Vietnam has opened its doors to tourism in the last two decades and has become one of the most popular destinations in Asia. People are warm-hearted, humble and very friendly though their history has been scarred by frequent wars. Its economy is one the fastest growing ones and the pace of development is quite visible as you drive in the cities. Modern buildings are coming up among up replacing old houses. Away from the metropolitan cities, you can see the beauty and serenity of the country-side, green patches of rice paddies and young boys riding on water buffaloes – it’s all looks very picturesque.
This information has been compiled for your reference in good faith but please use this only as a general guide. We advise you to check with relevant authorities with regard to the latest requirement for passport, visa, travel advisory, entry restrictions, health requirements, local currency etc as these are subjected to change with without prior notice and our information given below may not be as updated.
Best time to go: Vietnam is year-round destination – there is not really a “best time”. Climate varies considerably from North to South due to wide range of latitudes and altitudes. North Vietnam generally has four seasons. Winter is from December to February when it can be cold (daytime temperature can be around 10 deg cel) in Northern region and you need to be prepared accordingly. Between July and November, short to heavy downpours are expected, often resulting in floods. Central region is also prone to cyclones during these months.
Ruou ran (snake wine), a Vietnamese specialty of rice wine with a pickled snake inside, allegedly can cure any sickness.
Visa: New Zealand passport holders need a Visa to enter Vietnam. A Single Entry Visa currently costs NZD 120 per person plus any other related costs. Your passport has to be valid for a minimum of 6 months from your expected departure date from Vietnam. Please contact Vietnamese Consulate for more details. We can also arrange Visa Approval Letters through our Vietnam Office to facilitate your Visa-on-arrival.
In Vietnam, bells and not gongs are used to call children to school.
Currency: Local currency of Vietnam is called Dong. Currency comes in bank notes in denomination of 200, 500, 1000, 5000, 10,000, 50,000 and 100,000 dongs. You can use US Dollars as well in most of your transactions – either in Hotels or stores or on street as well. Exchange rate can vary every day. As in December 2012, the exchange rate was USD 1 = 19,000 dongs.
NZ Dollars is not a popular currency in Vietnam and it is advisable to carry US Dollars, preferably in smaller denominations for quick transactions. ATMs can be easily located in bigger cities like Hanoi, Saigon and Hoi An. Major credit cards are accepted by Hotels and big stores but small shops do not have facilities for credit cards.
Lizard fishing is one of the most popular pass-times in Vietnam.
Health: Vietnam does not have any particular health risk but general hygienic conditions are not the same as in New Zealand. There are a few precautions recommended – avoid eating food exposed to natural elements, ensure that mineral water bottle is properly sealed when you buy it, cover arms and legs in the evening to avoid mosquito bites. Carry your general medication with you and consult your doctor well in advance to prepare for the trip.
Vietnam has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the Third World.
Food and drinks: Its cuisine is one of the highlights of Vietnam. The menu mainly comprises chicken, beef, duck, pork, fresh seasonal vegetables and seafood. A few dishes have the bearing of their French colonial legacy. Vietnamese food is always freshly cooked using very little oil and generally served in typical Vietnamese Fish Sauce. Excellent seafood dishes, rice noodles, fried rice dishes as well as vegetarian dishes are all very reasonably priced. You could try out local Vietnamese restaurants in the cities. Vietnamese beer is the main alcoholic beverage and is good – local beer is almost half the price as international brands. Local beers - especially Tiger and Larue are highly recommended.
Avoid drinking tap water in your Hotels. Always drink mineral water and ensure that bottles are properly sealed when you buy it. Most Hotels provide complimentary mineral water bottles in the room, replenished daily.
Vietnam is the largest exporter of cashews in the world, and the second largest exporter of rice.
Safety & security: Like in any other part of the world, a few precautions need to be taken to avoid any problems. Please do not leave your bags unattended at any times. Please use safe deposit in your hotel room or Reception to keep your money or valuables including passport. When you leave the room, it is recommended that you lock your suitcase. It is also recommended to carry a copy of your passport including the visa page.
Iced tea is free in most restaurants. Some have hot tea; others have both.
Clothing: Casual and light clothes are recommended unless you are visiting northern or mountainous region during winters. In plains, expect a tropical weather most of the times and therefore, shorts, t-shirts are advisable. In the evening, you can wear smart casuals for dinner. Please take good walking shoes with non-slip sole as you will be required to walk frequently during your sightseeing programs and sometimes on uneven surface.
Everyone's birthday is celebrated on New Year’s Day.
Language: Traditionally, Vietnamese language has been influenced by Chinese and even now, there are a few traditional shops with Chinese architecture and signage. Modern Vietnamese language is a mix of Chinese, Khmer and Thai languages. English is fast becoming popular among local people but in smaller cities, you may not have a clear communication while shopping on road sides.
Takraw, or kick volleyball, is a traditional sport in Vietnam.
Gratuities: Tipping is not mandatory but it is highly appreciated by the people who serve you. Before you tip, please check if the service charge has been added in the bill. If not, we can recommend 8%-10% of the total bill as tip. For your local guide and the driver, we can recommend a tip of USD 2.00 per person each per half day of service. To the Hotel Bell Boys, USD 1.00 on arrival or departure is sufficient.
Nguyen is the most popular surname in Vietnam
Airport tax: Generally your international air ticket should include airport tax on international departure. Domestic taxes are also included in the air tickets.
