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The setting of the most protested and controversial war of the second half of the 20th century, Vietnam is once again hosting thousands of Americans - but this time they're armed with money, not guns. And they are not alone, as travellers from around the world are flocking to Vietnam. Perhaps partly due to the memory of the Vietnam War, travel in Vietnam is cheap and only just on its way into fruition. But change seems to occur at a rapid rate in Vietnam, as the country busily promotes its palette of offerings: a culture kept bravely alive through the nation's tumultuous past, hot white beaches, peaceful inland rainforests, picturesque rugged landscapes and, of course, a varied and delicious cuisine. In essence, Vietnam has all the delights one would expect of southeast Asia, at a better price.
The history of Vietnam begins around 2,700 years ago. Evidence of the earliest established society other than the prehistoric Iron Age Dong Son culture in Northern Vietnam was found in Co Loa, an ancient city situated near present-day Hanoi. The traditional population of this area were Khmers and Cham. The Vietnamese arrived latter when advancing Chinese pushed them out of southern China. To this day there are Khmer and Cham populations along the western border of Vietnam.
Successive dynasties based in China ruled Vietnam directly for most of the period from 111 BC until 938 when Vietnam regained its independence. In 111 BC, Chinese troops invaded Nam Việt and established new territories but while the Chinese were governors and top officials, the original Vietnamese nobles still managed some highlands. Vietnam remained a tribute state to its larger neighbor China for much of its history but repelled invasions by the Chinese as well as three invasions by the Mongols between 1255 and 1285. Emperor Trần Nhân Tông later diplomatically submitted Vietnam to a tribute state of the Yuan Dynasty to avoid further conflicts.
The independent period temporarily ended in the middle to late 19th century, when the country was colonized by France. The French were considered brutal colonizers and subjugated the local population. At the same time left many cultural aspects such as bread, coffee and amazing fusion food. During World War II, Imperial Japan expelled the French to occupy Vietnam, though they retained French administrators during their occupation. After the war, France attempted to re-establish its colonial rule but ultimately failed in the First Indochina War. The Geneva Accords partitioned the country in two with a promise of democratic election to reunite the country.
However, rather than peaceful reunification, partition led to the Vietnam War. During this time, the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union supported the North while the United States and other western countries supported the South. After millions of Vietnamese deaths, the war ended with the fall of Saigon to the North in April 1975.
The reunified Vietnam suffered further internal repression. It was isolated internationally due to the continuing Cold War and the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia to expel Pol Pot to end the genocide. In 1986, the Communist Party of Vietnam changed its economic policy and began reforms of the private sector similar to those in China. Since the mid-1980s, Vietnam has enjoyed substantial economic growth and some reduction in political repression, though reports of corruption have also risen.
Vietnam is a long narrow country running along the Golf of Tonkin to the South China Sea. Vietnam shares international borders with Cambodia, Laos and China. Vietnam is located on the eastern Indochina Peninsula between latitudes 8° and 24°N, and longitudes 102° and 110°E. It covers a total area of approximately 331,210 km2 excluding the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa islands. Vietnam's land is mostly hilly and densely forested, with level land covering no more than 20%. Mountains account for 40% of the country's land area, and tropical forests cover around 42%.
The northern part of the country consists mostly of highlands and the Red River Delta. Phan Xi Păng, located in Lào Cai province, is the highest mountain in Vietnam, standing 3,143 metres high. Southern Vietnam is divided into coastal lowlands, the mountains of the Annamite Range, and extensive forests. Comprising five relatively flat plateaus of basalt soil, the highlands account for 16% of the country's arable land and 22% of its total forested land. The soil in much of southern Vietnam is relatively poor in nutrients.
The Red River Delta (also known as the Sông Hồng), a flat, roughly triangular region covering 15,000 km2 is smaller but more intensely developed and more densely populated than the Mekong River Delta. Once an inlet of the Gulf of Tonkin, it has been filled in over the millennia by riverine alluvial deposits, and it advances 100 metres into the Gulf annually. The Mekong delta, covering about 40,000 km2, is a low-level plain no more than 3 metres above sea level at any point. It is criss-crossed by a maze of rivers and canals, which carry so much sediment that the delta advances 60 to 80 metres into the sea every year.
|Northern Vietnam||Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hoa Binh Province, Sapa, Lao Cai, Ninh Binh|
|North Central Coast||Vinh|
|Central Coast||Hue, Da Nang, Hoi An|
|South Central Coast||Nha Trang|
|Southern Vietnam||Ho Chi Minh City|
|Mekong Delta||My Tho, Can Tho|
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Halong Bay is located in the north of the country, along the coastline east of Hanoi. It is world famous for its spectacular scenery of grottoes and caves, forms the central zone of Halong Bay, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. One activity recommended here is kayaking. One can visit Halong Bay by booking a one or multi-day tour in Hanoi. However, a better option for the independent traveler might be to get a bus and ferry to Cat Ba Island and then take a cruise of the bay from Cat Ba.
