A long, narrow country squeezed in between the South China Sea and the Laos and Cambodia borders, Vietnam is a land of striking landscapes that range from the lush rice terraces and forested mountains in the north to the picturesque valleys of the Central Highlands and the fertile delta and beautiful beaches of the south.
Major cities in Vietnam like Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Da Nang and the country’s capital, Hanoi, are vibrant with skyscrapers, pagodas, modern hotels, restaurants, museums and nightclubs. Historical cities like Hue and Hoi An feature royal palaces, emperor tombs and colonial architecture. The quaint town of Sapa in the north offers tours to the mountains and ethnic hill tribes. Rice paddies, floating markets, fruit orchards and conical-hatted farmers are frequent scenes of the Mekong Delta. Nha Trang, a gorgeous beach resort city, is popular for romantic getaways and scuba divers. The archaeological site of My Son features ancient ruins, and Ha Long Bay is a must-see to believe its misty, unearthly-like appearance.
Airport :Nội Bài International Airport (IATA: HAN, ICAO: VVNB) (Vietnamese: Sân Bay Quốc Tế Nội Bài) in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is the largest airport in Vietnam in terms of total capacity. It is also the second busiest airport in Vietnam after Tan Son Nhat International Airport.
City Code : Ho Chi Minh City - 8, Hanoi - 4
Country Code: 84
Credit Cards: Some hotels and restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi accept Visa and MasterCard.
Currency: Dong (D)
Departure Tax: Departure tax is included with your international air fare
Drives on the: Right
Electricity: 220 volts AC, 50 Hz
Ethnic Groups: Kinh, Hmong, Dao, Tay, Thai, and Nung
Location: Southeast Asia.
Official Language(s): Vietnamese is the official language, some French, English, Russian, and Chinese
Religion: Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian, Catholic, Hoa Hoa, Caodaist
Time Zone: GMT +7
Tipping: Generally, tipping is not expected in Vietnam, but is very much appreciated and even a few USD goes a long way. On a private tour, we suggest you tip your tour guide around $3-5 USD per person per day, and $1-2 for your driver. In most restaurants, a 5-10% service charge is added to the bill. You could tip around 5-10% of the bill if the service charge is not added.
The best time to visit Vietnam, consider the country’s tropical monsoon climate, dominated by the south or southwesterly monsoon from May to September and the northeast monsoon from October to April. The southern summer monsoon brings rain to the two deltas and west-facing slopes, while the cold winter monsoon picks up moisture over the Gulf of Tonkin and dumps it along the central coast and the eastern edge of the central highlands. Within this basic pattern there are marked differences according to altitude and latitude; temperatures in the south remain equable all year round, while the north experiences distinct seasonal variations.
In southern Vietnam the dry season lasts from December to late April or May, and the rains from May through to November. Since most rain falls in brief afternoon downpours, this need not be off-putting, though flooding at this time of year can cause problems in the Mekong Delta. Daytime temperatures in the region rarely drop below 20°C, occasionally hitting 40°C during the hottest months (March, April and May). The climate of the central highlands generally follows the same pattern, though temperatures are cooler, especially at night. Again, the monsoon rains of May to October can make transport more complicated, sometimes washing out roads and cutting off remoter villages.
Along the central coast the rainfall pattern reverses under the influence of the northeast monsoon. Around Nha Trang the wet season starts with a flourish in November and continues through December. Further north, around Hué and Da Nang, the rains last a bit longer, from September to February, so it pays to visit these two cities in the spring (Feb–May). Temperatures reach their maximum (often in the upper 30s) from June to August, when it’s pleasant to escape into the hills. The northern stretches of this coastal region experience a more extreme climate, with a shorter rainy season (peaking in Sept and Oct) and a hot dry summer. The coast of central Vietnam is the zone most likely to be hit by typhoons, bringing torrential rain and hurricane-force winds. Though notoriously difficult to predict, in general the typhoon season lasts from August to November.
Northern Vietnam is generally warm and sunny from October to December, after which cold winter weather sets in, accompanied by fine persistent mists which can last for several days. Temperatures begin to rise again in March, building to summer maximums that occasionally reach 40°C between May and August, though average temperatures in Hanoi hover around a more reasonable 30°C. However, summer is also the rainy season, when heavy downpours render the low-lying delta area almost unbearably hot and sticky, and flooding is a regular hazard. The northern mountains share the same basic regime, though temperatures are considerably cooler and higher regions see ground frosts, or even a rare snowfall, during the winter (Dec–Feb).
