Vietnam, Asia - PaintMyTrip Travel
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Welcome to Vietnam

Vietnam

Vietnam (Việt Nam), officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (Cộng hòa xã hội chủ nghĩa Việt Nam) is a country in Southeast Asia. Its neighbouring countries are China to the north, Laos and Cambodia to the west.

History:

Vietnam's history is one of war, colonisation and rebellion. Occupied by China no fewer than four times, the Vietnamese managed to fight off the invaders just as often. Even during the periods in history when Vietnam was independent, it was mostly a tributary state to China until the French colonisation. Vietnam's last emperors were the Nguyễn Dynasty, who ruled from their capital at Hue from 1802 to 1945, although France exploited the succession crisis after the fall of Tự Đức to de facto colonise Vietnam after 1884. Both the Chinese occupation and French colonisation have left a lasting impact on Vietnamese culture, with Confucianism forming the basis of Vietnamese social etiquette, and the French leaving a lasting imprint on Vietnamese cuisine.

After a brief Japanese occupation in World War II (see Pacific War), the Communist Viet Minh under the leadership of Hồ Chí Minh continued the insurgency against the French, with the last Emperor Bao Dai abdicating in 1945 and a proclamation of independence following soon after. The majority of French had left by 1945, but in 1946 they returned to continue the fight until their decisive defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. The Geneva Conference partitioned the country into two at 17th parallel, with a Communist-led North supported by the Soviet Union, and Ngo Dinh Diem establishing a capitalist regime and declaring himself President of the Republic of Vietnam with the support of the United States in the South.

US economic and military aid to South Vietnam grew through the 1960s in an attempt to bolster the Southern Vietnam government, escalating into the dispatch of 500,000 American troops in 1966 and what became known as the Vietnam War - although the Vietnamese refer to it as the American War. What was supposed to be a quick and decisive action soon degenerated into a quagmire, and U.S. armed forces were withdrawn following a cease-fire agreement in 1973. Two years later, on April 30, 1975, a North Vietnamese tank drove into the South's Presidential Palace in Ho Chi Minh City and the war ended. An estimated 3 million Vietnamese and over 55,000 Americans were killed.

The American Vietnamese war was only one of many that the Vietnamese have fought, but it was the most brutal in its history. Over two thirds of the current population was born after 1975. American tourists will receive a particularly friendly welcome in Vietnam, as many young Vietnamese are admirers of American culture.

Culture


Due to its long history as a tributary state of China, as well as several periods of Chinese occupations, Vietnamese culture is strongly influenced by that of southern China, with Confucianism forming the basis of Vietnamese social etiquette. The Vietnamese language also contains many loan words from Chinese, though the two languages are unrelated. Buddhism remains the single largest religion in Vietnam. As in China, but unlike its Southeast Asian neighbours, the dominant school of Buddhism in Vietnam is the Mahayana School.

Nevertheless, Vietnamese culture remains distinct from Chinese culture as it has also absorbed cultural elements from neighboring Hindu civilizations such as the Champa and the Khmer empires. The French colonization also left a lasting impact on Vietnamese society, perhaps symbolised best by the Vietnamese fondness for baguettes and coffee. Southern and Central Vietnam, especially along the coast, have a much stronger Western influence, as compared to the North.

The division of Vietnam during what is locally called the American War has also resulted in cultural differences between northern and southern Vietnam that can been seen today. To this day, northern Vietnamese have a tendency to be more ideological, while southern Vietnamese tend to be more business-minded.

Climate
Vietnam is large enough to have several distinct climate zones.

