With three distinct regions, soaring mountains, verdant river deltas and 3,444km (2,140mi) of largely undeveloped coastline, Vietnam’s incredible diversity means there are unique adventures that await every kind of traveler. One thousand years of Chinese rule and a hundred years of French rule have added fascinating cultural threads to the tapestry of Vietnam’s rich history stretching back to the Bronze Age. In the last 40 years, Vietnam has emerged as a safe, peaceful and stable destination for the adventurous traveler searching for authentic yet comfortable bucket-list worthy experiences.
Hanoi, the country’s capital, is the highlight of northern Vietnam, a wonderful mix of Old meets New in its narrow streets and picturesque city lakes. While in the south, Saigon (officially known as “Ho Chi Minh City”) is the beating heart of the country, where wide leafy boulevards, a throwback to French city planning, meet trendy cafes and some of the best street food anywhere in the world. In between lies a mesmerizing combination of Nature ― postcard-pretty beaches, towering sand dunes, forested mountains ― and Culture, in the form of ancient temples and forgotten palaces, 54 ethnic minority groups, humble conical hats and flowing ao dais, the iconic tunic dress symbolizing the grace, modesty and beauty that is Vietnam.
Travelers fortunate enough to travel the length and breadth of this country can look forward to a lifetime of memories of a modern Asian nation proud of its Indochina heritage.
Key Facts/General Information
Official Name: Socialist Republic of Vietnam
Land area: 331,210 square kilometres
Inhabitants 94,348,835 (July 2015 est.)
Location: Bordering China, Laos and Cambodia
Language: Vietnamese (Official Language) and various ethnic minority languages
Religion: Majority Buddhism, Christian, Ancestor worship and others
Currency: Vietnamese Dong - VND (US$ widely accepted) US$1 = VND22, 300 (2015)
Major Cities: Hanoi Capital, Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, Hai Phong, Ha Long, Nha Trang, Hue, Nha Trang, Dalat
Independence: 2 September 1945
Constitution: 28 November 2013
Government: Socialist Republic
Electricity: 220 – 240 Volts. Plugs with two flat pins, two round pins or three square pins are used.
Country code: +84
Regions: 58 provinces, 5 municipalities
Local time: UTC/ GMT +7 hours
Life expectancy: 73.16 years
Best time to travel: March – May, Sep - Jan
Main Exports: Crude Oil, Clothing and footwear, rice, rubber, wooden products tea and coffee
Main Imports: Machinery and equipment, petroleum products, steel products raw materials for clothing and shoe industries, electronics, plastics, automobiles.
Vietnam’s history can be nearly divided into the following periods:
Pre History: Ancient Vietnam originated from circa 400,000 years (Paleolithic) to 4000 years (Neolithic) ago, with cultures in the area included Son Vi, Hoa Binh, Bac Son, Ha Long and Hoa Loc.
According to legends, the first Vietnamese Kingdom was founded in the seventh century BC by Hung Kings, named Van Lang. In the third century BC, King An Duong Vuong founded Au Lac and ruled until 179 B.C. Since 179 B.C, Vietnam was ruled by the Chinese Empire for many centuries.
A number of successful dynasties ruled by Vietnamese kings held away from 939 AD to 1945. During this period, Vietnam was repeatedly attacked by foreign invaders and often poorly defined borders flowed back and forth. This era of history ended with Bao Dai’s abduction in 1945.
Vietnam battled French Colonialism from 1858 to the August Revolution in 1945. Final victory was secured in the battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954.
North Vietnam fought the United States from 1954 until the Americans pulled out in 1975.
On the first day after the American War, the government changed Saigon’s name to Ho Chi Minh City. Damage from the war was extensive and rebuilding efforts were put in place. A rapid transition to Socialism in the South proved to be a harder task than expected.
As the Soviet Union began scaling back its commitments to the rest of the communist world, Vietnam was forced to follow suit in 1986. Reformist Nguyen Van Linh was chosen to lead the Vietnamese Communist Party and one of his first acts was to institute a radical economic reform policy called Doi Moi.