With such a complicated weather picture, there’s no one particular season to recommend as the best time for visiting Vietnam. Overall, autumn (Sept–Dec) and spring (March and April) are probably the most favourable seasons if you’re covering the whole country.
Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay is situated in north Vietnam round a 120 kilometer long coast line and is literally translated as “Bay of Descending Dragons”. The top tourist attraction in Vietnam, Ha Long Bay features thousands of islands, each topped with thick jungle vegetation, forming a spectacular seascape of limestone pillars. Several of the islands are hollow, with enormous caves, others islands include lakes and some support floating villages of fishermen.
Hoan Kiem Lake (Hanoi)
Located in the historical center of Hanoi, Hoan Kiem Lake is one of the major scenic spots in the city and serves as the locals’ favorite leisure spot. Hoan Kiem means “returned sword”, and the name comes from a legend in which King Le Loi was given a magical sword by the gods, which he used to drive out the invading Chinese. Later he returned the sword to the Golden Turtle God in the lake.
Sa Pa Terraces
Sa Pa is a town in northwest Vietnam not far from the Chinese border. Rice terraces can be found in the Muong Hoa valley between Sa Pa town and the Fansipan Mountain, on a backdrop of thick bamboo woodlands. Local mountain people, the Hmong, Giay, Dao, Tay, and Giay, grow rice and corn on these paddy terraces, along with vegetables.
The Mekong Delta is the region in southern Vietnam where the Mekong River approaches and empties into the sea. It is a very rich and lush area, covered with rice fields, that produces about half of the total of Vietnam’s agricultural output. Subsequently, life in the Mekong Delta revolves much around the river, and all the villages are often accessible by river rather than by road.
Cu Chi Tunnels
The Cu Chi Tunnels are an immense network of connecting underground tunnels located about 40 km northwest of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). The tunnels were used by Viet Cong guerrillas as hiding spots during the Vietnam War, and were the base of operations for the Tết Offensive in 1968. The tunnels have become a popular tourist attraction, and visitors are invited to crawl around in the safer parts of the tunnel system.
Temple of Literature (Hanoi)
In the city of Hanoi, there is an incredible temple dedicated to Confucius. Built in the 11th century, the Temple of Literature honors scholars and the many academic achievements of the Vietnamese, past and present. The Temple of Literature was even the site of the very first university in the nation. Among countless statues of Confucius and his disciples, there are impressive pagodas and a pond known as the Well of Heavenly Clarity.
n the Ninh Binh province of Northern Vietnam near is Tam Coc, which translates to English as three caves. The three caves are nestled in a scenic landscape of limestone cliffs and rice paddies, and the river winds through the region. The caves are called Hang Cả, Hang Hai, and Hang Ba, and they serve as the area’s main attraction. Guided boat tours take you to the caves and along the Ngo Dong River, which is often dotted with floating vendors capitalizing on the tourist visiting on a day trip from Hanoi.
Festivals in Vietnam offer visitors the best opportunity for getting up close and personal with the myths, customs and fun-loving spirit of this proud nation. Despite undergoing modern developments, Vietnam is still a predominantly traditional country, with thousands of pagodas and shrines dedicated to Buddha as well as various deities and iconic figures.
Tet Nguyen Dan (Lunar New Year)
Lunar New Year, locally called Tet, is the biggest festival of the year with the whole country downing tools for family get-togethers. Principally a religious celebration, don’t expect too much of a wild party, but it’s still a fascinating time to visit Vietnam and you’ll certainly find locals lighting fireworks, visiting temples with their families, and the interesting sight of many flower stalls set up as giving flowers is customary during Tet.
April/May/June every two years
Hue Festival is a biannual celebration that takes place in UNESCO-listed Hue City, where you can enjoy an array of cultural events, games, and performances held over a week. Founded in 2000, the festival was held to preserve traditional customs that were practised during the Nguyen Dynasty. If you’re visiting Hue in April, May or June, expect unique showcases such as the Hue Poetry Festival, Dialogue of Drums and Percussions, and Ao Dai Fashion Shows, sporting activities like kite flying, boat racing, and human chess, as well as street performances, film screenings and art exhibitions.
