Vietnam

The Landscape

Awe-inspiring landscapes are what Vietnam does best; from the stunning 2000 or so karst-covered islands that majestically rise out of the emerald water at world-famous Halong Bay;  to the world’s biggest cave, nestled amongst ravishing rainforest, limestone hills and azure-colored water at the lesser known, but equally spectacular Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park;  the cool, clear air, mountainous terrain, vibrant-green terraced rice-paddies dotted with water-buffalo and colorfully-clothed ethnic minority people of Sapa and Dalat; hundreds of beautiful beaches ranging from upmarket resort-style beaches at Nha Trang and Mui Ne to stunning stretches of unspoiled, virtually unvisited coast such as Danang’s My Khe  Beach (voted one of the world’s best beaches by Forbes magazine), the secluded bays and multi-colored marine life of the Cham Islands and the unspoiled tropical paradise islands of Con Dao and Phu Quoc; plus the vibrantly colored vegetation that surrounds the floating water-world of the Mekong Delta; with many more breathtakingly beautiful places of natural beauty scattered around the country.

The Culture

In addition to its melting pot of foreign influence Vietnam proudly displays its own distinct cultural identity, particularly evident in its fashion, the arts and religion.  Perfect examples of which are the effortlessly elegant  Ao Dai,  a long, figure-hugging silk tunic worn over baggy pants; the ancient and unique Vietnamese art of Water Puppetry Theatre, where handcrafted wood-carved puppets glide above a waist-deep pool of water acting out stories of love and loss; and one of the most common aspects of Vietnamese culture, ancestor worship.  Ancestor altars feature in the majority of homes where essential gatherings of family members frequently occur to honor dead loved ones by burning incense sticks, money and leaving food offerings.

Vietnam is home to a rich and colorful tapestry of over 50 ethnic minority groups, most of whom live in mountainous areas, earning them the name ‘highland people’(nguoi thuong) in Vietnamese.  Some have inhabited Vietnam for thousands of years, others migrated over from China, Laos and other bordering countries, sometime in the past few centuries.  The most colorful assortment of hill-tribe people reside in the very north of Vietnam (Sapa and Bac Ha), nestled amongst mountains, making a semi-nomadic living from cultivating the land.  Their eye-catching costumes of tunics, skirts, vests, hats and turbans are intricately hand-embroidered by the women and girls of the tribe.

The Cultural Attractions

The landscape of Vietnam has been blessed by a bounty of important cultural and architectural sites, many of which were left behind by ancient civilizations or former colonizers. No less than seven of the nation’s attractions have been named Unesco World Heritage Sites; the previously mentioned Halong Bay & Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park; plus the former imperial capital-Hue, brimming with palaces, pagodas, tombs and temples; Hoi An Ancient Town, featuring perfectly preserved Chinese merchant shop-fronts dating back to the 15th Century, encasing shops, restaurants, art galleries, museums and tailors; My Son Sanctuary, the most important spiritual capital in the Champa Kingdom from the 4th to the 14th century AD;Thang Long Imperial Citadel in Hanoi & Ho Dynasty Citadel in Thanh Hoa Province.

A valid passport with at least six months validity is required for entry into Vietnam. Many nationalities require a visa to visit Vietnam.  Visa rules and regulations are subject to constant change so do find out the most up-to-date visa situation for your nationality before your trip, either through your local Vietnam Embassy or by contacting us. We shall always give honest and correct information for your particular trip.

Between 1 July 2015 and 30 June 2016, holders of British, German, French, Spanish and Italian passports do not require a visa for stays of up to 15 days; it is not yet known whether that exemption will extend beyond June 2016. At present citizens from the United States, Canada and Australia do need a visa for a stay in Vietnam. If you come from a country that does need a visa, or you plan to stay for more than 15 days, you will need to arrange a visa before you arrive in Vietnam.

