Vietnam is a long and narrow country, over 1600 km long. It borders China to the north, north west lies Laos, to the west is Thailand and to the south west, Cambodia.
Three quarters of the country is mountainous. The main cultivated areas are in the north, around the Red River Delta and in the south around the Mekong Delta. These areas high fertility is due to silt carried by the rivers.
Forest used to cover 40% of the country but now covers only 20% due to the deforestation.
The climate in Vietnam is generally tropical, but because of its long north-south span, there is no single time of the year when the weather is perfect throughout the country. For those living in the south, a tropical wardrobe is suitable, in the north, due to colder winter temperatures, warmer clothing is required. See “Dress in Vietnam” on page 9.
The climate in the north is characterized by great seasonal differences in temperature and sudden changes are not uncommon. There are two main seasons: Winter from November to April with cool temperatures (average 60 degrees F, 15 C) and dry weather; Summer lasts from May to October with hot, rainy weather with an average temperature of 87 degrees F, 31 C.
The hottest months are June, July and August. The coolest months are December, January and February where temperatures can drop to 40 degrees F, 5 C.
The south has a rather consistent average temperature of between 77 and 86 degrees F, 25 and 31 C. There are two seasons; wet from May to October and dry from November to April. The hottest time is between February and April.
The rainfall in Vietnam is heavy. The yearly average is about 59 inches. In Hanoi, the rains begin at the end of May and reach their height in August. In HCMC the monthly rainfall from May to October is 50 inches.
Hanoi (use code 84-4 to call Hanoi)
Vietnam’s capital city is Hanoi. Hanoi’s center still has the distinctly French atmosphere. In spite of Hanoi being bombed during the Vietnam war, many French colonial buildings remain intact.
Hanoi is divided in four major sections;
Hoan Kiem, around the lake
Ba Dinh, to the west
Dong Da, to the south of Ba Dinh
Hai Ba Trung, south of Hoan Kiem
Hoan Kiem lake acts as the center of the city, and anything within walking distance to the lake is well located.
Ho Chi Minh City (use code 84-8 to call Ho Chi Minh City)
This city is often known as Saigon. Saigon became the capital of the French colony of Cochinchina in 1859. It was also the capital of the Republic of Vietnam between 1956 and 1975.
The city covers an area of 2000 sq. km and has a population of over 4 million. Ho Chi Minh City is the commercial and industrial center of the country.
Ho Chi Minh is divided in 12 urban and six rural districts. The central business district is District One. District Three is also well located and ideal for business or residential location.
Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon?
Many people want to know which name to use when referring to Vietnam’s southern city. You will soon discover that much less of an issue is made of this question by the local Vietnamese than the foreigners.
It is recommended to use the proper name (Ho Chi Minh City) for all official forms, correspondence, letters, etc. However, when in conversation the name “Saigon” is often used as it is simply more easily pronounced. Sometimes “Saigon” is used to refer to the more central part of greater Ho Chi Minh City.
Vietnam visa regulations change often and those outside of the country will have a difficult time keeping up with the new policies. It is recommended that those entering Vietnam obtain their visas through a travel agent in order to assure that proper processing of visa materials.
All visitors need visa’s. Business travelers require sponsorship by a government agency or a company that acts as the visitor’s host. Tourists can apply through a travel agent or individually.
Vietnamese missions in Western capitals include
Bonn, London, Ottawa, Paris, Rome, Stockholm and Brussels. Other major embassies are located in Bangkok, Canberra, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Tokyo, and Vientiane. Taipei has a trade office that issues visas.
The total population is around 70 million. The birth rate is 2.4% per annum. Life expectancy is 58 for men and 62 for women. Eighty percent of the population is rural and most are farmers.
Density is 200 people per square kilometer but can rise to 20.000 per sq. km in Ho Chi Minh City, one of the highest in the world.
The official language is Vietnamese, a mixture of Chinese, Mon Khmer and Thai. It has six tones and is monosyllabic. Vietnamese is written in Roman script with additional markings for the tones.
Many people speak English, French or Russian, often depending on their age. Those aged over 50 tend to speak French while the younger generation, especially in the south, speak English.
For those planning to live in Vietnam, it is advisable to take some introductory lessons on pronunciation. Because of the different tones, it will be impossible to pronounce words correctly without a few hours of drill instruction. Once the tones are understood, progress can be made individually. The Vietnamese written language was transcribed by a French missionary in the 1600’s. It is extremely exact in that there are almost no exceptions to pronunciation rules.
Grammar in Vietnamese is quite simple, once the pronunciation barrier is overcome. Don’t be afraid to sound silly for the first few months! Even the smallest working knowledge of Vietnamese will make living in Vietnam a wonderful experience.
Given the inexpensive labor costs, private tutors are readily available for a few dollars per hour. The northern accent from Hanoi is recognized as the preferred way to speak Vietnamese. Its pronunciation is sharper and clearer than the southern accent.
The major religion is a mixture of Confucianism, Taoism, and Mahayana Buddhism with elements of ancient animist beliefs. The Vietnamese usually claim to be Buddhist, however most people practice what could most accurately be referred to as ancestor worship.
The churches are called “temples” or “pagoda’s”.
A substantial minority of the population is Roman Catholic (8-10%). Catholicism was introduced and promoted under the French.
Vo Van Kiet is currently the Prime Minister of Vietnam. He visited China in 1991 in order to finally improve the relationship with Vietnam. The American Embargo has finally been lifted and will help create new economical possibilities in a country where a monthly salary is between $20 to $100. The government now welcomes foreign investment, and has made tremendous strides since the “Doi Moi” renovation policy began in 1986.
The Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV) espouses a Marxist Leninist political philosophy, and follows Chinese and Russian models.
The Communist Party has 1.8 million members. The last Party congresses in 1991 has shown many disagreements about which path to take. The average age of a Politburo member is over 64 years.
The Socialist Republic of Vietnam has a large force of Policemen, and as a foreigner you will not be bothered. Keep in mind that just a few years ago, the foreign presence was almost nil, and each person individually attracted attention. Always be careful in what you write, fax or say by phone: you don’t want to annoy your host!
You cannot keep a complete office, without the REPRESENTATIVE OFFICE status.
You cannot have a brochure printed (if there is written text in it) without a security commission reviewing it. Your Vietnamese counterpart has to write a letter to the printer and the printer will apply to the security commission to get the permission to print it.
You are not allowed to fax directly without having the REPRESENTATIVE OFFICE status, nor to go “on line” with your computer.
Never get caught with drugs, pornographic books, pornographic tapes or questionable books about Vietnam. Those things will be confiscated, and could lead to further complications.
Always be careful when walking around downtown. Do not carry large sums of money, wear expensive jewelry, or carry nice pens or sunglasses. These will attract unnecessary attention. Vietnam’s streets are safe to walk, but it is recommended not to walk alone at night, and to take taxis instead of cyclos when it gets late.
The most striking custom is the use of business cards. Indeed, you use them liberally. Everybody has one and they are printed for a low price, so never go without them.
Remember to give them and receive them using BOTH your hands, one thing foreigners seem to forget easily.
If you give somebody something, always use both hands. It is rude to use one hand specially your left hand.
The higher Vietnamese officials, or more internationally orientated businessmen speak English. If you want to have a meeting, they might have a translator, but it is advisable to bring your own person in the beginning.
It is sometimes advisable to take your own notes of a business meeting and them to present this to your host at the end. The western concept of time is new for most Vietnamese businesses. Presenting a list of your goals and expectations might help clear communication gaps.
Keep in mind that the tendency in Vietnamese business and government structure is to default to superiors. Therefore, the person with whom you meet might have to get “permission” or “approval” before they can proceed. This is nothing unusual.
It is an honor for factories to be able to produce “export quality”.
If you buy things here to export, there are fast changing regulations regarding all kinds of products. Is the company your working with allowed to export it (products of wood are difficult; even rattan) and are they allowed to produce the quantity? Do they have an export license? If not, use an export company. For printing brochures you also need an official permit.
Car rentals, along with translation, and secretarial services, are available in the better hotels; The Pullman Metropole in Hanoi and The Omni, Saigon Floating, Century, Continental and Rex in HCMC.
Vietnamese have the custom to say “YES, YES OK” even if they wonder what you are talking about. It is a way of being polite and they consider it very rude to say “NO” to somebody.
If you ask :”So they did not bring my laundry?” They will respond “YES” to confirm that the sentence was correct. It is always safest to ask questions in the positive, and sometimes phrasing the question two or three times will ensure that everything is understood.
Waving or beckoning with an up-pointed finger is highly impolite. If you signal somebody to come over, you do this with the whole hand and your palm turned down.
Never touch anyone on the head, this is considered as a personal insult to the individual or even his ancestors.
Also touching someone on the shoulder is not a good idea. If you touch one shoulder you are supposed to touch the other as well as this helps to offset bad luck.
People of Vietnam have a habit of not looking into your eyes when they talk to you. This is often because of shyness, but traditionally they don’t look into the eyes of those they respect or those higher in rank when talking to them.
Vietnamese people smile a lot, this can be a polite or skeptical reaction. Loud argument or heated discussions are frowned upon and are seldom heard among the Vietnamese. Well-bred people are trained in self discipline.
Vietnamese try to avoid the sun. They are considered lower class if they have a tan. They cover as much as possible when working on the roads, in the fields, or driving motorcycles around Saigon!
Going “Dutch” is not appreciated at restaurants, etc. If you run into someone in a restaurant and join their table let them pay the whole bill or pay it all YOURSELF. The senior person usually pays.
Most local business operate from 8:30 AM to 11:30 AM and then break for lunch. The afternoon schedule is from 1:00-1:30 PM to 4:00 or 5:00 PM.
It is best to schedule meetings in the early morning, and plan to finish by 11:00. In the afternoon, nothing really gets up to speed again with the same productivity as in the morning.
Avoid calling people between 11:30 AM and 2:00 PM. Most people are eating lunch at this time and many will take a rest after lunch.
Foreign offices maintain a more westernized schedule, with a shorter lunch and finishing later in the afternoon towards 5:00 or 6:00 PM.
Dress in Vietnam
Because of the hot climate, dress codes are more liberal in Vietnam than in most other countries.
Men should always wear pants on workdays. Shorts are frowned upon by the Vietnamese.
Women should dress modestly, as in all Asian countries, during work. Long skirts, dresses and slacks are preferred.
Suits are not as common in Ho Chi Minh City as they are in Hanoi, partly due to the climate. It is simply too hot to wear suits in Saigon. Generally, white shirts and ties are considered respectable business dress, and suits for receptions or important meetings.
In Hanoi, suits are more common, both among the Vietnamese and expatriate communities.
Shoes have a tendency to get scuffed easily, but can be shined for a few thousand Dong on the street. Extra pairs are useful as Western quality shoes are almost impossible to find in Vietnam.
Most Vietnamese names are made up of three words, for example:
Nguyen Van Tam : a typical man’s name. “Nguyen Van” is the family name, and “Tam” is his given name. For a formal address in conversation, one would refer to him as “Mr. Tam”, never “Mr. Nguyen” or “Mr. Nguyen Van”
The same is applicable for a woman Nguyen Thi Hoa would become “Ms. Hoa”.
When meeting someone for the first time, always use Mr., Ms., or Mrs. with their first name as indicated above. After developing a close relationship with someone, you might call them by their given name only.
Some foreigners choose to adopt this manner with their staff, using Mr. John or Mr. Mark, etc., one reason being that foreign given names are usually easier to pronounce than family names. The Vietnamese will be most comfortable if you explain what forms of address you prefer.
The Vietnamese use several different forms of greeting, depending on the relationship with the person, and the amount of respect they wish to show.
The basic word for hello is “Chao,” however this must be followed with one of the following:
|For an old man||Chao ong||For an old lady||Chao ba|
|For a young man||Chao anh||For an older lady||Chao chi|
|For a child (boy or girl)||Chao em||For a young lady||Chao co|
There are several other forms of address. It takes time to know which are appropriate. Don’t be afraid to ask your friend which form of address is preferred.
As Vietnam’s economy is still developing, one of the first things that will strike you when you walk in the street, is that many people regard you as a way to improve their income. Sometimes there is no other way than begging. Other young children with persist trying to sell postcards and T-shirts, often following you down the entire length of the street. Everyone finds their own way to deal with this situation.
Many people seem to start shouting and waving as soon as you’re in sight. “Madame, Madame!” or “Hello, hello!” is heard all the time especially walking in the center of cities. The men will get a lot of attention; women AND men will tell him that he looks so great and handsome today; he is number ONE!!! They do this because they expect the husband is in control of the money. This is something that could bother the ladies. Some Vietnamese think that even if a foreign woman walks with her partner in the street, there still might be the remote possibility that he feels like having sex for five minutes; not with his wife, but with some prostitute waiting around the corner….
As in many other Asian countries, a visitor needs to bargain for almost everything, including cyclo’s, taxi’s (unless you take the metertaxis), food in markets, handicrafts and art works. One should, of course, beware of fakes. The Vietnamese are masterful at faking antiques and art pieces as well as brand name alcohol and medicine. Vietnamese act easily “hurt” when you go on bargaining to long.
One should only change money in banks or established shops. “Free lance” bankers on the street offer higher rates , but could swindle.
Those walking in the streets of Ho Chi Minh City should also beware of young boys selling maps and postcards, heavily made-up transvestites and beggars, any of whom may be masterful at picking pockets for wallets and stealing watches, necklaces, pens or even glasses.
Always be aware when in crowded street situations, markets, etc. It is best to carry your bag in front of you, and leave nothing valuable in your pockets.
This mode of transportation is one of Vietnam’s treats, unless you don’t like bargaining. First, make sure you have Vietnamese money under one dollar. The cyclo driver will ask you first for one or two dollars. Then you are supposed to act totally shocked and while you say: “Oh no, this is too much, 5000.” (Cyclo Drivers count $ 0,10 to $ 0,20 cents a kilometer.) Then start walking away and act like you would really LOVE to walk instead (hard to imagine in 96 F or 38 C) or that you intend to flag down someone else. Then the cyclo driver will explain to you that you are a big and heavy person, and/or that he has to go uphill and/or that the sun is very hot at that moment. It will take him a few more seconds and than he will offer you his cyclo. There seems to be no other way than this little sketch. Under way, he starts asking you questions and will explain that things are not going great in his life. When you arrive on the spot and give him the money (he will NEVER have change) he acts most of the time totally disappointed that you stick to the price you agreed upon. Cyclo’s in Hanoi are cheaper. Cyclos are restricted from certain main streets in both Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. If you still want to go there he has to push his cyclo because otherwise the police will catch him. The drivers will often stop and tell you to walk. Usually they are telling the truth.
