Vietnam, officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, covers an area of 332,000 square kilometers. It shares common borders with China, Laos, and Cambodia. With a population of more than 90 million, it is the most densely populated country in Southeast Asia. The vast majority of the population is Vietnamese. Other ethnic groups include Chinese, Muong, Thai, Meo, Khmer, Man and Cham.
Vietnam’s topography varies from low, flat delta in the south and north to hilly, mountainous terrain in the central, far north and northwest. Three-quarters of Vietnam is hilly or mountainous. Hanoi is the capital, and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is the largest city in the country.
From the mountainous Northwest near China to the fertile rice patties of the Mekong River Delta in the South near Cambodia, Vietnam offers an incredibly diverse selection of beautiful natural locations. The famous Halong Bay with its steep limestone crags jutting out of the sea, miles of stunning white tropical beaches, hundreds of islands, diverse rivers, the Red River, the Saigon River, the Perfume River, and the mighty Mekong River; dense jungles and tropical forests and much more.
Vietnam also has a wealth of historical architecture. Typical Chinese style buildings, temples and pagodas as well as French Colonial architecture from the early 1800’s to Art Deco inspired structures.
Vietnam stretches over 1,800 km from north to south; therefore weather patterns in the principle cities are very different.
North: Winter lasts from November to April, with temperatures averaging 10-16oC, fog and drizzle in February and March. Summer begins in May and lasts until October, with an average temperature of 30oC, heavy rainfall and the occasional violent typhoon.
Center: Central Vietnam experiences a transitional climate, with heavy rainfalls between November and December and dry, hot summer months.
South: Temperatures are fairly constant through the year; 25-30oC. Seasons are determined by the rains – the dry season runs from November to April and the wet season from May to October. The hottest period is March and April. Typhoons are quite common in coastal areas between July and November.
Highland areas: In the hill resorts of Dalat (1,500 m), Buon Me Thuot and Sapa, nights are cool throughout the year, and in the winter months, October to March, it can be distinctly chilly with temperatures falling to 4oC. Even in the hottest months of March and April the temperature rarely exceeds 26oC.
* 7 hrs ahead of GMT
* 3 hrs behind Australian Eastern Standard Time
* 5 hrs behind New Zealand
* 12 hrs ahead of Canada Eastern Time
* 15 hrs ahead of Canada Pacific Time
* 12 hrs ahead of US Eastern Time
* 15 hrs ahead of US Pacific Time
The local currency is the Dong (abbreviated “d” or VND). Bank notes are 500d, 1000d, 2,000d, 5,000d, 10,000d, 20,000d, 50,000d, 100,000d, 200,000d & 500,000d.
Banks adjust their exchange rates on a daily basis, in line with international money markets, and usually offer the best rates. Large hotels may offer exchange services. Rates are usually less favourable than those offer by banks. DO NOT change money with anyone that approaches you on the streets, it may to be a rip off.
Banking hours in Vietnam are from 8.00 or 8.30 am to 3.30 or 4.00 pm Monday to Friday. Some banks may close at lunch time.
Credit cards are now accepted in most hotels, and many restaurants and high-end shops in the major cities.
Tipping is now customary in Vietnam:
Waiters in restaurants: 5-10% of total bill
Taxi drivers: 5% of total bill
Weights Measures System
Visa Requirements in Vietnam
You will require a visa and a valid passport that has at least 6 months to run when you enter Vietnam. The visa process is quite straight forward and usually takes about 4 to 5 working days. You should apply for a visa before you leave for Vietnam. If you are traveling to other countries before arriving in Vietnam you can apply for a visa there. Many travel agents in Bangkok and Singapore will be able to assist with the application process.
A tourist visa is valid for a single thirty day stay. You must specify your arrival date when applying for a visa and it is from this date that the 30 days will be calculated. So read the visa carefully to make sure that you do not arrive before it begins or stay after it expires.
