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Adoption Travel to Vietnam - Questions and Answers

By Robin Brodeur

Robin Brodeur posed the following questions on traveling to Vietnam for adoption to the Adoptive Parents of Vietnam support group, prior to her trip to Vietnam to bring home her daughter. An edited version of responses she received is provided below.

Do you think we'll have to travel to Hanoi (where my daughter is in the orphanage) for the G&R or do you think that all will happen in HCMC? How long did all of you have to wait to get your children once you were in Vietnam?

What do you all recommend we bring for gifts, and for whom?

Should we bring our video camera? I wonder if it will be too much extra weight to carry.

Should we bring a baby carrier/seat for the return trip? Did any of you get an extra seat for the return trip?

Is there access to e-mail at the larger hotels? I would like to communicate with my family this way if it is available.

Some travel guides I've read recommend against sleeveless tops, shorts etc. What do you think?

I am considering bringing some toys for the children, as well as some clothing. Will I be able to give toys to the children?

Do you think we'll have to travel to Hanoi (where my daughter is in the orphanage) for the G&R or do you think that all will happen in HCMC? How long did all of you have to wait to get your children once you were in Vietnam?

Do you think we'll have to travel to Hanoi (where my daughter is in the orphanage) for the G&R or do you think that all will happen in HCMC? How long did all of you have to wait to get your children once you were in Vietnam?

Since HCMC is several hours away by air from Hanoi you will certainly go to Hanoi which is where the child is. If the child is from a province other than Hanoi, you will be taken to the province for the G&R ceremony. The province might be 2 hours away or 6 hours, etc. depending on where the child is from. You should have the original paperwork on the child. What province was she born in? That is where her G&R will be. IMH will take you there. You usually get the child anywhere from within a couple of hours after arriving to a couple of days later (but with the child being in Hanoi probably within 24 hours).

I saw your post and unless something has changed drastically, I think you may have confused your port of entry with your port of exit. If you baby is in Hanoi, you will enter VN in Hanoi, stay there and then go your G&R, either there or a surrounding province, depending on where she was born. IMH will apply and get her passport and then you will go to HCMC to do the medical, US embassy interview and get her US visa. Then you will leave for home from HCMC.

The G&R will probably be in the province where your child was born or lives now. Everything in VN is province-oriented. G&Rs differ greatly from one province to another: in HCMC I hear it's like a city-hall wedding. Ours in Vinh Long was an hour-long ceremony with specific speeches by orphanage and province officials -- and new parents!

I will mention that if you have to go to Hanoi, you should pleased. As our son is from a northern province about 2 hours from Hanoi, that's where we stayed for about half of our trip. Compared to HCMC, it's cooler, slower paced, has more charm and is more walkable as a city. Plus, if you have any time to take in cultural activities, there are several wonderful things to see.

Your agency will give you an approximate length of stay, usually 2 weeks, but you should be prepared to stay a few days longer if necessary. Sometimes holidays, paper snags, etc. can delay your return slightly. I imagine there are differences from agency/facilitator to agency/facilitator, but most of the time you get your child right away and the G&R is in a day or 2. You then apply for VN passport, which takes several days, and then you are off to HCMC, where you have medical done, embassy interview and US visa which takes a day or 2. Then you are off for home. You can see that if part of this process happened to fall on a weekend or holiday when offices are closed, it could make a slight difference, so stay in country is approximate.

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What do you all recommend we bring for gifts, and for whom?

We gave gifts at the G&R ceremony. Some people give gifts to orphanage staff (the two children we adopted weren't in the orphanage so we did not do this). If you are with IMH and are staying at the Claudia, consider small gifts for Mrs. Thuy and hotel staff.

I brought small, lite-weight photo frames, a college T-shirt, lotions, hair accessories, and candy. Ask your agency for more specific info about who to bring gifts for.

Something for the orphanage director and workers, and something for the G & R ceremony. Cookies, fruit, and liquor are traditional gifts here. I ve heard that gifts of toiletries (scented lotions, soaps, etc.) are well accepted for orphanage workers.

We brought T-shirts and hats (from NYC.) Things with logos and names from cities and colleges seemed popular. We also brought little perfumed items and makeup kits. Who knows how they went over: it's what our agency suggested.