Between 1986 and 2000, more than 30,000 private businesses are created and the economy grew at an annual rate of 7%. In 2000, a bilateral trade agreement between Vietnam and the United States was a significant milestone for Vietnamese economy.
Vietnam lies in the East Asian monsoon zone and is affected by the south- western and winter monsoon seasons. Because of the country's 1600km length, each region has varying weather patterns that should be factored in when planning your trip.
There are three distinct regions where the climates differ: North, central and South Vietnam.
The North is generally cooler than the rest of the country. The winter months of November to January can be unexpectedly cold, especially in the mountainous areas of Sapa and Cao Bang along the Chinese border. The hottest period of the year is May to October where temperatures can rise to 37 degrees Celsius. During these months, the North will have the occasional typhoon.
Central Vietnam can be split into two sub- regions. The Coastal Lowlands are generally drier and hotter than the Central Highlands. However, unprotected parts of the coast have more typhoons and stroms than the North from November to March. Nha Trang experience a longer dry season which runs from January to September with high temperature and little rain. With cooler temperatures, the central Highlands experiences more than double the average rainfall of the country.
The South experience little variation in temperature during the year, fluctuating from 27-30 degrees Celsius, and has rainy and dry seasons. Rainy season lasts for seven months from May to November while dry season dominates the rest of the year.
Vietnam is a country which benefits from having three different micro climates, making it a great year –round destination. There is no perfect time to visit Vietnam. Generally, destination in the north such as Hanoi and Sapa are great in October, November and December, as you’ll see little rain and should have clear skies and temperate conditions. The coastal stretch from Hue down to Nha Trang is great in the first half of the year, from January through to July, while Saigon and the Mekong Delta are best from November through to February or March. Overall, Autumn (Sept – Dec) and Spring (March and April) are probably the most favourable seasons if you’re covering the whole country.
The origins of the Vietnamese people are a combination of the Mongol races of north and East Asia, with Chinese and Indian influences. 85% of Vietnam's ethnic-minority population belongs to indigenous groups - the largest of which are Thai and Hmong - who have been settled in the mountainous regions of the country for many centuries.
Vietnam's people are a special mix of cultures, languages and historical backgrounds. The one common denominator amongst them is that they love to smile and are genuinely interested in foreign visitors.
Vietnamese language reflects the country's unique mix of racial and cultural origins, with its fusion of monotonic Mon-Khmer, and Tai tonality and grammar. Having been a Chinese province for over a millennium (111 BC-939 AD), most of the country's governmental, literary, and technical vocabulary comes from the Chinese language. Vietnamese is the official language of Vietnam. Apart from Vietnamese, There are other languages spoken as well such as Chinese, Khmer, Cham and other languages spoken by tribes inhabiting the mountainous regions.
There is variety of options to stay in Vietnam. From World-Class hotels to smaller boutique accommodations for the one can choose from numerous options. Vietnam has its fair share of upscale hotels and it’s getting better all the time. From Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam encapsulates the exotic, the astounding and the sheer beauty of Southeast Asia. The coastline offers pearl after pearl of lovely fishing villages and rural delights as well as cultural gems such as Da Nang.
Health issues (and the quality of medical facilities) differ enormously depending on where you are in Vietnam. The major cities are generally not high risk and have good facilities. Travellers tend to worry about contracting infectious diseases in Vietnam, but serious illnesses are rare. It’s wise to visit a doctor preferably at least two months before you leave, to allow time to complete any recommended courses of vaccinations. No vaccinations are required for Vietnam (except yellow fever if you’re coming directly from an area where the disease is widespread), but typhoid and Hepatitis A jabs are recommended; it’s also worth ensuring you’re up to date with boosters such as tetanus and polio. Additional injections to consider, depending on the season and risk of exposure, are Hepatitis B, Japanese Encephalitis, Meningitis and Rabies.
Most nationalities need a visa, which must be arranged in advance. The request is made from the Vietnamese Embassy But you also have the opportunity to apply for a visa at the Vietnam International Airport arrival, after obtaining a provisional authorization letter (contact with your travel counsellor). Entry and exit points include Hanoi, HCMC and Danang airports or any of Vietnam's plentiful land borders, shared with Cambodia, China and Laos.
