 04/3936-0500); United States, 7 Lang Ha (tel. 04/3772-1510).
Emergencies -- Nationwide emergency numbers are as follows: For police, dial tel. 113; for fire, dial tel. 114; and for ambulance, dial tel. 115. Operators speak Vietnamese only.
Holidays -- Banks, government offices, post offices, and many stores, restaurants, and museums are closed on the following legal national holidays: New Year's Day (Jan 1), Tet holiday (usually a few days in Jan/early Feb on the Gregorian Calendar), Gio To Hung Vuong Day (1 day, usually in Apr on the Gregorian Calendar), April 30 (Saigon Liberation/Reunification Day), September 2 (National Day).
Hospitals -- In Hanoi, the expatriate choice for comprehensive services is the Hanoi French Hospital, south of the town center at 1 Phuong Mai (tel. 04/3574-0740). For emergencies or minor medical issues in Hanoi, stop in at the convenient International SOS medical center at 31 Hai Ba Trung St., just south of Hoan Kiem Lake; call the 24-hour service center for emergencies at tel. 04/3934-0555. They have both Vietnamese and foreign doctors on call. Also in Hanoi, find the Hanoi Family Medical Practice at Van Phuc Diplomatic Compound at 298 Kim Ma (tel. 04/3843-0748).
In Ho Chi Minh City, International SOS is at 167 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia St., District 3 (24-hr. hot line tel. 08/3829-8424). The International Medical Center, at 1 Han Thuyen, District 1 (tel. 08/3865-4025 for emergencies), offers services similar to what you'll find at International SOS.
Insurance -- Travel insurance is a very good idea for Vietnam. In the event of, say, a motorbike accident or a stomach ailment, seeking treatment at the international hospitals is very expensive. A consultation with a doctor at International SOS alone will set you back close to $200, let alone medicine and fees for setting broken bones or treating an acute case of diarrhea.
For information on traveler's insurance, trip cancellation insurance, and medical insurance while traveling, please visit www.frommers.com/planning.
Internet Access -- Internet cafes are found in cities throughout Vietnam, especially in popular guesthouse and hotel areas. At cafes, rates are dirt-cheap -- usually around 4,000 VND per hour. In rural areas and at hotel business centers, rates are usually much more expensive. Take a short walk and you can find affordable service.
Language -- Vietnamese is the official language of Vietnam. Older residents speak and understand French, and young folks are busily learning Chinese these days. While English is widely spoken among folks in the service industry in Hanoi and Saigon, it is harder to find in other tourist destinations. Off the beaten track, arm yourself with as many Vietnamese words as you can muster and a dictionary.
Legal Aid -- The legal aid system in Vietnam is tenuous for its own citizens, let alone international travelers. If you find yourself on the wrong side of the law, contact your embassy or consulate immediately.
Mail -- A regular airmail letter will take about 10 days to reach North America, 7 to reach Europe, and 4 to reach Australia or New Zealand. Mailing things from Vietnam is expensive. A letter weighing up to 10 grams costs 13,000 VND to North America, 11,000 VND to Europe, and 9,000 VND to Australia/New Zealand; postcards, respectively, cost 8,000 VND, 7,000 VND, and 6,000 VND. Express mail services such as FedEx and DHL are easily available and are usually located in or around every city's main post office.
Newspapers & Magazines -- Viet Nam News (http://vietnamnews.vnanet.vn) is the country's English-language daily newspaper. You can find copies at bookstores around town.
Police -- You won't find a helpful cop on every street corner. Count on them only in cases of dire emergency, and learn a few words of Vietnamese to help you along. Moreover, police here can sometimes be part of the problem. Especially in the south, you and your car/motorbike driver might, for instance, be stopped for a minor traffic infraction and "fined." If the amount isn't too large, cooperate. Corruption is the rule, and palm-greasing and graft pose as police process. Be aware.
Smoking -- "No smoking" areas are rare in Vietnam, and even those that exist are often not well ventilated. Like other countries in the region, Vietnam is a smoker's paradise, and complaining about secondhand smoke is often met with confusion.
Taxes -- A 20% VAT was instituted for hotels and restaurants in January 1999, but expect variation in how it's followed. Upscale establishments might add the full 20%, and some might even tack on an additional 5% service charge. Others might absorb the tax in their prices, and still others will ignore it entirely. Inquire before booking or eating.
Telephones -- For domestic calls, visit the post office, where public phone service is offered at affordable rates, or buy a domestic phone card at any post office or phone company branch, usually at a rate of about 1,000 VND per minute. Local calls from hotels come with exorbitant surcharges and are best avoided.
