Vietnam

A land of staggering natural beauty and cultural complexities, of dynamic megacities and hill-tribe villages, Vietnam is unforgettably compelling.

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Overview

Vietnam is located between 9 and 23 degrees north. Eastern Vietnam has a long coastline on the Gulf of Tonkin and the South China Sea. It has a tropical monsoon type of climate; from May-Sep the south monsoon sets in, and the country is dominated by south to southeasterly winds. From Oct-April, the north monsoon is dominant with northerly to northeasterly winds affecting the country. There is a transition period between each monsoon season when winds are light and variable.

Vietnam has a single rainy season during the south monsoon (May-Sep). Rainfall is infrequent and light during the remainder of the year. Rainfall is abundant, with annual rainfall exceeding 1000mm almost everywhere. Annual rainfall is even higher in the hills, especially those facing the sea, in the range of 2000-2500mm.

For coastal areas and the parts of the central highlands facing northeast, the season of maximum rainfall is during the south monsoon, from Sep-Jan. These regions receive torrential rain from typhoons which move in from the South China Sea at this time of the year. The weather at this time is cloudy with frequent drizzle.

What you should know

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Summary

Area: 331 698 km²
Population: 90 million people
Capital : Hanoi

Vietnam is hot and humid, steamy and sticky, and definitely during monsoon season, deluged with rain. Expect the weather to be changeable in shoulder seasons. Rain gear is a must, along with hat, umbrella and maybe even that trusted travel towel to dry you off when the skies douse you mid day. As always, layers are always a good idea. The country’s various regions get diverse weather patterns.

Weather
  • Northern Vietnam: November – April winter (January-March hovering in the 20 Celsius/70 Fahrenheit degree mark), summer is May through October with the wettest months smack in the center of July-September
  • Central Vietnam: January-July hot and dry (temperatures hovering above 30 Celsius/90 Fahrenheit degree mark), wettest months are October/November (watch for typhoons
  • South Vietnam: largely focused on the wet (early May – November; July/August wettest) and the dry (November – late April) seasons with average year-round temperatures around 30 Celsius/90 Fahrenheit degrees.
Visa

Visitors from the following countries do not require a visa for tourism purposes for a limited period of stay.

– 14 days: Brunei, Myanmar
– 15 days: Norway, Belarus
– 21 days: The Philippines
– 30 days: Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Kyrgystan
– 45 days (from August 15, 2023): United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Russia, Finland, Denmark, Japan and South Korea
– 90 days: Chile, Panama

All other nationalities are required to obtain a tourist visa, which is generally valid for 30 days. Visas can be obtained from Vietnamese Embassies and Consulates abroad. Costs of tourist visa vary from one Vietnamese Embassy to another. When your passport is returned to you from the Vietnamese embassy, one application form with a photo will be returned along with it. Keep the form, as you will be required to hand it to the immigration upon arrival in Vietnam. If you misplaced this form, you can complete a new form upon arrival – there are photo booths at the airport. Passports must be valid for at least six months beyond the end of the trip.

Many travelers try to board their flights with no visa or ‘confirmation letter’ and are refused. Ensure that you have a visa or have applied online for a confirmation letter, and received it before your flight. Your confirmation letter should have your exact information as per your passport or once again you will be refused entry to Vietnam or not allowed to board your flight.

· E-VISA

From August 15, 2023, Vietnam E-visa holders might stay up to 90 days with a single entry or multiple entries.

A complete list of nationalities can be found at https://evisa.xuatnhapcanh.gov.vn/ The application is also processed through this website. Visitors with e-visas can touch down at any of Vietnam’s eight international airports. They can also arrive via land at 13 international border gates, and via sea at seven ports across the country. List of ports that allow foreigners enter and exit Vietnam by E-visa is available at https://evisa.xuatnhapcanh.gov.vn/ . E-visa fee (25 USD for single entry, 50 USD for multiple entries) is paid via electronic payment gateway as prescribed by the Immigration Department. The fee will not be refunded if the application is refused.

Money

The currency in Vietnam is the Dong (VND). The US dollar is also still accepted at some hotels, but you should have local currency available for use anywhere else. Credit card acceptance is spreading in higher-end hotels, restaurants and shops in big cities, but outside of these cash is still by far preferable. Never change money on the streets from hustlers.

ATMs are now the easiest way to get hold of your money in Vietnam. ATMs are a common site in most Vietnamese towns.  The number of ATMs in the country is increasing all the time, and there is now usually at least one ATM in every town, more in the larger cities. However, it is not sensible to rely on them entirely, as ATMs can go down, or might be out of cash, and you could also be left penniless if you were to lose your card. A combination of bank cards, cash and a few travellers cheques is often best.

