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Southeast Asia forum

A few questions for unexperienced international traveller

Posted by sunshinehappy on 28/5/2013 at 23:25

I'm heading Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand (with the majority of time in Vietnam) in November for 4 weeks, and was hoping some of you could help me with a few things.
It is my first time traveling outside of New Zealand and Australia and am going to spend the first week by myself. I have traveled a lot around these places by myself, although I know Vietnam will be a shock.

I'm only taking carry-on and I'm pretty sorted with what I'm taking and what I need while still being under carry on limits and I'm not taking anything of value, except money, prepay debit cards and my passport. I am taking a mini laptop, old camera and old smartphone(probably just use as an mp3 player), but won't be particularly upset if these get lost or stolen.

What I would like to know is:

-As I happen to be a female, some people say it's dangerous to travel SE-Asia alone. Do you think it is? I feel like people are exaggerating.
-Any tips to stay safe traveling abroad by myself for the first time? Of course I will use commonsense
-Should I wear a money belt to keep my passport safe? Or just keep it in my day backpack, or is it safe to leave it at the hotel?
-I was thinking of stashing cash in my bra and in a hidden pocket I have sewn onto my shorts and maybe onto my top. Anyone else done this?
-What do you do with your valubles when swimming? Should I get a waterproof neck-pouch or can I just hide them in my bag under my towel like I do back home?
-I am planning on doing the Visa on arrival (pre-arranged) thing. What is your experience with this at Hanoi airport and what company did you use? Also, where do I go once I get off the plane to get my visa? Is it difficult to find?
-Is $2100 AUD enough for approximately 34 days traveling? I have back-up money, but only want to spend this much. I will only be drinking a couple nights a week :D
-Is there an easy way to think in local (dong) currency instead of converting everythng back to AUD or your local currency
-If I'm only taking carry-on and don't mind being delayed a few hours, do you recommend flying Tiger airways ex. Perth?

And finally, when you're buying something in Vietnam, do they say for example "one-hundred-thousand-five hundred and fifty dong"? Or is there an easier way people suggest prices? It just seems like it would be a huge mouthful to say.

Thanks for your help!

#1 sunshinehappy has been a member since 28/5/2013. Posts: 5

Posted by travellingsarah on 29/5/2013 at 00:51 TF writer

Posted from within Vietnam.

Hi. A few answers for you. Hope it helps.

- Firstly, I think saying it's dangerous to travel SE-Asia alone is being over-cautious. As long as you follow normal / sensible precautions regarding your possessions and personal safety, there's no reason why it would be more dangerous that being in your home town. Depending on where that is of course! I feel safer in Hanoi than I used to in London anyway.

- I would definitely use a money belt when travelling from place to place, for money, credit cards and passport. When you're at a hotel, it depends what the hotel is like and what facilities they have. We would usually leave our passport at reception, or in a safe - if there was one - or just locked up in our bags. I'm sure others will have stories of why this isn't a good idea but we didn't have any problems and preferred this to wearing a money belt everywhere.

- Stashing cash here and there is not a bad idea. We used to do that. Just make sure you don't forget where it is and wash your shorts!

- Visa arrival is straightforward and a few posts on this forum regarding recommended agencies. At Hanoi airport, as you go down the stairs from getting off the plane (assuming it's a walkway and not a bus transfer) you will see the office at the bottom of the stairs on the left. Print out and complete the form before leaving home as well to speed things up, then you can go straight to the counter. They will check the documents then you go to the other side and wait until yours is ready. Pay and go!

- AUD to VND is 20,000VND so the sums are reasonably other suggestions I'm afraid.

"And finally, when you're buying something in Vietnam, do they say for example "one-hundred-thousand-five hundred and fifty dong"?" - Yes! Although there are some shortcuts for certain numbers (which it isn't worth learning for a short stay) and when saying a number (rather than currency) you might say the numbers individually e.g. one five zero.

#2 travellingsarah has been a member since 23/3/2010. Location: Vietnam. Posts: 684
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Posted by sunshinehappy on 31/5/2013 at 02:48

Thank for your helpful reply :)

Where would I find the forms to print off before I arrive in Hanoi? Will they be available when I apply for my VOA?

#3 sunshinehappy has been a member since 28/5/2013. Posts: 5

Posted by travellingsarah on 31/5/2013 at 03:04 TF writer

Posted from within Vietnam.

Yup. Here's a link to the one on the My Vietnam Visa site:

#4 travellingsarah has been a member since 23/3/2010. Location: Vietnam. Posts: 684
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Posted by antoniamitchell on 1/6/2013 at 02:09

Hi Sunshinehappy,

TravellingSarah is right - it's perfectly safe to travel in SE Asia as a woman alone. It's really not much different from solo-travelling in your home country. As you say in your post, just use common sense.

