Discover Vietnam with our different packages. Traveling through Vietnam is a truly unique experience. Along with Cambodia and Laos, this Southeast-Asian country is part of former Indochina, and has an astonishing variety of cultural, historical and natural sights to offer; from Halong Bay in the North all the way to Ho Chi Minh City in the South. Even after 40 years, Vietnam is often associated with the Vietnam War, or American War, as the Vietnamese people tend to say.
This should not be too surprising, knowing that this war lasted for almost 20 years and was responsible for the death of an estimated 2.5 million Vietnamese people and thousands of American soldiers. Hence, a visit to Vietnam is wonderful, but it can also be emotional and touching at times. Just like anywhere else, Vietnam’s main cities are busy and hectic. Luckily there are many dazzling regions to escape to from chaotic city life. You can enjoy breathtaking mountain walks and get to know the different ethnic minorities in the North, or choose one or more of the many tropical beaches along Vietnam’s 3.260-km coastline (this is excluding islands!) to relax on. Book one of Mundooz’ trips in this exceptional country and discover numerous different landscapes, delicious food and many ancient temples.
Background information Vietnam
Although Vietnamese life is mostly very easy going and carefree, there is a certain hidden layer that can be difficult to understand from an outsider’s point of view. Depending on the specific region you travel to, there is a chance random people come to ask where you are from, how old you are, how your family is and if you are married. There is not really a need for you to answer all of these questions, as they are just a way of making contact. Not just with outsiders, but also with each other, mainly to find out more about origins and rank. For Vietnamese people, this information is important, as it determines how to interact with each other. Young people need to show respect to their elders, women to men and students to teachers. Because arguments and conflicts disrupt harmony, Vietnamese people will try everything to avoid them. A tourist making a fuss loses respect and will find it difficult to get things done. Although Vietnamese people prefer their clothing to be neat and clean, they dress rather informal. Shorts are for children and laborers. You will never see a woman wearing shorts and even men prefer long trousers in most circumstances. At formal events, women wear the traditional ‘ao dai’, which is a combination of a satin pair of trousers and a long blouse. If you are visiting a pagoda or a church, you should wear pants or a long skirt and remember to remove hats and shoes.
Vietnam’s largest religions are Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism. All of these religions have been evolved and combined into one, namely Tam Giao. The people living in the mountains and around Ho Chi Minh City are mainly Christians. There is also a remarkable religion with over 2 million followers in South Vietnam, Cao Dai. This sect came into existence in 1926 and according to its founder, it offers the best from various Western and Eastern religions. The center of Cao Dai is 100 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City, in Tay Ninh.
The official language of Vietnam is Vietnamese. This is a tonal language, which means every word has a different meaning depending on the tone a word is pronounced. There are six tones and punctuation marks above the letters indicating pronunciation, clarify the pitch of a specific word. Vietnamese is written with the Latin alphabet, and there are differences in dialect, pronunciation, and accent between North, Mid and South Vietnam. On top of that, the various ethnic minorities have their own specific languages. Most young people also speak English, whereas elderly people still know how to speak a little bit of French.
The four most important public holidays in Vietnam are:
- February 3rd: holiday commemorating the founding of the Communist Party in Vietnam;
- April 30th: Liberation Day;
- May 1st: Labor Day
- September 2nd: Independence Day.
The lunar calendar determines some of the Vietnamese holidays. Every year starts with a new moon and because of this Têt, the Vietnamese New Year, is celebrated on a different day each year but always somewhere between mid- January and mid-February. Public life in Vietnam comes to a halt from one week before until one week after Têt. There is also a mid-autumn celebration in September, Têt Trung Thu, which is a celebration for kids with presents, colorful dragon dances and special meals.
Food & drinks Vietnam
Vietnamese food has a fresh taste and is easy to digest. This is due to the use of pure raw ingredients, natural herbs, a unique cooking style and the combination of many different tastes. A crucial ingredient in the Vietnamese kitchen is nuoc man or fish sauce. You are supposed to eat with chopsticks from a small bowl; you take some rice in your bowl and add a little bit of meat, fish or vegetables. It is considered rude to fill your bowl completely.
