American Express-- Amex is represented by Exotissimo Travel (In Hanoi: 24-26 Tran Nhat Duat, tel. 04/828-2150; in Ho Chi Minh City: Saigon Trade Center, 37 Ton Duc Thang St., tel. 08/825-1723). Note: They do not issue traveler's checks but can help you report a lost card or lost traveler's checks. Hours are Monday to Friday from 8am to 5pm.
Area Codes-- The area codes for the provinces of Vietnam are as follows: An Giang 76; Bac Can 281; Bac Giang 240; Bac Ninh 241; Ben Tre 75; Binh Oinh 56; Binh Thuan 62; Can Tho 71; Cao Bang 26; Da Nang 51; Dac Lac 50; Dong Nai 61; Dong Thap 67; Gia Lai 59; Ha Giang 19; Ha Nam 351; Hanoi 4; Ha Tay 34; Ha Tinb 39; Hai Hung 32; Haiphong 31; Ho Chi Minh 8; Hoa Binh 18; Khanh Hoa 58; Kien Giang 77; Kontum 60; Lai Chau 23; Lam Dong 63; Lang Son 25; Lao Cai 20; Long An 72; Minh Hai 78; Nam Ha 35; Nam Dinh 350; Nghe An 38; Ninh Binh 30; Ninh Thuan 68; Phu Yen 57; Quang Binh 52; Quang Nam 510; Quang Ngai 55; Quang Ninh 33; Quang Tri 53; Soc Trang 79; Son La 22; Song Be 65; Binh Duong 650; Binh Phuoc 651; Tay Ninh 66; Thai Binh 36; Thai Nguyen 280; Thanh Hoa 37; Thua Thien Hue 54; Tien Giang 73; Tra Vinh 74; Tuyen Quang 70; Vinh Long 70; Vinh Phu 211; Vung Tau 64; Yen Bai 29.
ATM Networks-- ATM service compatible with the major networks is available only in urban areas or popular tourist towns. The towns of Dalat, Danang, Haiphong, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi An, Hue, Nha Trang, and Vinh have reliable service. Look for Vietcombank outlets or ask at your hotel front desk. The large hotels in major cities sometimes have ATM service in their lobby areas, but in most parts you'll have to find a bank.
Business Hours-- Vendors and restaurants tend to be all-day operations, opening at about 8am and closing at 9 or 10pm. People are up and about very early in the morning in Vietnam -- in fact, some towns still follow the old socialist bell system over outdoor speakers that start with waking bells at 5am, exercise regimen at 5:30, siesta bell at 11am, return-to-work bell at 1pm, finish-work bell at 5pm and the news piped in at 6pm (this mostly in remote areas). Note that locals eat an early lunch, usually just after 11am, and some restaurants are all but closed at 1pm. Government offices -- including banks, travel agencies, and museums -- are usually open from 8 to 11:30am and 2 to 4pm. Streets are often very quiet during the siesta hours of the day when the sun is most merciless. Restaurants usually have last orders at 9:30 or 10pm, and, with the few exceptions of city clubs, bars are rarely open much past midnight.
Crime-- Anonymous violent crime is not common in Vietnam, but petty thievery, especially against tourists, is a risk. Pickpocketing is rampant, and Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), in particular, has a special brand of drive-by purse snatchings via motorbike. Don't wear flashy jewelry or leave valuables in your hotel room, especially in smaller hotels. There are small-time rackets perpetrated against tourists by taxi and cyclo drivers, usually in the form of a dispute on the agreed-upon price after you arrive at your destination. Simply agree on a price by writing it down first, and always smile and demand change; it will eventually appear despite claims that it is impossible (hotel front desks are your best help in such situations). Also stay with established taxi companies or one recommended by a larger hotel as many small operators have rigged meters. Do not mess around with drugs in Vietnam. Even seemingly innocent offers of marijuana are often followed by a drug bust led by the very friendly cat who sold you the bag. Certainly not worth it.
