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 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 twenty years ago. Most people think of the country only in terms of the American conflict in Indochina. The war ended nearly twenty 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.
The weather in the southern part of Vietnam is tropical. It is monsoonal in the north, bringing a hot, rainy season from mid-May to mid-September and a warm, dry season from mid-October to mid-March. Occasional typhoons from May to January bring extensive flooding to the middle regions of Vietnam.
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, European or Australian, etc.
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.
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.
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.
Flag: The flag of Vietman is red with a large yellow five-pointed star in the center.
Shop Hours: Shops run from 7 or 8am to 11 or 11:30pm. Some are open from 1 or 2pm to 4 or 5pm.
Bank Hours: Most banks are open from 7 or 8am to 11 or 11:30pm. Some are open from 1 or 2pm to 4 or 5pm.
Time:Vietnam is 11 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time and 14 hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time.
Tipping: 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.
Restaurants: Government-run restaurants catering to tourists add a 10% service charge to the bill.
Porters: Porters, if they are available, can be tipped with American coins.
Hotel maids: Government-run hotels catering to tourists charge an automatic 10% service fee.
Taxis: Generous tips are not necessary. A small gratuity, however, is expected by cab drivers.
Passports and visas are required for entry into Vietnam. The best place to obtain a visa for Vietnam is Bangkok. The visa will specify where you will be arriving and where you will be leaving, in addition to how long you can stay.
Formerly, tours had to be booked to obtain a visa, but this is no longer the situation. Potential visitors to Vietnam must fill out three applications for entry and exit visas, accompanied by three passport photos 4cm x 6cm. One of the applications must be sent to the most convenient diplomatic or consular mission of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The other two applications/photos are carried with you and handed in at the first point of entry.
You must also provide the following information to Vinatour, via fax or telephone:
Surname and first name Date and place of birth Nationality Present place of residence Profession Time and point of entry and exit
Some Embassies of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam:
Australia 6 Timbarra Crescent O’Malley ACT 2603 Tel (062) 866059
France 62, rue Boileau 75016 Paris Tel 4524-5063 or 4527-6255
Mexico Sierra Ventana 255 11000 Mexico, DF Tel 540-1612
Thailand 83/1 Wireless Road Bankok Tel (02) 251-7201
United Kingdom 12-14 Victoria Road London W8 5RD Tel 937-1912
Duty-Free Items: Visitors may import 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco, 1 liter of wine, 1 liter of liquor and an unlimited amount of film. Commercial goods and items of high value being taken out of Vietnam require export permits from the Customs Service. Antiques may be confiscated permanently. No local currency may be taken out of the country.
The Customs Service Headquarters 21 Ton Duc Thang St. Ho Chi Minh City Tel 90095
Airports Noi Bai International Airport, Hanoi
Tan Son Nhat Airport Ho Chi Minh City
Fares are significantly lower for those flying to Ho Chi Minh City. Although flights are available from the capitals of most Southeast Asian countries as well as from Sydney and Melbourne, the best place is from Bangkok as visas are easiest to obtain there.
Airlines Vietnam Airlines (International) 116-118 Nguyen Hue Blvd. Ho Chi Minh City Tel (08) 292118
Vietnam Airlines (Domestic) 27b Nguyen Dinh Chieu St. Ho Chi Minh City Tel (08) 299980
Air France Dong Khoi and Le Loi St. (Caravelle Hotel) Ho Chi Minh City Tel (08) 241278
Aeroflot 4H Le Loi St. Ho Chi Minh City Tel (08) 93489
THAI 116 Nguyen Hue Blvd. Ho Chi Minh City Tel (08) 292118
Philippine Airlines Ho Chi Minh City Tel (08) 292200
MAS 116 Nguyen Hue Blvd. Ho Chi Minh City Tel (08) 30695
Trains There are currently no train lines running between Vietnam and its neighboring countries.
Buses Traveling by road from Cambodia is a slow and expensive alternative to flying. It is highly advisable that travelers fly in instead.
Ships and Ferries There are no official passenger services. Travelers may be able to ride on a cargo ship to Ho Chi Minh City, Danang or Haiphong from Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand, Singapore and France. Check with the local shipping and travel agencies for rates and availability.