The south has three somewhat distinct seasons: hot and dry from Mar-May/Jun; rainy from Jun/Jul-Nov; and cool and dry from Dec-Feb. April is the hottest month, with mid-day temperatures of 33°C (91°F) or more most days. During the rainy season, downpours can happen every afternoon, and occasional street flooding occurs. Temperatures range from stifling hot before a rainstorm to pleasantly cool afterwards. Mosquitoes are most numerous in the rainy season. Dec-Feb is the most pleasant time to visit, with cool evenings down to around 20°C (68°F).
The north has four distinct seasons, with a comparatively chilly winter (temperatures can dip below 15°C/59°F in Hanoi), a hot and wet summer and pleasant spring (Mar-Apr) and autumn (Oct-Dec) seasons. However, in the Highlands both extremes are amplified, with occasional snow in the winter and temperatures hitting 40°C (104°F) in the summer.
In the central regions the Hai Van pass separates two different weather patterns of the north starting in Langco (which is hotter in summer and cooler in winter) from the milder conditions south starting in Da Nang. Northeast monsoon conditions Sep-Feb with often strong winds, large sea swells and rain make this a miserable and difficult time to travel through Central Vietnam. Normally summers are hot and dry.

 

Things to Do


Motorbiking is popular with locals and tourists alike. Given that motorbikes are the main mode of transport in Vietnam, they can give a particularly authentic view of travelling through the country.

Renting or buying a bike is possible in many cities. Also consider Motorbike adventure tours, which involve being guided on multi-day drives to remote regions of the country. Most tours include accommodation, petrol, helmets, drivers and entry tickets to local places of interest. Guides usually speak good English or French and offer customised tours if desired. Motorbike Sightseeing Tours are similar but have a more local range specific to one city or area and can focus on food, shopping or sightseeing.

 

Crime
Vietnam is a relatively safe place for tourists, especially when travelling in groups.

While many safety warnings in travel guidebooks are no more than scaremongering, tourist areas are prime petty crime locales. Violent crime towards foreigners is uncommon, but pickpockets and motorbike snatching are not uncommon in larger cities. Thieves on motorbikes snatch bags, mobile phones, cameras, and jewellery off pedestrians and other motorbike drivers. Don't wear your bag on your shoulder when riding a motorbike. Don't place it in the motorbike basket. When walking along a road, keep your bag on your inboard shoulder. If your bag is snatched, don't resist to the point of being dragged onto the roadway.

Reports of thefts from hotel rooms, including upmarket hotels, have been heard occasionally. Do not assume that your hotel room strongbox is inviolable.

Avoid fights and arguments with locals. Westerners may be bigger than Vietnamese, but if you're dealing with 5 or more Vietnamese guys then you're in serious trouble. Keep in mind that yelling is highly insulting to Vietnamese and may prompt a violent response. Vietnamese in general are placid and kind. As a visitor, you should respect local laws and customs. Altercations can be avoided easily by showing courtesy and tolerating cultural differences. Be on your best behaviour when drinking with Vietnamese men.

Connect


Telephone
Land-line numbers in Hanoi and HCMC have a sequence of eight numbers, others have seven.

Vietnam international code: +84
Hanoi area code : (4)
Ho Chi Minh area code : (8)
VoIP calls

Telephone bills are 30% to 40% cheaper if dialed with 171 or 178 services.

Domestic call : 171 (178) + 0 + Area code + Number.
International call : 171 (178) + 00 + Country code + Area code + Number.
Since hotels and guesthouses often charge higher for telephone calls, try to find a post office or any reliable public service.

Mobile phones
Mobile numbers in Vietnam must always be dialed with all 9 or 10 digits (including a "0" prefixing the "1nn" or "9nn" within Vietnam), no matter where they are being called from. The 1nn or 9nn is a mobile prefix, not an "area code", as such and the second and sometimes third digits (the nn part) denotes the original mobile network assigned. As is the case with most mobile numbers, they can also be called within or outside Vietnam using the international format.

There are many mobile networks with different codes:

G Mobile: 199, 99 (GSM 900)
Mobifone: 90, 93, 122, 124, 126 (GSM 900/1800)
SFone: 95 (CDMA)(not available)
Vietnamobile: 92, 188, 186 (GSM 900)
Viettel: 98, 97, 96, 165, 166, 167, 168, 169 (GSM 900)
Vinaphone: 91, 94, 121, 123, 125 (GSM 900)


You can buy a SIM card in any shop selling mobile phones. The standard price is no higher than 75,000 dong, but foreigners are often charged 100,000 dong.

