A long and narrow country on the cost of the Indochina Peninsula, Vietnam is rich in culture and natural beauty. From the flat rice planting fields in the centre of the country, to the Marble Mountains in the highlands, and the turquoise blue sea on the coast, this country offers travellers a truly remarkable experience.
Famous for its exotic food, boat houses, scooter filled traffic, Buddhist pagodas and jaw-dropping natural attractions, Vietnam is a stunning country with a history full of colonialism and warfare. It presents travellers with a delicate mix of different traditions, modern and rustic living. All packed within a tourism friendly but socialist context. The result is an intriguing and fascinating destination.
As Vietnam extends over a long piece of land and reaches different latitudes, the weather can vary considerably depending on what part of the country you are travelling to. As a broad guide, it has two defined seasons and temperatures are higher in the south than in the north, being hotter in the plains than in the mountains. Temperatures also tend to vary considerably the further north you go, being more consistent in the south of the country.
Summer – May to October – hot and humid with the highest rainfall, although this consists mostly of mid-afternoon downpours. Average temperature from 21-28°C, potentially reaching 38°C in places during July and August.
Winter – November to April – although drier than the rainy summer season, monsoon winds make Vietnam quite humid. Average temperature 17-22°C with the coolest months being January, February and March.
Important Information & Travel Tips
The official language of Vietnam is Vietnamese. While a small amount of English is spoken on most touristic destinations, a large amount of the populations only speaks Vietnamese.
Visas & Immigration
Visas depend on where you are coming from, how long you intend to stay and what you will be doing during your stay, but there is a wide list of nationalities that don’t need a visa if only coming for a holiday, including British. Check the Vietnam immigration website for more information.
Money & Banking
*estimated rate, please check currency conversion rates at the time of travel
The currency in Vietnam is the Dong (VND), which is used in the thousands and hundreds. The lowest note is a hundred Dong, but prices are usually in the thousands. A British Pound (GBP) is usually around 29,000 Dong (VND)*
It’s illegal to post prices or ask for payment in any other currency than the Dong and Vietnamese banks, as well as retailers, are very peculiar about bank notes. Notes must NOT be ripped or crumpled, otherwise they might not be accepted. Look after your notes and don’t accept change with notes that are damaged.
Cards are not widely accepted and, where they are, there is a 3% charge.
The best places to exchange currency are airports and banks. Make sure to only exchange currency in official exchange counters, as it’s illegal to use other avenues.
You will only be able to change VND into other currency if you present your flight tickets showing your onward destination.
Cash machines (ATMs) are available in major cities and tourist areas, but they will only dispense Dong and some might charge international cards for withdraws.
While some notes are easily identifiable, some are very similar. Be careful not to pay with the wrong note or receive them as change.
Tipping and Service Charges
Tipping is not common practice in Vietnam. There is also a good chance that as a tourist you will be overcharged in street markets and shops because you don’t know how to haggle in Vietnamese, so there is no need to leave a tip in most places.
High-end restaurants and spas might add 5-10% service charge to the bill, but that doesn’t always make its way to your server. In a hotel, restaurant or spa, if you have been really pleased with the service you received and would like to tip, tip the staff individually. The amount is really up to you and as it is not a custom, it will be appreciated.
Voltage & Electricity
Vietnam is in the process of standardising its voltage to 220AC (50 hertz), but older plugs for 127AC can still be found.
Three different types of plugs are common in Vietnam – two point flat blade, two point round pins and 3 point flat blades (like the ones in the UK).
Phones & Emergency Numbers
The country calling code for Vietnam is +84.
In case of an emergency, the following numbers are used in major centres in Vietnam:
112 – Search & Rescue
113 – Police
114 – Fire
115 – Ambulance & First Aid
There is no foreign language dedicated number apart from your own country’s embassy.
Vietnam is 7 hours forwards from the Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), in other words, +7 hours from London’s GMT.
A Chinese colony at some point in its history, Vietnam observes the lunar calendar for some of its public holidays, so dates vary according to the year you are visiting. They also have a tendency to celebrate events for more than one day and move holidays to the Monday or Tuesday if the official date falls at the weekend. Please check dates near the time of travel.
Main Vietnamese public holidays:
1st January - New Year’s Day
7-9 days in early February – Tet Nguyen Dan (Vietnamese Lunar New Year)
Mid-April – Hung Kings Temple Festival
30th April – Reunification Day (marking the fall of Saigon)
1st May – Labour Day
2nd Sep – National Day
Most tourist attractions are closed during public holidays and shop opening times may alter.
There are several international and domestic airports in Vietnam. Flying is not only cheap, but also a popular way to cut travel time if travelling across the country. For instance, flying from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City will only take two hours in comparison to the thirty to forty hours the same trip would take by train.
Road travel is very common in Vietnam as bus, taxi and cycle fares are quite affordable, the main roads are good and touristic routes or tour buses are of quite high standards. However, the traffic is a little chaotic and the main routes are laced with shops, spoiling the view ever so slightly.
xis or cycles make sure you agree the charge in advance and pay in the local currency, Dong, to avoid later disputes over price or currency conversion rates. Buses are usually ticketed and have set prices.
The rail offering in Vietnam is slowly being updated and expanded, as some of the lines, trains and providers date back to the colonial period!
Although they are much slower than flying or taking the bus, trains offer much better views of the Vietnamese countryside. However, it’s important to invest in higher class tickets if traveling long haul, as lower class doesn’t even offer padded seats in some cases! It’s also highly recommended to book tickets in advance, especially for sleeper trains and for dates over weekends and holidays.
Cruising around Ha Long Bay is a must for any traveller and will be one of the highlights of the whole trip. There are also ferries that run to and from the islands off Vietnam’s coastline.