Modern day Vietnam is a feast for the senses and the sights, tastes, smells and sounds you will experience during a visit to Vietnam will bring you a profound feeling of peace, optimism and exuberance.
It’s amazing to think that back in 1969 Danang airport was the busiest ‘single runway’ airport in the world. This extraordinary fact highlights the awful scale of one of the 20th century’s most notorious wars.
However, today the country’s 3,444 kilometre coastline boasts some of the world’s most luxurious resorts. Danang, along with a handful of other locations, has a gleaming new airport. It enables visitors to discover a dynamic land rich in culture with some of the freshest and tastiest food anywhere in the world.
From the latticed mountains in the North, the dramatic rivers and caves in the Centre and the pristine beaches and tropical islands in the South, Vietnam’s natural landscape has something for anyone wanting to find a revitalizing escape.
In the ancient streets of Hanoi and the jostling alleyways of Ho Chi Minh City – or Saigon as it used to be called – restaurants, art galleries, museums and elegant boutiques sit alongside stylish street side cafés and contemporary bars. Vietnam’s heritage and vibrant culture are finding new life as the country once again enjoys peace and an emerging prosperity.
That is why now more than ever before its exceptionally friendly and youthful people are keen to welcome visitors and tourists alike and share with them the best that this proud nation has to offer.
The capital city of Vietnam is Hanoi but the largest city is Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), which is the cultural and economic centre with a population of 9 million and the biggest port in Vietnam.
Inland area: 330,991 Km2
Length: 1,650 Km
Width: 600 km at the widest point and 50 km at the narrowest point.
Located on the eastern coast of South-East Asian Indochinese Peninsula, Vietnam shares its borders with Cambodia and Laos to the West, with China to the North and the East Sea to the East. Total coastline and borders stretch 2,500 Km. An estimated 66% of the total area is dominated by the rugged, heavily forested terrain of the Truong Son Range stretching North-South between the intensively cultivated and densely populated Red River (North) and the Mekong River (South) deltas. The highest peak in Vietnam is Fan Si Pan (3,143 m) in the extreme North. A long, narrow coastal plain links the two major river deltas. 22% of the land is arable and 40% is forested.
Vietnam has 99, 7 million inhabitants with an average density of 314 inhabitants/km2.
88% of the population is Viet, 2% Chinese and 1.5% Khmer. Numerous ethnic minorities make up the rest of the population of Vietnam: Muong, Nung, Dao, Thai, Cham, Hmong and various mountain-dwellers.
The dominant religions are Buddhism (55% of the population) and Catholicism (8% to 10% of the population). Confucianism, Taoism, Hoa Hao, Islam and Caodaism represent around 35% of the population.
Vietnamese is the official language although English is increasingly spoken by younger Vietnamese in main cities. Some people and especially elderly still speak French, while middle-aged might speak German and Russian. However a guide is duly recommended as language can be a problem outside of main cities for people who have no knowledge of Vietnamese.
The official currency is the Vietnamese Dong (VND) although US dollars and Euros are still accepted. At the time of writing exchange rate is US$ 1 = 23,520 VND (Feb 2022).
Traveler’s cheques can be cashed only at major banks and usually incur a 2 to 5% transaction fee.
Most of hotels, restaurants and shops in tourist cities of Vietnam accept Visa and Master cards, but can also be subject to 2 to 3% transaction fees.
You can also get cash advances with your credit card from automated teller machines (ATM) everywhere (amount generally limited to 5 or 10.000.000 VND, that is to say around 230 USD to 450 USD depending on the bank).
If you bring either cash in USD or Euro, please note that exchange rates for small and big notes vary. So we would recommend you to bring some small notes in USD dollars to cope with first expenses on arrival then either 100 USD or 100 € bank notes.
Be careful, banks and foreign exchange offices do not usually take old, scribbled or even stained bank notes.
Due to its long shape bordering the South East Sea, Vietnam has a much diversified weather and climate so visitors can come to Vietnam all year round without having many climatic disadvantages.
