Question: What is the best way to plan our flight from the U.S. to Ha Noi and return?
Answer: From the U.S. the least expensive method with the greatest selection of airlines, flight times, and costs is to use a domestic flight from your airport to Los Angeles Airport (LAX). From LAX the flights stop at either Seoul, Tokyo, Tapei, amd Hong Kong. So direct flights from the U.S. only apply if they are your final destination. All other cities in S. E. Asian countries go through those hubs if they involve flying across the Pacific. From LAX to Vietnam we recommend Asiana for the better service, schedule, and price. Korea Air and China Air are also less expensive. It is how we do it for the many trips we take to Vietnam going into Ha Noi’s Noi Bai Airport (HAN). We have never had to pay more than the range of $700 – 1200 for the RT .We have found Asiana Airlines to be consistent and helpful. For flights departing LAX the most consistent lower fares tend to be on T,W, Th though we have done well on price using Monday and Saturday too. We also recommend to always look at the prices and book flights on weekdays. Airlines often change prices by the hour with a computer program that tracks customer contacts that changes the prices upward if the flow is high as it is on weekends. And comparing all the choices can be tedious. We like to take the easy way to do this by using a one stop shop price service such as www.kayak.com. Incidentally all flights to S.E Asia stop at one of 4 cities then you connect to your destination. The LAX flights stop at Tokyo, Seoul, Taipei, and Hong Kong. Most of the flights arrive at Noi Bai in the late evening around 10:30 PM or in the later morning. Either time we will have our staff meet you there. If you are connecting to or from our workshop/tour from S.E. Asian places you also are visiting you may be arriving at Noi Bai by train or by a domestic or other S.E. Asian flight. No matter how you are getting to Ha Noi send us your arrival information for October 25, 2011 and we will make sure to meet you and bring you to the hotel.
Question: How do I get a Visa for visiting Vietnam and how long does it take to get it??
Answer: Two ways are common in the U.S. and either way we advise taking care of this at least 6 weeks before your departure date. The first is to apply directly to the Vietnam Embassy in Washington D.C. The service is quite good. You fill out a form and send in two bank cashier checks and your passport. (They need your passport if you want the Visa already attached to it when you arrive in Vietnam. If you use their expedited shipping advice (USPS Priority mail to them), and include an addressed prepaid USPS Express mail envelope for them to return it to you, it is usually no more then three weeks turnaround and often faster then that. Method two uses online services that take care of it for you and most don’t need your passport. They supply you with a paper that verifies you have the ViSa and when you arrive in Vietnam you give pick up your Visa right there. A thirty day Visa will cost about $70 from the embassy. Please call us if you have any other Visa questions.
Question: I need a passport and how long will that take?
Answer: Timing with the U.S. Immigration service is uncertain due to all the commotion with security so we recommend you use an online service to process you application. Alternately Immigration uses expedited service if you qualify such as your departure is only 4 weeks or less away.
Question: Should I carry cash and in dollars/Euros or Vietnam Dong?
Answer: Most people who live in Vietnam or travel there use ATMs which are more common then the U.S. They use the ATM to draw cash from their debit card/chk acct. The ATM gives the money in VN Dong. Many stores prefer or require cash if they are not oriented to tourists. Tourist type places often accept credit cards but may want to add 2%. One hundred dollars in Dong is a lot in Vietnam on this tour as all the big things you have already paid for in your fee for the trip and most things in Vietnam cost 80% lees then the equivalent in the U.S. There is little point in carrying Travelers Checks. Stores won’t accept them and it takes forever in a bank to get them converted to cash. If you prefer to carry cash from the U.S. bring dollars and convert to Dong at the tour’s hotels
Question: How comfortable will our travel vehicles be in country?
Answer: The same as you would expect in the U.S.
Question: How can I get around on my own on the free days?
Answer: Taxis are everywhere, reliable and most rides in a city one way will cost the equivalent of 2 to $5. It is quite easy to hail a cab and many are very available though less during rush hours M-Sat. and especially if it is raining.
Question: What kind of weather will there be and do I need any special clothes?
Answer: Moderate and it is the period of normally less rain. Temperatures are usually in the 68 to 80 F. range so short sleeve shirts are a good idea.. A light jacket for night is worth bringing. Incidentally most of the time when you see shorts on people they are foreigners. If you want to look less touristy don’t bring shorts. Some of our work will be done on a bit rougher ground so we advise having a good pair of hiking shoes on your feet much of the time. The Vietnamese wear flip flops a lot but they will be awkward for you to use so we feel it is better to have footwear that can take uneven ground well.
