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Home | Travel Guide

Vietnam Travel Guide

Vietnam at a Glance

Population: 91 million
Mainland territory: 331,211.6 sq.km
Capital: Hanoi
administrative units: 63 provinces and cities
Coast line: 3,369km
Inland border: 4,510km
Latitude: 102º 08' - 109º 28' east
Longitude: 8º 02' - 23º 23' north
Vietnam (Vietnamese: Viet Nam), is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, and the East Sea (Vietnamese: Bien Dông), to the east. With a population of over 86 million, Vietnam is the 13th most populous country in the world.

Vietnam Tour Map

The people of Vietnam regained independence and broke away from China in AD 938 after their victory at the battle of Bach Dang River. Successive dynasties flourished along with geographic and political expansion deeper into Southeast Asia, until it was colonized by the French in the mid-19th century. Efforts to resist the French eventually led to their expulsion from the country in the mid-20th century, leaving a nation divided politically into two countries. Fighting between the two sides continued during the Vietnam War, ending with a North Vietnamese victory in 1975.

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Geography and Climate

Vietnam is approximately 331,688 km² (128,066 sq mi) in area (not including Hoang Sa and Truong Sa islands), larger than Italy and almost the size of Germany. The perimeter of the country running along its international boundaries is 4,639 km (2,883 mi). The topography consists of hills and densely forested mountains, with level land covering no more than 20%. Mountains account for 40% of the area, with smaller hills accounting for 40% and tropical forests 42%.
The average annual temperature is generally higher in the plains than in the mountains and plateaus and in the south than in the north. Temperatures in the southern plains (Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta) varies less, going between 21 and 28 °C (70 and 82.5 °F) over the course of a year. The seasons in the mountains and plateaus and in the north are much more dramatic, and temperatures may vary from 5 °C (41 °F) in December and January to 37 °C (98.6 °F) in July and August.

Languages

The people of Vietnam speak Vietnamese as a native language. In its early history, Vietnamese writing used Chinese characters. In the 13th century, the Vietnamese developed their own set of characters called Ch? nôm. During the French colonial period, Qu?c ng?, the romanized Vietnamese alphabet used for spoken Vietnamese, which was developed in 17th century by Jesuit Alexandre De Rhodes and several other Catholic missionaries, became popular and brought literacy to the masses. Various other languages are spoken by several minority groups in Vietnam. The most common of these are Tày, M??ng, Khmer, Chinese, Nùng, and H'Mông.

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History

The history of Vietnam begins around 2,700 years ago. Successive dynasties based in China ruled Vietnam directly for most of the period from 207 BC until 938 when Vietnam regained its independence. Vietnam remained a tributary 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 Tr?n Nhân Tông later diplomatically submitted Vietnam to a tributary of the Yuan to avoid further conflicts. The independent period temporarily ended in the middle to late 19th century, when the country was colonized by France. 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 supported the South. The war ended with the fall of Saigon to the North in April 1975. The reunified Vietnam suffered further internal repression and was isolated internationally due to the continuing Cold War and the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia. 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.

Cultures

The Culture of Vietnam which is the agricultural civilization based on the wet rice cultivating is one of the oldest of such in the Asia Pacific region. In terms of prehistory, most Vietnamese historians consider the ancient Dong Son culture to be one of the defining aspects of early Vietnamese civilization. There are some other characteristics that comprise Vietnamese culture: betel- areca nut chewing, teeth darkening, ??o M?u, bamboo, respect for community and family value, hardworking and devoted to study.

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Getting there and around

Getting there

It’s possible to enter Vietnam by train, plane, automobile and other forms of transport. Air is popular for those holidaying in Vietnam, while bus is the most common route for those traveling extensively in the region. Anyone planning on arriving from China should consider the spectacular train ride from Kunming in China’s Yunnan province to Hanoi (although there are currently no trains on the Chinese side: check for updates). Entering from Cambodia, the boat ride down the Mekong River from Phnom Penh to Chau Doc is memorable.
Formalities at Vietnam’s international airports are generally smoother than at land borders, as the volume of traffic is greater. That said, crossing overland from Cambodia and China is now relatively stress-free. Crossing the border between Vietnam and Laos remains somewhat stressful.

Getting around

Air
Vietnam Airlines (www.vietnamairlines.com.vn) has a monopoly on domestic flights, as it owns the only rival, Pacific Airlines (www.pacificairlines.com.vn), which flies the Hanoi–HCMC route and the HCMC–Danang - Hanoi routes.
Xe om
The xe om (zay-ohm) is a motorbike that carries one passenger, like a two-wheeled taxi. Xe means motorbike, and om means hug (or hold), so you get the picture. Getting around by xe om is easy, as long as you don’t have a lot of luggage. Cyclo
The cyclo (xich-lo), from the French cyclo-pousse, offers cheap and environmentally friendly transportation around Vietnam’s sprawling cities. Groups of cyclo drivers always hang out near major hotels and markets, and many speak at least broken English. To make sure the driver understands where you want to go, it’s useful to bring a city map. Bargaining is imperative. Settle on a fare before going anywhere or you’re likely to get stiffed.
Bus
The bus systems in Hanoi and HCMC have improved immeasurably in the past few years. Get your hands on a bus map and it is now possible to navigate the suburbs cheaply and efficiently. Some of the most popular sights in Hanoi and HCMC are accessible by public transport, making for a cheap visit. However, many travellers prefer other fast and economical options, such as meter taxis, cyclos and motorbike taxis.
Train
The 2600km Vietnamese railway system, operated by Vietnam Railways (Duong Sat Viet Nam; 04-747 0308; www.vr.com.vn), runs along the coast between HCMC and Hanoi, and links the capital with Hai Phong and northern towns. While sometimes even slower than buses, trains offer a more relaxing way to get around and more room than the jam-packed buses. The trains are also considered safer than the country’s kamikaze bus fleet.

