10 culture tips
Watch a traditional water puppet performance.
Savour a bowl of pho ga (chicken noodle soup) or pho bo (beef noodle soup) at a street side noodle stall. To complete the
breakfast, enjoy a strong Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk.
Order tailor-made clothes from the local tailor shop (our recommendation of local tailors are listed under "Shopping").
Enjoy a cyclo ride through the Old Quarter of Hanoi, around Hue’s Imperial Citadel, through Hoi An’s Ancient Town, in Nha
Trang, Phan Thiet or through the French Quarter of old Saigon.
Sleep out on the deck aboard a wooden junk in Halong Bay.
Rejuvenate during a relaxing two-hour traditional Vietnamese massage.
Experience a home stay in the ethnic minority villages in the north or in the Mekong Delta’s riverside orchards.
Witness the full moon festivities in the ancient town of Hoi An.
Take a scenic boat along Hue’s Perfume River, admiring the grandeur of the Royal Mausoleums.
Test your bargaining skills and set out for shopping at Saigon’s Benh Thanh market.
Avoid drinking tap water and ice cubes if you have a sensitive stomach.
When visiting a temple or pagoda, wear long trousers and dress respectfully.
Leave your valuables in the hotel safe deposit box before heading out into town, especially on a night out or when going to the
When crossing the road, walk steadily and slowly in the same direction, always looking to the left and right. Do not run or make
Always ask permission first before taking photographs of people, especially in minority areas and border control zones.
Try not to lose face in public - hold your temper and put on the biggest smile you have.
Do not offer money to begging children or minority people. Donate or, even better, volunteer at a local charity instead. When
travelling in remote areas, it is okay to offer small gifts, such as pens, paper, soap and other useful utensils.
Sample local food, but patronise only those food stalls which are busy with locals.
Try not to compare Vietnam to other Asian countries. Vietnam has its own identity, culture and history. The Vietnamese are
extremely proud of their heritage.
Do not go naked or topless on beaches or in the water. Culturally, this is incredibly innappropriate and offensive.
An airport departure tax for international and domestic flights is included in the airfare.
Vietnam stretches over 1,800 km from north to south and its topography varies from coastal plain to mountain ranges; therefore weather patterns in the principle cities are very different.
Winter lasts from November to April, with temperatures averaging 10°C – 16°C, and during January to March you will experience fog and drizzle. Summer begins in May and lasts until October, with an average temperature of 30°C, heavy rainfall and the occasional violent typhoon.
Central Vietnam experiences a transitional climate, with heavy rain falls between November and December and dry, hot summer months.
Temperatures are fairly constant throughout the year; 25°C – 30°C. Seasons are determined by the rains – the dry season runs from November to April and the wet season from May to October. The hottest period is March and April. Typhoons are quite common in coastal areas between July and November.
In the hill resorts of Dalat (1,500 m), Buon Ma Thuot and Sapa, nights are cool throughout the year, and in the winter months, during October to March, it can be distinctly chilly with temperatures falling to 0°C, and even during the hottest months of March and April the temperature rarely exceeds 26°C.
Generally we recommend bringing light, loose fitting cotton clothes for the warmer months and for Southern Vietnam. If travelling to the north, some form of layering is required as Hanoi can experience wide temperature changes from one day to the next.
During the winter months in the north, and for travelling to the mountains, it is imperative to bring warm clothing. An umbrella is definitely useful during the rainy periods. Formal clothing is not required. A multi-use sarong is a very useful item to bring.
Laundry facilities are widely available and quick. When visiting a temple or pagoda, you should wear long trousers and dress respectfully.
currency and exchange
The local currency is the dong (abbreviated "d" or VND). Bank notes are 500 / 1,000 / 2,000 / 5,000 / 10,000 / 20,000 / 50,000 / 100,000 / and 500,000 VND. Coins include 200 / 500 / 1,000 / 2,000 / and 5,000 VND but are not in common use anymore.
The exchange rate (1 June 2016) is approximately 22,000 VND to 1 USD.
Money and travellers’ cheques, particularly USD, can be exchanged at banks, hotels and authorised money-exchangers. It is advisable to carry USD bills in small denominations.
Credit Cards & ATMs
Credit cards are generally only accepted in major hotels, and in some up-market shops and restaurants in major cities. ATM facilities are available in all major cities.