Hoi An Express can help with all the stages of obtaining your visa. However, if you do wish to do it independently, please contact your local Vietnam Embassy to be guided. Please be warned that if you do require a visa and you don’t obtain it in advance, you will either not be allowed to board your flight or will be refused entry on arrival. For any queries please do not hesitate to contact us. Please also note, we can only provide visa assistance when a booking for one of our tours is made, we are unable to provide a visa only service.

In Vietnam the local currency is the Vietnamese Dong (VND), which has a variety of notes ranging from 200 all the way to the 500,000 note. However the main notes are the 10,000 – 20,000 – 50,000 – 100,000, 200,000 and the 500,000. Please take care with 20,000 and 500,000 notes since they are both blue and can cause some confusion (and not everyone is honest enough to give you the right change).  We recommend that you keep your 500,000 notes separate from your 20,000 and other VND notes to avoid confusion and loss of money.

The US Dollar is widely accepted at major shops and restaurants throughout Vietnam, though the exchange rate chosen may often vary from the official one, making it more costly than VND.  It is, however, very easy to exchange at banks, hotels and other exchanges throughout the country.  The British Pound, the Euro and various other major currencies are also easily exchanged for VND.  When exchanging your home currency for VND, ensure that your notes are undamaged, banks and exchanges won’t accept notes which are torn, very crumpled, or have writing on them.  Similarly, also make sure the VND that you receive is not damaged.

The exchange rates fluctuate a lot, however the approximate rates can be viewed at: http://www.xe.com/currency/vnd-vietnamese-dong.

ATM machines are now readily available throughout most cities and resorts. However, it’s still highly recommended that you always have some local currency with you. Visa and Master card are now becoming more accepted in many of the larger hotels and restaurants, especially in the bigger cities, the surcharge is usually around 3%.

Given the size of Vietnam and the cheap cost of domestic flights, most main journeys will be done by plane to save you days’ worth of travel by road or rail.  However, some road journeys will also be required. The road system is getting better and many roads have been updated to a modern standard, but you will still experience some local and rural roads.  Be assured that the drivers of our comfortable cars and shuttle-buses drive to the highest standard to ensure your safety.

Most of HAE’s tours are private but we do also offer some shared coach tours as part of our services; this means that you may have to share your vehicle with others traveling during the same period.

Hoi An Express employs some of the best Tour Guides in Vietnam and we specialise in arranging tours with a private driver and tour guide.  If you require private transportation only, without a Tour Guide we can also provide this, however please bear in mind that a driver is only a driver, not a guide, and unlikely to speak much English. Similarly, if you wish to hire one of our Tour Guides, but arrange your own transport, this is possible.

With regards to car hire, we do not advise this currently as you are only allowed to drive if you have a local driving license.

If arranging your own transport, you have the following options;

Metered Taxi: Within cities and beach resorts, we recommend using taxis to get around.  Always try to get a metered taxi with one of the big nationwide companies to ensure a fair price and to limit problems with communication.  We recommend you use the companies listed below to ensure not only a fair price, but also your safety and that the car has insurance;

  • Mai Linh
  • Vinasun

Cyclos & Motos: In many destinations you can take the more traditional and environment friendly ‘Cyclo’ – a kind of bicycle rickshaw taxi.  It’s best to negotiate a price upfront, drivers tend to overcharge; prices should generally be around 10,000vnd and 15,0000vnd for a short ride, between 20,000vnd and 35,000vnd for a longer or night ride, or around 40,000vnd per hour, but vary depending on the town and distance. Show where you want to go on a map if possible, since most Cyclo drivers speak only broken English.

Another local transport option in most regions is a “Xe Om” which is a motorbike taxi, fares are comparable with those of a cyclo and a price should be negotiated beforehand.  Whilst these are generally cheap and normally fine for the locals, please take into consideration that you will not be covered by insurance if an accident were to happen. We’ve heard stories of travellers being ripped off or even mugged at night in HCMC so we recommend you avoid taking one at night and opt for a metered taxi  instead.
Bicycle: Some towns are small enough to be toured by bicycle and most hotels and guesthouses have them for rent at reasonable rates.  Hoi An Express does some great bicycle tours in scenic Hoi An.