Bicycle
A great way to get around Vietnam’s towns and cities is to do as the locals do and ride a bicycle. During rush hours, urban thorough­fares approach gridlock, as rushing streams of cyclists force their way through inter­sections without the benefit of traffic lights. In the countryside, Westerners on bicycles are often greeted enthusiastically by locals who don’t see many foreigners pedalling around.
Car and Motorbike
Motorbikes can be rented from cafés, hotels, motorbike shops and travel agencies. If you don’t fancy self-drive, there are plenty of local drivers willing to act as a chauffeur and guide for around US$15 per day. Car & motorbike The relative affordability of vehicle hire makes the latter a popular option. Having your own set of wheels gives you maximum flexibility to visit remote regions and stop when and where you please. The major considerations are safety, the mechanical condition of the vehicle, reliability of the rental agency and your budget. Don’t think about driving a car yourself in Vietnam (a motorbike is challenging enough) and moreover, hire charges for the car include a driver.

Taxi
taxi is becoming more and more popular in Vietnam. There are plenty of taxies parking outside the streets in big cities as Hanoi and HCMC. Taxi is good and you are recommended to ask the receptionist of the hotel to call a metered one for you. If you do by your self, take the information of some big and reliable taxi companies into consideration:

Hanoi: Mai Linh: 3822 6699; Sao Saigon Taxi: 2424 242, CP Taxi: 3826 2626; Hanoi Taxi: 3853 5353.
Saigon: Mai Linh: 3822 6699; Vina Taxi: 3811 1111; Saigon Taxi: 3846 4646; Vinasun Taxi: 3827 2727; Hoang Long Taxi: 3868 6868.

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Religions

For much of Vietnamese history, Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism have strongly influenced the religious and cultural life of the people. About 85% of Vietnamese identify with Buddhism, though not all practice on a regular basis. About 8% of the population are Christians (about six million Roman Catholics and fewer than one million Protestants, according to the census of 2007). Christianity was introduced first by the Portuguese and the Dutch traders in the 16th and 17th centuries, then further propagated by French missionaries in the 19th and 20th centuries, and to a lesser extent, by American Protestant missionaries during the presence of American forces during the 1960s and early 1970s, largely among the Montagnards of South Vietnam. The largest Protestant churches are the Evangelical Church of Vietnam and the Montagnard Evangelical Church. Two thirds of Vietnam's Protestants are ethnic minorities.

Health

The overall quality of health in Vietnam is regarded as good, as reflected by 2005 estimates of life expectancy (70.61 years) and infant mortality (25.95 per 1,000 live births). However, malnutrition is still common in the provinces, and the life expectancy and infant mortality rates are stagnating. In 2001 government spending on health care corresponded to just 0.9 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Government subsidies covered only about 20 percent of health care expenses, with the remaining 80 percent coming out of individuals’ own pockets.

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Food

Vietnamese cuisine is a style of cooking derived from the nation of Vietnam with fish sauce, soy sauce, rice, fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables all commonly used. Vietnamese recipes utilize a very diverse range of herbs, including lemongrass, mint, Vietnamese mint, long coriander and Thai basil leaves. Traditional Vietnamese cooking is greatly admired for freshness of the ingredients and for the healthy eating style.
The most common meats used in Vietnamese cuisine are pork, chicken, fish, and various kinds of seafood. The Vietnamese also have a strong vegetarian tradition influenced by Buddhist values.

Currency

The local currency is the dong (abbreviated "d" or VND). Bank notes are 1000d, 2,000d, 5,000d, 10,000d, 20,000d, 50,000d, 100,000d and 500,000d. The rate of exchange at updating time is approximately dong 22.000 to one US. Dollar. Credit cards are generally only accepted in major cities. Visitors are recommended to carry US Dollar in small denominations. Travelers can change their money for Vietnamese dong (VND) at banks, hotels and jewelry shops throughout the country.

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Visa and passport

Visa is required by all nationalities. Visa is usually delivered by Vietnamese Embassies who require the original passport and 2 photos for two full working days in order to stamp the visa. If Visa approval is arranged by Indochinatreks upon the client request, the personal data (full name, passport number with date of issuance and expiry, date and place of birth, nationality) must be supplied to us before arrival to Vietnam. Visa can also be obtained upon arrival at Vietnam international airports such as Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Danang airports.

Tipping

Widely practiced, in addition to hotel and restaurant service charges shown on bills (Porters, VND 10.000 -15.000 per bag). For services, a 5% tip is fine. For guide and driver, it is expected to receive US$3 - US$5/person/day.

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