Perfume Festival draws throngs of local pilgrims from all over Vietnam to Hanoi’s iconic Perfume Pagoda, where they to pray for a prosperous year and pay their respects to Buddha. The pilgrimage starts with a dragon dance at Den Trinh Pagoda on the 15th day of the 1st Lunar, where pilgrims (and even travellers) travel by boat along the Yen River to the base of Huong Mountain, passing by limestone caves and rice fields. The journey continues on foot by climbing hundreds of stone steps towards Huong Tich Cave, offering a colourful display of food offerings, statues of deities, lit incenses, and praying locals.
Mid-Autumn Festival, held on the 14th and 15th day of the lunar month, features a wide range of activities such as children carrying paper lanterns, lion dances, and food booths selling mooncakes, sticky rice, fruits, and various sweets. Also known as the harvest festival, households set up an altar during the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival, on which they display offerings in honour of the full moon.
Hung King Temple Festival
Hung King Temple Festival is held in commemoration of Kinh Duong Vuong, who became Vietnam’s first king in 2879BC. While the main worship event takes place at the Hung Temple, which is perched atop Nghia Linh Mountain in Phu Tho Province, 100 lanterns are released into the sky on the eve of the festival. The next morning, a flower ceremony is held at Den Thuong (Upper Temple), where the Hung Kings used to worship deities during their reign. Lastly, a huge procession starts at the foot of the mountain, consisting of pilgrims, xoan classical song performances, and ca tru classical operas at several temples along the way towards the main Hung Temple.
Lim Festival is where you can enjoy UNESCO-listed quan ho folk singing performances and a wide range of traditional games during your visit. Held on the 12th and 13th day of the first lunar month, several stages are built within the village where you get to see locals performing in traditional costumes. We highly recommend heading over to the lake outside the Lim Communal House to catch quan ho singing performance on a dragon boat. Lim Festival also hosts folk games such as danh du (bamboo swings), cockfighting, tug-of-war, wrestling, human chess, and blind man’s bluff.
Wandering Souls Day
The annual Wandering Souls Day takes place on the 15th day of the 7th lunar month, which locals believe is the day when spirits of their ancestors are able to visit their homes. On the eve of the festival, families flock to Buddhist temples and graves of their departed loved ones to offer prayers, flowers, sticky rice cakes, sugarcane, and fruits. Paper money and clothes are also burned during this time of the year.
Hoi An Lantern Festival
14th day of every month
Hoi An Lantern Festival is a monthly event that transforms the quaint UNESCO World Heritage Site into a spectacular display of paper lanterns. On the 14th day of each lunar month, every shop, restaurant, bar and businesses in the Ancient Town switches off all electricity and relies on hundreds of candles and lanterns. Meanwhile, entrance to all temples is free of charge, where you can see monks and locals holding candlelit ceremonies.
Buddha’s Birthday is celebrated by devotees throughout Vietnam, despite being a communist country. Taking place on the 8th day of the 4th lunar month, many temples are adorned with lavish decorations with locals offering fruit, flower garlands, and various Vietnamese dishes. This event often draws thousands of visitors looking to partake in street parades and prayer sessions.
Phu Giay Festival
Late March to Early April Phu Giay Festival draws in worshippers of the goddess Lieu Hanh to Phu Giay Pagoda, where they pray for good fortune whilst carrying decorated bamboo relics and wearing traditional costumes. Located 88km east of Hanoi, the temple also hosts various games such as capture-the-flag, human chess, lion dancing, and wrestling, resulting in a vibrant atmosphere throughout the day. Visitors can also enjoy folk dance and classical songs such as trong quan, cheo (satirical musical theatre) and ca tru (chamber music).
Street Night market - Hanoi
Night Market in Old Quarter of Hanoi is held from 6 pm to 11 pm on three days Friday, Saturday and Sunday every week, on the pedestrian streets: Hang Ngang, Hang Dao, Hang Duong in Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi. Pedestrian streets are about 3 km, starting from Hang Dao Street next to Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc Square and end at the port of Dong Xuan Market.
In the evening of Saturdays, two top of streets organizes cultural performances of traditional folk arts such as cheo, quan ho, xam, ca tru … This is a unique character of the night market in Hanoi Old Quarter, attracts tourists, especially foreigners.
