Most visitors to Vietnam are required to have a visa to enter the country and a passport that is valid for at least six months from the day of entry. For visits of less than 15 days currently nationals from the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Scandinavian countries, Japan and South Korean do not require a visa while Thai, Singaporean, Malaysian, Indonesian, Philippine and Lao nationals are permitted a visa-free stay for visits less than 30 days. For other nationalities a visa must be arranged in advance. This can be arranged through your nearest Vietnam Embassy or Consulate. A one-month tourist visa is usually sufficient for most tours though it is possible to arrange 3-month and 6-month multiple entry visas if needed.
It is also possible to have a visa issued on arrival in Vietnam at Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport, Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport and Danang International Airport. To do this you need to first obtain an authorisation letter issued by the Vietnamese department of immigration in advance of travel to Vietnam. This authorisation letter needs to be shown in place of a visa on checking-in for your flight to Vietnam. Make sure you have a copy of this letter before heading to the airport as you will not be allowed to board your flight to Vietnam without it! On arrival in Vietnam you need to present the authorisation letter and your passport at the “visa on arrival” desk where your visa will be issued and you can then proceed through immigration. Fees are charged for issuing the visa authorisation letter and for the visa on arrival. Visit the official Vietnam government visa website at www.vietnamvisa.govt.vn or one of the online visa service companies such as www.vietnamvisacenter.org for more information and current rates.
No vaccinations are officially required for visitors to Vietnam however visitors should seek the advice of a doctor or travel clinic in advance of travel. However it is recommended to be inoculated against typhoid, hepatitis A & B and tetanus when travelling anywhere in tropical Asia. Malaria is present in some of the best birding areas in Vietnam so anti-malarial precautions are also highly recommended for all visiting birders. While major towns and cities are virtually free of malaria another mosquito-borne disease, dengue fever, is widespread throughout the country, and is particularly prevalent during the rainy season.
A travel insurance policy that includes medical evacuation, medical expenses overseas, loss of personal possessions and cancellation cover is essential. The cover should start from the time of payment of your tour so as to cover cancellation due to illness or other reasons prior to the start of the tour. Vietnam Birding will require proof that you have such an insurance policy before the start of your tour.
What to bring
The two essential items to bring with you on your birding trip are binoculars and a field guide. A spotting scope can also be useful at some locations but as you will be doing mostly forest birding in Vietnam opportunities to use it may be limited.
Comfortable clothing in drab green or brown shades is perfect for blending into the natural surroundings when birding but bright colours, particularly white, are best avoided. Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants in the forest to ward off biting insects and a wide-brimmed hat or a cap for protection against the fierce tropical sun. For footwear pack a comfortable pair of worn-in trekking boots or sports shoes and a pair of sneakers or casual shoes to wear when not birding. A lightweight raincoat is essential at any time of the year and during the winter months in northern Vietnam a fleece or warm jacket will be needed.
Sun block, insect repellent and a torch/flashlight should be packed along with any medication you may need during your trip and perhaps a supply of your favourite snack food from home for long days in the forest or early pre-breakfast starts.
The essential field guide for anyone birding in Vietnam is Birds of Vietnam, by Richard Craik and Le Quy Minh. Published in December 2018, it is the first and only field guide dedicated to the birds of Vietnam and the second title in the Lynx & BirdLife International Field Guides series. All 916 bird species so far recorded in Vietnam are described in text, illustrations and distribution maps. The up-to-date taxonomy follows the groundbreaking HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World with distinct subspecies groups receiving full accounts for the first time ever.
Other guides that include but are not specifically focused on Vietnam are A Field Guide to the Birds of South-East Asia by Craig Robson, Birds of South-East Asia by Norman Arlott and Birds of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos (Pocket Photo Guides) by Peter Davidson.
Useful supplementary books covering other areas of Vietnamese natural history include Vietnam: A Natural History by Jane Sterling, Martha Maud Hurley & Le Duc Minh, A Field Guide to the Mammals of South-East Asia by Charles M. Francis, A Field Guide to the Reptiles of South-East Asia by Indraneil Das and Butterflies of Vietnam: An illustrated checklist by Alexander L Monastyrskii & Alexey L Devyatkin.
