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Everything you need to know before you travel to Vietnam

The Socialist Republic of Vietnam occupies an area of 329,247sq/km and has a population of almost 90 million people. Unlike other Asian countries, Vietnam stretches for almost 2000 km north to south and this is the reason for the climate variation throughout its regions. Three quarters of Vietnam’s territory consists of mountains and hills. The capital is Hanoi and the second largest city Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon, is the cooperative capital of Vietnam. Buddhism is the country’s major religion and their main exports are petroleum, rice, coffee, clothing and fish. Vietnam has 54 ethnic groups, each of which has its own traditional culture. The diversity of the ethnic groups is apparent in the many traditional and cultural Vietnamese treasures. These treasures include the various works of art found throughout the country, including sculpture, ceramic, painting, and casting, made from materials such as clay, stone, bronze, steel, wood, and paper.

Most people that visit Vietnam take a 14 day north to south trail (Hanoi to Saigon) covering the highlights of the country and finishing with some relaxing days by the southern beaches & islands. Each part of the country has many hidden treasures and idiosyncrasies offering you different experiences throughout your Vietnam experience.

Some of these destinations are unknown to the outside world, helping the Vietnam visitor feel more of an explorer than a tourist.

Money, Expenses & Credit Cards

The local currency is Vietnamese Dong (VND) but US dollars are also widely accepted. There are presently bank notes in circulation in dominations of: 100, 200, 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10000, 20000, 50000 & 100000 Dong.

You can only change VND into US dollars with a flight ticket showing your onward destination.

Only change money at official money exchange counters with a clear sign showing this status. Illegal exchange places like gold shops may offer a higher rate and you may risk losing your money. Credit cards are now widely accepted, however outside main tourist areas cash is the only acceptable currency and it may be difficult to cash travellers’ cheques. ATMs are available in major cities and tourist areas. Funds can be transferred to Vietnam via international money transfer companies like Western Union or Moneygram.

Remarks:

Best currency to take: USA dollars. Cash can be used at many places. The exchange rate for US dollars is better than for other currencies. The rate and T/C commission varies slightly between banks and cities. Not much difference in rate between T/C & cash. The rate is slightly higher for larger notes.  When price is quoted in US$, you can pay in dollars or Vietnamese Dong. Sometimes paying in VD is better because of the exchange rate they use.

Black market: Money changers on street are slightly higher than bank rates. T/C com: Varies slightly between Banks. Normally 2% (Vietcombank 1%) min$2, rate $1=12,900D

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Country Profile

  • Full name

    Socialist Republic of Vietnam

  • Population

    89.7 million (UN, 2012)

  • Capital

    Hanoi

  • Largest City

    Ho Chi Minh City

  • Area

    329,247 sq km (127,123 sq miles)

  • Major language

    Vietnamese

  • Major religion

    Buddhism

  • Life expectancy

    73 years (men), 77 years (women) (UN)

  • Monetary unit

    1 dong = 100 xu

  • Main exports

    Petroleum, rice, coffee, clothing, fish

  • GNI per capita

    US $1,270 (World Bank, 2011)

  • Internet domain

    .vn

  • International dialling code:

    +84

Main Festivals

  • 28th January

    Tet (Vietnamese New Year)

  • February

    Central Highland Festival/Elephant Race

  • 2nd February

    Huong Pagoda Festival

  • 12 to 13th February

    Whales Festival

  • Various Dates

    Hoi An Full Moon Lantern Festival

Please note: Dates of some festivals can change slightly from year to year.

Vietnam – A Brief History

Geographically the country of Vietnam as we know it was only established in the early 19th century, however Vietnam’s history stretches back thousands of years. Vietnam has one of the longest histories in the world, starting around half a million years ago, with the first settlements on the Red River valley in the north and later extending 1700km south to the Mekong Delta. No other country in Asia has gone through so many changes over such a short period of time as Vietnam. In less than forty years, Vietnamese people were able to place behind all the bitterness and slaughter of the disastrous American and civil War and while transiting from an old communist system to a socialist market economy, focus resiliently on the future.

Hong Bang Period 2879BC – 258BC
It is thought that an early tribal leader formed a political union between 15 primary tribes of the northern Red River Valley. Hung Vuong was the first king in Vietnam and founder of the country. He named his kingdom Van Lang which today means Vietnam.

Thuc & Trieu Dynasty 257 – 111 BC
Thục Phan was an explorer and from Cina who assembled an army that did defeat King Hung Vuong XVIII, the last ruler of the Hong Bang Dynasty. Declaring himself ‘King An Duong’ he secured this land for his people to prosper at a turbulent time in China. Chinese-orientated historians regard the Trieu Dynasty as Chinese whilst Vietnamese historiography says the dynasty was the government of the Vietnamese nation. Many have struggled therefore, with the issue of whether the Trieu historically should be considered as founders of Vietnam or as foreign invaders.

Han Domination & The Trung Sisters
In 111 BC the Han Dynasty of China conquered the Nam Viet kingdom as they expanded southwards. This expansion brought what is now northern Vietnam in to modern Guangdong and Guangxi under the new name of Jiaozhi. The Han Empire divided the former kingdom into nine commanderies. In response to this increasingly impressive rule a revolt broke out in A.D. 39, led by Trung Trac and her sister Trung Nhi. These sisters incited the armed revolt that expelled the Han in A.D. 39 and were crowned queens in A.D. 40 renaming the country Linh Nam and marking the end of the first Chinese domination of Vietnam.

