Vietnam Country Guide
While most people associate Vietnam with memories of war, a trip to the country will successfully erase all such thoughts and you will see what entrancing natural beauty the country is endowed with. From beautiful islands to picturesque beaches, from undulating mountains to lush rainforests, Vietnam has exceptional and diverse geography. But perhaps the most endearing part of Vietnam is its affable and smiling people. All this makes Vietnam a popular tourist destination.
What makes a trip to Vietnam worthwhile is the genuine warmth and the sincere hospitality of the Vietnamese, something the rest of the world can only emulate.
Our Vietnam Country Guide below will tell you all you need to know about the best of amazing Vietnam. If you are more interested in City events, attractions and things to do, click on the Vietnam Destination Guides and our local Vietnam Tour Ideas. Let us guide you through our exotic country with our local suggestions.
Vietnam has been witness to a complex past that has been judiciously preserved with a lot of pride. There is much diversity in each city and town of Vietnam. For instance, Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City, as it is known now, is unquestionably the business capital of Vietnam.
The ancient town of Hoi An is a benchmark in conservation of heritage because of the well-preserved trading port that has been around since the 15th century. The ancient city of Hue is an interesting place which takes you back to Vietnam's imperial history of the Nguyễn Dynasty - the last ruling family of Vietnam.
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Vietnam Country Guide
Useful information on this page includes:
Check out our six-day Hanoi weather forecast on our Vietnam weather page. The page also provides climate details and information on the best time to visit.
The international country code to dial into Vietnam is +84. To dial overseas from within Vietnam, dial 00 followed by the relevant country code and phone number.
Emergency numbers in Vietnam are: Ambulance (15); Fire (14); and Police (13).
Although Vietnam is in the process of modernising its communication systems, it still lags behind its neighbours. The easiest mode of communication is by telephone. All hotels allow the use of telephones and some do not charge for domestic calls. International direct dialling facilities are also easily available and standard charges are applicable. However, if you are using this facility from a hotel, it may work out to be expensive.
The most convenient way to communicate when you are in Vietnam would be to make use of cellular phone technology. All you need to do is buy a pre-paid phone-card and you can be in touch wherever you go. Recharge the card when your talk time is over. All incoming calls are free in Vietnam, regardless of where the calls come from. You have to pay the local rate for local calls and the charges for international calls per minute are also very reasonable. There is a concession when you call during off-peak hours: 11:00pmto 7:00am. The cellular phone system in Vietnam is GSM.
Ever since the government of Vietnam has permitted Internet usage in the country (in 1997), the number of users in the country has increased dramatically. There are internet cafes in most hotel lobbies and business centres, which you can use to access your mail by paying 4,000 to 5000 VND per hour. However, some sites have been blocked by the government. A study by the OpenNet Initiative (ONI) says that the Vietnamese state "attempts to block citizens from accessing political and religious material deemed to be subversive along various axes".
You can also use the good old-fashioned way of communication by using the postal service. Post offices in the country are open from 8am to 8pm. A booklet of ten postcards costs 10,000 VND. Letters and postcards take about two weeks to be delivered to either Europe or the USA.
The currency is the Vietnamese Dong (VND). Notes are available in denominations of VND 100,000; 50,000; 20, 000; 10,000; 5,000; 2,000; 1,000; 500; and 200 hundred.
Coins have just recently been re-introduced and are available in 5,000; 2,000; 1,000; 500; and 200 Dong denominations.
The USD is widely used in Vietnam's cities. The Euro is exchangeable, but not as popular. Bring clean bank notes with you. Dirty or torn notes might be refused. Larger notes (i.e. 100) often get a better exchange rate than smaller ones.
VISA, MasterCard and American Express cards are accepted in major hotels, restaurants, and shops in the urban areas. Travellers Checks are easily changeable at banks and moneychangers all over the country. Commissions are US$1 for a US$100 TC at Vietcombank, US$2 at ANZ Bank.
Check today's Vietnamese dong Exchange Rate from OANDA.com, The Currency Site.
Caution: These exchange rates are a reference guide only.
