The first currency of Vietnam is the dong, which is abbreviated to “đ”. Banknotes come in denominations of 200d, 500d, 1000d, 2000d, 5000d, 10,000d, 20,000d, 50,000d and 100,000d, 500,000d.
Now that Ho Chi Minh has been canonised (against his wishes), his picture is on every banknote. Coins have recently come into circulation, including 500d, 1000d and 5000d. The second currency is the US dollar and that needs no introduction.
The dong has experienced its ups and downs. The late 1990s Asian economic clisis, which wreaked severe havoc on the regional currencies, caused the dong to lose about 15% of its US-dollar value. Since then the dong has slowly weakened, but is pretty stable at around 16,000d to the US dollar.
Where prices are quoted in dong, we quote them in this book in dong. Likewise, when prices are quoted in dollars, we follow suit. While this may seem inconsistent, this is the way it's done in Vietnam and the sooner you get used to thinking comparatively in dong and dollars, the easier your travels will be.
It used to be just a couple of foreign banks in Hanoi and HCMC that offered ATMs, but Vietnamese banks have now got into this game in a big way. Vietcombank has the best network in the country, including most of the major tourist destinations and all the big cities. Every branch stocks a useful leaflet with a list of their nationwide ATMs. Withdrawals are issued in dong, and there is a daily limit of 2,000,000d (about US$125). Cash advances for larger amounts of dong, as well as US dollars, can be arranged over the counter during office hours.
The black market is Vielnam's unofficial banking system that is almost everywhere and operates quite openly. Private individuals and some shops and restaurants will exchange US dollars for dong and vice versa. While the practice is technically illegal, law enforcement is virtually nonexistent. Ironically, black market exchange rates arc usually worse than the official exchange rates, so the only advantage is the convenience of changing money when and where you like.
If people approach you on the street with offers to change money al rates better than the official one, you can rest assured that you are being up for a rip-off. Don't even think about trying it! Remember, if an offer seems too good to he true, thal's becait probably is.
Most major currencies can be exchanged al leading bunks in Vietnam, but away from the tourist centres the US dollar remains king. Vietcomhank is the most organised of the local banks for changing cash and can deal with euros, pounds and pretty much anything else you are packing. The US dollar exchange rate worsens the further you get from the tourist trail, so stock up on dong if you are heading mto remote areas.
The relatively low value of Vietnamese banknotes means that almost any currency exchange will leave you with piles of banknotes to count; changing US$100 will make you an instant millionaire! In small town it can be difficult to get change for the larger notes, so keep a stack of smaller bills handy.
It's a good idea to check that any big dollar bills you take do not have any small tears or look too tatty, as no-one will want to touch them in Vietnam.
You cannot legally take the dong out of Vietnam but you can reconvert reasonable amounts of it into dollars on departure.
Visa, MasterCard and JCB cards are now widely acceptable in all major cities and many tourist centres. However, a 3% commission charge on every transaction is pretty common; check first, as some charge higher commission than others. Some merchants also accept Amex, but the surcharge is typically 4%. Better hotels and restaurants do not usually slap on an additional charge.
Getting a cash advance from Visa, Master Card and JCB is possible at Vietcombank in most cities, as well as at some foreign banks in HCMC and Hanoi. Banks generally charge a 3% commission for this service. This is handy if you want to get out large sums, as the ATMs have low daily limits.
Tipping is not expected in Vietnam, but it is enormously appreciated. For a person who earns US$50 per month, a US$1 tip is ahoul half a day's wages. Upmarket hotels and some restaurants may levy a 5% service charge, but this may not make it to the staff. 11 you slay a couple of days in tlie same hotel, try and remember to tip the staff who clean your room.
You should also consider tipping drivers and guides - after all, the time they spend on the road with you means time away from home and family. Typically, travellers on minibus tours will pool together to collect a communal tip to be split between the guide and driver. About US$1 per day (per tourist) is standard.
It is considered proper to make a small donation at the end of a visit to a pagoda, especially if a monk has shown you around; most pagodas have contribution boxes for this purpose.
It is wise not to rely entirely on travellers cheques by keeping a reasonable stash of US dollars on hand. Travellers cheques can only be exchanged at authorised foreign-exchange banks, but these aren't found throughout Vietnam. Strangely, there are no banks at most of the land border crossings. The only way to change money at these places is on the black market.
If you only have travellers cheques, stock up on US dollars at a bank, which will usually charge anywhere from 1.25% to 3% commission to change them into cash. Vietcombank charges no commission for exchanging travellers cheques for dong.
If your travellers cheques are in currencies other than US dollars, they may be useless beyond the major cities. Hefty commissions are the norm if they can be exchanged at all.