All visitors to Vietnam must fill in declaration forms and show their luggage to customs officials on request. Visitors can bring with them unlimited amounts of foreign currency, objects made of gold, silver, precious metals and gemstones or plated with silver or gold, all of which must be declared in detail on the customs forms. Commercial video films and printed materials that are considered offensive are normally confiscated and sent to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism for inspection. Import of the following goods are strictly prohibited: weapons, ammunition, explosives, military technical equipment, drugs, toxic chemicals, debauched and reactionary products, firecrackers of all kinds, toys with negative impacts on the dignity education, social security and safety, cigarettes beyond the stipulated quantity, etc. Export of the following goods are strictly prohibited: weapons, ammunition, explosives, military technical equipment, antiques, drugs, toxic chemicals, wild animals, rare and precious animals and plants, documents related to the national security, etc.
The Following Articles are Exempt from Duty
Liquor at 22o and above: 1.5 litres; Liquor below 22o: 2.0 litres; Alcoholic beverage: 3.0 litres.
Cigarettes: 400 pieces; Cigars: 100 pieces; Tobacco: 500 g
Tea: 5kg; Coffee: 3kg
A reasonable quantity of clothing and personal belongings in service of the trip's purpose
Articles other than those mentioned above (outside the list of goods banned from import or subject to conditional import): Total value not exceeds 5,000,000 VND
There is a declaration limit for foreign currency of USD 7,000.
Any flight in your itinerary is in economy class unless specified otherwise. Flight times quoted are local and subject to change. Domestic flights require a check-in 1 hour prior to the flight departure.
Vietnam Airlines has frequent flight time changes and cancellations often occur at short notice even after confirmations for a flight have been received.
Carry-on luggage is limited to one piece plus a camera. All “carry-on” hand luggage must have luggage tags which are provided by the airlines when passengers check in at the airports for their flights. Security regulations at airports are strict. Appropriate announcements may or may not be made for this procedure. In economy class, air travel baggage allowance is 20kg per person. Excess baggage may be subject to overweight charges by the airline. Diethelm Travel Vietnam cannot be held responsible for any loss or damage to passenger’s belongings. Please retain your luggage tag as you will be required to show this against your suitcase on arrival before being allowed to exit the airport.
221 volts AC, 50 cycles; two-pin plug sockets require an adapter, which is available from housekeeping at most hotels.
food and dining
Vietnam has abundant food supplies and an elaborate culinary tradition. Cooking is seen as an art and some Vietnamese dishes have achieved international fame, including such traditional dishes as noodle soup (pho), pork sausage (gio lua), spring rolls (nem ran), and fish balls (cha ca). In addition to Vietnamese food, the larger hotels also serve a wide variety of continental and Chinese cuisine. In the smaller cities, where hotels only have one restaurant, ordering a-la-carte may involve a slight wait. Consequently, it is advised that if in a rush, you take advantage of the large and diverse buffets available at these hotels to minimise any delay. Never drink water from the hotel tap, no matter what category of hotel you are staying in. Bottled mineral water is available at all hotels throughout Vietnam. Joining in a half- or full-day cooking class is a fun and unique way to become more acquainted with Vietnamese cuisine. Please see our day tours in Hanoi, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City for detailed information about cooking classes. Vietnam also has a number of excellent and atmospheric restaurants. Please refer to our list of restaurant recommendations by logging in or contact your local tour guide for more suggestions.
Try to avoid travelling during Tet (Lunar New Year) as this is a family-oriented holiday where businesses and shops close for almost a week.
Staying in Hanoi's Old Town is recommended, but hotels are narrow and usually only have one window (either the front or back of the room). Front windows have a view, but can be noisy whereas the back windows often are within the hotel but quieter. Many elevators are narrow so expect waiting. Smaller hotels have restaurants on top floors (elevator stops one floor below) so it involves walking up, but there are great views from the top. An inescapable fact of the city is the constant noise, mainly of motorcycles. A good tip is to escape into a café for some quiet relief at intervals to recharge your batteries. The Vietnamese are early risers and so traffic noise starts early around 5.00 am onwards and you may be woken up by the crackle of a loudspeaker as the Voice of Vietnam starts up with music and rhetoric. For light sleepers, ear plugs are useful to bring!
Crossing the Road
Crossing the street is an art and the trick is to walk steadily and slowly across the road in the same direction and the motorcycles and bicycles will weave around you. Do not run or make sudden movements.
