To the rest of the world, Vietnam is known as a poor country, which has been suffered a lot from the wars. Nowadays, with huge efforts from different social classes and “open window” policies of the Government, Vietnam gradually becomes a ‘new destination’ to the worldwide. Vietnam tourism reveals as a place of peace, unique culture and unspoilt nature. A visit to this fascinating country will indulge your senses and open your mind.
Moreover, Vietnam has a richly natural resoures with captivating natural beauty and tranquil village life. Its highlands and rainforest regions, far from being devastated, continue to yield new species and team with exotic wildlife. Its islands and beaches are among the finest in all of Southeast Asia, and its cuisine is very possibly the most delicious you will ever find. Over two decades have passed since Vietnam was officially united, and in that time it has done a remarkable job of healing its wounds. Today, this gracious and graceful country is an outstanding travel destination.
The majority of the population is comprised of the Viet or Kinh (87%) people who speak the Vietnamese language. The minority population is made up of 54 ethnic hill tribes people who mainly live in the extreme south, central and northern mountainous areas of the country. The best-known hill tribes are the Tay, Hmong, Zao, White and Black Thai, Muong (both mainly from the north), and the Hoa, Khmer in the South. Each hill tribe has its own unique customs and dialect and some are able to speak official Vietnamese language.
Vietnamese is the official language in Vietnam. Because Vietnamese has six different tones, it is a difficult language for most foreigners to speak despite the fact that the Roman alphabet is used in modern Vietnamese. The same word can have six different meanings depending on the tone used to pronounce it. In the cities and larger towns English is becoming popular and is now spoken by many younger people while the older generation still speaks fluent French. Russian and Chinese are also spoken by some people.
The major religious traditions in Vietnam are Buddhism (which fuses forms of Taoism and Confusianism), Christianity (Catholicism and Protestantism), Islam, Caodaism and the Hoa Hao sect.
The Vietnamese currency is the Vietnamese dong (VND). It is non-convertible, and is currently trading at approximately 20,000 VND to $1.00 USD, 25,000 VND to €1 EUR and 29,000 VND to £1.00 GBP. US dollars are accepted in many hotels, restaurants and shops. Banks are open Monday to Friday and some on Saturday morning. In the major cities there are exchange bureaus and most hotels will change US dollars although for other currencies it is usually necessary to visit a bank. Exchange rates are more or less the same in banks and exchange bureaus and slightly higher in licensed gold shops. Travelers cheques can be exchanged at banks and some exchange bureaus but can be difficult to change outside of the major cities.
Visa Card and Mastercard are now accepted in many hotels, restaurants and shops but US dollars cash are still the most reliable form of money to carry. There are ATM machines in major cities.
The national electricity system is 220 volts. Connections are either a round two-pin plug or a flat two-pin plug. Beware if you are using electrical appliances and laptop computers, as there are power surges and frequent power cuts.
All visitors must complete a Customs Declaration Form. Both the copy and the original will be stamped. The Customs officers will retain the original copy while the copy (so called yellow paper) will be given back to the visitor, who must submit it upon departure.
These forms will be passed to you on your flight to Vietnam. Every form asks for your contact address in Vietnam.
Tipping for good service is not expected but is always appreciated in these developing nations. It is customary, though not compulsory, to tip tour guides and drivers at the end of a tour. Hotel and station porters should also be tipped.
Van and Car rental is recommended for touring in the city and the outskirts. A few city buses are available on limited roads but these are irregular and may only be suitable for local people. Cyclos (pollution-free, human-powered Tricycle-taxis) and motor-taxis are plentiful, inexpensive, and readily available. We recommend Cyclos for an “in-touch with the people” experience. These are ubiquitous within the cities.
Automobile taxis are also available but not nearly as plentiful (or pollution-free).
Internet and e-mail services are readily available in most major places throughout the country. Some hotels will have this service available and there are many Internet cafes in the major areas. The speed of your connection will vary however depending on the time of day. Average charge for Internet usage is around 4.000 VND per hour in cyber cafe internet.
Several hotels for business travelers in Hanoi and Saigon are equipped internet with high speed access in business center and in room guest.
Telephone & Mobile
Communication fees in Vietnam are quite high but impeccable. You can use pre-paid card phone services for your hand phone, the sim card costs around 15 US$. Prepaid card costs 100,000, 300.000 and 500.000 VND.
The best International rates are from the post offices that have a pay per call service and a fax service. The central post offices in Hanoi , Saigon and Hue also accept calling cards from various international telecommunications companies. It is not possible to make collect calls from Vietnam. For lower cost, dial 171+00+ number you want.
International airport tax and domestic airport tax included in the airfare.
Food & Beverages
Vietnamese cuisine reflects on many gastronomic cultures which satisfy any gourmet. Famous specialities such as nem (spring roll), cha ca (fish cake), banana flower salad and pho (rice noodle soup) are always highly appreciated by most foreign visitors.
Meals will usually include rice or noodles as staples along with a vast array 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. An other unexpected delight is the availability of good quality seafood (fish, calamari, prawns and crabs) which is caught along Vietnam’s extensive coastline
Some of the legacies left over from the French colonial period include crispy baguettes, pate, hard boiled quail eggs, crème caramel, and banana flambée. An amazing assortment of fresh tropical fruits is usually on offer which will round off a meal perfectly.
Tea is one of the most common drinks in Vietnam. Coffee is also 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. Spirits, such as nep moi (a type of Vodka), are also produced locally but once again, be cautious as these are very strong.