The wide range of travel guides available for Vietnam includes The Lonely Planet Guide to Vietnam, The Rough Guide to Vietnam, DK Eyewitness Vietnam and The Footprint Handbook to Vietnam, Cambodia & Laos. The pocket-sized Lonely Planet Vietnamese Phrasebook & Dictionary by Ben Handicott is a useful addition to your travelling library while for some light background reading try To Vietnam with Love: A Travel Guide for the Connoisseur by Kim Fay. There are several very good Vietnam maps available if you want to track your travels through the country including those from Lonely Planet, National Geographic, Marco Polo and Periplus.
Birding in Vietnam
Anyone with a reasonable level of fitness can enjoy birding in Vietnam but to get the most out your Vietnam Birding tour requires a modest amount of physical activity. There may be walks of up to 10 kilometres/6 miles on some days and temperatures will often climb to over 30° Celsius/90° Fahrenheit by the late morning. Birds in tropical climates are most active in the cooler periods of the day from dawn to mid-morning and from late afternoon to dusk so early starts are normal to maximize opportunities.
Birding in Vietnam, in common with many tropical countries, is typically in dense forested environments, where many birds are initially located by sound rather than sight. Birds in the region generally tend to be more wary and less approachable than in many other parts of the world, but as always patience and perseverance usually pays off.
Although it is possible to watch birds throughout the year in Vietnam the optimum time to visit coincides with the driest, or least wet, time of the year from November through till May. During the winter months the north and centre of the country are relatively cool with frequent light rain and drizzle until March while the south is typically hot and dry throughout this period. Many species are easier to locate at the start of the breeding season from January onwards when they are particularly vocal. Once young have fledged however, which often coincides with the start of rainy season in Vietnam, birds tend to be much less conspicuous and generally keep a low profile.
Covering up in a long-sleeved shirt and long pants is the best deterrent against biting insects and scratches from thorny vegetation when birding in tropical forests, despite the temptation to venture out in shorts and a t-shirt. It is important that any bites, cuts or scratches are cleaned and covered quickly in the tropics to avoid infection.
An annoyance rather than a danger to health, leeches are common in evergreen forest during the rainy season, though much less so in the dry season when most birders visit. Although it can be rather alarming the first time you find one or more of these little bloodsuckers enjoying a free meal at your expense they are harmless and are easily removed with a flick of the finger. Insect repellent sprayed on shoes and ankles usually helps to keep leeches at bay.
You can burn surprisingly quickly under the tropical sun while your attention is focused elsewhere and applying sunblock in advance is always a good idea whether birding on the coast, in lowland forest or at high altitude. Drink plenty of water while out in the field to avoid dehydration. Bottled drinking water is cheap and available everywhere in Vietnam.
Although there are some excellent medical facilities in the major cities (please refer to the list of recommended medical facilities below) at many birding locations there will be either rudimentary medical facilities or none at all. If you have any specific health concerns that may affect you travelling or your participation in a tour please advise Vietnam Birding in advance of booking your tour so that we can advise accordingly.
Land transportation on our tours is by modern air-conditioned car or minibus with a driver. Self-drive rental is not usually available in Vietnam and would certainly not be recommended for those of a nervous disposition if it were! At some national parks and other sites there are options for visiting birding areas by jeep, boat or bicycle. There is a well-developed domestic flight network within Vietnam and flights are with one of the four domestic carriers, Vietnam Airlines, Vietjet Air, Jetstar Airways or Bamboo Airways, on modern fleets of Boeing or Airbus aircraft. Flying is considerably more comfortable for longer journeys and saves valuable birding time when visiting Vietnam on a trip of limited length.
A wide and ever-increasing range of accommodation is available throughout Vietnam from simple guest houses to 5-star opulence though options are often limited at national parks and some of the more remote birding locations where basic rooms and dining options may be all that is available. All accommodations at the main birding sites used on our tours do however have private bathroom facilities and either air-conditioning or a fan. Where available we offer a choice of standard or deluxe category accommodations.
Meals other than breakfasts are not usually included in the price of our tours giving the option to choose where and what you eat. Restaurants, food stalls and local-style coffee shops are ubiquitous throughout Vietnam and you are never far away from a bowl of noodles or rice and a strong cup of coffee or tea. Vietnamese dishes, typically rice or noodles served with chicken, pork, beef, shrimps or tofu and vegetables can be enjoyed everywhere while in cities and tourist areas international cuisine of all varieties is available.