SIM cards are also easily available at both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City Airports from official carrier booths which makes it quick, easy, and scam-free to get a SIM on arrival.

One month of 3G data or 4G data, with a limited amount of credit for text and voice calls, can cost as little as 140,000 dong.


Prepaid account charges vary from 890-1,600 dong per minute. Recharge cards are available in denominations of 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, 100,000, 200,000 and 500,000 dong.

Roaming on Vietnam's GSM networks is possible with foreign mobile phones, subject to agreements between operators.


Useful numbers
Police 113
Fire Brigade 114
Hospital 115
Time 117
General Information 1080


Internet
Internet access is available in all but the most remote towns. Internet cafes are available in most tourist spots and rates are fairly cheap, ranging from 2,000-10,000 dong per hour. Connection speeds are high, especially in the big cities.
Many hotels and restaurants provide free Wi-Fi or terminals for their guests. If you bring your own phone and/or laptop, several providers offer mobile Internet services (EDGE/3G or LTE/4G) services as well.
Internet censorship is applied to a very small number of Internet services.
Facebook is no longer blocked (Apr 2014)
BBC websites are no longer blocked (May 2015).
wordpress.com and its subdomains (free wordpress blogs) may be blocked in some areas.
A quick Google search for the relevant programs should help you bypass the ban quite easily. There was also a report that telecom companies were blocking the use of Skype, although this ban has now apparently been lifted. Other sites such as Gmail, YouTube, and Wikipedia are all unaffected. If web censorship is a problem, try the Tor Browser

 

Information & Facts

Attraction Overview

Vietnam will show you sides of Asia that you've dreamed of. Lush rice fields at the bottom of stunningly gorgeous highlands, colourful water markets on the streams of the Mekong Delta and the endless bustling city life of Hanoi, where anything from school kids to fridges and huge piles of vegetables are transported on the back of countless motorcycles. Although Vietnam's huge cities are rapidly transforming into modern Asian metropolises, traditional culture is never far away.

City life

Hoi An street life
Head to Hoi An with its Venice-like canals and beautiful old town for some top sightseeing. Enjoy the old port, wander through its endless winding alleys and take a pick from its countless fine restaurants and shops, or relax on the beach. Once a fishermen's village, this town's now well-protected by preservation laws and has turned into a major hot spot for visitors. Hanoi is of course the summit of Asian city life. It's an incredible myriad of ancient traditions, old and modern architecture, sounds, smells, bustling commerce and famously crazy traffic. It's chaotic and enchanting at once - a great place to discover both ancient and contemporary Vietnam. Most sights are in the Old Quarter, including the famous Hoan Kiem Lake and the beautiful Bach Ma Temple. Spend a day or two in Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, the country's largest city. Nowhere are contrasts between old and new more ubiquitous and alive than here, where you'll find ancient pagodas and traditional street life at the feet of giant skyscrapers. Top sights include the Reunification Palace and Giac Lam Pagoda. Also well worth visiting is the former imperial town of Hue, with its beautiful Citadel and the Tombs of the Emperors along the Perfume River.

Landscapes and nature

Typical rice terraces
Few countries are blessed with landscapes as captivating as those of Vietnam. For many travellers, the country's awe-inspiring limestone scenery, perfect beaches, islands, mountain ranges, rice fields and lakes are its greatest treasures. One of Vietnam's top attractions, Ha Long Bay, boasts thousands of limestone pillars and islands topped with dense jungle vegetation. Among the bustling port life, you'll find floating fishermen's villages, caves, and island lakes. Neighbouring Lan Ha Bay is as spectacular, but less busy. Head to Sa Pa and the Muong Hoa valley to get take in the views of local rice fields against a background of bamboo forests. Also in the north is Tam Coc near Ninh Binh. This area is famous for its karst scenery, rice fields, and caves and is best explored by hired boat.

