Ask Joan: dealing with Dong, New York value accommodation, trip to Russia

Bring dollars to Vietnam, New York under €60 per night, War and Peace inspired Russian trip

We are travelling to Hanoi in March. What would you advise is the best way to carry currency, pay for services, as we don't want to carry too much cash? We know that the Dong is only available in Vietnam and cannot be purchased prior to entry. Can cash cards be used widely? JH, Limerick.

ATM machines are more widely available in Vietnam but there is a charge for using them. They only dispense Dong. The dollar is still widely taken in Vietnam and a stack of $1, $5 and $10 bills will be useful for small purchases and very welcome. The euro is not as widely recognised, but can be changed in banks or hotels for Dong. Credit cards are accepted in major shops, hotels and restaurants.

We are trying to find decent budget hotels or accommodation in New York from 10th - 14th July. I know it is expensive there but we wouldn't like to go higher than approx, €60 per night for a twin room. Perhaps Queens area would have easy access to city and possibly be not so expensive. LE, Dublin.

New York City has become extraordinarily expensive in recent years. The exchange rate does not help either. It would be impossible to find a hotel that you could stay in comfortably for €60 per night.

You could look at the following websites vrbo.com, is for rentals by owners and homestay.com is staying with families. Read the details carefully on the advertisements. Only consider places that have reviews and clarify all the charges, some owners add extras for cleaning or linens.

Areas outside Manhattan will be less expensive so try Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Westchester County, making sure to seek properties that are close to public transport. Places that sleep three or four will usually have two beds or a sofa bed.

The television dramatization of War and Peace and the wonderful history of the Czars has convinced me that I should visit Russia for the first time this year. Moscow and St Petersburg seem to be the most likely destinations. Can you suggest a tour operator who can offer a good all inclusive tour of these two cities at a reasonable price? The Russian language looks daunting, have you any suggestions on how to acquire a basic knowledge? TH, Dublin.

Citiescapes have been taking people to Russia for quite a few years and there will be trips from May to September this year. The usual trip includes three nights in St. Petersburg and three nights in Moscow.

It begins in St. Petersburg sometimes known as the Venice of the north. There will be guided tours to all the major places of interest including the Winter Palace, the Hermitage Museum, Peter Paul Fortress and more. The journey to Moscow will be on the high speed Sapsan train.

In Moscow you will get to see all the iconic images of the city like the cathedrals of St. Basil's, Assumption, Archangel Michael and the Annunciation, visit the Kremlin, take a boat trip on the Volga and much more. The basic cost of the tour including flights from Ireland and four-star hotel accommodation is from €1,649 plus €60 for the visa. There are additional optional tours you can take. Details from citiescapes.ie, (01) 294 1000. The Travel Department has similar tours beginning in Moscow then to St. Petersburg, traveldepartment.ie

There are a number of courses in Dublin to learn Russian, though you may have missed the start of term, they are in Trinity College, tcd.ie, Ballsbridge College, ballbridgecollege.com and Sandford Languages in Westmoreland St, sandfordlanguages.ie.

Send your queries to jscales@irishtimes.com

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