The Cu Chi Tunnels are located near the town with the same name, about 40 kilometres north of Ho Chi Minh City. It is a large underground community made up of 250 kilometres of tunnels and chambers below the city. Although they were used extensively during the Vietnam War in the sixties and seventies of the twentieth century to provide refuge and a defensive advantage over the American soldiers, the original tunnels were already being made during the French occupation about 30 years earlier.
Vietnam, especially the southern half, has some very fine beach resorts but along the entire coast you can find some perfect kilometers long white beaches, fringed with palms and the warm waters are pleasant to have a swim or at some cases go snorkeling and diving. Nha Trang and Mui Ne are just a few options you can choose from. Con Dao Island and Phu Quoc Island south of Vietnam are perfect with nice beaches and coral reefs. Nha Trang is THE place for partying and a great place to unwind as per of a trip around Vietnam.
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Sapa in the extreme north of the country, towards the border with China there are some great mountain landscapes to explore near Sapa. The scenery is outstanding with rice terraces clinging to the hills and with several minorities to be visited as well. Sapa itself is a picturesque village that lies on the Hoang Lien Son mountain range. Ethnic minorities to be visited in and around Sapa are Hmong and Dao to name just a few.
Hoi An is located on the coast in Central Vietnam. It is well known for its excellent tailors, its art galleries, and its narrow streets crammed with tiny wooden cafes serving steaming coffee. There is a noticeable Chinese influence in Hoi An. Centuries ago Chinese traders came to offer their goods here and the charm of the town is still completely undeniable. There's plenty to do in Hoi An, from visiting the historic temple complex of My Son, to relaxing on the beach, or you could even try your hand at some traditional Vietnamese cooking.
Hue is the ancient royal capital of Vietnam and is rich in culture. Things to do in Hue include; a cruise down the Perfume River and visits to historic sights and monuments such as the Imperial Citadel, Thien Mu Pagoda and the Palace of Supreme Peace. Hue is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Phu Quoc Island is Vietnam's biggest island and is located closer to Cambodia (only about 15 kilometres) than Vietnam. It is gaing popularity among travellers as a favorite spot for beaches, relaxing and aquatic activities.
Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng is a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Bố Trạch and Minh Hóa districts of central Quảng Bình Province in the North Central Coast region, about 500 kilometres south of Hanoi. The park derives it name from Phong Nha Cave, containing many fascinating rock formations, and Kẻ Bàng forest. The plateau on which the park is situated is probably one of the finest and most distinctive examples of a complex karst landform in Southeast Asia. This national park was listed in UNESCO's World Heritage Sites in 2003 for its geological values. In April 2009, the world's largest cave, was re-discovered by a team of British cave explorers of the British Caving Association led by a local farmer named Ho Khanh.
The Mekong Delta produces one of Vietnam's most important exports - rice, and thus acts as the backbone of Southern Vietnam's economy. You can take a boat trip down the Mekong, where you will pass the colourful floating markets of Cai Rang and Cai Be among others. Here, vendors will offer their wares from their boats jammed with produce, dangling their goods in the air from a long pole.
The most important and busiest festival in Vietnam, everyone returns home to be with their family. For visitors, it is a colorful time, as streets are decorated with lanterns and lights. The celebratory meal consists of four dishes, giò (Vietnamese sausage), ninh (stew), nem (spring rolls), and mọc (meat balls).
This event takes place every year on the 13th day of the first lunar month in the village of Lim to honor the Quan Ho folk song, which has been part of the culture in the Red River Delta for centuries. This festival features the most skilled singers of the north, but there is also a weaving competition and various other activities.
Popular with both locals and visitors, this three-day Vietnamese festival runs from the 9th to the 11th of the third lunar month on Nghia Linh Mountain in the northwest. Its focus is to worship the Hung Kings and consists of a feast of fresh fruit, cake, and dumplings, as well as a procession followed by traditional songs and an opera performance.
Visitors must travel to Quang Nam, west of Da Nang, for this festival, which is held to worship the whale. It is one of the country’s biggest water events and is predominately celebrated by fisherman. Houses and boats are decorated, and a procession of ships is led into the sea.