When hiring a motorcycle or jet ski there is no insurance coverage and the hirer is personally liable for any damages or accidents. When exploring on your own, it is not advisable to take a motorbike taxi as these are often involved in accidents.
The country has been hurtled in a relatively short time from an underdeveloped country into its present dynamic state and so a flexible approach, humour and patience will ensure a more enjoyable holiday.
For non-smokers request rooms on non-smoking floors rooms where available.
Vietnam has nine international airports:
Hanoi / Noi Bai
Hai Phong/Cat Bi
Hue /Phu Bai
Danang / Danang Airport Nha Trang / Cam Ranh Dalat / Lien Khuong
Ho Chi Minh City / Tan Son Nhat
Can Tho / Can Tho Airport
Phu Quoc / Phu Quoc Airport.
There are numerous direct flights to and from Vietnam operated by various international airlines.
International flights require a check-in 2 -3 hours prior to the flight departure. Please retain your luggage tag as you will be required to show this against your suitcase on arrival before being allowed to exit the airport.
No actual vaccinations are officially required to visit Vietnam. Visitors are advised to check with their doctor or travel immunisation clinic regarding the advisability of inoculation against polio, typhoid, tetanus, hepatitis A & B and malaria. Visitors taking medicine for certain conditions such as diabetes or heart problems should make sure that they carry these medications in their hand luggage at all times in case the main luggage should be delayed.
The sun is strong throughout the year so proper care against sunburn and dehydration must be constantly taken. Vietnam is a tropical country so insect repellent is essential. It is recommended that all travellers take out comprehensive personal travel insurance to cover personal expenses, in case of accident, illness, etc.
Internet service providers are currently operating in most of the cities. You can access the internet through hotels, cyber cafés and internet/computer service centres. Following are internet addresses with relevant information on Vietnam:
Vietnam Development Gateway - www.vietnamgateway.org
Ministry of Foreign Affairs - www.mofa.gov.vn/en
Vietnam News - www.vietnamnews.com.vn
Vietnam National Administration of Tourism - www.vietnamtourism.com Vietnam Airlines - www.vietnamairlines.com
Vietnamese is the official language of Vietnam. Learning foreign languages, particularly English, is currently popular amongst young people in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hue, Danang and other cities. Tourist guides are available for English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Japanese and Russian speakers.
local time and working hours
Local time is GMT + 7 hours.
Governmental agencies work Monday to Friday from 7.30 am to 4.30 pm (excluding a one-hour lunch) and are closed Saturday and Sunday.
Banks are open from 7.30 am or 8.00 am to 11.30 am and from 1.00 pm to 4:30 pm. Some banks are open on Saturday morning from 8.00 am to 11.30 pm and are closed Sunday.
Private shops are open from 8.00 am or 8:30 am to 9.00 pm or 11.00 pm. During the Lunar New Year shops may be closed for several days before and after as well as during the festive holidays, depending on recommendations made by a fortune teller.
passport and visa
Travellers to Vietnam are required to hold a passport valid for at least 6 months beyond the completion of their visit and must contain a valid visa. If tourist visas are to be obtained via Diethelm Travel Vietnam, the following personal data must be supplied to us at least 2 weeks before travel to:
Full name as per passport
Passport number, date of issue and expiry date
Date and place of birth
Occupation and nationality
City of where visa will be issued
Visas are usually issued by the Vietnamese Embassy in the passengers’ home country (against the visa’s approval number), which require the original passport, 2 photos and 3 full working days in order to issue a visa stamp. Visas can also be obtained upon arrival at Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Danang airports, in which case the stamping fee will be quoted separately. Apart from required details above, we further need arrival/departure date and flight information. Diethelm Travel Vietnam will send a confirmation letter to show to airport staff at the departing airport, confirming that clients will get the visa on arrival. Visas can only be requested via Diethelm Travel Vietnam in connection with the booking of travel arrangements to Vietnam. The visa upon arrival requires 2 passport photos.
Not more than 30 days: for citizens of Asian nationals such as from Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand (except Myanmar and Cambodia).
Not more than 15 days: for citizens of Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Japan, South Korea and Russia. French citizens holding valid diplomatic passports are exempt from visa requirements and are allowed to stay for up to 3 months at one time or on several visits within 6 months since their first immigration dates.