Vietnam is 7 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.
In Vietnam electric current is mostly 220V in main cities, although you can still find 110V in rural areas. Sockets are both round and flat types.
It is advisable not to drink water from the tap unless it is boiled properly.
International phone call charges from Vietnam have decreased tremendously over the past few years. Today, the cost of an international phone call is 0,75 USD/minute for Europe. If you need to call from a hotel, it is advisable to check first with the reception. The Vietnamese country code is +84.
GSM phone coverage is also good in Vietnam, although you may have no network connection in remote areas. Since 2010, Vietnam has an extended GPRS and 3G networks.
Internet cafés are common in every city. Wi-Fi is widely available and free in most bars and restaurants. However, some hotels may charge Wi-Fi connection.
HEALTH & MEDICAL FACILITIES
No vaccination is required, but visitors are advised to receive inoculations against hepatitis A and B, typhoid and tetanus. Inoculation for yellow fever and tablets for malaria are not necessary although doctors still usually recommend them.
Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have good hospitals staffed with foreign medical personnel. However for life threatening injuries it can be necessary to be evacuated to Bangkok or Singapore and we therefore strongly recommend medical travel insurance.
There are five international airports in Vietnam: Noi Bai in Hanoi located 45 minutes from the town centre, Cat Bi in Hai Phong, Danang’s airport at 4 km from the heart of the town, Cam Rang located 40 mn driver from Nha Trang and Tan Son Nhat in Ho Chi Minh City located 20 minutes from the town centre.
The road network has improved but still needs to be upgraded in some areas. To cover a distance, it is reasonable to count an average speed of 50 km / hour.
By train, it takes a minimum of 32 hours from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. Although we can now find carriages with soft sleepers and air-conditioning, it is rather slow and not particularly comfortable but for a short journey, it is an interesting way to see Vietnam.
Helicopter sightseeing has become available using safe helicopters flown by qualified pilots.
In Vietnam, we drive on the right side.
An international Driving license is not valid. Only owners of a Vietnamese driving license are allowed to drive a car or a motorcycle.
Without talking about insurance matters, renting a motorbike is possible although not recommended due to the dense traffic in main cities such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City
Traditional Vietnamese cuisine boasts over 500 specialties varying from the famous spring rolls to tamarind crab. Meals are generally not spicy but make use of a wide array of interesting sauces. For vegetarians, Vietnam offers a unique Buddhist-style fare created from combinations of an unending selection of vegetables and tofu. Beyond the delights of the street stalls and culinary wonders of Vietnam, main cities now offer an increasing selection of international restaurants.
All sorts of goods and manufactured products can be found. From high-tech products to local handicraft products (lacquer ware, painting, silk, wood and stone art works…), main cities have an abundance of small shops and even big shopping centers. Those who plan to bring back souvenirs are therefore advised to travel light.
Prices displayed are usually fixed, but in other cases, bargaining is a fact of life in Vietnam!
Tipping is not mandatory although it is appreciated. Note that prices in hotels and restaurants usually include 10% for VAT and 5% for service charges.
Please find below a list of carriers offering services into Vietnam:
VISA AND PASSPORT
A visa is compulsory to enter Vietnam except for citizens of:
- Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand if the length of the stay is not exceeding 30 days.
- The Philippines if the length of the stay is not exceeding 21 days.
- Korea, Japan, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Germany, Denmark and Russia if the length of the stay is not exceeding 15 days. From 15 August 2023 onwards, citizens of countries that are unilaterally exempted from visas by Viet Nam (listed above) will be granted temporary residence for 45 days (instead of 15 days).
To obtain a visa, you must first ensure your passport will be valid for at least 6 months after your return date.
There are 4 options at the moment to obtain a visa for Vietnam:
1. Visas can be acquired directly at Vietnamese Embassies and Consulates abroad.
2. You can apply for visa a through a sponsoring travel agency
In that case, just provide us with the following details: Full name, date and place of birth, citizenship, occupation, passport number, date and place of issue, expiration date, date and port of entry into Vietnam.
