Vietnam announces waiver on visa requirements

29 06 2015

Vietnam visa InsideVietnam

Residents of Britain, Germany, France, Spain and Italy now have cause to celebrate, as Vietnam announces its plan to waive visa requirements for an entire year.

The exemption period, which will begin on the 1st of July 2015 and end on the 30th of June 2016, will allow residents of these five countries to travel to Vietnam with nothing but their passport. Belarus will also be added to the list for a period of five years from the same date.

News of the announcement surfaced in the media last week, but it was not until Monday that the Embassy of Vietnam in London confirmed reports in a statement on their website. From July 2016, the visa waiver is expected to be extended to Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

The visa exemption has been introduced to counteract a slump in tourist numbers, which have reportedly been in decline since 2014, and will add to the list of 18 other countries that are exempt from Vietnamese visa requirements. Most countries on the list are members of ASEAN, but it also includes Russia and much of Scandinavia.

What do you need to know?

  • The visa exemption period only covers visits of up to 15 days
  • Your passport must have at least six months validity for you to be eligible for the visa exemption
  • If you wish to visit Vietnam twice during the exemption period, the beginning of your second visit must begin at least 30 days after the end of your first
  • If you are already travelling to Vietnam with a visa and plan to make a second visit during the exemption period, you do not need to leave a 30-day grace period between your visits
  • If you have already applied for a visa to travel to Vietnam beyond the 1st of July 2015, your visa fee will not be refundable

So, now it is easier to get to this great country and we can help you get there.





Hoi An by Night: a photoblog

23 06 2015

The ancient port of Hoi An is beautiful at any time of day, but at night it comes alive with an entirely different atmosphere – a riot of lights, lanterns, noises and smells that cannot fail to make a lasting impression.

These photos were taken on my recent visit to Hoi An, when I was lucky enough to take a street food tour of the town and its environs on the back of a vintage Vespa!

In front of the night market

Street food seller

Cyclos for rent

Renting a cyclo

Lantern shop

Street food seller

Lantern lady

Trinkets for sale

Street food seller

Little boy shopping

Bye bye baby

Lantern shop

Vendor

Streets of Hoi An

Lighting lanterns

Lighting lanterns





5 great things to do in Nha Trang

17 06 2015

Heading to Nha Trang, Vietnam and not sure what to do? I’ve spent the past couple of days at the seriously stunning, just-opened Fusion Resort, so I have a few ideas to keep you entertained!

1. Relax on the beach!

The beach is the main reason that most tourists visit Nha Trang, and it’s not hard to see why. Beautiful white sand, hot hot sun and the warmest sea you can imagine – what else could you possibly need?

Beach near Nha Trang

This is the beach in front of my villa at the newly opened and seriously stunning Fusion Resort Nha Trang, where I am lucky enough to be staying at the moment. Bliss!

2. Visit the Po Nagar Towers

If you’re not going to make it to the Cham Dynasty ruins of My Son near Hoi An, the Po Nagar Towers are a great alternative. Dating back to the 7th-12th centuries, the towers are located right in the town and are in excellent condition for their age.

Po Nagar Towers

There aren’t nearly as many buildings as you’ll find at My Son, but they do give an excellent insight into an ancient culture.

3. See a floating fishing village

Floating villages are not just found in Halong Bay and the Mekong Delta – out in Nha Trang Bay you can take a trip to see how local fishing families live out on the water, farming oysters and serving boatloads of customers who come to buy their wares.

4. Go snorkelling

Nha Trang is beautiful above the waves and below, so head out with your snorkelling gear – or arrange a day of scuba diving – to enjoy the amazingly diverse coral scenery out in the bay.

Snorkelling at Nha Trang

5. Take a sunset cruise on the Quang Truong River

If you feel like treating yourself and seeing life in Nha Trang from a different perspective, take to the water for a relaxing sunset river cruise. You’ll pass brightly coloured houseboats, busy shipyards, a colonial railway bridge and plenty of lush scenery – all whilst enjoying wine, spring rolls, and plenty of fresh fruit.





