Travel Tips And General Information For Your Trip To Vietnam

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GENERAL

Geography
Vietnam covers and area of 330,363 sq. km and is about as big as Italy or New Mexico. The country has three main geographic regions - the tropical south dominated by the Mekong River estuary, the dry central region, and the more temperate north comprising the Red River delta and mountain highlands.

Vietnam’s climate is very diverse because the country covers a wide range of latitudes and altitudes.

The North: The cold season is between November and April when average temperatures are around 60°F/16°C and it is often wet and chilly. In the hot period, between May and October, the average temperature is about 86°F/30°C.

Central: Central Vietnam offers a combination of climates: that of the north and the south of Vietnam. The southern part has less rainfall and the temperatures are similar to those in the south. The northern part has more rain and significant changes in temperature. The rainy season in the center lasts from September to December. Especially during the months of October and November central Vietnam is hit by typhoons with strong winds and heavy downpours.

The South: The temperatures in the south are constant all year, ranging from 77-86°F/25-30°C. The dry season is from November to April and the wet period from May to October.

People
Vietnam has 76.5 million inhabitants, and ethnic Vietnamese constitute almost 90% of the population. Originating in what is now southern China and northern Vietnam, the Vietnamese people pushed southward over several centuries to occupy the entire eastern seacoast of the Indochinese Peninsula. This expansion began in 939 AD, after a millennium of Chinese occupation. Although Vietnamese culture was strongly influenced by traditional Chinese civilization, the struggle for political independence from China developed a strong sense of national identity in the Vietnamese people. Nearly 100 years of French rule (1858-1954) introduced important European elements, but the Vietnamese still attach great importance to the family and continue to observe rites honoring their ancestors, indicating the persistence of tradition.

Various ethnic groups make up the remaining 10% of the population, with the approximately 1.2 million Chinese, concentrated in southern Vietnam, being the most numerous. The second largest minority, the southern Montagnards (mountain people) comprises two main ethno-linguistic groups - Malayo-Polynesian and Mon-Khmer. About 30 groups of various cultures and dialects are spread over the highland territory. The third largest minority is the Khmer Krom (Cambodians), numbering about 600,000, who are concentrated in the southern provinces near the Cambodian border and at the mouth of the Mekong River. Most are farmers. Other minority groups include Cham (remnants of the once-mighty Kingdom of Champa, destroyed by the Vietnamese in the 16th century).

Religion
Vietnam supports adherents of all the major world religions, as well as followers of religions that are peculiarly Vietnamese: Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism, Protestant and Catholic Christianity, Taoism, Confucianism, Islam, Cao Daism, Hoa Hao and Hinduism. In addition spirit and ancestor worship, To Tien, is also practiced. Confucianism is probably the most pervasive doctrine of all.

Art & Architecture
The first flourishing of Vietnamese art occurred with the emergence of the Dongson culture on the coast of Annam and Tonkin between 500 and 200 BC. The inspiration for the magnificent bronzes produced by the artists of Dongson originated from China: the decorative motifs have clear affinities with earlier Chinese bronzes. At the same time, the exceptional skill of production and decoration argues that these pieces represent among the first, and finest, of South-East Asian works of art. This is most evident in the huge and glorious bronze drums that can be seen in museums in both Hanoi and Saigon. If there was ever a 'golden' period of the Vietnamese art and architecture it was that of the former central Vietnamese kingdom of Champa, centered on the Annamite coast. It flowered in the 10th and 11th centuries. Only 20 of 250 former sites have survived the intervening centuries, the most famous being My Son and Dong Duong. Characteristic of Vietnamese art and architecture are the pagodas and palaces at Hue and in and around Hanoi, although Chinese prototypes are evident.

Language
The Vietnamese language has a reputation for being fiendishly difficult to master. Its origins are still the subject of dispute - at one time thought to be a Sino-Tibetan language (because it is tonal), it is now believed to be Austro-Asiatic and related to Mon-Khmer. During the 9th century, when Vietnam was under Chinese domination, Chinese ideograms were adapted for use with the Vietnamese language. The script - chu nho ('scholar script') was used in all official correspondence and in literature until the 20th century, though whether this replaced an earlier writing system is not known. As early Vietnamese nationalists tried to break away from Chinese cultural dominance in the late 13th century, they devised their own script, based on Chinese ideograms, but adapted to meet Vietnamese language needs. This became known as chu nom or 'vulgar script'. Therefore, while Chinese words formed the learned vocabulary of the intelligentsia - largely inaccessible to the people on the street or in the paddy field - non-Chinese words made up a parallel popular vocabulary. Since World War One the Latin-based quoc ngu script has become widely used.

