Vietnam & Cambodia FAQ

Frequently asked questions about Vietnam, Cambodia and the tour.

Below is a continually updated list of questions that I receive about travel to SE Asia. There may be some repeated information so please forgive. I’m simply adding Q&A’s as they come in to me.

Q. I wanted to ask… I need some suggestions of gifts to bring… what is desirable from here that they don’t have?
A. I would suggest something from your region. I generally bring packaged salmon, tea or chocolates made in Seattle.

Q. For the homestays, are we going to be split up so we stay in different homes? Do you know for how many days? I’ve never done a homestay so this will be a new experience for me!
A. Actually, the group will all be staying at the same place in Mai Chau.

Q. I read in your notes that you always survive with a carry on only. This I can’t do because of before and after commitments. I hope I won’t be the only one with checked luggage.
A. While I think you will be more comfortable moving around with fewer bags, there will probably be others with more than just a carry-on.

Q. How much is the International Departure Tax for Cambodia? Still US$ cash only? (My 2006 guidebook says $25 – hopefully it hasn’t changed!) Thx!
A. Nope, it hasn’t changed. It’s still $25.

Q. Do you spray down your clothes with some insecticide? A guy at the sporting goods store (where i got DEET) sold me some other stuff for spraying down clothes against mosquitoes. I’ve never done it and I guess I would do it this weekend. Does it stain? Do you think it is necessary for the areas we will be going in?
A. I wear ExOfficio clothes that have mosquito repellant already in them and haven’t tried any spray-on products.

Q. I’d like to bring small gifts for our guides, how many will we have?
A. There will be 4 guides total and at this time I’m not sure if they will be male or female. Small gifts from your hometown are always appreciated. For example, coffee, chocolate or a coffee mug with your city’s name on it.

Q. Shall I bring a bathing suit?
A. 2 of the hotels (in Hue and Hoi An) will have pools but it might be a tad cold to swim.

Q. I’m assuming you’ve gotten your H1N1 and flu vaccinations with all your frequent worldwide traveling? Do you recommend getting the flu vaccines even though H1N1 seems to be dying down?
A. I’m actually not so big on vaccines and have not received the H1N1, nor do I plan on it. I suggest you chat with your doc to determine whether you should consider this for yourself.

Q. How should I dress based on the weather for the spring?
A. You might consider either a fleece and/or light rain jacket for your outer layer. Then a button up shirt underneath and a t-shirt as a bottom layer. It could be quite chilly in the evenings (50 – 65 F) in the north of Vietnam and then very warm in the south and also in Cambodia.

Q. Will the hotels have a laundry service so that I can pack light?
A. They definitely have laundry service at a reasonable rate. You’ll want to consider having it done at one of the places where the group is staying for more than a night in North Vietnam. In the south, you might rinse and dry your clothes out when/if it’s warm. Consider clothes from a company like ExOfficio, which will dry quickly.

Q. Do I need to learn any Vietnam or Khmer?
A. It isn’t necessary as many people speak English but it might be fun for you to learn a bit of the language(s) in advance. Being able to say “hello”, “goodbye”, “thank you” and “excuse me” will go a long way. Lonely Planet has an excellent little Vietnamese phrase book that will get you started.

Q. Can I use my cell phone in SE Asia?
A. It depends. First, your cell phone must have GSM technology in order to tap into the local network. If you plan on bringing the phone that you use on a daily basis at home, CHECK WITH YOUR PROVIDER to determine what they will charge for both calls and texts – both outgoing and incoming – and for calls within SE Asia and for international calls. These calls can be exorbitant.

Consider carrying an old phone that is “unlocked” – one that you’re currently not using and doesn’t have a call plan attached to it. Remember that it has to have GSM technology in order to tap into the local network. When you arrive in-country, you can purchase a SIM card for that phone and then be able to tap into the local network. Domestic and international calls will likely be far cheaper than using your own phone on your current plan. When you add the new SIM card, this phone will be assigned a phone number that you can then share with your family at home and they can call you directly (sometimes you’re not charged for incoming calls).

Here’s a blog post I wrote about cell phone usage abroad.

Q. What do you use to write and journal while you’re traveling abroad?
A. I’ve taken to using a netbook when I travel. Here’s a review I did of the Asus eee.

Q. Do I need to worry about mosquitoes and/or malaria in SE Asia?
A. Please check with your doctor on advice about malaria prophylaxes. Here’s an excellent article on TravelFish about malaria in SE Asia and is a good place to start your research. Personally, I go more for prevention in terms of wearing long sleeves and natural repellents and forgo taking medicinals, but that’s just me.

Q. Are travelers checks viable in Vietnam? Are ATM’s available? Do vendors usually take credit cards or do small vendors not have the equipment?
Travelers checks can be used at the airport and in banks and you might be able to find shops that will accept these. I suggest that you change a small amount of cash or travelers checks at the airport upon arrival and then hit an ATM when you get into Hanoi. I always carry at least some travelers checks in case I can’t access my bank account with a debit or credit card and have some cash on hand as a back up. It depends on your spending habits as to how much money you bring with you.

