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Population

78 million

Total area 329,560 sq km
Major cities

Ho Chi Minh city, Haiphong, Danang

Provinces 61
Ethnic Group 54 - Viet group account for 87 %
The remaining are different ethnic groups who settle down mainly in hilly and mountainous area.
Official language Vietnamese
Religions Buddhism 80 %, Catholic 8 %, Muslim 1%, Other 3%
Geography


 

Situated on the East Coast of the Indochinese Peninsular, Vietnam stretches over 2000 km from north to south. It borders China to the north, and Laos and Cambodia to the west. The country has tow low-lying fertile rice producing regions at either end - the Red River Delta in the north and the Mekong Delta n the south. Heavily forested mounted mountain ranges regions

Economy Free market orientated economy with ongoing industrialization and building programs. The country is very rich in national resources
Electricity

Mainly 220 volts , but in some areas 110 volts is also used. Sockets are usually of the two flat-pinned variety.

Getting there
Visiting Vietnam is not a spectator sport, it's an adventure! A trip to Vietnam will literally change how you look at life. Whether you come for a week or a month, you will be cheated, cajoled, and harassed, but you will also be welcomed, celebrated, and made to feel like family. You will experience intense emotions from pure joy to profound sadness. Vietnam will grab hold of your heart and won't let go.

The US State Department describes Vietnam as a poor, agrarian country. While certainly accurate, that description doesn't begin to convey the incredible pride and genuine warmth of its people, the richness of its culture, the depth of its tradition and the diversity of its landscape. These are the reasons to come to Vietnam.

From the densely-populated canals and rivers comprising the Mekong Delta to the magnificent limestone peaks rising out of Halong Bay, Vietnam offers a variety of geographies and climates to entice the visitor. There is an abundance of flaura and fauna for nature lovers and spectacular vistas for photographers.

 Wherever you go, you will be welcomed by the Vietnamese. Proud, warm and outgoing, they are eager for contact with foreigners, especially Westerners. You will be greeted with smiles, waves and shouts of "hello!" I've been given flowers by children on the beach, invited to play badminton by strangers, entertained in the homes of villagers and invited to dine with the families of Vietnamese friends.

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Visa
Visa are required by all nationalities. Regulations and costs change from time to time so it is advisable to check the current rules. Visa are refused without explanation to those the authorities consider a proscribed profession.
It is also a good idea to carry 2-4 passport sized photos with you when traveling to Vietnam, as sometimes these are requested by Immigration officials. Those who travel overland from Cambodia will be crossing at Moc Bai border gate, from Laos at Lao Bao and Cau Treo border gates, from China at Hakau, Huu Nghi and Mong Cai border gates. You must ensure your visa specifies entry  " international border gates". Further more your visa must be " multiple entry " If you want to fly out from Hanoi or Saigon after your  extension trip to Angkor Wat or Luanprabang.
      
 . More info on visas arrangement

Currency
The local currency in Vietnam is Vietnam Dong ( VND ). At the time of writing, 1 USD is around 15,720 VND. Local VND or USD are both accepted.
Banks are open Monday to Friday and some open on Saturday morning. In main cities, travelers' cheques can be exchanged at banks and some exchange bureau, but this can be very difficult in small towns.
ATMs can only be found in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city, so do not depend on any kind of bankcards ( e.g. credit cards...) as your main source of funds.
    
. Exchange rate

Transport
On entering Vietnam all visitors must complete an entry/exit card ( white/blue color ) and a customs declaration form ( white/yellow). It is important that you keep both of these forms and present them to Customs and Immigration upon arrival.
If you have booked an arrival transfer or are on one of your designed group tour, please look for our representative who will be holding a sign with your name on at Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh city airport.

Taxi: If you have not arranged for  an arrival/departure transfer, you can always take a cap which is available at the airport  and at the hotel. Whether you are arriving at Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh city it is best to take a metered taxi to the hotel. Driver may want to negotiate a price before leaving the airport, but do not agree to this. Rather you should make sure they switch the meter on and pay the amount it displays when you reach your destination. Taxi fares vary according to the type of vehicle ( i.e. a modern A.C car is more expensive than an older non A.C vehicle ). As a guideline you should expect to pay the following amounts for a taxi  from the airport to your hotel:
                        Hanoi:            $ 10-15 US
                        HCM city         $ 7-10  US
During your free time there may be occasion to use local taxis. These are inexpensive, about 11,000 VND for a 2 first km.
    
