Before you travel to a new country, you need to know some information about the local customs, culture, transportation, and so on. Knowing these may allow you to avoid problems or embarrassment during your trip.
Vietnam Is One Country
Although in history Vietnam has been divided for about 30 years, the north and the south were eventually unified. Now Vietnam is one country, which is officially called the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
Vietnam, once a French colony, was occupied by Japan during World War II. After the end of World War II in 1945, the Viet Cong established the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the north, and that was known as North Vietnam.
After that, the Viet Cong fought with the French for more than 9 years. In 1954, France evacuated northern Vietnam. According to the resolution adopted by the Geneva Conference (1954), North and South Vietnam were temporarily divided by 17 degrees north latitude.
North Vietnam was ruled by Ho Chi Minh while South Vietnam was ruled by Nguyễn Phúc Thiển, the 13th emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty and also the last emperor in the history of Vietnam.
In May 1975, the whole of the south was liberated. In April 1976, a unified Congress was elected. In July, the whole nation was declared unified and the country was named the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
Traffic Is Crazy
Vietnam is one of the countries with the highest amount of motorcycles. In the big cities, such as Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi, there is more than one motorcycle per family.
So working out how to safely cross the street among the stream of motorcycles is the first skill you should learn in Vietnam. The knack is to look thoroughly and to move slowly.
People on motorcycles may not stop to let you go first but, when they see you moving slowly, they will dodge around you. Despite the traffic problem, motorcycle rental and motorcycle activities are very popular in Vietnam.
Using Money in Vietnam
Cash is Preferred
Similar to the other Southeast Asian countries, local merchants in Vietnam are more willing to accept cash, since credit cards are more likely to be stolen and swiped in this region.
USD or Dong
Dong is the unit of Vietnamese currency. Its usage is preferred nationwide; however, dollars are also very popular in Vietnam. Vendors, drivers, hotels, and restaurants accept US dollars. The prices of some hotels, goods, and flight tickets are even marked in US dollars.
The USD is the most popular and the most readily convertible currency in Vietnam, and the exchange rate is one of the best. Also, the AUD, GBP, EUR, CNY, and other common currencies are relatively easy to exchange.
Vietnam's currency exchange points are easy to find. In addition to banks (with the lowest exchange rates), some hotels and jewelry shops (we recommend Hang Bac and Pho Ha Trung in Hanoi) can also exchange currency.
Pay Attention to the Denominations
Since the denominations of currency in Vietnam are very large, you may sometimes be confused with the trail of zeros, so please pay attention when you are exchanging currency, paying for goods, or handling change. Your guide will be happy to assist you if you are confused.
The ATMs of some banks will disgorge cash first and then the card, while others will disgorge the card and then the money. So please remember to take your card.
Vietnamese ATMs are easy to find in big Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, but not very popular in small cities; in addition, the failure rate of these machines is relatively high.
Despite the service fee from the Vietnamese bank, the issuing bank may also charge a commission fee. For information about the number of withdrawals per day, the limit withdrawal per time, or the cumulative withdrawal amount, you should consult the issuing bank.
Using a Credit Card in Vietnam
High-end hotels, restaurants, and shops in most of the cities accept Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and other mainstream credit cards. You can also use a credit card to withdraw cash, but you will be charged 1% to 5% as a commission fee, so using a credit card for cash withdrawal is not recommended.
Three Types of Vietnam Visa
Launched on 1 February 2017, E-Visa can be done by completing an online application form. It's our recommended option for tourists as it is most convenient and cost-effective for visitors visiting for less than 30 days.
Visa on Arrival
Unlike other countries' Visa on Arrival, Vietnam's VOA is conditional. In addition to the general immigration application (obtained on the plane or at the airport), your passport, photos, and cash that are normally required, an Approval Letter is also necessary (obtained through travel agencies and then printed out).
Vietnam's three largest international airports (Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Da Nang) can accept a VOA. The processing time of the VOA is generally about 30 minutes.
If you don’t want to wait at the airport after the long flight, or from a different airport to those mentioned above, have arrived in Vietnam by sea or via land entry, or your stay in Vietnam is for more than 15 days, you need to apply for the visa in advance.
You can get it from any Vietnamese embassy in your country, or in a third country. For example, a citizen of the United States can apply for a Vietnam visa in a Vietnamese embassy in Cambodia. No matter which way you choose, you will get a Vietnam visa easily and quickly.
Travel Insurance Is Necessary
Even if Vietnam is one of the world's most secure travel destinations, the medical standards of all Southeast Asian countries are still limited. Therefore, travel insurance including emergency medical rescue is highly recommended when you travel in Vietnam.