Doctors & Dentists Vietnamese healthcare is not yet up to Western standards. However, there are competent medical clinics in Hanoi and Saigon with international, English-speaking doctors. The same clinics have dentists. If your problem is serious, try your best to get to either one of these cities as quickly as possible. The clinics can arrange emergency evacuation. If the problem is minor, ask your hotel to help you contact a Vietnamese doctor. He or she will probably speak some English, and pharmacies throughout the country are surprisingly well stocked. Check the products carefully for authenticity and expiration dates. The Vietnamese are big believers in prescription drugs (without prescriptions), although there are still some folk remedies around.
Driving Rules-- On streets that look like chaos incarnate, very exacting rules do apply that keep everyone from running each other off the road. It is highly recommended (and quite affordable) to hire a driver to get around.
Drug Laws-- Possessing drugs can mean a jail sentence, and selling them or possessing quantities in excess of 300 grams means a death sentence. Cyclo drivers are likely to offer if you look game, but they're also the ones most likely to turn you in for a small fee. Don't take chances.
Drugstores-- Vietnamese pharmacists sometimes act as front-line doctors and will listen to your ills and prescribe right across the counter, anything from a simple salve to antibiotics. Note that drugs are often generic copies and it is unlikely that you'll find the brands, or quality, of prescriptions from home.
Electricity-- Vietnam's electricity carries 220 volts, so if you're coming from the U.S., bring a converter and adapter for electronics. Plugs have either two round prongs or two flat prongs. If you're toting a laptop, bring a surge protector. Big hotels will have all these implements.
Embassies-- Embassies are located in Hanoi at the following addresses: United States, 7 Lang Ha St., Ba Dinh District (tel. 04/843-1500); Canada, 31 Hung Vuong St., Ba Dinh District (tel. 04/823-5500); Australia, 8 Dao Tan, Van Phuc Compound, Ba Dinh District (tel. 04/831-7755); New Zealand, 32 Hang Bai St., Hoan Kiem District (tel. 04/824-1481); United Kingdom, 31 Hai Ba Trung St., Fourth Floor, Hoan Kiem District (tel. 04/825-2510).
Emergencies-- Nationwide emergency numbers are as follows: For police, dial tel. 113; for fire, dial tel. 114; and for ambulance, dial tel. 115. Operators speak Vietnamese only.
Etiquette & Customs-- Vietnamese are very friendly and welcoming to foreign visitors. Attempts to speak Vietnamese are greeted warmly, and warm hospitality is the rule -- often a bit overwhelming at first. Say "yes" to invites where appropriate and you'll gain a unique view of Vietnamese culture.
"Hey, You! You!" You'll hear this wherever you go in Vietnam, an imploring catcall, usually to sell you a cyclo or motorbike ride. It sounds incredibly rude, but know that this is how Vietnamese people greet each other. "You!" is just a direct translation of the honorific "you" in Vietnamese ("Em" for someone younger than you; "Anh" for someone slightly older; "Chi" for a middle-age lady; "Ba" for an older lady; and "Ong" for an older man), which is usually followed by "Oi" to get someone's attention. Want to get a waitress's attention? Say, "Em oi!" very loudly. Remember that local people, particularly kids, are very curious, but in honesty very afraid of foreign visitors, and the shouts are a way to connect with you, however off-putting they might seem.
Appropriate Attire: Although the Vietnamese are generally tolerant of foreign ways, it is best to dress modestly. Foreigners displaying navels, chests, or shoulders, or wearing hot pants will attract stares. Thongs and nude bathing are inappropriate.
Gestures: Men usually shake hands with one another; however, women don't. Don't be put off by Vietnamese concepts of personal space, characterized by close talking, friendly touching, patting, and hand holding. "My, you are hairy," folks will say when stroking your arm on a crowded local bus. A little frustrating to some Westerners. Men and women walk in pairs arm in arm or holding hands, but there's nothing sexual about it.