If you take cyclos outside your hotel or house, it is best to keep them on your good side. Giving them a few thousand Dong every now in then is simply good public relations. Be careful in what you offer cyclo drivers. No matter what you give them, or how generous you may be, they will usually ask for more.
Cyclo drivers, if provoked, can make your life difficult. Do not get into disagreements with them. However, do not be fooled by their ploys to make you feel guilty every time you walk past, and if the price was clear at the start, do not be fooled into paying more money.
There often seems to be confusion about one-way and two-way fares, meaning your driver will try to double it at the slightest hint of confusion. Always negotiate this carefully at the start.
Many people feel comfortable using the same cyclo driver, and it is possible to arrange daily fees with them, where they will stand by at all times. It is helpful to develop a good relationship with an honest driver (if you can find one, but they do exist) in case friends come into town.
Drivers have a tendency to say “Yes, OK!” even if they have no idea where you are asking them to go. Always try to make sure your driver understands before you get in the car, otherwise you could become well acquainted with the back seat! If your driver shows any hesitation about the address, try to find someone who knows where it is, or can explain clearly.
Meter taxi drivers usually know their way around town, and speak some English, as well.
Driving habits are quite different in Vietnam. Use of the fourth gear seems to be preferred to save gas money. Driving through streets with busy traffic requires heavy sedation. Let it be said that every drive in Vietnam is an adventure!
Always try to have your map with you. Try to ask for a driver who speaks at least a little English and don’t expect your trip to be a fast one.
A driver does not necessarily know how to read a map, nor do most Vietnamese people. If he shouts cheerfully: “Don’t worry Sir!!,” start worrying even more.
Your driver will honk all the time. Many Vietnamese regard this as a great way to release tension, while skillfully building up yours.
Rear view mirrors are uncommon. The excessive use of the horn is really more a way for the driver to say, “Here I come!” as opposed to “Get out of my way!”
If you have a steady driver he will be glad to drive the way you prefer.
Don’t forget to bring your favorite tape with you. Every car has a cassette player and because it is so noisy outside it might release some of the stress to hear your own music.
If you expect your driver to be back at a certain time or you want him the next morning, it is a very wise thing to have post-it notes with you; put the time and place and your name clearly on it and give it to him using both hands or maybe stick it to his dashboard.
If you put 19.00 hours, it might be confused with 9 o’clock, so it is better to say the time for example 7:30 + morning afternoon etc.
If you have a regular driver things are much easier. It is our experience that they try hard to keep you happy and anticipate what you might like.
These are some the better rental service organizations:
|Saigon Tourist Car Rental
|Saigon Auto Salon
Tel: 252 452
|Car Rental Service Nr 12
Tel: 265 074
In Vietnam, it is almost impossible to drive your own car. The traffic requires an exotic driving style. Most importantly, if you are involved in a traffic accident, the police are prone to pick you up and you don’t want to enjoy the state’s hospitality in Vietnam.
The Bruce Willis-wannabees are reported driving a jeep or classic heavy BMW motorbike, but if you’re smart, you will stick to your driver.
Apart from that, Vietnamese have been reported almost jumping in front of a car in order to blackmail foreigners for money after you can’t avoid hitting him.
If something happens, expect a big crowd around you in thirty seconds; they will keep you waiting until the police arrive.
If you feel like buying a car in Vietnam, think again. Are you really going to pay the 150% import duty for your nice little Mercedes?
Toyota has showrooms in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. Honda has a showroom in Ho Chi Minh City. Antique cars are still available in Vietnam, and for those familiar with their restoration, it can provide an exciting hobby.
If you feel like driving the robust looking “Mekong”, a locally produced car, ask the dealer for a tryout, but pay attention to the springs.
Insurance will be about $ 800 a year.
Road tax about $ 30 a year.
A routine service costs about $ 20 for labor.
Your driver will cost about $ 60 to $ 100 a month.
the first 2 km $ 1.6
per 300 m following $ 0.20
You can call for a taxi yourself, or ask the office, hotel or restaurant to call for one. The dispatchers usually speak English. Taxis will usually arrive within 5-10 minutes of your call.
Every Thursday morning an expat ladies club gathers in the Saigon Floating Hotel. You’ll find them downstairs in the Karaoke room. They try to arrange interesting activities and it costs $5 for one morning. Coffee and tea are free.
Dutch Circle on Thursday night starts at 1900 in the Tiger Tavern on 227 Dong Khoi Street.
285 B Cach Mang Thang Tam Q 10
Tel: 902606, 902613, 903319
pool/ steam bath/ fitness/ squash
Membership $500 per 6 months or tickets can be purchased per day or per activity
1 A Me Ling Square Q1
pool/ fitness/ aerobic/ tennis
lifelong membership; “Goldcard” $300 PLUS $30 a month.
membership possibilities limited
one-day ticket for the pool for outsiders $5
|Omni Saigon Hotel
251 Nguyen Van Troi, Q. Phu Nhuan
pool/ fitness/ sauna/ steam bath; for hotel guests or members only
members fee: $500 fee to join
plus $480 per year or $120 per 3 months.
|Rex garden tennis
86 bis Le Thanh Ton St. Q1
Tel: 292186, 292185 ext. 7768 or
242799 (direct line)
|Song Be Golf resort
Chuan Ciao Commune, Q. Thuan An
Song Be Province
Tel: (848) 231223
Information memberships & company memberships:
Patrick Young, Managing Director
Tel: 01 65 55803
Now 9 holes & training range
Midst of 1994: 18 holes will be ready.
Day ticket not possible, introduction by a member is essential.
With its diverse geography, Vietnam offers many opportunities for those wishing to travel domestically. One of the best ways to appreciate Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi is to take a break from the city. With the improved service of Vietnam Airlines, this is easier than ever before.
Listed below are some of the main tourist areas of Southern, Central and Northern Vietnam.
My Tho and the Mekong Delta
Located in the Mekong Delta, the main agricultural area of Vietnam, Mytho offers the chance to explore fruit orchards and local markets, as well as a famous pagoda and also a snake farm. Only one and a half hours from Ho Chi Minh City, Mytho makes a convenient day trip.
Overnight trips are also possible to explore the delta more thoroughly.
The center of the Cao Dai religion, indigenous to Vietnam. There is an interesting compound here which holds daily services. Approximately two and a half hours from Ho Chi Minh City.
An area of strategic importance for the Viet Cong during wars with the French and Americans. This area is famous for the extensive tunnel network used by the Viet Cong soldiers to organize their attacks in the south.
Once known as a cool retreat in the hills for the French, Dalat is a popular area for a quick weekend escape from the city. About a six hour drive from Ho Chi Minh City, the climate is always a bit cooler. Dalat is famous for its flowers, fruits, vegetables and artists!
This sleepy seaside fishing town is slowly becoming a small resort area. A ten hour drive or 45 minute flight from Saigon, Nha Trang has some beautiful islands and beaches to explore just off the coast. The seafood is fresh and inexpensive!
Most famous for China Beach and the heavy presence of Americans during the war, Danang is a convenient place to begin exploring central Vietnam. In town, one will find the Cham Museum, and just outside, the Marble Mountains and China Beach. Just 45 minutes from Danang by car is Hoi An, an ancient trading port that some believe to be the most charming town in Vietnam!
Hue was the former capital of Vietnam and still remains an artistic and cultural center. The town is dotted with thousands of pagodas, impressive tombs from the kings and, of course, the former imperial city of the Nguyen dynasty. Hue is a must see for those living in Vietnam.
Made famous by the movie Indochine, Halong Bay is Vietnam’s most impressive natural attraction. Thousands of limestone islands emerge from the water to create a surreal picture of an “emerging dragon.” Halong Bay is five hours from Hanoi and is best seen as an overnight trip to allow for a boat cruise.
The Perfume Pagoda
About two hours by car, another by boat, followed by a short but strenuous climb lies the Perfume Pagoda. Known among the Vietnamese as a sacred place to pray for good luck and prosperity, this cave-pagoda makes for an exciting full day trip from Hanoi.
About 100 km from Hanoi, Hoa Binh province is the home to several ethnic minority tribes of Vietnam. Their villages and ways of life haven’t changed in hundreds of years.
Making hotel and flight reservations in Vietnam can be challenging. It is best to go through a local travel agent who can handle all of the arrangements, saving you time and money.
Just about every company in Vietnam seems to be involved with tourism, and most are reputable. A few of the better agents include:
GSA: OSC Travel
143 Nguyen Van Troi Street
Phu Nhuan District, HCMC
Tel: 441584, 444668, 448071
307/7 Nguyen Van Troi Street
Phu Nhuan District, HCMC
Tel: 447987, 283650
GSA: OSC Travel
37 Nguyen Du
Hai Ba Trung District
Tel: 227010, 258437, 226479
Booking international tickets from Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi is relatively straightforward. However, all carriers must sell their tickets through Vietnam Airlines, which does so at full retail value. It is much less expensive to purchase airline tickets outside of Vietnam.
Many Vietnamese Restaurants are small insignificant spots that serve delightful specialties, but visitors often have trouble making themselves understood and may be put off by the modest hygiene. However the recent economic liberalization has spawned a dramatic increase in the number of restaurants, some of which are of excellent quality.
The restaurants below have been marked with one, two and three stars. These are guidelines only.
Restaurants – International Cuisine – Ho Chi Minh City
|La Cigale ***
158 Nguyen Dinh Chin St.
|Le Mekong ***
32 Vo Van Tan St. Q3
|Restaurant 180 **
180 Nguyen Van Tu Q1
|Le Restaurant **
54 Hai Ba Trung Q1
|Le Petit Bistrot **
58 Le Thanh Ton
|Chez Guido ***
132-134 Dong Khoi Street Q1
|Phu Son Cappuccino Ristorante **
9-11 Ho Huan Nghiep Q1
|Annie’s Pizza *
59 Cach Mang Thang Tam Q1
|Pizza Pizza *
103 Nguyen Hue St. Q1
|Dai Nam Hotel **
Marco Polo Restaurant
79 Tran Hung Dao St. Q1
Tel: 24555, 242525
|Buffalo Blues Jazz club **
72 A Nguyen Du Q1
|Dragon Inn *
3 Hai Ba Trung Q1
Tel: 292190, 292129
|Ciao Cafe *
72 Nguyen Hue Q1
Ice-cream, pastry, Italian food
|Oriental Court ***
1A Me Linh Square
|The Nihonbashi ***
4-6 Le Loi St. Q1
Tel: 292186 Ex 7759/7760
|Omni Hotel ***
251 Nguyen Van Troi St.
Tel: 449222, 449333
34 Don Khoi
Restaurants – Vietnamese Cuisine – Ho Chi Minh City
|Vietnam House ***
93-95 Dong Khoi St.
|VY Restaurant **
164 Pasteur St. Q1
Tel: 296210/ 290729
|Thanh Nien (Youth)*
11 Nguyen Van Chiem
133 Hai Ba Trung Q1
|Madame Dai’s **
84 A Nguyen Du Q1
Charming music and dance show in the weekend
|Restaurant 19 *
19 Ngo Duc Ke
very local, but good food
|Lemon Grass ***
63 Dong Khoi Q1
Restaurants – Hanoi
|Restaurant Bistrot **
34 Tran Hung Dao
|Piano Restaurant and Bar *
50 Hang Vai Street
|A Little Italian **
81 Tho Nhuom
|Sunset Pub **
Dong Do Hotel
Giang Vo Street
Tel: 243021 ext. 2402
|Restaurant au Palmier *
5 Dang Thai Than
|Metropole Hotel ***
15 Ngo Quyen Street
|Club Opera **
59 Ly Thai To
|Restaurant 202A Hue Street *
|Restaurant 75 *
75 Tran Quoc Toan
|Lan Anh Restaurant **
9 Da Tuong Street
|Lotus Restaurant **
16 Ngo Quyen Street
|Cafe Pastry Shop *
(for inexpensive croissants)
252 Hang Bong Street
Warning – MSG
Vietnamese cooks use Monosodium glutamate liberally.
MSG is a flavoring that works by triggering a response in your nervous system. It can make you dizzy and nauseous and can also give you heart palpitations and perhaps even headaches and hives. MSG is also found in “hydrolyzed vegetable protein”. Some people react poorly to MSG, while others are more tolerant. Often the affects are known as “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.” It is known to cause more problems on an empty stomach.
You can ask for a MSG-free meal. This will not guarantee that you get it. MSG looks like big salt crystals in your food, and adds a strong taste to meats.
More information about MSG in section “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” on page 57.
Ho Chi Minh City
7 Cong Truong Lam Son Q1
|The River Bar
5-7 Ho Huan Nghiep
|Down Under Disco
The Saigon Floating
1 A Me Linh Square Q1
72 A Nguyen Du Q1
227 Dong Khoi St. Q1
Nightlife in Hanoi is limited to late dinners at the restaurants and glitzy Karaoke bars. Some of the night spots include:
Nguyen Du Street
D8 Giang Vo
Live Filipino band
|A Little Italian
81 Tho Nhuom
Live classical music Sundays
Stress in Vietnam
Culture Shock, Stress, and general difficulties in adjusting to life overseas are not unusual.
Please read the section on “Stress in our Mobile Culture” on page 60.
Dealing with Vietnamese hospitals requires a reliable assistance company in addition to your insurance company. An assistance company will assist you and fly you out as soon as possible if an emergency arises.
Note that an insurance company is something different than an assistance company. Your insurance company will take care of your doctor, medication or hospitalization bills, while an assistance company will be specialized in giving you emergency assistance on the spot and stabilize you, and get you out of the country if necessary. Up until now there are two emergency assistance companies that operate in Ho Chi Minh City; the first one active in Ho Chi Minh City was AEA (Asia Emergency Assistance, a company specialized in Asian countries) with an international staff of trained nurses and doctors.
The second one; International SOS, a powerful worldwide organization has successfully been operating in HCMC and Hanoi since December 1993 and has several alarm centers. Please note that “International SOS” is NOT the same company as “SOS International” or “SOS Denmark”
It’s important to take notice of the service your insurance company offers you. Can they guarantee you that they will come and get you? How many hours would practically be involved? Who is going to call abroad to your insurance company if you have had an accident? Don’t cherish the illusion that a hospital or Vietnamese person in the street will make an overseas call because several people found out (the hard way) that they won’t.