Anterior Ly Dynasty
The Early Ly Dynasty dates from A.D. 544 to 602 and was founded by Ly Nam De who is traditionally recognized as the first emperor of Vietnam.  Ly Nam De established his capital at Long Bien (modern-day Hanoi) surrounding himself with effective military, leadership and administrative scholars, as well as building fortresses in strategic locations to fend off threats from the north Han and the southern Champa Kingdom.

From this time the country progressed through various dynasties:

From Sui to Tang domination (602–905)
Autonomy (905–938)
Ngo, Dinh, & Prior Le dynasties (939 – 1009)
Ly, Tran, & Ho dynasties (1009 – 1407)
Ming domination & Posterior Le Dynasty (1407 – 1527)
Divided period (1527 – 1802)
Nguyen Dynasty & French protectorate (1802 – 1945)

Communist North & Capitalist South (1945 – 1975)
The Democratic Republic of Vietnam, established by Ho Chi Minh was not recognized in the Potsdam Agreement in 1945 which marked the end of World War II. Fighting with the French started in 1947 and after $3billion spend on war by 1954 the French withdrew drawing in America. Clashes continued for decades between the north and south with backers supporting the fight for or against communism with half a million US troops stationed in Vietnam by 1967. With most of the country devastated, Saigon fell to the communist north on 30 April 1975.

Vietnam Today (Socialism after 1975)
Vietnam, a one-party Communist state, has one of south-east Asia’s fastest-growing economies and has set its sights on becoming a developed nation by 2020. Despite pursuing economic reform, the ruling Communist Party shows little willingness to give up its monopoly on political power. Vietnam actively suppresses political dissent and religious freedom. Despite the problems Vietnam has faced since 1975, some Quality of Life indicators are heading in the right direction. According to World Bank figures, the number of Vietnamese living in poverty has dropped from seventy percent in the 1980s to under fifteen percent today, child mortality has fallen, literacy levels are well over ninety percent, and the average life expectancy is now around 75 years compared to 65 in 1990.

Towns & Cities in Vietnam

Essential Vietnam Travel Information

(Check out our helpful travel information before leaving home)

Our Favourite Hotels in Vietnam

There are so many beautiful hotels to choose from in Vietnam. So we have selected a few of our most favourite and characterful hotels; giving you a taste of what you can expect.

Our most popular Vietnam Holidays

Browse through our Vietnam holiday suggestions and get some inspiration.
We can then tailor-make a Vietnam holiday just for you!

Cambodia & Vietnam Boat Cruises

Cambodia & Vietnam Boat Cruises

3 to 8 Day Cruises
Price from: $POA per person

Ride & Row Vietnam Adventure Tour

Ride & Row Vietnam Adventure Tour

12 Days / 11 Nights
Price from: $1,699 per person

Vietnam Wildlife Expedition

Vietnam Wildlife Expedition

8 Days / 7 Nights
Price from: $1,599 per person

Vietnam Vitalisation Wellness, Yoga & Spa Retreat

Vietnam Vitalisation Wellness, Yoga & Spa Retreat

8 Days / 7 Nights
Price from: $1,499 per person

Vietnam Joining Group Tour (Solo Trips)

Vietnam Joining Group Tour (Solo Trips)

13 Days / 12 Nights
Price from: $2,459 per person

Highlights of Vietnam

Highlights of Vietnam

15 Days / 14 Nights
Price from: $3,399 per person

Amazing North Vietnam Highland Adventure

Amazing North Vietnam Highland Adventure

14 Days / 13 Nights
Price from: $3,259 per person

Historical & Natural Vietnam

Historical & Natural Vietnam

10 Days / 9 Nights
Price from: $2,199 per person

Changing Landscapes of Vietnam

Changing Landscapes of Vietnam

11 Days / 10 Nights
Price from: $2,299 per person

Discover the real Vietnam

Discover the real Vietnam

15 Days / 14 Nights
Price from: $3,099 per person

Vietnam by Train

Vietnam by Train

15 Days / 14 Nights
Price from: $2,359 per person

North & Central Vietnam Adventure

North & Central Vietnam Adventure

10 Days / 9 Nights
Price from: $1,699 per person

From One Million Elephants to 2000 Islands (Laos & Vietnam)

From One Million Elephants to 2000 Islands (Laos & Vietnam)

14 Days / 13 Nights
Price from: $POA per person

Following the Nine Tailed Dragon (Cambodia, Laos & Vietnam)

Following the Nine Tailed Dragon (Cambodia, Laos & Vietnam)

18 Days / 17 Nights
Price from: $POA per person

Heritage of Indochina (Laos, Vietnam & Cambodia)

Heritage of Indochina (Laos, Vietnam & Cambodia)

15 Days / 14 Nights
Price from: $POA per person

South Vietnam & Phu Quoc Island

South Vietnam & Phu Quoc Island

11 Days / 10 Nights
Price from: $1,999 per person