Haggle like a pro with these 8 simple rules

4 06 2015

In many countries, bargaining and negotiating is part and parcel of life. It goes on all around you – it is culture in action – and it is in no way limited to the tourist industry.

In foreign marketplaces, foreigners often tend to feel a little aggrieved that they are being “ripped off” by being charged a higher price than locals, and this sense can colour the tone of negotiation. Better perhaps to accept that most of the people you are dealing with are smart business people with limited resources, seeking to make a decent living, and that in a culture where negotiating is commonplace the first price is expected to be rejected.

This post represents a list of tips and tricks that have been tried and tested by the InsideVietnam team during our adventures in Southeast Asia and beyond. Follow these simple rules and haggling becomes a fun and friendly way to interact with the locals, not to mention a great way to pick up some bargains.

1. Smile

The first rule, and also the most important. In most Asian countries, maintaining “face” is extremely important, so avoiding insult to either party’s pride or dignity is paramount. Not only this, but good humour is more likely to get you a better deal – and will most definitely make for a more enjoyable experience.

Alastair making friends at the market in Hoi An

Alastair making friends at the market in Hoi An

2. Know the going rate

If you want to bargain successfully, you need to have a rough idea of the going rate for what you’re aiming to buy. Otherwise you are liable to aim for a price that’s unachievably low, or one that’s extortionately high. Either way you’re cheating yourself out of a good deal.

If you’re travelling with a guide, ask them for a ballpark figure for your item – or, if not, asking around a few different vendors in the area will give you a vague idea of the starting price. Your hotel might also be able to tell you more, or, if you’re looking to buy a more expensive item, you might want to do some online research beforehand.

It may be a little tricky to find out exactly what the local value of an item is, but it will give you an invaluable advantage over the vendor. No doubt, you will suffer early haggling defeats early on in the trip, but you will soon learn!

Market trader, Hanoi

3. Decide what you’re willing to pay before you start

Once you’ve accomplished point two, use this to decide on a price that you’re willing to pay for the item and stick to it. Translate the figure into your home currency in your head to make sure that you’re comfortable (and able) to pay it. This will (hopefully) stop you getting too carried away!

Cloth for sale in Sapa

4. Counter a high opening gambit with a low counter-offer

Depending on the item and the context, 50% of the initial offer or thereabouts is reasonable. These two opening offers set the boundaries for your negotiation, and you can be sure the vendor will be aiming high!

Rie at the market

Rie at the market in Vietnam

5. Negotiate in local currency

In many countries, including Vietnam, you can often opt to pay in US dollars rather than local currency. This will inevitably result in a worse deal for you. Always choose to haggle in the local currency where possible to avoid losing out….and learn a few basic words in the local language.

Market in Bhamo

6. Walk away

The best haggling deals of my life were struck using this tactic – you’ll be surprised at how effective it can be. If you’ve haggled your heart out and the price still hasn’t reached a level you’re happy with, break out the tactical walk-away and you’ll immediately be called back if the vendor still has room to manoeuvre. If they let you walk, you’ve probably pushed them as far as they can go. At this point, don’t be embarrassed to come back and accept their last offer!

Bhamo market sellers

7. Go for a multi-item deal

This is another one of my faves. “If you won’t sell me this for X amount, will you give me this and this for X amount?” is a great way to get a better price – and the vendor gets another sale out of you too. Win-win.

Vegetable market

8. Don’t get carried away

Once you’ve flexed your haggling muscles and driven a few hard bargains, it’s easy to get a little carried away with your success. Don’t push too hard – remember, those final few pennies you’re attempting to wring from the little old lady at the marketplace are worth more to her than they are to you.

Vietnamese market seller





Highlights of Vietnam: 5 amazing places to visit in Vietnam

22 05 2015

In January I wrote about five lesser-known highlights of Vietnam – including caves, mountain villages, beaches, and jungles. The five destinations I’ll be exploring today, meanwhile, are very much on the beaten track – but for good reason! (They also all begin with H, for no reason at all).

I won’t say these are “must-see” sites, because your itinerary should always reflect your own personal interests, but they should most definitely be included on your Vietnam shortlist.