For Men - One of the things I took for the men at our orphanage were wall calendars. I specifically bought some with great photographs of the region where we live. Another item we took was "baseball" hats. The men in Vietnam love them; doesn't matter what's on them. While there, we certainly saw lots of men wearing them, so I guess it's true.

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Should we bring our video camera? I wonder if it will be too much extra weight to carry.

Do it...you'll want the tapes!

It depends on how heavy it is. We got a new digital video camera before we left. It is very small and was no problem.

I took my video camera each time. With our first adoption, we both traveled and the camera was no problem at all. For the second adoption, I traveled alone and the camera unfortunately didn't get much use. It was just too difficult carrying the baby and camera and baby supplies and shopping bags... something had to give and it ended up being the video camera! But, I am still glad I took it along

Definitely take your video camera, you will kick yourself if you don't. That is the most important thing to take, and use it every day. When your child is older, she will probably ask what it is like in Vietnam, and you can pull out the tapes and show her (it's so different from here; it is almost impossible to tell her what it's like!). You are helping to create her history, and the camera is a great way to do that. Ask someone to videotape the G&R and everything else you can think of. I only wish I had more tape of our trip!

I say bring your video camera! We are so thankful to have the video that we have. Bringing a part of Vietnam home to share with family and friends was great, plus we will be able to show our daughter a lot while she grows. I did have it as a carry-on and it was fine.

Video cameras are a must, unless you have one of those older, large ones, I don' t think it will be too heavy.

I went back and forth about the video camera -- absolutely bring it. You'll never have anything made of plastic mean so much to you in your life as that tape. Margaret loves to watch it. Tip: make sure you're both prepared to be cameraman. Otherwise someone's always in the picture and the other's out of the action feeling left out. (Guess who that was!)

Hmmm - the video camera. I could go either way on this question. Maybe I'll just tell you what happened with us. My husband's parents had given us a video camera & had specifically mentioned how great it would be for recording our trip; so we felt obligated to take it. We didn't use it much, though, for several reasons. Primarily, it was just one more thing to carry; one more thing to deal with. Most of the time, both we felt we couldn't carry one more thing in addition to our VERY ACTIVE son, his "stuff," our water, the still camera and whatever adoption documents we needed at the time. (We both had backaches for a good part of our trip!) Even though I am the family photographer & love to shoot with my old Canon SLR back home, I found that 1) I was too busy being a mom to have time for photography as much as I would have liked and 2) that I, personally, was very self-conscious using such a big, expensive "luxury" item in a country as poor as Vietnam. Consequently, Robert took most of the video - much of which is not easy to view as he hadn't practiced using it much before our trip and, therefore, wasn't steady, had trouble framing, panned too fast, etc. - or shot it while we were riding in the cyclo! --- ALL that said, however, we ARE happy to have the little bit of video we do have - esp. of the slower, easier-to-see shots of Michael at that age.

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Should we bring a baby carrier/seat for the return trip? Did any of you get an extra seat for the return trip?

No, don't bother. The International flights will have a bulkhead bassinet you can use and both of my kids (a 7 month old and a 9 month old) have flown in them just fine.

I believe that children should have their own seats on an airplane and that requires an approved child safety seat. This is all for safety. OTOH, taking a child safety seat with you and lugging it around will be very difficult for you. Most people don't do this for infants. (We adopted older children ages 2 and 6 so this was not an issue for us).

You really don't need a carrier for the return flight, now that would be extra weight! I used the Baby Bjorn for the take off and landings. Some people like those, and some prefer the baby sling. Depending on what the flight looks like, you might not get an extra seat for her (we were traveling business class, and we did get an extra seat for her, but there were no extra seats in economy class). And too, my daughter was so "worried" about the flight that it was better that I was holding her in the Baby Bjorn.

We never brought a carrier or anything like that, but did have a snuggli and our daughter loved it, (forward facing). We stayed at the Evergreen (very nice and cheap). They had little lounge chairs that we used and it was nice to have for some of the time. We didn't purchase an extra seat on the return flight but they were great in seating us in a spot that had an empty seat, which worked well her to sleep. She was 5.5 months at time of adoption. Most people use snuglis or some form of soft baby carrier or sling. This depends on baby size and age. And yes, definitely get the extra seat on the way back, as it gives you extra room and it is very inexpensive for a baby.