On the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, many celebrate the harvest by worshipping the Moon genie. It is one of the most impressive festivals in Vietnam and is particularly exiting for children, as they get plenty of toys. Square moon cakes are eaten by all, while children light lanterns and participate in a procession. Lion dancers accompanied by gongs and bells roam the streets.
A religious festival to worship the moon god, he is celebrated for bringing fish to the river and good crops. It takes place in the Mekong Delta on the full moon of the 10th lunar month and starts by offering fresh fruit and rice flakes. Lanterns are released from land and boats, a practice which is meant to rid the area of the humidity and darkness of the rainy season. Thousands of people come to see the boat race.
Vietnam has a tropical monsoon climate dominated by south to southeasterly winds from May until September and northerly to northeasterly winds between October and April. But there are differences between north and south. Also coastal areas compared to mountainous areas have huge differences, not only regarding temperature but also regarding rainfall. During the latter period (October to April) rainfall is infrequent and light. Annual rainfall is almost everywhere above 1,000 mm and rises to between 2,000 mm and 2,500 mm, especially the areas that are facing the sea.On the coast and in those parts of the central highlands that face northeast, the season of maximum rainfall is between September and January. This area often receives heavy rain from typhoons and there is also much cloud and frequent drizzle. In the north of Vietnam there are more cloudy days with occasional light rain during the period of the northeast monsoon. The south of the country is more likely to be dry and sunny at this time. In the southern and central parts of Vietnam temperatures remain high around the year, but in the north there is a definite cooler season as the north monsoon brings colder air from central China from time to time. Temperatures in Hanoi can sometimes be rather chilly, although averages are quite pleasant, between 20 °C and 23 °C during the day. Most rain here falls from June to September when temperatures can reach well over 35 °C. Although the rainfall applies to Ho Chi Minh City as well, temperatures are high year round, 31 °C during the day, 23 °C at night. The best time for visiting most of the country are February and March, avoiding most of the wet weather in the country and temperatures being pleasant as well. Only in the north you can have some cooler days and colder nights.
There are three international airports in Vietnam:
Vietnam Airlines is the national airline. For Vietnam Airlines flights, in Hanoi call (04) 934 9660, in Ho Chi Minh City call (08) 832 0320. For other flights, call their airline office in Vietnam. On international flights there is an airport tax of US$14, though sometimes it is included in the ticket. Children under two are exempt and the airport tax is included in the ticket price for domestic flights.
Lost & Found
It is possible to go to and from China by rail between the Vietnamese town of Lao Cai and Kunming in Yunnan province. Lang Son to Nanning is another option and there are longdistance trains from Beijing via Dong Dang to Hanoi and back. Check the Vietnam Railways website for more information about schedules and prices.
Vietnam can be entered by car from China, Cambodia and Laos, but few travellers do this. Crossings to and from Laos especially can be tough going. If you manage, be sure to have proper documentation and insurance and of course an international driving permit.
Getting to Vietnam from China is relatively easy. There are 3 landborders between Vietnam and China. The busiest border crossing between Vietnam and China is located at the Vietnamese town of Dong Dang, about 160 kilometres northeast of Hanoi, about 18km north of Lang Son. The Friendship Gate border crossing is painless. From Nanning it is possible to catch a ride in a local bus or taxi cheaply and once through the gate, there are plenty of cheap transport options south into Vietnam.
Getting to Vietnam from Cambodia is an adventure worth considering. There are 3 landborders open for travellers between Cambodia and Vietnam. The most popular route is by bus through the north, by using the Moc Bai–Bavet border for a cheap and quick way between HCMC and Phnom Penh. It takes about 6 hours along this route.
A more more adventurous route is via Sihanoukville along the coast. This way you have the opportunity to do a 2- or 3-day Mekong Delta trip, as a journey along the Mekong is a treat. Like all good things though it comes at a cost - in this case not a financial one - rather one of sanity. You will probably stay at a border island called Ko Kong, a largely under developed sess pool of gambling, black markets and drugs. Keep your wits about you here and you'll be fine though.
Trips from Phnom Penh cost about US$20 and include bus sand boat transfers to Ho Chi Minh City for two or three days. The northern route is easier and can be arranged in Siem Reap. This is a cheaper option but the roads are terrible and the scenery is not as good. There are now $9-12 bus trips between Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh which are easily arranged at guesthouses in both cities. Come prepared with money at the border wherever you arrive or depart from as the money changers are known to pass on counterfeit currency. Examine all notes carefully. Thankfully, the Vietnamese Dong is now plastic so it is much harder to copy but not so the Chinese Yuan.