If you are visiting Vietnam on business you should apply for a business visa. This will be valid for 3 to 6 months and will usually allow for multi entries into the country. You will require a company in Vietnam to provide the necessary paperwork and details to the immigration authorities before the application can be processed.
If you wish to leave Vietnam for a short period and then return before your tourist visa expires you must apply for a re-entry permit before you leave Vietnam.
Visa extensions may be granted at the discretion of the immigration authorities. If you need an extension most travel agents will be able to offer assistance and advice. Visa regulations are subject to change so check with a Vietnamese embassy before you apply.
Customs Regulations in Vietnam
If you are bringing equipment into Vietnam for a project, you will need to let us what equipment you are taking and we will advise you the best procedure for customs.
Predominantly visitors arrive in Vietnam by air, beginning their journeys in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi, but one can access Da Nang from some international destinations.
Many Airlines currently fly into Vietnam: Vietnam Airlines, United, American, Air France, Lufthansa, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airlines, Pacific Airlines, Qantas, ANA, Tiger Air, Turkish and several others.
To fly from Ho Chi Minh City to London or Frankfurt, it takes approximately 15 hours; from Vietnam to Singapore, it takes, 3 hours; and from Los Angeles to Ho Chi Minh City it takes approximately 20 hours.
Vietnam has two of domestic carriers. Vietnam Airlines and Pacific Airlines.
There are a number of smaller airlines that connect visitors to the smaller regional cities as well as companies affiliated with the larger airlines.
Noi Bai International Airport : Hanoi
Tan Son Nhat Airport : Ho Chi Minh City
Prepaid SIM cards are available throughout Vietnam.
International phone and fax charges are expensive and vary between $US1.50 (at some post offices) and $US6 per minute (at some hotels).
Vietnam now has a well developed, high-tech telecommunications infrastructure and excellent international links. Broadband links are available throughout the country.
Vietnam has a range of Internet Service Providers (ISP) that offer a range of services at internationally competitive rates.
Wifi connections are available in most hotels and many coffee shops and restaurants around the main cities. Check your power adapter to make sure it is suitable for 220v power connection.
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Ho Chi Minh City, formerly called Saigon, is a bustling, and fast-growing metropolis. Saigon is the name of a fantastic river flowing through the city. Saigon-Cholon Port, in the early 18th century, was one of the most buoyant cities in Southeast Asia. Today Ho Chi Minh City, with a population of around 6 million, is the largest city in Vietnam, and one of the three biggest municipalities in the country.
This 16-island archipelago lies around 40 kilometers west of Ha Tien in the Gulf of Thailand. The major island, Phu Quoc, is 48 kilometers long and covers an area of 1,320 square kilometers. Phu Quoc Island boasts lush tropical forest and mountain zones. The island is perfect for tourists with its unspoiled beaches. There are many activities to take advantage of including swimming, snorkeling, and fishing.
Vung Tau is an old port town 115 kilometers southeast of Ho Chi Minh City developed under the French as a seaside resort called Cap Saint Jacques. It served as a rest center for French officers, and later for Australian and American troops on R & R during the Vietnam War. Today it is a popular seaside resort town for wealthy Vietnamese.
Can Tho with a population of 200,000, is the largest town in the delta and 165 kilometers southwest of Ho Chi Minh City. It is a perfect spot for exploring river life and fruit orchards and is an important transport hub to the surrounding towns and villages. Thirty-five kilometers south of Can Tho (one hour by car, 4 hours by boat), there is a large market at Phung Hiep.
Vinh Long is a riverside town located in the Mekong Delta. Visitors can view the area with a boat ride on the Co Chien River, which flows through this provincial capital. Visitors can also explore the central market, Cho Vinh Long, as well as the nearby Khmer temples of Chau Thanh. The beautiful Bonsai Garden is another nature site not to be missed.