Question: What immunizations are normal for this type of a tour?
Answer: We advise you visit your county health service to get answers. For sure Hepatitis A & B and Tetanus/Diphtheria for people with no special medical issues. We get asked about malaria a lot. The health services in the U.S. may tell you it is a good idea if you are going into remote areas. That means very remote and none of the places our workshop/tour will visit would qualify as that. However you may want to consider getting a malaria prescription from your doctor if you are still concerned. Vietnam like all countries is mapped showing where malaria is a threat and where it isn’t. Your county service should be able to provide a copy of that chart.
Question: What if I need to fill a prescription?
Answer: Many of the same prescriptions are available at drugstores in the cities. They may use different names or have to be a generic version. Foreigners traveling in Vietnam do not need to show their prescription, just provide the drugstore the name and mg size needed. The drugstores have a big book that translates the name of the drug in English to the Vietnam language so they give you the correct drug. Drugs ate far cheaper in Vietnam then they are in the U.S> though they are of the same quality control.
Question: How trustworthy is the food and water in Vietnam?
Answer: You can trust the food very well, it is remarkably healthy with the produce typically fresher then it is in the U.S. But we advise not to drink any non bottled and branded water or to have any drink with ice in it.
Question: Will we be served Vietnamese food on the tour or will Western style also be available?
Answer: In some cases some of the food may be Western like but among the Vietnamese food many of them such as Pho (rice based flat noodles in a soup base with chicken, beef, or pork), are very similar to how that general type of food is in the U.S. In Vietnam the food is stronger in flavor due to the freshness and use of seasonings such as lime, mint, peanuts, chile and other common items also used in the U.S.
Question: Will the hotels have air conditioning and Wi-Fi?
Answer: Yes. And we have pre-checked on every floor of every hotel we will use to be sure there is a solid WI-Fi signal no matter what room you are in.
Question: What about available phone service?
Answer: The phone service is more reliable then the U.S. 90% of the time. We will provide you with your own cell phone to use in country during the entire tour with some free pre-paid minutes for voice calls. If you use up the prepaid minutes you can buy more. In Vietnam unlimited texting is free. For call to other countries we advise you to setup the free Skype/Google/Yahoo voice/video (VOIP) on your laptop and if you don’t have a laptop you can use one of our laptops to do that. Calls to computers in other countries equipped the same way are unlimited and free and also have video. For a charge of around $.20 to .33 cents a minute you can use the Skype type connection to call land lines and cell phones any where in the world.
Question: Friends have told me stuff about Vietnam that doesn’t seem to fit your descriptions, what is the reality?
Answer: Some stuff is a matter of opinion of course but we have been on the ground there for five years and our perceptions are reflections of the country as it is today. Vietnam is getting sophisticated fast so contrary information may be due to your contact’s further in the past experience or the short duration they were there. Please address any doubts to us right away by telephone or email.
Photography Workshop Related Questions
Question: Do I need any previous photo experience to get the benefit of the tour and workshop?
Answer: No any level of experience we are prepared to work with you on. It is one of Lawrence D’Attilio’s special abilities and he is easy going and patent getting you to a higher level.
Question: Do I need a digital camera or SLR or any other equipment and does the cost and quality matter?
Answer: You can use any type of digital or film camera including point and shoot SLR. Most of the workshop is designed to help grow your photography based on understanding, knowledge and expression of image making. The simple or more complex techniques available with your camera will also be addressed but regardless of what camera you use your understanding and growth will be substantial. If your camera gear is expensive make sure it is covered for international travel under your homeowners or renters insurance policy.
Question: What photo accessories will I need.
Answer: Anything listed next is optional. We do prefer you have at least eight gb worth of memory card(s) with you at a minimum. Also bring your camera battery charger and it is a good idea to buy an extra camera battery which can be purchased at a far lower cost from suppliers on Ebay. If you are using a DSLR/SLR it is an advantage to have an external auto flash unit that is designed specifically for your make and model of camera. And if you do use that type of flash unit it helps even more if you have a way to soften the effect of the flash such as with flash modifiers from Lumiquest and other manufacturers. External flashes work best when powered with rechargeable Nickel Magnesium Hydride batteries and if you use that or Nickel Cadmium bring the charger for them. Finally if you have a lightweight tripod for traveling bring it. The tripod is helpful when shooting video. If you are unsure what to bring or buy for the workshop/tour please call us first before purchasing equipment or doing your packing.