There are 6 border crossings between Laos and Vietnam. Note that it might not be possible to get a Lao visa at every landborder, so check beforehand. The Lao Bao - Dansavanh border is the most popular border crossing between Laos and Vietnam and is usually the most hassle-free, with options to get a visa upon arrival. The border town of Lao Bao is 80 kilometres west of Dong Ha. Just across the border is the Lao province of Savannakhet and the first town is Sepon. There is an international service from Hué to Savannakhet taking 9 hours and departing at 6:00am every second day. Coming in the other direction there are daily buses from Savannakhet at 10:00pm.
There is a ferry from Phnom Penh in Cambodia to Chau Doc in the Mekong Delta. Regular fast boats ply the route between Phnom Penh in Cambodia and Chau Doc in Vietnam, with a change at the Vinh Xuong–Kaam Samnor border. Tickets can be booked through local travel agents or at the dock. In addition there is a service from Can Tho to Phnom Penh. There are also two river boats running all the way to the temples of Angkor at Siem Reap in Cambodia.
There are several airports in Vietnam making domestic flights possible. The two largest airports are in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, while there are smaller airports with regular service in Da Nang, Hue, Phu Quoc Island and Dalat. There are some even smaller airports located around the country with infrequent service.
Most of the train lines built in Vietnam during the 19th century were destroyed either in World War II or by the Americans. The main rail line links Ho Chi Minh City with Hanoi and was built after the Vietnam War. Then there are two other rail lines branching from Hanoi, one to Sapa and the other to Halong Bay.
After the Vietnam War was over the Vietnamese government quickly connected Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi with a rail line. The key word here is quickly. The line is single-track, meaning different trains have to take turns going north or south, or sometimes trains are stopped for hours so freight trains can go by. Also every passenger train starts and ends in either Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi. All these factors added together can make for massive delays that can be several hours. Therefore if a train is due in Hanoi at 5:00am, it's more likely to get in around 9:00am.
It is possible to rent a car with a driver in most Vietnamese cities. It is even possible to use these drivers to link you to other cities. Some people have rented cars and drivers for their whole trip while in Vietnam. More adventurous travellers have also purchased motorbikes and driven across the country themselves. The roads are pretty crazy in Vietnam and the traffic moves quickly and unpredictably. The main highway in the country links Ho Chi Minh City with Hanoi and there are several spurs off to other smaller cities.
Open Bus Ticket
Throughout Vietnam the open bus ticket is a popular and cheap system of intercity bus travel. While local buses often run the intercity routes cheaper they are intended for locals and many inexperienced travellers may be overwhelmed.
The open bus system is sometimes referred to as a scam. Mainly because of poor expectation management on behalf of the traveller or how random it can be sometimes. Although the different open bus ticket companies are completely different therefore make sure to ask other travellers about which company to use.
In general for about US$25 you can get a 7-stop open ticket on buses. This allows you to get on and off at the most popular Vietnam destinations. The stops are negotiable as is the price. It is essential that you are happy with the price you pay because the standards of the buses you will ride on will vary greatly depending on the day and the company. If you're expecting a stinky local bus without air conditioning, doing the normal intercity route and overcrowded, you won't be disappointed - if you get a classy superliner coach you will be happy.
Like most other tourist products in Vietnam, you don't always get what you pay for - be sceptical of touts offering air conditioning, big buses only and negotiate for the lowest price you can. Another perk of the open bus ticket is that the buses tend to pick up and drop off travellers in the touristy part cities. Travellers can also buy one stop tickets from open bus ticket vendors.
Getting around Vietnam by boat is a little complicated. Many tourist trips offer day trips and over night trips on boats as part of a tour. Although actual domestic travel on boats is next to impossible to find as a foreigner. If someone is willing to spend a lot of time working on finding passenger ferries it might be possible. Although it will most likely be extremely local and rustic.
Visitors from the following countries do not require a visa and can stay for the following number of days:
All other nationalities are required to obtain a tourist visa, which are generally valid for 30 days. Visas can be obtained from Vietnamese Embassies and Consulates abroad. Costs of tourist visa vary from one Vietnamese Embassy to another. When your passport is returned to you from the Vietnamese embassy, one application form with a photo will be returned along with it. Keep the form, as you will be required to hand it to the immigration upon arrival in Vietnam. If you misplaced this form, you can complete a new form upon arrival - there are photo booths at the airport. Passports must be valid for at least six months beyond the end of the trip.
For the adventurous travellers that do the crossing from Cambodia, visa support is provided very cheaply from the myriad of guesthouses in Phnom Penh. The processing time takes about three days or less.
Visa are available on arrival, but only if you have approval first via a 'confirmation letter' given to you by the Vietnam immigration. You can get this from an online agency, they charge around US$10-20 and accept credit cards, Paypal etc and you can pay in different currencies. They will email you the approval letter which you print out and take to the airport. At the airport you pay $45 (2014) and need 1 photo.
