Vietnam: Country Profile
Vietnam, officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, covers an area of 332,698 km2. It share borders with China in the north, Laos and Cambodia in the West, and the Pacific Ocean in the East. With a population of more than 90 million, it is the 13th most populated country in the world and one of the most populated in Southeast Asia. The vast majority of the population (86%) is of Viet ethnicity (also called Kinh), while the rest of the population is comprising of 54 ethnic minority groups including Muong, Thai, H’Mong, Khmer, Cham, Tay, and Nung, among others.
Vietnam’s geography varies from low, flat deltas and plateaus to hilly, mountainous formations. Three quarters of Vietnam's soil is hilly and mountainous. Vietnam is also home to two deltas – the Red River Delta in the North and the Mekong Delta in the south – highly populated regions also serving as the two main "rice baskets" of the country.
Vietnam, once a forbidden country for tourists, now attracts millions visitor every year. Rich culture, strong traditions, and friendly people, all characterize this formidable country. This exotic destination offers not only many natural wonders such as magical islands set in pristine waters and jaw-dropping mountainous areas, but also historic and cultural sites like pagodas and war remains. All these ingredients explain the growing popularity of Vietnam among tourists. Travelling to Vietnam should undoubtedly be an unforgettable and fantastic experience for visitors from around the world.
Vietnamese cuisine is full of great surprises and will definitely be a major part of your travel experience in Vietnam. One of the characteristics of Vietnamese cuisine is that dishes are always prepared with fresh food purchased at the markets on the same day. In general, dishes are cooked with a minimum of oil and mostly with fish sauce. Here is a list of typical dishes that you will be able to try: “Pho” (a soup-like dish with rice noodles and either beef or chicken), “Cha Gio” (beef or pork pate), “Nem” (fried springroll) and “Goi Ngo Sen” (a sort of salad with lotus roots, shrimps, peanuts and herbs). As Vietnamese are largely influenced by Buddhism, it is quite easy to find vegetarian dishes.
Regarding food in Vietnam, it is recommended to peal vegetables and fruits before consumption. As a safety measure, we advise you to only eat cooked vegetables. Never drink tap water. Ice cubes are normally safe in hotels and restaurants, but should be avoided in remote regions.
It is easy to find soft drinks and encapsulated water. Avoid eating undercooked fish and meat. Make sure to check expiration dates on the products before purchasing them. Finally, clean your hands carefully and thoroughly before having a meal.
Except for exceptional cases, electrical outlets are often 220 volts. Plugs are either of French type (round) or American type (flat). It is better to bring with you a universal adapter.
The Vietnamese currency is the Vietnamese Dong (VND). It exists in the form of notes (from 200 VND to 500,000 VND), as coins have nearly disappeared and are very rarely used nowadays. Even if local law forbids the use of other currencies, the American Dollar (USD) and the Euro (EUR) are also accepted in Vietnam. You can change those currencies into Vietnamese Dong without any problem at local money exchange desks. However, for small expenses, it’s much easier and convenient to pay in dongs.
You can find the exchange rates on Vietcombank’s website (www.vietcombank.com.vn) or on the website www.xe.com.
Most hotels and restaurants in larger cities accept credit cards. Usually, a bank fee of 2 or 3% is added to the total amount.
You can also use your credit card to withdraw Vietnamese Dongs at ATMs, widespread and easy to find in big cities.
The Laotian currency is the Kip (LAK). US Dollars are widely accepted: when paying in USD, change is often given back in Kip. In major tourist areas, it is relatively easy to find money exchange counters or ATMs.
The Cambodian currency is the Riel (KHR). US Dollars are widely accepted, even for small amounts. In major tourist areas, it is easy to find money exchange counters or ATMs in order to get either Riels or US Dollars.
Phone and Internet
- Prices for international calls are quite cheap in Vietnam. Usually, you can make calls from internet cafes and hotels. Prices for international calls are cheap in Vietnam. You can make calls from Internet cafes and hotels. You can also easily buy phone cards (SIM) for your mobile (prepaid cards) – it is usually cheap. You can also unlock your mobile phone once you get to Vietnam, rent a phone or buy second-hand phones at very low price like 20 USD. There are many telecom companies that cover the most remote parts of Vietnam: Vinaphone, Mobiphone, Viettel.
The use of fax is possible from hotels, business centers and post offices.
Internet is widely accessible in major tourist areas and cities throughout Vietnam. You can access to internet in most hotels, restaurants, coffee shops and internet cafes. In the countryside, the access to internet is more random.
Phone: the international dialing code for Vietnam is +84.
