Vietnam is officially called the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and is in Southeast Asia. Plus, the country has a population of 90.5 million people and is the 14th most populous country in the world. China, Laos, Cambodia, and Malaysia neighbor the country to the north, west, southwest and east respectively. Hanoi is the capital city. Vietnamese is the official language.
Historically, the nation was a part of Imperial China for over a millennium. It became an independent state in 949 AD. Then, later in the mid-19th century, it was colonized by the French. The country had unstable periods following their colonization, such as the French expulsion and the Vietnam War.
Vietnam hosts approximately 54 minority ethnic groups. The majority ethnic group of the country is Kinh with around 85.7% of citizens identifying as Kinh. Furthermore, the Kinhs have the most dominant role in the country, politically as well as economically and culturally.
Places to See in Vietnam
You can find pagodas all over the country, and they are known for the beautiful intricating carvings. These places are treasured by the Vietnamese people and are widely used as shrines and temples.
The capital of Vietnam is a fabulous combination of French colonial architecture and Eastern influence. You will definitely enjoy wandering the narrow streets of the Old Quarter or visiting the numerous temples and galleries in the city.
Located in the hills of the Central Highlands, this city is popular with visitors who want to get a sip of fresh mountain air. Some tourists also come to Dalat to participate in numerous adventure activities. The area is filled with traditional tribal villages, which you can explore. Or visit the creatively named palaces: Palace I, Palace II, and Palace III.
This delta is a 60-thousand-kilometer-long network of interconnected waterways, which flow along three provinces of Vietnam. This area is filled with small craft villages, mangroves, orchards, Khmer Pagodas, and the trademark floating markets. You will definitely need several days to explore the region.
Cu Chi Tunnels
This place is a network of nearly 500 km of tunnels, which were used by the Viet Cong during the war with the USA in the 1960s. If you take a tour, you will find out the history of the tunnels, walk through the maze and shoot at targets with AK47 guns. This place is a must-visit for those, who want to understand the history of the Vietnam War better. However, you shouldn’t try it if you are claustrophobic.
This is the primary trekking area of the northern part of Vietnam. Sapa is popular among travelers, due to its hill tribes, rich vegetation, fabulous hiking trails, and magnificent mountains. However, if you want to avoid big tourist crowds, come during the low season. Take a long hike to the areas where the usual crowds don’t go. In Sapa, you can even spend a whole week and go biking, trekking, hiking, or take a cooking class.
Cuc Phuong National Park
The first national park in Vietnam is located around 120km from Hanoi. It occupies 222 sq km and hosts over two thousand different species of trees and other wildlife, which include the Clouded Leopard, Delacour’s Langur and Owston’s Civet.
Hoi An is one of the most popular destinations in the country. The city is filled with historical buildings and charming old-fashioned cafes. The place is great for wandering, shopping, eating, going to the beach or the river. If you are a backpacker tourist, Hoi An will be the best spot to take a break and relax.
Ho Chi Minh City
The largest city in Vietnam, also called Saigon, is definitely worth a visit. Wander through colonial-period streets and visit Ben Thanh market for great food and local experience. For an unforgettable hostel experience, spend a night at The Common Room Project.
One of the country’s most popular destinations, Halong Bay consists of over three thousand islands, washed by emerald green waters. The best place for hiking is Cat Ba Island. You can come here independently or book a tour from Hanoi for 3 or 5 days.
Mui Ne is not only a fishing village, nowadays, it is also a popular wind and kite surfing destination. The fabulous sand dunes nearby are also worth visiting.
Hang Son Doong Caves
One of the world’s largest caves, Hang Son Doong is located in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. It was discovered by a local in 1990 and rediscovered by a British caving team in 2009. You will be stunned by the beauty of this place!
The area is filled with seaside resorts. Magnificent sand beaches and clear, clean water make the place one of the most popular scuba diving destinations in the country.
Rice paddies are one of the main stereotypical things about Vietnam. If you want to see them with your own eyes, go to the Muong Hoa Valley. Here, you can also learn about rice production and take stunning pictures of the magnificent Vietnamese countryside.