Many travelers try to board their flights with no visa or 'confirmation letter' and are refused. Ensure that you have a visa or have applied online for a confirmation letter, and received it before your flight. Your confirmation letter should have your exact information as per your passport or once again you will be refused entry to Vietnam or not allowed to board your flight.
See also Money Matters
The currency in Vietnam is the Dong (VND). The US dollar is also still accepted at some hotels, but you should have local currency available for use anywhere else. Credit card acceptance is spreading in higher-end hotels, restaurants and shops in big cities, but outside of these cash is still by far preferable. Never change money on the streets from hustlers.
ATMs are now the easiest way to get hold of your money in Vietnam. ATMs are a common site in most Vietnamese towns. The number of ATMs in the country is increasing all the time, and there is now usually at least one ATM in every town, more in the larger cities. However, it is not sensible to rely on them entirely, as ATMs can go down, or might be out of cash, and you could also be left penniless if you were to lose your card. A combination of bank cards, cash and a few travellers cheques is often best.
Larger value notes such as US$50 and US$100 usually get the best exchange rate, but you get a lot of Dong for US$100 so it's best not to change up too much at a time. Travellers' cheques can be cashed in banks and money exchanges in the larger towns/cities.
These are accepted in the larger hotels and restaurants, as well as a limited number of banks. Visa and MasterCard are the most often accepted cards. Very few places will accept American Express cards - so they are better left at home. Money, passports and other valuables like travellers' cheques are best kept in a safety deposit box at your hotel. Never leave valuables or money unattended in your hotel room. It's also advisable to avoid carrying unnecessary valuables on your person, especially at night, just in case.
You can spend very little or a lot in Vietnam depending on your personal spending pattern. A modest weekly budget of approximately US$55 for day to day things like food, drinks, tips, entry fees (when not included) and small souvenirs. This amount is naturally just an estimate.
It is not customary to leave a tip in small local eateries, but more sophisticated restaurants will expect a tip. Tips are often divided between the waiting and kitchen staff, so if you have experienced great food and service, it is advisable to show your appreciation with a tip- between 5-10% of the bill is normal. A tip is also very welcomed by local guides and drivers.
You can volunteer as an English teacher through many volunteer organisations. However, if you have a TEFL/TESOL qualification and a degree then it's very easy to find paid teaching work. Without qualifications it's also possible to find work, but it takes more patience to find a job, and often there are concessions to make with payment, school location and working hours (weekends). Most teaching jobs will pay USD15-20 an hour. There are also many you-pay-to-volunteer organisations which allow you to help local communities, such as Love Volunteers, i-to-i and Global Volunteers.
Legally, a work permit is required to work in Vietnam, however, as a rule, most foreigners do not bother, especially if the intention is to work for only a short period of time. Visa extensions are generally easy to obtain (your school will have to do this for you) although the immigration department will eventually insist on you obtaining a work permit before any more visas are issued. If your aim is to remain for a longer term, then it is possible to obtain a work permit although your school will need to do this for you. To apply, your employer will be required to submit the following: A contract and application letter from your school; a full, medical health check (done locally); a criminal record check (the criteria for this varies from province to province, some requiring a check from your home country, others, a check done solely in Vietnam); a copy of your TESOL/CELTA/TEFL and degree certificates; your 'registration of stay' form; a copy of your passport/visa. Sometimes, you may be asked to pay a small fee although the better schools will generally offer to do this for you. Work permits are valid for 3 years and are renewable for a period of up to 12 years.
Once you have a work permit, it is then a relatively simple process to apply for a temporary residence permit, which will alleviate your visa worries. The validity and procedure for renewal is the same as a work permit.
If you want to meet local people, stop by a school. In Ho Chi Minh City, visit the American Language School, where you'll be welcomed enthusiastically and invited to go into a class and say hi. You'll feel like a rock star. The Vietnamese love to meet new people, and teachers welcome the opportunity for their students to meet foreigners.
Vietnamese (Tiếng Việt) is the national and official language of Vietnam. It is the mother tongue of Vietnamese people (Kinh), and of about three million overseas Vietnamese. It is also spoken as a second language or a first language by many ethnic minorities of Vietnam. It is part of the Austro-Asiatic language family, of which it has the most speakers by a significant margin (several times larger than the other Austro-Asiatic languages put together). Much of Vietnamese vocabulary has been borrowed from Chinese, and the language displays some influence from French, and the Vietnamese alphabet in use today is a Latin alphabet with additional diacritics for tones and certain vowels and consonants.