Besides, insurance for a trip cancellation and interruption or personal property protection are also worth having.
Medical Conditions in Vietnam
Registration and consultation fees in Vietnamese hospitals are very cheap; however, medicines are relatively expensive (but still cheaper compared with those in Western countries). In some pharmacies or hospitals, there are some doctors with overseas backgrounds who can communicate in English.
But you can also find some Vietnamese who can speak English to be with you just in case there are no English-speaking doctors.
In Vietnam, you can buy almost any common medicines in pharmacies, but we still suggest you prepare enough medicines for yourself in advance. If you have any special needs, please take your doctor's prescription and advice with you as well.
Experience Vietnamese Culture
Men of Leisure and Busy Women
Along the streets, you can often see a lot of men sitting leisurely on chairs and drinking cold drinks; however, on the other side of the streets, women are busy doing business.
The reason for this sight is that men joined the army for the Vietnam War, but only a few men remained alive. Men are very precious in Vietnam, thus making them a little lazy.
Vietnamese food is often made with fresh ingredients. It is very tasty and it can be found everywhere. The Vietnamese street food culture is very rich. You can see a lot of street food wherever you are.
You can see vendors riding tricycles selling bánh mì (a kind of sandwich based on a modified French baguette). You may see hawkers using shoulder poles selling bánh cuốn (rice flour rolls stuffed with ground pork, prawns, and wood ear mushrooms).
Moreover, beef noodle soup, bánh chưng (sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves and stuffed with mung bean paste, lean pork, and black pepper), and bánh bèo (rice flour pancakes) are also indispensable parts of street food.
Annual Great Migration
The Vietnamese New Year is between late January and mid-February. As a time of family reunion, people will migrate back to their hometown from wherever they have worked before the Spring Festival.
Most of the shops will be closed and the traffic will be extraordinarily busy. You’d better avoid going out during these days.
Try the National Dress
The ao dai is Vietnam's national dress, which is now commonly worn by women. In southern Vietnam, people pronounce it as "/ow yai/" while in the north it is pronounced "/ow zai/". In modern Vietnamese, "ao" refers to a dress that covers the body below the neck, while "dai" means "long".
Silk or other soft fabrics are typically used for a long gown. The cut of the chest and the sleeves fit perfectly and can emphasize a woman's exquisite curves. On both sides, a high slit from the bottom to the waist makes it float in the air when the wearer is walking.
On the lower part of their body, women usually wear wide-leg long pants of silk or other thin fabrics. You can often see women wearing an ao dai when riding a bicycle or a motorcycle.
Wearing an ao dai with a conical bamboo hat and walking along the street is one of the must-do activities in Vietnam.
Plan Your Trip to Vietnam
Experiencing Is More Interesting Than Sightseeing
Vietnam is a popular travel destination with high quality experiences and reasonable prices.
Friendly locals, well preserved customs, old cities, mature tourist facilities, and cost-effective hotels will all make your stay in Vietnam much more interesting and memorable. Although there are not many famous attractions, your travel experience in Vietnam will be very good.
Vietnam Is Bigger Than You Think
Hanoi is about 1,800 kilometers as the crow flies to Ho Chi Minh City. Taking an airplane is the most convenient way to travel in Vietnam. The number of daily domestic flights between main cities is very high.
Taking the route from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City as an example, there are about 60 flights every day, and each of them takes about 2 hours to fly between these two cities. The price of the tickets is from $30 to US$170 per person.
However, if you want to experience a bus or train in Vietnam, what you need to pay with is your time. Although the road conditions in Vietnam are relatively good compared with other Southeast Asian countries, it will still take around 2 days to get from the north to the south.
It is not only a waste of time, but your experience on the bus won’t be very comfortable.
It takes about 30 hours to travel from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City by train. You can see very good scenery along the way, but the cabin may be a little bit stuffy. This option can be recommended to those who will spend more than 15 days in Vietnam and want to experience a different way of traveling.
When Is the Best Time
Vietnam is suitable for travel throughout the year. The best time is in winter while in summer, during the rainy season, there are often thunderstorms but the price will be cheaper. So the best time really depends on your needs.
If you want to enjoy pleasant weather when you travel, November to April is a good choice. But if you want to spend summer holiday, you can choose the summertime to travel with relatively lower cost. Specially when the flight tickets, accommodations, and tour packages will be much cheaper from April to June.
Private Tour or Independent Tour
Both are good choices but private tours in Vietnam have a high value for money, and the tour guides and travel agencies will offer a great deal of help to you.
An independent tour requires you to spend more time on exchanging currencies, meals, transportation to attractions, and so on.
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