I wear a money belt most of the time for my passport and credit card*, with just some walking around cash in my handbag or day-pack. I keep an atm card (to an old account that I only leave about $200 in) hidden and locked in my backpack, just in case something happens and I lose my credit card, so I've got access to cash to live on while I sort out the problem with my bank. I know leaving stuff in a locked backpack is considered a theft risk, but I'd rather have 2 cards in 2 different places - it's all about managing the risk.

When swimming, I just leave my camera, passport, and everything else locked in my backpack, except my credit card and some cash (very well wrapped in plastic and double baggied) which I put in my money belt - however I tend to swim in shorts and a t-shirt. If you swim in a bikini, wearing a money belt is probably not a great solution. In which case I'd recommend leaving everything locked in your backpack except a few dollars (to buy a cold drink) which you can leave with your shoes and towel. Yes, your $2 could get stolen while you're in the sea, but if it's only a few dollars it doesn't really matter.

Have a great trip!

* I use a credit card to get cash advances abroad, because with the card I have, it's actually cheaper than using my regular bank card.

#5 antoniamitchell has been a member since 13/5/2012. Posts: 541
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Posted by Snookieboi on 1/6/2013 at 03:47

Hi there.

1. Use travel insurance.

2. Withdraw money with debit cards carrying at least 2, and store emergency card numbers on your e mail accounts just in case.
( If you do get stolen, you will have proof of transaction on bank statements and get refunded.)

3. If you go for a swim, either bring your money with you, or have your hotel store it in safety deposit, it's not safe left on the beach or even with another traveller.


#6 Snookieboi has been a member since 14/4/2013. Location: United Kingdom. Posts: 61
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Posted by sunshinehappy on 5/6/2013 at 20:50

Thanks heaps guys! When you say you keep things locked in your backpack, do you mean with one of those Pacsafe things or just with locks through the zips? :)

#7 sunshinehappy has been a member since 28/5/2013. Posts: 5

Posted by antoniamitchell on 6/6/2013 at 00:58

Hi again,

I just lock my backpack closed with a combination lock (as the pack didn't come with it's own lock). I then just leave it locked in my hotel room, somewhere not reachable from the window, with the locked side down so it's not obvious I've actually locked it until someone picks it up - I figure using a packsafe or something like that kinda screams "valuables inside me!" and I don't want to tempt the maid. Chances are the maid is honest anyway, but why tempt fate?

One note: don't leave your passport or camera in yr backpack when moving around (such as when the pack is in the hold of a bus). At those times, keep all valuables on your person as there are sometimes of reports of stowed luggage being riffled through.

Have fun

#8 antoniamitchell has been a member since 13/5/2012. Posts: 541
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Posted by Geer1 on 6/6/2013 at 09:48

I kept all my valuables in a daypack size backpack that I would lock through the zipper with little pad lock. I would keep this backpack with me almost all the time, only time I wouldn't have it is if I left it in locked guesthouse or dorm locker.

I wore a money belt in major areas like Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City etc but felt it was unnecessary in most other places so would just leave stuff in money belt but put it in my locked daypack and just use my regular wallet(I left unnecessary cards etc at home). In my wallet I had a debit and credit card plus cash up to $200. In money belt back up I had debit and credit card plus $100 US and sometimes a little local currency.

Don't get a pacsafe, no one seems to like them or end up using them and it just draws attention. If you dress average and have an older backpack you will draw less attention as thieves target people and baggage that looks like it would have significant valuables.

As for swimming, if you plan on it I wouldn't be carrying much for valuables(leave them locked in guesthouse) and would only have a little bit of cash etc and then it isn't a big issue if it gets taken. In the odd place I was comfortable with leaving my locked daypack and just had the key with me but I was on quieter islands/beaches and don't swim much anyways.

2100 is lots if not including flights, can get by on as low as $30 a day although $40-$50 is probably a better target unless you are cheap like me.

Currency is a little bit of fun, Thailand might actually be the trickiest of where you are planning. Vietnam 20k is 1 dollar so easy enough do the math(I just round to nearest 20k increment and get rid of the zeros and divide by 2). Cambodia 4000 riel is a dollar, just drop the thousands and divide by 4 to get an idea of cost, if less then 4000 remember 1000 is a quarter. Thailand is 30 baht to 1 dollar, little trickier imo since dividing by 3 never seems to work easily but after a few days you will be thinking in baht anyways after you figure out what should be fair for certain items.

In Vietnam prices rarely occur in less then 1000 dong increments. 500 dong bills do exist but usually aren't needed and many places don't have change for them. Lots of time Vietnamese omit the extra 0's so 55 means 55k dong.

#9 Geer1 has been a member since 14/9/2012. Posts: 540
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