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Introduction Vietnam – Land of the Blue Dragon

With her origins shrouded in the mists of time, Vietnam has evolved a rich oral tradition of myth and legend. Vietnamese mythology contends the people are descended from a dragon and a fairy. The union of the dragon, King Lac Long Quan, and the enchanting mountain fairy Au Co produced one hundred offspring. The eldest son became the first King of the thousand year Hung Dynasty. This dynasty is commemorated to this day as the bud from which the Vietnamese nation ultimately flowered.

Throughout time, Vietnam has forged her identity through the highs and lows of history. Today she has become a robust and vibrant commercial hub and thriving travel destination in the heart of Southeast Asia.

With her 3,000 km coastline bejewelled with sun-drenched sandy beaches imbued with a vast array of resorts and hotels, Vietnam has established a growing reputation as a first-class beach destination.

Possessing a unique cultural and historical heritage, Vietnam is an idyllic choice for travellers in search of exotic travel experiences not to be found anywhere else. A grand exploration delves deep into the heart-warming natural hospitality and charm of the peoples and soul-stirring landscapes of Vietnam.
General infomation
Vietnam shares its land borders with Cambodia and Laos to the west and China to the north. Vietnam's eastern border is the 3,000 kilometers of coastline facing the East Sea. The country covers an area of 329,600 square kilometers and its two main cultivated areas are the Red River Delta in the north and the Mekong Delta in the south.

The country's topography varies from coastal plains to mountain ranges.

Climate and Seasons
Vietnam has a tropical monsoon climate with wet and dry seasons. These seasons vary from north to south and with elevation changes. In general, the dry season lasts from November to April in the north, south and central highland regions. The coolest, driest times to visit are from October to January (north), from February to April (Central Highlands) and from late December to March (south). 

Vietnam has a population of 86 million, 85% of which are ethnic Vietnamese or ‘Kinh’. The remaining 15% is comprised of ethnic-Chinese, Khmers, Chams or members of more than 60 ethnic minority peoples living in the mountainous regions of central and northern Vietnam. The largest ethnic minority groups are the Tay, the White Thai, the Black Thai and the H'mong. These groups display similar rural and agricultural lifestyles, but have different languages, dress, cultures and physical features

The national language of Vietnam is Vietnamese. In big cities and in places with many tourists, people will speak basic English. The younger generation will be more adept at speaking English, while the older generation still speaks some French. Because Vietnamese has six different tones, it is a difficult language for most foreigners to speak despite the fact that the Roman alphabet is used in modern Vietnamese. The same word can have six different meanings depending on the tone used to pronounce it. Russian and Chinese are also spoken by some people

Buddhism is the dominant religion in Vietnam usually combined with elements of Confucianism and Taoism. About 10% of the country's population is Catholic and there are also communities of Protestants and Muslims. Vietnam is also home to a unique religion called Cao Dai, a religious cocktail of all the world's major faiths

Vietnam is GMT + 7 and does not operate daylight-saving system.

AIRLINES International: A variety of airlines flies directly into Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. Danang is also an international airport with only few flights per a week. Domestic: Two domestic airlines are currently operating in Vietnam: Vietnam Airlines and Jetstar-Pacific Airlines (Jetstar-Pacific is a low-cost carrier (LCC) managed by Jetstar a sister company of Qantas Australia). Both are using a mixture of Boeing and Airbus planes and Vietnamese as well as foreign pilots.

There is a departure tax on all international flights but this tax is already included in the price of your all airplane tickets.

By Air
Consult your local travel agent for routings, fares and availability on flights to Vietnam. Discount websites and flight search engines may offer some good deals. Major airlines flying to Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi include: Vietnam Airlines, Air France, United Airlines, Lufthansa, Thai Airways, Qatar Airways, Bangkok Airways and many more. Major airlines flying to Danang International Airport include PB Air from Bangkok and Silk Air from Singapore.
By Land
Vietnam shares a border with China in the north (three border crossings), Laos in the west (three border crossings) and Cambodia in the south-west (two border crossings).
From China
Trains from Beijing to Hanoi pass by Nanning and Pinxiang in China and enter Vietnam at Dong Dang (north of Lang Son). There is also a road crossing know as Huu Nghi in Lang Son province. Trains coming from Kunming cross the border at Lao Cai, in northwest Vietnam. From Guangzhou, you will cross the border at Mong Cai, a few hours drive from Halong and its spectacular Bay.
From Laos
If you travel from Laos by road via Savannakhet and Sepon, you will get to Vietnam by the Lao Bao (Vietnam) border crossing. This crossing links Laos to central Vietnam (Danang and Dong Ha). If you travel from Vientiane, you will cross Lak Sao before entering Vietnam by Cau Treo border crossing, in Ha Tinh Province (Vietnam). The Nam Can border crossing connects Nghe An Province (Vietnam) and Xieng Khuang Province (Laos).
From Cambodia
If you travel from Phnom Penh by speedboat, you will enter Vietnam at Chau Doc, in the Mekong Delta area. If you arrive from Cambodia by road into Ho Chi Minh City, you will enter Vietnam at Moc Bai, which connects Vietnam's Tay Ninh Province with Cambodia's Svay Rieng Province.
Note: You cannot obtain a visa on arrival at land border-crossing points (with the exception of Moc Bai border crossing). If you enter Vietnam by land, you must obtain the visa before arrival. Refer to our VISA section below for more information.

