General Tips for travel to Vietnam
The currency of Vietnam is the dong (VND). All goods and services can and should be paid in dongs. Shops and restaurants in the bigger cities will also accept US dollars.
Comfortable lightweight clothing in natural fabrics such as cotton is most suitable for travelling in Vietnam. The dress code is fairly casual as in most parts of the tropics but it is advisable to cover arms and legs in the evenings against biting insects. A lightweight raincoat and umbrella are a good idea in the rainy season and an umbrella can also offer useful shade from the sun.
Evenings in the north and the centre can be quite chilly so bring a sweater and a good jacket especially from November to February. Visitors should not wear shorts, short skirts or other revealing clothing when visiting pagodas and monasteries. Shoes must be removed before entering some religious building or a private home.
DANCE AND THEATRE
Classical Vietnamese theatre, known as hat boi, has links with the classical theatre of China, however it is rarely seen these days. The most original theatrical art form in Vietnam is mua roi muoc or water puppet theatre. Plays are based on historical or religious themes, 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.
Vietnam mainly uses 220V but in some areas, 110V is also used. A mixture of flat and round 2-pin outlets are used throughout the country. It is recommended to bring a universal plug adaptor.
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 Unfortunately, this charming custom has been replaced by the handshake.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 as this is regarded as rude. Call out their names if possible, or beckon by using the whole hand, palm downwards.
Do not touch people on the head as it is regarded as spiritually the ‘highest’ part of the body
The cuisine of Vietnam comes as a pleasant surprise to many visitors and is definitely a part of the Vietnam experience not to be missed. One of the characteristics of Vietnamese food is that it is always fresh being bought the same morning straight from the market. Food is usually prepared with a minimum of oil and served with the ubiquitous fish sauce called nuoc mam. Typical Vietnamese dishes you can expect to try include pho, a type of rice noodle soup eaten for breakfast, cha gio (nem in northern dialect), deep-fried spring rolls and goi ngo sen, a delicious salad made with lotus stems, shrimps and peanuts. Due to the strong Buddhist influence in Vietnam, vegetarian food is widely available however more so in Southern Vietnam.
We strongly recommend having good health insurance and carrying a good first aid kit. In general there is a lack of international standard medical help and hospitals. Major cities like Hanoi and Saigon have international clinics which provide good services for minor ailments. No vaccination is officially required by the Vietnamese authorities, but immunisation against cholera, hepatitis, typhoid, tetanus, polio, and Japanese encephalitis is advised. Rabies is present in Vietnam, so you are advised to avoid dogs and other animals that may bite as a precaution.
The national language of Vietnam is Vietnamese. In big cities and in places with many tourists, people will speak basic English. The younger generation will be more adept at speaking English, while the older generation still speaks some French. 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. Russian and Chinese are also spoken by some people.
Malaria is present 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-malaria tablets. It is essential that you consult with your doctors prior to departure as these are general guidelines only.
Ethnic Vietnamese make up almost 90 percent of the population. Vietnamese culture was strongly influenced by the traditional Chinese civilization, however 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 European elements, but the Vietnamese still attach great importance to the family and continue to observe rites honouring their ancestors.
Various ethnic groups make up the remaining 10 percent of the population. The second largest minority is the southern Montagnards or ‘mountain people’ and the third largest is the Khmer Krom (Cambodians) who are mainly found near the Cambodian border and at the mouth of the Mekong River.
Other minority groups include Cham, remnants of the once-mighty Kingdom of Champa.
Buddhism is the dominant religion in Vietnam usually combined with elements of Confucianism and Taoism. About 10% of the country's population is Catholic and there are also communities of Protestants and Muslims. Vietnam is also home to a unique religion called Cao Dai, a religious cocktail of all the world's major faiths.
Vietnam is a safe country to visit. As a global rule, never leave your valuables unattended in the vehicles and always maintain eye contact and a firm grip on cameras and shoulder bags. In Saigon (HCMC) there has been a surge in drive-by snatching so keep a lookout around you and never stay close to the road’s edge with a bag, gold chains or handling a phone or camera as these are the favourite objects
Souvenirs to look out for in Vietnam include lacquerware, silk, conical hats, woodcarvings, hill tribe fabrics and handicrafts, embroidery, marble, ceramics, silver, antique watches and paintings. Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi have the best choice when it comes to shopping but Hoi An in the centre of Vietnam is also a very good place to hunt for bargains.
When planning your trip abroad, take steps to protect yourself from crime or theft. Vietnam is a relatively safe destination, with a low record of petty crime worldwide, but tourists are advised not to wear expensive jewellery while travelling.
Vietnam is GMT + 7 and does not operate daylight-saving system.
Tipping for good service is not expected but is always appreciated in a country where the average annual income is quite low compared to Europe for example. It is customary to tip tour guides and drivers at the end of a tour. Hotel and station porters should also be tipped. Do not let your guide talk you into tipping more than you plan to. It is totally up to you who you tip, when and how much.
Visitors can travel to various provinces, cities, and towns by air, road, train, or boat.
Air - If you intend to visit only a few cities in Vietnam, flying is the most convenient way to travel. Train - There is a regular train service between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and most cities in between. You may choose to break your journey at the major regional cities like Hue, Danang and Nha Trang.
Most visitors to Vietnam require a visa to enter the country and all travellers must have a passport valid for 6 months after their planned exit from Vietnam. UK passport holders can enter Vietnam via designated airports for a stay of not more than 15 days visa free.
Hanoi and the north of Vietnam have distinct winter and summer seasons. The mainly dry winter lasts from December to March with average temperatures of 18-20°C but it can drop to as low 10’s at times. Summer lasts from May to October and is hot and humid with temperatures around 30°C. Hue and Danang, in the centre of the country, have very hot, dry weather from February to August with temperatures reaching the mid 30's Celsius, but can experience some heavy rainfall between September and January. Ho Chi Minh City and the south have a hot, dry season from December till April with average temperatures around 28°C and a warm rainy season from May to November. In the rainy season, most rain comes in short, heavy bursts.
There is good weather somewhere in Vietnam all year round! Vietnam stretches over 2000 km from North to South. The climate differs all year round from one region to another. The North can be chilly during winter months (December to March). North and Central Vietnam can encounter tropical storms and typhoons from October to January. Overall, the north of Vietnam experiences more marked seasons than the rest of the country with two distinct seasons: wet and dry.
The South, including Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta, benefits from sunshine and warm weather all year round. However, the rainy season lasts from May to November (with showers once or twice a day in general) and a dry season from December to April. The Central Highlands can be chilly. Nha Trang has warm – sometimes hot - weather all year round, with a rainy season from the end of September until December.
It is not advisable to drink tap water but bottled mineral water is safe and available everywhere. All hotels provide a complimentary bottle of local mineral water per per-son in the room. Ice cubes in drinks is generally OK in good standard hotels and restaurants but it is best to avoid it on street stalls or in country areas. Some minor stomach problems are always possible when travelling in exotic countries. Bring a supply of your usual anti-diarrhoea medicine