Phu Quoc, off the Cambodian coast, is the largest island in the country. Its delightful palm-lined beaches and tropical forests can compete with any in the world. Most famous in the south is of course the Mekong Delta. Here, the Mekong River empties into the South China Sea via a maze of smaller streams. It's a lush, green region and the source of half of Vietnam's agricultural produce. It offers scenic views of the rivers and rices fields as far as the eye can see. Here, natural landscapes and culture go hand in hand as life revolves around the water. The Mekong streams are a major means of transportation and host floating markets.

Some best picks in terms of natural wonders can be found in the country's national parks. Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is famous for its natural caves and grottos, with underground rivers and cave beaches as well as stunning stalagmites and stalactites. For wildlife, try Cuc Phuong National Park.

Museums
For better insight in Vietnam's ancient traditions, culture and history, visit one of the many museums, some with truly excellent collections. The War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City will leave a lasting impression, particularly the chilling collection of war photography. Although not exactly neutral in tone, there are English labels. The HCMC Museum is in a building worth seeing on its own, and gives a nice overview of the city's history. For a broader history collection, try the fine History Museum, which has artefacts from several Vietnamese cultures on display. In Hanoi, the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology is an excellent place to dive into the life of the country's tribal people. In the centre of town is the Fine Arts Museum has all kinds of arts on display, from high-quality wood and stone carvings to fabulous ceramics and textiles. Descriptions in English.

Climate

The south has three somewhat distinct seasons: hot and dry from Mar-May/Jun; rainy from Jun/Jul-Nov; and cool and dry from Dec-Feb. April is the hottest month, with mid-day temperatures of 33°C (91°F) or more most days. During the rainy season, downpours can happen every afternoon, and occasional street flooding occurs. Temperatures range from stifling hot before a rainstorm to pleasantly cool afterwards. Mosquitoes are most numerous in the rainy season. Dec-Feb is the most pleasant time to visit, with cool evenings down to around 20°C (68°F).
The north has four distinct seasons, with a comparatively chilly winter (temperatures can dip below 15°C/59°F in Hanoi), a hot and wet summer and pleasant spring (Mar-Apr) and autumn (Oct-Dec) seasons. However, in the Highlands both extremes are amplified, with occasional snow in the winter and temperatures hitting 40°C (104°F) in the summer.
In the central regions the Hai Van pass separates two different weather patterns of the north starting in Langco (which is hotter in summer and cooler in winter) from the milder conditions south starting in Da Nang. Northeast monsoon conditions Sep-Feb with often strong winds, large sea swells and rain make this a miserable and difficult time to travel through Central Vietnam. Normally summers are hot and dry.

Communications

Mobile phones
Mobile numbers in Vietnam must always be dialed with all 9 or 10 digits (including a "0" prefixing the "1nn" or "9nn" within Vietnam), no matter where they are being called from. The 1nn or 9nn is a mobile prefix, not an "area code", as such and the second and sometimes third digits (the nn part) denotes the original mobile network assigned. As is the case with most mobile numbers, they can also be called within or outside Vietnam using the international format.

There are many mobile networks with different codes:

G Mobile: 199, 99 (GSM 900)
Mobifone: 90, 93, 122, 124, 126 (GSM 900/1800)
SFone: 95 (CDMA)(not available)
Vietnamobile: 92, 188, 186 (GSM 900)
Viettel: 98, 97, 96, 165, 166, 167, 168, 169 (GSM 900)
Vinaphone: 91, 94, 121, 123, 125 (GSM 900)


You can buy a SIM card in any shop selling mobile phones. The standard price is no higher than 75, 000 dong, but foreigners are often charged 100, 000 dong.

SIM cards are also easily available at both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City Airports from official carrier booths which makes it quick, easy, and scam-free to get a SIM on arrival.

One month of 3G data or 4G data, with a limited amount of credit for text and voice calls, can cost as little as 140, 000 dong.


Prepaid account charges vary from 890-1, 600 dong per minute. Recharge cards are available in denominations of 10, 000, 20, 000, 50, 000, 100, 000, 200, 000 and 500, 000 dong.