Actual rates in-country will be slightly higher or lower.
Vietnam runs off a 220V/ 50Hz system.
To view a list of Vietnam embassies around the world, including foreign embassies within Vietnam, click on this link to EmbassyWorld.com.
Population - 84 million people
Total Area - 329,560 square kilometres
Capital - Hanoi (3 million people)
Time Zone - Standard time zone: UTC/GMT +7 hours
To view the current time in Hanoi, click on this link to TimeAndDate.com.
The official language of Vietnam is Vietnamese, which is a tonal language similar to Cambodia's official language, Khmer. It is also monosyllabic, with each syllable having six different tones that can change the meaning of the word. This makes it quite difficult for new learners. There are other languages, such as Chinese, Khmer, and Cham, spoken by minorities. The tribals inhabiting the mountainous regions have their own dialects.
In its written form, Vietnamese uses the Roman alphabet. The different tones are indicated by the use of accent marks. This system of writing, called quoc ngu, was created by a French Catholic missionary, Fr. Alexander De Rhodes, in the 17th century to translate the scriptures. This system replaced the earlier system called chu nom which was in use for centuries and used Chinese characters. Some common Vietnamese words/phrases include:
Hello - PRONOUNCED chow
How are you? - own khway-eh kowm
Thank you - cam un
I don't understand - kowm hee-you
How much? - bow new
Police - kowm an
Man - nam
Woman - noo
1 - mote
2 - hi
3 - bah
4 - bone
5 - nam
6 - sow
7 - bye
8 - tam
9 - chin
10 - moo-ee
Follow the link to view a current list of public holidays in Vietnam.
Vietnamese culture and life are deeply influenced by religious beliefs. The predominant religion is Buddhism, which was brought into the country by Chinese migrants and Indian preachers. It became the state religion during the Ly Dynasty (1010-1214). Most Vietnamese follow the Mahayana branch of Buddhism.
The other philosophies followed are Confucianism, Taoism and Christianity. Confucianism is a social philosophy which focuses on moral and social behaviour and duties. The philosophy has an influence on Vietnamese thinking and behaviour. Taoism was introduced in Vietnam when the Chinese dominated the country; it advocates harmony between man and nature. Christianity is followed in the country by a minority and there are about three million Christians in the country.
An interesting feature of Vietnam is the presence of two religious sects: Cao Dai and Hoa Hao, found in the rural sectors of the Southern Delta region. Caodaism is a fusion of different beliefs, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, and Taoism, while Hoa Hao is a transformed Buddhist sect of the Theravada group.
Over time there has been an amalgamation of philosophies and this is collectively called the Triple Religion.
Official breakdowns of religion in Vietnam are: Buddhist (9.3%), Catholic (6.7%), Hoa Hao (1.5%), Cao Dai (1.1%), Protestant (0.5%), Muslim (0.1%), none (80.8%) - 1999 census.
The following travellers do not need visas for Vietnam: Bulgaria, China, Cuba, Korea (Democratic Republic), Mongolia, Romania, Russian Federation and Ukraine. Nationals of Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand do not require visas for stays of up to 30 days; as well as The Philippines (for stays of up to 21 days); and Denmark, Finland, Japan, Korea (Republic), Norway and Sweden for stays of up to 15 days. Transit passengers continuing their journey within 24 hours, provided holding valid return or onward tickets do not require visas. At present, visas can be issued for either groups or individuals.
Travellers from all other countries are required to obtain a visa before travelling to Vietnam. However, all regulations, including those concerning which counties require visas, cost of visas and validity of visas, are very complex and subject to frequent change. It is therefore advisable to contact the consular section at the Embassy before any travel to Vietnam.
Types of Visas: Vietnam offers the following tourist visas to foreign travellers:
Single-Entry (approx US$70); Express Service (approx US$100); Multiple-Entry (approx US$130). Tourist visas are valid for one month from proposed date of entry. Visas can usually be extended for another month in some of the larger towns at extra cost. All passports must be valid for at least one month after expiration of the nominated visa.