Credit Cards

These are accepted in the larger hotels and restaurants, as well as a limited number of banks. Visa and MasterCard are the most often accepted cards. Very few places will accept American Express cards – so they are better left at home. Money, passports and other valuables like travellers’ cheques are best kept in a safety deposit box at your hotel. Never leave valuables or money unattended in your hotel room. It’s also advisable to avoid carrying unnecessary valuables on your person, especially at night, just in case.

Personal expenditure & Tipping

You can spend very little or a lot in Vietnam depending on your personal spending pattern. A modest weekly budget of approximately US$55 for day to day things like food, drinks, tips, entry fees (when not included) and small souvenirs. This amount is naturally just an estimate.

It is not customary to leave a tip in small local eateries, but more sophisticated restaurants will expect a tip. Tips are often divided between the waiting and kitchen staff, so if you have experienced great food and service, it is advisable to show your appreciation with a tip- between 5-10% of the bill is normal. A tip is also very welcomed by local guides and drivers.

Language

Vietnamese (Tieng Viet) is the national and official language of Vietnam. It is the mother tongue of Vietnamese people (Kinh), and of about three million overseas Vietnamese. It is also spoken as a second language or a first language by many ethnic minorities of Vietnam. It is part of the Austro-Asiatic language family, of which it has the most speakers by a significant margin (several times larger than the other Austro-Asiatic languages put together). Much of Vietnamese vocabulary has been borrowed from Chinese, and the language displays some influence from French, and the Vietnamese alphabet in use today is a Latin alphabet with additional diacritics for tones and certain vowels and consonants.

Safety

As in any country when travelling, keep a close eye on your belongings. Secure your valuables, documents and credit cards in your hotel safe or carry them close on your body if that is not possible. Beware of pickpockets, purse-snatchers and mobile phone thieves, especially in Ho Chi Minh City. If you choose to rent a motorbike or ride a bicycle, always wear a helmet.

The emergency telephone numbers are:

– 113 – Police
– 114 – Fire
– 115 – Medical

Here are some general things to take into consideration when travelling around Vietnam:

– Before leaving from your hotel, ensure you have a hotel business card from the reception desk. This will make your return to the hotel in a taxi or cyclo much easier.
– For longer excursions from your base hotel, it is always a good idea to carry a roll of toilet paper in your daypack. You never know when you will need it.
– Always dress appropriately. Not only for the prevailing climatic conditions, but also not to cause offence to the local people. Vietnamese have conservative dress codes and it is only in larger cities that these codes are relaxed a little.
– Always leave your excess cash, airline tickets, passports and valuables with the hotels safety deposit facility.
– Always be aware when entering someone’s houses to see if you must remove your shoes at the front door.
– Always ask his or her permission first when taking a photograph of someone. If they indicate that they do not want you to, then abide by their wishes. DO NOT push the issue or offer money.

 

North Vietnam

Hanoi

Hanoi, the capital of unified Vietnam, was founded in 1010 on the right bank of the Red River and then called Thang Long, which literally means “the land where the dragon takes off,” as the country emerged from a thousand years of Chinese dominance. Hanoi is undoubtedly the most charming city in Vietnam, with all its authenticity, large, shady avenues, numerous lakes, and manicured gardens.

Halong Bay

Ha Long Bay, located in northeastern Vietnam’s Gulf of Tonkin, in Quang Ninh Province, was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. An overnight cruise through its stunning limestone mountains in various shapes and sizes that rise from emerald waters is the best way to explore the beauty of the bay.

The Island of Cat Ba

After 1.5 hours by car from Hanoi to Hai Phong port and 30 minutes by ferry, you’re in Cat Ba, the largest of the 367 islands and islets dotting Lan Ha Bay.
Cat Co and Cat Dua are two large, very popular beaches. The Cat Ba National Park has 20 species of wild animals, 69 birds, and 20 reptiles. Maybe you’ll have the chance to take a photo of a bald vooc, a rare primate that can only be seen on this island.

Hai Phong

Haiphong is the North’s second city, with a population of 2 million souls. Haiphong continued to supply North Vietnam throughout the war, despite the incessant bombing. A few still-standing buildings from the French colonial period reflect the pride of Vietnamese settlers for their first bridgehead. The old theater on Dien Bien Phu Street is a notable example. The area is also a colorful shopping hive, with its street markets and outdoor food vendors.