When to Go
The high season in Vietnam is July and August. The weather is the best during this time. However, prices can double during these months, so you might want to pick another period. April – June, and September – November are considered low seasons here and are great times to come. However, typhoons can lash the central and northern coastline so be aware of the weather. You also wouldn’t like to come between December and March, if you are not fond of big tourist crowds. During the Tet festival, the prices also rise. Also, the weather can be cold during these months.
What to Wear
Most often you will need loose clothes, made of natural fabrics. However, you will need warmer clothes in the highlands and in the north of the country during the winter season. For rainy months, take some heavy rainwear.
The official language of the country is Vietnamese. Most young people also learn English in school, however, the proficiency is rather poor. Of course, people, who work in the tourist industry, know English well.
The official currency is Dong. The approximate exchange rate is ₫22,800 for US$1. USD is a preferred currency to exchange. Australian Dollars, Pounds Sterling, Yen, Singapore Dollars, and Baht are also acceptable. Other currencies may be difficult to exchange. Exchange facilities are available at banks in large cities. There is usually a commission fee for the exchange.
Many outlets, hotels, and restaurants accept MasterCard and Visa credit cards. However, outside main towns and cities, cash is more preferable. There are also many ATMs in the cities, but none in rural areas. Traveler’s cheques are still acceptable, although tourists mainly use credit and debit cards nowadays. You can exchange traveler’s cheques in banks, money changers, and some hotels. It is best to take them in US Dollars, to avoid additional charges and fees.
Local SIM Card & Free WiFi
You can purchase a local SIM card in any shop that sells mobile phones. They are also available in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City Airports from official carriers. The main mobile companies are Viettel, Vinaphone, and Mobifone. They have numerous offices and outlets throughout the country. Fares are rather cheap, in comparison with international prices. Local SIM cards work with most European, Asian, and Australian, as well as many North American phones.
Internet connection is available all around the country. Most hotels and guest houses provide free Wi-Fi for their guests. However, in remote areas and national parks, it’s not the rule. Many restaurants and cafes offer free Wi-Fi connection as well.
Internet cafes are available in most tourist areas, and the prices are rather low. Usually, they charge 3000d – 8000d per hour. Also, connection speed is usually high, especially in big cities. Keep in mind, some websites and social media can be blocked, due to the country’s policy.
Most of the religious Vietnamese adhere to the indigenous religions of the country. Aside from indigenous religions, Buddhism is the most commonly practiced. However, almost 30% of the population isn’t religious.
The culture varies in the northern and southern regions. The classical music of the north is the oldest musical form in the country and tends to be more formal. Chinese influence plays a vital role in Vietnamese culture and traditions due to the nation’s time under imperial rule.
The common greeting is handshaking and a vocal greeting. Clothing should be simple, informal and discreet. If possible, avoid wearing shorts, as they are considered kids clothes. If you enter Buddhist pagodas, don’t forget to take off your footwear. You should never touch Vietnamese people on the head. Also, to give and accept gifts or business cards, they usually use two hands.
Vietnamese cuisine is superb, fresh and highly flavourful. Rice and noodles are the usual basis for the meals. Fish is plentiful, as well as fresh herbs and vegetables. However, the cuisine varies from region to region. Local specialties include Pho, Nem, Banh chung, Nuoc mam, Bun cha, Banh bao, Com hen, Lau, and Bia hoi. Coffee is also very popular here. Tipping is now rather customary, especially in tourist areas. Also, high scale hotels and restaurants usually add a 5-10% service charge to a bill.
The national airline is Vietnam Airlines. Cathay Pacific and Thai airways also service nearby hubs.
The main rail routes connect Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi to Haiphong, and Dong Dang to Lao Cai. Long-distance trains are faster, more reliable and more comfortable than local ones. However, some trips can take up to 30-40 hours.
Long-distance coaches also operate throughout the country, between Hanoi, Hue, Danang, and Ho Chi Minh City. Tickets can be purchased at the bus stations.
Taxis in Vietnam are plentiful and cheap. If you want to rent a car, you can do it through travel companies. However, you can only hire a car with a driver, since you cannot drive yourself here.
You can also hire a bike, either for a day or a longer period. However, you should be very aware when riding on roads, as drivers are not always observant and careful.
