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Vietnam Travel Guide

Shaped like an elongated 'S', Vietnam stretches along the east coast of the Indochinese Peninsula. A local metaphor likens it to a long bamboo pole hung with two baskets of rice, represented by the two fertile regions at either end of the country. The lush Red River Delta and the highlands in the north, known for their magnificent scenery and colourful hill tribes, complement the agricultural plains and floating markets of the Mekong Delta in the south perfectly.

The impact of Japanese and Chinese trade, French occupation and American intervention has had on obvious influence on Vietnam. These influences are readily apparent in the vivid legacy from different cultures evident in the character of its towns, as well as in the architecture and food. The quaint town of Hoi An, once a major trading port, boasts the perfectly preserved architectural influences of the Asian merchants from the north, while the broad leafy boulevards of the capital Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are reminiscent of France.

Vietnam is known for its cuisine and offers an abundance of flavorful options for travellers to choose from. Hue is the old imperial capital of Vietnam with its royal palaces and palatial mausoleums, and nearby the battle sites of the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) are reminders of the brutality of war.

Despite rapid economic expansion over recent years, Vietnam's cultural roots remain strong. Visitors will find ancient temples and colourful pagodas scattered throughout urban centres, interspersed with luxurious hotels and sleek skyscrapers. A country with a complex history, boundless natural beauty and facinating cultural influences, Vietnam provides a wealth of different activities and unique experiences.

Best time to visit Vietnam

There is no clear-cut best time to visit Vietnam. However, spring (February to April) and autumn (August to October) offer temperate weather and are the driest times of year. Travellers may want to avoid Monsoon season: roughly May to September in the southwest and October to April in the Northeast. Nonetheless, most people travel over the December to January period. Travellers should remember that the regions have such varied weather patterns that it ultimately depends on where they intend to visit.

What to see in Vietnam

-See the revered Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.

-Explore the Cu Chi tunnels of the Viet Cong.

-Search for the mythical dragon of Halong Bay.

-Tour Hanoi's renowned Old Quarter.

What to do in Vietnam

-Ride a boat along the Perfume River and visit the Royal Tombs.

-Indulge in the big city nightlife of Pham Ngu Lau.

-Explore Sa Pa and Bac Ha near Hanoi.

-Enjoy the culinary delights of Hue.

Getting to Vietnam

Getting to Vietnam is easy and there are dozens of flights throughout the month. There are many cheap direct flights to Vietnam from the UK and indirect flights cost even less. There are some direct flights to Vietnam from the US, but many indirect flights to Vietnam from major airports in the US are cheaper. Nearly all flights to Vietnam arrive at either at Tan Son Nhat International Airport at Ho Chi Minh City or at Noi Bai International Airport near Hanoi.


Rising Dragon by Bill Hayton, Paradise of the Blind by Duong Thu Huong and Life in Hanoi by Pam Scott.


Pham Duy, Khan Ly and Le Thu.


Yellow Flowers on the Green Grass (2015), The Quiet American (1958), Living in Fear (2005), Pearls of the Far East (2011) and Owl and the Sparrow (2007).


Dua Tuoi (fresh coconut drink), Nuoc Sam (herbal tea), Ca Phe Sua Da (coffee with condensed milk) and Ruou Nep Cam (Sticky rice wine).


Pho (one of many fantastic Vietnamese soups), Banh Xeo ('sizzling pancake') and Bun Tom Nuong Xa (shrimp and vegetables).

What to buy

Vietnamese silk and Ao Dai (national dress), snake wine, local handicrafts and arts, jewellery and cheap electronics.

What to pack

Sandals are a must. Travellers should bring padlocks for their bags and should carry or leave valuables anywhere without locking them up. Moisture-wicking clothing is best and modest clothing is essential for visiting pogodas and temples. Basic medical supplies are always useful.

What's on in Vietnam

The O Loan Lagoon festival at the Black Dragon Lagoon is famous for its colourful setting and lively competitions- including boat racing, dancing, wrestling and much more. The Tet Festival is another major event and ushers in the Chinese New Year in magnificent style.

Did you know?

-The Vietnamese use traditional gongs instead of school bells in schools.

-One third of the world's cashew nuts come from Vietnam.

