Travel to Vietnam: 7-22 October 2006
Photo Album of 2005 Mindful Visit to Vietnam
Purpose: During this trip you will have a chance to become familiar with the origins of Buddhism in VN, and we will have some experience with the current practice of Buddhism. However Buddhism is not the entire purpose of the trip.
We will have a chance to see and experience the culture of Vietnam, learn about the history and diversity of the country, and we will still have time to explore the cities, and shop as much or as little as you wish. Everyone who has traveled with us has enjoyed the food, the restaurants and in particular the tropical fruit during our visits.
The October 2006 trip includes Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Yen Tu Mountain, Hue, Phong Nha cave, Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City, My Tho and Dalat. There are more than 1,000 pagodas in just the north of Vietnam; we will visit a select and small number of pagodas in our two weeks (the detail literary, including Pagoda names is available in the brochure and evolving). We will have hired guides when practical, with historical and other relevant information provided. We will provide additional background to help the communication and education process. Some sites will have significant historical meaning, other locations will have more current relevance.
The October 2006 tour itinerary is still subject to some revision and modification as we learn the interests of participants. Also we may include visits to some of the several National Parks in Vietnam, assuming there is interest.
Tour: A Mindful Visit to Viet Nam
We explore some of the spiritual and cultural activities in Vietnam on this trip. This trip caters especially, but not exclusively, to people studying with La Boi (a book publishing sangha) and UBC. The trip is open to anyone and everyone with a wide range of interests, and we will all have a good time. This tour is a group of friends traveling together.
Travel Dates: Arrival in Hanoi Sunday, October 7 (this normally means departure from SFO around midnight of Friday night October 5) and we return/complete the trip on Sunday, October 22. Those who fly to SFO on October 22 will arrive about 3:00PM on the same day.
Tour Cost is $1400 plus international fare. Air tickets are approx. $950-$1150, which we will help arrange, and that price includes your Vietnam Visa. Each participant must have a valid passport or other travel documents, and each of us is responsible for any special health requirements and costs. We won't know the exact cost of air fare until mid-August as may prices change until we book the tickets. You are free to arrange any air travel you wish; many people want to arrange additional travel through Vietnam and southeast Asia. We will recommend the best alternatives we can find - for price and convenience.
Tour Schedule: Everyone should plan to arrive in Hanoi on Sunday, before noon; ideally on the same flight. If you arrive on time as planned, we will meet you at Hanoi International Airport (Noi Bai), collect luggage, go together to our hotel. Then we go to a nearby restaurant where we will have our first group lunch together. At lunch we will confirm the activities for the day and the week, clarify living arrangements and any other issues. (There are issues and questions to be handled in any group and this is first chance to meet each other for some of the tour participants). Please contact us if there is any special travel information we need to know in advance.
If you arrive late or early in Hanoi, you can still find us. We expect we will stay at the LUCKY HOTEL near the old quarter of Hanoi, and we will provide you with a phone number and address before we depart. The staff at the Lucky Hotel knows us and they will make you comfortable and make sure we find you again. Any taxi driver can take you there - you may have to insist that you want to go to this hotel only so the taxi guy doesn't take you to "his friend's hotel".
We will provide you with the exact addresses and phone numbers of how to contact in an emergency, prior to your departure.
Contact information. We will carry a couple of cell phones during the tour and will provide the numbers to tour participants to give to family and friends at home, for emergency use only please. It is expensive to phone to USA from VN; plan on no calls. We have the phones or emergencies and tour arrangements while in VN.
For trip reports and family communication, we will have access to international email in every town we visit at local cyber cafes and our hotels; the cost is nominal and most places have a DSL connection. Hotmail and Yahoo are available; make sure you have a valid id and are familiar with how to use email from a computer other than your own. Some cyber cafes will support computer phone calls (VOIP) from VN to the USA; you can make these arrangements while in Vietnam.
Hotels have phones too; again it is generally expensive to phone the USA from Vietnam. Also the many hours of time difference may make contact difficult, and we are so busy on the tour that there may be little time for many calls.