Most of the Vietnamese hospitals are only willing to inform the local assistance companies so get a membership and have your membership card with you.
If you are not a member you cannot expect assistance companies to contact your insurance company; this is only a courtesy hoped for in severe cases. It is interesting to know that the Vietnamese hospitals are reluctant to discharge you. They like to keep you, for obvious reasons.
Your Assistance company is used to dealing with the authorities and will persist until you’re out, if necessary.
Be sure to make an appointment with an assistance company to orient yourself locally, as well as discussing emergency plans with the company you’re working for or you’re insured with.
International SOS assistance
For medical evacuations and medical services
151 Vo Thi Sau St. (left gate) Q3
Tel: 294386 Fax: 242862
Membership only $ 180 for individuals (SOS service program)
Emergency 24 hour alarm center: HCMC
Tel: (848) 242 866
Tel: (848) 294 386/ 242 864
Fax: (848) 291 469
Emergency 24 hour alarm center: Hanoi
Tel: (844) 226228
Fax: (844) 269166
Emergency 24 hour alarm center: Singapore
Tel: 65 226 3936
Fax: 65 226 3937
International SOS offers:
Medical consultation and evaluation
Referral to doctors and hospitals
Emergency medical evacuation
Medically supervised repatriation
Hospital admittance deposits
Return of dependent children if they are left unattended
Dispatch of doctors and medicine
Compassionate visit if hospitalized for more than 7 days
Repatriation of mortal remains
Interpreter access and referral
Emergency message transmission; family and employer are kept informed
Legal assistance, referral in urgent cases to legal adviser
International SOS offers tailor made solutions.
The SOS ACCESS PROGRAM for companies is for organizations with a large number of travelers and expatriates. This program responds immediately in the event of an emergency. SOS ACCESS cards are supplied to persons the company includes in their SOS ACCESS membership. Services are invoiced to the company, on a fee for service basis.
The SOS SERVICE PROGRAM is for organizations which prefer to have SOS perform and pay for all rendered services. It is often chosen by organizations who recognize the risk of having people located in or traveling to developing countries.
The medical care offered requires in almost every case an evacuation.
SOS SERVICE PROGRAM is available on an annual or per trip basis for expatriates, their dependents and for travelers.
For medical evacuations and assistance service
230 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Q3
HCMC Tel: 298520 Fax: 298551
Membership $ 387 a year for individuals
Referrals to doctors, referrals to medical facilities for X-ray, ultrasound and lab tests. Emergency medical treatment by AEA doctors.
24 hour alarm center with doctor on call around the clock.
A dedicated hospitalization room at the Heart Institute which has been renovated and is available for AEA members. Doctors can monitor the case and provide assistance at this facility.
AEA will be opening a clinic for the public, expected by the end of Spring 1994. It will also have a dental unit.
In Vung Tau, AEA will open a clinic for the community there. It will have a consultation area and an emergency room. An AEA expatriate nurse has been hired and can be contacted for assistance for people living in Vung Tau.
In Hanoi, AEA has hired an expatriate nurse to coordinate evacuations from the North. She will also assist in opening the Hanoi 24 hour alarm center which will be similar to the one in HCMC.
Insurance companies usually operate from other countries.
In case of an emergency:
- Somebody has to call the nearest country where your insurance company is based or active. Is an overseas call possible? Do you know that a hospital will NOT do this for you? Do you know who could be reached anytime in town to make the call for you?
- If you are lying wounded somewhere, note that sometimes streets have the same name in different districts.
- What is the chance that people around you will speak English and understand that you like to be taken care of by your insurance company?
- When the insurance company is contacted, how will they consider the seriousness of the case?
- The insurance companies might send somebody down to you (they need to take care of a visa and flight which will take time) or might send a fax to AEA or International SOS.
- In this fax they have to request for assistance AND they will have to guarantee that the costs of the rendered services will be paid for.
You might want to check this with your own company, so that you are sure what they will be able to do for you in Vietnam, in case of an emergency.
Note again that hospitals are known to be uncooperative in releasing a patient for evacuation if you’re brought there. This can be a matter of pride and/or money. The assistance companies are used to handling this problem.
Injections against cholera, hepatitis, Japanese encephalitis, tetanus, tuberculosis and typhoid are recommended, but not required. Visitors may bring anti-mosquito lotion or coils and don’t forget to bring cream for the itching after you have been bitten and antidiarrhoea tablets (IMMODIUM). Those traveling in highland regions should consider taking precautions against malaria.
Most doctors advise you NOT to take the everyday-malaria pills if you have to stay a long time in this country. In the highlands however the risk is higher so take precautions. If you do get malaria you can take “HALFAN”, a drug you should bring with you.
Tuberculosis is far more common than expected. People who are malnourished tend to get it much more easily. Tuberculosis is spread when bacilli are expelled into the air in the form of droplets, occurring when a person with active lung disease coughs, laughs, sneezes or shouts. A person becomes infected when they breathe these droplets into their lungs.
You can take a B.C.G. injection, a live vaccine which may prevent tuberculosis, before you leave.
See “Immunizations” on page 64.
If you would like to see a doctor there are several possibilities; the bigger hotels have their own doctor’s service.
The French Consulate
Consulate general of the Republic of France
27 Xo Viet Tinh St.
Mon-Fri 8-12 and 14-17.30
The Consulate offers the chance to see a doctor every morning and afternoon but is only for European Community expats.
For more information see “Hospitals” on page 66.
|The Heart Institute
520 Nguyen Trio Fungi Q 10
(One of the finest clinics in town for a checkup and having a special expat specialist)
|The Cho Ray hospital
210 B Nguyen Chi Thanh St. Q5
Tel: 554137, 554138, 558794, 558863
|Center for medical diagnostic radiology, ultrasonography, biology
254 Hoi Hoa St. Q 10
PAGER: 281: 2369
|Institut Pasteur for biological exams
167 Pasteur St. Q3
Tel: 230352 (French Director)
|City Center for Orthodontology and Maxillo facial surgery
280 Dien Phu Q3
|Institute of Orthodontology and Maxillo facial surgery
201 A Nguyen Chi Thanh Q 11
next door to Cho Ray Hospital.
The pharmaceutical wholesale market is on 338 Hai Ba Trung St., HCMC, where you’ll find the biggest stock of pharmaceuticals, many of them from France.
If you know a brand name or happen to know the pharmaceutical name, you can easily buy everything WITHOUT a prescription. It is best to know the exact name of the generic drug, as well as appropriate doses.
Always avoid taking antibiotics unless necessary. Building up an immune system is important when living in Vietnam.
For the ladies, we can recommend to bring along a regular “dip and read” pregnancy test because those are not yet easily available in the pharmacies.
Sanitary towels are available everywhere but maybe not the more elegant kind you would prefer. The only available tampons are “Tampax” regular and super and are available on request in “Shop 62” 62 Ham Nghi St. Q1 and in the “Intershop” on the second floor on 101 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia if they are sold out in the supermarket; you might try it downstairs. (in HCMC)
The price is between $0.30 and $ 0.50 for one.
You cannot get feminine douches or douche bags yet, nor the liquid for them.
It might be difficult to find a brand name anti conception pill.
It is advisable to bring your own brand of condoms, you can buy them in the evening in the Le Loi Street area but the brands are obscure, the quality not guaranteed and the production date unknown.
Soft toilet paper is easily available in HCMC, people in Hanoi must still postpone the soft experience.
“Wet ones” or wet toilet paper is not yet available.
You can find diapers, but very basic ones, so bring your favorite brand. Baby food and ready-made food for small children is hard to find or extremely expensive.
A lot of people still seem to have LICE, so having a bottle of the more sophisticated lice lotion is not a bad idea. The chance of getting lice, however, is small. Of course, playing children are more prone to get them, so check them regularly.
Pets are a rare species in Vietnam because Vietnamese sometimes like to eat them!! If you bring your dog or cat, make sure your little precious is guarded and cannot escape. If it looks special it will be sold, otherwise it may be …..
You’ll have a hard time buying a pedigreed pet in Vietnam. If you get easily depressed, and love animals, postpone a visit to the animal and dog market.
In Vietnam the regulations for wildlife protection are not followed carefully.
You still can buy elephant feet (up to 2 meters high), baby elephant soles (fruit baskets, YES..of course!) little stuffed bears, stuffed leopards, stuffed lions, BIG turtle shells to hang on the wall or maybe you like the colonial looking yawning lion head-with-skin as a rug. In the UNstuffed section you have a large choice of monkeys, they come in all sizes and varieties, eagles 70 cm high, falcons, living snakes for dinner and all the other rare and protected species from the forests.
However, you cannot easily leave the country with a suitcase filled with tropical friends. It is recommended that you do not participate in this immoral trade.
There are more than 60 known species of snakes, 20 of them poisonous. They include cobra’s, krait, vipers and water snakes.
Snakes could also be living in your garden, but normally they will be shy and glad to flee if you come around.
If a snake bites you, try to kill it and bring it with you. At least they know in Singapore or Hong Kong which antidote they have to use….if you make it in time.
Cockroaches and Ants
There is always a good chance of finding insects in your house or hotel.
The cockroach and the ant are the most common of them all. Some cockroaches can even fly so it is hard to detect where they come from, but they prefer living in your bathroom. They don’t look great but can’t do any harm.
The smaller ants are after food, the bigger ones could also be eating wool or laundry in your closet.
Make sure you shake your shoes and clothes before putting them on and buy yourself an imported insect killer spray, so that it is better scented and produced according health regulations.
Lice are gray or brown insects and live only on human beings. A male louse is smaller than a female louse and they are 2.5-3 mm long. Most of the time they live in scalps but they can also live in the eyebrows, beard, eyelashes etc. Lice are parasites and feed themselves with blood. (Lice living in the intimate area can be detected by very little bloodspots in your underwear, their excretions of your consumed blood.) A female produces 8 eggs a night, which are small and white and seem to be glued to hair. It takes 7 days for the eggs to hatch and 10 days later they are mature. The itching of the head (behind the ears), caused by the saliva of the louse, is the first warning sign.
The use of a Permetrine and isopropanol combination kills the lice and their eggs at once. The old fashioned Malathion has side-effects and does not kill both at one time. Lice walk from head to head; they cannot fly or jump. That’s why most of the time children get it playing with each other. They like clean heads the most. After contracting lice, it is advisable to wash the clothes, blankets and sheets of the infected person. If you put laundry in a carefully closed plastic bag for one week you’ll starve the lice also, because they die quickly if they don’t have a host. After application of the lotion or shampoo, the eggs could still stick on the hair but are dead.
Numerous species of mosquitoes reside in Vietnam, many of which transmit diseases such as malaria, dengue fever and hemmorraghic fever. If you’re in non air-conditioned places, it is best to wear long pants and socks from 1700 hours. It is wise to travel with a mosquito net throughout Vietnam to insure adequate protection. Most of the time you cannot feel the bite, but it itches badly afterwards.
Malarial medication is not required in Vietnam’s cities. (It cannot be used for extended periods due to side effects.) More information is in the “Malaria” section on page 52.
Fortunately every week there are more products you can find in the shops. It is however still difficult to find quality garments, underwear or good leather shoes as the sizes are usually small. Of course there will be a lot you can buy, but don’t expect it to find the better brands or designer-clothes.
There is no shop with a complete stock of Chanel, Dior, Lauder, Lancaster, JOOP, Lancaster, Hermes, Picasso, Klein, Gucci, Revlon, Shiseido, or Arden. If you spend some time looking for something there is a good chance to find more than you expect and although no shop has a complete line of a fine brand; eyeshadow, mascara and lipstick are not difficult to find. Even some perfumes of the famous houses are available but the quality is questionable after being in 32 degrees for a long period of time. A good night & day cream is also difficult to find. If you find a rare bottle or jar, it has probably been in the heat for a long time as well. The available colors of the foundations and powders tend to be really light and very pinkish, because Vietnamese like a pink and very light complexion.
- earplugs (the city can be very noisy)
- black eye mask (curtains are very basic sometimes)
- extra leather shoes
- leather purses
- jeans (Levi’s etc.)
- perfumes/ make up /creams
- sun products
- the better hair products (hair stylists are different here)
- wet toilet paper/ “wet ones”
- books books books
- high quality stationary and envelopes
- tea in other flavors than the normal Lipton
- chewing gum (only Wrigley’s is available)
- stamps of your home country (you might give mail to somebody going home)
- cotton underwear/ lingerie
- nice frames (for your favorite photo’s)
- hand soap with a dispenser
- gentle wash products (woollight)
- your laptop/notebook computer (still expensive in Vietnam)
- your CD’s and tapes, since there is a very limited choice in Vietnam
- bathing suits (several because of the high chorine level in swimming pools)
- carpet, if you know the house where you will live
- waterpick and electrical toothbrush
- anti mosquito itch cream
- equipment for a swimming pool
- your answering machine
- a good bag for a day trip
- children’s (computer) games and books
- quality linens
Books about Vietnam which are easily regarded as dangerous for state security reasons. Customs officials will confiscate them definitely and you won’t get them back.
Pornographic tapes or books.
Though Vietnam has a developing economy, the costs of living for a foreigner can be higher than expected. Rents, both in hotels and private residences, are on a separate scale from the Vietnamese rates. Tickets for transportation, tourist entry fees, etc. are also part of a dual pricing system.
People are often surprised at the cost of living, given their surroundings.
Prices in the major hotels are similar to those around the world. Local restaurants, understandably, are inexpensive and often excellent. With western food at the nicer restaurants however, most foreigners find it hard to resist.
Buying imported goods in the market can be pricey if one tries to stick to the same goods as back home.
A box of cereal, for example, costs about $5. Substituting local coffee on the other hand, appreciated by even the pickiest coffee connoisseurs, will cost only pennies per cup!
Shopping is a continual adventure in Vietnam. Always leave yourself ample time to go searching for a particular good or product, and don’t be distraught at having to go to three or four locations first.
Often when searching for a particular item, it is best to go to the area of the city (or street) known for selling that item. For example, there is an area (and sometimes several) for electronics, another for house paint, another for floor tiles, another for plants, etc. After asking a knowledgeable Vietnamese friend, they will usually te
ll you to go to a street as opposed to a particular shop.
