Vietnam General Information
Region: South East Asia
The spiritual life of most Vietnamese people is influenced by four main philosophies - Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism and Christianity. The Taoist philosophy emphasizes contemplation and the simplicity of life, and has become intrinsically part of other popular religions. The Confucianism plays an important role in shaping social beliefs, systems and lifestyles of the Vietnamese people. Over time, Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism have merged to become what is collectively known as the Triple Religion, or ‘Tam Giao’. Although most Vietnamese consider themselves as Buddhist, they are likely to follow Confucian social theories, while Taoist theories are more likely to be followed in order to understand the nature of the cosmos. There are large numbers of Roman Catholics, particularly in the south. Also in the south, we find the mystical Caodai religion, which has two million followers. Founded by a Vietnamese national at the end of the 19th century, it incorporates elements of Taoism, Confucianism and Catholicism.
Vietnamese is the main local language. Chinese, French, Russian and particularly English are also sometimes spoken. French, a legacy of colonial times, is used less and less these days. Like Thai, Lao and most other Asian languages, the Vietnamese language is tonal.
Area (sq. km):
329,560 square meters
GMT +7 hours.
When To Travel
Vietnam occupies a thin strip of land along the coast and covers a wide latitudinal range. Consequently, Vietnam's climate can vary from the North to the South. In addition, Vietnam extends from sea level to over 3000 metres and temperatures can also vary significantly according to altitude. Southern Vietnam experiences a sub-equatorial climate with two main seasons; a wet season and a dry season. The wet season lasts from May through to November, while the dry extends from December to April. February, March and April are typically hot and humid. Coastal central Vietnam is characterised by coastal lowlands and, unlike the southern and northern areas of Vietnam, they do not experience significant amounts of rainfall between April and October. Most rain falls on the central coastal lowlands between December and February. Dalat in the Central Highlands experiences cooler temperatures than the coastal strip and, from November to March, daily highs tend to range from the mid to low 20s, while evening temperatures can drop significantly lower and warmer clothing is required. Northern Vietnam experiences a cool to cold winter (November - March) with overnight temperatures sometimes dropping to as low as 10 degrees Celsius. February and March are characterised by constant drizzle. The rains fall from May to October and it is typically warm at this time of the year. Travellers to Vietnam should take appropriate wet-weather gear regardless of the time visited as heavy showers are unpredictable Overall, there is no bad time to visit Vietnam as good weather can always be found in at least one region.
Vietnam’s climate tends to vary from the north to south and also varies according to altitude. Southern Vietnam experiences only two seasons, wet and dry. The wet season lasts from May through to November while the dry extends from December through to April. February, March and April are typically hot and humid. Coastal central Vietnam is characterised by coastal lowlands and unlike the other regions of Vietnam, the most significant amounts of rainfall are experienced between the months of December and February. Dalat in the central highlands experiences cooler temperatures due to its altitude. From November to March daily highs range from the low to mid twenties, (Celsius) while evening temperatures drop significantly lower. Northern Vietnam experiences cool to cold temperatures from November through to March while hot conditions predominate from May through to October. February and March are typically characterised by constant drizzle. As with Thailand, there is no ’best’ time to travel as good weather conditions can be experienced in a certain part of the country all year round.
Useful Travel Facts
Saigon’s (Ho Chi Minh City) Tan Son Nhat International Airport is just 7 kilometres out of town. If you are finding your own way into town, a metered taxi will cost around US$7 (VND120000). Please insist with the taxi driver that they turn their meter on. Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport is located 35 kilometres from town. If you are finding your own way into town, metered taxis generally cost around US$12 (VND260,000) and the journey takes about 45 minutes.
The international dialling code for Vietnam is +84. Telephone calls, especially international calls, made from hotels, often attract significant service charges, even when the number dialled is not available. Where possible, endeavour to make calls from local telephone offices, which are usually situated in or near the post offices. It is always advisable to confirm the rates you will be paying before you make your call. Should any extra assistance be required when you are on tour, please contact our local offices first. If you have a mobile phone it should be a relatively simple procedure to arrange ‘global roaming’ with your service provider; however, charges are generally very high so be sure to check this option thoroughly. You should also check with your service provider to see if your mobile phone is compatible with the networks used in Vietnam.