-The Vietnamese keep potbelly pigs as pets.

-Although a developing nation, Vietnam has a literacy rate of 94 percent.

A final word

Vietnam offers the perfect blend of energetic city life and rural tranquillity. It is one of the most inexpensive holiday destinations, and its tourist culture provides a kaleidoscopic view of this compelling nation.


The official language in Vietnam is Vietnamese, but Chinese, English and French are also spoken. Some tour guides may speak Russian and Japanese; numerous ethnic languages are also prevalent in particular areas.


The official currency is the Vietnamese dong (VND), and currency can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de change and larger hotels. Visa and MasterCard are becoming more widely acceptable, particularly in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and all major tourist centres; travellers who plan to take money out of Vietnam can leave with amounts of less than 15 million dong or USD 5000 (or equivalent in other foreign currencies) without having to declare to customs.


Electrical current in Vietnam is 220 volts, 50Hz. Plugs are either the two flat-pin or the two round-pin type. Three-blade plugs can be found in some of the newer hotels.


Most restaurants and hotels in Vietnam now add a five to ten percent service charge to their bills, though porters in top hotels will expect a small tip. Hired drivers and guides are usually tipped, and it is customary to round up the bill for taxi drivers in the cities.


Vietnam is a relatively safe travel destination and violent crime is uncommon. However, petty crime occurs in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and other large cities and tourist hot spots, so visitors should be wary with their belongings when in crowds and on public transport. Travellers are advised to leave valuables in their hotel safe and avoid obvious displays of wealth. During the monsoon season (usually between June and October) the country is prone to serious flooding and typhoons (until December), particularly in the Mekong Delta and Central Region.


The international country code for Vietnam is +84. The outgoing code is 00, followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 001 for the United States or Canada). WiFi availability is widespread, expecially in the cities; travellers can purchase local SIM cards for unlocked phones.


Health risks in Vietnam include Hepatitis A and B, typhoid, Japanese encephalitis, bilharzia and diarrhoea. Malaria prophylaxis is recommended for travel outside the main cities and towns, the Red River delta and north of Nha Trang; reported cases of dengue fever have increased in recent years, so visitors should take care to protect themselves from mosquito bites, particularly in the southern Mekong Delta region.

Travellers should seek medical advice about vaccinations at least three weeks before leaving for Vietnam, and everyone 12 years of age and older should get fully vaccinated for COVID-19 before visiting. Most visitors prefer to drink bottled water, even though the local tap water is drinkable.

Decent health care is available in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), where there are English-speaking doctors, but more complicated treatment may require medical evacuation. Pharmacies throughout the country are adequate, but travellers should check expiry dates of medicines carefully and be aware that some medicines are counterfeit. Health insurance is essential.

Public Holidays

New Year's Day1 Jan1 Jan
Têt (Lunar New Year)24 Jan12 Feb
Reunification Day30 Apr30 Apr
Labour Day1 May1 May
National Day2 Sep2 Sep
King's Commemoration Day2 Apr21 Apr


Pride and tact are important to bear in mind, as practices tend to be more formalised than in Western countries. Often it is best to be introduced rather than approach the person with whom business is intended to avoid creating suspicion. Negotiations and settlements may take longer as the Vietnamese like to examine contracts thoroughly. Formal clothing is common but the dress tends to be more casual in summer months. It is important to be on time for business appointments, as the Vietnamese consider lateness rude.

Business people are always addressed as Mr., Mrs., and Ms., followed by their personal name (not family name), unless otherwise referred; it is worth finding out in advance. Shaking hands with both hands is the most respectful greeting, though bowing is still popular among the older population, and meetings always begin with the exchange of business cards, which should be given and received with both hands; each person expects to receive one, so it's best to bring a vast supply. Business hours are typically 8am to 5pm Monday to Friday with an hour taken at lunch, and 8am to 11.30am on Saturdays.

Passport & Visa

All visitors must have sufficient funds for the duration of their stay, onward or return tickets, and all documents needed for next destination. It is highly recommended that travellers' passports have at least six months' validity remaining after the intended date of departure from their travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.