Avoiding Offense: You will find few Vietnamese interested in talking about the war years, though not out of shame but more out of a powerful focus on the moment and the future (most Vietnamese were in fact born after the war, too). Avoid political debate, and be respectful at Vietnam's patriotic sites (such as the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and any memorials). Punctuality in business is expected, but is somewhat looser among friends. Short of friendly banter while haggling, avoid confrontation of any kind.
Eating & Drinking: Vietnamese table manners are casual, and use of either a fork and spoon or chopsticks is appropriate. Family meals are eaten on the floor around a central banquet. If invited to a home, pay attention to the order of service, and be sure to proffer the most select delicacies on the eldest member of the group. It is standard practice to wipe utensils with a napkin before eating. Vietnamese typically eat a very early breakfast, a long languid lunch, and an early evening meal. Many storefronts and noodle shops stay open late for the younger party crowd.
Photography: Be very cautious about taking photographs among Vietnam's ethnic hilltribe minorities in the far north and Central Highlands. Ask first, respect an answer of "no" (true anywhere), and avoid photographing sacred shrines of hilltribe people.
Culture Shock! (Graphic Arts Center Publishing Co.) is a book series dedicated to helping travelers overcome the stereotypes, misinformation, and anxiety about traveling to new places. Culture Shock!: Vietnam, by Claire Ellis is a helpful resource.
Hospitals-- In Hanoi the expatriate choice for comprehensive services is The Hanoi French Hospital, south of the town center at 1 Phuong Mai (tel. 04/574-0740). For emergencies or minor medical issues in Hanoi, stop in at the convenient International SOS medical center at 31 Hai Ba Trung St., just south of Hoan Kiem Lake; call the 24-hour service center for emergencies at tel. 04/934-0056. They have both Vietnamese and foreign doctors on call. Also in Hanoi find the Hanoi Family Medical Practice at Van Phuc Diplomatic Compound at 298 Kim Phuc (tel. 04/843-0748).
In Ho Chi Minh City, International SOS is at 65 Nguyen Du St., District 1 (24-hr. hot line tel. 08/829-8424). Also in Ho Chi Minh, the folks from the Hanoi French Hospital are building a new facility.
Internet-- Internet cafes are found in cities throughout Vietnam, especially in popular guesthouse and hotel areas. At cafes, rates are dirt cheap -- usually around 4,000 VND (a little less than 25¢) per hour. In rural areas and at hotel business centers, rates are usually much more expensive. Take a short walk and you can find affordable service.
Language-- Vietnamese is the official language of Vietnam. Older residents speak and understand French, and young folks are busily learning Chinese these days. While English is widely spoken among folks in the service industry in Hanoi and Saigon, it is harder to find in other tourist destinations. Off the beaten track, arm yourself with as many Vietnamese words as you can muster and a dictionary.
Liquor Laws-- There are virtually no age restrictions limiting when or where you can buy or consume drinks. Laws against drinking and driving are not enforced, so it is not uncommon to find that your motorbike or taxi driver has had a few. Be cautious, especially at night.
Lost & Found-- Be sure to tell all of your credit card companies the minute you discover your wallet has been lost or stolen and file a report at the nearest police precinct. Your credit card company or insurer may require a police report number or record of the loss. Most credit card companies have an emergency toll-free number to call if your card is lost or stolen; they may be able to wire you a cash advance immediately or deliver an emergency credit card in a day or two.
Visa's U.S. emergency number is tel. 800/847-2911 or 410/581-9994. American Express cardholders and traveler's check holders should call tel. 800/221-7282. MasterCard holders should call tel. 800/307-7309 or 636/722-7111. For other credit cards, call the toll-free-number directory at tel. 800/555-1212.
If you need emergency cash over the weekend when all banks and American Express offices are closed, you can have money wired to you via Western Union (tel. 800/325-6000; www.westernunion.com).
