VIETNAM > FACTS ABOUT THE VISITORS
Ho Chi Minh City's Tan Son Nhat Airport is Vietnam's busiest airport, followed
by Hanoi's Noi Bai Airport. A few international flights also serve Danang. There
are several border crossings for travelers coming to Vietnam; the main crossing
to and from China is the Friendship Pass. There is an international train between
Beijing and Hanoi that stops at Friendship Pass. The other border crossing with
China is at Lao Cai in northwest Vietnam, between Hanoi and Kunming in China's
Yunnan Province. There's also a crossing at Moi Cai. It is possible to enter
Laos from Lao Bao in north-central Vietnam; there's an international bus from
Danang to Savannakhet. The other crossing is at Keo Nua Pass/Cau Treo, west
of Vinh. The only crossing to Cambodia is via Moc Dai; an international bus
links Phnom Penh with Ho Chi Minh City.
Vietnam covers such a large area that when one region is wet, cold
or hot and humid, there is always another region that is sunny and pleasant.
The north and central areas can be affected by typhoons between July and November.
Travelers should take the Tet New Year festival (late January or early February)
into consideration when planning a trip, as travel at this time becomes very
difficult, hotels are full and many services close down for at least a week.
VISAS AND DOCUMENTS
All foreign nationals visiting Vietnam require a visa and this should be obtained
prior to arrival from a Vietnamese Embassy or Consulate or a travel agent. It
takes about five working days to process and visitors must enter the country
within 90 days of issue. Tourist visas are available on a single or multiple
entry basis. If using overland border crossing, ensure that the correct entry
and exit points are entered on the visa.
A number of different countries are represented by consulate offices in Ho Chi
Minh and Hanoi.
Entering Vietnam can be very bureaucratic with much filling in of forms. It
is important to take great care to keep all pieces of paper, especially the
customs forms that are issued on arrival because fines can be imposed if they
get lost. It is also necessary to keep all Foreign Exchange Certificates and
receipts for goods purchased in Vietnam. Customs will require full details of
any electronic goods, laptops and cameras that are brought into the country,
and customs officers may wish to view videotapes. Foreign currency in excess
of US$3,000 must be declared on arrival and no more than VND5, 000,000 can be
imported/exported. Restrictions are also placed on antiques being exported from
the country. Visitors are allowed to take 1 liter of alcohol and 200 cigarettes,
50 cigars or 250g of tobacco into Vietnam duty free. Penalties for carrying
or trafficking illegal drugs are severe, with the possibility of the death penalty.
Currency: Dong. Many businesses display their prices in US dollars but must
accept payment in dong. Currency can be exchanged at banks; through authorized
exchange bureaus; at hotel reception desks; and on the black market. The banks
offer the best rates, but the exchange bureaus are generally more convenient.
Visa, MasterCard, American Express and JCB credit cards are accepted in the
major cities and tourist destinations. It's virtually impossible to exchange
traveler’s checks outside the major cities and tourist areas. Bargaining
POST AND COMMUNICATIONS
Telephone: The international dialing code for Vietnam is + 84
When making international telephone calls from Vietnam dial: 00 + country code
+ area code + telephone number. Many post offices and hotels nowadays have a
Cheap Internet cafes are scattered around the more touristy parts but can be
frustratingly slow, especially in Hoi An. Hotels tend to offer quicker and more
reliable connections but are unreasonably expensive. Prices vary from a few
dollars per hour up to extortionate amounts. Every letter sent from abroad into
Vietnam is opened and read. This means, don't write anything that is politically
sensitive and don't include any money because it will be removed.
The following books, offer varying perspectives on different aspects of Vietnam:
Vietnam: A History by Stanley Kurnow. Vietnam: Politics, Economics and Society
by Melanie Beresford. Dispatches by Michael Herr. The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh.
A Bright Shining Lie by Neil Sheehan. Vietnamerica by Thomas Bass. The Quiet
American by Graham Greene. The Lover by Marguerite Duras. Hitchhiking in Vietnam
by Karen Muller.
Mostly 220 V AC, 50 cycles, however some places still use 110V (also with 50Hz).