Dalat became popular so rapidly with Europeans as a cool retreat from the sweltering heat that it was once called “Le Petit Paris”. The economy of Dalat is based upon tourism with 400,000 visitors every year. This “City of Love” is built on a plateau some 1,500 meters above sea level and enjoys the mild climate of an everlasting spring. Dalat has a marvelous landscape with waterfalls, lakes, springs, pine hills, and beautiful flowers in French-like villas.
Nha Trang, one of the most developed beaches, is Vietnam’s most attractive coastal town. It contains a harmonious combination of mountains, islands, sea, and white sand beaches. Nha Trang has numerous cultural attractions and interesting sites. It is also an excellent place for swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving.
Hoi An has emerged as one of the most popular tourist destinations in Vietnam. The ancient town of Hoi An, formally Faifo, lies 32 kilometers south of Danang on the banks of the Thu Bon River. Originally a Cham port, the town has a distinct Chinese atmosphere with low, tiled roof houses and narrow streets. The town is divided into five quarters, or “bangs”, each of which traditionally had its own pagoda and supported one Chinese clan.
Danang was known under the French as “Tourane” and succeeded Hoi An as the most important port in central Vietnam during the 19th century. This coastal city lies by a river, is surrounded by several mountains, and contains a busy port. The splendid beaches of Non Nuoc (China Beach), My Khe, and Tien Sa offer excellent spots for relaxation.
Hue was founded as a Royal city in 1687, and housed the original citadel city of Phu Xuan. Hue is the gateway to the treasures of Vietnam’s royal past. The city served as Vietnam’s political capital from 1802 to 1945 under the thirteen emperors of the Nguyen dynasty. Hue has been one of Vietnam’s most important cultural, religious, and educational centers, and remains that way today. This small, quiet city is widely known for the magnificent architecture of its citadels, palaces, royal tombs, pagodas, and temples built under the Nguyen dynasty. The spectacular structures stand in a poetic background of greenery on the banks of the Perfume River. UNESCO has called Hue “an adorable architectural poem”.
Originally a small fishing and market town, the port city of Haiphong is endowed with a superb beach that is only 25 km drive from the city. There is also the famous district Hang Kenh that produces wool carpets. Do Son, the resort with a sandy beach and coconut palms, attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists annually. From Haiphong, one can also make a boat trip to the renowned Halong Bay or to Cat Ba National Park.
Hanoi, capital of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, is a pleasant, charming city in large part because of its famous lakes, shaded boulevards and lovely parks. The city center is an architectural masterpiece with its blocks of ochre buildings, retaining the air of a peaceful and austere provincial town. The feeling there is a sharp contrast to the fast-paced life and bustling air of Saigon. The city is about 110 kilometers inland from the Gulf of Tonkin. Hanoi is situated on the right bank of the Red River (Song Hong), with a population of nearly four million.
The name “Halong” in Vietnamese means “the dragon descending to the sea”. Halong Bay is one of the most beautiful regions on all of Vietnam with 3,000 islands rising from the clear emerald water of the Bac Bo Gulf (Gulf of Tonkin).
Dien Bien Phu
The valley of Dien Bien Phu is surrounded by the Nam Rom River and high mountains. This region become famous after the Vietnamese’s victory over the French ended the French-Vietnamese War. Today this site of spectacular scenery is perfect for nature-lovers and travelers who would like to explore the unspoiled landscapes.
Located on the bank of the Muong Hoa River, Sapa rises to an altitude of 1,750 meters. Close by is the Fan Si Pan Mountain, the highest mountain in the country at 3,147 meters. Sapa has a magical combination of alpine landscapes, ethnic cultures, and fresh mountain air. It is an excellent area for hiking through lush mountain valleys and quaint ethnic villages
Not only does Vietnam have a huge variety of natural landscapes and man made structures, but also a wide variety of peoples. Rich culture, strong tradition, and a patriotic people characterize this fascinating country. In addition to the Vietnamese and Chinese, there are over 50 different montagnard (or hill tribe) peoples in Vietnam, each with their own unique culture, clothing and features.