Since opening its doors to the rest of the world in 1989, Vietnam, “Land of the Ascending Dragon”, has quickly become one of the most unique and fascinating Southeast Asian vacation destinations. A visit to this intriguing country will change you forever: the sights, the aromas and the tastes awaken your senses and offer delightful and unexpected visual and culinary experiences.
But it is Vietnam’s natural rhythm, its gentle flow, that courses through the smiles of the people, the mountains, the villages and the sea that makes it truly unforgettable. In the north, wander the pleasant colonial concourses of Hanoi. Visit the age-old, neat and strictly organized nearby villages typical of the region. Cruise through the emerald waters and dream-like limestone towers of Halong Bay. Hike through the rocky mountains and discover vibrant ethnic villages surrounding the Sapa Valley. Hue, the former Imperial Capital in central Vietnam, with its historical monuments, is famous for its universal theme of landscape architecture. The place offers a different and more peaceful rural village experience. Fall in love with Hoi An’s quaint antique markets. Relax oceanside at Vietnam’s premier beach resort, Nha Trang. Breathe the fresh mountain air in the former French colonial retreat of Dalat. Further south, enjoy the bustling and vibrant atmosphere of modern Vietnam in Ho Chi Minh City. Villages in this part of the country are vast, almost boundless, each boasting its own special charm, with orchards dedicated to a single, specific fruit unique to the region. Cruise to the floating markets of the Mekong Delta to shop for exotic tropical fruits and exquisite flowers. Escape to the pristine island of Phu Quoc, one of the most beautiful and remote beach resorts in Asia. Throughout Vietnam, delight in the fresh, exotic cuisine, the kindness and sincerity of the Vietnamese people, the profusion of shopping opportunities, and the striking scenery of the countryside. Vietnam is a beautiful contradiction: it is modern when it needs to be, yet the romance of a long-gone era is never out of reach. It is truly a diverse, inspirational and unbridled destination. Adventures Asia staff is ready to help you plan your ideal journey.
Packing for a trip to Vietnam can be difficult, as the climate varies so much depending on when and where you go. When the weather isn’t ideal in one area, it’s great in another. While Hanoi is cold enough to warrant a coat from December to March, this is an excellent time to visit Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta.
From April to October, most of the country is affected by south-western monsoons. The rains, which tend to be concentrated in the late afternoons, provide welcome relief to the heat. Travel to very remote areas may be affected by the rains, but overall they should not interfere with your trip. The summer months are the perfect time to visit Ha Long Bay, as the water is warm enough for swimming.
In terms of weather, northern Vietnam is at its loveliest from September to December, when there’s a good chance of clear skies and low humidity. The hottest months in Ho Chi Minh City are April and May, although there is generally a decent breeze. The central highland town of Dalat is temperate year-round, earning it the epithet “City of Eternal Spring”.
IMMUNIZATIONS BEFORE TRAVELLING TO VIETNAM
The following immunizations are recommended for travelers in Southeast Asia. Consult your doctor or local health department to discuss which ones you need:
Diphtheria and tetanus: Combined vaccinations for these two diseases are usually given in childhood and should be boosted every ten years.
Hepatitis A: Vaccination provides immunity for up to ten years and involves an initial injection followed by another six months to one year later.
Typhoid: Vaccination takes the form of an injection or capsules.
Meningococcal Meningitis: This vaccine is only recommended for travelers making extended visits to rural, northern Vietnam. Protection lasts for three years.
Rabies: People making longer trips to remote areas should consider rabies vaccination, which involves three injections over a period of three to four weeks.
Japanese B Encephalitis: People on trips of a month or more to areas suffering from recent outbreaks should consider getting this vaccine, which involves three shots over one month.
TRAVEL DOCUMENTS FOR VIETNAM
You should bring a money-belt to safely carry your travel documents and cash, and ensure that your luggage has a lock. Bring photo-copies of your passport and visa. When flying into or within Vietnam, you will probably be given baggage claim tags (they will be stuck to the back of your ticket). Keep these, as you will need to show them when leaving the airport.
SAFETY TIPS WHILE TRAVELLING IN VIETNAM
In general, Vietnam is very safe for travelers. Violent attacks are rare, although theft is a problem. When possible, secure your valuables in the hotel safe. Remember to record your traveler’s check numbers and credit card info – just in case.
Do not leave your wallet or mobile phone in the back pocket of your pants or anywhere else that’s easily reached (like an outer zip-up compartment on a backpack). Be especially vigilant in markets and other crowded places like ports and train stations.
Pick-pocketing and purse-snatching are more of a problem in Ho Chi Minh City. Some thieves approach on motorcycles, grab your belongings and race off before you’ve realized what’s happened. If you ride in a cyclo (pedicab) do not hold your bag in your lap. Sit on it! Wearing valuable jewelry (especially necklaces that can be easily grabbed) is not advisable.
Use common sense and don’t walk alone after dark. If confronted by a mugger, do not resist. You’re always better off skipping cyclos or motorbike taxis at night; ask your hotel or restaurant to call a reputable taxi firm.