. More infos on transfer/Transport

Télé-communications
Most hotels now have IDD phones in rooms and it is possible to send faxes from hotels and post offices although be warned these services are expensive . Away from the major cities it may not always be possible to make international calls. Cyber cafes are becoming popular in the major cities in Vietnam, and many travelers now prefer to keep in touch by e-mail. Post cards can be bought at all the main tourist sites and stamps are available from post offices and some hotel reception desks.

Eléctricity
The voltage in the cities and towns is generally 220V, 50 cycles, sometimes 110V in the rural areas. Electric sockets are standard European or American. If you bring a computer to Vietnam, you must use a surge suppresser to protect your circuits. Large  voltage regulators can be bought at computer stores in Vietnam to give greater protection. It is a good idea to bring adapter plugs in case your plugs do not fit the sockets, which are sometimes two round pins, other times three pins. If you do not have the correct size plug, however, it is easy to buy one at many markets or electronics stores. Batteries are available in the major cities.

Business Hours
Offices are usually open Monday to Friday from 8:00 until 17:00 or 18:00, and some also open on Saturdays.
Most shops open 7 days a week around 9:00am until late as 20:00 or 21:00.

Food
Vietnamese food comes as a wonderful surprise and is definitely not to be missed! It has a very distinctive style, although it is also clearly influenced by Chinese and , to  a lesser extent, French cuisine.

Meals will usually include rice or noodles as staples along with a vast array of vegetables, and meats like chicken, duck, beef and pork. Dishes feature a wonderful fusion of flavors and you will find that fish sauce is a condiment accompanying almost every meal. Anther unexpected delight is the availability  of good quality seafood ( fish, calamari, prawns and crabs) which is caught along Vietnam's extensive coastline.

Freshness is of paramount importance in Vietnamese cooking, so ingredients are bought fresh from local market on a daily basis.

The fact that many Vietnamese are completely omnivorous, has lead to some very exotic dishes - such as barbecued frog legs which can be found in food stalls in many local markets ( perhaps this is how the French come to introduce frog legs into their cuisine).

On the other hand, there is also a strong Buddhist influence in Vietnam which means that vegetarian food is also widely available.

Here are just a few examples of the fantastic dishes you can expect to find in Vietnam.

PHO

Noodle soup made with either chicken or beef. It is served with a plate of fresh green leaves (e.g., basil, bok choi), beans sprouts, and red chilies to add as you please.

CHAGIO

Deep fried spring roll( in the south)
/nem ran (north)

GOI CUON

Fresh spring rolls made from raw vegetables  and grill prawns, crab, pork, or chicken wrapped in rice paper. The ingredients are usually served separately, leaving you to assemble the rolls yourself!

BANH  CUON

A steamed " ravioli" style dumpling ( although somewhat larger), stuffed with minced pork or prawns, black mushrooms and bean sprouts.

GOI NGO SEN

A delicious salad made with lotus stems, shrimps, and peanuts.

CHA CA

Cubes of fish cooked on the table in butter, you add all ingredients, veggies, noodles and corianders etc... this is authentic northern dish
BUN CA A combination of soup with meatballs and spring rolls, another typical Hanoi food

Some of the legacies left over from the French colonial period include crispy baguettes, pate, hard boiled quails eggs, crème caramel, and banana flambé.

On the subject of deserts, we should point out that they are not particularly common. However an amazing assortment of fresh tropical fruits is usually on offer, which will round off a meal perfectly.

Drinks
Tea, similar to Chinese green tea, is one of the most common drinks in Vietnam. Coffee was introduced by the French and is very good. It is thick and strong and is served complete with drip filter, so you know it is fresh! If you ask for milk it will usually be sweet condensed milk. Home brewed rice wine is often offered to guests, but  watch out - it is extremely alcoholic! Light larger style beer is more commonly available, Ba Ba Ba, Hanoi beer being the most well known local brands. Spirits, such as nep moi ( a type of Vodka) , are also produced locally but once again, be cautious as these are very strong.

Water
It is not advisable to drink tap water in Vietnam, but bottled mineral water is safe and available everywhere. Ice in drinks is generally OK in good standard hotels and restaurants but it is best to avoid it on street stalls or in country areas.