We will forward these particulars to Vietnam immigration, which will in turn issue and send by telex an approval letter to the relevant embassy by telex.
In our turn, we will send you one copy of the approval letter. Just bring it or send it to the embassy together with your passport, 2 passport photos and two fully filled out application forms to get the visas stamped.
3. You can apply for a visa upon arrival through a sponsoring travel agency.
In that case, provide us with the same information as mentioned above and we will send you an approval letter issued from immigration.
This approval letter will be required at the time of boarding.
Visa stamping fees can be either pre-paid to our agency or paid at immigration on arrival.
Note that in all cases visas cannot be delivered upon arrival without a visa authorization from immigration.
Citizens can apply for e-visas for a 30-day single-entry visit. From 15 August 2023 onwards, upon being granted an e-visa, tourists will enter and exit an unlimited number of times within 90 days (instead of 30-day single-entry visit).
If you are travelling in the north or the centre from October to March warm clothes are recommended and especially appropriate all year long in the northern and highlands area (Sapa, Buon Ma Thuot and Dalat).
In the south, light clothing is a must all year long.
Although you can find all these products in Vietnam, we recommend you take products for mosquitoes and for the sun, a cap or a hat, sunglasses, a raincoat and a small bag to carry a few things in case you have to leave your big suitcases at the hotel for a few days.
Finally, Vietnam is considered a safe country but we recommend you leave your gold jewellery at home.
Situated 1600 metres above sea level and near the Chinese border in the North-Western Highlands, this former French hill station is home to more than 30 hill tribes as well as Vietnam’s highest mountain, Mount Fansipan (3143m). With its spectacular mountain scenery and terraced rice paddies, Sapa is a great place to visit hill tribe villages and explore numerous trekking opportunities.
DIEN BIEN PHU
Nestled in a valley near the Lao border, Dien Bien Phu remains one of the most remote parts of Vietnam. Surrounded by steep heavily forested hills, Dien Bien Phu was the site of a decisive battle in 1954 between Viet Minh forces and the French. Ultimately, it was a result of the historic battle that took place here that forced the French government to abandon its attempts to resume colonial control of Indochina.
The capital of Vietnam, Hanoi is the second most populous city in the country with approximately 4 million people. The history and culture of Vietnam is clearly on display. Excellent Vietnamese cuisine, vibrant street-life, contemporary art galleries and French architecture combine to form a unique blend of old and new, Asian and European. Despite recent rapid development, the city has retained much of its traditional identity. Physically the lakes and Old Quarter still retain a wonderful sense of timeless grace and much of its population continues to observe centuries old customs and festivals.
HA LONG BAY
A tour of North Vietnam is not complete without a visit to the spectacular views of more than 3,000 limestone karsts in Ha Long Bay. In 1994 UNESCO declared the bay a World Heritage Site and its emerald waters, magnificent caves, legendary limestone formations and hidden lagoons continue to delight and mesmerize.
Situated 100 km east of Hanoi on the Cua Cam River, Hai Phong is the principal port city in the North of Vietnam. With its crescent-shaped nineteenth-century core, old Hai Phong is surprisingly well preserved and can be an attractive stop over on the way to Halong Bay by boat via Cat Ba Island. Moreover many say that the best egg rolls in the world can be found on the streets of Hai Phong.
HOA BINH - MAI CHAU
Surrounded by lush green hills the valleys and villages West of Hanoi are home to several ethnic minority communities such as the H’mong, Zao and White Thai. Not only are these areas easily accessible and incredibly beautiful, they also provide excellent opportunities for trekking, mountain biking and interacting with some of Vietnam’s hill tribes.
