Vietnam General Information
Post: 01/11/2017 - Viewed: 7824
Some destinations evoke mental images the moment their names are mentioned, and Vietnam is one of them.


  • Socialist Republic of Vietnam
  • Population: 90.5 million
  • Capital City: Hanoi (6.5 million)
  • People: 53 ethnic minorities
  • Language: Vietnamese
  • Currency: Vietnam Dong (VND)
  • Time Zone: GMT +7 Hours
  • International Dialing Code: +84

Some destinations evoke mental images the moment their names are mentioned, and Vietnam is one of them. A frenetic and fascinating country, it calls to mind conical-hatted street vendors, water buffalo plodding across rice fields, mopeds buzzing through cities and floating markets on the Mekong River.
The days when Vietnam was best known for its conflict with America are long gone. From the temples of Hanoi and the islands of Halong Bay to the beaches of Nha Trang and the palaces of Hue, it is a country now firmly etched in the travel psyche.
At times, Vietnam is an assault on the senses. Life in its feverish cities is conducted largely on the streets, among chattering bia hois (pavement pubs) and steaming pho (noodle soup) stands.
The country’s two main cities – Hanoi in the north, Ho Chi Minh in the south – are different in many ways, but they share an intoxicating energy. Ancient pagodas and colonial houses jostle for space with new-build skyscrapers, while labyrinthine back-alleys hum with life. These narrow streets are atmospheric places to spend time, day or night.

The country’s long, thin shape, sometimes compared to two rice baskets at either end of a pole, means these two cities form natural start and end points to an itinerary.
The highlights along the way, meanwhile, are as well packed as the spring rolls which adorn market stalls: nature-lovers, history buffs, beach bums and foodies are all catered for in singularly Vietnamese style.
Those heading into the countryside can expect not only glorious scenery, but a rich cultural web of different ethnic groups. The US wartime legacy can still be readily explored – perhaps most notably at the Cu Chi Tunnels near Ho Chi Minh – but this is a country to enjoy for what it is today, whether you’re here for a few days or a month.
Most nationalities have to endure the hassle of arranging a visa (or approval letter) to enter Vietnam. Entry and exit points include Hanoi, HCMC and Danang airports or any of Vietnam's plentiful land borders, shared with Cambodia, China and Laos. Apply for Visa Letters.
Currency information: 
Dông (VND; symbol ₫). Notes are in denominations of ₫500,000, 200,000, 100,000, 50,000, 20,000, 10,000, 5,000, 2,000, 1,000 and 500. Coins are in denominations of ₫5,000, 2,000, 1,000 and 500.
An increasing number of outlets accept MasterCard and Visa. However, outside main towns and cities, it is wise to carry cash. There are ATMs in many major towns, but not in rural areas.
  • ATM
There are plenty of ATMs in major towns, but they can be scarce in rural areas. ATMs issue Dông, and the single withdrawal limit varies, depending on the bank, ranging from ₫2,000,000 to much larger amounts.
Travellers' cheques are accepted in banks, money changers and some hotels although most travellers now use debit cards because of the increased number of ATMs. It is best to take US Dollar travellers' cheques to avoid additional exchange rate charges and expect to pay a high commission.
Varies from bank to bank but generally Mon-Fri 0830-1600; some may close for lunch. Many banks are also open on Saturday morning; all banks are closed on Sunday.
Import and export of local currency is limited to ₫15,000,000. Import and export of foreign currency over US$7,000 should be declared at customs.
The US Dollar is the most favoured foreign currency. Australian, British, Japanese, Singaporean and Thai currency, as well as the Euro, can usually be changed in the larger cities; great difficulty may be encountered in trying to exchange any other currencies. There is a commission charge for changing money in banks.
The following items may be freely imported into Vietnam by travellers without incurring customs duty:
• 400 cigarettes or 100 cigars or 500g of tobacco.
• 1.5L of spirits over 22% volume or 2L of fortified wines or liqueurs under 22% volume or 3L of other alcoholic drinks.
• 5kg of tea and 3kg of coffee.
• Other goods to the value of ₫5,000,000.
Banned imports: 
Prohibited imports include weapons, ammunition, explosives, military equipment, antiques, drugs, toxic chemicals, immoral products, firecrackers, more than 400 cigarettes, and raw gold.