Citizens of Chile holding valid diplomatic or official passports are exempted from entry transit visas and are allowed to stay for up 60 days on each visit.
Starting 1 July 2015, citizens from the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and Spain have been allowed to visit Vietnam visa-free for 15-day stays. The initiative is valid for two years.
Vietnam will also waive visas for tourists from Belarus beginning 1 July 2015 until 30 June 2020.
Hotels might reserve the right to keep travel documents overnight at the reception for registration purpose.
post and communications
A regular international post service is available. Additionally, Express Mail Service (EMS) is available to more than 50 countries worldwide with a delivery time of 2 - 10 days.
Vietnam has high international telephone charges. It is important to check the exact amount with the hotel before making a call, as hotel surcharges are often imposed. VOIP calls which help reduce call charges (for most of international calls from any destination within Vietnam and for domestic calls between the main cities of the country) are now available as well pre-paid internet and mobile cards can be bought in the major cities.
The major religious traditions in Vietnam are Buddhism (which fuses forms of Taoism and Confucianism), Christianity (Catholicism and Protestantism), Islam, Caodaism and the Hoa Hao sect.
Buddhism was first introduced to Vietnam in the 2nd century and reached its peak during the Ly dynasty (11th century). It was then regarded as the official religion dominating court affairs. Buddhism was preached broadly among the population and enjoyed a profound influence on people's daily life. Its influence also left marks in various areas of traditional literature and architecture. As such, many pagodas and temples were built during this time. At the end of the 14th century, Buddhism began to show signs of decline. The ideological influence of Buddhism, however, remained very strong in social and cultural life. Presently, over 70% of the population of Vietnam is either Buddhist or strongly influenced by Buddhist practices.
Catholicism was introduced to Vietnam in the 17th century. At present the most densely-populated Catholic areas are Bui Chu-Phat Diem in the northern province of Ninh Binh and Ho Nai-Bien Hoa in Dong Nai Province to the South. About 10% of the population is considered Catholic.
Protestantism was introduced to Vietnam at about the same time as Catholicism. Protestantism, however, remains an obscure religion. At present most Protestants live in the Central Highlands. There still remains a Protestant church on Hang Da Street in Hanoi. The number of Protestants living in Vietnam is estimated at 400,000.
Islamic followers in Vietnam are primarily from the Cham ethnic minority group living in the central part of the central coast. The number of Islamic followers in Vietnam totals about 50,000.
Caodaism was first introduced to the country in 1926. Settlements of the Cao Dai followers in South Vietnam are located near the Church in Tay Ninh. The number of followers of this sect is estimated at 2 million.
Hoa Hao Sect
The Hoa Hao Sect was first introduced to Vietnam in 1939. More than 1 million Vietnamese are followers of this sect with most living in southwest Vietnam.
Researchers describe the Vietnamese mother-worship cult as a primitive religion. Mother, Me in the Vietnamese language, is pronounced mau in Sino-script. The mother worship cult might be originated from the cult of the Goddess in ancient ages. In the Middle Ages, the Mother was worshipped in temples and palaces. Due to the fact that it is a worshipping custom and not a religion, the Mother worshipping cult has not been organised as Buddhism and Catholicism have. As a result, the different affiliations of the cult have yet to be consistent and different places still have different customs. The custom of Mother capital letter originated from the north. In the south, the religion has integrated the local goddesses such as Thien Y A Na (Hue) and Linh Son (Tay Ninh). In fact, the Mother worship cult was influenced by other religions, mainly Taoism.
restricted areas and overland border crossing
The road system in Vietnam is reasonable in the main urban cities while the drives through the countryside can be a wonderful sightseeing experience. However, it must be noted that the roads are narrow and some may be poorly paved when outside the main cities so, as a consequence, the drives can be rough and difficult at times. Traffic drives on the right-hand side of the road. Drivers are very unlikely to speak any English.
The journey timings described in your itinerary are based on the usual amount of time a particular journey will take. However, please appreciate that not all roads can be checked for their condition throughout the year.
Most cars used are manufactured locally by Toyota, Honda and Ford and are for the most part comfortable and ideally suited to local roads. Smoking is not permitted in any vehicle, under any conditions. There is ample opportunity to smoke during photographic, luncheon and sightseeing stops.
