The capital 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 7 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 South 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 82,2 million inhabitants with an average density of 248 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, Muslim 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 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 are still accepted. At the time of writing exchange rate is US$ 1 = 19 500 VND (January 2011) (click here to check daily exchange rate in all currencies).
Traveller’s cheques can be cashed only at major banks and usually incur a 2 to 5% transaction fee.
Visa and Master cards are accepted in most of hotels, restaurants and shops in tourist cities of Vietnam, 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 300 USD to 600 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 very diversified weather and climate so visitors can come to Vietnam all year round without having many climatic disadvantages.
In the North
It has 4 clear-cut seasons: spring, summer, fall, winter. From November to March it is rather cool and can be cold due to the humidity level, while the average temperature is about 30oC from April to October.
In the Centre
The narrowest part of the country usually suffers the most from typhoons and heavy rains during the months from September to November.
In the South
The difference between two seasons, dry from November to May and rainy from June to October, is very clear. During the rainy season it is usually raining only in the evening or very early in the morning. Temperatures are warm all year long.
*Ho Chi Minh City.
Click here to check the weather forecast.
Vietnam is 7 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. It is the same time zone as Bangkok.
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, cost of an international phone call is 0,75 USD/minute in Europe. This service is free, but if you need to call from a hotel, it is advisable to check first with the reception. The Vietnamese telephone code is 0084.
GSM phone coverage is also good in Vietnam, although you may have no network connection in remote areas.
Internet cafés are present a little bit everywhere. Wifi is very widespread and free in most bars and restaurants. However, some hotels may charge Wifi 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 injury it can be necessary to be evacuated to Bangkok or Singapore and we therefore strongly recommended to take out 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 really comfortable but for a short-term journey, it is an interesting means of transportation and 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.
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 specialities 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 now even big shopping centres. 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.