The beaches of Vietnam are superb. Nha Trang and Da Nang is the perfect combination of a long sandy beach for relaxing days under the palm trees and a town with restaurants and bars to pass the balmy evenings. Boat trips take you out to nearby islands and divers can explore the nearby coral reefs. Alternatively, try Vung Tau, southeast of Ho Chi Minh City for some superb snorkelling around the many offshore islands or head east of Phan Thiet to the sand dunes of Mui Ne, which stretch for miles. Whatever your budget there'll be a resort to suit you. Relax on the white-sand beaches or have a go at many of the water sports on offer.
2. Cao Dai Temple
Head out to Tay Ninh to view the colourful midday service of the intriguing Cao Dai sect held in a large temple almost Disney-esque in style. The followers wear red, blue and yellow robes and chant to the accompaniment of a traditional orchestra. En route, scramble through the tunnels at Cu Chi, from where the Viet Cong successfully launched attacks against US forces.
3. Central Highlands
Dalat is as far as most people go into the Central Highlands but head further into the mountains for stunning views and waterfalls. You are assured of a warm welcome in Buon Ma Thuot, a coffee growing region and hom
e to the Montagnards. The Ho Chi Minh trail is easily reached from Kontum.
4. Cooking lessons
Learn the subtleties of Vietnamese cookery at a class in ancient Hoi An, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh . Submerge into the hustle and bustle of the market to buy provisions before retreating to the calm of the kitchen. The best part of the day – you get to eat what you have helped prepare!
5. Dalat
To escape the heat of the plains, head for Dalat, a former colonial hill station, reminiscent of a French town, with faded, elegant villas evocative of another era. Colonists from Saigon headed to its cool climes as well as the emperor and his entourage. The romantic lakes and alpine scenery are magnets for Vietnamese honeymooners.
Sure it is touristy, and if you take a boat trip you'll be among a flotilla of dozens of old converted junks, but Halong Bay still remains one of the most impressive sights in the world. Take the opportunity to borrow a kayak (all boats should do this) and paddle through the limestone karsts dramatically rising up out of the sea. Or spend the night on one of those junks and explore the caves hidden deep in the islands, pass floating villages and at night enjoy a sundowner on the top deck and look out for shooting stars.
7. Hanoi
Hanoi is a city of contrasts with the wide, leafy boulevards lined by beautiful colonial buildings in the French quarter, the maze of narrow streets of the Old Quarter and the tranquil lakes. Wherever you are, the background noise is the buzzing of the motorbikes that crowd the streets of the capital.
8. Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City by train
A trip on the Reunification Express is a must. However, the trains between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are certainly not express. It can take between 30 and 40 hours to travel between the two cities so best to do one section only. Popular is the 18-hour journey between Hanoi and Hue.
9. Hiking
There are hundreds of long distance hiking trails around the country, and a significant infrastructure for visitors wanting guided hiking tours. Head south from Hanoi into Cuc Phuong National Park, a wilderness of forest-covered limestone mountains which rise up from the green rice paddies, home to many rare species and the primate rescue centre. Spend the night with a family from the Muong hill tribe in their traditional stilthouse.
Gleaming skyscrapers sit side by side with ramshackle buildings and crumbling colonial houses. Monks pass deluxe car showrooms collecting alms and walk along sun-baked streets crammed with honking motorbikes. The Saigon River is constantly crossed by small boats and ferries weaving through larger boats.
11. Ho Chi Minh Trail history tour
See some of the Vietnam War sights by walking part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, used as supply routes by the North Vietnamese during the war. You can't fail to be intrigued by the network of tunnels excavated by the Viet Cong from which they launched regular attacks on the US forces. For a taste of life underground scramble through one of the narrow tunnels, specially widened for Western visitors.
12. Hoi An
Meander the narrow streets with their tiny shop houses, relax in a riverside bar and savour tasty local dishes. This is the place to buy souvenirs, silk items, T-shirts and ceramics. Whatever you do make sure you treat yourself by having clothes made at one of the many tailors.
13. Hue
The former imperial city of Hue is crammed with wonderful sights. The Imperial Citadel, suffering from the ravages and war and the tropical weather, is slowly being painstakingly renovated; riverside is the Thien Mu pagoda where novice monks peek shyly at the visitors; and the mausoleums of the Emperors, each unique in style.
14. Meet the locals
The best way to meet the locals is to pull up a low plastic chair in the pavement bar order some beer, order fresh peanuts and quails eggs and chat to the locals. Even with a language barrier, you'll be clinking glasses long into the night.
Explore the watery world of the Mekong Delta where channels of the might Mekong Delta crisscross the land and provide a fertile place to grow vast swathes of rice and fruit. Discover riverine towns, floating markets and small riverside industries and spend the night in a homestay with a farming family.
16. Motorbiking
It is becoming increasingly popular to hire a motor bike - invariably a Russian made 125cc Minsk - and ride it from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. Riddled with all sorts of dangers, not least the vast amount of bikes in the cities, it is nevertheless an exhilarating way to see the country.
17. River markets
The river markets on the Mekong Delta are an unmissable sight. Life here is dominated by the mighty Mekong and much of Vietnam's rice crop is grow, and the floating markets are still an essential part of life in the south. Get up early to experience Can Tho floating market at its best. Dozens of wooden boats, many that have seen better days, carry the freshest fruit and vegetables. Smaller boats weave through them perusing the wares and the morning air is filled with the sound of good-natured haggling over price.
18. Sapa hill tribes
Sapa's stunning alpine scenery is home to several hill tribe villages where life continues pretty much unchanged. Many can be reached by jeep but to get to the more remote villages be prepared to hike. The reward is an overnight in a stilthouse with a family resplendent in riotously colourful traditional costume.