Train & Bus: There are no metro systems for inner city travel.  Trains in Vietnam are slow and not to western standard, thus we don’t recommend traveling by rail here; however, if you would like to experience a train ride you can contact one of our travel consultants for information. Public bus travel is also of low standard, thus we don’t recommend it to our guests.

A Foodie’s Mecca

In addition to its stunning visual attractions, Vietnam offers arguably one of the world’s best cuisines.  You’ll be spoilt for choice with the variety on offer; from super cheap, yet super tasty street food grabbed from the constant rotation of roving street-food vendors, or sampled whilst perching on a tiny plastic stall at sidewalk eateries; to regional and national street food favorites served up in stylish surroundings and haute cuisine served up in the classiest of restaurants.  There’s also a generous selection of international cuisine on offer, including of course French, but also Indian, Japanese, Thai and Italian.

Ying & Yang flavor balancing

Vietnamese cuisine combines a myriad of hot, sour, sweet and salty flavors aiming to ignite all of the five senses whilst balancing Ying and Yang.   This common taste principle along with generous amounts of fresh, vibrant and typically Vietnamese herbs is what Vietnamese food is all about.  Despite sharing common taste balancing principles, technique and taste variation is plentiful in Vietnamese cuisine from region to region; from mildly flavored, simple but satisfying noodle soups and meaty dishes in the North; to complex dishes spiked with spice in central Vietnam, and generous portions of fresh fish, fruit, vegetables and herbs in the South.

A very tasty hotpot of foreign influence

The influence of its neighbors along with visiting traders from China, India and Japan; and French colonization are evident in Vietnam’s diverse spectacular spectrum of dishes, which vary greatly from north to south:

North Vietnamese food displays the biggest influence of Chinese occupation with its warming noodle dishes and heady, herb-infused broths such as the nation’s favorite, Pho Bo; beef noodle soup flavored with ginger, star anise and cinnamon and Bun Cha; grilled pork patties served in a broth with pickled vegetables,  alongside Vermicelli noodles and a medley of fragrant greens.

Central Vietnamese food features a touch of spice alongside sophisticated and complex dishes, influenced by the cuisine of royal dynasty of Hue. The trading port cities of Hoi An and Da Nang in the central region display traces of influence from visiting Japanese traders through the use of wide, udon-type noodles in signature dishes Cau Lau-an intoxicating pork noodle broth, featuring sticky rice noodles that must be soaked in water from the oldest well in Hoi An, Ba Le Well; and Mi Quang- a flavorful mix of meat, prawns, turmeric noodles and vegetables infused in thick broth.

Southern Vietnamese cuisine shares characteristics with dishes from nearby Cambodia and Thailand and favors sweet flavors fused with subtle spice; Coconut milk and palm sugar feature regularly in savory dishes such as the Vietnamese version of curry ( Ca ri), as well as sweet treats such as coconut candies.  One of the most commonly-spotted food influences resulting from foreign colonization is undeniably the Banh Mi.  Whilst it originated in Saigon, you can never go far in Vietnam without spying a sidewalk stall loaded with the crispy French-style baguettes that form this famous French-Vietnamese fusion sandwich. The filling of this culinary combo usually consists of French-style pate and mayonnaise, fused  with the 100% native Vietnamese ingredients of cha lua (Vietnamese pork sausage), cilantro, fish sauce and pickled carrots, papaya and shredded daikon (winter radish).  A splash of soy sauce and a squirt of chilli sauce completes the sandwich, which is now so famous that it is mentioned in the Oxford English Dictionary (the word ‘Banh Mi’ was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2011)!

The tropical climate in the south brings an abundance of fruit, vegetables and herbs resulting in vibrant and flavorful dishes that tend to be portioned bigger than in the north and center of Vietnam.  Seafood is also a staple ingredient in the south since this region is blessed with a wide assortment of waterways. With its generous amount of fish, colorful fruit, vegetables, herbs and taste-bud awakening flavors, Canh Chua Ca is perhaps the dish most representative of the fertile Mekong Delta (known as the ‘rice bowl of the country’). This vibrant dish is filled with fish, fruit and vegetables, flavored with tangy tamarind and salty fish sauce.