Lying on the Indochina Peninsula, Vietnam shares the borders with three neighbour countries: China, Laos, and Cambodia. Also, it has a coastline of more than 3,000 kilometres long. Thus, it is very easy to access Vietnam through airway, waterway, and roadway.
Airway is the best way to get to Vietnam that is easy and time saving. Two hub international airports are Noi Bai Airport in Hanoi and Tan Son Nhat Airport in Ho Chi Minh City. Besides, a far smaller number of international flights can be accepted by Danang Airport, located in Danang City.
Travellers have two options to get into Vietnam via roadway: by train or by bus.
The number of travellers coming to Vietnam through waterway is continuously rising.
Most foreigners wishing to visit Vietnam need to apply for an entry visa in advance. The only exception is if your country has a bilateral consular agreement for visa exemptions. You can check on your government's website to find if yours is one of the few that apply for this program. A recent change in policy has allowed international tourists a 30 day visa exemption if they enter Phu Quoc Island by sea or through the international transit lounge at Tan Son Nhat airport in Ho Chi Minh City.
Visa on arrival are available through various travel agencies and online visa services who, for a free, will fill out the appropriate paperwork for a visa approval latter. It's not really a "visa on arrival" but this makes it easier than having to deal with sending your passport off to the Vietnamese consular office or embassy in your country. This is only accessible for those flying into the country, so if you are entering through a land border, you will have to apply for one in your home country or one of the countries bordering Vietnam.
Tourist visas are valid for 30 or 90 days and can be single or multiple entries. The stamping fee varies from US$25 for a one - month, single entry visa, to US$50 for a three-month, multiple- entry visa. Check with your local Vietnamese embassy or consulate, or with a travel agent or online visa service.
Visa extensions are available for a fee of US$10 if you go directly to the immigration office. However, this takes some local language skills and quite a bit of patience. Due to this, most travellers rely on travel agents to deal with their extensions. This comes with a fee but definitely saves time and hassle. It takes 10 days to process. The length of your visa extension is dependent on your original visa, a one - month visa can only be extended by one month, a three -month visa can be extended for up to three months. The visa extension should be applied at least 5 days before it expires.
Business hours in Vietnam are usually 8:00 am to 6:00 pm, Monday to Friday. Banks usually open from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm and most are usually closed on Saturdays and Sundays. Retail shops are usually open from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm.
The Vietnamese currency is Dong (VND). Bank notes in circulation are 500; 1,000; 2,000; 5,000; 10,000; 20,000; 50,000; 100,000; 500,000. Foreign currency can be exchanged at the bank, exchange bureau or reception desk at hotels. Most major foreign-issued credit and debit cards are accepted at ATM’s in major touristic destinations. Travellers' cheque and most of credit cards are accepted in major cities. Before leaving Vietnam, Vietnamese dong can be changed into foreign currencies at the airport.
Exchange rate (is subject to be changeable)
1.00 USD = 22,381.38 VND US Dollar ↔ Vietnamese Dong
1.00 USD = 22,381.38 VND
US Dollar ↔ Vietnamese Dong
There are three carriers offering domestic flights in Vietnam. Flights are relatively cheap and are a faster and most comfortable alternative to buses or trains. The national carrier is Vietnam airlines, Jetstar Pacific Airlines also operates locally. A new comer to the market is VietJet Air, which offers budget pricing.
The two main ports of entry are Hanoi’s Noi Bai (HAN) and Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat (SGN), with Danang (DAD) in a distant third. Recently, two new International Airports opened in Cam Ranh and Phu Quoc.
The standard electrical supply in Vietnam runs at 220 volt, 50 hertz. Both flat and round two – pin outlets are used throughout the country. It is recommended to bring a universal plug adaptor.
Internet: Major hotels have Business Centres with PCs connected to the Internet. Some of them have wireless broadband access in rooms or public areas. Cyber cafes are becoming popular and are easily found in major towns and cities.
