Thursday, August 8, 2013

Preparing for Vietnam

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
Each year I get two weeks of vacation, one in the summer, one in the winter. That does not seem like a lot, and it is not, but I enjoy my job anyway. However, I really needed this vacation. We had decided to check out Vietnam on the recommendation of one of Jackie's coworkers. He really loved the place. Over the course of the next few months, we started to set up our trip.


Where Should We Go?

Ho Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi, Vietnam
The biggest question was planning out the course of our trip. We knew that we wanted to see some sights, eat well, and also relax. Based on Jackie's co-worker's recommendations and my research, we decided to stay a few days in Hanoi, including one day on a junk boat, and the rest of the time on the island of Phu Quoc. All over the internet you can read that it has the best, and least crowded, beaches in the country. At the last minute, I decided to add a long layover in Ho Chi Minh City (a.k.a. Saigon), just so we could get some experiences there too.

Plane Tickets

First we needed plane tickets. We tried many different websites to find flights. One thing that did not work was working directly with Vietnam Airlines. Their website was impossible to get to work (not to mention, if you google "Vietnam Airlines" you get some funky results; it is the .com one, not the others), and on the phone they were equally unhelpful. They simply could not help me book over the phone. +Jackie Eckles found some flights and we booked them through the same travel company that her co-worker had used, Soho Travel.

Visa Fun

We tried in vain to find a safe way to have our visas handled. I read that there were many ways to get ripped off by using online sites to help. Jackie tried the Vietnam embassy in Seoul, but they would never answer the phone. One of the websites looked like it would not be a rip off, but I decided to read about visas on the Vietnamese embassy website, and it listed that website as a fraud... Ugh. Frustrating. We ended up also having Soho Travel handle our visas. It took two weeks to get them back, exactly like they said it would. It was just so much less of a hassle to have them help. They spoke English and it was no fuss at all. A few emails and a quick visit to their office in Hongdae got it done.

Where Should We Sleep?

Our beds at Little Hanoi Diamond

Now we needed places to stay. I love checking Hostelworld to find places. Through there I found a nicely rated place called Little Hanoi Hostel. They helped us book our Ha Long Bay junk boat trip as well. It was all included in the price along with wi-fi, breakfast, and, most importantly, airport pickup and drop off.

The view from our porch at Sea Star Resort in Phu Quoc.
Jackie then started looking for places to stay in Phu Quoc. She did her thing, creating a spreadsheet with the prices and amenities for each place that looked promising. We ended up settling on Sea Star Resort, it came highly recommended from Trip Advisor. It also included airport pickup and drop off, free breakfast, and wi-fi, but also was directly on the beach in our own little hut. I was very excited!

Money

This was the most difficult part. We needed Vietnamese money, know as dong (which, by the way, do not google "where to get vietnamese dong in seoul"). Jackie tried her bank, KB (Kookmin Bank), and they could not exchange for that money. They referred her to KEB, Korean Exchange Bank. I went there because I figured my bank, Hana Bank, could not do it either. The lady at the desk was very sorry and called around to different places before informing me that they could not do it. She said I should do it at the airport. I had heard that was the worst thing to do, but I had no other choice. We were leaving the next day. In hindsight, I figured this would be easy, so I put it off to the end. I hoped it would not come back to bite me.

I tried one last thing. On Facebook, a friend posted that the best exchange rates and lowest fees could be found at Seoul Station. However, when I got there, I was informed they also did not carry Vietnamese money.

One of my co-workers who is well traveled said it is a good idea to exchange a little money before leaving and then most of it when you land in the country. The reasoning is pretty simple: in your country, they have less of the foreign currency and plenty of their own. So they are paying to have the other currency shipped in. Meanwhile, in that other country, they have their own currency, but they do not want to pay to have the foreign currency shipped in, so you are helping them. I can not really say if this works or not because...

I just changed all my money at Seoul's Incheon International Airport. In all honesty, I was frustrated and simply wanted to get it over with. Jackie changed her money at the KB exchange window. I did mine at the Shinhan Bank exchange window. My rate was actually better than hers by .03. I do not know if I got ripped off. So you can gauge what you get, I gave them ₩580,000 and received 9,800,000 VND. Is that good? I am not sure. All I know is, that was more than plenty.

Packing



The last big step was to pack. I knew it was hot in Vietnam and it rained a lot. I brought four t-shirts, 3 pairs of shorts, an umbrella, swim trunks, and underwear, socks, etc. Nothing crazy. It was mostly all new though. I was excited to wear my new clothes!
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