National motto: Độc Lập, Tự do, hạnh phúc (Independence, Liberty, Happiness)
Population: 83,689,518 (July 2005 est.)
Total area: 329,560 km2
Cities: Hochiminh, Danang, Haiphong, Cantho, Hue, Nhatrang…
Ethnic groups: Vietnamese 86%, Khmer Krom 1.5%, Chinese 3%, Muong, Tai, H’mong, Man, Cham
Mahayana Buddhism-Taoism 78%
Theravada Buddhism 5%
Christianity- 8% (Roman Catholic- 7% - Protestant- 1% )
Cao Dai- 7-8 million followers
Hoa Hao (included as divergent subsect within greater Mahayana Buddhism)
indigenous animistic beliefs
Languages: Vietnamese (official), Khmer, Chinese, English, French, tribal languages (Tai-Kadai, Mon-Khmer, and Malayo-Polynesian)
Geography: situated on the eastern Coast of the Indochina Penisuala, Vietnam strethes over 2000 km from north to south. It borders China to the north, Laos and Cam bodia to the west. The country has 2 low-lying fertile rice producing regions at either end- the Red River Delta in the north anfthe mekong delta in the south. Heavily forest mountain ranges regions
Economy: Free market oriented economy with ongoing industrilization and building programs. The country is very rich in national resourses.
Visas are required for all nationalities. Regulations and costs change from time to time so it is advisable to check the current rules. Visa are refused without explanation to those the authorities consider a proscribed profession. It is also a good idea to carry 2-4 passport-sized photos with you when traveling to Vietnam, as sometimes these are asked by Immigration officials. Those who travel overland from Cambodia will be crossing at Moc Bai border gate, from Laos at Lao Bao and Cau Treo border gates, from China at Hakau, Huu Nghi and Mong Cai border gates. You must ensure your visa specifies entry “international border gates". Further more your visa must be “multiple entries “If you want to fly out from Hanoi or Saigon after your extension trip to Angkor Wat or Luangprabang.
The local currency in Vietnam is Vietnam Dong (VND). At the time of writing, 1 USD is around 16,200 VND. Local VND or USD is both accepted. Banks are open from Monday to Friday and some open on Saturday morning. In main cities, travelers’ cheques can be exchanged at banks and some exchange bureau, but this can be very difficult in small towns. ATMs can be found in major cities Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city, , Haiphong, Halong, Hue, Da Nang… so do not depend on any kind of bankcards (e.g. credit cards...) as your main source of funds.
On entering Vietnam all visitors must complete an entry/exit card (white/blue color) and a customs declaration form (white/yellow). It is important that you keep both of these forms and present them to Customs and Immigration upon arrival. If you have booked an arrival transfer or if you are on one of your designed group tour, please look for our representative who will be holding a sign with your name on at Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh city airport.
Taxi: If you have not arranged for an arrival/departure transfer, you can always take a cab which is available at the airport and at the hotel. Whether you are arriving at Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City it is better to take a metered taxi to the hotel. The driver may want to negotiate a price before leaving the airport, but do not agree to this. Rather you should make sure they switch the meter on and pay the amount it displays when you reach your destination. Taxi fees vary according to the type of vehicle (i.e. a modern A.C car is more expensive than an older non A.C vehicle). As a guideline you should expect to pay the following amounts for a taxi from the airport to your hotel:
Hanoi: $ 10-15 US
HCM city $ 7-10 US
During your free time there may be occasion to use local taxis about 10,000 VND for a first km.
Most hotels now have IDD phones in rooms and it is possible to send faxes from hotels and post offices although be warned these services are expensive. Away from the major cities it may not always be possible to make international calls. Cyber cafes are becoming popular in the major cities in Vietnam, and many travelers now prefer to keep in touch by e-mail. Post cards can be bought at all the main tourist sites and stamps are available from post offices and some hotel reception desks.
The voltage in the cities and towns is generally 220V, 50 cycles, sometimes 110V in the rural areas. Electric sockets are a standard European or American. If you bring a computer to Vietnam, you must use a surge suppresser to protect your circuits. Large voltage regulators can be bought at computer stores in Vietnam to give greater protection. It is a good idea to bring adapter plugs in case your plugs do not fit the sockets, which are sometimes two round pins, other times three pins. If you do not have the correct size plug, however, it is easy to buy one at many markets or electronics stores. Batteries are available in the major cities.
Offices are usually open from Monday to Friday from 8:00 until 17:00 or 18:00, and some also open on Saturdays.
Most shops open 7 days a week around 9:00am until late as 20:00 or 21:00.
Vietnamese food comes as a wonderful surprise and is definitely not to be missed! It has a very distinctive style, although it is also clearly influenced by Chinese and, in a lesser way by French cuisine.
