Currency fluctuates all the time, so what you see today may not be what is the going rate tomorrow.
I know that in HCMC at the airport there are about six currency exchanges at the exit of the airport. Of the six, there were four different rates of exchange.
I am pretty sure Hanoi has the same.
It used to be that Jewlery stores gave a better exchange rate, but we discovered this year that the government had stopped this for the most part.
I found that the airport exchange was no better or worse than most of the banks exchange rate.
As for debit cards, they are accepted at ATM's at most banks. In the U.S. we must notify the bank that we are going to be in a certain country so the bank will not prevent the cards use. There are charges and they do add up so use them sparingly.
I think the other posters were saying that it is not safe to carry large sums of money on your person.and that using a debit card helps avoid that.
This is especially true with women and elderly people that "appear" to be better "marks", than say a 6foot plus 200 pound man that looks like a former police officer...namely myself...LOL.
Thieves would rather make it easy, not hard.
Also remember many hotels have in room safes to hold your money and jewels.
In other words, be careful....do not carry your purse with a shoulder strap, do not leave your camera just hanging on your neck and be watchful of those around you, or those trying to get close including motor scooters and unfortunately the children who might flock around in an attempt to pick you clean.
Not all of them are that way, but it pays to be cautious.
This is true in most tourist areas of the world so do not think Vietnam is unique.
So relax, think about what you plan to spend each day and then work out how much money you want to carry.
The kids here are gorgeous . Always ready to say hello to us westerners. They have the most beautiful little faces. But before I took a photo I always asked the adult they were with if it was ok to do so.
Fondest memory: The friednly hellos we got from the children. My husband has tattoos and everyone was facinated and wanted to touch them.
Peach (Hoa Ðào) in Tet Holiday
Tet is the most important and popular holiday and festival in Vietnam. It is the Vietnamese New Year based on Lunar calendar (in the end of January or in February). At Tet every house is usually decorated by hoa ðào – peach flower (Prunus persica) in Hanoi. U also can see these trees in many streets or in peach flower villages e.g Nhat Tan, Quang Ba, Phu Thuong only 2 - 3 kilometers from Old Quarters
Bauhinia (Hoa Ban)
The bauhinia flowers are symbolized for the Northwest region of Vietnam, the faithful in love. They bloom in the spring (usually in February) along Bac Son street (near Bac Son monument), Hoan Kiem lake (Hang Khay - Dinh Tien Hoang corner), Grand Theatre,...
Dalbergia tonkinensis (Hoa Sưa)
In Hanoi, no young people don't know/love Dalbergia tonkinensis. This kind of tree only bloom in few weeks in the spring when the weather is still cold and foggy (in the end of February and the beginning of March). These trees are in Botanic Garden, DongDa hillock, Lenin Park (in front of Military Museum), Tran Hung Dao street, Phan Chu Trinh street, Phan Chu Trinh street, Phan Dinh Phung street,...
Bombax ceiba (Hoa Gạo - Rice Flower)
Bombax ceiba is commonly known as cotton tree or tree cotton. Red flowers with 5 petals appear in the spring before the new foliage. There is only 1 or 2 bombax trees beside Hoan Kiem. The most known is bambax trees along Yen Spring on the way to Huong Pagoda (Perfume Pagoda) or near Thay Pagoda (Master Pagoda), Tram Pagoda,... In metropolitan, only 1 or 2 trees besides Hoan Kiem lake.
Favorite thing: The Revolution Lives! Or so it seems to on the billboards and light standards of Hanoi. Though not ubiquitous, these exhortations can be seen almost everywhere, alongside red flags with yellow stars or yelloe hammers-and-sickles. These are reminders that no matter what economic activity you see going on around you, Vietnam is still a communist state.
Not surprisingly, Hanoi, like the rest of Vietnam, is full of young people. About 70% of the population was born after the end of all the wars in 1975. With peace came a baby boom. Youth and energy are the sign of the new Vietnam, and this is on display in Hanoi. This may also explain what still seems like a small number of upscale restaurants, shops and bars -- people under 33 generally haven't earned lots of money yet. But they will!!
The good news is that, for most Americans, the war is part of history and most of the people seem anxious to get to their future prosperity rather than worry about holding grudges from the past (though frankly, it's easier for the Vietnamese not to hold a grudge because they won after all!)
Favorite thing: Nothing reveals the rapid transformation of Hanoi like all wires attached to the city telephone poles. Wow! It looks like the poles are going to keel over there is so much cable hanging from them. It's as if they can't string it up fast enough and as soon as one cable is strung another is needed.