Roaming on Vietnam's GSM networks is possible with foreign mobile phones, subject to agreements between operators.


Useful numbers
Police 113
Fire Brigade 114
Hospital 115
Time 117
General Information 1080


Internet
Internet access is available in all but the most remote towns. Internet cafes are available in most tourist spots and rates are fairly cheap, ranging from 2, 000-10, 000 dong per hour. Connection speeds are high, especially in the big cities.
Many hotels and restaurants provide free Wi-Fi or terminals for their guests. If you bring your own phone and/or laptop, several providers offer mobile Internet services (EDGE/3G or LTE/4G) services as well.
Internet censorship is applied to a very small number of Internet services.
Facebook is no longer blocked (Apr 2014)
BBC websites are no longer blocked (May 2015).
wordpress.com and its subdomains (free wordpress blogs) may be blocked in some areas.
A quick Google search for the relevant programs should help you bypass the ban quite easily. There was also a report that telecom companies were blocking the use of Skype, although this ban has now apparently been lifted. Other sites such as Gmail, YouTube, and Wikipedia are all unaffected. If web censorship is a problem, try the Tor Browser

Getting Around

By plane

Flights are the fastest way to traverse this long country. The flight from Hanoi to HCMC is only about 2 hours.
There are many flights connecting the two largest cities, Hanoi and HCMC, to major towns such as Da Nang, Hai Phong, Can Tho, Hue, Nha Trang, Da Lat, Phu Quoc. In the past most of these flights were cheap compared to European or North American flights. However, prices are higher than previously with, for example, a return connecting Hanoi to Da Nang costing around USD120-150 including taxes.
Domestic carriers are Vietnam Airlines with their subsidiary Vasco operating some shorter flights, Jetstar Pacific and VietJet.


By train

Although more expensive than buses, trains are undoubtedly the most comfortable way to travel overland in Vietnam. There is one major train line in Vietnam, the 1, 723 km trunk between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, on which the Reunification Express runs. HCMC to Hanoi is more than 30 hours, and overnight hops between major destinations are usually possible, if not entirely convenient. It's a good way to see the countryside and meet upper-middle class locals, but unless you are travelling in a sleeper car it is no more comfortable than buses.


Air conditioned soft or hard sleeper is recommended, and purchasing as early as possible is a good idea as popular berths and routes are often bought out by tour companies and travel agents well before the departure time (hence being told the train is sold out at a station ticket window or popular tour company office does not mean there are no tickets available--they've simply been bought by another reseller). Booking at the train station itself is generally the safest way, just prepare on a piece of paper the destination, date, time, no. of passengers and class.

However, unsold tickets can often be bought last minute from people hanging around at the station--a train is rarely sold out for real, as the railway company will add cars when demand is high. Commissions on these tickets will drop away as the departure time draws nearer. Tickets can be returned before departure for a 10% fee. There is also an official Vietnamese Railways website, which has English version and accepts payments by international bank cards.


Be cautious when using a travel agent to purchase your train tickets, since there is nothing printed on the ticket saying the class you are booked in. This results in a common scam with private travel agents where you will pay them to book a soft-sleeper ticket, they then book you a cheaper hard-sleeper ticket, and you don't know you've been scammed until you board the train and your berths are in the lower class. By then with the train on the verge of departing it is too late to go back to the scamming agent to demand compensation.


In addition, there are shorter routes from Hanoi leading northwest and northeast, with international crossings into China. One of the most popular of the shorter routes is the overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai (with bus service from Lao Cai to the tourist destination of Sapa).
Always try to buy your tickets at least 3 days in advance, to avoid disappointment, especially during peak holiday season, during which you should try to book at least 2 weeks in advance.