Vietnam’s drinks are as delicious and varied as its cuisine, highlights include;

Café culture, Vietnamese style

Coffee is a hugely important factor in Vietnamese life and the nation is second only to Brazil in coffee export! Here it is served in a variety of ways; traditional hot and black (Ca phé Den); white with sweetened milk (Ca phé Sua Da); chilled in a long glass with ice and sweetened milk (Ca phé Sua Da Sai GonIced Coffee), and there’s even a variety made with egg on top!  Ca phé Trung Da is the egg version and is nicer than it sounds, the egg is whipped with sugar to create a sweet, creamy mixture, then added to the coffee which is served over ice.  Many liken the flavor of egg coffee to Tiramisu!  There are cafes everywhere and a coffee-stop is a great way to start the day, round off a meal, or to end the day, there’s always time for coffee in Vietnam!

Beer Hoi!

Bia Hoi” – one of the cheapest beers in the world, this local draft beer is very popular in Vietnam, particularly in Hanoi.   It’s brewed fresh each day, has no additives or preservatives and is refreshing, tasty and incredibly cheap (often available for less than a dollar!).  Sitting on a plastic stall at a Bia Hoi joint is a favorite activity amongst many foreigners and locals alike and a great way to mingle with locals, while watching the world go by.

Both local wine (made from grapes grown in Dalat) and imported wine are available in western-style restaurants of most major cities.

A tropical orchard in a glass

Colorful fresh fruit smoothes-Sinh To in Vietnamese, are a  must try in Vietnam; they can be found everywhere and are made from all sorts of  exotic fruits, including dragonfruit, jackfruit, custard apple and soursop , along with ice and condensed milk or yoghurt.

Water & ice

Tap water is not safe to drink but bottled mineral water is safe and readily available from convenience stores and street vendors and free water should be provided daily at your hotel. Ice cubes in drinks are generally okay in good quality hotels and restaurants, but be careful with ice from street stalls or in country areas. As a general rule, if the ice you’re being served has a hole in it, it’s been made by a machine and is likely to be safe. In the case of crushed ice, however, if not from quality hotels and restaurants it is likely to have been crushed by hand (a prime culprit for spreading germs) and is best avoided if you don’t want to risk an upset stomach.

One of the most stunning sights in Vietnam is the kaleidoscope of vivid colors that its landscape displays; from vibrant green rice paddies, lush vegetation and ravishing rainforests to autumnal brown, orange and red leaved trees and multi-colored exotic fruit and vegetables.  All of which are a product of the varying tropical climate that Vietnam enjoys.   This nationwide weather variation means that Vietnam is suitable for visiting at any time of year; however from November to April is peak season, so booking four to six months prior is recommended.

May to November signals the monsoon season, and the weather is humid, warm and marked by light afternoon rain, though this doesn’t usually impact travel. It can be cool in the north between December and February, while Halong Bay can be wet and cool with occasional fog from February to April. Summer can feature tropical storms and monsoons, though rain can occur throughout the year. In the country’s center, it is mostly dry from February to May, with rainfall between August and January. October and November are the most unpredictable months and flooding can occur.

What follows below is an indication of the seasonal weather in each region.  Please contact us for help planning the best regions to visit for each season.

The North- Hanoi, Halong Bay, Sapa Valley, Mai Chau to the Chinese border

The only region that enjoys four true seasons and thus the biggest variation in landscape color, as well as temperature.

Spring (March – May) is usually a very pleasant season since it brings clear, sunny days and low rainfall with temperatures averaging 20-25 degrees Celsius.

In the summertime (June – September) temperatures peak, occasionally reaching over 40 degrees, but the average is around 30degrees.  During this period you may encounter some short but heavy downpours, which tend to last around one hour maximum and are fairly infrequent.

Autumn (September  to mid-November) is generally the North’s best season, clear skies, sunny days and low humidity are the norm and the temperature averages a very pleasant 25 degrees.