Old Quarter Night Market is a bustling place of trading, with the participation of nearly 4,000 stores. The goods here are very diverse, not only clothing, footwear, household appliances but also the arts and crafts items, souvenirs … with affordable prices.
Hang Gai Street - Hanoi
Located in a wonderful location, Hang Gai street is considered not to be missed for any traveler who wants to find their own soft silk bring in it the soul of Hanoi. Hang Gai is called “Silk Road” of Hanoi because most of the families here are silk businesses. Famous Van Phuc silk is exhibited around the shops on Hang Gai, make up the exclusivity of Hanoi 36 streets. At the first, you will see the pure Vietnamese products such as tu than shirts, ao dai … There are also silk scarfs, silk wallet and many other embroidered products.
Bat Trang Pottery Village
Bat Trang pottery is the common name for the type of pottery is produced in Bat Trang Village, Gia Lam, Hanoi. Visiting Bat Trang, you can try the feeling as potters with very cheap cost, only 10,000 vnđ per person. The playground owners are always on duty at the gate to welcome guests. On the playground, you can play with the rotating ceramic table. Do not worry if you do not know how to use them, the workers here will guide you, help to create the model for you. And you are free to create and try out with clay. To take home a pottery product like that, you have to pay extra from 20.000 to 25.000 vnđ.
Bat Trang Market sells all kinds of pottery goods, from high-end dishes, decorative art items to worship items, souvenir items, cups and popular dishes. Pottery here is cheap and nice, you can buy the product commercially available or make products by yourself as gifts for relatives and friends. However you should make a bargain when shopping at the market, the price should be paid for 70% of the price sellers offer. Be careful when moving in the market cause ceramics and porcelain are very fragile
Hoi An lanterns - Hoi An
Hoi An lanterns which have become the own culture of Hoi An old town, with diverse colors show up the talent of artisans in Vietnam. Lanterns in Hoi An is made quite nicely, lightweight and collapsible so well suit for travelers to buy as souvenirs when visiting this ancient old town. You can buy lanterns in the shops on Tran Phu Street such as Tuoi Ngoc Lanterns, Ngoc Thu and in other shops on Le Loi, Nguyen Hue and Nguyen Thai Hoc Street… The price depends on sizes, colors and shapes of the lamp. It’s not too expensive and very suitable to give as gifts.
Ao dai - Hoi An
Garment industry developed in Hoi An, including the service “sewing immediately” rapidly response needs of travelers while ensuring the quality and high aesthetic. The fabric is beautiful, smart and carefully sewing. Visitors come to Hoi An love to be sewed for themselves the lovely traditional Vietnamese “ao dai”. Therefore, in Minh An town has 57 business households sell fabric and sewing to serve tourists. Besides is many stores such as Thu Thuy Store, Yaly Store, Phuong Huy Store, Thang Loi, A Dong Silk, Bao Khanh, Cam Nhan Store.
When you visit Vietnam, especially 3 places I mention above, you can consult some shops and stores and some Vietnamese items you can buy for yourself and gifts for relatives and friends. In addition, I also share some tips when trading with the sellers in Vietnam to have a good deal.
Vietnamese dishes are boiled or steamed rather than stir-fried, and a huge emphasis is placed on herbs and seasoning – no great surprise in this land of diverse climates.
In the south, Indian and Thai influences add curries and spices to the menu, while other regions have evolved their own array of specialities, most notably the foods of Hué and Hoi An. Buddhism introduced a vegetarian tradition to Vietnam, while much later the French brought with them bread, dairy products, pastries and the whole café culture. Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and the major tourist centres are now well provided with everything from street hawkers to hotel and Western-style restaurants, and even ice-cream parlours; in such places, you’ll also find a few restaurants putting on cooking classes.
The quality and variety of food is generally better in the main towns than off the beaten track, where restaurants of any sort are few and far between. That said, you’ll never go hungry; even in the back of beyond, there’s always some stall selling a noodle soup or rice platter and plenty of fruit to fill up on.
Vietnam’s national drink is green tea, which is the accompaniment to every social gathering or business meeting and is frequently drunk after meals. At the harder end of the spectrum, there’s also rice wine, though some local beer is also excellent, and an increasingly wide range of imported wines and spirits.
