Twelve days till the Asian Adventure starts. Phase One is in full swing!
I have benefited greatly from those that generously shared their travel tips and experiences, so this post is my attempt to do likewise. Future travelers journeying to Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, this is for you.
Road Scholar sends out a terrific information package, but I almost screwed up big time because I under counted the number of passport photos needed. As is usually the case, Mike was paying attention. (I always knew there was a reason I married that man!)
Getting In and Out of Countries
- Get three passport photos; four if you decide on a “loose leaf” visa for Vietnam. Road Scholar takes care of visas for Laos and Cambodia, but we need to bring along the required photos. No visa needed for Thailand.
- I finally figured out the only advantage to the loose leaf visa was you didn’t need to mail your passport to the service. The disadvantage was you had to keep track of that extra piece of paper. No loose leaf visa for me!
- Send away for Vietnam passport include photo (one or two depending on type of Visa chosen) with request; pack remaining two to ensure they don’t get left behind. Did I mention that I tend to be absent minded?
The service recommended by Road Scholar was excellent, and from my quick scan of the internet, appeared to be attractively priced. I downloaded the application from their website and was pleased that sections that would have confused the hell out of me had been pre-filled for Road Scholar participants. The cost was $129 per person, including the Road scholar discount.
- If the passport has less than 4 blank pages, request additional pages from the state department. It cost $82, and you DO need to send them the passport.
- Both the visa and extra pages are more expensive if you need rush service, so it helps if you can plan ahead.
I dutifully copied the key pages of my passport and the Vietnam visa. I also scanned a copy of my passport and emailed it to me. (Hey, I actually lost my passport once–fortunately it was in Las Vegas. No further explanation needed or forthcoming.)
For this trip, 3 lunches and 3 dinners (out of the 18) are not included, so we will need to have funds for those, for our before and after travels, plus any purchases we make along the way. Normally when we travel, we don’t bring cash, relying instead on ATMs and credit cards, but for Asia, that wouldn’t work well. Here’s the scoop for Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam:
- Current Exchange rates: $1 US = 30 bhat; 7,941 kip; 4,000 riels; 20,840 dong
- Credit cards are not accepted in Laos or Cambodia.
- We get dollars in Siem Reap, Cambodia from an ATM, but not in Vietnam. Those machines only dispense dong.
- Dollars are accepted everywhere but any change you receive will be in the local currency, so…
- I ordered 7,500 Bhats from my local bank. That sounds like a lot, but it is only $250.
- I’m not going to worry about dong. We’ll be in Vietnam for over three weeks, so I’m sure I will be able to spend any dongs I get from ATMs. Besides, my cousins are quite fascinated by that particular currency, so I might give them any leftovers.
- Road Scholar recommended bringing about $300 in cash for 18 days on the trip, so we will follow their advice.
Because Mike and I spend all of our discretionary income on travel, there is little in our house worth stealing–unless you are looking to stock up for a gigantic yard sale. Our concern is that anyone foolish enough to break into our house would completely trash it looking for non-existent valuables! So we take all of the usual precautions with police, security, mail, and newspaper delivery. Additionally, we always call our bank and credit card company to tell them when and where we will be traveling.
The CDC website didn’t indicate any dread diseases were rampant in the Southeast Asia countries we’ll be touring, other than the usual mosquito warnings. Our booster shots are up to date, and our “health kit” has been stocked with bandages, neosporin, advil, Immodium, Z Pack, and for me–sleeping pills to knock me out on the flights to and fro.
Although I use Wi-Fi whenever possible, I like having my iPhone as an emergency backup, plus I use Trip Advisor and other apps when the need arises. I have read horror stories about huge phone bills racked up unwittingly because of roaming charges, so I had a very productive chat with Verizon Wireless. Their international data plan costs $25 per 100 MB per month. If you go over, Verizon figures you would want to buy another 100 MB, so they automatically take care of that for you. To avoid unwanted charges, you can turn off “cellular” (under settings-general) and turn it back on when you want to use the internet. That way, your phone will search for any available wi-fi.
Voice calls are $1.99 per minute in Thailand and Vietnam, but are prohibitively expensive in Cambodia and Laos, plus there is a “per use” charge in those countries when you access the data plan. The Verizon service rep was very helpful. She also taught me how to get to the + on my iPhone key pad. (That little + is needed for international calls.) Since my memory isn’t want it used to be, this is as much for ME as it is for anyone that doesn’t already know the trick: You hold down the “0” until the plus sign appears.
Asians are conservative dressers, so for this trip, I won’t be packing any shorts or tank tops, despite the heat. Surprisingly enough, Vietnam CAN be cool in March, so I will be bringing along a sweater and fleece. Next post will be all about the fascinating contents of my luggage.