Potbelly pigs are kept as pets in Vietnam.
Internet: Internet is common in hotel rooms and a lot of hotels also have internet facilities at their Reception or Business Centre for use by guests at a small fee. Cyber cafes are popular and can be found near your Hotel. Some Hotels provide internet facilities on complimentary basis in the lobby for their in-house guests.
Vietnamese have a life expectancy of 72 years.
Telephone: Mobile network cover almost the entire country – even in Halong Bay. Calling from Vietnam is cheap but Hotels generally charge 5-6 times the general call cost. Dialing code for Vietnam is +84 and if you are calling New Zealand from Vietnam, the code is +64. Telephone numbers of Hotels arranged by us will be supplied to you in your itinerary. It is recommended to buy a mobile SIM card on arrival if you need to be in regular touch with people back home.
Vietnamese national flower is Lotus flower.
Time Difference: Vietnam is 5 hours behind New Zealand from April to September and 6 hours from October to March.
Photography: Taking photos of airports, government buildings and military establishments are prohibited. If you are taking photos of local ladies, please politely ask for prior permission.
Electricity: Voltage supply in Vietnam is 220 volts and round 2-pin plugs are used. Few Hotels have adapters available which you could borrow free of charge during your stay but it might be a good idea to carry one from home. Also advisable to carry a small torch as power cuts are frequent in Vietnam. Please visit this website for more information on plugs: http://kropla.com/electric2.htm
About 7,500 women served in the Vietnam War.
Postage: Postal system in Vietnam is rather slow and you mail can take 2-3 weeks to reach. Postage is cheap and the Hotel staff will be happy to direct you to the nearest post-office.
General: Usual business hours are from 8.00 am till 5.00 pm and offices generally close for lunch between 12.00 pm till 2.00 pm. Shops usually open till late even on public holidays. Vietnam is a shopper’s paradise and most shopping actually done in streets, markets and small stores. Vietnam is very popular for ceramics, lacquer ware, clothes, shoes, hand bags and paintings. Hoi An is particularly popular as the “tailoring capital of the world’ where you can get a dress made overnight at a fraction of the normal price at home. You can try your bargaining skills in the markets as most of the prices have a reasonable scope of bargaining.
An estimated ten million motor bikes travel on the roads of Vietnam every day.
Ho Chi Minh City is the heart and soul of Vietnam. It's a bustling, dynamic and industrious centre, the largest city in the country, the economic capital and the cultural trendsetter. The streets, where much of the city's life takes place, is a myriad of street markets, shops, pavement cafes, stands-on-wheels and vendors selling wares spread out on sidewalks. The city churn6s, ferments, bubbles and fumes. Yet within the teeming metropolis are the timeless traditions and beauty of an ancient culture.
Hanoi means `City on a River Bend' and the city has been inhabited since Neolithic times. In 1010 AD the Emperor made Than Long (`City of the Soaring Dragon') his capital and today it remains the capital of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Hanoi has been known as the Eastern Capital and as Tonkin by Europeans. The city's variety of beautiful architecture, historical sites and pleasant atmosphere is conducive to exploration on foot. Take a stroll or cycle through the Old Quarters of "36 streets and 36 wares" where artisans still ply their century-old trades, and visit the many souvenir shops and art galleries located nearby.
Hoi An was a bustling seaport until the 19th century when the river silted up and Danang took over. The heartland of the Champa Kingdom, it was the site of the first Chinese settlement in South Vietnam. The architecture of the city reflects the influence of Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, French and British traders. Today, Hoi An is popular for its quaint charm and interesting mix of architecture dating as far back as the 18th century. Hoi an is best explored on foot - visit its ancient quarters which feature Chinese temples, original wooden houses, souvenir shops and art galleries. Hoi An has also acquired fame as being the tailoring capital of the world where exact replica of a dress can be made on order overnight at fraction of the normal price by scores of tailoring shops.
Halong Bay is Vietnam’s most stunning natural treasure and a World Heritage Site. In the Gulf of Tonkin, Halong Bay is comprised of approximately 3,000 islands which rise from the emerald waters forming a spectacular seascape of limestone pillars. Because of their precipitous nature, most of the islands are uninhabited and unaffected by man. The exceptional esthetic values of this site are complimented by its great biological interest. The bay is also dotted with numerous grottoes and caves filled with a variety of stalagmites and stalactites.
Nha Trang is a good place to go for sun and sea. With crystal-clear turquoise waters (except for the wet season), snorkeling, diving and fishing are the prime activities and just lazing on the town beach is an experience in itself. You'll be offered everything from lunch to a manicure. When you tire of the beach, there are some interesting sites nearby such as the Long Son Pagoda and, 2 km to the north of town, are the Cham Towers of Po Nagar, built between the 7th and 12th centuries on a site that had been used for Hindu worship as early as the 2nd century.
Hue was Vietnam's political capital under 13 Nguyen emperors from 1802 until 1945. Situated on the Perfume River, it was always a cultural, religious and educational centre with many pagodas, the tombs of the emperors and a citadel built in 1687. During the French period many artifacts disappeared and, in the 1968 Tet Offensive, countless lives were lost. Regarded as a unique city due to its retention of original architecture and relics of its royal history as well as being an important centre of Buddhism with hundreds of temples and pagodas, Hue has been recognized as an invaluable `museum' and, to that end, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.