Where to eat
Broadly speaking, there are two types of eating establishment to choose from. One step up from hawkers peddling their dish of the day from shoulder poles or handcarts are street kitchens – inexpensive joints aimed at locals. More formal, Western-style restaurants come in many shapes and sizes, from simple places serving unpretentious Vietnamese meals to top-class establishments offering high quality Vietnamese specialities and international cuisine.
While most eating establishments stay open throughout the year, some close over Tet. The Vietnamese eat early: outside the major cities and tourist areas; food stalls and street kitchens rarely stay open beyond 8pm and may close even earlier, though they do stay open later in the south, especially in Ho Chi Minh City. You’ll need to brush up your chopstick-handling skills, too, although other utensils are always available in places frequented by tourists – in Western-style restaurants you won’t be expected to tackle your steak-frites with chopsticks.
When it comes to paying, the normal sign language will be readily understood in most restaurants. In street kitchens you pay as you leave – either proffer a few thousand dong to signal your intentions, or ask bao nhieu tien? (“how much is it?”). As with accommodation, prices are listed in dollars throughout the guide but exchange rates may be wildly different by the time you travel and the smaller, local establishments often prefer to be paid in dong.
Eating on the street may not be to every visitor’s taste, but those willing to take the plunge usually put it up among their favourite experiences in the country – the food is often better in quality to that found at restaurants, it’s much cheaper, and a whole lot more fun. Street kitchens range from makeshift food stalls, set up on the street round a cluster of pint-size stools, to eating houses where, as often as not, the cooking is still done on the street but you either sit in an open-fronted dining area or join the overspill outside. Both tend to have fixed locations, though only the eating houses will have an address – which usually doubles as their name. Some places stay open all day (7am–8pm), while many close once they’ve run out of ingredients and others only open at lunchtime (10.30am–2pm). To be sure of the widest choice and freshest food, it pays to get there early (as early as 11.30am at lunchtime, and by 7pm in the evening), and note that the best places will be packed around noon.
If you’re after more relaxed dining, where people aren’t queuing for your seat, then head for a Western-style Vietnamese restaurant (nha hang), which will have chairs rather than stools, a name, a menu and will often be closed to the street. In general these places serve a more varied selection of Vietnamese dishes than the street kitchens, plus a smattering of international – generally European – dishes.
The staple of Vietnamese meals is rice, with noodles a popular alternative at breakfast or as a snack. Typically, rice will be accompanied by a fish or meat dish, a vegetable dish and soup, followed by a green tea digestive. Seafood and fish – from rivers, lakes, canals and paddy fields as well as the sea – are favoured throughout the country, either fresh or dried. The most commonly used flavourings are shallots, coriander and lemon grass. Ginger, saffron, mint, anise and a basil-type herb also feature strongly, and coconut milk gives some southern dishes a distinctive richness.
Even in the south, Vietnamese food tends not to be over-spicy; instead chilli sauces or fresh chillies are served separately. Vietnam’s most famous seasoning is the ubiquitous nuoc mam, a nutrient-packed sauce which either is added during cooking or forms the base for various dipping sauces. Nuoc mam is made by fermenting huge quantities of fish in vats of salt for between six months and a year, after which the dark brown liquid is strained and graded according to its age and flavour. Foreigners usually find the smell of the sauce pretty rank, but most soon acquire a taste for its distinctive salty-sweetness.
Giai khat means “quench your thirst” and you’ll see the signs everywhere, on stands selling fresh juices, bottled cold drinks or outside cafés and bia hoi (draught beer) outlets. Many drinks are served with ice: tempting though it may be, the only really safe policy is to avoid ice altogether – dung bo da, cam on (“no ice, thanks”) should do the trick. That said, ice in the top hotels, bars and restaurants is generally reliable, and some people take the risk in less salubrious establishments with apparent impunity.
Tea and coffee
Tea drinking is part of the social ritual in Vietnam. Small cups of refreshing, strong, green tea are presented to all guests or visitors: water is well boiled and safe to drink, as long as the cup itself is clean, and it’s considered rude not to take at least a sip. Although your cup will be continually replenished to show hospitality, you don’t have to carry on drinking; the polite way to decline a refill is to place your hand over the cup when your host is about to replenish it. Green tea is also served at the end of every restaurant meal, particularly in the south, and usually provided free.
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