Ready? Then I’ll begin.

1. Halong Bay

Halong Bay (also Ha Long Bay) is probably the most recognisable image of Vietnam there is, and undoubtedly one of the world’s most beautiful bays – earning it a place in the New7Wonders of Nature in 2011.

Halong Bay at twilight

Halong Bay at twilight

The bay is located in the north of the country (within striking distance of Hanoi, if you’re considering it as a side-trip), and very much deserves its UNESCO World Heritage status. Characterised by tall, narrow, limestone islands dotted throughout (called karsts), one of the best ways to explore it is cruising through it on a traditional junk boat.

Legend has it that Halong’s islands were formed when, in an attempt to protect the country against invaders, a Mother dragon and her children scattered emeralds across the bay to form a defensive wall. This is how Halong got its name, which means “descending dragon” in Vietnamese.

For more information about cruises in Halong Bay, check out our informative blog post here.

2. Hoi An

Hoi An is a wonderful example of a preserved trading port, and is one of our favourite places in Vietnam. Yes, it is rather “touristy” – but that’s because it’s a fascinating and beautiful place, so don’t let its popularity put you off.

Hoi An

Hoi An

Hoi An lies on the coast of Vietnam’s thin central section, and like Halong Bay it has been recognised with UNESCO World Heritage status. In the first century AD it was the largest harbour in Southeast Asia, and as late as the 18th century it was considered by Chinese and Japanese merchants to be one of the best trading locations in all of Asia. Throughout its long and prosperous history Hoi An has received influences from a multitude of different cultures and civilisations, each of which has left its mark on the historical city.

The Hoi An lantern festival (also known as Ancient Town Night, or the Full Moon Festival), is held once a month on the night of the full moon (reportedly soon to be held on the new moon, too), and is a very popular and exciting time to visit.

For more on Hoi An and why we love it, read out blog post: Oi Oi Hoi An

3. Hanoi

As you will know if you read my recent blog post, Hanoi vs. Saigon, Hanoi has been the capital of reunified Vietnam since 1976, and was the country’s political centre for nearly 1,000 years from 1010 until 1802. The city is still considered by most to be the country’s hub of culture and history, and boasts more significant cultural sites than any other city in Vietnam.

Hanoi

Hanoi

Its attractions span a wide spectrum of eras and styles, from the ancient Temple of Literature, One Pillar Pagoda and the impressive Hanoi Citadel, to the colonial masterpieces of the Grand Opera House and the Presidential Palace, to Ho Chi Minh’s monumental mausoleum and two of Southeast Asia’s tallest skyscrapers.

4. Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City (still frequently known as Saigon) is located at the opposite end of the country, and was once the most important commercial seaport of the Khmer Empire. These days, Saigon is Vietnam’s food capital and the best place to learn about the country’s modern history – in particular the Vietnam War.

Saigon

Saigon

The War Remnants Museum (previously known as the “Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes”) is fascinating, while at the Cu Chi Tunnels you can experience what life was like in the secret passages constructed by guerrilla fighters. For hardened history buffs, there’s also the Ho Chi Minh City Museum, the Revolutionary Museum, and the Museum of Southeastern Armed Forces.

5. Hue

Last but not least, let me whisk you away to Hue (pronounced “hway”), the capital of the Nguyen Dynasty between 1802 and 1945 and home to an imperial Citadel much like the Forbidden City of Beijing. Located in central Vietnam, not too far from Hoi An, Hue is home to a wealth of beautiful, ancient buildings, including the Thien Mu Pagoda, the Imperial Enclosure, and the To Mieu Temple Complex.

Hue

Hue

Despite suffering severe damages during the Vietnam War, Hue’s Citadel still makes a very impressive place to visit, and is one of the best places to see imperial architecture in Vietnam. It’s also well-known for its delicious food, which is always a bonus!

To read more, check out our blog post on exploring Hue here.





6 reasons to travel to Indochina in the green season

19 05 2015
Contrary to appearances, she is having fun. Honest.

Contrary to appearances, she is having fun. Honest.