Because of its geography, the climate in Vietnam varies greatly from north to south with three distinct climatic zones. Tropical monsoons occur from October to April in the centre and from May to September in the north and south. It is almost totally dry throughout the rest of the year. Where and when to go Vietnam
Shopping in Vietnam
For anyone who likes handicrafts and a bargain, Vietnam is nirvana. Wooden water puppets, with ingenious mechanisms, silk, lacquerware, ceramics, colourful hill-tribe bags, clothing and hand-painted silk greetings cards are all a must-buy. Clothes are particularly good value and tailors can make up clothes within 24 hours in many places, particularly Hoi An.
Each town and city has one or more markets and these are always worth visiting as much for the experience as for the shopping. Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have seen the arrival of upmarket shopping malls selling leading international and domestic brands.
In small shops and markets have a go at bargaining for any items that catch your eye, but remember to keep it good-natured. Many of the souvenir shops in major towns and cities don't budge much on prices and some are even fixed price.

Shopping hours: 
Shops are generally open seven days a week from 0800 to 2000 ; some are open until 2200 hours.
Nightlife in Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh City is packed with bars and clubs ranging from dingy bars to some very upmarket venues. Most of the nightlife is concentrated in District 1. Hanoi's nightlife is much quieter and the streets can appear quiet after 2200 hrs. The venues tend to be small here and are concentrated in the Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem lake.
Live music is mainly restricted to international acts from the Philippines and Thailand performing in international hotels, with a few bars hosting local jazz and rock bands. Elsewhere, the nightlife is generally restricted to small bars and hotels but there is a particularly good bar/café scene in Hoi An in central Vietnam. For visitors seeking out something more cultural a visit to the water puppet theatre is entertaining. The bia hois (pavement pubs) also offer a fun social experience and the friendly locals will often talk to visitors. Food and snacks such as boiled quails’ eggs are also usually available. Traditional music and dance is performed in some restaurants in the main tourist areas, particularly Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Danang and Hue.
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