POST & COMMUNICATIONS
Domestic postal rates are cheap; it only costs 800d to mail a letter.
International postal rates are similar to what you pay in European countries – the exact amount depends on the continent to which you are sending. Postcards cost 7000d to Asia, 8000d to Europe and 9000d to the Americas. While these rates might not seem very expensive to you, they are too high for most salaries and locals simply cannot afford to send letters to their friends and relatives abroad. If you would like to correspond with Vietnamese whom you meet during your visit, try leaving them enough stamps to cover postage for several letters, explaining that the stamps were extras you didn’t use and would be of no value at home. Or buy a bunch of Vietnamese stamps, take them home with you and when you write to Vietnamese friends include a few stamps for their replies.
Post offices all over the country usually keep long hours, about 6am to 8pm including weekends and public holidays (even Tet).
Items mailed from anywhere other than large towns and cities are likely to take over a month to arrive at their international destination. Air-mail service from HCMC and Hanoi takes approximately five to 10 days as it readily passes ‘security’.
Express-mail larger service (EMS), available in the larger cities, is perhaps twice as fast as regular air mail. One big advantage is that the letter or small parcel will be registered. There is also a domestic EMS between Hanoi and HCMC (and some smaller cities such as Da Nang and Nha Trang) that promises next day delivery.
Foreigners wishing to send parcels out of Vietnam sometimes have to deal with time consuming inspections of the contents, but this is happening less frequently now. The most important thing is to keep the parcel small. If it’s documents only, you should be OK. Sending out video tapes and the like can be problematic.
Private couriers such as FedEx, DHL, Airborne Express and UPS deliver small parcels or document to both local and international destinations. See the Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City chapters for listings.
Planning on shipping home Vietnamese furniture or moving an entire household? For this you need the services of an international mover. Check the transport service listings in the Guide or Time Out magazines.
Every city, town, village and rural subdis- trict in Vietnam has some sort of post office. Post offices are signed ‘Buu Dien’.
Mail delivery is mostly reliable and fast. However, this reliabitily becomes questionable if your envelope or package contains something worth stealing. One reader in HCMC reported that this mail had been opened and newspaper clippings about the Vietnamese economy removed. Normal letters and postcards should be fine.
Post restante works well in post offices in Hanoi and HCMC. Elsewhere, it’s less certain the smaller the town the less likely the service will exist. Foreigners have to pay a 500d service charge for each letter they pick up from poste restante.
Receiving even a small package from abroad can cause a headache and large ones will produce a migraine. If you’re lucky, customs will clear the package and the post office clerks will let you collect it. If you are unlucky, customs will demand a time consuming inspection at which you must be present.
If your parcel contains books, documents, video tapes, computer disks or dangerous goods, it’s possible that a further inspection will be required. This could take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Presumably, you won’t have to spend the entire time in the waiting room while this is being done. If you are particularly unlucky, customs may decide that you must pay import duty.
Useful Phone Numbers The following phone services are available, but don’t be surprised if the person answering only speaks Vietnamese.
Directory Assistance 116
International Operator 110
Time Information 117
Every city has a general information service (1080) that provides everything from phone numbers and train and air timetables, to exchange rates, and the latest football scores. It even provides marriage counseling or bed time lullabies for your child – no kidding! You can usually be connected to an operator who speaks English o French.
International Calls Charges for international calls from Vietnam have fallen significantly in the past few years. Since the introduction of Voice Over Internet Protocol in 2001, international phone services are now available to 50 different countries and territories at a flat rate of just US$1.30/minute, less than half of the previous cheapest rate. The service is easy to use from any phone in the country; just dial 17100, the country code and the number.
International and domestic long – distance calls can be made at hotels, but it’s expensive. A cheaper alternative is to make these calls from the post office.