International calls: Long-distance and international direct-dial calling is available throughout the country. Using a telephone booth which are at post offices or in the streets of major cities are easy ways to call home. Telephone cards are on sales at shops, restaurants, book stores.
The national language is Vietnamese. The Vietnamese has six different tones and is a different language for most foreigners to speak despite the fact that the Roman alphabet is used. For example, one word can have six different meanings depending on the tone used to pronounce it. In the big cities and major tourism destinations, English is widely spoken.
Useful Common Phrases in Vietnamese
Hello: Xin Chao
Thank You: Cam On
How much?: Bao nhieu?
Receipt: Hoa don/ Bien lai
Hurry up: Nhanh len
I don't want: Toi khong muon
Stop: Dung lai
Go straight: Di thang
Tomorrow: Ngay mai
Wait here: Doi O day
See you again: Hen gap lai
Please: Lam on
You’re welcome: Khong sao dau
Excuse Me: Excuse Me
I’m sorry: Xin Loi
No vaccinations are required except for yellow fever if you are coming from an area where the disease is present. However visitors should be inoculated against typhoid, cholera, hepatitis A & B, tetanus and polio. Malaria is present in most of the region and it is advisable to take precautions especially if travelling off the beaten track. Medical facilities are rather limited in the country and it is essential to take out a good medical insurance policy before travelling in case evacuation is needed.
It is advisable to take out a medical insurance policy before travelling as treatment will not be administered without proof of payment or evidence of a comprehensive travel insurance policy. Do be careful if you hire a car or a motorbike and make sure the rental is covered by the appropriate motor insurance.
When checking into a hotel, you will have to surrender your passport with the local police. Once registered, ensure that your passport is returned to you and keep it in a safe place. Passports should not be used as a deposit for renting hotel rooms or in place of a fine in the event of any possible traffic offence. It is advisable to carry photocopies of the data and visa pages from your passport, which can be used as proof of identity.
Travel is restricted near military installations and some areas of Vietnam are fairly inaccessible. Do not stray off main routes in rural areas and check with us before travelling. Follow safety guidelines and procedures and ensure that such activities are undertaken under the supervision of reputable guides.
Buses great for getting around the city in air-conditioned comfort (at least, in the newer models). Most major streets are accessed via bus line. Longer distance bus services connect most cities in Vietnam and tickets can be purchased at the bus stations. Improved road travel is making the train less popular in most part except for the mountainous far north. There are number of classes, from third-class hard seat, to air conditioned cushioned seat, to sleeper. Book train tickets in advance especially for weekend travel and in the summer. Taxis to get around the cities are cheap and numerous. For quality assurance, choose large taxi companies such as Hanoi Taxi, Mai Linh or Vinasun.
You may find traffic in Vietnam pretty crazy, and it may appear scary to cross the street. The best way is to find the zebra crossings and wait for the red light. In case you want to cross in the middle of the street, just walk slowly at a steady pace and they will go around you.
January 1: New Year's Day
April 30: Liberation Day/Reunification Day
May 1: International Labour Day
September 2: National Day (Vietnam)
Vietnam Traditional Lunar New Year Festival - Tet Nguyen Dan: (Four day holiday). Tet holiday usually falls at the end of January or middle of February by solar calendar. The holiday begins on the last day of the last lunar month and lasts through the first three days of the Lunar New Year (Tet Nguyen Dan)
The 10th day of the third lunar month (in April 15, 2008; April 5, 2009; April 23, 2010). The ancestors' death anniversary of the whole nation (one day holiday)
Comfortable lightweight and easy-to-launder clothing in natural fabrics such as cotton is most suitable and recommended for travelling in Vietnam. The dress code is fairly casual as in most parts of the tropics, but it is advisable to cover arms and legs in the evenings against biting insects. A lightweight raincoat is a good idea in the rainy season. During the winter, warm clothing is needed for visiting the North of Vietnam. Good walking shoes and sandals that can be easily removed are recommended, especially when entering a private home or sacred places. Visitors to Buddhist countries should not wear shorts, short skirts or other skimpy clothing when visiting religious buildings.
