Vietnam Travel Guide
Vietnam is a diverse country. It covers 16 degrees of latitude from north to south, has an extensive coastline yet offers lush forest and stunning hill scenery elsewhere. It is a place where history and culture mixes with natural wonders, great cuisine and naturally friendly people. It is not surprising that the number of tourists visiting this wonderful country is growing. They will leave with great memories, often determined to return to see more and certainly carrying positive memories that will only encourage family and friends to tread the same path in the future.
When Is the Best Time to Visit?
The many treasures that make Vietnam travel such an experience are there all year round. It is difficult to be definite about the best time to visit because there are regional variations between north and south, coast and highland. Having said that there is a defined high season which avoids the monsoons; that is between October and April when rainfall is likely to be at its lightest and temperatures moderate somewhat.
North. There are four distinct seasons while in the following months tourists can expect
• January to April, the period when many festive and spiritual events take place.
• May to September, when the sea and the highlands are particularly attractive.
• October to December, ideal for those interested in nature and exploration
South. In contrast there are broadly two seasons, dry and rainy with temperatures in the upper 20s.
• The rainy season is mid-May to October
• The dry season is November round to mid-May with temperatures rising from moderate up to hot during the period.
Visitors entering or leaving Vietnam should be aware of customs’ regulations in specific cases. Those who are:
• Carrying more than the specified duty free allowances
• Receiving luggage not accompanying them as they travel
• Carrying addictive medication
• Carrying in excess of 300 grs. of gold
• Carrying more than US $7,000 or equivalent
must declare this to customs.
There are several things that are prohibited including any firearms and weaponry, animals, chemicals and damaging publications. If you are in any doubt either don’t bring them on your Vietnam travel holiday or declare them on entry and be prepared to lose them.
You are allowed to bring a specific amount of alcohol and cigarettes for personal use and of course personal belongings that you will use during your Vietnam travels.
In common with many countries Vietnam permits tourists leaving Vietnam to reclaim VAT on specified items that they have bought during their Vietnam holiday. It is essential to have appropriate invoices and to fill in the necessary forms to present for refund at the counters on departure.
Vietnamese is the local language but you can expect good tour guides to speak English, French, Chinese, Japanese and Russian. If you are on an organized tour the guides accompanying that tour will reflect the nationalities of the tourists involved. Directional signs are likely to be in both Vietnamese and English which is now far more common that the language of the colonial masters, French which is no longer widely taught in any schools though some of the better educated locals may still speak it.
The Dong (VND) is the national currency and comes in note denominations from 500 right up to 500,000. Travelers’ cheques are readily available with a value of 500,000 and 1,000,000. There are currency exchanges with the rate often better when you change high denomination notes.
Credit card use is common in tourist areas though there is likely to be a surcharge. ATMs are becoming more common in the larger cities and tourist areas though there will be daily limits as well as commission for use which is often displayed on the screen before you complete the transaction so you can decide whether or not to proceed.
The Dong can be changed back on departure after your Vietnam travel experience so there is no problem changing foreign into local currency which is much preferred outside tourist areas, and certainly better if you want to haggle over a price.
Visitors can expect to get approximately 22,000 VND to US$1.
It is nothing new in many parts of the world to find that prices go up for tourists and it can apply in Vietnam for a range of goods and services. That can include accommodation and some transport as well as everyday things such as groceries, drinks and clothing. There are restaurants with two menus, one local and one tourist.
It is something that can happen to anyone seen as richer than the seller; Southern Vietnamese can find things more expensive in the North than the locals if the perception is that they have money. It is something that is happening less and less with time.
It is worth agreeing a price and the currency before getting into a taxi for example then there should be no problem at the end of the journey. It is worth remembering that Vietnam is still relatively cheap for visitors so nothing should hit a tourist’s pocket too hard.
People expect you to bargain so it is worth perfecting your skills; if you can’t then you will have to pay their price rather than yours in the end.
Standard business and government agency hours are an eight hour day, 0800 to 1700 with an hour for lunch, closed at weekends.
Banks open at either 0730 or 0800 until 1630. Some open on Saturday mornings from 0800 to 1130.
Shop hours vary, generally 0800 or 0830 until 2100 or 2200.
April 30th: Saigon Liberation Day.
May 1st: International Labor Day.
September 2nd: National Day of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
The Lunar New Year Festival (Tet Nguyen Dan) lasts 4 days and falls between the end of January and mid-February by the solar calendar. In 2017 the year of the Rooster will begin on 28th January.
