Tourist information on Vietnam is at a premium. The Vietnamese government maintains a handful of tourist promotion offices and a smattering of accredited travel agencies around the globe, most of which can supply you with only the most general information.
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Vietnam is seven hours ahead of London, twelve hours ahead of New York, fifteen hours ahead of Los Angeles, one hour behind Perth and three hours behind Sydney – give or take an hour or two when summer time is in operation.
Tourist information on Vietnam is at a premium. The Vietnamese government maintains a handful of tourist promotion offices and a smattering of accredited travel agencies around the globe, most of which can supply you with only the most general information. A better source of information, much of it based on firsthand experiences, is the internet, with numerous websites around to help you plan your visit. Some of the more useful and interesting sites are travelfish.org, a regularly-updated online guide to Southeast Asia; worldtravelguide.net, a viewer-friendly source of information on Vietnam and other countries; Wactivetravelvietnam.com, with helpful information about national parks and beaches; and Wthingsasian.com, which consists mostly of features on Asian destinations and culture.
In Vietnam itself there’s a frustrating dearth of free and impartial advice. The state-run tourist offices – under the auspices of either the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (Wvietnamtourism.com) or the local provincial organization – are thinly disguised tour agents, profit-making concerns which don’t take kindly to being treated as information bureaux, though the official website has a lot of useful information about destinations and practicalities such as visas. In any case, Western concepts of information don’t necessarily apply here – bus timetables, for example, simply don’t exist. The most you’re likely to get is a glossy brochure detailing their tours and affiliated hotels.
You’ll generally have more luck approaching hotel staff or one of the many private tour agencies operating in all the major tourist spots, where staff have become accustomed to Westerners’ demands for advice.
Another useful source of information, including restaurant and hotel listings as well as feature articles, is the growing number of English-language magazines, such as Asialife, The Word and The Guide. There’s also a government-run telephone information service (T1080) with some English-speaking staff who will answer all manner of questions – if you can get through, since the lines are often busy.
TRAVELLERS WITH SPECIAL NEEDS
Despite the fact that Vietnam is home to so many war-wounded, few provisions are made for the disabled. This means you’ll have to be pretty self-reliant. It’s important to contact airlines, hotels and tour companies as far in advance as possible to make sure they can accommodate your requirements.
Getting about can be made a little easier by taking internal flights, or by renting a private car or minibus with a driver. Taxis are widely available in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and other major cities. Even so, trying to cross roads with speeding traffic and negotiating the cluttered and uneven pavements – where pavements exist – pose real problems. Furthermore, few buildings are equipped with ramps and lifts.
When it comes to accommodation, Vietnam’s new luxury hotels usually offer one or two specially adapted rooms. Elsewhere, the best you can hope for is a ground-floor room, or a hotel with a lift.
One, albeit expensive, option is to ask a tour agent to arrange a customized tour. Saigontourist (Wsaigontourist.com) has experience of running tours specifically for disabled visitors.
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