By bus

Long-distance bus services connect most cities in Vietnam. Most depart early in the morning to accommodate traffic and late afternoon rains, or run overnight. It is important to note that average road speeds are typically quite slow, even when travelling between cities. For example a 276 km (172 mi) journey from the Mekong Delta to Ho Chi Minh City by bus will likely take about 8 hours.
Public Buses travel between the cities' bus stations. In bigger places, you often have to use local transport to get into the city centre from there. Buses are generally in reasonable shape, and you have the chance to interact with locals.
Caution NOTE: As a foreigner, you are likely to get overcharged on local buses, where you pay a conductor during the journey. Find out what the right fare is by looking up the price (it is displayed somewhere, often next to the front door on the outside of the bus; take a photo if you can) or by talking to one of the local travellers. Give the right amount and be prepared to argue your case.Open Tour buses are run by a multitude of tour companies. They cater especially to tourists, offering ridiculous low rates (Hanoi to HCMC: USD20-25) and door-to-door service to your desired hostel. You can break the journey at any point and continue on a bus of the same company any time later, or simply buy tickets just for the stage you're willing to cover next. Note that if you're not planning to make more than 3-4 stops, it might be cheaper to buy separate tickets as you go (i.e. Hanoi to Hue can be as low as USD5). Most hotels and guesthouses can book seats for any connection, although you're better to shop around at travel agents, as prices will vary on any given ticket/bus company. Going to the bus company office may net you a commission-free fare, but most major bus operators have fixed pricing policies, which can only be circumvented through a travel agent.
Since tour companies charge very little, they do make commission on their stop-offs which are often at souvenir shops, where you do not have to buy; they always have toilets and drinks and water available for purchase. The estimated time for a bus trip will not be accurate and may be an additional couple of hours sometimes, due to the number of stop offs. Collecting the passengers at the start of the journey can also take quite a while too. Always be at least half an hour early to catch the bus. Try not to drink too much water, as rest stops, especially for overnight buses, may be just somewhere where there are a lot of bushes.
Vietnamese buses are made for Vietnamese people - bigger Westerners will be very uncomfortable, especially on overnight buses. Also, many Vietnamese are not used to travelling on long-haul buses, and will sometimes get sick - not very pleasant if you are stuck on an overnight bus with several Vietnamese throwing up behind you.
Even if you are sometimes bus-sick, it is advisable to book a sit at the middle rather than at the front of the bus. First, you will avoid viewing directly the short-sighted risks the driver is taking on the way. Second, you will somewhat escape the loud noise of non-stop honking (each time the bus passes another vehicle, that is about every 10 seconds).
Although the bus company will usually be happy to collect you at your hotel or guest house, boarding at the company office will guarantee a choice of seats and you'll avoid getting stuck at the back or unable to sit next to your travelling companions. The offices are generally located in or near the tourist area of town, and a short walk might make your trip that much more pleasant.
The long haul bus companies operate from north to south and back on the only main road (QL1). Be aware that if you take a bus going further than your destination, the bus will drop you off at the most convenient crossroad for it and not as you could have expected at the bus terminal of your destination. For Hué, this crossroad is 13 km from city centre, Nha Trang 10 km. At these crossroads, you'll find taxis or mototaxis to get you to your hotel.


If you travel with bicycle, negotiate the extra fee with the driver rather than the ticket counter before buying your ticket. The bicycle fee should be no more than 10% of the ticket price.


A scam that you may encounter is that after arriving at your location, the guides will ask you whether you have booked a hotel. Even though you haven't, say that you have and prepare the name of a hotel. If you say you have not booked one, they will charter a taxi for you and probably drop you at a hotel which they can collect commission. If you decide not to stay, things may get a little ugly, as they will demand that you pay the taxi fare, which they may quote as several times the actual fare for a ten minute ride.
Be very careful of your possessions on the overnight bus, as people (including bus employees) have been known to look through passenger's bags and take expensive items such as iPods and phones and sell them on for profit. If you are travelling with an iPod, do not fall asleep with it in you ear, as the chances are it will be nowhere to be found in the morning. Simply get a padlock for your hand luggage and lock everything up in there before you go to sleep.


By car

International Driving PermitsAs of October 2015, International Driving Permits are recognised in Vietnam. However, hiring a car without a driver is almost unheard of, and unless you have a valid motorcycle license in your home country, your permit is not valid for riding a motorcycle. Always bring your home driving license with you.