But Thap – Pagoda Tower

The But Thap Pagoda was built in the 13th century in Bac Ninh province, just 30km from Hanoi. The pagoda houses 100 wooden figures in various postures, as well as more than 50 stone sculptures portraying animals and plants, including the sculptural masterpiece Quan m statue with one thousand eyes and a thousand arms

Thay Pagoda

Located 33 km west of Hanoi Thay pagoda (master pagoda) is a set of several buildings and a large pilgrimage center frequented by the people of Hanoi for both its ritual value and the romance of the site, which is reflected in a small lake. At the top of a hill, a group of sanctuaries dedicated to Quan Am, the Master, and His Royal incarnation are near a peak known as the market fairies. The pagoda itself contains a beautiful statue.

Tay Phuong Pagoda

Founded in the eighth century, Tay Phuong Pagoda is a national treasure thanks to the sophisticated sculpture and art on display there. The pagoda is home to 72 brilliant wooden statues in the form of Buddhas, Vajrapanis, and Arhats, who are all middle-ranking Buddhist deities.

Perfume Pagoda

Located 80 kilometers south of Hanoi, the Perfume Pagoda is one of the most important religious sites in Vietnam. Every spring, after the Vietnamese New Year, thousands of pilgrims flock to the Buddhist holy land to pray and wish health and prosperity to their families for the New Year.

Bat Trang Ceramic Village

Bat Trang Village, located along the Red River, just about 30 minutes drive from Hanoi City Center, is renowned for centuries for its products in traditional pottery and porcelain. You wander around the village through its narrow alleys and markets to admire its antique architecture and enjoy the nostalgic vibe.

Duong Lam

Duong Lam Village, 50 km east of Hanoi, is the first village in the country recognized as a vestige of the national level.  This village has kept almost intact to this day, the culture and architecture representative of civilization in the Red River Delta, developed for thousands of years.  

Ninh Binh

Ninh Binh

Ninh Binh, often referred to as “Ha Long Bay on land” is a northern province in the Red River Delta well known for various natural and cultural attractions, including the Hoa Lu ancient capital, Trang An Landscape Complex, Tam Coc, Cuc Phuong National Park, Bai Dinh Pagoda, Bich Dong Pagoda, Hang Mua.

Mai Chau

70 km south-west of Hanoi, in the heart of what was the Tonkin region, Hoa Binh province has the charm of large green spaces where rice fields alternate. Hoa Binh is home to the first dam in Vietnam and the beautiful Mai Chau Valley, inhabited by the Muong and Thai minorities.

Lao Cai

Lao Cai is one of several provinces situated on the Sino-Vietnamese border. The topography of Lao Cai is diversified with rivers, high mountain peaks, steep and high mountain passes, deep streams, and wide valleys.
The province is home to more than 20 minority groups that preserve their traditions and customs.
Sapa and its surrounding ethnic villages, and Bac Ha Market, which is held only on Sunday, are some of the main attractions of this province.

Bac Kan

Bac Kan is a northeastern province rich in natural resources, including minerals, forests, mountains, and scenic lakes.
There are a bunch of interesting sights that attract tourists every year: Ba Be National Park, Dau Dang Waterfall, and Puong Cave, to name just a few.

Son La

Located 320km northwest of Hanoi, Son La is the region where the population is predominantly made up of Thai, one of the largest ethnic minorities in Vietnam.
The province is home to several rivers, mountains, natural resources, and a plentiful water source that favors hydroelectric power. The Moc Chau Plateau in Son La is a great location for growing fruit, tea, and raising milk cows.

Dien Bien Phu

Nineteen years before the last US troops recognized their defeat and left Vietnam, the French suffered their own humiliation at the hands of the Ho Chi Minh army. The decor was in Dien Bien Phu, a valley very close to the border with Laos, where some 3,000 French soldiers were killed and three times as many surrendered.

Lai Chau

Lai Chau is the meeting point of several ethnic minorities. The Lai Chau market that takes place every Thursday and Sunday is considered one of the most beautiful mountains of Tonkin. The visit Lai Chau is also beautiful landscapes and the opportunity to appreciate the kindness of the many ethnic groups.

Ha Giang

The city of Ha Giang, the capital of the same-name province, is the gateway to Dong Van Karst Plateau, a UNESCO Global Geopark located in the far north of Viet Nam.
Quan Ba Heaven’s Gate, Quan Ba Fairy Mountain, Sa Phin H’Mong Palace, Lung Cu Flagpole, Ma Pi Leng Pass, and the Nho Que River are some of the highlights of this remote border province.