Identity theft or fraud are potential complications of losing your wallet, especially if you've lost your driver's license along with your cash and credit cards. Notify the major credit-reporting bureaus immediately; placing a fraud alert on your records may protect you against liability for criminal activity. The three major U.S. credit-reporting agencies are Equifax (tel. 800/766-0008; www.equifax.com), Experian (tel. 888/397-3742; www.experian.com), and TransUnion (tel. 800/680-7289; www.transunion.com). Finally, if you've lost all forms of photo ID, call your airline and explain the situation; they might allow you to board the plane if you have a copy of your passport or birth certificate and a copy of the police report you've filed.
Mail A regular airmail letter will take about 10 days to reach North America, 7 to reach Europe, and 4 to reach Australia or New Zealand. Mailing things from Vietnam is expensive. A letter weighing up to 10 grams costs 13,000 VND (85¢) to North America, 11,000 VND (75¢) to Europe, and 9,000 VND (60¢) to Australia/New Zealand; postcards, respectively, cost 8,000 VND (55¢), 7,000 VND (45¢), and 6,000 VND (40¢). Express mail services such as FedEx and DHL are easily available and are usually located in or around every city's main post office.
Maps-- You can find a host of free local tourist magazines with free area maps and information. Bookstores in the larger cities, as well as street vendors, can sell you local or regional maps, as well as a few newly published national atlases.
Newspapers & Magazines-- The Vietnam News is a good English-language daily and is available everywhere. They print the day's big wire stories as well as local interest stories, many of a fun, propagandistic slant (always positive about the Communist Party and Vietnam's economic progress). The Vietnam Economic Times is a monthly news magazine focused on the economy; it also publishes a monthly tourism supplement, the Guide, which is available on international flights and in travel offices. Pathfinder is a free local guide including extensive hotel and restaurant listings, current happenings, and an "Expat" section with news and advice for people living and working in Vietnam.
Passports-- For Residents of the United States: Whether you're applying in person or by mail, you can download passport applications from the U.S. State Department website at http://travel.state.gov. For general information, call the National Passport Agency (tel. 202/647-0518). To find your regional passport office, either check the U.S. State Department website or call the National Passport Information Center toll-free number (tel. 877/487-2778) for automated information.
For Residents of Canada: Passport applications are available at travel agencies throughout Canada or from the central Passport Office, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Ottawa, ON K1A 0G3 (tel. 800/567-6868; www.ppt.gc.ca).
For Residents of the United Kingdom: To pick up an application for a standard 10-year passport (5-year passport for children under 16), visit your nearest passport office, major post office, or travel agency or contact the United Kingdom Passport Service at tel. 0870/521-0410 or search its website at www.ukpa.gov.uk.
For Residents of Ireland: You can apply for a 10-year passport at the Passport Office, Setanta Centre, Molesworth Street, Dublin 2 (tel. 01/671-1633; www.irlgov.ie/iveagh). Those under age 18 and over 65 must apply for a €12 3-year passport. You can also apply at 1A South Mall, Cork (tel. 021/272-525), or at most main post offices.
For Residents of Australia: You can pick up an application from your local post office or any branch of Passports Australia, but you must schedule an interview at the passport office to present your application materials. Call the Australian Passport Information Service at tel. 131-232, or visit the government website at www.passports.gov.au.
For Residents of New Zealand: You can pick up a passport application at any New Zealand Passports Office or download it from their website. Contact the Passports Office at tel. 0800/225-050 in New Zealand or 04/474-8100, or log on to www.passports.govt.nz.
Police-- You won't find a helpful cop on every street corner -- just the opposite. Count on them only in cases of dire emergency, and learn a few words of Vietnamese to help you along. Moreover, police here can sometimes be part of the problem. Especially in the south, you and your car/motorbike driver might, for instance, be stopped for a minor traffic infraction and "fined." If the amount isn't too large, cooperate. Corruption is the rule, and palm-greasing and graft pose as police process. Be aware.