A provincial road (Yen Bai Provincial Route 163) in good condition, with a milestone (80 km from Yen Bai City)Like its former colonial master, France, traffic moves on the right in Vietnam.
International Driving Permits are recognised in Vietnam. However, the concept of renting a car to drive yourself is almost non-existent, and when Vietnamese speak of renting a car they always mean hiring a car with a driver. (After a short time on local roads with their crazy traffic, you will be glad you left the driving to somebody used to it.)

Since few Vietnamese own cars, they have frequent occasion to hire vehicles for family outings, special occasions, etc., and a thriving industry exists to serve that need. Vietnamese can easily hire anything from a small car to a 32-seat bus, for one day or several. Tourists can tap into that market indirectly by way of hotels and tour agents found in every tourist area.

Additionally, international car brands have started to surface. Budget Car Rental, one of the largest car rental companies in the world, now offers chauffeur driven services in Vietnam. Hiring a small car for a day trip returning to the point of origin costs around USD60 for 8 hours (though the price changes with the cost of fuel.)

(If you shop around and bargain hard for the lowest possible price, you will probably get an older, more beat-up car. If you are paying more than bare minimum, it's worth asking what sort of car it will be, and holding out for something comfortable.) Few drivers speak any English, so make sure you tell the hotel/agent exactly where you want to go, and have that communicated to the driver.
It's also possible to hire a car and driver for inter-city travel, at somewhat higher cost. A small car from Saigon to the beach resort of Mui Ne, a 4- or 5-hour trip depending on traffic, costs about USD70, and Dalat to Mui Ne about USD90. Long distance travel by car may be a good choice for several people travelling together, as it provides a flexible schedule and flexible access to remote sites. Keep in mind that although a network of paved roads exists in Vietnam, long-distance road travel in Vietnam by whatever means (bus or car) is slow, with average speed less than 50 km/hour. Highway 1, the north-south backbone of the country, is a two-lane road with very heavy truck and bus traffic. Similarly, the main road of the north-west - the so-called Hanoi (Noi Bai) - Lao Cai Expressway is, in reality, merely a good two-lane paved road, with speed limits varying from 60 to 80 km/h, reduced in many places to 40 km/h due to road work (as of 2017). Tolls on this "expressway" are pretty hefty, but motorists pay them, because the alternative is using local roads, which in some sections are not paved at all.


Generally speaking, describing Vietnamese driving habits as atrocious would be an understatement. Road courtesy is non-existent and drivers generally do not check their blind spots or mirrors (in fact, many vehicles have had their wing mirrors removed). Vietnamese drivers also tend to use their horn very often to get motorcyclists and cyclists out of their way. In addition, most roads do not have lane markings and even on those that do, drivers generally ignore the lane markings. As such, driving yourself in Vietnam is not recommended and you should leave your transportation needs in the hands of locals.


By bicycle

Adventurous travellers may wish to see Vietnam by cycling. Several adventure travel tours provide package tours with equipment. Most of the population get around on two wheels, so it's an excellent way to get closer to the people as well as off the beaten path.


Bicycles can be rented cheaply in many cities and are often a great way of covering larger distances. Good spots for cycling are Dalat, Hoi An, Hue and Ninh Binh. On the other hand, attempting to cycle in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is virtually suicide without proper experience of traffic rules (or lack thereof, 'proper experience' in this case means understanding that everyone around you could potentially change direction without signalling and at any moment...)
In cities like HCMC and Hanoi, parking bicycles on pedestrian areas is not allowed and you'll have to go to a pay parking lot: 2000 dong per bike.