For the return trip, I would try very hard if I were you to reserve a bulkhead bassinet. It will be a perfect size for your daughter. For my money you definitely don't want to have to carry her on your laps the whole way back --you'll need to sleep too! I always book my children separate seats, for that reason (plus you can put your carry-on luggage under their seats and you get LEGROOM).

We didn't bring a car seat. Get a bulkhead seat and a bassinet. (On one flight there was no bassinet, and Margaret was in her own (open) seat in a nest of blankets. In turbulence I wore her in her snugli.)

I'd say forget the car seat/baby carrier for the return trip. An extra seat on the plane would've been nice, but we simply couldn't afford one. Bulkhead seats WITH BASSINETTES for the return flight home is the way to go. It gets the baby off your lap - except for when there's turbulence; then they'll make you take the baby out and hold her. In case you might forget: Be sure there's a car seat in the car that's taking you home from the airport when you get back.

Until our daughter was 2 years old, a ticket (with guaranteed seat of her own) on international flights was 10% of the adult fare. It made no sense not to do it. Even when she had her own ticket, the flight attendants made me hold her for takeoffs and landings; no one used a car seat on the plane. I was shocked the first time we flew domestic and I had to pay full fare for her ticket (she could fly free if we did not reserve a seat for her and held her on our lap...try that sometime with a 23 month old, just for entertainment). Now that she's older, international fares are about 75%, domestic are still full adult fare.

Editor note: Cost of an extra seat for a child seems to vary by airline.

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Is there access to e-mail at the larger hotels? I would like to communicate with my family this way if it is available.

More and more, email is available at hotels in VN - esp. those where Westerners frequently stay. There are also commercial places where access to email is available for a very nominal cost. I doubt you'll have a problem finding a way to send email while you're there.

There is access to e-mail at large and small hotels. In Hanoi, IMH will want you to stay at either the Hanoi Towers (now the Somerset) or the Claudia. The Claudia is very small. E-mail ran $.04 a minute. At larger hotels it is more expensive up to about $.25 a minute.

You'll need a web-based account (most people use hotmail or yahoo - some other accounts like AOL can also be accessed via the web). It is a GREAT way to communicate with family back home!

Email is all over the place in Hanoi and HCMC. Hotels have it-- almost all hotels. I stayed in a tiny cheap hotel in Hanoi and even that place had it. The hotels are more expensive on email rates. You are better off to go to an Internet cafe to send and read emails. In Hanoi, I used the Emotion Internet Cafe. But, consult a guidebook or website for info on others besides the Emotion. It is not really conveniently located.

In HCMC, I LOVED one called the Cyber Cafe Saigon. Here's the review that I wrote on my website: Cyber Cafe Saigon, 232 De Tham Street, District 1 HCMC Phone: 8367406, email: cybersg@saigonnet.vn This is my personal favorite among email cafes in the backpacker section of Saigon. They charge 400 dong/minute of Internet service (as of March 2000) and have big comfy chairs in a moderately air-conditioned room. They have several computers (guessing maybe 12-15?). You can order a snack from the restaurant below. If you don't order a snack, they will bring you a complimentary cup of iced beer. The lady working there is just great! So helpful and kind. She held my daughter the whole time I was on the Internet.

There are many many Internet cafes in the "backpacker section" of HCMC and they all have low rates and most have scanners and fax machines available. I was able to scan photos and send them home to my family while I was away

Most of the larger hotels have email in their business centers, but I found it easiest to fax home from my hotel. I had a friend who received the faxes, and then she sent them out as emails to a whole long list of people from there.

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Some travel guides I've read recommend against sleeveless tops, shorts etc. What do you think?

I see two problems with shorts especially. First, they really aren't worn by women much in Vietnam. We took shorts but wore them only at the hotel. I did occasionally wear clothes with short sleeves. I mostly wore light, long-sleeved clothes as mosquito protection, which was also another reason not to wear shorts.