White rice or òm is the primary ingredient of every Vietnamese dish. Noodle soup or phò, vegetables, meat, fish, herbs and sauces are served in addition to òm. Spring rolls and steamed rice pancakes are popular snacks. There are also a few vegetarian options, such as bamboo soup or fried mushrooms. Vietnam has a wide variety of local beers, such as Hanoi, Halida, Huda, Saigon Beer and 333. There are many soft drinks available, but fresh lemon juice and tea are the best options when you are very thirsty. Vietnamese coffee is very strong and viscous. It is not recommended to drink tap water, but nuoc soi or bottled mineral water is almost anywhere available for purchase.
Tips & gratuities Vietnam
Waiters, bellboys, and hotel maids appreciate tips. Just like anywhere else is the amount dependent on the given service. A 10.000 or 20.000 dong note or a one- dollar note is perfect for a small service. It is common to give a donation when visiting a church, temple or pagoda.
Weather & climate Vietnam
Because Vietnam is a long-stretched country, it has three different climate zones. The North has four different seasons; it can be very hot during summer while in winter temperatures can go down to zero. The rainy season in this part of Vietnam is from June to September.
Vietnam’s center part has a subtropical climate, with many differences between specific regions; the dry season in Nha Trang is from June to October and from December to March in Dalat. The coastal area is prone to bad weather as a result
of storms at sea. The very South of Vietnam has a tropical climate. The monsoon is from May to November and brings a lot of rain to this region. The dry season, from February to May, can be very hot and humid with temperatures close to 40° Celsius.
Vietnam has a population of 92.5 million. The average life expectancy is quite high; 67 years for men and 73 years for women. More than 88% of Vietnam’s population is ethnic Vietnamese or Kinh. The one million Chinese are the most prominent ethnic minority and very present in Ho Chi Minh’s business center. These ‘hoa’ have kept most of their traditions and clothing styles. The people living in the hills and mountains in North and Mid Vietnam are called ‘moi’ or wild people. They are closely related to ethnical groups in Thailand and South China. Together these 54 groups represent Vietnam’s ethnical minorities, each with their specific clothing styles, jewelry, language, and religion.
Vietnam’s landscape stretches from Song Hong in the North to the mighty Mekong in the South. The Truong Son mountain range in the West acts as a natural border with Laos and Cambodia. These highlands are a combination of linked plateaus with altitudes of more than 1.500 meters. The highest mountain is the 3.142-meter high Fan Si Pan in the Northwest. The coastal plains are fertile and are home to numerous stunning beaches.
Practical information Vietnam
The currency in Vietnam is the dong. You can visit www.xe.com/currencyconverter for more information about the current exchange rates. Cash euros or dollars can be easily exchanged for dong in banks, hotels, and exchange offices. In cities and tourist places you can withdraw cash out of an ATM. In most cases, you can receive up to two million dong per session. It is recommended to carry a few smaller notes with you to pay the exact amount of your bill, as not all Vietnamese are willing to give you change. In more luxurious hotels, shops, and restaurants you can pay by credit card. If you present the original change receipts, you can exchange dong – for a maximum value of $ 500 – at the airport when you leave Vietnam. Don’t forget to adjust your bankcard settings to ‘world’ before leaving your home country.
You need a visa to enter Vietnam. A standard visa is valid for 30 days and allows you to enter Vietnam once. Although you can obtain a visa upon arrival at certain places and under specific circumstances, it is recommended to arrange you visa before you travel to Vietnam.
Visa on arrival
A ‘visa on arrival’ is only possible if you arrive at the airport of Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi or Danang. To obtain such a visa, you need an authorization letter. This is sort of an official invitation from a travel agency to visit Vietnam. The travel agency sends you this letter by email; you need to print this email and have it on you when arriving at one of the three above-mentioned airports. You also need to have a passport picture, at least one blank page in your passport and your passport should be valid for at least six months. Don’t forget to arrange dollars before your arrival to pay for your visa.
