Vietnam General Information
Vietnam lies within the tropics and is principally agricultural with a central tropical rainforest. The ‘S’-shaped country shares borders to the north with the People’s Republic of China and to the west with Laos and Cambodia. The eastern and southern shores are lapped by the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean.
Northern Vietnam is dominated by the Red River plains that bisect Hanoi, and the Lo and Chay rivers. To the north and west of Hanoi are green hilly areas; particularly well known is the Sapa Valley. East of Hanoi, Halong Bay features a stunning natural formation of more than 3,000 limestone islands jutting sharply out of the South China Sea.
To the south, it is the Mekong River and its fertile plain that governs the geography and consequently the rice industry. Among the plains, in the middle of the thin country and to the southwest are mountainous areas, known as the highlands, where farmers grow rubber, tea and coffee.
Three quarters of Vietnam’s territory consists of mountains and hills. Vietnam is divided into four distinct mountainous zones.
Vietnam is large enough to have several distinct climate zones.
The South has three somewhat distinct seasons: hot and dry from March to May/June; rainy from June/July to November; and cool and dry from December to February. April is the hottest month, with mid-day temperatures of 33°C (91°F) or more most days. During the rainy season, downpours can happen every afternoon, and occasional street flooding occurs. Temperatures range from stifling hot before a rainstorm to pleasantly cool afterwards. Mosquitoes are most numerous in the rainy season. December to February is the most pleasant time to visit, with cool evenings down to around 20° (68°F).
The North has four distinct seasons, with a comparatively chilly winter (temperatures can dip below 15°C/59°F in Hanoi), a hot and wet summer and pleasant spring (March-April) and autumn (October-December) seasons. However, in the Highlands both extremes are amplified, with occasional snow in the winter and temperatures hitting 40°C (104°F) in the summer.
In the Central regions the Hai Van pass separates two different weather patterns of the North starting in Langco (which is hotter in summer and cooler in winter) from the milder conditions South starting in Danang. North East Monsoon conditions September – February with often strong winds, large sea swells and rain make this a miserable and difficult time to travel through Central Vietnam. Normally summers are hot and dry.
Noi Bai International Airport
Tan Son Nhat Airport
Ho Chi Minh City
Languages in Vietnam
Vietnamese (official), English (increasingly favored as a second language), some French, Chinese, and Khmer; mountain area languages (Mon-Khmer and Malayo-Polynesian)
220/110 volts AC, 50Hz; flat two-pin plugs are in use. Occasionally round two-pin plug sockets can be found, so it is worth having adaptors for both.
Vietnams time zone is GMT/UTC +7
Buddhist majority. There are also Taoist, Confucian, Hoa Hao, Caodaist and Christian (predominantly Roman Catholic) minorities
85% ethnic Vietnamese, 3% ethnic Chinese, also Khmer, Cham (a remnant of the once great Indianised Champa Kingdom) and members of some 55 ethno-linguistic groups.
A socialist country, Vietnam is under the leadership of the Communist Party, which holds a national congress every five years to outline the country’s future course, and formalise policies. The 450 member National Assembly – also open to non-party members – is the supreme organ of state, and the only body with constitutional and legislative power. The National Assembly elects the President of the State and the Prime Minister
The President has the right to nominate candidates for a number of key positions, including the Chief Justice of the Supreme People’s Court, and the Procurator-General of the People’s Office of Supervision and Control. The National Assembly then approves nominees. The Prime Minister, who is charged with the day-to-day handling of the Government, has the right to nominate and dismiss the members of his cabinet, though only with the approval of the National Assembly. He also has at his disposal the power to cancel or suspend decisions or directives issued by the ministries.
Current policies reflect a flexible, less authoritarian approach. Vietnam is now becoming a freewheeling and dynamic society.
Offices, museums and many shops open between 7am and 8am and close between 4pm and 5pm. Post offices keep longer hours and are generally open from 6.30am to 9pm.
Banks are generally open from 8am to 11.30am and 1pm to 4pm during the week and 8am to 11.30am on Saturday.
Most government offices are open on Saturday until noon but are closed on Sunday. Most museums are closed on Monday while temples and pagodas are usually open every day from around 5am to 9pm.
Many of the small privately owned shops, restaurants and street stalls stay open seven days a week, often until late at night.
Lunch is taken very seriously and virtually everything shuts down between noon and 1.30pm. Government workers tend to take longer breaks, so figure on getting nothing done between 11.30am and 2pm.
The Dong (D) is the official currency in Vietnam.
Exchange rate is approximately 1 USD = 15,000 Dong
Bank notes currently in circulation are in denominations of 100 / 200 / 500 / 1,000 / 2,000 / 5,000 / 10,000 / 20,000 and 50,000 Dong
Notes under 200 Dong 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. US Dollar is so common that change will frequently be given in dollars.
Mobile & Telephone
While using a GSM mobile phone network. Vietnam also activates a new CDMA network that easy to get an inexpensive phone kits. You can place international phone calls and send faxes at post offices or at most hotels, although hotels often charge extra fees. Public phones require phone cards, which are sold at post offices. For the best long distance rate, put 171 or 178 prior to all the calling numbers. This line has a flat fee of $ 80 cents per minute to call overseas.
Vietnam offers Internet access either broad band services or wireless net work which is available in most hotels, high-end cafes or at the internet shops. More touristy areas also offer low-priced as of 50 cents/hour in Internet shops with not much quality reduction.
Tipping is not customary in Vietnam, but it is enormously appreciated. A 5-10% tip for a meal is a very small amount of money, but to the average Vietnamese, it could easily equal a day’s wages. Avoid tipping too much, as it will set a precedent for others.