Border crossing into Vietnam is possible from China, Laos and Cambodia. Regulations for crossing overland borders can change at short notice. Tourists can pass borders at the following checkpoints:
Vietnam / China
Huu Nghi (Lang Son province) / Pinxiang (Guangxi province) Lao Cai (Lao Cai province) / Hekou (Yunnan province)
Mong Cai (Quang Ninh province) / Dongxin (Guangxi province) From Laos: Vietnam side / Laos side
Tay Trang (west of Dien Bien Phu valley) / Muang Mai - Phongsaly Province Na Meo (Thanh Hoa province) / Nam Sooy - Huaphanh Province
Nam Can (Nghe An province) / Nam Khan - Xieng Khouang Province Vietnam / Laos
Cau Treo (Ha Tinh province) / Nam Pao - Bolikhamxay Province Cha Lo (Quang Binh province) / Naphao / Khammouane Province Lao Bao (Quang Tri province) / Lao Bao - Savannakhet Province Bo Y (Kon Tum province) / A Ta Pu - A Ta Pu Province
Vietnam / Cambodia
Moc Bai (Tay Ninh province) / Bavet (Svay Reang province)
Tinh Bien (An Giang province) / Phnom Den (Takeo province)
Xa Mat (Tay Ninh province) / Trapeang Plong (Kampong Cham province
Vinh Xuong - by Boat (Chau Doc province) / Kaom Samnoar (Kandal province)
When travelling by train, please be prepared for the fact that schedule changes occur frequently and sometimes without prior notification.
safety and security
Vietnam is generally a safe country, however some simple common sense precautions with possessions lessen the chances of becoming a victim to petty theft.
Carry your handbag or rucksack to the front of you and be particularly aware that handbag snatches / thefts from motorbikes occur especially in the larger cities and crowds. It is advised to keep luggage locked while travelling, whether it is stored in the hold of a car or bus, during flights or train journeys. Virtually all hotels have safe deposit boxes.
Hadicrafts & Handmade Clothes in Vietnam
Vietnam’s shopping scene is as varied as its landscape. But two places in particular are hotspots for shopaholics: experience the laid back charm of Hoi An and the cosmopolitan hustle of Hanoi through their incredible boutiques, markets and tailors.
Shopping Hints and Tips for Hoi An
Tailors: Hoi An is tailor heaven. Choose your favourite fabric and design and have a professional tailor make you the garment of your dreams. Give about two to three days for the piece to be ready.
Hoa-Nhap Handicrafts: If you’re looking for the best handicrafts in Hoi An, search no further. At 103 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street is a local handicraft shop featuring items made by local handicapped artisans with proceeds from sales going straight to them.
Tam-Tam Café & Bar: Located 110 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street, this long-running bistro is the perfect place to chill after a long day shopping.
Shopping Hints and Tips for Hanoi
Mirror Mirror: Owned by Vietnamese fashion designer Ha Truong, this shop features unique clothes that fit a variety of body types. Apricot Gallery: Lacquer paintings by Dinh Quan abound in this lovely space, in addition to works by other local artists.
Things of Substance: Come here for light clothing perfect for hot weather. This boutique specialises in Eastern-inspired cotton and linen attire.
Hanoi Moment: Beautifully displayed lacquer pieces are on show here, as well as porcelain ware.
Compared to some of its neighbours, Vietnam has less monuments and cultural sights and therefore the joy of seeing the country is discovering its people, lifestyle and cuisine. Exploring a small area on foot, cyclo or bicycle can be extremely rewarding and photogenic.
If you decide to leave the hotel and go out on your own, there are various means of transport that you may like to take such as taxis or “cyclos”. If taking a taxi or “cyclo”, insist on the meter being switched on before you begin your journey. Due to an effort to stop pollution, most “cyclos” are pedalled as opposed to motor. It is suggested that you carry the name of your destination or hotel written in local language in the event your driver does not understand English. The staff at your hotel can assist you in this regard.
The standards of tour guides in Vietnam can vary from the young dynamic and eager to embrace western ideas to the more rigid approach.
Please note that the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi is closed every Monday and Friday and for the full duration of two months in autumn, usually in October and November. Museums are closed on Mondays and partly on Fridays.
some fast facts
Vietnam, officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, covers an area of 332,000 square kilometres of mainland territory and shares common borders with China, Laos and Cambodia. With a population of more than 90 million, it is the most densely populated country in Southeast Asia and likely to grow rapidly as 75% population is under 30 years old. The vast majority of the population is Vietnamese while other ethnic groups include Chinese, Muong, Thai, Meo, Khmer and Cham.