Upon arrival in Vietnam, all visitors must complete an entry/exit form including a customs declaration. It is important that your copy of this form is kept safe with your passport while in Vietnam and is presented to the customs and immigration officials on departure. In case you are obtaining your pre-arranged visa on arrival please proceed to the Visa counter.

All travelers must have a passport valid for 6 months after their planned exit from Vietnam. Most visitors to Vietnam require a visa to enter the country.
Nationals from Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland traveling to Vietnam and staying for 15 days or less no longer need to apply for entry visas, provided that their passports are valid for at least three months and they can show their return ticket. Those who wish to stay longer than 15 days will need to apply for a visa.
Tourists holding Thai, Indonesian, Lao, Malaysian and Singaporean passports do not need a visa for a visit up to 30 days. Philippines passport holders do not need a visa for a visit up to 21 days. Japanese and South Korean passport holders do not need a visa for a visit up to 15 days.
A tourist visa is a single entry visa which means that if you exit Vietnam, you will require a new tourist visa to re-enter. A visa requested as a multi-entry at embassies abroad is often issued as a single entry; please double-check your visa stamp in passport to prevent any misunderstanding. Multiple entry visas can be arranged on arrival on request.

There are 2 ways to obtain a visa:
• Case 1: Visa before arrival
Bring the "approval letter," your passport and two recent passport-sized photos to the Vietnamese Embassy or Consulate. The person collecting the visa must also complete two application forms at the embassy or consulate. A visa stamping fee is charged by the Vietnamese embassy or consulate. Fees vary from one country to another. Lac Viet Travel charges a service fee to obtain your "approval letter' from the Vietnamese Immigration Department if you do not book other services with us.
• Case 2: Pre-arranged Visa on arrival at HAN, HCMC or DNG International Airports and Moc Bai
Please bring "Visa pick-up upon arrival approval letter" with you and show it at airline check-in counter otherwise you will not be allowed to board. On arrival in Vietnam, proceed to the Visa on Arrival counter. You will be asked to fill one more form, give 2 photos and pay USD 45/person in cash before the visa is stamped into your passport and before going through passport control.
Before departure, prepare some bank notes in USD to clear visa stamping fees on arrival. On arrival, Lac Viet Travel charges a service fee of USD 15 per applicant to obtain your "visa picking up upon arrival approval letter" from the Vietnamese Immigration Department.

For both cases we can facilitate the visa application and obtain the necessary visa approval from the Vietnamese Immigration Department. We need the following details from all applicants:
• Full name as it appears in your passport
• Date of birth DD/MM/YY
• Gender
• Passport number
• Issue date and expiry date of your passport
• Place of issue (e.g. Paris, France)
• Case 1: Location where you collect the visa, e.g. Vietnam embassy in Paris.
• Case 2: Arrival date and flight number (e.g. 24th of March 2006 by Vietnam Airlines flight VN532) and Port of entry (e.g. Ho Chi Minh City, Tan Son Nhat airport)
The approval process usually takes about 5 working days.
We will send you the official document issued by the Vietnamese Immigration department. In Case 1 it is an "Approval letter", in case 2 it is a "Visa pick-up upon arrival approval letter".

Note: All the above information may change without prior notice. It is still your responsibility to double-check whether or not you are subject to a tourist visa for Vietnam.

The currency in Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong (VND). US Dollars and Euros are accepted in many hotels, restaurants and shops. Banks are open Monday to Friday from 08:00 to 05:00 and some on Saturday morning. In the major cities there are some exchange offices open long hours near places frequented by tourists and most hotels will change US Dollars and Euros at very reasonable rates.
For everyday expenses, we recommend carrying a mix of US Dollars and VND in cash. For larger items or when the exchange rate works in your favor, use US Dollars. For cyclos, local food stalls and small purchases, it's best to use VND. In either case, make sure you always have a stock of small notes so that you don't have to worry about change.