It is advisable to check all information regarding Vietnam visas, as well as passport and entry requirements, with your relevant embassy prior to travel.
Vietnam lies in South-East Asia and is has a 3,300km coastline with the Gulf of Thailand, Gulf of Tonkin, and South China Sea; as well as sharing land borders with China, Laos, and Cambodia.
To view a map of Vietnam, click on this link to WorldAtlas.com.
Vietnamese food has been influenced by other cuisines such as Chinese, French, and Thai. Eating out in Vietnam ranges from street food to fine dining in luxury hotels. Rice is the staple cereal and fish-sauce "nouc mam" is extensively used. The most popular dish among the local people is the Phở - a noodle soup with meat. The chicken soup (pho ga) or beef soup (pho bo) is quite spicy and available at all food stalls at US $0.60 per bowl. Pho Bo Tai is a soup with rare beef fillets. Another speciality is the spring roll, which is found in many versions, with varying ingredients used.
The menu in restaurants is mainly non-vegetarian with dishes made from pork, fish and beef, snake and soft-shell turtle, which is considered a delicacy. Chè is a dessert made from sticky rice, beans, and a seasonal fruit. International cuisine such as French, Chinese, Japanese, Italian and American is also available.
Fruit smoothies made from seasonal fruits are popular. Fruits such as custard apple, sugar apple, banana, avocado, durian, strawberry, jack fruit, passion fruit, dragon fruit, lychee and mango can be found in fruit stalls. You will need to clean the fruit thoroughly before eating.
It is also recommended that you buy bottled water rather than drinking tap water. Don't miss out the bia hơi (meaning ‘beer gas'), as the Vietnamese call draught beer. Imported brands such as Carlsberg, San Miguel and Heineken are available along with local brands such as Tiger, Saigon, and 333 (pronounced "ba-ba-ba").
The majority of the population consists of ethnic Vietnamese people, whose ancestors migrated to this land thousands of years ago. There are other ethnic minority groups of whom the Chinese make up the largest group. Their ancestors moved to Vietnam in the past few hundred years.
There are ethnic minority groups such as Khmer and Cham, descendents of inhabitants who lived in central and southern Vietnam before the area was conquered by Vietnam. The other ethnic groups are the H'mong, Dao, Tay, Hoa and Black and White Thai. Their ancestors migrated to Vietnam from neighbouring Asian countries. The current population stands at 87 million, with more than 60 percent under the age of 25.
While officially no vaccination is required to enter Vietnam, it is practical to get inoculated against polio, tuberculosis, malaria, hepatitis A and B, meningitis, TABT (typhoid, paratyphoid A&B, and tetanus) and Japanese encephalitis. Deaths due to dengue have been reported and visitors, especially to the southern Mekong Delta region, should take care to protect themselves from mosquito bites.
Although there are pharmacies across the country, you would be well advised to carry your prescription drugs in their original containers, and other common medicines such as aspirin, ibuprofen, antiseptic ointments and insect repellents. It is also advisable to have a thorough dental check-up before you leave your home country. If you wear glasses or lenses, carrying an extra pair will always be useful. Getting medical insurance before travel is also recommended as medical care can be expensive. While the medical facility in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are good the same is not true of other provinces.
Though Vietnam is not exactly a shopper's paradise, it nevertheless offers a unique shopping experience. You can do a lot of souvenir shopping. In particular, the lacquer ware, mother-of-pearl inlay work, silk paintings, and wood block prints are very artistic and worth acquiring to take back home. The best place to shop for these is in Hanoi. Ho Chi Minh City is also a good place to shop for jewellery, carpets and leather work.
Transportation in Vietnam may not rate as the best in the world, but you can get by quite easily in the cities. Taxis are by far the most convenient mode of transportation and not expensive. If you want to try and be a little different, then the cyclo or pedicab is an interesting and enjoyable way to explore a city. These are available at all street corners and can be the best way to see a city rather than whizzing around in a taxi. Alternatively, you can also go by the motorbike taxis. A must do is to take the boat tours which are available for many destinations.