January 2010
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What to pack to Vietnam - part 1

My life in 3 suitcases

This post is directed more so at people that are looking to stay in Vietnam for an extended period (more than a month) than for tourists…however I hope that it can be useful for anyone traveling to Vietnam.

First of all you are only allowed 2 pieces of check in luggage (50 lb limit) , 1 carry on bag and 1 small personal item (purse, laptop) on most airlines.  If you are staying for a year or longer….that’s not a lot of space to fit your life into.  Good thing for us…Vietnam has most everything you need and for very little money.  I decided that I was just going to primarily pack comfortable walking around clothes and leave the dressy stuff at home.  I was going to need comfortable clothes to sleep in and to travel around the country ….but you can have the dressy stuff made right in Vietnam.  There are a ton of places in Vietnam that will make custom fitted clothing for you for $15 or less a piece.  You just pick a fabric…and if you have a nice shirt/pair of pants that you want copied….they can make a virtually identical copy for you for a very low price.

For you aspiring English teachers coming to Vietnam.  Most schools require that you dress the part of a teacher.  That means a dress shirt, tie and nice pants…not jeans.  Dress shoes are not required at most places as the Vietnamese don’t seem to care what you wear on your feet so much.  So bring a nice pair of shoes if you like but you probably won’t be required to wear them.  Dress shoes are available everywhere, but they might not carry the sizes large enough for non Asians.

Hoi An, a small city on the central coast of Vietnam, is renown for it’s tailors.  So many tourists and Vietnamese travel to Hoi An to have clothes made, that the city is now overrun with copycats that have hurt the overall image of the city as a place to make quality clothes.  There are still many good tailors in Hoi An but they are just now harder to find.  To get some good recommendations for tailors in Hoi An and Saigon, you can go to the Lonely Planet Vietnam Forum or the Trip Advisor’s Vietnam Forum and search for “tailors.”

If you’re going to be living/staying mainly in south Vietnam…you won’t need to pack warm clothes since the temperature is usually within the 70-90 degrees Fahrenheit (21-32 Celsius) most of the year.   If you travel up north to Hanoi and the surrounding areas though it does get quite cold up there during the winter.  I brought 1 light jacket and 1 medium weight jacket just in case….but I have also seen a lot of stores selling knockoff name brand jackets like the North Face here if you need to grab something warm to wear quickly.  I can’t attest to the quality of those jackets though.

As for packing all your clothes….you should really invest in packing cubes and vacuum seal bags.  Not only will you be able to fit a ton more clothes in your suitcase(s)…it will be much easier for you to reorganize your suitcase when/if airport security decides to search your bags.  I bought a set of 4 Space Compressible Bags from Amazon for $12.99 and they worked great.  The instructions say to roll the bags to expel the air…but that also bunches your clothes on one end of the bag which crumples up your clothes and makes packing things neatly more difficult.  It’s better to just lay on the bags and press out the air that way.  The vacuum seal is airtight and watertight so moisture and bugs can’t get in.

Another benefit of using packing cubes and vacuum bags to store your clothes is that when you unpack…you can just lift them straight out of your bags and put them straight into your dresser drawers once you settle in.  You can just unzip the vacuum bags and use them like giant zip locks.   After I launder my clothes…I just put them right back in the bags so that they stay dust free.  There is a lot of dust flying around throughout the city because of the constant construction.

Aside from clothes you might want to bring some of the latest books to read.  There are a lot of bookstores in Vietnam, but most of the ones I’ve been to carry mostly Vietnamese books and the selection of the latest American bestsellers is not very good.  Also if you have specialized shampoo/conditioner that you use you might want to pack enough to last awhile.  While they do have some of the bigger name brand shampoos/conditioners here like Pantene…most of the brands they sell are Vietnamese copycat brands which are designed to look a lot like their American counterparts.  I wear contact lenses so I also packed a lot of my favorite contact lens cleaning solution.  There are a lot of new supermarkets (sieu thi) like Big C, Maximart, etc. all around the city…but I couldn’t find little stuff like Q-tips, contact lens solution, dust wipes (Swiffer)….also heard that shoelaces are impossible to find.

That’s pretty much all I packed into my check in bags.  I put all my valuables and electronic equipment into my carry on.  I will write another post on that in part 2.

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