Just before your departure we will sent you a final email with the cell-phone numbers, hotel contact info and any other last minute information that we think might make your trip more enjoyable and comfortable. Please contact us at any time if you have questions and suggestions.
Health All travelers should have basic immunizations: Polio, DPT, and especially tetanus. Check with your doctor and review the CDC bulletins regarding medical preparations for this trip. You can get and take malaria pills, if you wish, but our travel path doesn't go to malaria areas much, if at all (we will be mostly in larger cities, with day trips outside). Bring your favorite remedies for travel sickness(diarrhea), and you may want to have a dose of antibiotics (amoxicillin or cipro, see your doctor) in your bag. There is emergency care available to us in Hanoi, and Saigon. The other locations are more difficult to arrange quality medical care, and it is best to get to Saigon or Hanoi as fast as necessary, if such a need arises. We will take great care and travel in a safe manner to make problems unlikely. Any participant with special medical needs of any kind will want to tell us in advance of the trip, so we can advise as to reasonable expectations and so we can take steps to assist where possible.
There is growing concern about "Avian Flu" in VN and other countries in southeast Asia. Currently (June 2006) available information on this disease tells us the disease is dangerous to humans only in very limited situations. It does not appear to pass normally or easily from one person to another, although there are a small number of cases where it may have. This disease has only been reported in circumstances related to close handling and close association with infected chickens and ducks. We will not be traveling near the few remote places where this disease has been reported in VN, and we will not be visiting any poultry farms. Authorities in VN and elsewhere are closely monitoring this disease so that preventative action can be taken if it becomes necessary in the future.
Food: Tour arranged meals will be vegetarian (optionally). In addition you will be able to get whatever other sorts of food and beverage you wish; you will be free to "roam" most evenings, and there is lots of free-form time opportunity. We expect to have a good time during this trip, and normally we are all happy enough with each other that we want to go to dinner together too. Food in VN is delicious, safe, fresh and tropical. Food, perhaps especially tropical fruit, will be one of the high-lights of the trip.
We should all drink only bottled water and other bottled beverages (and hot tea!) to be safe travelers. Veggies and other fresh foods will always be washed, and peeled or cooked. You are free to eat whatever you wish; you know yourself best, but most of us should avoid raw salad vegetables, ice and the lovely food from the street vendors. Sorry, but these are necessary and reasonable precautions for exotic travel, especially while in a group with a busy schedule.
Ice in VN is produced in large sterile factories, and often transported in small quantities in the form of large blocks carried on the backs of small motorbikes or in pickups. Once the ice melts a bit the outside layer is washed off; the remaining clean ice is what ends up in your drink. Large hotels and restaurants produce their own ice and use the cleanest methods. If you are still concerned, please request your drink without ice.
We should expect some spectacular meals and all the food we have had has been great. "Real" Vietnamese food is prepared fresh, with lots of vegetables, soup, fruit, rice and noodles; light on oils, zero milk and cheese, and very delicious. Food is prepared to order and cooked fresh for you. There are wonderful baguettes and espresso coffee too for those so inclined. As you may already expect, there will be chopsticks and bowls of rice at nearly every meal. If you miss anything (it's only 14 days!!) there are restaurant opportunities for pizza, french-fries and hamburgers.
Weather and clothing: Bring clothes for warm (90 plus degrees) humid weather. Layers work in all climates. Don't be overly concerned about rain; if there is any rain during our trip it will likely be a drizzle, and plastic ponchos or hats will be instantly available (for a modest payment of $1) in all locations. The trip to Ha Long Bay is over open water and gets COLD sometimes - that is the only time I was ever looking for a jacket and a sweater! Dalat is in the mountains among the pine trees and is also cool - but I find it refreshing. Bring layers, again, so you can bulk up if needed, but always try to travel as light as possible.
