GMT +7 hours or +12 hours for US EST (subtract 1 hour for daylight savings).
The official language is Vietnamese, a mix of mostly Mon-Khmer elements with some Tai and Chinese. The language is tonal and monosyllabic. Most minorities continue to retain their languages.
Today's main foreign language, especially among the young, is English. In the north, French and Russian are still quite widely spoken. The script of modern Vietnamese is based on Latin with accents, and was formed and created by the Jesuit priest Fr. Alexander De Rhodes in the 19th century.
No vaccinations are officially required to visit Viet Nam. However it is prudent to have up-to-date innoculations for Polio, Meningitis, Hepatitis A&B, Tuberculosis, TABT (TYPHOID, paratyphoid A&B and tetanus), Cholera, Malaria, and Japanese Encephalitis. In addition, we suggest you contact your personal physician or clinic specializing in international travel. Vietnam does have a wide variety of medicines, but you may not be familiar with them. You are advised to bring any prescription medications (in the original containers) currently required. You should pack a small medical kit, which includes sunscreen, insect repellent, diarrhea medication, ibuprofen or aspirin and antibacterial ointments. For those who wear eyeglasses, it is recommended that an extra pair be taken, as the quality of local replacement services varies. It is strongly suggested that you have a dental check-up before departure. Medical care facilities are available, but are limited outside of Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, and can be expensive for emergency care.
Vietnam is home of four of the world's great philosophies and religions: Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism and Christianity. Over the centuries, Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism have fused with popular Chinese beliefs and ancient Vietnamese animism to form what is known collectively as the Triple Religion. Confucianism, more a system of social and political morality than a religion, took on many religious aspects. Taoism, which began as an esoteric philosophy for scholars, mixed with the popular Buddhism of the peasants, and many Taoist elements became an intrinsic part of popular religion. If asked their religion most Vietnamese are likely to say they are Buddhist, but when it comes to family or civic duties they follow Confucianism while turning to Taoist concepts in understanding the nature of the cosmos.
The majority of the population (85%) is comprised of the plains-dwelling Kinh people. The minority population is made up of 53 ethnic groupings. The best-known are the Tay, H'mong, Dao, White and Black Thai and the Hoa. Each has its own unique customs and dialect making them fascinating to visit. The population is 80 million. More than 60% are under 25. Life expectancy at birth is 68 years.
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Vietnam is good for shopping. Hot items on the tourist market include lacquer-ware, mother-of-pearl inlay, and ceramics, colorful embroidered items (hangings, tablecloths, pillowcases, pajamas and robes), greeting cards with silk paintings on the front, woodblock prints, oil paintings, watercolors, blinds made of hanging bamboo beads, reed mats, carpets, jewelry and leatherwork. Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi have the best choice when it comes to shopping but Hoi An in central Vietnam is also a very good place to look for souvenirs.
Local inner-city bus systems are not good in Vietnam. Fortunately, there are other convenient ways of getting around. Taxis with meters are fairly cheap. The first two kilometers cost 12.000 VND and every subsequent 200 meters costs 1 thousand VND. The Cyclo, or pedicab offers easy, cheap and enjoyable transportation around Vietnam's cities. Riding a cyclo is also the best way to explore a city. The driver pedals behind you while you sit comfortably in the front and watch the movie of street life passing by. The average price for a ride is around US$0.20 per kilometer and is cheaper by time rather than distance. A typical price is US$1 per hour. Many of the drivers are also very knowledgeable about their city and will speak at least some English or French or Russian.
Post offices are usually open from 8.00 am to 8 or 9.00 pm. Postcards cost about VND 10 thousand for a booklet of ten from the post office. Children also sell them, but they are more expensive. Don't be too annoyed by them, if they save you a trip to the post office it's probably worth paying a few dong more. A postcard to Europe/USA costs VND 5400, a letter VND 8400 (depending on the weight). They take about 2 weeks to be delivered.
It is very easy to telephone inside Vietnam. All hotels will let you make local phone calls, many don't even charge you. International phone calls are possible from many post offices. At some places, international direct dialing (IDD) has become commonplace. There is a telephone card, the UniphoneKad. Cell phones are popular. If you have one you can buy a prepaid phone-card and own your private contact number while traveling in Vietnam. The system in Vietnam is GSM.
Below are important phone numbers you should always have with you:
|00||International Direct Dialing Access Code|
|0||National Domestic Direct Dialing Access Code|
|101||Long Distance Domestic telephone service|
|102||Directory assistance for long distance domestic telephone service|
|103||Operator-assisted long distance domestic telephone service|
|110||International telephone service|
|112||International telephone service rate|
|1080||Information about society, economy, culture.|
|1088||Consultation in areas of employment, health, law, informatics, psychology, living skills...|
|Discount international phone charges, at US$1.30 per minute|
The Internet was officially permitted in Vietnam in 1997. Access to online services is now available through cyber-cafes and computer terminals in the lobbies of guest houses and business centers in hotels. If you have an established Email account with a non-Vietnamese service provider, accessing your mail from Vietnam will require you to download your mail through a Web-based service such as Yahoo or Hotmail. This is easily done at cafes in cities like Hanoi, Saigon, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Danang and Hue. The Internet access fee is about 4-5 thousand dong per hour.