Traffic is chaotic in Vietnam. If you choose to ride a motorcycle or bike, wear a helmet. When crossing the street on foot, move at a slow and steady pace. Fight the urge to weave and run! Walk slowly and traffic will flow around you.
In Southeast Asia, revealing clothing is unacceptable off the beach. Shorts are generally fine—as long as they aren’t too short. People tend to dress as well as they can afford to – Asian people are often astonished by some travelers’ choice of dirty and tattered clothing.
When visiting pagodas, temples or Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum in Hanoi, shorts and tank-tops are unacceptable. Your knees and shoulders must be covered. Footwear and socks must be removed in pagodas. Shoes are usually removed upon entering private homes too.
In terms of behavior, public displays of affection between men and women are considered shocking. On the other hand, it’s perfectly normal for a pair of men or a pair of women to link arms or hold hands. Upon meeting someone new, people may simply nod to each other or may shake hands. Using both hands to shake someone’s hand is a warm gesture of respect.
Beckoning someone by crooking your finger is very rude. The correct way to call someone over is to extend your hand with the palm down and flap your fingers towards your wrist. To ask for the bill in a restaurant or shop, extend one hand in front of you with the palm raised and pretend to write on your palm with the other hand.
The majority of men in Southeast Asia smoke. While flights are non-smoking, very few restaurants or bars offer non-smoking seating.
DRINK PLENTY OF BOTTLED WATER
Tap water, even from hotels, is never safe to drink. During the summer months you should be drinking a minimum of 2 liters per day from sealed bottles. Do not accept water with broken seal. If you drink tea, coffee and alcohol you should increase water intake accordingly as these drinks can lead to dehydration. Whatever you take, please bear in mind it is not recommended to drink with ice if you are not sure which water source they use to make ice cubes. Anyway, most restaurants have cold drinks in the fridge or you can have the restaurant waiters/ waitresses put your drinks in the ice-chest to keep them cold.
TOILETRIES & MEDICATION
While imported beauty products are readily available in major cities, you’d be wise to pack staples like sunscreen, contact lens solution, tampons and mosquito repellent, as well as prescription medication. Many medicines are available in Indochina without prescriptions, but they may be out-of-date or of poor quality.
If your trip to Vietnam includes stops at beaches and mountainous areas, you will need clothes for all temperatures. A swimsuit, sunglasses, a hat, T-shirts, shorts that are not too revealing, long trousers, long-sleeved tops and a light jacket that is wind-and-rain-resistant will get you through most trips. If you plan to visit northern Vietnam in the winter, you’ll need a warm coat. Mountainous areas can get chilly; choose clothes you can layer. If trekking is on your agenda, you will need sturdy footwear—plus lots of socks. Slip-on shoes or sandals are useful for visits to pagodas or people’s houses, as you’ll save time taking your shoes on and off.
Larger cities like Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi offer upscale bars and restaurants, so be sure to pack some clothes and shoes for a nice evening out. Leave your flashy jewelry at home.
Vietnam’s currency is the Vietnam Dong (VND). You will find money changers in Vietnam’s airports, banks, and some high-end hotels. Many banks (open Monday to Friday) issue cash advances for Visa and MasterCard, usually for a 3% to 4% commission. Credit cards and traveler’s checks are widely accepted in big cities.
You will find 24-hour ATMs at HSBC, 235 Dong Khoi, D.1, HCM City; ANZ Bank, 11 Me Linh Square, D.1 in HCM City; and ANZ Bank, 14 Le Thai To in Hanoi; and at many Vietcombank branches nationwide. These ATMs only issue Vietnam Dong.
American dollars are welcomed in most hotels and higher-end restaurants, although you will need dong for taxis and in smaller shops. The current exchange rate is around 23,000 Dong to the US Dollar.
Vietnam country code: 84
INTERNET IN VIETNAM
Wireless (wi-fi) Internet access is available and free of charge in most hotels, internet cafes, bars and restaurants.
SHOPPING AND SHIPPING
If you go shopping throughout Vietnam, bargaining is necessary. It is also recommendable to check prices of the same items in the neighborhood before reaching a deal. If you choose to ship items home, we highly recommend that you buy shipping insurance and check the policy details. As shops are not responsible for damages incurred en route, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
ZEN TRAVELLING IN VIETNAM
We suggest these tips for successfully dealing with Vietnamese officials, airport personnel and bureaucrats:
- Try your best to smile and be pleasant.
- Don’t complain loudly.
- If you want to criticize someone, do it in a joking manner to avoid confrontation.
- Expect delays – build them into your schedule.
- Never show anger – ever! Getting visibly upset is not only rude; it will cause you to lose face.
- Don’t be competitive. Treating your interaction as a cooperative enterprise works much better.
- Don’t act as though you deserve service from anyone. If you do so, it’s likely that you will be delayed.
There are lots of things you should and shouldn’t do when visiting Vietnam, but don’t worry, if you have any query or need local assitance, please feel free to contact us at Adventures Asia to have an affordable, safe and local journey in Vietnam.