The 10th day of the third lunar month is a one day holiday; it is known as Hung Kings’ Festival and commemorates the early kings of Vietnam.
Those planning Vietnam tours should check visa requirements before setting out. Some nationalities do not require a visa if they do not intend to stay beyond a specified period though in each case that period is fairly short term and never exceeding more than 30 days.
Most people are advised to arrange their visa while outside the country and indeed it is the only way to get access to Vietnam for those crossing the border overland. Visas can be obtained on arrival for those coming by air, single or multiple entry for terms between 30 days and 6 months at differing cost.
Dos and Don’ts
Respect is a key word that everyone on a Vietnam holiday should remember. It works both ways and the Vietnamese are naturally friendly and hospitable. They do expect that visitors to their lovely country treat it and them with respect.
Some definite dos are respecting their religion and its buildings including taking off shoes before entering a temple. Visitors should dress modestly if they intend to visit temples. If you want to take photographs of people it is surely polite to ask their permission?
If you are handing something over or receiving something do it with both hands.
You will have plenty of free time even if you are on a tour; you should have a map and your accommodation’s business card with you if you are on your own and leave any valuables you do not need with you in a safety deposit box at your hotel.
In public you should act respectfully and certainly not point with finger or foot. In addition it is regarded as rude to touch someone’s head.
Vietnam is rightly regarded as a relatively safe place by any standards. That does not mean you should not use common sense wherever you go. In cities particularly there is no guarantee that there are no petty criminals around.
As a safeguard you should have a photocopy of all your important documents in a safe place such as a hotel safety deposit box.
Taxis are the safest way to travel at night because it will be obvious if you are unfamiliar in a neighborhood. Taxis run on meters and are inexpensive. If you carry a card of your hotel you will not need to rely on the taxi driver speaking your language.
In every major city of the world there is a very small minority that wants to take advantage of any opportunity for easy money. It applies here in Vietnam though in rural areas any likelihood of crime is minimal.
• Street robbery. Thieves and pickpockets can be found in crowded parts of cities and popular tourist destinations. They may be on foot or even motor bikes. Just ensure you are tightly hold on any bag, camera or mobile phone and your wallet is secure.
• General theft. Beaches are a common place for theft and you should avoid leaving any belongings unguarded. If you do not need particular valuables with you then leave them locked away in your hotel.
• Take care if you are on a bike. Some people may try to crash into you intentionally and demand money after they have done so.
You should be aware that corruption is likely to be more common that you would find at home. Locals will say that it is endemic amongst the police force so it is worth being on your guard. It is unlikely that you will need to drive yourself if you are on organized Vietnam tours because traffic offenses are where it is possible to encounter problems.
On a more practical level you will soon see that the traffic is hectic in the large cities so keep your eyes open and take care. You need to be positive when crossing the road but that does not mean foolhardy; you must be visible to everyone and not cross if something is likely to be coming around the corner with little time to see you. Common sense suggests you cross with locals that are between you and the oncoming traffic.
Inevitably there is more crime at night time and you should be aware of the potential problems of an argument ion a night club especially if you have consumed a good deal of alcohol. Certainly don’t walk back to your hotel late at night; you probably would not do that even at home in familiar surroundings.
One of the major benefits of taking organized Vietnam tours with a reputable company is that you will have local drivers and guides, and the reputation of that company on your side. That will protect you from some of the scams that overseas visitors to Vietnam suffer. There are scams that involve taking advantage of strangers who appear to be vulnerable and some disreputable companies may be involved; if their vehicle breaks down then the cost of temporary accommodation while the vehicle is repaired can be very high; the vehicle may be perfectly alright anyway.
Transport and accommodation are the two main areas for scams. Again independent travelers are the only ones that are vulnerable when they are asked for more money on checking out. There are a series of common excuses that are used for such demands and often tourists feel vulnerable and pay up.
Some unscrupulous taxi drivers may ‘’rig’’ their meters so on the occasions when you have free time during your Vietnam travel, see if you can get the telephone number of a recommended taxi company just in case you might need one. This is really most likely to be a problem in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City.
Vietnam tours are a real experience. This is an exotic destination, a mixture of history and culture with great beaches, fabulous cuisine and welcoming locals. You need to use your common sense because inevitably you will not be familiar with your surroundings, even if you have been to Vietnam before. If you are planning your first Vietnam travel you are in for a real treat and may well return time and again.