Vietnamese cuisine comes as a pleasant surprise to most visitors and is definitely a part of the Vietnam experience not to be missed. One of the characteristics of Vietnamese food is that it is always fresh being bought the same morning straight from the market. Perhaps the best-known Vietnamese dish, pho, a rice noodle soup usually served with beef or chicken, is available on food stalls everywhere while, a baguette, banh mi in Vietnamese, filled with pate, pork, cheese or fried egg makes a for a delicious snack at anytime. Due to the strong Buddhist influence in Vietnam, vegetarian food is widely available. Bottled drinking water, soft drinks and beer are cheap and available everywhere.
The currency in Vietnam is the Vietnamese dong and all purchases should be made in the local currency. US dollars and some other currencies can be exchanged for Vietnamese dong at many places and ATMs dispensing local currency can be found in towns and cities throughout the country. Most banks will exchange foreign currency for Vietnamese dong but currency exchange bureau, hotels or some shops generally offer better rates and a more efficient service. Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted at hotels, restaurants and shops in major towns, cities and tourist areas but other credit cards may be more difficult to use.
The south of Vietnam has a hot, dry season from December till April with average temperatures around 28oC and a rainy season lasting from May through till November. Rain usually comes in short downpours during the afternoon but rarely lasts for long. Central Vietnam has very hot, dry weather from February to August with temperatures reaching the mid 30’s Celsius, but can experience some heavy rainfall between September and January. The north of the country has a distinct winter and summer season with the mainly dry winter lasting from November through to April with average temperatures of 18-20oC. Summer lasts from May to October and is hot and humid with temperatures around 30oC.
Wifi, phones, etc.
Free Wifi is available virtually everywhere in Vietnam including hotels, guest houses, restaurants, shops, bars and coffee shops. Vietnam’s mobile phone market is one of the fastest growing in the region and just about everyone in Vietnam has at least one mobile phone, often several! A Vietnam SIM card can be bought cheaply on arrival at the airport and at phone shops and convenience stores throughout the country. Most hotels have IDD phones in rooms and it is still possible to send faxes from some hotels and post offices. Postcards can be bought at many tourist sites and stamps are available from post offices and some hotel reception desks.
It is not advisable to drink tap water in Vietnam but bottled mineral water is safe and available everywhere. Ice in drinks is generally OK in good standard hotels and restaurants but it is best to avoid on street stalls or in country areas.
Tipping for good service is always appreciated. It is customary, though not compulsory, to tip guides and drivers at the end of a tour. Hotel and station porters should also be tipped a small amount for their troubles.
With its six different tones, Vietnamese is a difficult language to learn despite the fact that the Roman alphabet is used in modern Vietnamese. The same word can have six different meanings depending on the tone used to pronounce it. Fortunately English is now widely spoken by many younger people in Vietnam while some of the older generation speak fluent French. However if you can master a few simple words or expressions from your phrase book you can be sure to make some friends while in Vietnam.
Recommended medical facilities in Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh City
Family Medical Practice
34 Le Duan
Ho Chi Minh City
Tel: (028) 3822 7848
Emergency: *9999 or (028) 3744 9000
Columbia Asia International Clinic
8 Alexandre de Rhodes Street
Ho Chi Minh City
Tel: (028) 3823 8888
30 Pham Ngoc Thach
Ho Chi Minh City
Tel: (028) 3827 2366
Raffles Medical Ho Chi Minh City
167A Nam Ky Khoi Nghia
Ho Chi Minh City
Tel: (028) 3824 0777
Unit 708, 7th Floor
Centre Point Building
Nguyen Van Troi
Phu Nhuan District
Ho Chi Minh City
Tel: (028) 3845 4218
6 Nguyen Luong Bang
Saigon South (Phu My Hung)
Ho Chi Minh City
Tel: (028) 5411 3333
Family Medical Practice
298 I Kim Ma Street
Van Phuc Compound
Ba Dinh District
Tel: (024) 3843 0748
Emergency: (024) 3843 0748
72 Xuan Dieu
Tay Ho District
Tel: (024) 3718 6390
Family Medical Practice
50-52 Nguyen Van Linh Street
Hai Chau District
Tel: (0236) 3582 699
24hrs: 0913 917 303
Emergency: 0193 917 303