Most Vietnamese youths learn English in school, so many young people have a basic grasp of English, but proficiency is generally poor. However, most hotel and airline staff will know enough English to communicate. Directional signs are generally bilingual in both Vietnamese and English.
Vietnamese cuisine varies slightly from region to region, with many regions having their own specialties. Generally, northern Vietnamese cuisine is known for being bland, central Vietnamese cuisine is knowing for being spicy, while southern Vietnamese cuisine is known for being sweet.
Many Vietnamese dishes are flavoured with fish sauce (nước mắm), which smells and tastes like anchovies (quite salty and fishy) straight from the bottle, but blends into food very well. (Try taking home a bottle of fish sauce, and using it instead of salt in almost any savoury dish -- you will be pleasantly surprised with the results.) Fish sauce is also mixed with lime juice, sugar, water, and spices to form a tasty dip/condiment called nước chấm, served on the table with most meals. Vegetables, herbs and spices, notably Vietnamese coriander or cilantro (rau mùi or rau ngò), mint (rau răm) and basil (rau húng), accompany almost every dish and help make Vietnamese food much lighter and more aromatic than the cuisine of its neighbouring countries, especially China.
Vietnam's national dish is phở (pronounced like the fu- in funny, but with tone), a broth soup with beef or chicken and rice noodles (a form of rice linguine or fettuccine). Phở is normally served with plates of fresh herbs (usually including Asian basil), cut limes, hot chilies and scalded bean sprouts which you can add according to your taste, along with chili paste, chili sauce, and sweet soybean sauce. Phở bò, the classic form of phở, is made with beef broth that is often simmered for many hours and may include one or more kinds of beef (skirt, flank, tripe, etc.). Phở gà is the same idea, but with chicken broth and chicken meat. Phở is the original Vietnamese fast food, which locals grab for a quick meal.
Lodging is not an issue in Vietnam, even if you're travelling on a tight budget. Accommodation in Vietnam ranges from scruffy USD6-a-night dorm accommodation in backpacking hostels to world-class resorts, both in large cities and in popular coastal and rural destinations. Even backpacking hostels and budget hotels are far cleaner and nicer than in neighbouring countries (Cambodia, Thailand, Laos), and cheap hotels that charge USD8-10 for a double room are often very clean and equipped with towels, clean white sheets, soap, disposable toothbrushes and so on. Service in many of the very inexpensive hotels is quite good (since the rate that a person pays per night could equal a Vietnamese national's weekly pay), although daily cleaning and modern amenities like television may not be provided. In hotels costing a few dollars more (USD12 per room upwards, more in Hanoi) you can expect an en suite bath, telephone, air conditioning and television. As with hotels elsewhere in the world, mini-refrigerators in Vietnamese hotels are often stocked with drinks and snacks, but these can be horribly overpriced and you would be much better off buying such items on the street. Adequate plumbing can be a problem in some hotels, but the standard is constantly improving.
It is a legal requirement that all hotels register the details of foreign guests with the local police. For this reason they will always ask for your passport when you check in. The process usually only takes a few minutes, after which they will return your passport. However, because non-payment by guests is by no means unknown, some hotels retain passports until check-out. If a place looks dodgy, then ask that they register you while you wait and take your passport with you afterwards. Few people have had a problem with this as it is routine across the country. You might find it helpful to carry some photocopies of your passport (personal data page and visa) which you can hand over to the hotel.
Don't miss out on bia hơi, (literally "air beer"), or draught beer made daily. It's available throughout Vietnam, mostly from small bars on street corners. Bia hoi bars give you the opportunity to relax, drinking in a Vietnamese bar surrounded by the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Every traveller can easily find these bars to experience what the locals are enjoying. Only 3,000-4,000 dong each. The beer is brewed daily and each bar gets a fresh batch delivered every day in plastic jugs. It's a very light (3% alcohol) refreshing lager at a fraction of the cost of draught or bottled beer in the Western-style bars. Bia hoi is not always made in sanitary conditions and its making is not monitored by any health agency. Though fun for the novelty factor, it is not particularly good tasting and may produce awful hangovers.
The most popular beer (draught, bottle or can) among the southern Vietnamese is Saigon Do (Red Saigon). For the northern Vietnamese Bia Hanoi (Hanoi beer) is the most popular brand, whereas central Vietnamese prefer Festival beer or Bia Huda. 333, pronounced "ba-ba-ba" is a local brand, but it's somewhat bland; for a bit more flavour, look for Bia Saigon in the green bottle and a bigger bottle than Bia Saigon Special. Bia Saigon is also available as little stronger export version. Expect to pay about 20,000-30,000 dong per bottle of Saigon or Hanoi, slightly more for other brands. Bière Larue is also good, and you can find local brands in every larger city.