Hue was the capital of Vietnam from 1802 to 1945. At its heart and surrounded by moats, lies the Purple Forbidden City, the residence of the Nguyen Emperors. Although it was severely damaged during the war, the remains of the citadel, which have been partially restored, still contain many interesting sights. South of the city are the imperial tombs with the most important being: Tu Duc, Minh Mang and Khai Dinh. As well as several sites of historical interest ‘Hue cuisine’ is also celebrated throughout Vietnam and is an important strand of Vietnam’s culinary heritage.
From the 16th to 19th centuries the riverside town of Hoi An attracted silk, spice and porcelain merchants from as far as Japan, India, Indonesia and Europe. Hoi An still retains many remnants of its trading days and its Old Quarter has been beautifully preserved. 850 magnificent old structures still line the streets and the old tile-roofed shop houses, shady pagodas and colorful communal halls have earned the town the status of World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The beautiful surrounding countryside and unspoilt beaches also imbue the whole area with a very restful, rustic charm.
Vietnam’s third international gateway the city is primarily an active business centre and port. Some of Vietnam’s most famous beaches can be found on its outskirts and many of the country’s most luxurious resorts are located in the vicinity.
DMZ (DEMILITARIZED ZONE)
Most of the bases and bunkers have long vanished, but this 5km strip of land on either side of the Ben Hai River is still known by its American War moniker: the DMZ. From 1954 to 1975 it acted as a buffer between the North and the South. Ironically, the DMZ became one of the most militarised areas in the world, forming what Time magazine called ‘a running sore’. The area just south of the DMZ was the scene of some of the bloodiest battles in America’s first TV war, turning Quang Tri, The Rockpile, Khe Sanh, Lang Vay and Hamburger Hill into household names. Fast forward several decades and there’s not much left to see. Most sites have been cleared, the land reforested or planted with rubber and coffee. Only Ben Hai, Vinh Moc and Khe Sanh have small museums.
Quy Nhon is a lively and pleasant city virtually half way between the popular cities of Nha Trang and Hoi An. The city is known for its beautiful surroundings, Cham temples, and nearby beaches.
Nha Trang is a coastal city and capital of Khánh Hòa Province, on the South Central Coast of Vietnam. Nha Trang is well known for its beaches and scuba diving and has developed into a popular destination for international tourists, attracting large numbers of backpackers, as well as more affluent travellers on the Southeast Asia circuit; it is already very popular with Vietnamese tourists, with Nha Trang Bay widely considered as among the world’s most beautiful bays. Tourists are welcome to participate in the Sea Festival, held biennially.
PHAN THIET / MUI NE
Located in coastal, Phan Thiet is city of beautiful tropical beaches with resorts, hotels, restaurants, bars, souvenir shops, services of internet, motor, bicycle rubber dinghy, surfboard, buoy for hide. Moreover it is traditionally known for its nuoc mam (fish sauce), producing 16 to 17 million of this amazing flavor litres per annum.
Central Highlands of Vietnam is a mountaneous inland region with charming hill valleys and waterfalls, beautiful pagodas and lakes, national parks and hill tribes. Travelers to Central Highlands region can explore the life of indigenous tribes, and enjoy many adventure activities – motorcycling, hiking and wildlife watching.
Dalat is quite different from anywhere else you’ll visit in Vietnam. You would almost be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled into the French Alps in springtime. This was certainly how the former colonists treated it – escaping to their chalets to enjoy the cooler climate. The City of Eternal Spring, Dalat’s temperature hovers between a pleasant 15°C (average daily minimum) to 24°C (average daily maximum). Effectively Dalat has two seasons – dry (December to March) and wet (April to November). Despite the mild temperatures, by the end of the dry season the lush green surrounds turn to brown.