Health
Malaria:
Malaria is not a problem in big cities, but care should be taken in remote areas, especially in the rainy season when mosquitoes breed. If spending time in the countryside (below 1,200 meters al), contact a doctor about anti-malarial drugs. Try to avoid getting bitten, cover up after dark, wear insect repellent, burn mosquito coils and sleep under a net.

Diarrhea: This malady is common. If it occurs, maintain a diet of bland foods of fluids only. If severe, consult a physician.

Pharmacies: Many of the drugs sold in small pharmacies are copies of have expired. Stick to reputable.

Shopping
Vietnam offers a wide range of souvenirs and shopping in the various local markets around the country can be great fun. Good bargaining skills are essential and as high quality souvenirs or genuine antiques are difficult to find, prices should generally be low. Here are some of the items which make their way onto many people's shopping list: Clothes ( e.g. T-shirt, polo-shirt, trousers, shorts, skirts,) beaded shoes, conical hats, single-cup coffee filters, sleeping bags, CDs,  embroidered table cloths, carving in wood or marble, lacquer ware ( e.g. pictures , trays, trinket boxes), and traditional style paintings and sketches. Handicrafts produces by the people of the hill tribes in the north are also very popular. These include fabrics, jewellery, embroidered bags, and wickerwork. It is also possible to buy tailor-made cloths. These are made to order and are usually available for collection within 24 hours. Once of the best places to buy tailor made items is Hoian.

Language
As Vietnamese has six different tones, it is a difficult language for most foreigners to grasp. The same word can have six different meanings pending on the tone used to pronounce it.

Nonetheless we encourage you try to speak a few words of the local language. The locals will certainly appreciate your efforts!
Although Roman script is used for modern Vietnamese, the words and phrases below are spelled phonetically to help you with pronunciation.

VIETNAMESE LESSON

English

Vietnamese Pronunciation

Hello
Thank you
Please
Sorry
Yes
No
I
You
We
Good/Bad
Very
How much
Hotel
Restaurant
Toilet
Tea
Coffee
Ticket
Railway station
How much?
Hot
Cold
Water
Beer
Excuse me
I don't understand

Xin chao
      Cam on
 
      Lam on   
     Xin loi
      Vang
       Khong
       Toi
        Anh ( Chi)
       Chung toi
       Tot/Khong tot
   Rat
       Bao nhieu
       Khach san
      Nha hang
        Nha ve sinh
      Tra/Che
     Ca fe
    Ve
       Nha ga
       Bao nhieu
        Nong
       Lanh
      Nuoc
    Bia
Xin loi

          Toi khong biet
Seenchow
Cumon
Lam on
Seeloy
Vom
Khom
Toy
Anh/chi
Chumtoi
Tote/Khom tote
Rat
Bow nyew
Khack san
Nya hang
Nya vay sing
Cha/chay
Ka-fay
Vay
Gah
bough new?
Nom
Lang
nook
Beer 
Sin loy
toy kom beet

 

Number

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12

 

Mot
Hai
Ba
Bon
Numb
Sow
Buy
Tum
Chin
moo-ee
moo-ee mot
moo-ee hai

20
21
31
Etc..
100
200
Etc...
000
Etc.
.
.
.

 

Hai moo -ee
Hai moo-ee mot
ba mot
Etc ..
Mot traam
Hai traam
Etc ...
Mot ngan
Etc...


Public Holiday

 

New Year's Day

  1Jan
  Liberation of Saigon   30 Apri
  International Labor Day   1 May
  Birthday of Ho Chi Minh   19 May
  National Day   2 Sept

Vietnamese New Year or Tet is celebrated each year with an official 3 day holiday, but some businesses close for an entire week. The actual dates of the Tet celebrations change from year to year in accordance with sometime in January/February. 


Suggested reading
  • Rough Guide to Vietnam
  • Lonely Planet Vietnam
  • Vietnam Handbook
  • The insight Guide to Vietnam
  • Fordord Vietnam

Background reading:

  • Vietnam, a History ( Stanley Karnow ) an Historical
  • Account of the Vietnam war
  • Child of War, Woman of Peace ( Le Ly)
  • The sorrow of the War ( Bao Ninh)
  • Three Moon in Vietnam ( Maria Coffey)
  • Down highway one ( Sue Downy )
  • Great Railway Bazaar ( Paul Theroux )

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