Dance & Theatre
Classical Vietnamese theatre, known as hat boi, shows links with the classical theatre of China. Since the partition of the country in 1954, there has developed what might be termed 'revolutionary realist' theatre and classical Vietnamese theatre is almost defunct today. However, the most original theatrical art form in Vietnam is mua roi muoc or water puppet theatre. Plays are based on historical or religious themes: the origins of the Viet nation, legends, village life and acts of heroism. Some include the use of fireworks - especially during battle scenes - while folk opera singers and traditional instruments accompany all performances. Performances usually begin with the clown, Teu, taking the stage and acting as a linking character between the various scenes.

Manners
The Vietnamese used to greet one another by clasping their hands, prayer-like, in front of their faces and bowing slightly. Unfortunately, this charming custom has been replaced by the handshake. When trying to gain the attention of a Vietnamese, try not to point or gesture excessively. This is regarded as rude. Call out their names if possible, if not beckon by using the whole hand, palm downwards. Again, as in the other countries of South-East Asia, do not touch people on the head as it is regarded as spiritually the 'highest' part of the body. Expect to be the center of attention outside Saigon, Hanoi and the main tourist centers. React accordingly and be a good ambassador.

Holidays & Festivals
Participating in Vietnamese festivals is the best way to experience the culture and tradition of the country. These festivals are an expression of a truly distinct culture accessible and close to all.

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HEALTH INFORMATION

It is strongly recommended that you carry a small first aid kit with you, even if you are traveling on business. In the event of an accident or emergency health problem in Vietnam, you should have a travel insurance policy with coverage that includes emergency evacuation to Singapore, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok for treatment. Medical attention in Vietnam is reasonable, but equipment and medicines are in chronic short supply.

Vaccinations
No vaccinations are officially required by the Vietnamese authorities, but immunization against cholera, hepatitis, typhoid, tetanus, polio, and Japanese encephalitis is advised. Rabies is widespread in Vietnam, so you are advised to avoid dogs and other animals that may bite as a precaution.

Malaria
Malaria is widespread in Vietnam, especially in the Central Highlands and some parts of the Mekong Delta. The best protection against malaria is to avoid being bitten in the first place. Check with your physician about taking a course of anti-malarials. If it is considered necessary given your itinerary, you might need to begin before your trip and continue for a time after you return.

Dengue fever, which is also transmitted by mosquitoes, is often mistaken for malaria. Its symptoms are severe pain in the joints, high fever, and extreme headache. Aside from avoiding being bitten altogether (this mosquito is active in daytime and is often a striped variety), there is no prevention available. Hospital treatment is urgently required.

Food & Water
As with most underdeveloped countries, stomach upsets and diarrhea are a common problem and can ruin a visit. Most problems stem from contaminated water. Unless it has been thoroughly boiled, do not drink tap water. You should also avoid ice in drinks, especially in the countryside. Imported bottled water is available in most cities, but beware of bottles that have been refilled with tap water. Soft drinks and alcoholic beverages are fine and in hotels you can use the hot water in your room to make Chinese tea. You should have no problems with thoroughly cooked food, but stay clear of anything that looks like it has been reheated from a previous meal. Take care with seafood and avoid undercooked meat. Only eat fruit that you have peeled yourself, but salads should be given a miss.

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A BRIEF HISTORY

In 111 BC ancestors of the present-day Vietnamese who inhabited part of what is now southern China and northern Vietnam were conquered by forces of China's Han dynasty. Chinese rule lasted more than 1000 years (until 939 AD) when the Vietnamese ousted their conquerors and began a southward expansion that, by the mid-18th century, reached the Gulf of Siam. Despite their military achievements the Vietnamese continued to suffer from internal political divisions. Throughout most of the 17th and 18th centuries, contending families in the north and south struggled to control the powerless kings of the Le dynasty.

Vietnam was reunited following a devastating civil war in the 18th century but soon fell prey to the expansion of European colonialism. The French conquest of Vietnam began in 1858 with an attack on what is now the city of Danang.

