Vietnam Travel Guide

Vietnam Travel Guide

GENERAL INFORMATION

According to archaeological discoveries made at Do Mountain, it is believed that life in Vietnam began as far back as 300,000 years ago. Officially, the history of Vietnam stretches back 4,000 years when it was founded by the Hung Kings. It was then named Van Lang.

When speaking upon the history of Vietnam, it is important to note the large role played by the French in Vietnam. It began in 1858, when the French took over Danang in southern Vietnam. Over time, more and more territory was won over by the French. It wasn’t until 1954, when the French surrendered to the Viet Minh, ending the French Indochina War, that the French colonial control in Vietnam ended.

The immediate image in the minds of most people at the mention of Vietnam is that of the war fought against the United States some twentyfive years ago. Most people think of the country only in terms of the American conflict in Indochina. The war ended nearly twentyfive  years ago, and today, despite lingering signs of past American involvement, the situation in Vietnam is markedly different.

People have finally begun to look at the country from another perspective, now that travelers and tourists from the West are being welcomed into what was once a forbidden country. It may take a bit more effort and tenacity to plan an excursion into Vietnam than it would for another Southeast Asian country, but Vietnam has much to offer in terms of culture and sights.

PEOPLE AND CULTURE

The vast majority of the population is Vietnamese with minute percentages of Chinese. The Viet culture originated on the delta of the Red River and the Ma River where the Viet people cultivated paddy fields. They led a simple farming life in small villages, usually living around a communal house. Today the people living in the countryside follow this lifestyle. The Viet people are influenced by Confucianism, in particular the principle of respect for their elders.

In spite of the immense suffering of the Vietnamese and the somewhat ruined state of the country, they are generally warm and friendly, and surprisingly, the Vietnamese bear little if any resentment or bitterness toward Americans. Children in the streets will commonly greet visitors with the name Lien Xo, which means Russian, but they will easily be corrected if you respond, “Hello!” or “Good morning” and explain you are an American.

Ethnic Groups: The country is predominantly 85-90% Vietnamese, 3% Chinese, ethnic minorities include Muong, Thai, Meo, Khmer, Man, Cham, and other mountain tribes.

Languages: Vietnamese is the official language; French, Chinese, English, Khmer and tribal dialects (Mon-Khmer and Malayo-Polynesian) are also spoken.

Religion: Buddhist, Confucian, Taoist, Roman Catholic, indigenous beliefs, Islamic and Protestant. LOCAL CUSTOMS

General:
Be firm, yet diplomatic when dealing with officials who will often be very rigid. In the case of misunderstanding, patience is the best policy.

Small gifts such as cigarette lighters, pens, foreign cigarettes, liquor, perfume and even shampoo are greatly appreciated by anyone you wish to make friends with in Vietnam.

Out of politeness, always ask permission before taking photos of people. The same rule of thumb also applies to photos taken in places of worship. Permission will almost always be granted.

A gentle handshake is the most appropriate manner of greeting.

Be very discrete about giving anything to beggars frequently encountered in Ho Chi Minh City. If anyone is seen giving handouts to a beggar, he or she may end up being pursued by a mob of other beggars. This does not help create a good image for foreigners; it gives them instead the reputation of being easy to hit up for money.

Beware of pickpockets. Keep your ID and passport in a safe place and carry only photocopies of those items.

Remove your shoes before entering Buddhist pagodas. Small donations placed in the boxes found in temples are appreciated. It is acceptable to keep your shoes on within Chinese pagodas.

Never let the soles of your feet face other people or any sacred monument, such as a statue of Buddha.

INDUSTRY AND TRADE

Major Industries:
 Food processing, textiles, machine building, mining, cement, chemical fertilizer, glass, tires, oil and fishing

Exports: Agricultural and handicraft products, coal, minerals, crude petroleum, ores and seafood

Imports: Petroleum products, steel products, railroad equipment, chemicals, medicines, raw cotton, fertilizer and grain

CURRENCY

The dong (D) is the official currency in Vietnam.

Bank notes currently in circulation are in denominations of 20d, 30d, 50d, 100d, 200d, 1,000d, 2,000d, 5,000d and 10,000d. Notes under 200d have little value and are rarely used.

The U.S. dollar is more or less a second currency in Vietnam. Other foreign currencies are not readily accepted. A large supply of US$1, US$5 and US$10 are almost essential for tipping, for small expenses and for hotel bills. U.S. money is so common that change will frequently be given in dollars.