The electricity supply in Vietnam is rated at 110/220 volts, and appliances requiring 240 volts will work normally.If you bring electrical appliances you should also bring an international adaptor. Plug design varies, depending where you are; however, two flat pins (USA style) or three-pronged angled pins (Australian style) are fairly common.A torch (or flashlight) is useful when travelling in more remote areas. Note that whilst trekking, and in more remote areas, electricity will not be available. Here, the best option is small, battery-operated appliances.
With over 500 local dishes and a very heavy French colonial influence, you will find Vietnam a gourmet's delight. Not only is the food less spicy than Thailand, making it a little easier on a Western palate, it is also incredibly good value. Vegetarians are not forgotten here. Because the local version of Buddhism dictates that monks should be vegetarians, the local cuisine has developed accordingly. Seafood is available throughout the country and is very good value. Bottled water is available throughout Vietnam and it is important that you drink this and not tap water.
The roads in Vietnams cities and towns are crazy. Most road users will be on motorbikes, bikes, cyclos and cars. The biggest tip we can give is when trying to cross the road in Saigon, don’t wait for the traffic to stop, just walk over the road slowly and a path will clear for you and the drivers will drive around you, this is very scary at first, but it will eventually get you to the other side. On our tours we use local buses, motorbikes, boat, train and cyclos.If travelling on a motorbike or cyclo, please make sure that you negotiate the price before starting your journey.
Vietnam has some great bargains for the discerning shopper. Lacquer ware is probably the most notable purchase, but do not miss other ‘goodies’ like silver, jade, porcelain, local handicrafts and Vietnamese silk. Most shops work on the barter system and will generally accept US dollars too! There are a couple of government-run shops in Hanoi and Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) where prices are fixed. There is also a lot of ivory available, BUT please do not purchase these items. Not only does it promote further killing of endangered species, but also you will not be allowed to bring them into many countries such as UK, USA and Australia.
Visas are the responsibility of the individual traveller. The visa requirements for your trip vary depending on where you are from and where you are going. As a general rule most countries expect that you will have at least 6 months' validity on your passport. On arrival visitors may be asked to present return tickets and evidence of means to cover your intended stay.
We keep the following information up to date as much as possible, but rules do change - it's important that you check for yourself. Residents from other countries must consult the relevant embassies or your travel agent.
Australia: Yes - in advance
Belgium: Yes - in advance
Canada: Yes - in advance
Germany Yes - in advance
Ireland: Yes - in advance
Netherlands: Yes - in advance
New Zealand: Yes - in advance
South Africa: Yes - in advance
Switzerland: Yes - in advance
United Kingdom: Yes - in advance
USA: Yes - in advance
When obtaining your visa you should allow 3 weeks for processing, the cost is approximately US$60 to US$100. Check with your embassy or consulate for further details. Some nationalities are exempt from requiring a visa if their stay is less than 15 days, but if you are planning on staying in Vietnam for longer than 15 days you will need to obtain a visa extension in advance.
Keep the customs and immigration form you receive on arrival, as you need it to complete exit formalities on departure.
If your visa application asks for a point of contact, please write: Intrepid Vietnam 57A Nguyen Khac Hieu St, Hanoi, Vietnam Ph +84 4 3715 0996.
Most nationalities do not require a letter of invitation for Vietnam but if you do need one, please contact your sales agent for more information.
Useful Words & Phrases
100: mot tram
1000: mot ngan
20: hai muoi
coffee: ca phe
drinking water: nuoc suoi
excuse me (used before questions): xin loi
goodbye: tam biet
hello: xin chao
how are you?: co khoe khong?
how much?: cai nay gia bao nhieu?
tea: che (north), tra (south)
thank you: cam on ('cahm urn')
toilet: nha tam
where is_____?: o dau co_____?
yes: vang (north), da (south)
There are a number of books which make interesting reading and provide insight in the history, politics and culture of the country. Suggestions are: The Quiet American- Graham Greene The Sacred Willow-Duong Van Mai Elliot Paradise of the Blind-Duong Thu Huong Vietnam: Yesterday & Today -Ellen Hammer One Crowded Hour- Tim Bowden Catfish and Mandala-Andrew X Pham Hitchhiking Vietnam-Karin Muller Vietnam- Lonely Planet A Bright Shining Lie-Neil Sheehan (on the Vietnam-American War)