Useful phone numbers to dial in Vietnam:
- 1080: Social & Cultural Information Clearing Up Queries Service
- 113: Police
- 114: Fire Brigade
- 115: Ambulance
Generally speaking, Vietnam is a very safe country for tourists. Assault and attacks on foreigners are very rare. Nevertheless, there are still some issues regarding petty theft, pickpocketing and drive-by bag snatching (by motorbike). You should be vigilant, particularly in very touristic city centers like in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. You should not become paranoid but just be aware of your surroundings.
Just in case, please find some advice in order to avoid any risk:
- do not wear jewelry/watches of high value
- do not show large sums of money or traveler’s checks in public
- avoid walking on the edge of the road
- do not leave your passport and other important documents in the safety box of the hotel
- do not take pedicabs at night
If you lose something during the course of your trip, you must make a declaration of loss at the nearest police station from the place where the event occurred. Afterwards, you will be able to use it for your insurance and, in the case of a lost passport, to make the procedure at the Vietnam Immigration Department in order to get an exit visa.
During your trip, if you need a taxi, the best is to ask your hotel to call a cab for you. If you are outside and in the streets, we advise you to take Mai Linh taxis. Keep a visit card of your hotel on you, as it can be useful when taking a taxi and giving instructions to the driver. You can even highlight the address of your hotel (in case your hotel is a chain having several locations in the same city). Try to memorize the taxi number in case you forget something inside the cab. Please take care of your belongings and always make sure you don’t forget nothing when leaving the train/car/bus.
Vietnamese people are generally very friendly, polite and generous; they will always try to make their guests comfortable. In small towns and villages, do not be surprised if you are invited to visit the home and family of someone you just met: those are the experiences that would make your stay in Vietnam even more special.
However, Vietnamese are still usually conservative in the way to dress. If you find yourself amid locals or in a sensitive cultural site such as a pagoda or a temple, please pay attention to the clothes you wear; make sure to cover your knees and shoulders. Keep in mind that although the Vietnamese are tolerant, they might have a negative judgment if you wear very short skirts or shorts in these places of worship.
If your travel itinerary includes visits to villages, schools or homestays, and if you want to offer small gifts to the villages you visit, school materials is the best way to go and will always be appreciated (pen, pencil cases, folders, books, rules, crayons etc.).
Airport Tax and Customs
All airport taxes and fees are included in flight tickets since November 2006, except for a few low-cost airlines.
As for Customs: all passengers have to fill up a customs declaration document and open luggage if it is required for a checking. Visitors are allowed to bring an unlimited quantity of foreign currency, gold and other precious stones or metals. All of these must need to be declared on the customs declaration form. There is no limit, but if you bring more than USD $7,000 worth of money/gold/precious stones and metals, you would have to declare it.
Tourists are allowed to bring duty-free items, in maximum quantities as follows: 400 cigarettes, 100 cigars, 100g of tobacco, 1.5L of alcohol. Gifts: gifts of small value shall not exceed a value of USD $500.
It is forbidden to bring the following items to Vietnam:
- Weapons, explosives and inflammable items
- Opium and other narcotics
- Cultural objects that are unseemly to Vietnamese culture
Upon leaving Vietnam, goods for commercial purposes and high value items require a permit issued by Customs. Few antique items, precious stones and all animals listed in the Red Book of Endangered Species should not be taken out of the country.
It is advised to prepare film rolls in advance and be careful of X-rays in airports. Before taking pictures, you should politely ask permission. Do not pay in advance even though it is required to you.
Tips & Rules of Etiquette
Tips are customary to thank tour guides, drivers and luggage porters. Tipping is subject to your own discretion: it shouldn’t be viewed or perceived as a constraint, but should be distributed only as a reward for quality service that was rendered to you. Tipping can be a delicate subject that can bother you during your trip. They are not mandatory and vary depending on the budget of each tourist and on the level of satisfaction linked to a rendered service.
Usually, tips are given to tour guides, drivers, porters and boat rowers. For tour guides, tips are often between USD $3 and USD $5 per day per traveler and are distributed if you are happy with the service. If your group consists of many persons (6 or more), each person can give between USD $2 to USD $3. Tips for drivers are usually lower than for the tour guides.
Hotels and homestays have to inform the police about your presence in their establishments. As a result, you will be asked to show your passport and visa. We suggest you to photocopy your passport details and visa multiple times, in order to give one copy instead of giving your original passport.
In general, offices are open from Monday to Friday from 7:30-8:00am to 4:30-5:00pm and usually closed between 11:30am to 1:00pm. Some offices are also open on Saturday mornings, and even a few for the whole day. Shops and restaurants open early and close late (around 9:00pm to 10:00pm). Most of shops are open 7d/7 and travel agencies are nearly every day.