Current exchange rate (Feb 12) - 1 USD = 20,810,00 VND. 1 Euro = 26,445.90 VN

You receive a slightly better exchange rate for $100 and $50 notes than for smaller denominations.

Vietnamese Dongs come in the following forms:
• Bank notes: 200; 500; 1,000; 2,000; 5,000; 10,000; 20.000; 50,000; 100,000; 500,000.
• Coins: 200; 500 (silver) and 1,000; 2,000; 5,000 (gold)

ATMs for withdrawing Vietnamese Dong are available in major airports, hotels, towns and capitals of provinces throughout Vietnam. Most ATMs have an English language version. Ask your tour guide for help when you need to locate an ATM.

Most credit cards are accepted in Vietnam. VISA and MASTERCARD are the most widely accepted. JCB and AMERICAN EXPRESS are also accepted in some outlets. Not all hotels, commercial centers, shops and restaurants accept credit cards. Check with the cashier before making any purchases.
Bear in mind that in some places a surcharge usually applies for credit card purchases: VISA and MasterCard approx 2.2%, JCB: 2.75% surcharge, American Express: 4% surcharge.
Note: Surcharges can change without prior notice. Check the percentage charged before you buy.

Banks such as CitiBank, ANZ Bank. HSBC and Vietcombank can change your Travelers' Cheques for VND or US Dollars but a commission applies (1% to 2%). Very few shops, hotels or restaurants accept Travelers' chgques.
Note: Travellers' cheques can be difficult to change outside of major cities.

Vietnam mainly uses 220V but in some areas, 110V is also used. A mixture of flat and round 2-pin outlets are used throughout the country. It is recommended to bring a universal plug adaptor.

There are plenty of entertainment options in Vietnam and restaurants/bars and nightclubs open until late at night/early in the morning. A wide variety of restaurants are on offer with everything from Vietnamese, Asian, Italian, French cuisine, etc. to fast food.

The cuisine of Vietnam comes as a pleasant surprise to many visitors and is definitely a part of the Vietnam experience not to be missed. One of the characteristics of Vietnamese food is that it is always fresh being bought the same morning straight from the market. Food is usually prepared with a minimum of oil and served with the ubiquitous fish sauce called nuoc mam. Typical Vietnamese dishes you can expect to try include pho, a type of rice noodle soup eaten for breakfast, cha gio, deep-fried spring rolls and goi ngo sen, a delicious salad made with lotus stems, shrimps and peanuts. Due to the strong Buddhist influence in Vietnam, vegetarian food is widely available.

No vaccinations are mandatory except for yellow fever if you are coming from an area where the disease is present. However visitors should be inoculated against typhoid, cholera, hepatitis A & B, tetanus and polio. Malaria is present in most of the region and it is advisable to take precautions, especially if traveling off the beaten track. Medical facilities are limited and it is essential to take out a good medical insurance policy before traveling in case evacuation is needed.
Consult your doctor for up-to-date information and prescriptions for vaccinations, anti-malarial tablets and any reasonably foreseeable illnesses whilst traveling in Vietnam. Some vaccination courses may need time to be completed. If you plan to take anti-malarial tablets, you usually need to start one week before arrival. We recommend that you carry a first aid kit as well as any personal medical requirements (including a spare pair of glasses).

For additional information you can also consult the following sites:
Offices are usually open from Monday to Friday from 07:30 or 08:00 until 17:00 or 18:00 and often close for lunch between 11:30 and 13:00. Some offices also open Saturday morning. Shops open early and close any time between 18:00 and 22:00. Most shops are open 7 days a week.

Major hotels have Business Centers with PCs connected to the Internet. Some of them have wireless broadband access in rooms or public areas. Cyber cafe's are available everywhere and are easily found in major towns and cities. Prices are reasonable, usually below US$1 per hour. In many Internet cafe's, you can buy pre-paid international phone cards to dial from a computer to a landline or mobile phone worldwide. Most Internet cafe's are equipped with webcams, headsets and microphones.

Normal print films are available in Vietnam as well as professional quality films (like slide films). Digital photos can easily be downloaded and loaded onto a CD-Rom in case you run out of memory.

Postcards are sold at all main tourist sites and stamps are available from post offices and some hotel reception desks. A postcard to Europe costs VND 9,000 (0.5 USD) to send and can take up to two weeks to reach the country of destination.