Q. How much US dollars in cash might you recommend bringing? What is the preferred method(s) of getting local currency?
A. Remember that most everything will be covered during your time in SE Asia but there are some times when you are on your own for meals and definitely for souvenirs and tips. If you want soft drinks or alcohol these will be extra. There are a wide range of souvenirs to purchase throughout the country and much of these will be low to moderately priced. You might be one to only spend $50 on souvenirs but you might end up spending hundreds.

Q. If I bring US dollars, are the Vietnamese fussy about them being perfect?
It’s a good idea to have newer/crisper bills as sometimes the shopkeepers won’t take ones that aren’t in perfect condition.

Q. I have a moneybelt case that goes under my pants or skirt in which I carry my passport. Do you recommend getting a case-hardened steel chained passport holder?
I think that’s overkill and it sounds uncomfortable! Try a money pouch that you can discreetly tuck underneath your clothes.

Q. Are short skirts (slightly above the knee) acceptable in the temples? How about calf-length skirts? Just pants?
A. It’s best not to wear above the skirt knees to temples. Calf-length skirts will be fine. Short skirts really aren’t appropriate.

Q. Would you recommend taking a rain coat? Something more than one of those flimsy “emergency” ponchos?
A. Because it will be cooler in the north, it will be helpful to have a rain jacket that is a bit heavier than one of those thin ponchos. Plus, you could always buy one of those in Vietnam if you really needed one. Remember to dress in layers, too, so that when the sun’s out, it’ll be easy to layer down into lighter clothes.

Q. Should we bring our own toilet paper? Do they have the “squatty potties” of China fame?
A. No need to bring toilet paper as it will be available at all hotels. I think all toilets (except for maybe when we’re out walking) are western style.

Q. Can I bring my laptop?
A. Of course, you will have power at all of the hotels. Power outages may happen but not frequently.

Q. What sort of power adaptor do I need?
A. Vietnam & Cambodia uses the same sort of adaptor as other parts of SE Asia. I’d recommend buying one from a local travel store and chatting with a salesperson to make sure you’ve got the right one.

Q. Are there hair dryers at the hotels?
A. Sometimes but don’t count on it. As mentioned above, there will be power at all hotels. Just remember that no one ‘s going to be looking their finest, so if you don’t have to have the hair dryer, consider leaving it at home :-)

Q. Do I need any dressy clothes?
A. Nope.

Q. What kind of shoes should I hike in?
A. Hiking boots are not necessary but might be good if you want ankle support. Also, because it will be cooler in northern Vietnam, it might be nice to have close-toed shoes rather than sandals.

Q. I have been researching new luggage and took to heart your message of going LIGHT. I loved the look of your existing Victorinox pack (my Eagle Creek piece has a zip-on day pack that I have been using every day for the last five or six years). But Victorinox seems to have done a major re-design on their new E-Motion model that I’m not thrilled about. With the caveat to go light not matter what, I’m looking at carry-on wheeled options. Is it safe to assume we are going to be responsible for moving our luggage around every day, and also that we may be needing to pick it up more than wheel it, due to fairly uneven and unpaved terrain?
You’ll have very little interaction with your luggage other than moving it from the van to your room and sometimes there’s even staff to help with that. Generally there’s a sidewalk and you can roll it but sometimes it might be a dirt track. I carry a rolly bag myself and sometimes use one with a convertible backpack.

Victorinox indeed made a mistake on their latest bags. I’ve gone back to Eagle Creek and also have a Timbuk2 Checkpoint which doesn’t have a backpack but seems to be a great bag. Here’s a link to some suggested bags.

Q. Do you usually take your WA drivers license with you on trips where you aren’t planning on driving? Or just rely on your passport, or get an International Drivers License as another form of ID?
A. I usually bring it just to have it with me, like a security blanket, but you definitely WON’T need it.

Q. Will you be sending an updated itinerary with our overnight accommodations so we can leave it with folks at home?
A. You’ll receive the hotel information 1 or 2 weeks before departure but it is subject to change.

Q. Do I need insurance for this tour?
A. We highly recommend evacuation insurance for this and all Wanderlust and Lipstick tours. MedEx Assist is Beth’s recommended insurance. She’s used it for years (though, luckily, has never had to make a claim) and have found the customer service to be top notch and the site to be easy to navigate.

They offer numerous affordable options including travel, medical and evacuation insurance.

Q. Will we have internet access?
A. There are many places where we will have access to email and the internet. Hotels usually have computers in the lobby and there are internet cafes in all the major cities with reasonable connections. Certainly you’ll be able to regularly check in with family but it won’t be like home. Some hotels and internet cafes also have wifi.

Q. What’s the emergency contact info that I can give my family?
A. You will be given a cell phone number for someone in-country from our local tour operator as well as a list of hotels. All of this will be provide shortly before your departure.

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