Vietnam's topography varies from low, flat delta in the south and north to hilly, mountainous terrain in the centre, far north and northwest. Three-quarters of Vietnam is hilly or mountainous. One of the country’s main attractions is its 3,444 km of coastline bordering the East Sea.
Hanoi is the capital with a population of 6.5 million, and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) with a population of 7.5 million is the largest business centre of the country. Vietnam is a rapidly modernising country thanks to its industrious population. Vietnam, once a forbidden country for tourists, now attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors (with numbers increasing) every year. A rich culture, strong traditions and patriotic people characterise this fascinating country - Vietnam is the rumble of a million motorbikes, a patchwork of emerald-green rice paddies, throngs of women in conical hats, a long idyllic coastline and superb food!
Tipping is widely practised and expected; however it should only be given for good service. Suggested tips:
Porters - VND 10,000 - 20,000 per bag
Waiters in restaurants - 5-10% of total bill
Taxi drivers - 10% of total bill
Tour guides - VND 100,000 - 150,000 per person/per day
Drivers - VND 50,000 - 100,000 per person/per day
Doorman/Bellboy at hotels - VND 20,000 - 40,000 per person/per day Cyclo ride - VND 50,000 - 100,000 per person/per trip
Boat trip in Mekong Delta, Tam Coc, Hue - VND 50,000 - 100,000 per person/per trip Halong Cruise/Mekong Cruise - VND 50,000 - 100,000 per person/per trip
Banking and Currency
Dông (VND; symbol ₫). Notes are in denominations of ₫500,000, 200,000, 100,000, 50,000, 20,000, 10,000, 5,000, 2,000, 1,000 and 500. Coins are in denominations of ₫5,000, 2,000, 1,000 and 500.
Import and export of local currency is limited to ₫15,000,000. Import and export of foreign currency over US$7,000 should be declared at customs.
The US Dollar is the most favoured foreign currency. Australian, British, Japanese, Singaporean and Thai currency, as well as the Euro, can usually be changed in the larger cities; great difficulty may be encountered in trying to exchange any other currencies. There is a commission charge for changing money in banks.
Banking hours vary from bank to bank but are generally open from Monday-Friday 08h30-16h00; some may close for lunch. Many banks are also open on Saturday morning; all banks are closed on Sunday.
An increasing number of outlets accept MasterCard and Visa credit cards. However, outside main towns and cities, it is wise to carry cash. There are ATMs in many major towns, but not in rural areas. ATMs issue Dông, and the single withdrawal limit varies, depending on the bank, ranging from ₫2,000,000 to much larger amounts.
Travellers' cheques are accepted in banks, money changers and some hotels although most travellers now use debit cards because of the increased number of ATMs. It is best to take US Dollar travellers' cheques to avoid additional exchange rate charges and expect to pay a high commission.
Travel, Transport and Getting Around
Vietnam Airlines (VN) (www.vietnamairlines.com) operates daily flights between Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hué, Danang and Nha Trang. Jetstar Pacific (www.jetstar.com) also operate flights on these routes. Regular services are also provided by Vietnam Airlines between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to Buon Ma Thuot, Dalat, Phu Quoc, Pleiku and Qui Nhon.
The road situation has improved dramatically so flights are used for long distances and to save time. It is still easier to fly to places like Dien Bien Phu. Flights are particularly busy around the Tet holiday in January/February and it is essential to book ahead.
The road network throughout Vietnam is reasonable but the standard of the roads varies dramatically from good to appalling. Road conditions can deteriorate during the rainy season. It is possible to hire chauffeur-driven cars from travel companies. Self-drive car hire is non-existent. Seat belts are not compulsory in Vietnam. Cars drive on the right.
Taxis are plentiful and cheap. They can be flagged down on the street or arranged through your hotel or the restaurant where you are eating. Always make sure the driver has set the meter before starting the journey.
Bicycles can be hired for a day or longer from shops in the main towns and cities. Many Vietnamese people still have a bicycle as their main form of transport but now there are many more motorbikes as well as cars and lorries. Particular care must be taken when cycling in towns and on main roads outside the towns as drivers do not always observe road rules and are not cyclist-aware.