For your G&R ceremony (and for any sightseeing in temples, pagodas, Temple of Literature, etc.) you definitely do NOT want shorts and/or tank tops. Hanoi is more "conservative" that HCMC. I lived in VN for six months and ever since can not wear shorts in Hanoi. I always wear skirts or loose-fitting pants. I usually do wear sleeveless tops, but not tank tops. You'll see the difference in dress in HCMC immediately - and you see LOTS of tourists wearing shorts there. (Hanoi too, actually.) Just not in "formal" places like the temples, etc. I usually prefer cotton clothing, but I've found that it takes FOREVER to dry in VN. Rayon dries very quickly - and you may want to get some CoolMax shirts (I know LL Bean carries them - other sporting goods shops should too). They wick moisture and dry REALLY fast - they're great!

Our agency specifically instructed all women traveling to NOT WEAR sleeveless tops or shorts (of any length) - esp. if we were traveling in the northern part of the country, where it's more traditional. After walking the streets of Vietnam in both Hanoi and HCMC, I could see that this was good advice. We were dressed more in line with the Vietnamese people, which made both them & us more comfortable around each other. I noticed that the few times we saw some European travelers that hadn't been given (or hadn't heeded) this advice, they stuck out like sore thumbs, got a lot of stares from the Vietnamese and personally made my husband & I feel uncomfortable, too. (That "embarrassed for them" feeling.) I get hot easily, so I just made sure that everything I took was 100% cotton - or very close to it!

Forget what the travel guides say about dress. they're out of date. Anything that is within normally accepted boundaries of taste and decency will be just fine. The younger generation here wears short-shorts and spaghetti straps, so you'll certainly be fine. You may want something like a nice skirt and short-sleeved blouse for the G&R -- again don't sweat it, just wear what makes you most comfortable.

I think this is crazy. I have read the same thing in some guides. I believe we should dress appropriately and although it is so hot we feel like wearing a tank top and running shorts, that wouldn't be advisable.... BUT a good pair of khakis and a T-shirt is fine for shopping and most sight seeing. Some places like temples and Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum have dress requirements, so find out about that first. When I arrived in Saigon this past trip (Feb/Mar 00), our agency rep met us at the airport wearing pants and a sleeveless top. I personally didn't wear any sleeveless shirts, but I think in most cases it would be fine as long as it is a modest one. I have also read "no jeans" in one of my guidebooks. This is also just crazy! Jeans are also OK to wear. I honestly wore shorts and T-shirts almost the entire trip. Take something nicer for the ceremony and any "fancy" dinners or tourist activities that would require you to dress nice. Just for general shopping and wandering around, be comfortable. Don't take anything that you don't want to get peed on and puked on-- that's the rule to live by when packing!

I wore short sleeved tops, but I don't know that I'd recommend sleeveless. If for no other reason than you will get a wicked burn!

We wore shorts and tank tops (the odd place doesn't like you to wear tank tops but most are fine) all the while we were there. It is sooooo hot that believe me you will cringe at the thought of putting on a pair of pants. We didn't find the bugs a problem at all.

I rarely wore sleeveless but in HCMC I think it was okay; others did all the time. Washable linen everything was my favorite, including loose (long) drawstring pants.

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I am considering bringing some toys for the children, as well as some clothing. Will I be able to give toys to the children?

We are bringing both toys and clothing when we go to get our new baby. (We hope to have our referral within about a month). Our daughter, Sophia, is from Tu Liem (Cau Giay) and our new baby will be from there too. We didn't know what to bring the first time, in the pre-email list days, so I brought candy and a few little other things. We will be much better prepared this time!

If you take gifts to the orphanage, I would suggest bringing inexpensive things and things everyone can have. I mean like for 100 children. This could be balloons (I know some people think these are too dangerous, but my two boys from VN have very fond memories of Americans bringing balloons for everyone.) Lolly pops, bubble gum, gummy bears in individual packages. Some group things could be like 20 coloring books and 20 boxes of crayons. Soccer ball and ball pump. You can deflate the soccer ball to fit in your suit case. Volley ball and net. I saw the kids playing volley ball at the orphanage. It's a great game for at least 20 kids to play at one time. About 20 jump ropes would be nice. You can buy them for less than a dollar now at the drug stores. Old fashion jacks would go over well. My VN kids played Jacks in Vietnam, but they used small stones. I have heard from two people who recently traveled that the orphanages need plastic baby bottles for babies. At one orphanage they had several babies sharing one bottle. So if you could manage some baby bottles in your suit case that certainly would be helpful.


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