The best way to make international calls from Vietnam is using an international calling card program, the likes of AT&T or MCI. Most hotels offer international direct-dialing, but with exorbitant surcharges of 10% to 25% on already inflated rates. International calls from any post office are more affordable, but without a calling card it is usually over $1 per minute.
Internet phone service is available at most little Internet storefronts. You can buy a card that gives you rates as low as 3,000 VND per minute, but many Internet shops don't allow you to use cards purchased elsewhere and levy a small surcharge on top of the 3,000 VND per minute. Internet phone quality ranges widely, best from the larger cities, and there is always a slight "walkie-talkie" delay, but it is the most affordable way to stay connected.
If you have a GSM cellphone that accepts SIM cards, you can buy an affordable plan at any post office or telecommunications center. The trick here is that receiving calls from anywhere is free of charge, so you can buy someone back home an affordable international phone card and arrange times when they can call you.
To call Vietnam: If you're calling Vietnam from the United States:
1. Dial the international access code: 011.
2. Dial the country code: 84.
3. Important Note: City codes are listed in this book with a 0 in front of them, as is required when dialing domestically. Do not dial the city code's prefix of 0 when dialing from abroad. When dialing a number (as listed in this guide), such as tel. 04/555-5555, from abroad, you dial as follows: tel. 011 (for international), + 84 (for Vietnam), + 4 (the city code minus the 0) + 555-5555. Looks like tel. 011-84-4-555-5555.
To make international calls: To make international calls from Vietnam, first dial 00 and then the country code (U.S. or Canada 1, U.K. 44, Ireland 353, Australia 61, New Zealand 64). Next you dial the area code and number. For example, if you wanted to call the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., you would dial 00-1-202-588-7800.
For directory assistance: Dial tel. 116 if you're looking for a number inside the country.
For operator assistance: If you need operator assistance in making a call, dial tel. 110.
Toll-free numbers: Calling a 1-800 number in the States from Vietnam is not toll-free. In fact, it costs the same as an overseas call.
Time -- Vietnam is 7 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. There's no daylight saving time in Vietnam, meaning that in the summer months, it's 12 hours ahead of the U.S. East Coast, in winter months 11 hours ahead; it's 14 or 15 hours ahead of the U.S. West Coast, and 3 or 4 hours ahead of Sydney, Australia.
Tipping -- Tipping is common in Hanoi and in Saigon. In a top-end hotel, feel free to tip bellhops anywhere from 10,000 VND to 15,000 VND. Most upscale restaurants throughout the country now add a service surcharge of 5% to 10%. If they don't, or if the service is good, you might want to leave another 5%. Taxi drivers will be pleased if you round up the bill (again, mainly in the big cities). Use your discretion for tour guides and others who have been particularly helpful. Contrary to rumor, boxes of cigarettes as tips don't go over well. The recipient will say regretfully, "I don't smoke," when what he really means is "Show me the money." Exceptions to this are chauffeurs or minibus drivers.
Toilets -- You won't find public toilets or "restrooms" on the streets in most cities in Vietnam but they can be found in hotel lobbies, bars, restaurants, museums, department stores, railway and bus stations, and service stations. Be sure to carry tissues, as many of the restrooms in the railway and bus stations do not have toilet paper. Large hotels and fast-food restaurants are often the best bet for clean facilities. Restaurants and bars in resorts or heavily visited areas may reserve their restrooms for patrons.
Visitor Information -- In Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, head to the Tourist Information Center (7 Dinh Tien Hoang St. in Hanoi; tel. 04/3926-3366; or 4G-4H Le Loi St., District 1 in Ho Chi Minh City; tel. 08/3822-6033) for detailed free tourist maps and general information. These centers also have a couple of computers offering free (but agonizingly slow) Internet access. In the north, Sapa's new Tourism Information Center (tel. 020/387-1975) is a good resource for local hiking conditions and decent maps. Recent stats and general information on the country and local holidays can be found at the state-run tourism site www.vietnamtourism.com.
Water -- Water is not potable in Vietnam. Outside of top-end hotels and restaurants, drink only beverages without ice, unless the establishment promises that it manufactures its own ice from clean water. Bottled mineral water, particularly the reputable La Vie and A&B brands, is everywhere. Counterfeits are a problem, so make sure you're buying the real thing, with an unbroken seal. Beware of big typos: "La Vile" water speaks for itself.