Want to experience Indochina with fewer crowds, cheaper prices, and better scenery? You can! It’s called the green season.

If you read my recent post about the best time to visit Indochina, you’ll know that weather and climate in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos is a complicated business. Thanks to the sheer length of the Indochinese peninsula, as well as the variation between coastal and mountainous zones, it’s never just as simple as winter = cold, summer = hot.

Whereas the vast majority of tourists choose to visit Indochina in peak season, which extends from November until March, in this post I’ll be exploring a few of the reasons to think outside the box and consider travelling to Indochina during the wet season – or “green season”, as we like to call it.

Far too many people are put off by the thought of rain, when in fact there are many benefits to off-peak travel.

Green and pleasant: Sapa in the green season

You can see why they call it the green season

1. There are fewer tourists

It’s an obvious one – but for many, a very important one. Nobody likes to think of themselves as a tourist (we’d all prefer to be “travellers” – go on, admit it!) and there’s nothing to make you feel more tourist-like than standing amongst a pack of other touristy tourists everywhere you go.

One way to avoid being swept up in the throng of sock-and-sandal-wearers is to head to places where nobody else goes, but I’ve always thought that this is a flawed plan. There are usually reasons nobody else goes to those places, after all.

A much better way to avoid the crowds is to travel out of season, when even the most popular sights are much less busy than they would be otherwise. You’ll be guaranteeing yourself a more relaxed, peaceful, and atmospheric experience in key destinations – which is reason enough to travel off-peak all by itself.

Out in the lush scenery of Sapa, much prettier out-of-season

Out in the lush scenery of Sapa, Vietnam

 2. It’s cheaper

Another extremely compelling and very simple reason to consider off-peak travel: less demand = lower prices. Simple as that.

This rule applies mainly to flights and hotel rooms – probably your two biggest holiday expenses – so it’s well worth a thought for the thrifty traveller.

Waterways near Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Lovely waterways near Angkor Wat, Cambodia

 3. Everything looks nicer

Something that many people forget about rain is that it has an ulterior motive besides getting you all wet and ruining your holiday plans. It makes everything look beautiful and green and pleasant. Instead of arid landscape and parched earth you will be surrounded by leafy, lovely views and lush vegetation, and your holiday snaps will look that much more picturesque as a result. And we all know that the only reason to go on holiday is Instagram.

Atmospheric mist in Ninh Binh, Vietnam

Atmospheric mist in Ninh Binh, Vietnam

4. Water, water everywhere!

Well, duh. It’s the rainy season. But an oft-overlooked benefit of all this rain is that all the popular water-based activities in Indochina only get better.

The rivers and lakes swell, so you can cruise further (and faster) inland than you can in the dry season. The rice paddies are flooded, creating beautiful, giant mirrors for the sky. The moats and ponds around Angkor are filled with water, reflecting the beauty of the temples. Tonle Sap Lake with its floating villages is at its very best, with water lapping the doorsteps of the houses. When so many activities in Indochina are water-based, more water can only be a good thing!

Kampong Khleang, Cambodia

Boating in Kampong Khleang, Cambodia

5. The storms and clouds are awesome

The weather doesn’t have to be a downside during the rainy season, it can actually be a benefit. For those of us who live in wishy-washy climes like the UK, the awesome power of tropical storms is actually pretty exciting. Or I think so anyway. For many people it’s a world apart from their everyday experience, and is that not why we travel in the first place?

The dramatic, towering clouds that come before and after a big storm are also quite spectacular in their own right, especially when illuminated by the dying light at sunset.

Above the clouds in Sapa

Above the clouds in Vietnam!

6. The rainy season isn’t as rainy as you think

We all hate the rain in England, because the rain in England is horrid. It’s drizzly and pathetic, it goes on all day and night, and it’s bloody freezing. But rain in Indochina isn’t like rain in England.

For all but the rainiest months of the year (again, I refer you to my previous blog for when exactly these fall in different parts of the region), the rain arrives in short, heavy downpours that clear up almost as soon as they have arrived, leaving you with clear skies and fluffy clouds for the majority of the day. It’s also warm all year round, so you dry off quickly and don’t get that horrible, shivery drowned rat feeling. The showers can even be a nice break from the heat.