Vietnamese is the one and only official language in Vietnam and is spoken by the vast majority of the population (more than 90%). Those who don’t speak Vietnamese are often people from ethnic minorities living in rural and mountainous areas. Vietnamese was originally written in Chinese characters which were adapted to the indigenous vocabulary. In the 17th century, Alexandre de Rhodes, a French Jesuit, adapted Vietnamese in Latin alphabet, using an ingenious system of diacritics to transcribe the tones of the words. It resulted in what we call “Quoc Ngu” (meaning national language), an exclusively Vietnamese writing style.
As for foreign languages, English is the most popular with young people. There are also tour guides speaking English, French, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, German, Russian and Spanish. For other languages, it will be difficult to find practitioners.
Here are some words that can prove to be useful during your trip in Vietnam:
|Hello||Xin chào||I am sorry||Tôi xin lỗi|
|Thank you||Cảm ơn||It's too expensive||Đắt qúa|
|Goodbye||Chào tạm biệt||Sale (price reduction)||Giảm giá|
|See you soon||Hẹn gặp lại||Menu||Thực đơn|
|No||Không||I am vegetarian||Tôi ăn chay|
|I don't know||Tôi không biết|| || |
Vietnamese people follow the lunar calendar for all traditional festivities. As a result, some religious celebrations or popular festivals don’t always happen on a same given day each year if you follow the solar calendar. The first day of the year is the first day of the first moon of the year. It marks the start of “Têt” celebration, when most of offices, banks and shops are closed for minimum 4 days.
- New Year (January 1st according to the solar calendar): 1 day
- Lunar New Year (Têt): 4 days
- Hung Kings commemorations: 1 day (10th day of the 3rd lunar month)
- Liberation Day: 1 day (April 30th)
- International Workers Day: 1 day (May 1st)
- National Day: 1 day (September 2nd)
Insurance and hospitals
We advise you to subscribe to an insurance policy in your country of origin, before starting your travel. As for medical emergencies, the number to dial in Vietnam is 115.
In case of an emergency, you can contact the consular section of your Embassy in Hanoi or the Consulate (during opening hours). Outside office hours, your call will be transferred to a consular officer for immediate assistance.
You can find hospitals and clinics of international standard in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang. Elsewhere in the country, there are only local hospitals offering basic medical service and where language could be an obstacle. If your case is serious, consider repatriation and contact your insurance company as soon as possible.
Please find the contact numbers and addresses of several international hospitals and clinics:
L'Hôpital Français de Hanoi (Hanoi French Hospital)
| 1, Phuong Mai street|| Phone: (84 4) 35 74 07 40|
| International SOS Clinic|
Unit A, Central Block
31, Hai Ba Trung street
Phone: (84 4) 39 34 06 66 / Fax: (84 4) 39 34 05 56
| Hanoi Family Medical Practice|
Block A1, offices 109-112
Van Phuc Diplomatic Complex
| Phone: (84 4) 38 43 07 48 / 38 46 17 48|
HO CHI MINH CITY
L'Hôpital Francais du Vietnam (Vietnam French Hospital)
|6, Nguyen Luong Bang street|
District 7, HCMC
|Phone: (84 8) 54 1133 33|
Fax: (84 8) 54 11 33 34
Han Nam Building
65, Nguyen Du street
District 1, HCMC
|Phone: (84 8) 38 29 85 20|
Centre Médical International (CMI)
|1, Han Thuyen street|
District 1, HCMC
|Phone: (84 8) 827-2366 / 827-2367|
Columbia-Asia Saigon Clinic
|8, Alexandre de Rhodes street|
District 1, HCMC
|Phone: (84 8) 823-8888 / 823-8455|
Columbia-Asia Gia Dinh Clinic
|1, No Trang Long street|
District Binh Thanh, HCMC
|Phone: (84 8) 38 03 06 78|
|Da Nang Medical Family Practice |
50-52, Nguyen Van Linh street
Nam Duong Ward, Hai Chau District, Da Nang
|Phone: (84 511) 3 58 26 99 / 700|
|C Hospital |
122 Hai Phong street, Da Nang
|Phone: (84-511) 3 82 36 43|PHNOM PENH (CAMBODIA)
|80, Preah Monivong Boulevard||Phone: 855-(0)-23 42 69 48855-(0)-11 42 69 48|
Institut Pasteur in Cambodia
|5, Preah Monivong Boulevard||Phone: 855-(0)-23 42 60 09|
SIEM REAP (CAMBODIA)
|Direct-dial number of Emergency Service at Siem Reap Provincial Hospital||Siem Reap |
Phone: 855-(0)-63 76 11 19
|Emergency service of the "Royal Angkor International Hospital" (co-managed by Bangkok Hospital)|
Phum Kasekam, Khum Sra Ngea National Route 6 (Airport Road)
Krong Siem Reap 17000, Cambodia
| Phone: 855-(0)-63 76 18 88 |