One good place to go at the start of any shopping expedition is the State Department Store across from the Rex Hotel in HCMC, or on the corner of Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi. They have a wide range of items, from toiletries to furniture to bicycles. Prices are usually slightly higher than in private shops, but everything is labeled! If you aren’t sure how much something should cost, start at this shop before heading anywhere else.
Only drink boiled water (which should boil for at least 5 minutes) or bottled water and avoid raw vegetables. Avoid ice except in major hotels. Bottled water is readily available.
To rent a hot and cold water dispenser and have home delivery of mineral or purified water contact:
Phu Qui Far East Company
56 A Bui Thi Xuan Q1
HCMC Tel: 330313
For more information, see “Treatment of Water” on page 62.
|Minimart (2nd floor)
101 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia
Open from 900-1700
Groceries in non air-conditioned shops but with English speaking owners. All of these shops are located on the same block and cater to the foreign community.
64 Ham Nghi St. Q1
62 Ham Nghi St. Q1
|Coffee tea and liquor:
48 Ham Nghi Q1
|Cans, drinks, bottles, 6 packs
58 Ham Nghi Q1
Recently a new retail shop opened selling fresh milk, yogurt and ice cream. It is best to go there early in the morning because every day they sell out in a few hours.
36-38 Ngo Duc Ke St. Q1
from 7.30- 1800
66 Ham Nghi St. Q1
|Omni Saigon Hotel; gourmet shop (ground floor)
251 Nguyen Van Troi St./ Q. Phu Nhuan
(The best Danish pastry and brown bread possible)
You’ll find a broad selection of French and English/American video’s in:
|KIM Phuong’s Embroidery & Video shop
39 B Ngo Duc Ke
Video rentals costs about 2000 VND. They are most often illegal copies of copies. However you’ll find them a nice alternative as other activities are limited.
The video system is PAL. You can easily buy a video recorder. It might be a good idea to get your own video player in your hotel or home.
|Omni Saigon Hotel; wine shop (ground floor)
251 Nguyen Van Troi St./ Q Phu Nhuan
Leather Shoes and Handbags
This shop can make leather shoes or handbags within a week (usually). The shop specializes in lizard leather, crocodile leather, elephant leather (Hmmm…) and snake skin.
Bring your old favorite shoes so that they can copy them.
The shop also has caviar and champagne.
|“Lac Long Shoes and boots of distinction”
143 Le Thang Ton St. Q1
|General electronics market audio, video, TV
in Huyng Thuc Khang St., HCMC
and around 85 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, HCMC
|Philips consumer products division
92-94 Ly Tu Trong St. Q1
Van Thinh Phat
|Washing machines, microwave ovens, audio, video
V.T.P. Co LTD
122-128 Ham Nghi Q1
Tel: 290884/ 225940
42 Pham Hong Thai P. Ben Thanh Q1
66-68 Pham Hang Thai Q1
|Head Sports Ltd (only tennis)
94 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia St. Q1
|Shop Thanh Phuong
1 Huyen Tran Cong Chua/Ward Ben Thanh Q1
Wholesale market for Fabrics
|Soai Kinh Lam market Q5, HCMC
|Ly Thuong Kiet St. Q. Tan Binh: “Phu Gia”, HCMC
|Ly Thai To St. near Q 10, HCMC
|Dien Bien Phu St. near Q 10, HCMC
|Saigon Business Center
49-57 Dong Du St. Q1
Ho Chi Minh City
open until 9 o’clock p.m.
243-243 B Hoang Van Thu St. Q. Tan Binh
Ho Chi Minh City
Tel: 443 441/2
Fax: 443 442
|The Saigon Floating Hotel
1 A Le Linh Square Q1
Ho Chi Minh City
Tel: 290783 / 290624
Fax: 290784 / 290785
open until 11 o’clock p.m.
|The Omni Saigon Hotel
251 Nguyen Van Troi Q Phu Nhuan
Ho Chi Minh City
|Lotus Business Center
71-73 Hai Ba Trung St. Q. 1
Tel: 223053, 223063, 223083, 223092, 223106
Ho Chi Minh City
|Omni Saigon Hotel *****
251 Nguyen Van Troi Q Phu Nhuan
Tel: 449222, 449333
|The Saigon Floating Hotel *****
1 A Le Linh Square Q1
Tel: 298783/ 290624
Fax: 290784/ 290785
|Rex -Ben Thanh ****
141 Nguyen Hue Q1
Tel: 293115/ 292185
19-23 Lam Son Square Q1
|Century Saigon Hotel *****
68 A Nguyen Hue Q1
117 Le Thanh Ton Q1
|International Hotel ***
19 Vo Van Tan Q3
|Majestic Hotel **
1 Dong Khoi Street Q1
|Asian Hotel ***
146-150 Dong Khoi Street Q1
|Mondial Hotel ***
109 Dong Khoi Street Q1
|Continental Hotel ***
132-134 Dong Khoi Street Q1
|Hotel Pullman Metropole *****
15 Ngo Quyen St.
|Thang Loi International ***
Yen Phu St.
|Saigon hotel ***
Phan Boi Chau corner Ly Thuong Kiet
|The Boss Hotel ****
60 Nguyen Du St.
|Military Guest House **
33 Pham Ngu Lao Street
|Heritage Hotel ***
80 Giang Vo Road
|Dong Loi Hotel **
94 Ly Thuong Kiet Street
|Hanoi Hotel ***
D8 Giang Vo
|Dan Chu Hotel ***
20 Trang Tien Street
Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City
4 H Le Loi Q1
127 Tran Quoc Thao Q3
Tel: 290985, 293770
ticket registration office
130 Don Khoi Street Q1
Tel: 290981, 290982
1 Ba Trieu St.
|Air Hong Kong (cargo)
Tan Son Nhat Airport
Fax: (848) 45813
49 Ly Thai To Q1
(c/o Saigon Tourist)
Tel: 223203, 223272, 223279
Airport office HCMC
27 B Ly Thai To St.
Tel: 267298, 267299, 261575
134-134 Dong Khoi St. Q1
|China Southern Airlines
52 B Pham Hong Thai St. Q1
Tel: 291172, 298417
|China Southern Airlines
Binh Minh Hotel
Ly Thai To St.
129 Dong Khoi St. Q1
106 Nguyen Hue Boulevard Q1
For reservations and reconfirmation
Tel: 293645, 293644
|KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
244 Duong Pasteur Q3
Tel: 231990, 231991
|Lufthansa German Airlines
134-134 Dong Khoi St. Q1
For reservations and reconfirmation
Tel: 298529, 298549
|Malaysian Airline System
116 Nguyen Hue Q1
For reservations and reconfirmation
Tel: 242885/ 292529
|Malaysian Airline System
15 Ngo Quyen St.
Tel: 268820, 268821
27 B Nguyen Dinh Chieu St.
Tel: 230930, 231692
4B Le Loi Q1
Tel: 292200, 292113
311 Dien Bien Phu St. Q3
6 Le Loi Q1
For reservations and reconfirmation
Tel: 231583, 231586, 231588
Fax: (848) 231554
15 Ngo Quyen St.
25 Ly Thuong Kiet St.
Tel: 266893, 267922
|Vietnam Airlines; Domestic Flights
15 B Dinh Tien Hoang Rd
Tel: 299980, 299910
International Flights Registration Counter
116 Nguyen Hue Q1
Tel: 292118, 230697, 230698
60 Nguyen Du St.
01 Quang Trung St.
Tel: 255284, 253842, 255229
US dollars are accepted everywhere. If you choose Vietnamese Dong (to save money), you might need an extra big shopping bag to drag it around.
Vietnamese Dong comes is the following denominations:
Be aware that the 5000 Dong note and the 20000 Dong note are the same blue color and look almost identical. (This is the difference between $.50 and $2.00)
The current official exchange rate (April 1994) is approximately 10,900 DONG to one USD. Shops and some hotels exchange at 10.000 to $1.00 USD. There is no real “black market” rate, and it is best to change money from official exchange banks.
You can use credit cards (VISA, MASTERCARD, AMEX and JCB) in the cities at most major hotels.
Banking services are not yet well developed in Vietnam.
You will see many inviting foreign bank offices but they cannot offer full services.
If a bank only has a representative office, you cannot open your private or business account there.
Only Branch office banks offer the possibility to transfer money to or from your account.
When changing money, bring your passport.
The following banks are able to handle a cash advance from VISA, MASTERCARD and JCB, wire transfers, and change travelers’ cheques:
Bank of foreign trade of Vietnam or
29 Ben Chuong Duong St. On the corner of
Nguyen Thi Minh Khai St. (Pasteur St.)
7-11.30 and 1.30-3.30
Bank of Foreign Trade of Vietnam
47-49 Ly Thai To
Other banks offerings some, but not all of the services of Vietcombank are:
|Vietnam Export-Import Bank “Eximbank”
7 Le Thi Hong Gam Q1
Tel: 230240/ 292312
Ha Thi Nhan
Manager General Accounts Dept.
|Industrial and Commercial Bank
|Bank for Investment and Development (BIDV)
|Agricultural Development Bank of Vietnam (ADBV)
The following are Foreign Banks in Vietnam. Only those marked can offer banking services. All others offer advisory services only. Most have offices in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
This information is current at time of printing.
|Albis Bank||no||Deutsche Bank||no|
|ABN Amro||no||First Vina Bank||yes|
|ANZ Banking Group||yes||Hongkong and Shanghai Bank||no|
|Bank Indovina||yes||ING Bank||no|
|Bank of America||no||International Commercial Bank (ICBC)||no|
|Bank of Tokyo||no||Korea Eximbank||no|
|Bangkok Bank Ltd.||yes||Krung Thai Bank||no|
|Banque Francaise du Commerce Exterieur (BFCE)||yes||National Bank of Kuwait||no|
|Banque Nationale de Paris||yes||Shinhan Bank||no|
|Barclays Bank||no||Societe Generale||no|
|Berliner Bank||no||Standard Chartered Bank||no|
|FBH Bank||no||State Bank of India||no|
|Credit Lyonnais||yes||Thai Military Bank||yes|
|Cathay Investment & Trust||no||United Overseas Bank||no|
|Citibank||no||VID Public Bank||yes|
You can easily buy a mobile phone with an IDD (International Direct Dial) line. The line quality is good, but is only for use in HCMC.
Saigon Mobile Telephone Center
5 Nguyen Hau St. Q1
Tel: 288 or 290828
International phone calls are very expensive- be prepared!
Installing a telephone in your home with an IDD line can be a lengthy and expensive process. When deciding on a place to live, phone considerations are paramount. The extra fees to have an IDD line installed within a reasonable amount of time are staggering.
You can buy an “uniphonekad”, a telephone card which you have to use in all the booths in the post offices.
Regulations prohibit installing your own fax on a telephone line, and going on line with your computer is forbidden unless you operate from a official representative office.
If you fax from one of the business centers, there is a chance that they copy it for “security” reasons. Also incoming faxes are known to be copied so make sure that there is nothing in it that could lead to suspicion.
If you send a fax from a post office, make sure the original is clear because they will fax it to other station(s) first before it leaves the country, so that takes more than a few minutes and your receiver will get a fax of a fax…of a fax.
All the hotels have the facility to fax. However, prices differ greatly. You can usually walk in off the street and ask for their service.
If you are looking for an inexpensive place in the center of HCMC, the Mondial Hotel has a small post office inside the lobby. The people are nice and offer great service and if you want, they will put it through and give it back right away.
Faxes, like phone calls, are very expensive $ 6.00 to $ 10.00 USD per page in general.
|The Mondial Hotel
109 Don Khoi St. Q1
Tel: 296291, 296296, 296273, 231359
If someone sends you a package you will first receive a notification from the post office.
With this letter and your passport you head to the back of the post office on 117 Hai Ba Trung, Q1 HCMC, right entrance.
A lot of people seem to be waiting on the benches but as a foreigner you walk down to the lady behind the desk who sells forms for 3000 VND.
Then you fill in this form (the lady will help you) and present this with your letter and passport to the custom officials behind the desks.
While you wait, they will pick up the parcel in the back and then ask you to open it.
The official will observe the contents and then fill in a double form. You are to leave the original with the man sitting behind the exit desk. (If you walk out of the building without doing so they will start calling and visiting your hotel or home in order to pick the original which states the contents of the parcel) If your parcel contains tapes, videotapes or compact discs you’ll have to carry them to another desk where they are taken in for investigation. You will receive a little slip to prove that you left your tapes or CD’s with them and you can pick them up after 5 days at desk…and you’ll have to pay a small inspection fee before getting them back. It seems that parcels take a much shorter time to arrive than letters, so you could try this out once you’re in the country.
Of course picking up a parcel is a time consuming matter and make sure your driver is waiting somewhere you can find him, because he is not allowed to park it in front of the building.
If you wish to send a parcel you must go to the back of the post office on 117 Hai Ba Trung, Q1 HCMC left entrance and you’ll have to fill in several forms and bring your passport.
Don’t close your parcel because the post office is required to inspect the contents.
If you send letters or postcards the stamps and envelopes have no glue on them so a “glue stick” comes in handy.
Sometimes you will receive your letters opened. It is wise to inform your friends and relatives of this. They should not send money by mail.
This also applies to mail being sent from Vietnam.
There are International schools for your children in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City
|United Nation International School
C/o U.N.D.P. Hanoi
Tel: (84-4) 263 635
Ms. Jo Parry
|International Grammar School
Ho Chi Minh City
236 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia St. Q3
Tel: (84-8) 293237
Fax: (84-8) 230000
For more information see “International Grammar School” on page 43, and “United Nations International School” on page 49.
It is increasingly difficult to find accommodation to rent, both in Hanoi and in Ho Chi Minh.
There are a few Vietnamese real estate agents and rentals usually have to be negotiated through the local authorities or service companies.
Currently, it is not possible for foreigners to own something of value in Vietnam, so even if you own a motorbike which you bought in Vietnam it will have to stay registered in a Vietnamese name.
Leasing or living in a hotel are other possibilities for short and long term accommodation.
There are always Vietnamese willing to look if you want to find a suitable living space. People cannot rent a house without a lot of official paperwork; and they need a license. Often landlords who own a complete house prefer having a license for a “Mini Hotel” so that they are allowed to rent it room by room to several people, or entirely to one person.