Meals will usually include rice or noodles as staples along with a wide variety of vegetables, and meats like chicken, duck, beef and pork. Dishes feature a wonderful fusion of flavors and you will find that fish sauce is a condiment accompanying almost every meal. Another unexpected delight is the availability of good quality seafood (fish, calamari, prawns and crabs) which is caught along Vietnam’s extensive coastline.
Freshness is of paramount importance in Vietnamese cooking, so ingredients are bought fresh from local market on a daily basis.
The fact that many Vietnamese are completely omnivorous, has led to some very exotic dishes - such as barbecued frog legs which can be found in food stalls in many local markets (perhaps this is how the French come to introduce frog legs into their cuisine).
On the other hand, there is also a strong Buddhist influence in Vietnam which means that vegetarian food is also widely available.
Here are just a few examples of the fantastic dishes you can expect to find in Vietnam.
Pho: Noodle soup made with either chicken or beef. It is served with a plate of fresh green leaves (e.g., basil, bok choi), beans sprouts, and red chilies to add as you please
Cha Gio: Deep fried spring roll (in the south), nem ran (north)
Goi Cuon: Fresh spring rolls made from raw vegetables and grilled prawns, crab, pork, or chicken wrapped in rice paper. The ingredients are usually served separately, leaving you to assemble the rolls yourself!
Banh Cuon: A steamed “ravioli" style dumpling (although somewhat larger), stuffed with minced pork or prawns, black mushrooms and bean sprouts.
Goi Ngo Sen: A delicious salad made with lotus stems, shrimps, and peanuts.
Cha Ca: Cubes of fish cooked on the table in butter, you add all ingredients, veggies, noodles and corianders etc... This is an authentic northern dish
Bun Ca: A combination of soup with meatballs and spring rolls, another typical Hanoi food.
Some of the legacies left over from the French colonial period include crispy baguettes, pate, hard boiled quail’s eggs, crème caramel, and banana flambé
On the subject of desserts, we should point out that they are not particularly common. However an amazing assortment of fresh tropical fruits is usually on offer, which will round off a meal perfectly.
Tea, similar to Chinese green tea, is one of the most common drinks in Vietnam. Coffee was introduced by the French and is very good. It is thick and strong and is served complete with drip filter, so you know it is fresh! If you ask for milk it will usually be sweet condensed milk. Home brewed rice wine is often offered to guests, but watch out - it is extremely alcoholic! Light larger style beer is more commonly available “333” Hanoi beer being the most well famous local brands. Spirits, such as Nep moi (a type of Vodka), are also produced locally but once again, be cautious as these are very strong.
It is not advisable to drink tap water in Vietnam, but bottled mineral water is safe and available everywhere. Ice in drinks is generally OK in good standard hotels and restaurants but it is better to avoid it on street stalls or in country areas.
Malaria: Malaria is not a problem in big cities, but care should be taken in remote areas, especially in the rainy season when mosquitoes breed. If spending time in the countryside (below 1,200 meters al), contact a doctor about anti-malarial drugs. Try to avoid getting bitten, cover up after dark, wear insect repellent, burn mosquito coils and sleep under a net.
Diarrhea: This malady is common. If it occurs, maintain a diet of bland foods of fluids only. If severe, consult a physician.
Pharmacies: Many of the drugs sold in small pharmacies are copies or have expired.
Vietnam offers a wide range of souvenirs and shopping in the various local markets around the country can be great fun. Good bargaining skills are essential and as high quality souvenirs or genuine antiques are difficult to find, prices should generally be low. Here are some of the items which make their way onto many people’s shopping list: Clothes (e.g. T-shirt, polo-shirt, trousers, shorts, skirts,) beaded shoes, conical hats, single-cup coffee filters, sleeping bags, CDs, embroidered table cloths, carving in wood or marble, lacquer ware (e.g. pictures , trays, trinket boxes), and traditional style paintings and sketches. Handicrafts produced by the hill tribes in the north are also very popular. These include fabrics, jewelers, embroidered bags, and wickerwork. It is also possible to buy tailor-made clothes. These are made on order and are usually available for collection
As Vietnamese has six different tones; it is a difficult language for most foreigners to grasp. The same word can have six different meanings pending on the tone used to pronounce it. Nonetheless we encourage you to try to speak a few words of the local language. The locals will certainly appreciate your efforts!
New Year’s Day 1st January
International Labor Day 1st May
National Day 2nd September
Vietnamese New Year or Tet is celebrated each year with an official 3 day holiday, but some businesses close for an entire week. The actual dates of the Tet celebrations change from year to year in according to the lunar calendar. Tet often takes place by the end of January or February.