Viet Nam is still officially a communist country and of course, Vladimir Ilitch Oulianov has his statue or monument somewhere; preferably on a place easy to find, where the visitors can pay respect. The monument here is in Lenin Park, a small park just opposite to the Museum of military history and the Flag tower, on Dien Bien Phu Avenue.
Interesting in Hanoi is that Viet Nam has a long independence history, occupied from time to time by Chinese or French, it is an old nation, fought fiercely for independence, but the Vietnamese do not forget their big brother who helped them; I did not find a monument to other foreign communists (I think of Mao, of course. . . Chinese and Vietnamese fought against each other in the end seventies. . . ). There are not a lot of foreigners but this music is listened a lot in Vietnam (a French version for a small return of history!).
You may see in my other writings about military history, military training of school children, etc. . . and in Hanoi, if you walk around you will see lots of other monumental statues displaying anonymous or famous heroes (picture 2 near Hoan Kiem Lake, pictures 3 and 4 at the eastern end of Pho Phan Din Phung avenue, picture 5 at Dong Xuan market) , they are mostly militaries, fighters, guerilleros, insurgents, etc. . . . Viet Nam is a fighters country, no surprise they are independent and proud of it!
Lakes are important landmarks in Hanoi, but not only! The old city developed between the western bank of the Red River and Hoan Kiem Lake; later, many temples, pagodas and palaces were built on the shores or islands of the nearby lakes, mainly West lake (Ho Tay Lake), where the breezes freshened a bit the air during the hot days. Also, many divinities in Buddhist religion are linked to water.
Today, the lakes have more “practical” uses: tanks for rainwater and water for household or industrial use (after treatment), waste intake, wastewater treatment ponds. . . . Well, the water does not look very clean, in general, but there are usually parks or gardens around, small restaurants, tea houses. . . It is very relaxing and pleasant to walk on the shores of the lakes, have a rest from the hectic traffic and the noise.
The map (picture 2) shows lakes I visited, once, or several times, and the small stars show other lakes; there are lots, and you are never far from one of them.
Picture 1: Hoan Kiem Lake, looking north, and Tortoise tower.
Picture 3: Fishing on Ho Tay Lake
Picture 4: “Swans” on Ho Tay Lake
Picture5: Young people like to meet. . . . and more on the quiet shores of the lakes.
Tourist map is scarsely available at airport and hotels (especially those old and small ones). Do buy a tourist map if you find it difficult to move around and out of the Qld Quarters with your incomplete map.
It costs USD1 for a tourist map which consists of Hanoi,Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Vietnam travel map at local book store. I bought one at book store opposite Camellia 4 hotel at Hang Giay street.
Favorite thing: When I was exploring the compounds of the famous Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in December 2006, I was lucky to be able to spot the marching of guards at the mausoleum, probably doing some guard changing ceremony. The compounds of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and its surroundings are very big and consist of many other attractions such as the Presidential Palace, Botanical Gardens, Ho Chi Minh Stilt House, Ho Chi Minh Meseum, One Pillar Pagoda, Ba Dinh Square etc. I would suggest that if you have the time, you need to spend at least one day to fully visit all the attractions here.
Favorite thing: Judging from the amount of motorcycles on the road in Hanoi, they must surely be the king of the road. At any one time, there are swamps of motorcycles on the roads especially the Old Quarter area, and crossing the roads (some of them do not have traffic lights) is an adventure in itself (see my warining section on how to cross road in Hanoi). Why are there so many motorcycles? Contrary to what you might think, this is not because the people of Hanoi cannot afford cars. According to my Vietnamese friends, the main reasons are because motorcycles are easier to move on the roads of Hanoi which are mostly quite narrow. Secondly, parking a car is a big problem in Hanoi as parking space is limited and very very expensive to the locals.
Favorite thing: A friend just recently returned from Hanoi. Couldn't get a hotel within 10 miles of Old Quarters because of the APEC convention. He said air quality and traffic were horrible. Had to start wearing one of those face mask. Once he left the city on the back of a moped, he was in Vietnam heaven.
Favorite thing: Ok I thought that it was very ironic that in Hanoi in order to pee you have to pay. It would be different if I was peeing in a beautiful pristine porcelain toilet, but literally you are paying to urinate in a hole in the ground. It only cost about 2000 VND but if you don't have the money the attendant standing guard won't let you in.
Favorite thing: Ok in the US if you are driving and someone honks their horn at you, sometimes it can cause a driver to go into road rage. However in Hanoi everyone beeps their horn. Seriously it got to the point that I thought the people beeped their horn just to say hi. You will learn soon to tune it out.
Favorite thing: You will find that it is very easy to get about in Vietnam. One of the great things is if you are lost just look up at any of the many businesses you may be standing in front of. All of the buildings in the city have the street number and name of the street right on the front of the building in English. So when lost, just look up.