If you try to find an apartment you might end up in what they call a “Mini Hotel,” In order to have more space you could rent the whole “Mini Hotel”.
The rent on paper is often stated lower than the reality, to avoid tax regulations.
Monthly leases are beyond belief. They vary from $1500 for a very basic house to $6000 for the kind you would really like. A house for a family would be at least somewhere around $ 4000 per month.
In HCMC and Hanoi tempting old colonial houses can be rented, but the majority are in poor condition and have to be renovated to an acceptable standard. The electrical system, plumbing, roof and floors often have to be replaced and the bills paid for by the tenant.
Leases are for anything from one to ten years and a deposit of one year’s rent to be paid in advance!! Of course this is negotiable so don’t take it for granted right away.
There is one office that officially arranges houses and staff: All other leases are arranged through networks of friends.
People’s Committee of Ho Chi Minh City, Service company to foreign missions.
124 Nguyen Dinh Chieu St. Q3
Mr. Do Quy Dung
Deputy head of real estate department
Tapwater is not safe so buy only reputable brands of bottled water.
See “Treatment of Water” on page 62.
The domestic electricity supply is both 110 and 220 volts AC 50 Hz. Be sure to check your appliances and outlets before plugging them in straight away. Replacement power supplies for radios, televisions, video recorders and especially computers are hard to come by.
In Vietnam electricity is not grounded.
Wiring is often crude and unsafe and should be thoroughly checked before use. There are frequent power cuts and voltage fluctuations so a voltage stabilizer will be required for sensitive electronic equipment.
Extension cords and sockets with several outlets are not made according to any safety regulations in Vietnam. If possible bring your own material.
Desktop computers require a voltage regulator which can be purchased locally for between $75 to $100 USD depending on the size. Laptop computers do not require voltage regulators, but they are recommended to avoid surges which could damage the power supply. Computer parts are virtually unavailable in Vietnam, and replacing a power supply could take weeks!
Power cuts happen regularly. No power for 5 minutes or…. sometimes three hours. The better hotels have generators which turn on automatically after a few seconds. Usually the generator is not powerful enough to keep the air-conditioning on.
Bottled gas or kerosene are often used for cooking.
Water cuts occur, but the better hotels have a spare water reservoir. It is always advisable to keep a bucket of water handy for emergency bathing needs.
Vietnamese consider different things in an interior as tasteful. So you might find a nice little goldfish basin under the stairs and the kitchen could be very basic with a low sink.
Dishwashers are uncommon, but it is not a bad idea having one from hygiene point of view.
Dryers are also almost unheard of.
Washing machines are finding their way to Vietnam, however most are small Asian models that never seem to work one hundred percent.
Almost all the Vietnamese cook on charcoal. Gas stoves are readily available, though many cooks will not be familiar with their operation. Electric stoves are available, but rarely used by Vietnamese cooks.
It is difficult to find the same quality furnishings as back home. Rattan is very common and inexpensive, and pieces can be custom ordered in addition to the wide selection already available.
Carpets are very hard to find, and are not practical in the humidity.
High quality fabrics are hard to find, and it is advisable to bring your own to make furniture cushions, curtains, etc.
If you plan to build a swimming pool, bring along all of the accessories needed.
The Vietnamese are skilled at reproducing your favorite piece. So why not bringing a picture of it and decorate your house with big colorful real paintings.
It is easy to find beautiful items for your garden. Potted trees, flowers, and plants are all extremely inexpensive and readily available.
Adjusting to life in Vietnam is much easier with the assistance of house staff. There are no official placement agencies yet, but it doesn’t take long to find a friend of a friend who is looking for a job.
It will be more expensive to hire someone who already speaks English. It is also possible to send your staff to English school part-time.
The salary of your staff will be between $60 and $100 a month.
Don’t expect cooks to be able to use gas stoves right away. They might need help from a Vietnamese friend who can explain the proper cooking methods.
Your staff might have a different idea of cleaning and cleaning materials than you are accustomed to. If your staff does not speak English, it might be helpful to hire a translator for a couple of days to assist you in training. Chances are your staff will be eager to please and try their best, but it is important to understand that you might be starting from square one.
The house staff do not understand when you say “Thank you” all the time for example, if they bring a cup of coffee. They regard it as their duty, and they are being paid, so it is not necessary thank them all the time.
Servants never sit at the same table with their employers if outsiders are present and in rare cases otherwise.
Always refer to your staff as Mr… or Mrs….
For more information, see “Vietnamese Names” on page 9.
Most houses in Vietnam have a gate and high fences. This is not decoration, but necessity.
If you live in Vietnam in your own house, you will need guards. There are night guards and day guards, some are allowed to sleep under a mosquito-net and some are supposed to stay awake all night, and earn a bit more in that case.
Two or three guards working in shifts are needed for 24 hour service. It might be a good idea to give them a whistle so that he can warn you and your neighbors in case he is confronted by a few people crawling over the fences. Uninvited visitors occur every now and then, specifically if you house is left unattended. Most of the time they are after your goods and wouldn’t dare doing you any harm personally. It might be a good idea to bring an advanced burglar alarm system.
Because of the climate and cost, most Vietnamese avoid cotton and other delicate fabrics for clothes. They prefer polyesters which dry more quickly and require less care. These fabrics can also take the vigorous hand washings so common in Vietnam.
If you have a washing machine, you might need to spend time training your staff how to use it, and specifics about which clothes are washed in which manner. Keep in mind that everything is new for your staff. Finding a way to label clothes for certain types of washing, or using separate laundry baskets, might make things easier.
Be sure to explain colors and whites. Vietnamese are used to washing with detergents with a heavy bleaching action, and indeed know how to get things white again. This can also backfire, so make sure that your instructions are clear.
Ironing, as well, needs to be explained to your liking. There is nothing as helpful as a full lesson in person. Taking time to explain things directly by demonstration, along with the help of a translator, will be the clearest way to get your message across.
If you want suits to be dry-cleaned, make sure you explain this carefully to the person in charge of the laundry. They are not so familiar with the concept of dry-cleaning and won’t hesitate to wash your 100% woolen precious “Valentino” or “Hugo Boss” in temperatures which guarantees transforming it into a backpacker’s outfit.
The Omni Saigon Hotel offers a good dry cleaning service:
|OMNI Saigon Hotel
251 Nguyen Van Troi, Q. Phu Nhuan
Tel: 449222, 449333
The information in the following section, about the International Grammar School of Ho Chi Minh, is a copy of their original prospectus.
International Grammar School
236 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia St. Q3
Ho Chi Minh City
Tel: (848) 223337, 293237
Fax: (848) 223000
Mr. Martin Snell
The International Grammar School, Ho Chi Minh City (IGS HCMC), is a non denominational, co-educational and multicultural international school which has been established to provide quality education of a high standard to the children of the expatriate community in Ho Chi Minh City.
The school academic year runs from August until early June and there are four (4) terms in the school year. All students, including those in Pre-school, have classes which run from 8:00 AM until 2:30 PM through the week and on Saturday from 9:00 AM until 12:00 noon when a variety of language classes are conducted.
Students at the International Grammar School, Ho Chi Minh City, will develop a strong sense of self, an understanding of the culture of others and an appreciation of how they can contribute to a global community.
IGS HCMC aims to develop and encourage individual talent, encourage true multicultural thinking and foster student academic growth in a caring and positive school environment.
Intellectual, social, academic and physical development is promoted through a balanced curriculum and there is an emphasis on high academic standards, clear thinking and an overall stated aim of enhancing student growth into informed world citizens.
All Staff at the International Grammar School have degrees or diplomas in their respective subject areas that are recognised internationally and, in addition, have had at least a minimum of two years teaching experience.
IGS HCMC is closely tied to the International Grammar School Sydney and this connection enables the school to operate a fully accredited curriculum.
The School is a member of the European Council of International Schools which provides guidelines and codes of practice for International Schools worldwide.
The International Grammar School, Ho Chi Minh City, exists to provide quality education of a high standard for expatriate children residing with their parents in Ho Chi Minh City.
IGS HCMC attempts to place children in the Primary school with same age peers although prior academic history as well as physical and emotional maturity are also considered.
Applications for admission are accepted at any time and the appropriate forms can be obtained from IGS HCMC and should be mailed or delivered to the Principal’s Office:
In addition to the Student Application Form, parents are required to submit:
- A certified copy of the student’s Birth Certificate or Passport.
- Two passport sized colour photographs.
- Copies of the student’s last two school reports.
- Details of immunisations and the student’s medical history.
Close co-operation between the home and school is a key ingredient in the educational programs at the International Grammar School, Ho Chi Minh City, and before a final decision on enrollment is made, parents and students will need to be interviewed as a means of getting to know the family and discussing individual needs.
Notification of acceptance for admission will be given in writing as soon as the application form and documentation has been received. The application process can be accomplished in as little as two to three days if all the necessary documentation and payments are supplied.
Fees are due and payable in advance on or before the first day of school or, in the case of late enrollments, on or before the first day at school.
Parents wishing to withdraw students for any reason must provide IGS HCMC with at least one full term’s notice in writing and in such cases tuition fees will be refunded for any academic quarter not attended.
Classes at the International Grammar School are small and usually are a maximum of 18 students. The Board of Management policy related to class size in that no class will exceed 20 students at any grade level.
Course of Study
The basic curriculum follows that designed by the Australian NSW Department of Education supplemented by content of an international nature giving the programs a unique flavor.
There is an understanding that students need to be prepared for re-entry to national systems and, as a consequence, basic subject and subject combinations are stressed.
The Preschool Program combines individual attributes of Montessori and Early Childhood methods. Montessori materials are the focus of the program but the integration of Early Childhood methods, second language, music, drama and craft give the program its unique flavour.
(B) K – 6
A comprehensive and integrated curriculum from Kindergarten to Grade 6 exists in the following Key Learning Areas.
English, Mathematics, Science and Technology, Human Society and Its Environment, Creative, and Practical Arts, Physical Development and Physical Education.
(C) High School
IGS HCMC offers the following subjects.
English, Mathematics, Science, History, Geography, Vietnamese, Visual Arts, Computing, Music, Physical Education.
English as a Second Language
Students whose native language is not English may be enrolled in the School’s English as a Second Language (ESL) Program which is available to students from Grade 2 through to High School.
The aim of the English as a Second Language Program is to provide students with the appropriate foundation in listening, reading, speaking and writing in English so that they can successfully participate in all aspects of school life. The program is a ‘communicative’ based one which strives to create a classroom environment in which a positive attitude about language is fostered.
All students at the International Grammar School study Vietnamese as a second language. As well as the study of Vietnamese, students have the opportunity to study an additional language on a Saturday morning as a means of developing skills in their native language or introducing them, in the case of English speaking students, to a new language.
The learning areas include functionally designed classrooms appropriate to the needs of the various subjects and specialist facilities which are provided for the teaching or Art, Music, ESL, and computing.
Music plays an important role in the curriculum and school life at the International Grammar School, Ho Chi Minh City. All students from Preschool study music for at least two periods a week and are encouraged to become actively involved in the numerous music related activities happening in the school.
The International Grammar School, Ho Chi Minh City believes that parents are an integral part of the school community and that positive parental involvement is essential for successful learning. The School encourages open, effective and full communication between parents and the School.
All students at the International Grammar School participate in organised sport on a Friday morning and, in addition, are encouraged to participate in at least one sport related activity. Personal Development and Physical Education are integral parts of the curriculum and a structured and integrated program of study is available to all students.
Extra Curricular Activities
A wide range of activities complements the academic program throughout the Primary School and extra curricular activities are offered on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoon during the course of the school year.
A. Pre-School Overview
The Pre-school program combines individual attributes of Montessori and Early Childhood methods which combine to provide a stimulating and exciting program. Whilst Montessori teaching materials are the focus of the teaching program, integration of the second language, music, drama and craft gives the program and unprecedented dimension in Early Childhood Learning.
A Typical Day
The morning session begins with the activities involving Montessori activities in the following areas:
Practical Life Exercise
Using teacher presentations as the starting point, the students have access to the equipment and work independently. Children’s progress and development is monitored regularly.
At set times in the morning session, the students will be involved in Music and language activities and immediately before lunch the students will participate in whole class activities such as picture talks, thematic talks and dramatic presentations.
Lunch time is a special time for students, as they are seated together and encouraged to socialise with their peers and teacher.
The afternoon session encourages the development of the students’ creative skills through their involvement in various creative art projects and physical education activities.
B. Kindergarten – Grade 6
Change is a constant phenomenon for International school children and in the primary school there is an attempt to create a situation in which new students are warmly welcomed and integrated into the school community.
The curriculum follows that designed by the Australian NSW Department of School Education supplemented by a content of a more international nature giving the programs a unique flavour. There is an understanding that students need to be prepared for re-entry into national systems and as a consequence, subject and subject combinations are stressed.
A comprehensive and integrated curriculum from Kindergarten through to Grade 6 exists in the following designated Key Leaning Areas: (K.L.A.’s)
Science and Technology
Human Society and Its Environment
Creative and Practical Arts
Physical Development and Physical Education
Students in the Primary School at the International Grammar School, Ho Chi Minh City, study the above subjects across all year groups and, as well, the study of Vietnamese as s second language is incorporated in to the curriculum with a view towards increasing the students’ awareness of the host country language and culture.
Throughout the Primary School there is an emphasis on developing writing skills which are integrated into the various subject areas.
C. High School
The International Grammar School offers a High School Program for students up to and including Year 10 level. Students in the High School undertake a program of study based on the High School curriculum of the Australian New South Wales Department of Education which involves the study of the following subjects-
English, Mathematics, Science, History, Geography, Vietnamese, Visual Arts, Music and Computing.
In addition to organised classes, the High School students participate in IGS HCMC’s extra curricular activity program and have access to activities outside the school.
High School students also participate in the Saturday program which provides a variety of language classes.
“Moving to a new country is a major change in the life of a family, It is a time of anticipation and anxiety for everyone. The happiness and adjustment of the younger members of the family is a primary concern to Parents and The International Grammar School, Ho Chi Minh City shares that concern. Working together, we can make your stay in Vietnam an unforgettable, lifetime learning experience.”