Cao Bang

The mountainous province of Cao Bang, which is nestled away in a remote part of Vietnam and borders China, has a lot to offer but hasn’t been explored by many travelers.
The largest waterfall in Vietnam, Ban Gioc Waterfall; Ngum Ngao Cave, which features unusual stalactite formations; the stunning Thang Hen Lake System… are some of the geo-cultural sites protected as UNESCO Global Geoparks that you should visit once in Cao Bang.

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Central Vietnam

Quang Binh

Quang Binh Province is well-known for its picturesque coastal and mountain scenery. Since Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the complex of Son Doong Cave was discovered, the province has become a phenomenal destination for nature lovers and cave explorers from all over the world.

Hue

Hue, the ancient capital of Vietnam, where the Nguyen Dynasty ruled from 1802 to 1945, is an intellectual city and the pride of the Vietnamese. Declared historical heritage by UNESCO since 1993, Hue offers visitors many historical and cultural sites that are still well preserved. The city is bisected by the Perfume River.

Danang

Da Nang is a year-round tourist destination and also the most livable city in Vietnam, thanks to its temperate weather. Located along a stunning coastline full of gorgeous beaches and cultural attractions, Da Nang is a favorite beach destination for both domestic and international tourists. My Khe Beach, Son Tra Peninsula, Linh Ung Pagoda, Marble Mountains, and Non Nuoc Beach are some of the highlights of Da Nang.

Hoi An

Hoi An is a charming town on the bank of the Thu Bon River, just 25 kilometers away from Da Nang city. As an exceptionally well-preserved example of a traditional Asian trading port active from the 15th to the 19th centuries, Hoi An Ancient Town was recognized as a UNESCO Heritage Site. You can spend time strolling around the narrow streets and admiring the buildings that reflect a fusion of indigenous and foreign cultures and architecture.

My Son

The UNESCO-recognized My Son Sanctuary is located 60 km from Danang and is considered the best preserved Cham site in the country. Nestled amidst verdant hills, My Son was the ancient capital of the kingdom of Cham, which ruled central Vietnam between the fourth and thirteenth centuries AD. Nowadays, it is home to a complex of temples, shrines, and towers that fell into ruin and is a must for lovers of architecture and ancient culture.

Quy Nhon

Quy Nhon, the capital of Binh Dinh province, is at the heart of the ancient Cham empire. Cham ruins scattered across the landscape of rice fields and hills, golden sand beaches, and many small islands make Quy Nhon a great place to discover.

Central Highlands

Located along the borders of Laos and Cambodia, the Central Highlands are among the most remote and least visited in Vietnam, covering the provinces of Dak Lak, Dak Nong, Gia Lai, Kon Tum, and Lam Dong. There are over 27 ethnic groups still living according to traditional ways in this authentic region full of culture and amazing landscapes.

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South Vietnam

Nha Trang

Nha Trang is a beautiful coastal city and the capital of Khanh Hoa province. Nha Trang is well known for its beaches and scuba diving and has developed into a popular destination for domestic and international tourists with a wide range of luxurious beach resorts.

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon, is the largest, wealthiest, and most vibrant city in Vietnam, where all the government’s economic changes are initiated. You will enjoy strolling to admire the colonial architecture, visit the vibrant markets, and explore its exciting nightlife. Just a couple of hours drive from the city center, you can visit the historical site of Cu Chi and the colorful Caodaism temple in Tay Ninh.

Mekong Delta

Considered the rice granary of South Vietnam, the Mekong Delta offers a real window on Vietnamese rural life. Made up of thousands of foster canals lined with orchards and tropical plants, the delta is a harmonious blend of landscapes of beige and green around which life is organized. The main sights are My Tho, Ben Tre, Cai Be, Vinh Long, Sa Dec, Can Tho, and Chau Doc.

Mui Ne

Mui Ne

Mui Ne is a coastal fishing town in Binh Thuan province with beautiful beaches and steady wind conditions that make it a good destination for windsurfing, kitesurfing, sailing, and other water sports. Reachable from Ho Chi Minh City in a 3.5-hour drive, Mui Ne is also an excellent weekend escape destination.

Phu Quoc island

Nestled in the Gulf of Thailand, Phu Quoc is the largest island in South Vietnam and is home to a number of beautiful beaches, including Ong Lang Beach, Sao Beach, Khem Beach, and Long Beach. The best time to visit Phu Quoc is between Novembre and March.

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