A ferry service runs from Cambodia to Chau Doc in the Mekong Delta.
Cars Car rentals are currently not in existence. Cabs, which are unmarked cars without meters, can typically be rented for the day for US$30 to US$40.
Trains The Vietnamese railway system runs from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi along the coast and links with Haiphong and the regions further north. Odd-numbered trains travel South, and even-numbered trains travel north. The fastest trains take at least 52 hours from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi. Reservations should be made a day or more in advance. The major setback to the railways is that tourists are charged many times more than Vietnamese people in the form of an outrageously high surcharge. For long distance traveling, it is best to fly.
Buses The bus system runs almost everywhere within the country, with stations built around the country dividing the territory into regions. Buses tend to be slow and unreliable.
For more information on any of the following sights, contact: Vietnamtourism Vinatour Head Office: 54 Nguyen Du Hanoi Tel (04) 257245 Fax (04)252707
Branch Office: 128A Pasteur Saigon 1 Ho Chi Minh City Tel (08) 299868 Fax (08) 299868
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
Lenin Park (Thong Nhat Park) Built over a former marsh, this park surrounds a large lake containing a statue of Lenin, often the object of jokes among the locals. The park itself is quite beautiful. Tran Nhan Tong Street. Hanoi
National Preserve of Cuc Phuong This national park is one of the last tropical primeval forest reserves on Earth. There are 64 species of fauna and thousands of species of flora, many of which are extinct everywhere else in the world. Bizarre and fascinating species of animals from flying lizards to monkeys dwell within the park’s 61,000 acres. Caves and grottoes, where various artifacts have been discovered, are located in the mountains within. Ha Nam Ninh Province It is located approximately 62 miles (100mi) southwest of Hanoi.
Thu Le Park Located northwest of Hanoi in the Thu Le village.
Vietnamese food varies from region to region. Almost 500 traditional dishes have been recorded! Rice and noodles are staple foods, served with nearly all meals. The most popular dishes are nema rán (spring rolls), bún thang (noodles with sliced pork, eggs, shredded chicken and shrimp), shellfish steamed with ginger and sea crabs fried with salt. Among common ingredients used are: shark fin, duck, pork paste, fish, spices, fruits, vegetables, crab meat, lobster and oysters.
Imported beer is available in Vietnam, although a number of domestic beers are brewed. Rice wine is very popular, and there are many brands available. There is a variety of fruit wines such as apricot, orange or lemon. Soft drinks are processed from the many varieties of tropical fruits available. Water from the tap should be avoided, even though it has already been filtered and sterilized at 10ºC. If you must drink it, boil the water first.
Vietnam is not the place to go for the latest in nightspots, but a number of large hotels have nightclubs and dance halls. Bars are fairly easy to find, even in smaller hotels. Try asking the locals for the current popular spots.
Ho Chi Minh City Police Station 161 Nguyen Du, Quan 1 Tel 99398 or 97107 Open from 8-11am and 1-4pm
Hanoi Police Office for the Registration of Foreign Visitors 63 Tran Hung Dao, Hanoi All visitors must register with the police within 48 hours of arrival. If you are on a tour, this should have been taken care of (but check anyway).
First Aid: 05
International Dialing Access: Available at major tourist hotels and post offices
Country Code: 84
City Codes: Hanoi: 04 Ho Chi Minh: 08
When calling from within the same city, delete the city code from the number. When calling to another city from within Vietnam, use the entire city code. When calling from outside Vietnam, delete the first digit (0) from the city code.
Vietnamtourism / Vinatour Head Office: 54 Nguyen Du Hanoi Tel (04) 257245 Fax (04) 252707
To arrange a visit to Vietnam, contact: Australia: Orbitours Pty Ltd C29 MLC Center Castlereagh Street Sydney Tel (02) 2333288
Canada: Uniglobe Voyages 2000 Inc. 19, rue King Est Sherbrooke, Quebec J1G 1A2 Tel 819-821-2002
France: International Tourisme 26 Bd. St. Marcel, 75005 Paris Tel 4587-0770
United Kingdom: Regent Holidays 13 Small Street Bristol BS1 IDE Tel (0272) 211711
USA: Lindblad Travel 1 Sylvan Road North P.O. Box 912 Westport, CT 06881 Tel 203-226-8513
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