HO CHI MINH CITY
Formerly known as “Saigon”, the city is Vietnam’s commercial center. With a population of approximately 10 million people it’s a dynamic metropolis undergoing dramatic change. Remnants of the city’s past are still visible however and beautiful historic buildings – public and private – can still be found dotted throughout the city. Women dressed in Vietnam’s traditional Ao Dai tunic can still be seen strolling past modern trendy boutiques and crowded cafes. The city’s nightlife buzzes but so do its many traditions and ancient rhythms. It’s a city experienced primarily at street level and there’s always something to discover just around the next corner…
This highly fertile plain with its lush, green paddy fields, myriad waterways, tropical fruit orchards and fish farms is considered the southern rice basket of Vietnam. Rural life is lived here in many ways not dissimilar to how it was lived far back in history. Ecotourism is taking root and places of interest include My Tho, Vinh Long, Can Tho and Chau Doc.
PHU QUOC ISLAND
Fringed with white-sand beaches and with large tracts still covered in dense, tropical jungle, Phu Quoc has been quickly morphing from a sleepy backwater to a favoured beach escape of Western expats and sun-seeking tourists. Beyond the chain of resorts lining Long Beach, it’s still largely undeveloped – and unlike Phuket, to which it aspires, you won’t find a lot to do here after dark. Opt instead for daytime adventures by diving the reefs, kayaking in the bays or exploring the backroads on a motorbike – or live the life of a lotus eater by lounging on the beach, indulging in a massage and dining on fresh seafood.
CON DAO ISLANDS
Isolated from the mainland, the Con Dao Islands are one of the star attractions in Vietnam. Long the Devil’s Island of Indochina, the preserve of political prisoners and undesirables, this place is now turning heads thanks to its striking natural beauty. Con Son, the largest of this chain of 15 islands and islets, is ringed with lovely beaches, coral reefs and scenic bays, and remains partially covered in thick forests. In addition to hiking, diving and exploring empty coastal roads and deserted beaches, there are some excellent wildlife-watching opportunities.
Landlocked and to some extent ‘culture-locked’, Laos possesses both Southeast Asia’s most pristine environment and possibly its most culturally intact heritage. More than any other destination a visit to Laos provides the visitor with a sense of going back to a more relaxed time where the urgency of modern life is wonderfully absent. Even in the capital Vientiane, life ambles along only a little faster than the languid Mekong river flows by the city’s charming riverfront. In the historic royal city of Luang Prabang – a Unesco World Heritage site – hundreds of monks in saffron robes glide between centuries old temples unperturbed by the growing number of visitors gazing on in silence at a scene they thought only existed in films. Luxurious boutique hotels in Luang Prabang serve exquisite food in historically preserved settings, drawing on French and local culinary traditions. Beyond the cities visitors can discover the haunting Plain of Jars and the majestic Four Thousand Islands (Si Phan Don) where the Mekong river expands and its waters gather pace.Read more
The magnificent Angkor Wat temple complex never disappoints. The enduring beauty of the ancient architecture, the remarkable statues and startling depictions on temple friezes of life as it was lived during the Khmer Empire, which flourished between the 9th and 15th centuries, are truly one of the highlights of any trip to Indochina. However as Cambodia emerges from the tragedy of its recent history, there’s more to experience in this once little visited country outside the undeniable charms of Siem Reap. The largest lake in all South East Asia – Ton Le Sap – is home to picturesque villages on stilts and beautiful mangrove forests. At Kratie on the banks of the Mekong River, with a bit of luck, you can spot the rare Mekong River Dolphins. As well as being home to many harrowing museums and centres testifying to the horrors of the Khmer Rouge, Phnom Penh is also rapidly transforming into a fashionable modern metropolis. Restaurants, hotels, bars and boutiques are springing up across the city show casing a dynamic, modern Khmer urban culture. Not far away along the south coast the quiet beach towns of Kep and Kampot contrast with the larger city-by-the-beach buzz of Sihanoukville. Near the unspoiled Cardamom Mountains to the West lies Koh Kong boasting luxurious, floating eco resorts, small, uninhabited islands and some of the best beaches in the region. After decades of turmoil Cambodia is finally coming into its own and there’s never been a better time to make a trip to Cambodia.Read more