Restrooms-- Public toilets (cau tieu) are nonexistent in Vietnam outside of tourist attractions, but you'll be welcome in hotels and restaurants. Except for newer hotels and restaurants, squat-style toilets prevail. You'll often see a tub of water with a bowl next to the toilet. Throw two or three scoops of water in the bowl to flush. Important note: Dodgy plumbing means that used toilet paper is discarded in a wastepaper basket next to the toilet basin (usually indicated by a sign). It's a good idea to bring your own paper and antiseptic hand wipes -- just in case.
Safety-- Vietnam is a safe destination, but take heed of the following: First, the traffic is deadly, so be cautious when crossing the street anywhere; in big cities, pedestrians cross in groups and, if alone, wade out into it and maintain a steady pace. Second, women should play it safe and avoid going out alone late at night. Third, and most important, beware of unexploded mines when hiking or exploring, especially through old war zones such as the DMZ or My Son. Don't stray off an established path, and don't touch anything you might find lying on the ground.
Smoking-- "No Smoking" areas are rare in Vietnam, and even those that exist are often not well ventilated. Like other countries in the region, Vietnam is a smoker's paradise, and complaining about secondhand smoke is often met with confusion.
Taxes-- A 20% VAT was instituted for hotels and restaurants in January 1999, but expect variation in how it's followed. Upscale establishments might add the full 20%, and some might even tack on an additional 5% service charge. Others might absorb the tax in their prices, and still others will ignore it entirely. Inquire before booking or eating.
Telephones-- For domestic calls, visit the post office, where public phone service is offered at affordable rates, or buy a domestic phone card at any post office or phone company branch, usually at a rate of about 1,000 VND (5¢) per minute. Local calls from hotels come with exorbitant surcharges and are best avoided.
The best way to make international calls from Vietnam is using an international calling card program, the likes of AT&T or MCI. Most hotels offer international direct dialing, but with exorbitant surcharges of 10% to 25% on already inflated rates. International calls from any post office are more affordable, but without a calling card it is usually over $1 per minute.
Internet phone service is available at most little Internet storefronts. You can buy a card that gives you rates as low as 3,000 VND (20¢) per minute, but many Internet shops don't allow you to use cards purchased elsewhere and levy a small surcharge on top of the 3,000 VND per minute. Internet phone quality ranges widely, best from the larger cities, and there is always a slight "walkie-talkie" delay, but it is the most affordable way to stay connected.
If you have a GSM cellphone that accepts SIM cards, you can buy an affordable plan at any post office or telecommunications center. The trick here is that receiving calls from anywhere is free of charge, so you can buy someone back home an affordable international phone card and arrange times when they can call you.
To call Vietnam: If you're calling Vietnam from the United States:
1. Dial the international access code: 011.
2. Dial the country code: 84.
3. Important Note: City codes are listed in this book with a "0" in front of them as is required when dialing domestically. Do not dial the city code's prefix of "0" when dialing from abroad. When dialing a number (as listed in this guide), for example tel. 04/555-5555, from abroad, you dial as follows: tel. 011 (for international), + 84 (for Vietnam), + 4 (the city code minus the "0") + 555-5555. Looks like tel. 011-84-4-555-5555.
To make international calls: To make international calls from Vietnam, first dial 00 and then the country code (U.S. or Canada 1, U.K. 44, Ireland 353, Australia 61, New Zealand 64). Next you dial the area code and number. For example, if you wanted to call the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., you would dial 00-1-202-588-7800.
For directory assistance: Dial tel. 116 if you're looking for a number inside the country.
For operator assistance: If you need operator assistance in making a call, dial tel. 110.
Toll-free numbers: Calling a 1-800 number in the States from Vietnam is not toll-free. In fact, it costs the same as an overseas call.