Enrollment Fee – US$500.00 upon application (deductible from the Annual Tuition Fee, but non refundable if the enrollment is withdrawn)
Annual Tuition Fees
Pre-School – US$5,800.00
K to Year 6 – US$7,500.00
Year 7 to Year 12 – US$8,500.00
Capital Fee/Building Levy – US$5,000.000
Refund of Capital Development Fee/Building Levy
Departure at the end of 1 year at the school 50% refundable
Departure at the end of 2 years at the school 35% refundable
Departure at the end of 3 year at the school 15% refundable
United Nations International School Hanoi
c/o UNDP Hanoi
Bangkok, Thailand 10501
Tel: (84-4) 263 635 (Hanoi) Fax: (84-4) 263 635
Ms. Jo Parry
Full time: 4 men, 8 women
Part-time: 2 men, 2 women
Curriculum: ISCP, IBMY
Age Range: 4 – 14
Enrollment: 150, 28 nationalities
70 boys, 80 girls
Primary (K-5): 120
Middle (Gr 6-8): 30
day only US$5,775
other Enrollment fee US$500
Transport fee US$255
The United Nationals International School – Hanoi, which begins its sixth year of operation in September 1993, is an English language school for children of the international and host communities aged from four to fourteen. Homeroom groupings are as follows: Primary One to Six (ages 4-11), Middle One and Two (ages 12-14), which accommodate 150 students from 28 countries. The teaching staff of sixteen, who represent eight different nationalities, offer instruction in art, computer, English language and literature, French and Swedish, mathematics, music, physical education, science, and Vietnamese language and culture.
The School’s philosophy is to encourage children to achieve according to their own skills and potential ability, and there is a close one on one working relationship between the student and the teacher to facilitate this; also, classes are limited to sixteen in number. The programme of studies is fully international in its perspective and no one national curriculum is adhered to. The school is currently in the first stages of seeking accreditation with The European Council of International Schools.
Classes are held in a purpose-built building in the Van Phuc area of Hanoi, complete with playing areas, gymnasium, library, music and art rooms, and computer and science laboratories, and the School operates a bus service for the transportation of children. The school day is from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday to Friday, the academic year running from the first week of September to the second week of June.
The following section offers you excellent up to date material on health, kindly donated by:
International SOS assistance
151 Vo Thi Sau St. (left gate) Q3
Ho Chi Minh City
Mr. Mario Babin
Emergency 24 hour alarm center
HO CHI MINH CITY:
Tel: 65 226 3936
Fax: 65 226 3937
151 Vo Thi Sau Street
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Tel : 84 (8) 294386
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, CALL :
International SOS® Assistance Ho Chi Minh City 24h Alarm Center.
Telephone : 84 8 242 866 (24h)
84 8 294 386 / 242 864
International SOS® Assistance Hanoi 24h Alarm Center
Telephone : 84 4 226 228 (24h)
International SOS® Assistance Singapore 24h Alarm Center.
Telephone : 65 226 3936
Introduction to the medical risks
One of the greatest fears of a person has when he goes overseas is “What will I do if I get sick ?” Joseph Conrad’s view of the medical dangers awaiting all of us here is all too common a way of looking at life in the tropics. One reads so much about all of the “tropical” diseases one can get here. Then one hears about all the substandard care in the “third World”. Our friends don’t make it any easier with their hair-raising adventure stories about “what happened to me in that hospital” or how “I have a case of chronic malaria the doctors can’t cure,” etc. When you add to your own personal fears all the fears you hold for your family’s health (we “dragged them out here,” didn’t we ?) it begins to look as if your tour is going to be an unending fight for basic survival. Let’s clear the air on a couple of points.
The most common and the most serious medical problems faced by expatriates living in Asia are the same medical problems they would face anywhere else in the world — including in their home countries ! More people will succumb to auto accidents than to malaria.
The simple fact of the matter is that the most of the “tropical” disease we read about have strong “socioeconomic” predilections. In order words, they are rare in expatriates who continue to live their usual “expatriate life styles.” While precautions must be taken to even further reduce the risks of these special diseases, these precautions need not cause any personal hardship and can certainly go along way toward making your stay in Asia as healthy or healthier than a visit in your home country.
Finally, whatever “rare” disease we have here in Asia can be diagnosed and they can be treated ! “Incurable” tropical diseases are more often talked about by our friends than seen by our doctors. That is not to say that these diseases present no danger — they do! And it is also still true that our main efforts must be directed toward prevention of the illnesses. But, don’t look upon having a medical problem in Asia as some sort of death sentence, because it’s little different from getting sick anywhere else in the world.
In the following sections we will discuss a variety of medical problems and what steps you can take to lessen the risks the present to you during your tour in Vietnam. By better understanding the disease you will be in a better position to deal with them should they become a problem.
- Be careful with food and water : see below
- Insure your vaccinations are updated
- Bring with you your usual medications for treatment.
- Keep in mind the risk of malaria : see below
SOS recommendations :
- Road, car and motorbike accidents : The rules are not the same as in your country. Wear, if available, your safety belts in cars.
- Wear a helmet if you drive a motorbike.
- Be sure you are covered by a medical insurance, for your medical expenses; assistance companies are not insurance companies, and do not cover the fees for doctors, medications, or hospitalization.
- Always carry your SOS® card with you. Make sure that someone knows where your passport is.
The parasite that causes this disease is spread by the bite of the Anopheles mosquito, though it can rarely get passed by blood transfusion. Malaria has a nasty habit of recurring in later years, even if you’re cured at the time, and it can kill you.
In the 1950s, the World Health Organization launched a two-prong attack against malaria, spraying with the pesticide DDT and treating victims with the drug chloroquine. Health authorities confidently predicted that by the year 2000, the malaria parasite would be extinct.
It hasn’t work out that way. The mosquitoes developed resistance against DDT and the malaria parasite developed resistance to chloroquine. Aside from breeding super mosquitoes, DDT has also proven harmful to the environment and human health. For a while it seemed that the war against malaria was being won; now it is obvious that malaria is staging a comeback throughout the tropics.
There are four different types of malaria, but 95% of all cases are one of two varieties. The most serious of these two types is:
- falciparum malaria, which is widespread in the southern part of Vietnam.
The illness develops 10 to 14 days after being bitten by the mosquito and symptoms consist of high fever with alternate shivering and sweating, intense headaches, and usually nausea or vomiting. Without treatment the condition is fatal within two weeks in up to 25% of cases. It is this variety of malaria which is now showing widespread resistance to the most common anti-malaria drug, chloroquine. The problem is especially serious in the Mekong River delta.
- vivax malaria is the other main type and the two rarer types are similar to vivax. P. vivax malaria may be severe, but is not dangerous to life. However, if not adequately treated, the illness will continue to recur, causing chronic ill-health.
Malaria is a risk year-round in most parts of Vietnam below 1200 meters. The locals have some natural immunity to malaria resulting from generations of exposure; foreigners from non tropical countries have no such resistance. While it is not yet possible to be inoculated against malaria, limited protection is simple; either a daily or weekly tablet (the later is more common). The tablets kill the parasites in your bloodstream before they have a chance to multiply and cause illness.
If you’re traveling with children or if you’re pregnant then the story with anti-malaria tablets is more complex. Basically, the problem is that some anti-malarial medicines may stay in your system for up to a year after the last dose is taken and may cause birth defects. So if you get pregnant or are planning to get pregnant within 12 months of taking-anti malaria your unborn child could be endangered. With newer drugs there’s not much information around on the effects of long-term use: It should be noted that malaria can be passed from the mother to child at birth.
A sensible precaution is to avoid being bitten in the first place. Many Vietnamese hotels are equipped with mosquito nets and you’d be wise to use them. In the evenings when mosquitoes are most active, cover bare skin, particularly the ankles. Use an insect repellent – any brand that contains the ingredient diethyl-toluamide (‘deet’) should work well; on the condition they contain at least 40% of the product. Autan and Off! are two such popular brands widely available in Asia.
The liquid form of this stuff often comes in a leaky bottle, making for a rather messy back-pack – you can avoid this hassle if you buy in a stick form. Mosquito coils work well, though the smoke thus produced irritates the lungs and eyes. Having an electric fan blowing on you while you sleep is very effective at keeping the mosquitoes away, but you might wind up with a cold instead. Finally, it’s been found that large doses of vitamin B complex are excreted through the skin and seem to act as a mild mosquito repellent, but don’t count on this alone.
Treating malaria is complicated and something you should not undertake yourself except in an emergency. Blood tests are needed to determine if you in fact have malaria rather than dengue fever, and the choice of drugs depends on how well you react to them (some people are allergic to quinine, for example). However, if you are far from hospitals and doctors, you may have no other choice than self-treatment, except to die. The most common drugs for treatment are fansidar and quinine (often taken in combination), but note that these drugs are not candy – allergic reactions can occur and are sometimes fatal. And even if you think you’ve cured yourself, you still need to get to a hospital and have blood tests – otherwise they is the strong possibility of relapse.
For prevention, the most common anti-malaria drugs are chloroquine, maloprim and doxycycline (the latter for very short-term use only), but new drugs are constantly under development. Chloroquine and maloprim are often prescribed by doctors to be taken in combination in order to guard against resistance to either one, but in the long term this is not a good practice. A lot of travelers are confused about what they should and should not be taking for malaria prevention – you should definitely consult a doctor before taking anything.
Vaccine : No effective vaccine is available today.
A brief rundown on common anti-malarial drugs follows (note that all dosages are for adults):
Nivaquine® (Chloroquine) : The most commonly prescribed drug for malaria prevention, it is extremely effective against P vivax malaria but only about 60% effective against P.falciparum. Chloroquine is safe in pregnancy. Long-term use (over five years) of chloroquine has caused permanent retinal damage to the eyes in some people. Other side effects which have been reported include nausea, dizziness, headache, blurred vision, confusion, and itching, but such problems are rare.
Chloroquine tablets are available in 100 mg for adults, and syrup for young children. Make sure you know which you have. The preventive dose is 300 mg weekly (either two small tablets or one large). You have to start taking the tablets two weeks before entering the malarial zone and continue taking them for about four to six weeks after you’ve left it.
Chloroquine can be used as a treatment for P vivax. Treatment dose is 1000 mg initially, then 500 mg at six, 24 and 48 hours.
Paludrine® (Proguanil) : can be associated (2 tablets daily) to Chloroquine in prevention of malaria, in case of area of chloroquine-resistance
Lariam® (Mefloquine): is available in 250 and 50 mg tablets. It can be used in preventive dose, one tablet weekly, or as a treatment in case of malaria. This product should be used only when traveling outside for short trips, to avoid that appear some resistance against the product. It should not be given in case of pregnancy. The risk of side-effects is high.
Maloprim® : This is an effective malaria preventative especially if combined with chloroquine. This drug can cause severe (even life-threatening) allergic reaction in sensitive people. Because of the danger of such side affects, maloprim should be taken only once a week even though higher dosages would be more effective. It is not recommended during pregnancy. Long-term use (over three months) can reduce the white blood cell count in some people. This drug is fairly expensive.
Doxycyline : This is a good preventative for the short-term (under one month) traveler. It is definitely not recommended for long-term use. Doxycyline is a long-acting tetracycline (anti-biotic). It is not recommended during pregnancy, breast feeding for children. Side effects include nausea, photosensitivity (severe sunburn) and vaginal yeast infections in women. It should not be taken with milk products.
The preventive dose is 100 mg (one pill) daily. Treatment dose (with quinine) is 100 mg two times daily for seven days. You should start taking doxycyline the day you enter the malarial area, and stop taking it the day you leave. Doxycyline is often taken in combination with chloroquine.
Fansidar : This is an effective treatment against P falciparum malaria but fansidar is a poor drug against P vivax. It is only used as a treatment (not a preventative) because of the risk of severe allergic reactions. Also it is not recommended during pregnancy, especially the last trimester. It should not be taken at all if they is a history of sulfa allergy. For treatment, three tablets are taken in a single dose. Fansidar is usually taken in combination with quinine.
Halfan® : is used as a curative treatment of P. falciparum malaria, in area of chloroquine-resistance. It should not be given during pregnancy and breast feeding.
Quinine : This is the drug of choice for treating severe and resistant P. falciparum malaria and cerebral malaria. It should only be used as a treatment, not as a preventative. Quinine is taken for at least five days with tetracycline, doxycyline or fansidar. The dose is 600 mg every eight hours. If given alone, it should be continued for at least eight days (until blood slide is clear) or for 14 days if no blood test is available. In this stage of pregnancy, it should be used sparingly. Side affects include ringing in the ears, tremor, and allergic reactions (sometimes severe). There is some resistance to quinine and it is a bit less effective against P vivax than chloroquine.
Qing Haosu (Artemesinine) : This herbal medicine from China has generated much interest in medical circles recently. Qing haosu has been know since at least the 4th century when it was used to treat fevers, but only recently has its anti-malaria properties been established. It’s important to note that just because this is an ‘herbal medicine’ it does not mean that it’s harmless, Quinine – made from the bark of the cinchona tree – is also an herbal medicine but it is certainly not harmless. At the time of this writing, qing haosu was only available in China because studies have not yet been completed to determine the proper dosage and possible side effects. Preliminary testing in animals suggest it is toxic to the fetus and therefore not recommended in pregnancy.
What to do ?
Must we systematically recommend a prevention against malaria? The disease exists, and must be treated in case of clinic manifestations. To recommend a prevention is good sense.
But the risk to catch the disease is lower in urban areas; the expatriates living here have better homes, cars, air conditioning, so they are less exposed. Most of them in cities do not take any prevention. In case of Malaria, they should see a doctor immediately and take a curative treatment if an unexplained fever occurs.
Must everybody do this? Certainly not. Travelers are most exposed; rural areas are more infected; a prevention should be taken, and continued during six weeks after risk exposure.
Diseases from Food and Water
People get sick from a variety of sources anywhere in the world. Polluted air, exposure to others who have infectious illnesses, accidents, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, exposure to infected insects, and contaminated food and water all play roles in making us ill. The most common illnesses, however, (and some of the most serious as well) come from our food and water. We can’t do much about the insects or the air pollution, but there can be little doubt that paying careful attention to how our food and water is prepared will go a long way toward keeping us healthier while living here in Vietnam.
In the next few sections a variety of medical problems are discussed which are usually caused by the food and water we eat and drink. By understanding something about these different diseases we can be more conscious of how to prevent them.