The winter in the North (Mid November – February) is when temperatures drop to around 15 degrees.  However, given this area’s geographical location it can get colder and lows can on rare occasions plummet down to 5degrees Celsius.  Our advice for anyone planning to visit during the North’s winter months is to begin all tours in the north and bring warm clothes and a jacket, then head to the warmer south.

The Central region- Hue, Da Nang, Hoi An, Quy Nhon, Dalat and Central Highlands

This region has three seasons;

January until end of May-Clear sunny skies with an average of around 25 degrees Celsius and little if any rain at all make this the best time to visit the central region.

June until end of September -Very hot with temperatures sometimes reaching  in excess of 40degrees, although the average is around 30degrees. Towards the end of this season (Aug-Sep) the climate becomes very tropical with regular evening showers lasting up to an hour.

October until end of January – This period has highly changeable weather; heavy rainfall and storms are common and typhoons are a strong possibility. Much cooler with an average temperature of around 15-20 degrees.

The South– HCMC/Saigon, Phan Thiet, Nha Trang, Can Tho, Chau Doc and the southern Islands

The highly tropical South experiences just two distinct seasons; hot and dry and hot and wet; and an average temperature of 32 degrees Celsius.

April till the end September is the hot and wet season, with an average temperature of 35 degrees .   The peak heat is generally in April when temperatures can soar to a sizzling 40 degrees.  During this period rainfall is usually brief (an hour or so), but heavy and in June and July in particular, flooding is common in HCMC/Saigon.

October until the end of March is the Dry Season, with an average temperature of between 25-30 degrees Celsius and long dry days.

The dates of many of the special events and public holidays of Vietnam are subject to change every year based on the lunar calendar.

January 1st International New Year’s Day:

Banks and public offices will be closed, as will some businesses

January/February (last day of last Lunar month) Lunar New Year’s Eve: the beginning of Tet or the Vietnamese New Year period, the biggest celebration of the year! Families get together for parties filled with specialty food and big fireworks displays feature in cities and towns. The Reunification Palace will be closed in Saigon
January/February (the first day of the Lunar month) Lunar New Year’s Day: This is Vietnam’s major annual vacation. Banks & public offices will be closed, as will most businesses. Cao Dai temples will be closed six days before the Lunar New Year, and floating markets in the Mekong Delta will not operate
March/April (10th day of the 3rd lunar month) The anniversary of Vietnam’s ancient rulers, the Hung Kings: Banks and public offices will be closed, as will some businesses
30th April Independence Day: This day commemorates the fall of Saigon and reunification of the country in 1976. Banks and public offices will be closed, as will some businesses
1st May Labour Day: Marks the contribution made by workers. Banks and public offices will be closed, as will some businesses
June (fifth day of the fifth lunar month) Summer Solstice Day (Tet Doan Ngo): offerings are given to spirits and ghosts to ward off sickness and disease and remember ancestors
August (15th day of the eighth lunar month) Mid-Autumn or Children’s Moon Festival (Tet-Trung-Thu): This lively festival celebrates the full moon and promotes education, culture, music, sport, arts and crafts and poetry.  Children perform dances and shows dressed up as lions, unicorns and dragons and beat drums.  Moon cakes are eaten along with sticky rice, fruit and candy
2 September National Day: Marks the day Vietnam declared its independence and formed the Democratic Republic of Northern Vietnam. Banks and public offices will be closed, as will some businesses.
31st December International New Year’s Eve, While not a public vacation, it is celebrated in Vietnam with festive meals, parties and city-center fireworks.

 

In recent years, the influx of tourism has boosted Vietnam’s economy and brought much improved public health services.  The country’s three major cities; Hanoi, HCMC and Da Nang have the best medical facilities and the closest standards to developed countries.  For serious injury or surgery Bangkok, Singapore or Hong Kong have the best facilities and travel insurance should incorporate one of these options.