Fiercely nationalistic, the Vietnamese never truly accepted the imposition of French rule. By 1930, the Vietnamese Nationalist Party had staged the first significant armed uprising against the French, but its virtual destruction in the ensuing French repression left the leadership of the anti-colonial movement to those more adept at underground organization and survival - the communists.

A prolonged three-way struggle ensued among the Vietnamese communists (led by Ho Chi Minh), the French, and the Vietnamese nationalists (nominally led by Emperor Bao Dai). Ho Chi Minh's Viet Minh forces fought a highly successful guerrilla campaign and eventually controlled much of rural Vietnam. The French military disaster at Dien Bien Phu in May 1954 and the conference at Geneva, where France signed the Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities in Vietnam on July 20, 1954, marked the end of the eight-year war and French colonial rule in Indochina.

By 1963 the Vietnamese communists had made significant progress in building a strong network of supporters in South Vietnam. Nevertheless, in 1964 Hanoi decided that the Viet Cong (VC) cadres and their supporters were not sufficient to take advantage of the political confusion following the overthrow of Diem in November 1963. Hanoi ordered regular troops of the North Vietnamese army (People's Army of Vietnam - PAVN) into South Vietnam, first as ‘fillers’ in VC units, then in regular formations. The first regimental units were dispatched in the autumn of 1964. By 1968, PAVN forces were enduring most combat on the communist side.

In December 1961 President Diem requested assistance from the United States. President Kennedy sent US military advisers to South Vietnam to help the government deal with the instability that plagued the southern part of Vietnam. By the spring of 1969 the United States had reached its greatest troop strength - 543,000 - in Vietnam.

While the United States withdrew from ground combat by 1971, it still provided air and sea support to the South Vietnamese until the signing of the ceasefire agreements. The peace agreement was concluded on January 27, 1973. At the beginning of 1975, the North Vietnamese began a major offensive in the South that succeeded in breaking through the central highlands defenses. After taking over provincial capitals in that area, a combination of forces from the demilitarized zone area and the highlands led to the withdrawal of South Vietnamese forces.

For the first few months after the war, separate governments were maintained in the northern and southern parts of the country. However, in mid-November 1975, the decision to reunify the country was announced, despite the vast social and economic differences remaining between the two sections. The assembly ratified the reunification of the country and on July 2 renamed it the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV). It also appointed a committee to draft a new constitution for the entire country.

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MONEY

Currency
The currency of Vietnam is the Dong. All goods and services can and should be paid for in Dong. Exceptions are made in hotels and when buying international air tickets. Shops and restaurants in the bigger cities will also accept US dollars, but you should be aware of the fact that usually a lower exchange rate will be used. It is therefore advisable to change a certain amount of Vietnamese Dong to cover your day-to-day expenses.

Travelers Cheques
Must be in US dollars. You can change them to Dong or to US dollars (with a 2% commission). Those issued by American Express, Bank of America, Citicorp, First National City Bank, Thomas Cook, and Visa are accepted. They are also accepted at major tourist hotels, but not in most shops. Vietnam is still very much a cash economy. Credit Cards
Visa, Mastercard and - with exceptions - American Express are accepted in virtually every hotel in major cities throughout the country, as well as in upmarket restaurants especially in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

SHOPPING
Vietnam is not yet a shopping paradise like Hong Kong or Bangkok, but there still a huge variety of souvenirs and traditional handicrafts available. Popular buys include lacquer ware, ceramics, embroidery, silk and paintings.

As with most countries, the Vietnamese Government does not allow the export of any item of historic or cultural significance. Saigon has the best buys for modern goods like CDs and clothing.

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SIGHTS

The Vietnam of today is influenced not only by its ancient traditions and culture but also by its checkered and often tragic past. Vietnam is finding its way back to its ancient roots of serenity and family oriented lifestyle. Experience a country still unspoiled and tolerant, a country quite unique in the world.

Hanoi
Vietnam's lovely capital contradicts the prejudices we have of socialist cities: the beautiful old center with its narrow alleys and wide tree-lined boulevards are reminiscent of French small towns. The French colonial period left much deeper marks than 40 years of socialism.

Halong Bay
This bay is one of the most impressive landscapes on earth: thousands of small islands and limestone cliffs full of caves and caverns in emerald-green waters make the legend seem true: that on his flight into the sea a dragon left this beautiful piece of nature behind. Legend also has it that he still lives there but until he re-appears you can enjoy the peace and tranquility on an all-day boat trip.