There are quite a large number of intestinal infections which are seen in expatriate patients living in the Developing World, and two of the most dangerous infections are typhoid fever and cholera. While neither of them are particular common in expatriates here, it is important for people to understand the nature of these two important infections. With good medical care these diseases would rarely pose a threat to life in most expatriates, but if neglected, misdiagnosed, or inadequately treated, they can pose a significant threat to an individual. Also we will see in this section Gardiasis, Amebiasis, and the “General Tummy Troubles”.
This is a generalized infection caused by Salmonella typhi. The diagnosis is frequently made by doctors in the Developing World, but it is actually quite rare in expatriates. Epidemiology of the infection involves spread via fecal contamination of food and water from either individuals who have the actual disease or from “carriers”. This latter group of individuals have the bacteria in their body and can spread it to other people but they have no symptoms of the disease.
Transmission of the infection in our expatriate community most commonly occurs through food contaminated by food handlers. Flies may also spread the organism from feces to food. One of the most common methods of spread of the infection in communities with poor sanitation is by contaminated water. This is most certainly one of the main methods of spread here in Vietnam where the disease is considered endemic in some areas.
Symptoms of the disease vary greatly between individual patients. The onset of the infection is very suggestive of an influenza-like illness. There is usually fever, headache, loss of appetite, and constipation.
This is an acute infection of the small intestine which is characterized by profuse watery diarrhea, vomiting, muscular cramps, and dehydration.
Epidemiology of the disease centers around the spread of the disease by contaminated water supplies. Sea foods and other foods contaminated by the excrement of persons with the infection are also common causes of the infection.
Symptoms of the disease are, as in the case of typhoid, somewhat variable. Generally the disease involves the abrupt onset of painless, watery diarrhea which causes rapid and severe dehydration. The dehydration itself is usually the cause of the serious complications of the infection.
Diagnosis is based on finding the causative organism (Vibrio cholera) in the stool examination. It is important to confirm the diagnosis with laboratory examinations because the symptoms are often not unlike those of other intestinal infections.
Prophylaxis is based on avoiding contaminated foods and water. The cholera vaccine is not considered effective by most international health organizations, and it probably is of no real benefit in protecting expatriates from getting the infection.
Treatment chiefly involves replacing the lost fluids and salts which the patient has lost because of the diarrhea. This must be done as quickly as possible. While simple oral hydration is usually adequate, rehydration with intravenous fluids and a course of antibiotics may be necessary.
Giardia infection is characterized by explosive watery diarrhea without blood or pus in the stools. The odor of the stool and the accompanying gas are foul smelling. Other symptoms include abdominal bloating or swelling, nausea, sulfur-like (rotten egg) belching, loss of appetite, headache, and even some weight loss. Fat and fat-soluble vitamin absorption are blocked so stools may appear greasy or frothy. It is also not uncommon for patients to complain of worse symptoms after drinking milk.
The cysts of giardia are usually found in contaminated water and on dishes or utensils rinsed with contaminated water. The cysts are killed by boiling water for five minutes and by washing dishes with soap or detergent.
Giardia infections are often chronic: symptoms appear, last 24 to 48 hours, disappear and reappear several times. At other times the individual may be heavily infected (and pass it on to family members) and have no symptoms whatsoever. The diagnosis is made by examining the patient’s stool specimens to search for the cysts of the parasite. Although this is not an easy parasite to diagnose by stool examinations, three fresh stool specimens on alternate days will usually uncover the infection. At times the diagnosis is difficult to establish and it is necessary to treat the patient based only on the clinical symptoms. Medical treatment is necessary to eliminate giardia.
Amebic dysentery is caused by ingesting cysts (or “eggs”) of pathogenic ameba in water, on raw vegetables and in food contaminated by infected food handlers. The onset of symptoms may be abrupt or slow to develop after infection. Symptoms which may be absent or difficult to describe usually include fatigue, colicky lower abdominal pain and alteration of bowel habits. More serious infections are characterized by stools which contain blood and mucus, fever, moderate to severe abdominal pain and an enlarged liver.
Amebic infection is a potentially serious illness and it requires treatment, so seek medical help if you notice a change in your bowel habits. Because many persons who are infected with ameba are asymptomatic (but capable of spreading the disease) it is a good idea for food handlers and family members to have semi-annual stool examinations. It is also important to keep in mind that the infection in the colon may be healed but it is still possible to have the parasites in areas outside of the colon (e.g., in the liver or elsewhere). It is important that after you have been treated for the acute infection (usually with Flagyl or Fasigyn)that you also take a total of 20 days of another drug (Iodoquinol). This will also help make sure that all of the cysts are dead and that you are no longer a danger to other people.
“General tummy troubles”
While “general tummy troubles” does not sound like a very scientific or medical diagnosis, it is probably as good as any other name for the most common problem coming seen in the Medical Unit. “Gas,” abdominal cramps, mild or occasional nausea, poor appetite (often accompanied by slow, persistent weight gain), “loose” bowel movements, and a general feeling that “all is not right” in your abdomen are all symptoms of this particular condition. There are people who had lived overseas for many years who develop these symptoms for the first time here in Vietnam, but more commonly it shows up in people who are fairly new to overseas life. While it is more commonly seen in people who have “sensitive stomachs” before they come overseas, this is also not always the case. Incidentally, this condition is in no way unique to Vietnam. It is seen to many Developing World countries and its presentation here in Vietnam is no different than it is in other countries.
If you have any of these symptoms it is important for you to make a visit to your doctor to make sure that there is no some specific infection or parasite infestation causing your problem. This is especially true if you have noticed any blood in your stools, if you have had a persistent weight loss, or if the symptoms are associated with any fever or other symptoms suggestive of some other illness. While in many cases it is simply not be possible to make a specific diagnosis of your problem, it is still very important for you to have diseases such as giardiasis, amebiasis, bacillary dysentery, etc., ruled-out. This can only be done by a visit to the doctor.
After the more dangerous diagnoses have been ruled-out, you should discuss with your doctor some things you can do to make yourself feel better. There are usually no magic cures for this problem, but knowing that there is not a dangerous underlying condition will certainly help. With some management of your diet and possibly some medication from the doctor you can certainly improve the situation considerably.
Chinese Restaurant Syndrome
Diners at local restaurants sometimes experience a group of symptoms that have come to be known as local-restaurant syndrome. Some recent studies have shown that monosodium glutamate (or MSG) might cause this evanescent trouble. Some tests done on susceptible people have shown that the symptoms were worse in people who consumed the MSG on an empty stomach. This result may explain why noodle soup is frequently identified as the offending food. (Actually, another study shows that the symptoms seemed to occur in some people whether or not they consumed MSG, so it is safe to say that the cause of Chinese Restaurant Syndrome is not really known.)
The syndrome, which begin within 15 to 25 minutes of ingestion, rarely persists beyond two hours. Burning sensations usually begin in the chest and spread to the neck, shoulders, forearms, abdomen, and, rarely, the thighs. Lacrimation (tearing of one’s eyes) and diaphoresis (sweating) often follow. Tightness and a sense of pressure in the face and behind the eyes are experiences by some diners. Others report precordial or substernal (chest) pressure which can radiate to the shoulders or neck thereby mimic heart attack. Less common symptoms include headache, syncope, palpitation, and ventricular tachycardia.
Although the syndrome is usually harmless, some individuals appear to be excessively susceptible. The manifestations of the syndrome should be described to individuals who have cardiac disease.
A preventive strategy is available to lovers of local food; tell the waiter, “No MSG.”
Warning : Most of the food contain MSG in Vietnam. Even if you specify no MSG be very careful if you are sensitive, or allergic.
Japanese B encephalitis
Japanese Encephalitis is a viral infection which is transmitted by mosquitoes. It may occur in epidemics during the last summer and autumn in northern tropical areas and in temperate regions of China, Bangladesh, Burma, India, Japan, Korea, most of the southeast Asia, and in the eastern areas of the former Soviet union. There have been some cases reported even from northern regions, including tropical areas of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, and southern India and Thailand, were transmission occurs year round.
In Vietnam, the disease is endemic or hyperendemic, occurs in all provinces from May to October; the north of the country and rural areas are most infected. Highest rates are found in and near Hanoi (MMWR, Vol. 42/N. RR-1, Jan 8, 1993).
Persons at highest risk are those who live for extended periods in endemic or epidemic areas. The risk for short-term travelers to urban centers is low, and in temperate countries, the risk for travelers to either an urban to a rural area is negligible during the winter.
Although Japanese Encephalitis is uncommon, prevention is important for travelers to epidemic or endemic areas because the risk of serious neurologic dosage is high. (The case fatality rate range from 10 to 50% ). Exposure to mosquitoes should be minimized by the use of insect repellents, protective clothing, and mosquito screens. In addition, vaccination should be considered for persons who will travel during summer monsoon months, for those who will visit rural area, and for those planning to stay more than one month in urban or rural areas. A safe and effective vaccine has been prepared by Japan. Three doses of the vaccine are administered, and at least seven days should elapse between doses. A booster dose is given 12 to 18 months later and at three or four-year intervals thereafter.
Problem with AIDS
AIDS in Vietnam
The first case of sero-positive AIDS in Vietnam was detected in December 1990. A second case was detected in April 1992, March 1993: 111 cases, December 1993: 1,087 cases.
It is clear that this decease has a rapid evolution in Vietnam. It seems that the drug addicts are still on the top of the list.
At this moment the statistics do not represent the real picture of the evolution. Your employees coming to Vietnam should be careful. There are at this moment 3 laboratories where HIV test can be done:
- Pasteur Institute
- Blood Transfusion and Hematology Department
- Medical Prevention Center
But the prevention is the only solution. Enclosed are few tips for your staff:
What is it? HIV primarily infect the type of white blood cell known as the CD4 T lymphocyte, multiplying within these cells before destroying them. The HIV virus itself causes a serious central nervous system infection, intestinal dysfunction characterized by diarrhea and other problems. In addition, the loss of T cells greatly impairs the body’s ability to defend itself against many kinds of infections.
How does it spread and how I can protect myself? Despite initial concerns that AIDS could spread widely via insects and other vectors, the original described routes remain the only proven ways to get AIDS. There four ways to contract HIV infection.
1. Sexual contact :
Although initially felt to be a disease spread primarily by homosexual contact amongst males, it had become abundantly clear that heterosexual contact is an efficient way to transmit the virus. As pointed out above heterosexual transmission has increased dramatically in the U.S.A., and the World Health Organization estimates that three-quarters of the 8 to 10 million infected adults world-wide have acquired the virus through heterosexual transmission.
Protection. Besides abstinence, a monogamous long-term sexual in exchanging bodily fluids, e.g., hugging, social kissing, and massage. When you have sexual contact with a new partner, you can diminish your risk of contracting the disease, but no method is absolutely safe. For instance, the CDC asserts that condom have 15 per cent failure rate in heterosexual intercourse as evidenced by pregnancies and venereal disease transmission. None-the-less, usage of sturdy latex condom does diminish the risk. Lambskin or sheepskin condom are much less effective, and only water-based lubricants should be used, because oil-containing substances (lotions, baby oil, etc.)weaken condoms. Additionally, Nonoxonyl-9, a spermicide sometimes included on the condom or purchased separately does kill HIV and lessen risk. Anyone who is HIV-positive should avoid any insertive or receptive intercourse.
2. Contaminated blood :
Since the introduction of routine screening of all transfused blood, the transmission of AIDS by contaminated blood has decreased dramatically. It has not been eliminated however, as the tests can miss the virus very early in the disease. Experts predict that about one in very 40,000 units of transfused blood may harbor the virus. You cannot get AIDS from donating blood. Only from receiving contaminating blood or blood products.
3. Infected needles :
Transmission of the virus via contaminated instruments (primarily needles used by intravenous drug abusers) is a very efficient means of transmitting AIDS. Approximately 24 per cent of the American cases reported in 1990 were acquired this way. A dentist in Florida infected 4 of his patients, presumably by inadequate attention to proper instrument use and sterilization. But is important to note that these are only 4 cases known to have been transmitted by American health care providers. In one study, 2,160 patients who had undergone surgery by an HIV-positive physician were checked and only one was positive. That patient was a known IV-drug abuser and was probably positive at the time of surgery.
Protection: Be sure that hospitals only use disposable, sterile needles, and carefully sterilize their surgical equipment. But prior to any treatment, please contact your SOS® doctor
4. Perinatal transmission :
Infants born to HIV-infected mothers have a 40 percent chance of being infected. By the end of 1991, approximately 3,000 American children will have AIDS. Over 80 percent of whom acquired it from their mother during birth. These cases rose by 38 percent from 1988 to 1989 .
Can AIDS be cured? A number of drugs have been tried and two (zidovudine or AZT and dideoxyinosine) have been shown to temporarily slow down the progression of the disease. But at present, despite a great deal of research, there is neither a cure nor a vaccine for AIDS. Prevention is the only effective measure.
Are foreign people working overseas at increased risks? As per the above discussion, the only increased risk expatriates face is via contaminated blood if they require emergency transfusions. We emphasize the necessity of careful, alcohol-free driving, and seat belts because car accidents are the most likely cause of emergency transfusions. Employing domestic servants does not pose any inherently increased risk for AIDS.
by Nancy Piet-pelon
Living abroad is a stressful experience even for individuals and families who make careful decisions and preparation for the transition. We consider stress, therefore, a “fact of life,” something built in which must be dealt with in a normal course of our lives overseas.
The specific causes are many and include : culture shock, the sudden encounter with so much that is new and different, the coincidence of a major life passage or transition, the stereotypes your host nationals have of you, feelings of isolation and loneliness, disappointed expectations, communication problems, both verbal (linguistic) and non-verbal (cultural), the distance from home and the anticipation or actual arrival of bad news, your children’s adjustment problems, the dissatisfaction of not having the right job situation—or no job at all (a high stress problem for spouses), physical illness, feeling out of touch with your home and the world as you knew it. All of these can be stress-producing and most are situation we live with everyday.
You will not lead the stress-free life overseas ( or anywhere in the world!) but you can learn enough about yourself to minimize the stress and to function effectively even when you are very pressed. You start by knowing your stress warning signs. Some of the most common are:
- Anger which is difficult to control — Are you yelling at people for little or no reason ?
- Excesses — Are you suddenly drinking, eating or smoking without control? Do you drink more than this time last year or last month? How many packs of cigarettes do you consume in a day? Are cookies your best friends?
- Nervous tensions — Have you lost your ability to concentrate? do you have sleepless nights?