Vietnam Trip Cost
Vietnam is a rather cheap destination to travel. Hostel fares start at 100,000 VND (approximately $5) per night. Private rooms in a hotel will cost a minimum of $20 per night for a double room and include breakfast.
As for food, a bowl of pho or a rice dish will cost you $1. A meal in a restaurant will be around $2-$5. However, fancier restaurants in tourist areas are usually more expensive. European food will also be more expensive. A liter of water in a store will cost you around 75 cents. If you stay in a flat and want to cook your own meals, be ready to buy approximately $20 worth of groceries per week. Shop at the local markets to get the cheapest and the freshest food. However, food being so cheap, it is often easier to just eat the street food.
As for getting around, buses are very cheap in Vietnam. The public city bus will cost around 20 cents. The overnight bus ticket will be around $5-$25 per ride. Trains are also inexpensive. A ride from Da Nang to Hanoi will cost $35. There are extremely low-cost airlines, which will take you around the country for just $20.
Most of Vietnam’s attractions are based on its natural beauty, so they won’t cost a lot. However, for activities like touring the Cu Chi Tunnels, you will have to pay $5-$10. Halong Bay tours from Hanoi start from around $40 for two days. And for canyoning in Da Lat, you will pay approximately $20.
Roads in Vietnam are in reasonable conditions in most cases. However, the road quality can vary from good to horrible throughout the country. And during the rainy season, many roads become inaccessible.
Right or Left Driving
In Vietnam, cars drive on the right side of the road.
Electricity & Plug Type
As for electricity, Vietnam uses type C sockets. You need to bring a travel adapter to fit the proper socket type. Check out the above-linked page to see the photos and other useful information about socket types. The standard voltage is 220 V. Many of your devices may need a step-up transformer to match the electrical voltage.
How to Reach
The national airline is Vietnam Airlines. There are also air companies, which serve the neighboring airports, such as Cathay Pacific and Thai airways.
You can come to Vietnam from China by Beijing – Dong Dang – Hanoi rail.
There are roads going from China, through Lang Son, Mong Cai, and Lao Cai. You can also come from Cambodia, through Moc Bai and Xaxia. And from Laos, through Lao Bao, Nam Can, Na Meo, Tay Trang, and Cau Trieu.
There are bus services from Vientiane in Laos to Hanoi and from Savannakhet in Laos to Hue. There are no direct buses from China to Vietnam. You will have to change the bus at the border.
Where to Stay
In major cities and towns, there is a full range of accommodations for every budget. Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City even host international chains, such as Hilton, Sofitel, and Intercontinental. There are also small hotels and guest houses available widely.
There are no campsites in Vietnam. However, some travel agencies can arrange camping sites and equipment for organized groups on treks.
This type of accommodation has become incredibly popular in the recent years. You can arrange this through an agency or by yourself. The options vary. You can stay with a hill tribe family in a traditional stilt house in the northeast of the country and fully experience the Vietnamese culture. Or stay in the Mekong Delta with a farming family and learn about their way of life.
How Safe is Vietnam
Most traveling to Vietnam will be trouble free if you take all the necessary precautions to protect your health and your belongings. For example, Vietnamese laws require everyone to carry photographic ID with you all the time. However, we recommend having a photocopy of your passport and visa and leaving the originals in a safe place.
You should be attentive a carry your belongings close to yourself, especially in crowded tourist areas. Don’t put all your valuables in one bag or pocket. Beware of different kinds of fraud targeted at tourists. On the other hand, sexual harassments are rare.
There are excellent hospitals in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, as well as health care centers in all the provinces. However, the facilities are limited, and payments in cash are required. So, health insurance is obligatory. Before visiting Vietnam, you need vaccinations against typhoid, diphtheria, hepatitis A, tetanus, and sometimes against malaria, tuberculosis, hepatitis B, and rabies. Also, if you plan to stay in the country over three months, you will need a negative HIV-test to enter the country.
The water you use for drinking, brushing your teeth or making ice should be previously boiled or sterilized. However, it would be easier and rather cheap to buy bottled water in the shop. Just make sure the seal is not broken, before you drink it. Avoid dairy products, which can be made from unpasteurized milk. You should only eat well-cooked meat and fish, as well as vegetables. And don’t forget to peel fruit.
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