January 1

New Year's Day

January / February

Tet or Vietnamese New Year **

April 30

Liberation of Saigon Day

May 1

International Labour Day

May 19

Birthday of Ho Chi Minh

September 2

National Day

September 2

National Day

** The actual dates vary from year to year according to the lunar calendar. Officially a three-day holiday but many businesses close down for a full week. This is the busiest time of the year for traveling in Vietnam and hotels, flights and trains are often full.

Vietnam is a safe country to visit. As a global rule, never leave your belongings unattended and always maintain eye contact or a firm grip on cameras and shoulder bags. Avoid cyclos late at night and choose reliable metered taxi companies (they are really cheap and air-conditioned).

Souvenirs to look out for in Vietnam include lacquer ware, silk, conical hats, woodcarvings, hill tribe fabrics and handicrafts, embroidery, marble, ceramics, silver jewelry, antique watches and paintings. Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi have the best choice when it comes to shopping but Hoi An in the center of Vietnam is also a very good place to hunt for bargains.

Comfortable lightweight clothing in natural fabrics such as cotton is most suitable for traveling in Vietnam. The dress code is fairly casual as in most parts of the tropics but it is advisable to cover arms and legs in the evenings against biting insects. A lightweight raincoat and umbrella are a good idea in the rainy season and an umbrella can also offer useful shade from the sun.

Evenings in the north and the center can be quite chilly so bring a sweater and a good jacket especially from November to February. Visitors should not wear shorts, short skirts or other revealing clothing when visiting pagodas and monasteries. Shoes must be removed before entering some religious building or a private home. It is therefore useful to wear shoes without too many laces and which can easily be taken off.

If you have worldwide coverage, you can bring your own mobile phone and use it to make domestic or international calls. Check with your mobile phone provider for the costs before using it abroad - it may be expensive.
Most hotels now have IDD phones in rooms and it is possible to send faxes from hotels and post offices although these services are expensive. It may not always be possible to make international calls in remote areas.

Tipping for good service is not expected but is always appreciated in a country where the average annual income is quite low compared to Europe for example. It is customary to tip tour guides and drivers at the end of a tour. Hotel and station porters should also be tipped. Do not let guide talk you into tipping more than you plan to. It is totally up to you who you tip, when and how much

Vietnamese law does not allow foreigners to rent and drive a car. It is highly advisable to rent a car with a driver who knows the roads and can speak Vietnamese in case of any problems. Traffic and roads conditions may be very different to what you are used to. Generally drivers do not speak English although you might get lucky.

Hanoi and the north of Vietnam have distinct winter and summer seasons. The mainly dry winter lasts from November to April with average temperatures of 18-20'C. Summer lasts from May to October and is hot and humid with temperatures around 30'C. Hue and Danang, in the center of the country, have very hot, dry weather from February to August with temperatures reaching the mid 30's Celsius, but can experience some heavy rainfall between September and January. Ho Chi Minh City and the south have a hot, dry season from December till April with average temperatures around 28'C and a warm rainy season from May to November. In the rainy season, most rain comes in short, heavy bursts.

There is good weather somewhere in Vietnam all year round! Vietnam stretches over 2000 km from North to South. The climate differs all year round from one region to another. The North can be chilly during winter months (December to March). North and Central Vietnam can encounter tropical storms and typhoons from October to January. Overall, the north of Vietnam experiences more marked seasons than the rest of the country with two distinct seasons: wet and dry.

The South, including Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta, benefits from sunshine and warm weather all year round. However, the rainy season lasts from May to November (with showers once or twice in general) and a dry season from December to April. The Central Highlands can be chilly. Nha Trang has warm ' sometimes hot - weather all year round, with a rainy season from the end of September until December.

Unless you intend to visit friends, relatives or your family, we do not recommend visiting Vietnam during the Lunar New Year, Tet holidays (Vietnamese New Year falls between late January and February). The Tet holiday is the most important period of the year for Vietnamese people who take time off to visit their families in the countryside. All hotels, buses, trains and flights are full, and there is almost no activity in the markets and shops. Some hotels and restaurants are under-staffed and in some cases the quality of the service may suffer. This period of reduced activity may last from a week before and a week after the Tet period. It is also impossible to get a 'visa authorization letter' processed during this period.

Note: As a reminder, the peak season lasts from October to May. To avoid disappointment because hotel rooms or domestic flights are fully booked, reserve your travel arrangements early. Contact us to discuss your travel plans.

It is not advisable to drink tap water but bottled mineral water is safe and available everywhere. All hotels provide a complimentary bottle of local mineral water per person in the room. Ice cubes in drinks is generally OK in good standard hotels and restaurants but it is best to avoid it on street stalls or in country areas. Some minor stomach problems are always possible when traveling in exotic countries. Bring a supply of your usual anti-diarrhea medicine.