- Physical illness — Have you turned those vague feelings of discomfort into real illnesses by thinking about them all the time?
- Withdrawal or denial — Are you spending your days in your room and your evenings in a “safe haven”? Do you keep your “nose in a book” in the car so you don’t have to see the world around you? do you try to pretend you don’t live here or that the place will go away if you ignore it?
- Depression, malaise, crying, hiding — Are these all a part of your life?
These are a few of the obvious signs of stress. Do you recognize them in yourself? Do you know when you are tense? If you don’t, you need to spend some time thinking about yourself and your reactions to difficult situations. If you do know your signs of stress, you are ready to turn that stress created energy into positive action. In other words, you can relieve the stress when you recognize it.
What are some simple ways to relieve stress?
- Stocktaking — There may be some bad things going on in your life. Identify things you can and cannot control.
- Work on control — There are many things that are out of our control on overseas life but there also things we can control. An example is our body — the food we eat, the exercise we do, the weight we gain or lose as a result. Set body goals and “head” goals (improving your mind) rather than letting life just happen.
- Learn your way around — This is includes physically learning your way around the new environment and culturally and linguistically learning as well. The more familiar you become with your environment, the more pleasant and simple it will seem to live in it.
- Move with the rhythms of the country and relax — Westerners put enormous importance on time and the use of it, causing extra anxiety to themselves when the people of the host country move at a slower, more tropical pace. It is unlikely that you can change the centuries-old time pattern of your host country so why not relax and live on their schedule?
In many countries in Asia, time is not money, time is cheap.
- Seek a support group and work to maintain it — Your family can be your major support group as long as the communication lines are kept open and functioning through constant care for one another. Other people who share mutual interests are potential support group members. Share your concerns — don’t wait for someone to notice that you are upset.
- Seek a change of scene — Take time off for week-ends in the mountains or at the beach. Take vacations. No one is indispensable at work at the relaxed perspective gained from some time off more than compensates for a few days out of the office.
- Maintaining a sense of humor — Have you looked at yourself lately and enjoyed what you see? Can you laugh at some of the situations you put yourself into? If you can’t you might try to contrive a little humor by enjoying a comedian or funny film. Laughter is one of the world’s best medicines — especially for gaining a perspective on yourself and your stress.
- Ask for help — Sometimes we cannot help ourselves. The problem we have are overwhelming. There are those in the community who can and will help, but you have to ask.
In the following sections we will discuss the different ways to approach getting safe drinking water while you live in Vietnam. It is important to keep mind that drinking contaminated water is one of the most common ways to pick-up an “enteric” (intestinal) infection. Furthermore, some of the most serious infections (such as typhoid fever) are most commonly spread by contaminated drinking water.
Vietnamese themselves are fairly cautious about their drinking water, and expatriates who have lived here for long periods of time have learned from experience how important it is to be sure that the water (or mixed drinks, or ice, etc.) has been treated properly before it is consumed.
Drinking Water in Your Home
Generally, “professionally” bottled water is widely available and recommended for all of your drinking requirements in your home. Home delivery is also available and more convenient.
See “Water” on page 29.
Drinking Water Disinfection Methods
The following recommendations for water disinfection practices based on a continuing review of efficacy of various disinfecting agent and methods. The more recent studies have been conducted with improved methods for determining the cysts viability and destruction of the hepatitis A virus (HAV) using primates and improved HAV in vitro culture techniques.
All studies show the effectiveness of both chlorine and iodine are significantly influenced by the temperature, pH, and the halogen demand of the treated water as well as the amount of contact time.
Another important consideration is the shelf life and the stability of the disinfecting agent. Both Globaline-type tablets (iodine) and Halazone tablets (chlorine) deteriorate with time even if they are in sealed bottles. The rate of the deterioration is significantly increased when the package is opened. Liquid chlorine (bleach) deteriorates after the bottle is opened by out-gassing of the chlorine from solution.
A. Recommendations of boiling time
A 5-minute boil will effectively kill hepatitis-A virus which is more heat resistant, with a margin of safety to allow for the fall in boiling point as a function of altitude (1 degree F. for each 550 feet of elevation), and the possibility that the water was not filtered before boiling.
Therefore, it is especially important to boil the water for an adequate period if the water has particular matter in it.
B. Products to purify water
- Micropur®: It is a German product, that contains some silver, and has an antiseptic effect.
- Hydrochlonazone®: contains some chlorine inside; add one tablet in one liter of water. These 2 products are those we recommend first. Hydrochlonazone is easy to find, Micropur not.
C. Iodine-containing tablets
Globaline, Potable Aqua and EDWGT-Coughlans tablets all have the same formulation. If the iodine containing tablets do not show signs of deterioration (see warning below) use 1 tablet per liter if water is clear, and a 30 minute contact time. If water is cloudy or very cold use 2 tablets per liter and a 30 minute contact time. If tablets are not grayish blue in color use 2 tablets if water is clear or cloudy and a contact time of 30 minutes.
Cloudy water should be filtered through a cloth, such as a handkerchief, prior to adding tablets. Each tablet will release 8 mg of free iodine when fresh. These tablets are not recommended for iodine sensitive persons.
WARNING : Inspect tablets before using. If they are not a grayish blue, significant iodine has been lost. With deterioration the color fades and turns yellow to yellow green and the tablets become crumbly. The shelf life of tablets in a sealed bottle under normal storage condition is stated to be 4 years. High temperatures will shorten shelf life. Cost of Portable Aqua and Coughlans tablets are approximately 3 dollars per bottle of 50 tablets. All tablets are produced by Wisconel Pharmacal Co.
D. Tincture or aqueous solution of iodine
The iodine concentration in the liquid preparation is frequently uncertain. In addition they can leak while in luggage and stain clothing. For these reasons they are not recommended.
E. Water Tech water-purifier cup
This pour through cup contains a resin pentacide ( anionic resin/iodine combination) that releases iodine on bacteria and viruses. Cysticidal action requires contact time of several minutes to allow the iodine to penetrate the cyst wall.
Drinking Water in Vietnam
As you have observed, most Vietnamese prefer tea, bottle soft drinks, or just about anything else — but rarely untreated water. Most Vietnamese are fairly careful about boiling their water that they do drink – delivery system remains the problem. Furthermore, in some seasons typhoid fever is seen quite regularly in major Vietnamese cities, and one of the leading causes of the spread of this disease is the drinking water supply.
All water consumed in Vietnam should be boiled or otherwise treated to make it free of any pathogens. While most of restaurants are generally very good about this, it is difficult to be really sure just how well the water has been treated unless you supervise it yourself. Furthermore, any people (including some working in restaurant) have the very mistaken notion that freezing water make it free of any pathogens. Of course, it is simply not true.
The best advice when eating out is to avoid drinks unless they are bottled or boiled (such as tea or coffee). Bottled water (import or domestic) is considered quite safe and it is available in many restaurants. Just keep in mind that the ice that is served with the drink may not be as safe as the drink and might best be avoided.
Many expatriates prefer to buy local produce (such as meat or poultry) because the items are often tastier and fresher than that which comes frozen from overseas. Most countries have local produce available in the markets and there is no health risk to using these as long as some simple precaution are taken.
Be sure that the produce you buy appears fresh and smells fresh. Purchasing it from a fairly reliable source (such as a store you trust) certainly helps to assure higher quality.
For fruits and vegetables it is a good idea to clean them carefully with water that has been “sterilized” by adjunction of potassium permanganate. This compound is easy to find and inexpensive; the water must appear rose, or violet. Then, rinse with water and peel your fruits or vegetables.
Important : The water which contains potassium permanganate is not potable.
If you purchase the food item in the frozen state and don’t expect to use it soon, keep it frozen until you wish to use it. Thawing it out and then refreezing it is not considered safe. When you do thaw it out, be sure to thaw it out in the refrigerator— not at room temperature. Letting the meat’s temperature stay for any time at room temperature encourages the growth of the few bacteria which are always present even on properly prepared produce.
When you are cutting up the meat or chicken, use a plastic cutting board. These are much easier to keep clean than wooden ones and tests have shown that bacterial growth on them is not as much as with wooden cutting boards. Furthermore, it is probably best to use a different cutting board to cut up meat and poultry than the one you use for salad items and other things that you don’t expect to cook. The inevitable contamination of these raw vegetables by the bacteria present on the meat and poultry present a significant risk.
Finally we come to the ultimate precaution— make sure that all locally purchased meat and poultry are thoroughly cooked. There are no pathogens (bacteria, parasite, or virus) which can survive proper cooking of the food they have contaminated. This usually presents no problem with poultry as most people (fortunately) prefer to have chicken thoroughly cooked. But most of us who like “pink” steaks hate to see them ruined by being over cooked. Nevertheless, there is no other way to assure that the bacteria in them will not harm us.
A. Basic immunization schedule for children
2 months : TETRACOQ #1 (Tetanus, Diphtheria, Polio, Pertussis), HIB #1
3 months : TETRACOQ #2, HIB #2
4 months : TETRACOQ #3, HIB #3
7 months : MMR
12 months : TB skin test, BCG vaccine, if the skin test is negative, and if the child is not yet vaccinated.
15 months : TETRACOQ booster, HIB booster
Tetracoq® is a vaccine against Tetanus, Poliomyelitis, Diphtheria, and Pertussis.
MMR is a living vaccine against Measles, Mumps, and Rubella.
Children’s Paracetamol, or Aspirin may be given to the child at 4-6 hour intervals following any immunization to relieve the fever and irritability which some children experience. It is not unusual for the irritability to last for 24 hours or more following DPT or MMR immunizations.
B. Important Additional Immunizations
In additional to the above immunizations, the following immunizations are also considered important for children living in Vietnam:
Children and adults are immunized with three doses. We generally prefer to delay this immunization until the child is at least 12-18 months of age unless they are at unusually high risk of exposure to Japanese encephalitis.
Children and adults are immunized with three doses of the vaccine: day 1, day 30, and at 6 months. The immunization can be given to the children as early as the neonatal period, but as the risk of infection is minimal, we usually start the series at the age of one year.
As with Hepatitis-B
Immunization against typhoid is important if your children are exposed to improperly prepared food. Of course, typhoid is the bacterial infection which can be both diagnosed and treated in a suitable medical clinic.
Typhim Vi is a new vaccine. One injection only is needed; booster done after 3 years.
Children over the age of 6 (who can swallow capsules) and adults can take the oral form (Vivotif)of this immunization. This is given as one tablet every other day for the total of 4 doses. The timing for the booster dose has yet to be determined.
The primary series is two doses separated by four or more weeks. A booster every three years is recommend.
Children and adults are immunized with three doses: on day 1, day 30, and the third dose at 1 year. Booster dose is recommended after 3 years.
C. Immunization Schedule for Adults
The following schedule of immunization “boosters” is recommended. (It is important to note that you must also keep current on the childhood” immunizations. For example, the Hepatitis-B immunization may have not been given as a child, so it is important every adult who didn’t receive it as a child should receive it as an adult.
IMMUNIZATION FREQUENCY OF BOOSTER
Tetanus Every 8 years
Hepatitis-A Every 5 years
Hepatitis-B Every 5 years
Japanese-B Every 3 years
Oral Polio Not usually recommended
Rabies Every 3 years
TB Skin Test Every year
Tetanus-Diptheria-Polyo Every year
– Typhim Vi Every 3 years
– Oral (Vivotif Berna)
Yellow Fever Every 10 years
International SOS® Assistance Vietnam
In this section, you will find some referral for minor problems. But it is important to always contact the SOS® office before. We will organize an appointment for you, and also our doctor will monitor your medical condition.
A. Physicians :
Dr Erik Sandholm : Toserco Building
358 Road Van Phuc , Hanoi
Tel : 2.52464 (clinic & home)
2.52444 (compound office)
Telefax : 84 (4) 245389
B. Hospitals :
International Hospital :
Giai Phong Street
Tel. : 62089 – 62083
Bach Mai Hospital : Giai Phong Avenue
So 6 E4 Va A8 F27
TT Dai Hoc Y, Hanoi
Tel : 84 (4) 522089 International Dpt
84 (4) 522083
84 (4) 25373, 253732, 253733, 253734
Fax : 84 (4) 291607
Saint Paul Hospital :
59 Tran Phu, Hanoi
Tel : 84 (4) 233061
233062 (emergency unit)
Dental care :
Institute of odonto – stomatology and maxillo – facial surgery ( Viet Duc Hospital )
40 B Trang Thi, Hanoi
Tel : 84 (4) 269722
254336 (maxillo-facial department)
2. Ho Chi Minh City
A. Heart Institute:
It is a French foundation. It is the only hospital with a foreign doctor in Saigon.
– Main activities: Heart surgery
– Foreign out patient consultation and hospitalization:
This consultation is only opened to foreigners and expatriates.
Physician : Dr Boudet
Address : 520 Nguyen Tri Phuong, Q.10, HCMC
For appointment, please contact SOS® Ho Chi Minh who will arrange an appointment with the doctor.
The Cho-Ray hospital:
Address: 210 B Nguyen Chi Thanh street, Q. 5, HCMC
Tel: 554137, 554138, 558794, 558863
Center for medical diagnostic: (Radiology, ultrasonography, biology).
Address: 254 Hoa Hao street, Q10, HCMC
Pager : 281- 2369
Institute Pasteur: for biologic exams
Address: 167 Pasteur street, Q.3, HCMC
Tel : 230352
222883 (French counselor)
C. Other Medical Referrals:
155 B Tran Quoc Thao, Q. 3, HCMC
There is a French speaking pharmacist at :
199 Hai Ba Trung street
Distr. 3, HCMC
E. Dental Care:
City Center for Odontology and Maxillo facial surgery
Address: 280 Dien Bien Phu, Dist. 3, HCMC
Tel : 225052
Institute of Odontology and Maxillo facial surgery
Address : 201 A Nguyen Chi Thanh, Dist. 11, HCMC
(next door to Cho Ray hospital)
Tel : 5569311, 556732
Faculty of Dentistry
* Office No. 9
Address : 652 Nguyen Trai Q. 5, HCMC
Tel : 559225
* Office No 27
Address : 02 Phu Dong Thien Vuong, Q. 5, HCMC
It is important to mention these facilities can be use in case of emergency to remove the pain. But prior to any appointment, please contact the SOS® doctor on duty. For extensive treatment, we will refer your employees to facilities outside Vietnam.