By motorcycle

The xe ôm (literally "hugging vehicle"), a taxi-motorbike, is a common mode of transport for Vietnamese as well as tourists. They are widely available and reasonably cheap -- about 10, 000 dong for a 10 minute trip, which should get you anywhere within the city centre. Walk the city streets, and every couple of minutes a guy will flag your attention and say "You !! Motobike?" Longer trips to outlying areas can be negotiated for 20, 000-25, 000 dong. Always agree on the fare before starting your trip.
Moto drivers rarely speak English. As with most things, a tourist will often be quoted an above-market price initially, and you need to be firm. If quoted anything over 10, 000 dong for a short trip, remind the driver that you could take an air-con taxi for 15, 000 dong so forget it. Occasionally drivers will demand more than the negotiated price at the end, so it's best to have exact change handy. Then you can pay the agreed amount and walk away, end of discussion.
In some cases they will take you wherever they want (tourist attractions or shops you didn't request to go) and sometimes they will wait for you to come back (even if you don't want them to wait) and will ask you for more money for having been waiting. Even if you speak some Vietnamese, this is not useful, since they will cheat you anyway or they will act as if they don't understand even if they do. Again, be firm and walk away.


By motorcycle


A roadside sign with a Zen messageThe 110 cc motorbike is the preferred mode of transport for the Vietnamese masses, and the large cities swarm with them. It's common to see whole families of four cruising along on a single motorbike. In most places where tourists go, you can easily rent your own, with prices ranging from 100, 000 to 160, 000 dong per day. Before reading on, however, you should be aware that it is illegal for foreigners to ride a motorbike in Vietnam unless they are in possession of a temporary Vietnamese motorcycle licence, or an International Driving Permit with a valid home country motorcycle license.
 

Health

Public hospitals in Vietnam are generally not up to the standards of the West, and have a tendency to be understaffed and overcrowded. Doctors and nurses at public hospitals also typically do not speak any foreign languages, so if you do not speak Vietnamese, you will probably need to bring a translator with you. In general, hospitals will only accept your case if you can demonstrate the ability to pay for their services.

There are private hospitals in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang that cater mainly for Western expatriates and provide excellent healthcare, with staff members who are able to speak English and French, though you would be paying a steep premium for their services. The French-run FV Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City is the best known of Vietnam's private hospitals, and is a popular destination for medical tourists. Most of the expatriate-oriented private hospitals accept international travel insurance.

HIV
Vietnam has a high rate of HIV. (0.5% of the Population 2014).

 

Passport Visa

Visitors from the following countries do not require a visa and can stay for the following number of days.

14 days: Brunei, Myanmar
15 days: Belarus, Denmark, Finland, France, Great Britain (until 30 June 2017), Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Russia (as of July 1, 2015)
21 days: Philippines
30 days: Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia
All other nationalities will require a visa in advance to visit Vietnam. You can apply for a visa on-line

 

In April 2014 a 30 day single entry visa from the Consulate General of Vietnam in Vancouver, Canada cost CAD100. The same visa cost about 115 euros (plus shipping) from the Consulate of Vietnam in Turin, Italy. From the Consulate General of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in Sydney, Australia the visa cost i. sept. 2014 was $95.

 

Safety

Vietnam is a relatively safe place for tourists, especially when travelling in groups.

While many safety warnings in travel guidebooks are no more than scaremongering, tourist areas are prime petty crime locales. Violent crime towards foreigners is uncommon, but pickpockets and motorbike snatching are not uncommon in larger cities. Thieves on motorbikes snatch bags, mobile phones, cameras, and jewellery off pedestrians and other motorbike drivers. Don't wear your bag on your shoulder when riding a motorbike. Don't place it in the motorbike basket. When walking along a road, keep your bag on your inboard shoulder. If your bag is snatched, don't resist to the point of being dragged onto the roadway.

Reports of thefts from hotel rooms, including upmarket hotels, have been heard occasionally. Do not assume that your hotel room strongbox is inviolable.

Avoid fights and arguments with locals. Westerners may be bigger than Vietnamese, but if you're dealing with 5 or more Vietnamese guys then you're in serious trouble. Keep in mind that yelling is highly insulting to Vietnamese and may prompt a violent response. Vietnamese in general are placid and kind. As a visitor, you should respect local laws and customs. Altercations can be avoided easily by showing courtesy and tolerating cultural differences. Be on your best behaviour when drinking with Vietnamese men.

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