Time Zone-- Vietnam is 7 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. There's no daylight saving time in Vietnam, meaning that in the summer months, it's 12 hours ahead of the U.S. East Coast, in winter months 11 hours ahead; it's 14 or 15 hours ahead of the U.S. West Coast, and 3 or 4 hours ahead of Sydney, Australia.
Tipping-- Tipping is common in Hanoi and in Saigon. In a top-end hotel, feel free to tip bellhops anywhere from 10,000 VND to 15,000 VND (about $1). Most upscale restaurants throughout the country now add a service surcharge of 5% to 10%. If they don't, or if the service is good, you might want to leave another 5%. Taxi drivers will be pleased if you round up the bill (again, mainly in the big cities). Use your discretion for tour guides and others who have been particularly helpful. Contrary to rumor, boxes of cigarettes as tips don't go over well. The recipient will say regretfully, "I don't smoke," when what he really means is "Show me the money." Exceptions to this are chauffeurs or minibus drivers.
Useful Phone Numbers-- U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory tel. 202/647-5225 (manned 24 hr.); U.S. Passport Agency tel. 202/647-0518; U.S. Centers for Disease Control International Traveler's Hotline tel. 404/332-4559; Vietnam Embassy in the U.S. tel. 202/861-0737; Vietnam Embassy in Canada tel. 613/236-0772; Vietnam Embassy in the U.K. tel. 0171/937-1912; Vietnam Embassy in Australia tel. 2/6286-6059.
Water-- Water is not potable in Vietnam. Outside of top-end hotels and restaurants, drink only beverages without ice, unless the establishment promises that it manufactures its own ice from clean water. Bottled mineral water, particularly the reputable La Vie and "A&B" brands, is everywhere. Counterfeits are a problem, so make sure you're buying the real thing, with an unbroken seal. Beware of big typos; "La Vile" water speaks for itself.
The East Asian financial crisis is now a distant memory, and Vietnam is generally gaining economic clout in the world; but the rate of exchange, not to mention the price of most goods and services, means that travel in Vietnam and throughout the region is very budget-friendly. Especially in smaller towns, you'll find that you can live quite well on very little, and Vietnam's resort destinations and luxury accommodations in general come at a fraction of what you might pay in your home country.
ATM service is good in most cities, but if heading off into the countryside, bring cash. Note that the U.S. dollar is used widely in both Vietnam and Cambodia: In fact, the dollar is the de facto currency in Cambodia, and packing some U.S. greenbacks will come in very handy. Traveler's checks, an anachronism elsewhere in the world, are still not a bad idea, though expect to pay a 2% or 3% commission to exchange them into U.S. or Vietnamese currency. All hotels can do business in U.S. dollars. In some parts, everybody down to the smallest shop vendor quotes prices in U.S. dollars, and particularly the big-ticket items are best handled with greenbacks instead of large stacks of local currency.
While dealing in U.S. dollars can make things less complicated, always keep in mind local currency values so that you know if you're being charged the correct amount or are given the correct change (usually in Vietnamese currency). In this guide, we've listed hotel, restaurant, and attraction rates in whatever form the establishments quoted them -- in U.S. dollars (designated by the dollar sign: $) where those were quoted, and in local currencies (with U.S. dollar equivalents) where those were used.
Be sure to check the currency's current status. CNN's website has a convenient currency converter at www.xe.com/ucc.
Currency--The main unit of Vietnamese currency is the dong (noted as VND), which comes in notes in denominations of 200, 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, and 100,000, as well as the new 500,000 note. There are now also 200-dong coins. Most tourist venues accept dollars, and even in small towns you will at least be able to exchange greenbacks, if not use dollars directly. The exchange rate is approximately 15,000 VND to $1.
It's unlikely that you'll be able to get your hands on any Vietnamese currency in your own country when planning for departure to Vietnam, but it's easy to get started with a handful of U.S. dollars or traveler's checks that you can easily cash at an airport kiosk upon arrival. ATM service in the larger cities and towns is growing exponentially.