Travel tips: Pack light. Bring as few things as you can; it makes travel more comfortable. I have a folding wallet that holds money on one side and travel docs on the other. I safety-pin it inside my pocket lining using a long cord. It fits inside my front pants pocket. Chau likes a cloth money belt that she wears under her clothes. Both option decrease the chance loss from leaving things behind and from possibility of or concerns about pick-pockets. Pick-pockets are not a special concern VN, just take your normal travel precautions.
If you lose or forget anything that you need in order to be comfortable while traveling there are stores in Hanoi and Saigon where you can replace any lost essentials with familiar things. You can get cheap suitcases and backpacks in Saigon and Hanoi also, when your suitcase fills up. Alternatively there are stores similar to a Target or a supermarket, if you need supplies of any kind.
Silk and wool (only in Hanoi) clothes can be purchased off the rack, and if there is time, you can order custom sizes and designs in Hanoi, Hoi An and Saigon. Again, if there is time and interest. Generally the result is inexpensive and very attractive. There will be souvenir stuff at every turn and postcards also. We will be in museums and many places with things for sale that will be reminiscent of the trip.
Bring a camera if you wish. Still and video both are possible and worthwhile. Film is available, and can be developed quickly and cheaply (does anyone still use film?). Digital photos can be printed or put on CD in a couple hours at lots of kiosks in every city. Bags, memory and CDs for cameras are all available in larger cities; cheap and fast.
Hotel, restaurant arrangements. Our level of accommodation is going to be generally very nice; two people to a room, with air-conditioning and breakfast included (Unless you have requested other arrangements.). The hotels will provide a light breakfast or we can go out early to see street activity (early morning food stalls and morning exercise), the tour will provide lunch as part of each "tour of the day". Dinner is on our own; the hotel staffs will recommend nice places, and we have some suggestions too. "Lonely Planet Guide - Vietnam" has very good information, there are many equally good guide books to travel in Vietnam, and again we have many personal favorites we can suggest. We'll probably go all together anyway!
We can expect a wonderful, adventurous experience in our accommodations, meals and travel arrangements.
Money: The exchange rate in VN is about d15,000= $1.00. You can exchange money at hotels and jewelry shops easily for a fair and good rate normally. I carry money in US$100 bills and exchange it $100 at a time as I use up my VN money. Be sure the bills are in good condition with no marks or tears in them, for a no-problem money exchanges. If you bring Travelers Checks, it is both a headache and expense to exchange them; please do not do this. I suggest to bring $1000US in $100 bills, to cover emergencies, and more $$ if you have additional plans to travel or spend. The tour will cover all of your hotel and nearly all of your food expenses, but you will want to shop, go to markets and buy some things for souvenirs and if only to have some interaction with people. It is part of the fun of travel for me.
Credit cards are useful for paying large bills, such as hotels and airlines. Restaurants will take credit cards but the bill is usually too small to warrant it. All places will add to the bill an additional 3-4% merchant credit charge that is usually hidden in US transactions.
There ATMs in Hanoi and Saigon, always increasing in numbers. I believe it allows credit card cash advances, and I suggest we not plan on using it because it may mean missing other tour activities while you search for an ATM.
Language: The predominant language is Vietnamese (of course). You will encounter people who speak English at many places we go, and it will be at all levels of competence. Students of English may seek us out to practice their skills. This will be very helpful to them and entertaining for you. You will not encounter French much, but if you are looking for it, it is there and may result in a special cross-cultural encounter. There are several varieties of Chinese spoken, in markets especially and hill tribes speak their own languages. Most non-Vietnamese locals in Vietnam also speak VNese and perhaps English.
At some locations we will arrange for a local guide and that person will speak fair to good English for us,
By the way, LONELY PLANET publishes a useful Vietnamese Phrase book if you want to learn about the language and be better prepared for the tour. VNese is very difficult for English speakers to learn to speak intelligibly on their own, but everyone will love you for your efforts.
Feel free to contact us by phone, or email us and we will get in touch with you. Come and visit if there is opportunity. Otherwise, see you in Hanoi. firstname.lastname@example.org