When planning your trip abroad, take steps to protect yourself from crime or theft. Crimes against travellers are a growing problem worldwide. Tourists are particularly targeted by criminals because they are usually carrying cash and are often easy to distract. Any traveler can become a victim of crimes such as pick pocketing, robberies and muggings.
It is strongly recommended that you carry a small first aid kit with you, even if you are travelling on business. Pack some adhesive bandages for minor injuries, scissors, tweezers, aspirin or Panadol for pain and fever, antiseptic for cuts and scrapes, antihistamines for allergies and insect bites, medicine for stomach upsets, dehydration mixture for treatment of severe diarrhea, water purification tablets, insect repellent, and sunscreen. In the event of an accident or emergency health problem in Vietnam, you should have a travel insurance policy with coverage that includes emergency evacuation to Singapore, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, or Bangkok for treatment. Medical attention in Vietnam is reasonable, but equipment and medicines are in chronic short supply. You will be given priority treatment in Vietnam - especially if you are prepared to pay US Dollars - but you need to check the expiration date of any medication and be extremely wary of anything you cannot read.
No vaccinations are officially required by the Vietnamese authorities, but immunization against cholera, hepatitis, typhoid, tetanus, polio, and Japanese encephalitis is advised. Rabies is widespread in Vietnam, so you are advised to avoid dogs and other animals that may bite as a precaution.
Food and Water
As with most underdeveloped countries, stomach upsets and diarrhea are a common problem and can ruin a visit. Most problems stem from contaminated water. Unless it has been thoroughly boiled, do not drink tapwater. You should also avoid ice in drinks, especially in the countryside. Imported bottled water is available in most cities, but beware of bottles that have been refilled with tapwater. Soft drinks and alcoholic beverages are fine and in hotels, you can use the hot water in your room to make Chinese tea. You should have no problems with thoroughly cooked food, but stay clear of anything that looks like it has been reheated from a previous meal. Take care with seafood and avoid undercooked meat. Only eat fruit that you have peeled yourself, but salads should be given a miss.
Malaria is widespread in Vietnam, especially in the Central Highlands and some parts of the Mekong Delta. The disease is spread by the Anopheles mosquito and the best protection against it is to avoid being bitten in the first place. Since the malarial variety of mosquito is active at night, you should take extra precautions after dark. These include having screens on the windows if you like fresh air while you sleep, mosquito netting, a high concentrate DEET insect repellent (you may have trouble finding it, so bring your own ; Deep Woods Off is good), or mosquito coils. When going out, be sure to wear long-sleeved shirts and pants. Also, it is not a good idea to wear perfume or wash with scented soap ;mosquitoes are attracted by the odour. Check with your physician about taking a course of anti-malaria's. If it is considered necessary given your itinerary, you will need to begin before your trip and continue for a time after you return. Be warned that especially with prolonged use, some anti-malarial drugs can have side effects and should only be taken on professional advice. Dengue fever, which is also transmitted by mosquitoes, is often mistaken for malaria, but is not fatal and does not recur. Aside from avoiding being bitten altogether, there is no prevention available. Only its symptoms can be treated, which are severe pain in the joints, high fever, and extreme headache. Taking several weeks to pass, the fever typically lasts two or three days, subsides, and then returns.
If you intend to visit only a few cities in Vietnam, flying is the most convenient way to travel. Vietnam Airlines flies to places like Phu Quoc Island and Rach Gia that are difficult to reach by other means. The major problem with flying is reserving a seat. It is essential to book flights early especially on popular routes. Internal flights are reliable but can be infrequent to the less popular destinations. Vietnam Airlines and Pacific Airlines are the two carriers that operate domestic routes. Prices are fixed by the National aviation Authority. Foreigners pay approximately double the price locals pay for the same tickets.
There is a regular train service between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and most cities in between. Many people like to travel the length of the country by this means. Tickets allow passengers to break their journey at the major regional cities like Hue, Da Nang and Nha Trang. The trip from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City takes between 36 and 48 hours non-stop, depending on which service is used. Passengers can book a sleeping compartment, soft seat, or economy class.
Vietnam has a regular bus service that connects even the remotest areas of the country. it is very cheap but the emphasis is on economy not comfort with people having to squeeze into seats comparable to those found in kindergartens. No point in buying two tickets to secure extra space. as seating is allocated to all available space. Nevertheless, buses are a great way to meet the locals.
In the major cities the easiest method of transport are taxis. Most are relatively new models of car and are air-conditioned. Prices are very cheap and most trips within a city cost between USD2 and USD%. Contrast this with the price of a cyclo trip (about the same), and except for the novelty of the transport, taxis provide a better service. Tourism authorities advise tourists not to take cyclos at night.
On any street corner in Vietnam, we can find men with motorcycles willing to carry you anywhere. This mode of transport it known as "Honda Om" or Honda embrace. It is usually cheap and reliable although the fare should be negotiated before commencing the journey. The biggest problem is explaining the destination to the driver because pronunciation is everything in Vietnamese. Carry a pen and paper or a map.