Another less expensive way to make an International Direct Dial (IDD) call is with a UniphoneKad telephone card, available from larger post office. UniphoneKads can only be used in special telephones that are mainly found is large cities, sometimes in the lobbies of major hotels. The cards are issued in four amounts: 30,000d, 60,000d, 150,000d and 300,000d. The latter two cards can be used to make both domestic and international calls, while the cheaper cards work for domestic calls only.
If you live in Vietnam, you may be tempted to subscribe to a call-back service, which would greatly reduce your phone bill. However, Vietnam is one of the few countries that has made this illegal and there are draconian penalties if you get caught.
Foreigners are not permitted to make international reverse-charge (collect) calls. However, Vietnamese nationals can. Why? Because the Directorate General of Posts & Telecommunications (DGPT) earns less from a reverse-charge call than from a call paid for in Vietnam. This means that if your credit cards or travelers cheuqes are stolen, you are unable to make a collect call to report the loss. At best this is a major nuisance but it could prove disastrous if all your cash is stolen and you need to call abroad for help.
Domestic Calls Except for some special numbers (eg, the fire brigade and directory assistance), all phone numbers is Hanoi and HCMC have seven digits. Outside those two cities, phone numbers have six digits.
Telephone area codes are assigned according to province (see the Provincial Area Codes table).
Local calls can usually be made from nay hotels or restaurant phone and are often free. You should, however, confirm this with your hotel so you don’t receive any umpleasant surprises when you check out.
Domestic long-distance calls are reasonably priced and cheaper if you dial direct.
Any call between Hanoi and HCMC at the full daytime rate will cost approximately 4000d per minute. You can save up to 20% by calling between 10pm and 5am.
Mobile (Cellular) Phones As in many developing countries, Vietnam is putting a lot of money into its network. Vietnam use GSM 900/1800, which is compatible with most of Asia, Europe and Australia but not with the North American GSM 1900 or the totally different system in Japan. If you have a GSM phone, check with your service provider about using it in Vietnam, and beware of calls being routed international (very expensive for a ‘local’ call).
Resident foreigners can apply for a cellular phone in most major cities. Foreign tourists can make a cellular call using their own phones provided they are on the GSM system and acquire a SIM card providing them with a local number to use in Vietnam. SIM cards cost 150,000d, and prepaid calling cards in different denomination are available. Rental mobile phones with prepaid fees are also available.
Rival companies Vina Phone and Mobi Phone have battled it out in the mobile phone market by price cutting and offering clever promotions to attract new customers. Both of these companies have offices and branches nationwide.
Be aware that mobile phone numbers in Vietnam star with the prefixes 0903 or 0913, and naturally cost more to call than a local number.
Most post offices and hotels offer domestic and international fax, (and telegraph and telex) services. Hotels are likely to charge more than the post office.
Email & Internet Access
Today the Internet is widely available in tourist centres such as Hanoi, HCMC, Hoi An, Hue’, Danang, Nha Trang and Dalat. You’ll find everything from trendy cyber-café’s to computer terminals is the lobbies of hotels and guesthouse. You can also find public Internet access in many Vietnamese post offices.
The cost of Internet access generally ranges from 100d to 500d per minute, depending on where you are and what the competition is like. Printing usually costs around 1000d per page, and scanning about 2000d a page.
Most travelers in Vietnam rely on cyber-café’s and other public-access points to send and check mail. In Vietnam, Hotmail tends to download much slower than Yahoo! Mail. However, either can be sluggish, so you may want to bring a book to read while you surf the Net.
If you use cyber-cafe’s, you’ll need to carry three pieces of information with you to enable you to access your Internet mail account: your incoming (POP or IMAP) mail server name, your account name and your password. Your ISP or network supervisor will be able to give you these. Armed with this information, you should be able to access your email account from any Net-connected machine in Vietnam, provided it runs some kind of email software (remember that Netscape and Internet Explorer both have mail modules). It pay to become familiar with the process for doing this before you leave home. Another option is to open a free ekno (www.ekno.lonelyplanet.com