Thursday, October 02, 2008

TIps for Vietnam Travel

As my days invariably wind down here, I've accumulated a bunch of (ok, a smidge of) local knowledge, with no avenue to apply it.  May as well throw it up on the blog for others to use.

But before reading the below, head over to Miss.Adventure's Guide to Living in Vietnam. This blogger just recently concluded her time as an expat in Vietnam, but the archives are informative.  

Anyhow, here's what I would add:

Money/Exchange Rates:

One tip for establishments where they allow you to pay in VND or USD - ask what the exchange rate is. And then decide, 'ok, if I were to sell USD today, would I sell my dollars for that much in VND?' It makes the decision to pay in VND or USD much easier, as I'm generally confused if it is a good thing or a bad thing if the exchange rate is 15,900 versus 17,900 (answer: it depends on what currency you have in your pockets).


I know some people say that it actually gets cold in Vietnam, but my experience has not borne it out. Lived in Hanoi for an entire year, and I'm coming up to an entire year in Saigon as well. It does get slightly chilly in the fall/winter in Hanoi, but one can venture about in shorts and tshirts still, even if one does not feature the obligatory Northern American layer of organic insulation.

When folks say that Saigon is rainy, well, that they are correct on. It rained like a mother late summer to early fall this year. I mean, crazy amounts that kept me cooped up inside.


The in-bound customs officers are really anal about you bringing in laptops. HCMC's customs folks seem to be more difficult than their Hanoi brethren.

Recently I travelled abroad with two laptops, and then returned with two laptops. And they wanted me to pay customs duties on the second laptop. This is after I had paid fees to bring in these laptops the first time, although those monies didn't end up in the government's coffers, as detailed here.

My obstinance prevailed, and I didn't pay anything; the customs folk made me write onto the customs declaration form that I brought in two computers, and warning me that I will have to take with me two computers when I next leave the country, or else I would have to pay duties then.  

Let me back up and explain the customs process. Upon entering Vietnam, the flight attendants will give you a two part white customs form (for foreign passport holders). You declare items you are bringing in and the like, just like other countries. Upon landing, at passport control, they review your customs declaration, stamp one side of the form, keep the stamped part and then return to you the unstamped part. When you collect baggage and leave the airport, the x-ray your baggage, reconfirm the customs form, stamp it and return it to you. When you next leave the country, you are required to submit this customs form that you are required to keep all this time.

So instead of paying more duties, I wrote down that I have two computers on the customs document, and they allowed me to leave. I don't plan to leave with two computers and, because this is Vietnam, I don't plan to be required to pay any duties upon leaving.

First off, the customs guys were lazy and didn't stamp the part I kept. Second, Hanoi is much more lax with the customs procedures than HCMC. When I flew in and out of Hanoi, I never returned the second part of my form upon exit of the country, because I didn't know it was a requirement. They just give you a new form to fill out. These forms are lying around all over the place in Noi Bai airport.

Long story short, I got myself a blank form and will give the customs folks an unadulterated declaration statement upon leaving - if they complain about the lack of an official stamp, well, the explanation that it was never stamped by the lazy customs officers will be readily accepted, because they know that such lack of rigor is common.

The tip is, when you fly into the country, grab extra blank custom forms from the flight crew. Just tell them you made a typo on your form. Then keep it handy, just to have options. You know, just in case you need to forge shit.

If I really wanted to import shit, not get caught by customs and sell under the radar, I would bring in wristwatches. Vietnamese people are bling'n ballers yo, you can easily unload watches costing tens of thousands here.  I cannot think of a more gauche manner to launder money in Vietnam.     

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