Be aware that the current can be very uneven and electricity surges will cause
appliances to perform unreliably, even with adapters. In the south, sockets
tend to be for the American style flat 2 pin plugs, while the north mainly uses
Russian style round 2 pin plugs
Vietnamese time: GMT + 7
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
Metric with local variations
There are reasonably good medical services in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh but away
from these major cities, medical services are poor and comprehensive health
insurance including evacuation cover is strongly recommended. Health risks include
Dengue fever, hepatitis, malaria, rabies, typhoid, tuberculosis and Japanese
encephalitis. The major cities and coastal areas are considered low risk for
malaria but elsewhere it is best to take precautions.
DANGERS AND ANNOYANCE
Do not get irate if you get hassled by hawkers, kids selling postcards, taxi
drivers, cyclo riders, and individuals offering to take you to a massage parlor,
the moment you step on to the street. It is best just to smile politely when
you decline the offer.
The traffic is terrifying, especially in Hanoi where the number of motorbikes
is amazing, they come from all directions and you may need help to cross the
Banking Hours are Monday to Friday 8.00 am to 11.30 am and 1.00 pm to 4.30 pm
Office hours are Monday to Saturday 7:30 - 16:30.
The major annual festival is Tet, it takes place in late January or February
and celebrates the lunar New Year with fireworks, decorations and lots of banqueting.
It's a party that unites the entire country and gives visitors a chance to experience
a tradition that is uniquely Vietnamese. Probably the most spectacular Tet celebration
occurs in Ho Chi Minh City, the wide tree-lined boulevards come alive with parades,
fairs, festivals and people in fancy costumes. Hotels and flights become fully
booked and shops and attractions close for at least a week.
September 2 is National Day and marks Vietnam’s declaration of independence.
Usually held around July, Wandering Souls Day is the second largest festival
of the year. Gifts and food offering are dedicated to the dead and the restless
The Mid-Autumn Festival takes place around October, the children celebrate this
occasion with colorful glowing lanterns and everyone eats moon cakes.
30th April is Liberation Day celebrating the liberation of Saigon in 1975 by
International Labor Day on 1 and 2nd May.
Ho Chi Minh’s Birthday is celebrated on 19 May.
There is a wide range of numerous different traditional dishes in
Vietnamese cuisine. These include exotic meats (but please don’t consider
eating endangered species) and wonderful vegetarian dishes. The staple Vietnamese
diet is plain white rice served with vegetables, fish, meat, spices and sauces.
There are many different kinds of rice; the most typical is a fragrant rice
known as Tam Thom or Nahg Huong. Grilled rice is served in autumn and is eaten
with eggs, bananas, and sapodillas. The most typical Vietnamese food is Pho,
a spicy noodle soup containing meat. Popular snacks include spring rolls, noodles
and steamed rice dumplings. The traditional sticky rice cakes known as Banh
Chung are made of glutinous rice, pork, green bean paste and onion, wrapped
in bamboo or banana leaves. Soups include eel and vermicelli, shredded chicken
and bitter soups. Another specialty is the duck egg; instead of the yolk it
has an already partly developed fetus, complete with feathers, limbs and beak.
Nuoc mam is a fermented fish sauce that is used to spice anything. A legacy
of the French is the small white bread leaves, resembling baguettes. Sometimes
they are combined with well-spiced meat, vegetables and salad to make a sandwich.
Fruit is plentiful and includes some strange and exotic tropical delights.
New bars, clubs and cafes are opening all the time in the tourist
areas. In the towns much of the entertainment is provided by the hotels, especially
in the form of karaoke bars.
THINGS TO BUY
Saigon is a shopper’s paradise. Decorative items, arts and craft,
local apparel, food and drinks are cheap and plentiful. Hoi An is a good place
to buy souvenirs and the prices are flexible here, the streets are full of stalls
selling handicrafts, paintings and T-shirts and handmade lanterns. The old town
is also the best place to pick up tailored clothes. There are numerous tailors;
the prices and workmanship are all quite reasonable. Da Nang is a large city
that sells a lot of local household goods. Shopping isn’t particularly
exciting but this is the best place to find pieces carved from marble. Good
quality statues, vases and carvings are sold in little shops and workshops near
the Marble Mountains. Hue is quite large and busy but does not offer much shopping
for the visitor.