Travellers should try to dress modestly when away from the beaches (shoulders covered and shorts below the knee) and avoid excessive public displays of affection. Shoes must be removed on entering religious sites and a donation is expected when visiting a temple or pagoda. Photography is restricted at ports, harbours and airports, and it is polite to ask permission before taking photographs of people, especially of ethnic minorities. Visitors should never leave chopsticks sticking upright in a bowl of rice, as it has strong connotations of death. Travellers should use a hand as opposed to pointing with a finger.

Duty Free

Travellers to Vietnam over 18 years do not have to pay duty on the following items: 200 cigarettes, 20 cigars, 250g tobacco; 1.5 litres alcohol with alcohol content higher than 22 percent and 2 litres below 22 percent; up to 5kg tea and 3kg coffee; perfume and items for personal consumption within reasonable amounts; other goods to the value of 10 million Vietnamese dong.


113 (Police); 115 (Ambulance); 114 (Fire)

Entry Requirements

Visas are required. US passport holders must have a passport valid for a minimum of 30 days beyond the expirty of the visa.

Visas are required. Passports must be valid for a minimum of 30 days beyond the expirty of the visa. Visas are not required for stays of up to 30 days for UK nationals arriving at Phu Quoc (PQC).

Visas are required. Passports must be valid for a minimum of 30 days beyond the expirty of the visa.

Visas are required. South African passports must be valid for a minimum of 30 days beyond the expirty of the visa.

Visas are required. Irish passports must be valid for a minimum of 30 days beyond the expirty of the visa.

Visas are required. New Zealand passports must be valid for a minimum of 30 days beyond the expirty of the visa.

Embassy Consulates

United States Embassy, Hanoi: +84 24 3850 5000.

British Embassy, Hanoi: +84 24 3936 0500.

Canadian Embassy, Hanoi: +84 24 3734 5000.

South African Embassy, Hanoi: +84 24 3936 2000.

Irish Embassy, Hanoi: +84 24 3974 3291.

New Zealand Embassy, Hanoi: +84 24 3824 1481.

Embassy Consulates

Embassy of Vietnam, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 861 0737.

Embassy of Vietnam, London, United Kingdom (also responsible for Ireland): +44 20 7937 1912.

Embassy of Vietnam, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 236 0772.

Embassy of Vietnam, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 362 8119.

Embassy of Vietnam, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 4 473 5912.


A trip to Vietnam is often centred around a journey between the capital Hanoi in the north, and Saigon (as Ho Chi Minh is still called locally) in the south, taking in the many highlights between the two. Vietnam's largest city and commercial capital, Saigon is a fascinating blend of old and new, where gleaming skyscrapers sit alongside ancient temples, and street vendors tout for business outside gleaming shopping malls. In the south of Vietnam, visitors should take a cruise through the lush Mekong Delta to see the famous floating markets, tour the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels or relax on coast near the tropical beach resort of Mui Ne.

Further up the coast travellers will find the delightful city of Hoi An, with its well-preserved old town. A couple of hours further on, they can explore the once magnificent Imperial City of Hue, which was the national capital and home to the Nguyen Dynasty from 1802-1945, and is now a culinary capital. Hanoi is the modern-day capital, and has been an important city for a thousand years; the influences from the French and Chinese rulers is ever present in the architecture. Travellers can wander through the elaborate narrow streets of the Old Quarter, avoiding the many scooters, to find fashionable bars, restaurants and art galleries, alongside food vendors, street markets and Buddhist temples. The French Quarter by contrast has wide boulevards lined with imposing houses. A winding train ride up the mountains in Sapa lets visitors overlook it all. On the coast, visitors can find remote beaches, or take a boat cruise through the hundreds of towering islands in Halong Bay. The trip to nearby Ninh Binh offers tourists the chance to experience some of Vietnam's most beautiful rural scenery, with narrow rivers snaking past limestone cliffs and farmers tending their fields with water buffaloes.


The climate in Vietnam varies greatly from north to south. The north has a cool and dry season from November to April and a hot rainy season from May to October. The central coast north of Nha Trang has a similar climate with the winter monsoon bringing cool, wet weather between December and February. The south is hot and humid all year round, especially from February to May. The rainy season lasts from May to November. The central highlands have a similar climate to the south, but it is cooler and temperatures can be freezing in winter. The official peak season in Vietnam is from September to April.

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