Vietnam, formerly only famous for its war has thankfully left behind its gritty and grisly past and is becoming a rapidly developing country. Post-war Vietnam is a highly cultured and incredibly accessible country especially suited to inexperienced backpackers who are just starting to venture into south-east Asia. With ample amenities to serve the ever expanding tourist trade as well as stunning vistas of soaring mountains, fertile rice paddies and dense forests there is a side of Vietnam to suit every traveller. Like most of the south-east Asia Vietnam may be a little pricey to get but once you are there it is incredibly cheap and you will be able to get by on a budget as low as £15 a day.
- Currency: New Dong (D) = 100 hao
- Time Zone: GMT + 7
- Language: Vietnamese
- Telephone Services: Country code +84, International calls must be made through the operator
- Emergency Numbers: 13 Police, 14 Fire, 15 Ambulance
Due to its length and the lie of the land the climate in Vietnam can vary quite considerably from north to south. In general it is hot and dry most of the year except for the monsoon season which experiences heavy rainfall between May and October. Lightweight and washable cotton garments are suitable for most of the country troughout the year supplemented by rainwear during the monsoon season.
Things to see and do
Hanoi has made a name for itself due to the popular Towers of Hanoi puzzle. The legend goes that monks of the most sacred temple in Hanoi must move a stack of 64 increasing sized sacred discs from on alter to a next, the only problem is there are only a total of 3 places sacred enough to set the discs down and the weight means they can only be carried one at a time. Furthermore a disc may not be rested on a smaller disc for fear of damaging it. It is prophesised that if the monks ever place the last disc the temple will crumble to dust and the world will end, don't worry however as even if the monks move a disk every second it would take them 36 billion years to complete their sacred duty. As well as this somewhat colourful legend Hanoi as plenty to offer tourists with plenty of public parks, bustling markets, busy nightlife and of course the ubiquitous ancient monuments and temples. Of particular interest are the One Pillar Pagoda and the Van Mieu temple of literature.
Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon is the nation's largest city. It is a centre of business, economics and culture and is definitely one of the best cities to visit in the country. Must see attractions include the foreboding Notre Dame Cathedral (not to be confused with the one in France!!!), the Reunification Palace and the War Remnants Museum. Of particular importance is the Giac Lam Pagoda, set in Dam Sen tourist park. This temple was a religious centre during the 19th century and now boasts a mini-museum of religious and cultural artefacts. While in the city make sure you pay a visit to the Ben Thanh market where you will be able to hone your haggling skills and pick up some souvenirs.
The city of Dalat is becoming a more popular destination, especially with honey-mooners due to its relaxed, peaceful and tranquil setting. It is often quoted as being the most beautiful city in Vietnam and is an excellent base for exploring the largely unspoilt highland areas. Within the city itself you will find the magnificent Bao Dai's Summer Palace, this impressive structure also houses displays of interesting Vietnemese art and artefacts. Some visitors choose to visit some of the more off-kilter attractions such as the carnavalistic Valley of Love or the Chicken Village. Dalat is also renowned for its excellent café culture which should definitely be sampled before leaving the area.
Between the major cities air travel becomes viable due to the general slow nature of other transport means. Vietnam Airlines serves airports in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hue, Da Nang, Nha Trang, Na San, Vinh, Qui Nhon, Dalat, Buon Ma Thuot, Pleiku and Phu Quoc. As a rather expensive novelty The Northern Airport Flight Service Company offers helicopter trips from Halong Bay to Hanoi.
Vietnam Railways operates the rail network in the country which connects the main cities. Journey times can be slow and the standards are not yet up to international class although a few of the major routes now offer some air conditioned carriages. Rail travel for long distance trips is somewhat expensive being comparable to the domestic air fare. Groups of more than 6 people travelling together qualify for a group discount so rail travel might become more attractive for large groups.
The road network in Vietnam is quite good, although bus services are frequent and cheap they are normally incredibly crowded and of a generally poor standard. Like much of south-east Asia buses are mostly run by private individuals and little central information for buses exists. Rail or air where available is a better option.
With the recent development of the Vietnamese tourist industry there are now all kinds of hotels in all of the major cities. Available facilities range from tiny guest houses to luxury 5-star hotels. Vietnam Tourism maintains a lit of available accommodation and also has further information regarding booking enquiries.
There are hospitals in every major town as well as provincial health-centres but the standard of emergency healthcare is quite basic and doctors will require cash payments before treatment. This coupled with the fact that airborne evacuation may be required means that you should have a fully comprehensive travel insurance policy before embarking for Vietnam.
There is a risk of Cholera in Vietnam and you should consult your GP for up to date information, particularly on if a vaccination is required. Vaccinations for polio and typhoid are recommended and can be obtained from your GP for around £40. Malaria is present all year round outside the capital including strains resistant to chloroquine, you should consult your GP for the most appropriate anti-malaria treatment to carry with you.
Water is not safe to drink and water used for washing or consumption should have been boiled or sterilised first. Where possible it is best to stick to bottled water. Dairy products are un-pasteurised and should be avoided in all parts of Vietnam. Vegetables should be peeled and washed before consumption and meat should be thoroughly cooked and eaten hot.
Vietnam Tourism offers general travel advice including listings of accommodation.
Vietnam Railways operates the rail network in the country which connects the main cities.
Vietnam Airlines is the domestic airline in the country.
Amazon.co.uk stock a selection of guidebooks on Vietnam including the much recommended Rough Guide to Vietnam