Long-distance coaches operate throughout the country, between Hanoi, Hué, Danang and Ho Chi Minh City. Tickets must be bought in person at the bus station.
There are local bus services in Ho Chi Minh City and in Hanoi. It is also possible to travel by taxi, motorbike or cyclo (cycle rickshaw; motorised version also exists). Most foreigners forego the bus, preferring to use these. Taxi drivers do not expect to be tipped, but it is welcomed. Hopping on the back of a 'moto' is the cheapest way to travel, if you have the stomach for the crazy driving. Agree the price first and make sure they have a good helmet.
Visitors may use the rail transport system independently or as part of a rail tour. Express long-distance trains are faster than local services, more reliable and more comfortable. Although a few carriages now have air conditioning, facilities are still short of international standards. The main rail route connects Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and the journey can take between 30 and 40 hours. There are also services from Hanoi to Haiphong, Dong Dang and Lao Cai. Contact Vietnam Railways (tel: (04) 3942 3949;www.vr.com.vn) for more information. Tickets should be bought at railway stations.
There are private tourist carriages attached to long-distance trains on the Hanoi to Danang (tel: (04) 3942 9919; www.livitrans.com) and Hanoi to Sapa routes (tel: (20) 387 1522; www.victoriahotels-asia.com; also served by Livitrans) where the standard is higher and there is a dining car.
Cat Ba Island, in the north, is a popular place for visitors and can be reached by hydrofoil from Haiphong. A hydrofoil also serves the beach resort, Vung Tau, with a daily service from Ho Chi Minh City. The tropical getaway island of Phu Quoc in the Gulf of Thailand can be reached by hydrofoil from Rach Gia in the Mekong Delta.
Food, Drink and Cuisine Advice
Water used for drinking, brushing teeth or making ice should have first been boiled or otherwise sterilised. However, bottled water is widely available and cheap; make sure the seal is unbroken before drinking. Unpasteurised milk should be boiled. However, pasteurised milk is widely available now. Avoid dairy products that are likely to have been made from unboiled milk. Only eat well-cooked meat and fish, preferably served hot. Vegetables should be cooked and fruit should be peeled.
Vietnamese cooking is varied and usually superb, as the profusion of Vietnamese restaurants in New York, London and Berlin contest. It is a mixture of Vietnamese, Chinese and French traditions, with a plethora of regional variations. As in all countries of the region, rice or noodles usually provide the basis of a meal. Not surprisingly, fish is plentiful. Pride is taken in the fact that the freshest of vegetables are used and the vegetables and fruit served is seasonal.
Tipping is now quite customary, especially in tourist areas, and is much appreciated in a country where salaries are still low. Upscale restaurants and hotels may add a 5-10% service charge to the bill.
Climate and Weather
Because of its geography, the climate in Vietnam varies greatly from north to south with three distinct climatic zones. Tropical monsoons occur from October to April in the centre and from May to September in the north and south. It is almost totally dry throughout the rest of the year. It can get exceptionally hot, however, all year round, but the north has a cooler time between October and April. Temperatures around the country can reach up to 40C in the height of the hot and rainy season (May to September), but the northern highlands and Hanoi can often seem chilly and damp in the winter.
There is no one ideal time to visit Vietnam as a whole but at any time of year there will be sun somewhere. The high season is from September to March but bad weather can disrupt travel in the centre of the country during this period, particularly from September to December. For the beaches in the centre of Vietnam, Danang, Hoi An and Nha Trang, it is best to go between May and August. The autumn is the best time to visit Halong Bay when there should be clear skies.
Clothing and Dress Recommendations
Loose, natural fabrics all year, but warmer clothing is required in the highlands, and in the winter in north Vietnam. Rainwear is essential during the wet season.
Electricity and Plug Standards
The standard household (hotel) electrical supply in Vietnam is 220 volt, 50 Hertz, but you may find that 110 volt, 50 Hertz outlets are still in use in some places. In Vietnam, the standard socket accepts a two round pins plug without a ground pin (Type A), but non-standard two flat blade (Type B) or two rectangular blade sockets and plugs are still in use.
Some modern hotels and office blocks have three pin round (Type D) or UK three pin square sockets (Type C).
Before traveling to Vietnam, it is wise to survey your various items that you will need and that require electricity to operate. Verify you have the proper adapters, converters, or transformers to get electricity in Vietnam.