Visitors to Vietnam often worry about contracting infectious diseases in Vietnam, but actually serious illnesses are rare.  Accidental injury such as traffic accidents are the most common life-threatening problems.  However HAE reduces this risk for guests on our tour by only using modern, safe, comfortable transportation and fully licensed drivers who drive sensibly and carefully.

Minor sickness and ailments such as; travellers’ diarrhea, heat exhaustion, sunburn and fungal rashes, are more common than major problems whilst traveling in Vietnam, and can often be self-treated by over-the-counter medicine.  Whilst you can buy over-the-counter medicine here (and we can help you with this), we recommend that you bring a personal medical kit with a few items from home.  Recommended items include;

  • Antibacterial cream
  • Antihistamine for allergies
  • Antiseptic for cuts and scrapes
  • DEET-based insect repellent
  • Diarrhea ‘stopper’, e.g. loperamide
  • Rehydration solution (for diarrhea)
  • First-aid items, such as scissors, plasters (such as Band-Aids), bandages, gauze, safety pins and tweezers
  • Paracetamol
  • Steroid cream for allergic/itchy rashes, e.g. 1% hydrocortisone
  • Sunscreen

Treatment of common health problems

Travellers’ diarrhea: The most common problem amongst visitors, can simply be caused by the change of diet and will settle down after a few days; drink plenty of water, avoid dairy, taking rehydration solutions is recommended. Loperamide is just a temporary stopper and doesn’t deal with the cause of the problem, but does give some relief for long journeys.  80% of travellers’ diarrhea is a result of bacteria and is best treated by antibiotics which can easily be obtained via a visit to the doctor.

Heat exhaustion: Symptoms include; feeling weak, headache, irritability, nausea, sweaty skin, fast weak pulse.  Rest and cool down in a room with air-conditioning and rehydrate with water and rehydration solution or by adding a teaspoon of salt per liter of water.

Heatstroke: More serious  than heat exhaustion, symptoms appear suddenly and include; nausea, weakness, confusion, temperature of over 41degrees and even collapse and loss of consciousness.  Rest in an air-conditioned room and seek medical help.

Existing health conditions

If bringing medication for any existing health conditions, be sure to pack in clearly labeled containers and bring a letter from your doctor describing your medical condition and the medication prescribed.

Taking precautions to prevent risk of sickness

Some of the most common travel ailments/sicknesses in Vietnam can be prevented through taking precautions;

Travellers’ diarrhea

Often caused by consuming unclean food and water from local eateries; ways to avoid this include;

  • Only eating freshly-cooked food
  • Only eating peeled fruit and cooked vegetables
  • Avoiding shellfish and buffets
  • Choosing to eat in busy restaurants with a high turnover of customers
  • Drink only bottled water, ice added to drinks in resorts and cities is usually safe, avoid it elsewhere.

Sunburn & Heat Exhaustion/Heatstroke

The sun is strong in Vietnam, sunburn can even happen on a cloudy day

Always wear at least Factor 30 Sunscreen when you are outside

Wear a hat

Reapply sunscreen after swimming

Avoid being in direct sunlight between 10am and 3pm

Avoid strenuous activity outside between 10am and 3pm

Keep well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water

Mosquito bites

Mosquito bites are a common ailment in Vietnam, whilst not usually a serious problem, there is a slight risk of contracting Dengue and Malaria.  The fatality rate for Dengue is less than 0.3%, symptoms include high fever, severe headache, pain behind the eyes and body ache (joints, muscles, bone).  See a doctor immediately if you have these symptoms. The treatment is to rest and take paracetamol, don’t take aspirin, it increases the risk of hemorrhaging.  There is no vaccine available, the mosquito that carries dengue can bite both day and night, therefore constant insect-protection is important. Most of Vietnam has minimal, to no risk of malaria, however rural areas pose some risk and the rural South and Ca Mau and Bac Lieu provinces are  high-risk areas.  The most serious symptom of malaria is fever, other general symptoms include headache, diarrhea, cough or chills.  Diagnosis is made via a blood sample.  There are various anti-malarial medications-seek the advice of your doctor before you travel about whether you need to take one.  Avoidance of mosquito bites is the best strategy for preventing the risk of contracting Dengue or Malaria.  The following precautions should be made;

