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Vietnam Travel Guide

Concise Travel Guide on Vietnam - Basic Facts, Geography, Climate, and Useful Tips

Geography

Vietnam is not a war, but a country. After the liberalization and re-unification, it becomes an attractive spot for tourism. From North to South, you can feel differences in topography, history, cultures, and people. Lying on the Indochina Peninsula - the country borders on China, Laos, Cambodia with a long coastline of 3,300 km, land area of 331,689 square kilometers. Due to long standing history, it has highly well-developed civilization flourished since the time of Hung Kings and over 2,000 years of culture.

The Vietnamese people comprises of 56 ethnic groups with totaling over 70 millions - all living in harmony. The Viet race occupies more than 80% of the people.

Besides various terrains including natural forest, rolling mountains, immense plains, long coast, roughing hills... The traditional custom and culture, normal life-style and recent war relics have been all the attractions towards tourism. You can enjoy many magnificent places such as Halong Bay with wonderful grottoes, Hanoi with historical scenic monuments, the national park of Cuc Phuong and Cat Ba with many extinct flora and fauna, the historical old capital of Hoa Lu, Hue with ancient architectures of temples, Danang with immense mountain areas, Nha Trang beach with sparkling white sand, Dalat with quaint highland fresh weather, Hochiminh City - renowned Saigon with its underground Cu Chi Tunnel and the scenic Mekong Delta. All in all, travel to Vietnam is one of the most fascinating place to visit in Asia.


Climate

In general, rain falls between May and November in the South and between April and October in the North. Before the monsoons start in the North, there is a hot period caused by the winds blowing in from Laos. It can be cold between December, January and February in the North. The winter average temperature is about 16 degree Celsius. South central Vietnam and the delta wetlands have an annual average temperature of 27-30 degree Celsius. The warmest period is March to May.


Clothes

In the North and Central: Warm clothes, gloves, shoes and woolen hats are advised in the cold period (December to February). The remaining of the year is hot and requires summer clothes, raincoat or umbrella.

In the South: Only light summer clothes, hat and sun glasses. The weather is rainy and humid from April to November or December. Raincoat or umbrella are advised.


People

Vietnamese is consisted of 56 ethnic groups with the majority of Viet race 85-90%, Chinese 3% and other minorities - Muong, Thai, Mee, Khmer, Cham, H'mong, and Dao.

The origin of the Vietnamese people is Mongoloid as its brethren in North and East Asia.

Due to its long history, they receive great influence from the ancient Chinese and India cultures.


Religion

The major religions in Vietnam are Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Christianity, Islam Cao Dai, Hoa Hoa and other indigenous beliefs.

Buddhism entered Vietnam around 4 B.C. and reached its peak it Ly Dynasty in 11th century. With the domination of Chinese over 11 centuries, the teaching of Confucianism and Taoism was prevailed and many of its aspects were blended with that of Buddhism. This combined religious practice, called Tam Giao (Triple Religion) has great influenced on the social life and culture of the nation. Around 70% of the present day Vietnam are Buddhists.

Before the colonial period, Christianity entered Vietnam in 17 century with Roman Catholic at the lead. About 10% of population is Catholics. Protestant is also observed, but less than half a million.

Islam is observed by the Cham minority group with less than a hundred thousand followers.

Another two sects evolved at the beginning of 20th century - Cao Daism in 1926 and Hoa Haoism with about 2 million and 1 million followers, respectively.


Language

Major languages are Vietnamese (official), Chinese (Mandarin & Cantonese), French, English, Khmer and other minority tribal language.

A blend of Khmer-Mon and Chinese derived into the Vietnamese language. The Chinese language had been primarily used and written during the Chinese rule, and after its departure, a unique ancient written system called Chu Nom was developed from Chinese scripts around the 10th century. Chu Nom had been widely used for many centuries later in daily life and literatures before it vanquished

The arrival of Portuguese missionaries in early 17th century had a great influence on Vietnam written language. Attempting to spread the gospel, they incorporated the Roman scripts into Chu Nom for translation of the Bible and a new derivative called Quoc Ngu arise. Later on Alexandre de Rhodes, a French Jesuit, published Quoc Ngu dictionary which is the translation of Vietnamese-Portuguese-Latin. Quoc Ngu was used mainly by missionaries and some Vietnamese scholars at that time and had undergone further development.

In 1867, the French colonialists introduced Quoc Ngu into the educational system of Vietnam, and not until early 20th century, Quoc Ngu became widely used among the Vietnamese.


Economy

Vietnam is still a poor, and densely populated country. After the end of Cold War, it had lose the financial support from the Soviet Bloc, which led to the structural reforms in economy and tourism. Many of its rigid rules and regulations were relaxed and there were influx of foreign capitals for investment. Over the past 10 years, Vietnam experienced a substantial growth, however the decline began when inflow of foreign investment is delayed by some legal barriers and administrative intervention. With the the economic downtown of the region in 1997, its growth slump from 8.5% in 1997 to 4% in 1998 with trade deficit of over US$ 3 billion. Moreover, Vietnam also faced tough competition and more advanced managements of its foreign competitors. The unemployment rate is expected to be over 20%.

  • GDP: US$ 143.1 Billion (1999), and constitute of 26% Agriculture, 33% Industry and 41% from Services.
  • Inflation Rate: 4% (1999)
  • Agricultural Products - rice, corn, potatoes, rubber, soybean, coffee, tea, bananas, poultry, pigs, fish
  • Industries - food processing, garments, shoes, machine building, mining, cement, chemical fertilizer, glass, tires, oil, coal, steel, papers
  • Exports - Crude oil, marine products, rice, coffee, rubber, tea, garment, shoes.

Currency

Vietnam currency is Dong comprising the following bank notes: 200d, 500d, 1000d, 2000d, 5000d, 10000d, 20000d, and 50000d.

Exchange rate in 1998 - 13,900 Dong / USD vs 11,100 Dong in 1995 and 8,100 in 1991.

Visitors may encounter difficulties exchanging other currencies. Traveler cheques and credit cards such as American Express, Visa and Master are not yet widely accepted but can be used with banks, hotels, major restaurants and shops.


Public Holidays

  • 1 January - Solar New Year's Day
  • Vietnamese Traditional Lunar New Year's Festival or Tet Holidays. It is a 4-day holiday (the last day of the Lunar year and the first three days of the next). Tet is usually at the end of January or the beginning of February of the Solar Calendar.
  • 30 April - Anniversary of Saigon's Liberation Day 1 May - International Labor Day
  • 2 September - National Day of Vietnam.

Business and Social Hints

Business is conducted fairly formally and lightweight clothes should be worn. It is advisable for French-speaking delegates to attend meeting as English may not be widely spoken. Social life is reasonably informal & conservative sportswear is recommended. Alcohol is available and smoking accepted.


Other useful tips

  • A drive from Tan Son Nhat Airport to downtown Hochiminh costs about USD 10 by airport taxi.
  • Fresh, unexposed film is available at cheap price in Saigon.
  • Do not exchange money on streets Leave all valuables in hotel's safe box
  • Tourists should check in at the airport 2 hours before taking an Vietnam international airport and 1 hour before domestic flight.
 
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