Once considered archaic and mostly unreliable, the communications network in Vietnam has improved dramatically over the years. It is now possible to make an international call or send an e-mail from all but the most remote of locations. Nearly everybody has a cell phone. Public phones, on the other hand, are quite limited. The country also provides easy access to the Internet, with hotels and cafés offering the service. Major inter national publications are available in all big cities, and locally published English magazines and news papers are growing in number. The postal system is efficient and staffed by helpful people, though courier services are generally preferred for faster delivery. The post office remains strictly censored, however, and all parcels are inspected before being sent.
International and Local Telephone Calls
International calls can easily be made from most hotels, but are usually very expensive, as are local calls, though to a lesser extent. A better place to make interna tional calls is from the post office. Callers also have the option of reversing the charges to major destina tions. However, as most hotels and restaurants now have Wi-Fi, the best way of phoning is to use an online service such as Skype. If you don’t have an Internet device, there are two VoIP services, 171 and 178, which if dialed before the full number give you around a third off (although not if calling from a hotel.) A prepaid option using 171 or 178 is also available, for which you need to purchase a card, available at most
tele communication outlets. In contrast, domestic calls are much more affordable. Vietnam made changes to its phone system in 2008, adding an extra digit (usually a 3) to all landlines. Most places now have seven- digit numbers, plus a three- or four-digit area code. Exceptions include Ho Chi Minh City, Haiphong, and Hanoi. The land- line service is usually reliable, but a long-distance connection can have disturbance and static. Most shops offer a cheap telephone service. Look out for a blue sign: dien thoai cong cong (public telephone), or find a cyber-café and phone over the Internet. Cell phones are very popular in Vietnam, and they are cheaper than in the West. Network services and sending text messages is also cheap. If you are staying for more than a few weeks, the best option is to purchase a SIM card from VinaPhone, MobiFone, or Viettel for your cell phone. All cell numbers have a 10-digit number provided by the oper- ating company.
Today, even the smallest towns in Vietnam boast Internet facilities. In fact, at places where foreigners con gregate, Internet facilities are ubiqui tous. Most hotels provide Wi-Fi in their rooms and so do most backpacker hostelries. Many bars and restau rants also offer Wi-Fi, which is useful for laptop and cellphone users. Dedicated Internet cafés are available but they are not as popular as a few years ago. Vietnam permanently blocks a number of websites, and others are blocked intermittently. These include social networking sites, the BBC, and a variety of blogs and news services critical of the government.
No matter where you are in Vietnam, you will not be far from a post office. The Vietnamese are enthusiastic letter writers and gift senders, so the postal service plays an important role in daily life. Most post offices are open until late, typi cally from 8am to 9pm, seven days a week. The staff are usually very helpful and willing clerks help wrap parcels and fill out cus toms forms, and will even stick stamps for you. Vietna mese stamps do not always have adhesive backs, and a pot of glue and a brush is needed. The postal delivery process is not very speedy. However, be aware that all parcels will be opened and inspected before they are mailed. Letters posted from
Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City usually take ten to fourteen days to reach the US and other Western nations, while parcels can take a few months due to government inspection. Post from a small town bound for foreign shores can take even longer to reach the interna tional depar ture system. Postal rates more or less match what they are in the rest of the world. A postcard to the US or Europe will cost just about half a dollar. Poste restante is available in major cities such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City at a nominal charge. For faster del ivery, well- known courier companies such as DHL, Federal Express, and UPS are available. However, parcels sent by courier can be detained and searched by the authorities. The same is true for packets with CDs and photographs, which may be inter cepted for further scrutiny.
Newspapers and Magazines
A selection of international publications, both English and French, are available in most prominent hotels and at news- stands in major cities. These include newspapers such as the New York Times, Le Monde, and Bangkok Post, as well as magazines such as Time and Newsweek. Many bars in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi stock newspapers for use by their patrons. The most widely read English language newspaper is Viet Nam News. It is a useful paper for cultural happenings, and the Sunday edition has a leisure magazine. For further information on upcoming events and upto- date listings, you can check publications such as Word and Asia Life. All media is censored by the government, and journalists who have criticized the authori- ties are occasionally imprisoned for “abusing freedoms.”
Television and Radio
Vietnamese television and radio – VTV and Voice of Vietnam respectively – are both government operated, consisting mainly of news, soap operas, Viet Pop music, and films. However, most of the hotels now offer a range of popular international TV channels including Cinemax, CNN, HBO, BBC, ESPN, MTV and Singapore’s News Asia. Sports stations are also favored, especially during the soccer season.
Addresses in Vietnam are quite straightforward: number, street, and city. In Ho Chi Minh City, the district number is also added after the street. Addresses with a slash, such as 120/5 Nguyen Trai Street, means that you have to go to No. 120 on this street, and then find building No. 5 in the alley next to it. Also note that the same street begins new numbering upon entering a new district, and that the Vietnamese word for street, pho or duong, comes at the start of the street name.
Useful Dialing Codes
- For international calls, dial 00, then the country code, the area code, and then the number.
• Some country codes are: USA and Canada 1; Australia 61; UK 44; New Zealand 64; and France 33.
• To call Vietnam from abroad, dial 011, then 84, followed by the city code and the number.
- To speak to the international operator, just dial 00.
- For any kind of directory assistance, call 1080. • To speak to the domestic operator, dial 0. This number may change according to the service provider for your cell phone. Customer assistance is available in English as well as Vietnamese. You may have to wait for some time to get to the instructions in the English language.