The cuisine of Vietnam comes as a pleasant surprise to many visitors and is definitely an experience not to be missed. One of the characteristics of the food is that it is always fresh being bought the same morning straight from the market. Food is usually prepared with a minimum of oil and served with the ubiquitous fish sauce called "nuoc mam". Typical Vietnamese dishes you can expect to try include pho, cha gio, deep-fried spring rolls and goi ngo sen... Due to the strong Buddhist influence in Vietnam, vegetarian food is widely available. Vietnamese food is delicious and you will want to try it all. Go ahead and buy a kilo of that strange looking purple fruit, but be aware of hygiene when you're eating street food. To be cautious, opt for vendors who already have customers. Western food is widely available in the major tourism destination.
Doesn't drink tap water unless you boil it, and even then, contamination with arsenic can be an issue? Advise strict to bottled water. Ice is usually safe as the Vietnamese Use Mountains of it and there's a huge commercial ice- making industry; if the ice is cylindrical in shape, it is probably made by a commercial distributor who uses safe bottled safe bottled or filtered water. Bring a supply of your usual anti –diarrhoea medicine.
Dining out in Vietnam can stretch from a street side stall to a lavish buffet at one of the five-star hotels in town. The range of food available is wide and everyone should be able to find a venue to suite both taste and budget. Keep in mind that the sanitary levels at the street food level won’t be high.
The big cities Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi have the best choice when it comes to shopping. The best local buys include lacquer ware, silk, conical hats, woodcarvings, hill tribe fabrics and handicrafts, embroidery, silver jewellery, wooden water puppets with ingenious mechanisms and ceramics. Clothes are particularly good value and tailors can make up items within 24 hours in many places.
Tipping for good service is not expected but is always appreciated. Tipping the guide and driver on your transfers and tours should depend on how satisfied you are with the excursion. Hotel porters should be tipped for carrying bags to the room. In other cases, it is totally up to the individual when how much to tip.
Remember that negotiating is not rude but expected, even if a fixed price is advertised. Haggle for the best prices or risk paying over the odds. Try walking away to get a better price. If that doesn't work, you can always go back to the vendor later, after trying a few others to get a feel of what's realistic, Keep smiling
Ho Chi Minh City has an abundance of bars and clubs ranging from simple beer to more sophisticated up-market nightclubs. Most of the nightlife is concentrated in District One. Hanoi’s nightlife is much quieter in comparision and is concentrated in the Old Quarter and the Hoan Kiem Lake areas. Live music is mainly restricted to international hotels and few bars hosting jazz and rock bands.
Vietnam is a relatively safe country to visit. As a global rule, never leave your belongings unattended and always maintain eye contact or a firm grip on cameras and shoulder bags. Avoid cyclos late at night and choose reliable metered taxi companies. Petty crime is not confined to the backpacker districts and also occurs in the main tourist shopping areas. Do now walk in secluded locations alone, or with people you do not know. To minimize risk, be on your guard against pickpockets and avoid carrying handbags or wearing expensive-looking jewellery or watches. Use hotel safety deposit boxes to store valuables, money or passports and carry a photocopy of the data and visa pages of your passport.
Penalties for possession, distribution or manufacture of drugs can be severe. In Vietnamese law, anyone found in possession of even a small amount of drugs can face the death sentence. So remember to just say no.
Police Dial (Area code) + 113; Emergency Medical Services Dial (Area code) + 115; Fire Service Dial (Area Code) + 114
Passport with at least six months validity from date of entry
Photocopy of passport
Foreign Currency (US$) and/or ATM Card
All relevant tickets
Light weight clothing (summer months and the south)
Warm Clothing (mountainous regions and Hanoi in winter)
Appropriate shoes for trekking, cycling or walking
First Aid Kit
Adaptor – 220V, 50hz: 2 pin plugs
Small Daypack (for day and overnight trips)
Water bottle and helmet (for cycling trips)
Please note: Domestic airlines do impose restrictions on baggage at approx 20kg maximum so travel lightly wherever possible. Train cabins around the country, and boat cabins in Halong Bay have limited space so consider this when packing.