You may bring in an unlimited amount of foreign currency as long as it is declared on the forms provided by customs officers. Foreign currency can be exchanged for dong at your hotel or at the State Bank of Vietnam.

Vietnam Sightseeing

Cat Ba
This island is the largest in the Cat Ba archipelago. It is potentially one of the major beach destinations in Southeast Asia. This region has beautiful beaches and pristine waters. Within the mountains are caves and grottos. Located 36 miles (58km) east of Haiphong.

Central Market
The Ben Thanh Market, formerly the main railway terminal, is the largest of the markets scattered throughout the city. A wide variety of goods are available, from imported electronics to imported perfumes. Ho Chi Minh City

Cham Ruins
For those interested in seeing all that these fifteen towers have to offer, plan on spending a minimum of one day. These towers are located at My Son in the Duy Xuyen district. Danang

Cholon
Ho Chi Minh City’s Chinatown. Sights include the Binh Tay Market, the An Quang Pagoda (District 5) and the scenic Thien Hau Temple.  Ho Chi Minh City

Cu Chi Tunnels
An extensive network of nearly 200 miles (322mi) of Viet Cong tunnels used in the French Indochina war and American war. The tunnels have complete facilities, from kitchens to printing presses and even street signs, all of which were used to aid the NLF (National Liberation Front) military. Tours involve a description of the tunnels, after which tourists are allowed to crawl about the maze. Located in Tay Ninh (suburb of Ho Chi Minh City), 24 miles (39km) northwest of central Ho Chi Minh City. Ho Chi Minh City

Dalat
The mountain resort among the Central Highlands has scenic surroundings as well as remnants of the French colonial era. The Ethnic Minority Museum is certainly worth visiting for those interested in the costumes, gongs, ornaments and other artifacts collected by locals from the Lam Dong province. As another point of interest, there is even an old abandoned nuclear power plant.

Halong Bay
One of Vietnam’s most beautiful areas, Halong Bay has fascinating limestone formations, coves for nighttime excursions, sheer cliffs, grottoes, arches and scores of small islets.

Ho Chi Minh City
This is the largest city in Vietnam. It is the industrial, commercial and cultural center of the country. The central city area is still called Saigon.

Khai Dinh Tomb
This is the final monument of the Nguyen Dynasty. The complex features ceiling murals, frescoes and a dragon staircase. Located on the slopes of the Chau E Mountain, six miles (10km) south of town.  Hue

Marble Mountains
Consisting of five limestone peaks, about five (8km) miles south of town. They can be explored by following the paths leading to the peaks. Danang

Minh Mang Tomb
The most impressive of the tombs and pagodas at Hue. Located at the tributaries of the Perfume River, seven miles (11km) south of Hue, this complex has beautiful architecture, intricate decor and military statues. Hue

Notre Dame Cathedral
This Catholic church was constructed in 1883 and is located near the Tu Do (Dong Khoi) Street, the former red-light district. Ho Chi Minh City

Nha Trang
The central region near Nha Trang features some of the most beautiful beaches in Asia. The ocean waters are transparent, and the sands immaculate, attracting more and more visitors in recent times. Tours cover the Cham Ponagar complex, the north tower of which was built in 817 A.D. Ruins of the long-deceased Champa still stand as a testament to this once prominent kingdom.

One Pillar Pagoda
Built in the 11th century, this pagoda sits on a stone pillar in the middle of a pond. This is one of the more unusual structures in Vietnam. Hanoi

Presidential Palace
This building is now called the Reunification Hall. The center was built as a modern administration center and is where the war and the American involvement in Vietnam  ended in April 1975, with tanks invading the compound. Guided tours will take visitors through the various rooms within the complex. Ho Chi Minh City

Tu Duc Tomb
Tranquil scenery composed of lakes, pine-tree-covered hills and pavilions make this area an ideal place to relax. Located about five miles (8 kms) southwest of Hue. Hue

Vinh Nghiem Pagoda
A modern Japanese-style Buddhist temple, easily one of the largest and most impressive in Ho Chi Minh City. Ho Chi Minh City

Vung Tau Beach
Located at the mouth of the Saigon River is the popular Vung Tau beach resort. Pineapple Beach is probably the most pleasant, with its villas and generally tranquil atmosphere. The temples are a definite must-see. The Niet Ban Tinh Xa is the largest temple in Vietnam. Tourist accommodations are available at the Hoa Binh Hotel, as well as the Thang Loi, Thang Thai and Tho Nguyet.
Ho Chi Minh City.

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