Visa prior to departure
Contact the Vietnamese embassy in your country of origin or the country where you are staying, to arrange a visa prior to your departure to Vietnam. If you are entering Vietnam overland, you should definitely arrange a visa before your departure. Foreigners can only enter Vietnam over land at these borders:
- From Cambodia: Moi Bai-Bavet, Tinh Bien-Phnom Den and Vinh Xuong-Kaam Samnor
- From China: Youyi Guan–Huu Nghi Quan, Lao Cai-Hekou and Mong Cai-Dongxing
- From Laos: Lao Bao-Dansavanh, Cau Treo-Nam Phao, Nam Can-Nong Haet, Cha Lo-Na Phao, Na Meo-Nam Xoi and Bo y-Attapeu.
Because of the different climate zones in Vietnam, it is advised to pack practical and compatible clothes that you can wear layer-over-layer. Warm items such as a fleece and wind jacket are definitely recommended for the colder months December, January, and February. You should also consider packing walking shoes, a torch, a water bottle, a sewing kit, laundry detergent, a universal electric plug, camera gear, toiletries, a bathing suit and an alarm clock. Remember to always show respect to the local culture when getting dressed. You can only visit Buddhist temples when decently dressed, and although shorts and short-sleeved shirts are becoming more common in big cities, they are still frowned upon anywhere else.
Opening hours Vietnam
Most banks and government institutions are opened from 8 am to 11.30 am and from 1.30 pm to 4 pm, post offices from 8 am to 8 pm and shops seven days a week from 9 am to 8 or 9 pm. Many museums are closed on Mondays.
A mobile network covers most of Vietnam. You can talk to your provider about the different options for mobile calls. If you have a sim lock-free mobile device, you can buy a prepaid sim card in one of Vietnam’s numerous phone shops. There are many internet cafés in the cities and tourist regions. Take into account that Facebook is not permitted in many places, and that internet connection can be very slow at times. Most hotels have internet and wifi; there are even some cafes and restaurants offering free wifi. You can find more information on www.wificafespots.com or via the app ‘Free Wifi Finder’.
Vietnam’s voltage is 220 volt and power cut-offs are common. Only the more luxurious hotels have earthed sockets. Vietnam uses sockets type A, C and G, so a universal travel plug is recommended.
Although Vietnam is considered a safe travel destination, you better not lose sight of your personal belongings as petty crime is on the rise. Innocent looking children are often used as pickpockets. It is recommended to make a list with relevant phone numbers (bank, embassy, insurance…) and to have a few extra passport pictures. If you are robbed, you should always go to the police for an official statement, as your insurance company will ask for such a document.
Vaccinations are not compulsory, but highly recommended. The amount and type of vaccinations depend on the type of your trip and the specific regions you are planning to visit. The best option is to talk to your doctor. Be prepared and pack a small pharmacy bag with items such as iodine, bandages, disinfectant, and medicines treating fever, constipation, insect bites, sunburn and motion sickness. You can also opt to add a pair of tick pliers, an unbreakable thermometer, oral rehydration salts against dehydration, vitamin tablets and disinfectant wipes and gel. Don’t forget anti-malaria tablets and insect repellent with deet if you are traveling to an area where malaria is common. Take your time adjusting upon arrival. Be careful while sunbathing and don’t forget to put on a hat during excursions on sunny days. Because you lose a lot of fluids in the dry heat, it is highly recommended to drink a lot of water and to put some extra salt on your food. Hot drinks are better than ice cold ones as your stomach and bowels are less burdened. Avoid drinking tap water. Vietnam’s medical knowledge is excellent, but there is a general shortage of medical technology. In case of a serious condition, it is better to fly to Thailand.
In general, it is no problem at all to take pictures of Vietnamese people. A few ethnic minorities, such as the Dao in the North, prefer not to be captured on film. Taking photos of airports, bridges, army barracks, soldiers and police officers is not allowed. If necessary, you can buy memory cards and other photographic material in larger cities.
Trips to Discover Vietnam