In short, it is really not as bad as some people make out. Even if you travel in the rainiest of the rainy months, when it pours almost constantly throughout the day (and InsideVietnam’s Charlotte can attest to this), it doesn’t mean you have to halt all your activities and sit at home. You just do them in the rain.

Well, you're going to get wet anyway.

Charlotte making the most of the rainy season in Hoi An. Well, she was going to get wet anyway.

If you’re a committed sun-worshipper and lifelong beach bum, that’s OK. I know I’ll never persuade you. But for the rest of you, give the green season a try, it’s not all rain, rain, rain. You won’t be disappointed.





Indochina: When’s best to go?

14 05 2015

Contrary to popular belief, travel to Indochina (by which we mean Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos) can be a pleasure at any time of year. It all depends on what you want from your holiday and what your priorities are. If you despise crowds but don’t mind a bit of rain, travelling in the wet season may be for you – but if you’re a sun worshipper with a beach holiday in mind, you may feel the opposite.

Since there are upsides and downsides to travel in each season, in this post we’ll try to cover the basic need-to-know information for each region. For a quick overview, however, have a look at our climate graphic – designed to let you see at a glance which regions are experiencing the best weather, and when.

 

VietnamColourChart

 

If you would like more advice on when to travel in Indochina, don’t hesitate to ask us in the comments below, connect with us via Twitter or Facebook, or contact us directly via our website! We’ll also be following up this post with some more advice on how to have a great holiday during the green season (AKA wet season!) – so watch this space.

 

Vietnam

With its long, thin geography and over 2,000 miles of coastline, Vietnam spans a very wide range of latitudes for its size, meaning that the climate varies quite dramatically between its northern and southern regions. In fact, for the purpose of discussing climate, most people find it helps to divide the country into three separate regions, each with its own weather system. These are: north, central and south.

North Vietnam

North Vietnam experiences two distinct seasons: a cool, dry winter (November – March) and a hot, wet summer (April – October). The lowest temperatures of the year occur in Dec-Feb, when Hanoi sees average daily highs of around 20°C, while the highest temperatures are to be found in May-Aug, with average highs of up to 32°C.

In the mountainous far north of the country, the climate differs again. December and January can be very cold (you might even see snow!), and the rainy season from May to September can make travel quite difficult. The best times of year for trekking in this area are September to November and March to May.

North Vietnam temperature and rainfall

Central Vietnam

Central Vietnam has hot, dry weather from around mid-January until late August, with the temperature remaining relatively warm throughout the rest of the year. In this region the rainy season falls in the months of September through December, with occasional typhoons in October and November.

Central Vietnam temperature and rainfall

South Vietnam

South Vietnam sees very little variation in temperature throughout the year, with average daily highs sticking to a narrow range of about 30-35°C all year round. The hottest months are usually March and April, and the coolest around December. Rainfall is almost non-existent from December to April, while the rainy season sweeps in from May until October, dropping off in November. Downpours are usually short and heavy, and typhoons are rare.

South Vietnam temperature and rainfall

Of course, for Vietnam, InsideVietnam have an amazing interactive graphic that tells you when is good/bad and what is happening. Take a look here.

Laos

With no coastline, Laos has a much simpler climate than Vietnam. There are just two distinct seasons which are experienced at roughly the same time throughout the country: wet (May to September) and dry (October to April). Temperatures tend to be at their hottest from March to May, when the mercury soars over 35°C, while December sees the coolest temperatures with average highs of no less that 25°C. At all times of year, highland areas are noticeably cooler than lowland – and you will probably need something warm to wear in the evenings.

Laos temperature and rainfall

Cambodia

Cambodia has one of the simplest weather systems in Southeast Asia, with just two seasons and very little altitudinal variation from region to region. The dry season extends from October to late April, while the wet season is from May to late September. The hottest months of the year are usually from February until June, with average highs from around 32-35°C, while October to December are the coolest months – with average highs of a very balmy 28°C.

Cambodia temperature and rainfall








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