Another popular drink among locals and tourists alike is the coffee (cà phê). Do be careful when drinking locally-prepared coffee as the locals tend to drink it incredibly strong with about 4 teaspoons of sugar per cup. It is usually served black or with sweetened condensed milk.
Coconut water is a favourite in the hot southern part of the country. Nước mía, or sugar cane juice, is served from distinctive metal carts with a crank-powered sugar cane stalk crushers that release the juice. Another thirst quencher is the fabulous sinh tố, a selection of sliced fresh fruit in a big glass, combined with crushed ice, sweetened condensed milk and coconut milk. You can also have it blended in a mixer. You could place any fruit-type after the word sinh tố, e.g., sinh tố bơ (avocado smoothie) or sinh tố dừa (pineapple smoothie). If you prefer to have orange juice, you won't use the word sinh tố but nước (literally: water) or nước cam if you would like to have an orange juice. Juices are usually without condensed milk or coconut milk.
Vietnamese "rượu đế" or rice alcohol (ruou means alcohol) is served in tiny porcelain cups often with candied fruit or pickles. It's commonly served to male guests and visitors. Vietnamese women don't drink much alcohol, well at least in public. It's not recommended for tourists.
See also Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Vietnam. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Vietnam) where that disease is widely prevalent.
You should contact your local doctor for updated information if you are planning a trip. Some will recommend vaccinations and anti malarial prescriptions depending on where you are planning to travel to and from. It's advisable that you visit your local doctor or medical facility at least 6 weeks before you depart. Vietnam has a tropical climate, and you are therefore at greater risk of becoming ill than you are in Europe. There are more varieties of bacteria in a tropical climate, and your body isn't as used to them as you don't live in that area of the world. Although the risk of getting ill must not be exaggerated, and certainly should not spoil the enjoyment of your holiday, it is advisable to be prepared for your trip and to be aware of the health risks of that country.
You can choose either short-term or long-term protection regarding vaccination for hepatitis A. The long-term version lasts 10 years.
The vaccination for typhoid is advised by most health organisation, if you are planning to stay for longer than 2 weeks in Vietnam. The vaccination provides 3 years' protection.
Malaria does exist in Vietnam, and although it is not a major problem it is extremely important you seek up-to-date advice from your doctor before you travel. The entire coastal region and the flat delta regions (Red River Delta and Mekong Delta) are almost malaria-free, except for the most southerly point of the Mekong Delta to the south of Ca Mau. All provincial capitals are also malaria-free except for Kon Tum.
Because anti-malaria medicine is quite strong, and the fact that there is not a really large risk of malaria in many areas, some travellers do not take any medication. That is the decision of each traveller, and should be based upon the information they have received from the national health service or medical authority.
The best bet is to try and reduce the risk of catching malaria by preventative measures. Keeping your arms, legs and feet covered in the evenings, using anti-mosquito spray/cream on exposed areas of skin (the best ones contain DEET), and sleeping under a mosquito net where possible.
If during or after your trip you find yourself with flu-like symptoms lasting longer than two days (even up to 2 months after your return back home), seek the advice of a doctor immediately, and advise you have been in a malaria area.
Dengue fever and Japanese encephalitis
Both dengue and Japanese Encephalitis are carried by mosquitoes, so you can take the same precautions as for malaria. For more information about these diseases, and the status of any outbreaks, you're advised to seek the advice of the national health service or a suitable medical institution. There is no vaccine against dengue fever, however, there is for Japanese encephalitis, which is advised but only if you are going to be in Asia for longer than six months.
You are advised to visit your local doctor at least 6 weeks before you depart. They can check your records and advise what vaccinations you already have, and what you will need.
If you are currently taking prescription medicines, take the information leaflet with you and some spare medicine.
This can help in two ways:
1) There will be no chance for confusion at customs.
2) It will make life much easier trying to if you happen to lose your medication and need to replacce it whilst away.
If you wear glasses or use contact lenses, it's a good idea to take a copy of your prescription or a spare pair of glasses or lenses.
Of course it's important that you avoid becoming ill while you are on holiday. When you're away on holiday remain alert: when in doubt, consult a doctor. If you have language problems you can ask our local agents in the larger towns and cities to help.