Choose accommodation with air-conditioning, or fans and mosquito nets/window screens

  • Sleep under a mosquito net
  • Impregnate clothing with permethrin (insect repellent) in high-risk areas
  • Use an insect repellent containing DEET on all exposed areas of skin.  Citronella can be effective but must be applied more frequently
  • Wear long sleeves and trousers/pants
  • Use mosquito coils
  • Spray your room with insect repellent before going out at night

Vaccinations

Yellow Fever is the only vaccination required by international regulations and is only required if you have visited a country in the yellow-fever zone within six days of entering Vietnam

It’s advisable to get any vaccines at least two weeks before departure, so it’s recommended to visit your doctor four to eight weeks before departure.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends the following vaccinations for travellers to Southeast Asia:

  • Adult diphtheria and tetanus
  • Hepatitis
  • Hepatitis B
  • Measles, mumps and rubella
  • Typhoid
  • Varicella

Emergency Phone Numbers

Police: 113

Fire: 114

Ambulance – First Aid: 115

Generally Vietnam is a very safe country to travel in, but the usual common sense health and safety precautions apply. With the rise of visitor numbers, a rise in petty street crime levels has occurred.  In common with almost any tourist destination, there are some scams and hassles to be avoided in the bigger cities.  In major cities, such as Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and Hanoi, we recommend you wear minimal jewelry and are discreet with your possessions; especially electronics, and as always, take extra care in all poorly lit or more remote areas. It’s advisable to keep cash and cards in a money belt or concealed close to your body when in public places; pockets and handbags run the risk of being pick-pocketed or snatched

To ensure your safety we recommend you use taxis to get around at night, rather than walking, and with the aid of a hotel address card to show drivers. Taxis are metered, inexpensive and numerous in Vietnam.

During your time in Vietnam, always keep a photocopy of your passport, airline tickets and credit card numbers. These copies should be kept in a safe place and separate from the originals. You should keep valuables in hotel safety deposit boxes wherever possible.

Vietnamese is the national language, however English is becoming more commonly spoken; French is widely used by elderly people as well. When trying to speak the local language, please don’t be discouraged if you are laughed at, Vietnamese people like to laugh whenever possible and mean no offence! So let’s start speaking Vietnamese by “Xin Chao” and then trying out the words from the list in the below box:

language

It is easy to stay in touch with friends and family when in Vietnam, via internet and phone. Internet is widely available throughout the country’s cities and towns and many hotels, cafes and restaurants provide free Wi-Fi for paying guests to access via their personal computer or mobile device.  As well as free Wi-Fi, pay-as-you-go internet SIM cards can be easily purchased from airports, mobile phone stores, post offices and convenience stores and loaded with 3G internet credit.  The most reliable pre-activated SIM cards are; Mobifone, Vinaphone and Viettel; they provide the best wireless coverage and cost around 80,000 VND (around $4usd).  All three of these service providers offer 3G service throughout Vietnam as cheap as 50,000 VND (around $2.50) for 1GB of data. For those who don’t have a computer or mobile device that can connect to Wi-Fi, Cyber Cafes are a good option and very cheap, as little as 2,000 to 3,000 VND an hour (2 or 3 US cents).

It is also very cheap and easy to buy a pre-paid phone card to enable you to call your home country.  International calls can be as cheap as 4,000VND (around 0.19USD) per minute and service providers often run special offers where they give extra call credit (e.g. recharge VND 100,000, get VND 150,000 in your account).

Tipping for service is at very much at your discretion, however, it is much appreciated and particularly rewarding when a good job has been done. Normally a tip of a couple of dollars is very well received, if you have a private guide around $5 per day is the average rate. We can advise you directly about this, if you require it.

Vietnam has a number of traditional customs and etiquette that are still very important today, some of which are the same as other Asian countries; others are more unique.  It helps to be aware of them to avoid any cultural misunderstandings or causing offense:

Personal Questions:

It is normal for Vietnamese to ask some quite personal questions the first time you meet. Don’t be surprised if they ask for your age, hometown, marital status, how long you have been in Vietnam, or your religion within moments of meeting. It’s not rude in our culture to ask these questions, the simple reason is to show interest in you and to learn more about you to help introduce you properly to others.