ATMs--The easiest and best way to get cash in Vietnam is from an ATM (automated teller machine) and you'll find an increasing number of machines throughout the country. Most tour centers at least have a branch of Vietcombank with an international ATM (for a fee, of course) and the number of international banks is growing year by year.
The Cirrus (tel. 800/424-7787; www.mastercard.com) and PLUS (tel. 800/843-7587; www.visa.com) networks span the globe; look on the back of your bank card to see which network you're on, then call or check online for ATM locations at your destination. Be sure you know your personal identification number (PIN) before you leave home and be sure to find out your daily withdrawal limit before you depart. Also keep in mind that many banks impose a fee every time a card is used at a different bank's ATM, and that fee can be higher for international transactions (up to $5 or more) than for domestic ones (where they're rarely more than $1.50). On top of this, the bank from which you withdraw cash may charge its own fee. To compare banks' ATM fees within the U.S., use www.bankrate.com. For international withdrawal fees, ask your bank.
You can also get cash advances on your credit card at an ATM. Keep in mind that credit card companies try to protect themselves from theft by limiting the funds someone can withdraw outside their home country, so call your credit card company before you leave home. And keep in mind that you'll pay interest from the moment of your withdrawal, even if you pay your monthly bills on time.
Traveler's Checks--Traveler's checks are something of an anachronism from the days before the ATM made cash accessible at any time. Traveler's checks used to be the only sound alternative to traveling with dangerously large amounts of cash. They were as reliable as currency, but, unlike cash, could be replaced if lost or stolen.
These days traveler's checks are not necessary because most cities have 24-hour ATMs that allow you to withdraw small amounts of cash as needed. Rural stops in Vietnam are less likely to have ATM service, so carrying some traveler's checks as a backup isn't a bad idea.
Note: Most retailers don't accept traveler's checks in Vietnam, which means you'll have to pay a commission to exchange them. Using ATM machines is preferable, where service is available.
You can get traveler's checks at almost any bank. American Express offers denominations of $20, $50, $100, $500, and (for cardholders only) $1,000. You'll pay a service charge ranging from 1% to 4%. You can also get American Express traveler's checks over the phone by calling tel. 800/221-7282; Amex gold and platinum cardholders who use this number are exempt from the 1% fee.
Visa offers traveler's checks at Citibank locations nationwide, as well as at several other banks. The service charge ranges between 1.5% and 2%; checks come in denominations of $20, $50, $100, $500, and $1,000. Call tel. 800/732-1322 for information. AAA members can obtain Visa checks without a fee at most AAA offices or by calling tel. 866/339-3378. MasterCard also offers traveler's checks. Call tel. 800/223-9920 for a location near you.
If you choose to carry traveler's checks, be sure to keep a record of their serial numbers separate from your checks in the event that they are stolen or lost. You'll get a refund faster if you know the numbers.
Credit Cards--Credit cards are a safe way to carry money. They also provide a convenient record of all your expenses, and they generally offer relatively good exchange rates. You can also withdraw cash advances from your credit cards at banks or ATMs, provided you know your PIN. If you've forgotten yours, or didn't even know you had one, call the number on the back of your credit card and ask the bank to send it to you. It usually takes 5 to 7 business days, though some banks will provide the number over the phone if you tell them your mother's maiden name or some other personal information.
Keep in mind that when you use your credit card abroad, most banks assess a 2% fee above the 1% fee charged by Visa or MasterCard or American Express for currency conversion on credit charges. But credit cards still may be the smart way to go when you factor in things like exorbitant ATM fees and higher traveler's check exchange rates (and service fees).
Visa and MasterCard are the most commonly accepted cards throughout Vietnam; American Express is often taken as well at more high-end spots.
Source: Frommers on Vietnam