Jet lag is when your biological clock is confused, caused by flying through different time zones. The body has to adjust to the new biorhythm for the first few days after your flight, during which time you can feel tired in the day and awake at night. To overcome a jet lag, it's generally recommended that you drink limited amounts of coffee or alcohol during the flight, and upon arrival don't demand too much of your body for the first couple of days. It's also handy to get into the new sleeping pattern as quickly as possible. It's a good idea to sleep for an hour after arrival, and then stay awake and have an early night.
A change of routine, climate and food (especially spicy) can throw your stomach out of sorts. As long as it is only loose, watery stools and no other symptoms, it's normally unnecessary to take anything, just take it easy and drink plenty of water in small quantities. The elderly and children may require some Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS), these are dissolved in water and prevent dehydration. Drugs, such as lope amide and diphenoxylate, may be taken if you really have to travel when you have diarrhoea (not suitable for children under two years old). These drugs have the effect of sedating the intestines, which stops stomach cramps and suppresses the diarrhoea, but doesn't actually cure it. Only use these drugs when you're on the move and cannot get to the toilet regularly. If the diarrhoea: persists for more than 48 hours, and is accompanied by headache, vomiting, or blood in the stool or; you’re taking any other medication at the time, you should contact a doctor. Antibiotics are more readily available in Vietnam than in Europe, but remember that alcohol is often a bad combination with antibiotics, and that both diarrhoea can prevent oral contraception pills working properly.
To prevent diarrhoea, only consume water, and soft drinks from properly closed and sealed bottles or cans. Drinks made with boiled bottled water, such as tea or coffee are also fine. Ice is only trustworthy in the form of manufactured bagged ice, but this is widely available. Fruit juice is safe, but only if no water has been added. Food, especially meat and fish must be cooked properly, so that it is well cooked all the way through.
In Vietnam eating food from street stalls is common place, but to prevent illness a good idea is to eat where it's busy. This usually means that the food is good, and that the turnover means the time between food preparation and consumption is the shortest possible. It's probably best not to eat meat at the end of the day, as the meat can sometimes have been lying around all day in the heat un-refrigerated.
After your trip (and this can be months later), pay close attention to your health for a little while. If you contract flu like symptoms, have stomach problems, or experience some unusual symptoms, contact your doctor and let them know where you've been on your travels.
See also Travel Safety
Warning: Vietnam treats drug offences extremely severely. The death penalty is mandatory for those convicted of trafficking, manufacturing, importing or exporting more than 15 g of heroin, 30 g of morphine, 30 g of cocaine, 500 g of cannabis, 200 g of cannabis resin and 1.2 kg of opium, and possession of these quantities is all that is needed for you to be convicted.
Unauthorised consumption can result in up to 10 years' jail, or a heavy fine, or both. You can be charged for unauthorised consumption as long as traces of illicit drugs are found in your system, even if you can prove that they were consumed outside the country and you can be charged for trafficking as long as drugs are found in bags that are in your possession or in your room, even if they aren't yours and regardless of whether you're aware of them - therefore be vigilant of your possessions.
As in any country when travelling, keep a close eye on your belongings. Secure your valuables, documents and credit cards in your hotel safe or carry them close on your body if that is not possible. Beware of pickpockets, purse-snatchers and mobile phone thieves, especially in Ho Chi Minh City. If you choose to rent a motorbike or ride a bicycle, always wear a helmet.
The emergency telephone numbers are:
Here are some general things to take into consideration when travelling around Vietnam:
Vietnam uses 220V electricity nationwide. In the south, power outlets are often US-style flat pins. In the north, many power outlets are the European-style round pins. As the electrical current varies, use a surge protector when running sensitive electronic equipment like laptops.
Highspeed internet connections are plentiful throughout Vietnam, although naturally more so in the cities. Free Wi-Fi is available in most hotels and many coffee shops.
See also International Telephone Calls
Vietnam's international dialing code is +84. To call to other countries from Vietnam, start with 00, followed by the international number, usually without the first 0. International and domestic phone calls are available in almost every hotel or internet café. International phone charges are high in Vietnam and hotels often add a mark up fee so it is smart to always check the rates before dialling. Public phones require phone cards, which are available at post offices.
Some common and useful phone codes are:
Vietnam Post is the government owned national postal service of Vietnam. Services are generally fairly reliable, cheap but not overly fast, except express services. Express Mail Service (EMS) ensures that letters and small parcels are delivered within 24-48 hours domestically. International EMS is associated with over 50 countries worldwide, with a delivery time ranging from 2 to 10 days. Regular services are cheaper but much slower. Most post offices keep much longer hours than most other official businesses, usually starting from 6:30am until 9:30pm and also open on Saturday and even Sunday. You can buy stamps here and they also offer other services like money transfers. You can also try other companies to send parcels, for example with DHL, TNT and UPS.
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