Dien Bien Phu
In the far northwest of Vietnam near the Laotian border in a beautiful valley, the last and decisive battle with the French was fought in 1954. The journey to this remote region passes through impressive and picturesque mountain terrain with glimpses of ethnic villages - a very special experience.

Hoa Binh
The capital of the province of the same name is the starting-point for excursions to the Muong and the Thai - minorities still living in their traditional pile-dwellings. See traditional dances and taste traditional tribal food prepared especially for visitors from afar.

Cuc Phuong National Park
The largest national park of Vietnam is home to unique flora and fauna and several of the species are no longer found anywhere else in the world. Excursions under the expert guidance of park rangers help visitors experience this unique habitat. The park includes the largest jungles remaining in Vietnam.

Hue
This imperial city was the cultural and intellectual center of Vietnam. The old imperial palace, the citadel and the Thien Mu Pagoda which is one of Vietnam's landmarks are only a few examples of the sights of Hue. There is also a boat trip down the Perfumed River, which leads to the six impressive imperial tombs.

Danang
The road from Danang to Hue crosses the famous Pass of Ocean Clouds, one of the most spectacular parts of Highway One. Danang City has not much to offer the tourist but the Cham Museum, the Marble Mountains and China Beach are all in close vicinity, the latter being famous for the wave surfing GIs of the Vietnam War.

Hoi An
For many centuries Hoi An was one of South-East Asia's most important ports. Fortunately Hoi An was spared much of the destruction of the Vietnam War. No other town in Vietnam has such well-preserved ancient buildings. Today Hoi An is unsurpassed for its charm and has blossomed into an artists' colony.

Nha Trang
Is simply a seaside resort in Vietnam. It features miles and miles of empty beaches, deserted bays, numerous islands and coral reefs. Swim, snorkel and dive all day. Nha Trang has many good mid-range hotels. There are beach cafés, fine seafood restaurants and one beach resort.

Dalat
Vietnam's honeymoon town nestles in a mountain valley at an altitude of 5000 ft. (1500 m). The climate is temperate and the cool evenings attract newlyweds from all over Vietnam. The area is dotted with lakes, waterfalls, evergreen forests and gardens.

Saigon
Once again the city has become the effervescent economic center of Vietnam. To some it's a hectic and terribly noisy city, to others the former ‘Paris of the East’ with Vietnam's best restaurants and cafés and an intense nightlife. Saigon has restored famous hotels like the Majestic, the Continental and the Rex and boasts recently opened Asian luxury hotels a la Bangkok or Singapore.

Mekong Delta
It is difficult to highlight individual towns in this huge river delta. The Mekong River divides into nine branches to encompass an area of endless paddy fields and mangrove swamps. Especially worth seeing are Vinh Long, Chau Doc, Ha Tien, Soc Trang and Tra Vinh with their large Khmer pagodas.

Con Dao
The notorious penitentiary island Con Dao is the home of the ‘tiger cages’, made famous by movies on Vietnam.

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FOODS
Vietnamese Cuisine is a mixture of Chinese, French and a little Thai. It is probably one of the best cuisines in Asia. The basic ingredients of Vietnamese cuisine are rice and the famous fish-sauce, nouc mam.

One of the specialties of Vietnamese cuisine is spring rolls, the ingredients and size vary depending on the region of the country. The traditional breakfast, chicken soup (pho ga) or beef soup (pho bo) is available at most of the food stalls on the main streets of nearly every city in Vietnam

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TIPPING
It is customary to tip your guide and driver. Each traveler should budget approximately $1 USD per day for the guide and $0.50-75 USD per day for the driver. In nicer restaurants and bars you can leave a small amount, about $1 USD should be sufficient. You can also leave a small amount (pocket change) in your hotel room when you check out for the housekeeping staff.

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VISA INFORMATION
All visitors to Vietnam (except Thai and Philippine nationals) require a visa. Tourist visas are usually issued with a validity of one month.

It is no longer required that you get a visa in advance. Visas may be obtained upon arrival with an invitation letter, $25 USD in exact change and 3 visa photos.

Please provide your passport details and occupation one month before departure so that we may obtain the invitation letter. The invitation letter is included in the cost of our tour packages. If you are booking minimal services such as “hotel only”, an additional charge will apply.

We hope you have a wonderful trip and thank you for choosing China Travel Service Inc. for your travel arrangements!

 

 

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