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Introduction to Vietnam

Vietnam Flag

What are the things come to your mind when you think of this beautiful Asian Nation?

  • Conical hats emerging from lizard green rice paddies?
  • Black Grainy and white colonial-era photographs of slender. Women in flowing white Ao Dai dresses?
  • Shinning exotic white-sand beaches fringed with coconut palms which never fails to trigger the romantic mood?
  • Luxurious Asian style resorts and golf courses?

Vietnam is all these things and more, a country with a past as rich as the Soil in the blazing green deltas. It is a beautiful country, a long, hourglass of land, stretching over 900 miles up the eastern coast of the Indochinese Peninsula. Vietnamese people describe their country as a bamboo shoulder pole slung with two baskets of rice - the fertile southern Mekong Delta and the northern Red River Delta. From these lowland paddy Fields stretch vast rubber plantations, rolling hills covered with thick jungle, and jagged mountains rising more than 10,000 feet in height. Vietnam is an incredibly exotic Asian jewel, with over 1900 miles of coastline features the endless stretches of empty, serene white sand beaches of Phan Thiet, Nha Trang, Phu Quoc and others. And Vietnam can accommodate the seasoned world traveler in everything from five star Vietnamese resorts and Asian expats can find even the most modest of Vietnam housing for long term stays.

Traveler Facts

  • Time Zone: GMT/UTC +7
  • Dialling Code: 84
  • Electricity: 220V ,50Hz
  • Weights & measures: Metric
  • Currency: Dong (VND)

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Attractions

Hanoi

Hanoi has shaken off its hostile attitude to travellers to become one of the most beguiling cities in Southeast Asia. It's slow-paced and pleasant, with a lovely landscape of lakes, shaded boulevards, verdant public parks and French-colonial architecture.

Hanoi's enchanting Old Quarter is rich with over a thousand years of history. Surface from its thronged labyrinth to explore the city's tranquil lakes and pagodas, its historical houses, and strange preponderance of turtle imagery. The museums will help make sense of it all.

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Dalat

The city of Dalat is the jewel of the southern Central Highlands region. The cool climate and park-like environment (dotted with Vietnamese-style kitsch) makes it one of the most delightful cities in Vietnam. Dalat is also a good base for trips into the surrounding highlands, which remain tranquil.

Emperor Bao Dai's Summer Palace is stuffed with interesting art and artefacts, and is well worth a look. Make sure you visit the Hang Nga Guesthouse & Art Gallery, nicknamed the Crazy House by locals. It's a counter-cultural gem created by artist and architect Mrs Dang Viet Nga (known as Hang Nga).

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Halong Bay

Halong Bay, with its 3000 islands rising from the clear, emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin, is one of Vietnam's natural marvels. The islands are dotted with innumerable beaches and grottoes created by the wind and waves. Hang Dau Go is the most impressive grotto, a huge cave of three chambers.

Ha Long means 'where the dragon descended into the sea', and refers to a legend about a dragon who created the bay and islands with its flailing tail. There's a modern legendary creature, the Tarasque, said to haunt the area. Taking a tour of the bay is the main activity here; book one in Hanoi.

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Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Minh City is the heart and soul of Vietnam. It's a bustling, dynamic and industrious centre, the largest city in the country, the economic capital and the cultural trendsetter. Yet within the teeming metropolis are the timeless traditions and beauty of an ancient culture.

Ho Chi Minh City has several excellent museums that explore its dramatic history and feature everything from harrowing images of the war and revolution to political art. Outside, botanical gardens, temples, pagodas and churches beckon and inspire.

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Hué

Traditionally, Hué has been one of Vietnam's main cultural, religious and education centres. Sadly, the intriguing Forbidden Purple City was largely destroyed during the Vietnam War. About 15km (9mi) south of Hué are the splendid Royal Tombs, of the Nguyen emperors.

Thien Mu Pagoda is one of the most famous buildings in Vietnam. The remains of the huge moated citadel, constructed by Emperor Gia Long, contain many interesting sights, such as the Ngo Mon Gate, Nine Holy Cannons, the Palace of Supreme Harmony, Nine Dynastic Urns and the Halls of the Mandarins.

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Nha Trang

Although it has the potential to develop into a flashy resort, Nha Trang is still a good place to go for sun and partying, just see it while it lasts. With very clear turquoise waters, snorkelling, diving and fishing are prime activities, and just lazing on the town beach is an experience in itself.

When you tire of the beach, there are some interesting sites nearby, such as the Long Son Pagoda, and 2km (1.2mi) to the north of town are the Cham towers of Po Nagar, built between the 7th and 12th centuries on a site that had been used for Hindu worship as early as the 2nd century.

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Best time to Visit

Travel to Vietnam is a year round adventure. Vietnam's varied topography allows for an incredibly varied Asia travel experience. The country offers everything from tropical coastal lowlands to temperate zones above 6000 feet. In South Vietnam, the rainy season lasts from May to November, but the showers are usually limited to brief bursts in the late afternoons. Along Vietnam's central coast, the driest season runs from June to October. Visitors to North Vietnam are often surprised by the region's distinct seasons; summers are hot and humid while winters are invigoratingly cool.

Along with fine tropical weather, spectacular natural scenery and historic sites, Vietnam's greatest resource is its friendly, welcoming people. Long closed to the outside world, Vietnam retains a charming innocence that more touristy regions lack. And the Vietnamese people and their smile will remain in your memory long after you depart.

Travellers should take the Tet Festival (late January or early February) into account when planning a trip. Travel (including international travel) becomes very difficult, hotels are full and many services close down for at least a week and possibly a lot longer.

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Costs / Approx. Spending

Meals

Budget:D15000-30000 Mid-range:D30000-50000
High:D50000-100000 Deluxe:D100000+

Lodging

Budget:D48135-160450 Mid-range:D160450-320900
High:D320900-802250 Deluxe:D802250+

Travellers staying in budget accommodation and eating in small cafes should be able to get by on around USD20.00 to USD25.00 per day, plus long-distance transport costs. Those wanting to stay in mid-range hotels, eat out at moderate restaurants, charter occasional taxis and enjoy the nightlife should budget on around USD65.00 a day.

Government-run hotels and tourist restaurants usually add a 5% service charge to bills so there's no need to tip (although staff may not get any of it). Leaving a small tip in other restaurants will be greatly appreciated by the staff. You should consider tipping hired drivers and guides, and it's polite to leave a small donation at the end of a visit to a pagoda.

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Events

Special prayers are held at Vietnamese and Chinese pagodas on days when the moon is either full or the merest sliver. Many Buddhists eat only vegetarian food on these days. Some of the major religious festivals follow a lunar calendar. They include: Tet (late January or early February), the most important festival of the year, which lasts a week (with rites beginning a week earlier), marking the new lunar year; Wandering Souls Day (Trung Nguyen), held on the fifteenth day of the seventh moon (August), the second-largest festival of the year, when offerings of food and gifts are given to the wandering souls of the forgotten dead; Summer Solstice Day (Tiet Doan Ngo) in June which sees the burning of human effigies to satisfy the need for souls to serve in the God of Death's army; and Holiday of the Dead (Thanh Minh) in April commemorating deceased relatives.

Public Holidays

late Jan - Tet

30 Apr - Liberation of Saigon

1 May - Labour Day

Aug - Wandering Souls Day

1 Jan - New Year's Day

3 Feb - Communist Party Foundation

19 May - Ho Chi Minh's Birthday

28 May - Buddha's Enlightenment

2 Sep - National Day

3 Sep - Ho Chi Minh's Death Anniversary

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