A travel insurance policy that includes medical evacuation, medical expenses overseas, loss of personal possessions and cancellation cover is absolutely essential for travelling. The cover should be 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.
Most visitors to Vietnam are required to have a valid visa to enter the country. For visits of less than 15 days however 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 less than 30 days. For other nationalities a visa must be arranged in advance. Visit www.vn.embassyinformation.com for contact details of your nearest Vietnam Embassy. 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 Tan Son Nhat International Airport, Ho Chi Minh City, Noi Bai International Airport, Hanoi and Danang International Airport, Danang. It is however essential to obtain an authorization letter issued by the Vietnamese department of immigration in advance of travel to Vietnam. This letter needs to be shown in place of a visa on checking-in for your flight to Vietnam. Take care – you will not be allowed to board your flight to Vietnam without this letter! On arrival in Vietnam the authorization letter needs to be presented at the ‘visa on arrival desk’ at the airport where a visa will be stamped in your passport. A fee must be paid for both the visa authorization letter and the visa stamping at the airport. See www.vietnamvisacenter.org for more information and current rates.
No vaccinations are required for visitors to Vietnam except for yellow fever if you are coming from an area where the disease is present. However visitors should be inoculated against typhoid, cholera, hepatitis A & B, tetanus and polio. Malaria is present in most of the region and it is advisable to take precautions especially if travelling off the beaten track.
Medical facilities are very limited outside of Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi and it is absolutely essential to take out a good medical insurance policy before travelling in case of medical evacuation. If you have any health problems that may affect you travelling or your participation in the tour please advise Vietnam Birding in advance of booking your tour so that we may advise accordingly.
What to bring
A pair of binoculars is the one essential item to pack for your birding trip. A spotting scope can also be useful although opportunities to use it in the forest habitats you will visit in Vietnam are limited. Your Vietnam Birding guide will carry a spotting scope for sites where needed. To provide the best birding experience Vietnam Birding trusts in Swarovski Optik products, the best optical instruments on the market.
Comfortable clothing in natural fabrics such as cotton is most suitable for Vietnam’s tropical climate. Drab green or brown shades are best for blending into the natural surroundings when birding and bright colours, particularly white, should be avoided. Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants in the forests to ward of biting insects, of which there are sure to be some.
A wide-brimmed hat or a cap is important not only as protection against the fierce tropical sun but also to break up the outline of your face when birding. For footwear pack a comfortable pair of worn-in walking boots 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 or flashlight should be packed along with any medication you may need during your trip and a supply of your favourite snack food from home for long days in the forest or early pre-breakfast starts. Leeches can be a real nuisance along forest trails after rain and a pair of leech socks is a good investment.
Books and maps
The essential field guide for Vietnam is Craig Robson’s award-winning Field Guide to the Birds of South-East Asia which features colour illustrations of every bird you are likely meet in Vietnam. A useful supplementary guide is Birds of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos (Pocket Photo Guides) by Peter Davidson which has some nice photographs and an excellent text with helpful identification tips. For mammals you will need Field Guide to the Mammals of South-East Asia by Charles Francis and for reptiles Field Guide to the Reptiles of South-East Asia by Indraneil Das.
Two other highly recommended books are Vietnam: A Natural History by Jane Sterling, Martha Maud Hurley & Le Duc Minh, a beautifully illustrated and comprehensive account of the country’s natural history and To Vietnam With Love: A Travel Guide for the Connoisseur, a travel guide with a difference as locals, expatriates and travellers share their secrets and offer a unique insight to the country they love. These and some other recommendations are listed below.
A Field Guide to the Birds of South-East Asia by Craig Robson
Birds of South-East Asia (Collins Field Guide) by Norman Arlott
Birds of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos (Pocket Photo Guides) by Peter Davidson
A Field Guide to the Mammals of South-East Asia by Charles Francis
Mammals of South-East Asia (Pocket Photo Guides) by Charles Francis
A Field Guide to the Reptiles of South-East Asia by Indraneil Das
Vietnam: A Natural History by Jane Sterling, Martha Maud Hurley & Le Duc Minh
To Vietnam With Love; A Travel Guide for the Connoisseur edited by Kim Fay
Lonely Planet Vietnam by Iain Stewart
Vietnam Footprint Handbook by David W. Lloyd
The Rough Guide to Vietnam by Ron Emmons
Vietnam Travel Map by Periplus Editions
The currency in Vietnam is the Vietnamese dong although US dollars are accepted in many hotels, restaurants and shops. Banks are open Monday to Friday. In the major cities there are exchange bureaux and most hotels will change US dollars although for other currencies it is usually necessary to visit a bank. Travellers cheques can be exchanged at banks and some exchange bureaux but can be difficult to change outside of the major cities. Visa Card and Mastercard are now accepted in many hotels, restaurants and shops and Vietnamese dong can easily be obtained from ATM machines in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and other major cities.
The south of Vietnam has a hot, dry season from December till April with average temperatures around 28°C 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 18-20°C. Summer lasts from May to October and is hot and humid with temperatures around 30°C.
Phones, faxes and internet
Most hotels have IDD phones in rooms and it is possible to send faxes from hotels and post offices although be warned these services can be expensive in Vietnam.
Vietnam ’s mobile phone market is one of the fastest growing in the region and everyone in Vietnam from school children to fishermen now has a mobile phone. Vietnam SIM cards can be bought cheaply in all the major cities.
Free wifi is available in many hotels and restaurants in Vietnam and internet cafes can be found everywhere. Postcards can be bought at all the main 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 it on street stalls or in country areas.
Tipping for good service is always appreciated. It is customary, though not compulsory, to tip local tour guides and drivers at the end of a tour. Hotel and station porters may also be tipped a small amount for their troubles.
With its six different tones, Vietnamese is a difficult language for most foreigners to speak despite the fact that the Latin-based 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 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.