Entering a home:

Always take your shoes off when entering a Vietnamese home.

Haggling over price:

Bargaining or haggling over the price of souvenirs and even everyday goods such as fruit and vegetables from the market is part of life in Vietnam and indeed much of South East Asia.  It is not an insult to haggle over a price (if done in the correct manner), in fact it is expected (unless there is a printed ticket price on the item) and the original asking price of the trader is always higher than it should be.  It’s not just tourists that have to haggle to get the price right, locals have to do it as well, especially during their daily fresh produce shop at the market!  There are a few techniques you can employ to make the process easier;

  1. Smile, laugh and joke as much as possible, avoid showing anger or raising your voice-this will not help to lower the price!
  2. Try to use at least one or two Vietnamese words (check out our ‘Useful Words & Phrases’ guide in the ‘Travel Experience/Travel Essentials’ section).
  3. Avoid shopping before 9am- the first customer of the day is seen as lucky to Vietnamese, but it is seen as unlucky if the first customer doesn’t buy anything so traders may really push hard sell techniques!
  4. Before you attempt to bargain, try to find out the usual price, or before you buy, try a few different traders to compare prices.
  5. If you are unhappy with the final price offered, smile graciously, say ‘no thank you’ to the trader and walk away.  Very often they will call you back and offer the last price you asked for!
Food Etiquette:

Sharing Food: Like many other Asian countries, where people eat rice and use chopsticks in daily meals, Vietnam also has a “sharing food” culture. Locals tend to share all dishes with others who join their meal.  However, nowadays it is common for modern restaurants in large cities and tourist spots serve food aimed directly at travelers which doesn’t have to be shared.  Please be aware that in many more local-style restaurants it is fairly uncommon for dishes to be served in a ‘western-style’ order of starters, mains, desserts; e.g., a salad or soup ordered first won’t necessarily arrive before what you may view as main meals; all dishes are placed in the center of the table as soon as they are ready.

Dinner at a local’s home: When dining at the home of a local family it is polite to wait for the head of the family to start eating before you do. Vietnamese often serve food directly into your bowl, this is an act of respect and hospitality.

When having dinner at a local’s home, it is common for the host to offer a lot of food; it is perfectly acceptable for the guests to not consume everything!

Using Chopsticks: In traditional-style eateries, food is eaten with chopsticks out of a bowl, it is commonplace to pick up the bowl with your left hand and bring it closer to your mouth, making it easier to get the food from the chopsticks to your mouth.  It is also common when eating noodles to hold your head just above the bowl and to slurp your food.  In fact slurping and eating food loudly is very popular in Vietnam as it’s a way of showing satisfaction with your food!

Try not to leave your chopsticks pointing in a v-shape, this is a symbol of death!

Using Toothpicks: It is commonplace to use a toothpick after eating to remove any food debris from your teeth and toothpicks will always be provided on the table.  It is not polite to show your teeth when using a toothpick, please do as the locals do and use your spare hand to cover your mouth!

Showing Emotion & Affection:

Emotion: Avoid showing anger in public, it is a big no-no in Vietnamese society where ‘saving face’ is of utmost importance.  If you’re unhappy about something, showing anger will cause upset and embarrassment to Vietnamese people.  Instead discuss any issues in a calm and respectful manner.

Affection: Don’t be surprised if you keep seeing girls and boys, or even women and men linking arms in the street or holding hands.  People of the same gender holding hands is not uncommon here, it’s the way locals express closeness to their friends. It is quite sweet! Inversely, public displays of affection such as holding hands and kissing with someone of the opposite sex is  likely to make the locals uncomfortable; Vietnam still has a rather conservative, reserved society and it is generally frowned upon for people of the opposite sex to show affection in public through a hug or kiss, regardless of whether they are dating, or married.

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