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Everything you need to know about Vietnam!

Vietnam is a must-see and perfect for a family holiday. Popular destinations include Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Sapa, Hoi An, Hue, Nha Trang and the Mekong Delta. Before you head off do a bit of research and learn the do’s and don’ts from various sources, read this to help you plan your trip!

The basics

Population: 92 million

Capital: Hanoi

Religion: Vietnam is a multi-religious state. The majority of Vietnamese identify with Buddhism, but Taoism, Confucianism and Catholicism are also practiced.

Emergency numbers: 113 (police), 114 (fire), 115 (ambulance)


Fact file

• Approximately 40 percent of all Vietnamese, or more than 30 million people, share the same family name, Nguyen.
• Through history, Hanoi has had at least five different names including Long Biên, Tong Bình Long Đo and Đai La.
• Vietnam is the largest exporter of cashews in the world, and the second largest exporter of rice.
• Instead of bells, traditional gongs are used to call Vietnamese children to school.
• Vietnamese cuisine is a mixture of Chinese and Thai styles and is considered one of the healthiest cuisines in the world.
• The Vietnamese language has six different tones.

The key dates

  • 16 February: Tet Nguyen Dan. Also known as the Vietnamese New Year or Tet. Celebrations usually go on for three to six days. The dates vary from year to year.
  • 30 April: Victory Day. Celebrates the fall of Saigon and the reunification of Vietnam in the year of 1975.

The hot spots

Popular destinations include Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Sapa, Hoi An, Hue, Nha Trang and the Mekong Delta.

Among the eight World Heritage Sites are Halong Bay and the monuments of Hué Monuments.

Some itinerary ideas

• Mekong Delta: Ho Chi Minh City – Can Tho – Cu Chi Tunnels – Ben Tre
• Beaches: Mui Ne – Nha Trang – Hoi An – Da Nang
• The North: Hanoi – Halong Bay – Sapa

How to stay healthy

• Typhoons and heavy rain during the wet season (JuneDecember) can cause flooding and landslides.
• Traffic accidents are very common. Buckle up, if you can, and tell your driver to slow down if necessary.
• Choose street-food vendors as wisely as you can – there have been cases recently of travellers falling ill from contaminated food.

While you’re there, please don’t…

• Give handkerchiefs, black items or yellow flowers as a gift.
• Take pictures of military installations, buildings or personnel. This is considered a breach of national security. • sit with your feet pointing towards people.

Before you go, read …

  • Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes – published in 2010, this has been described as the first “great” novel about the Vietnam War.
  • Catfish and Mandala by Andrew X Pham – the author left Vietnam as a “boat person” and grew up in California. This book is about his return to his home country.

Before you go, watch …

  • Cyclo (Xich lo) – from the Vietnamese director of The Scent of Green Papaya, a film about an 18-year-old bicycle-taxi driver trying to make a living.
  • The Quiet American – it’s a pale imitation of Graham Greene’s famous book, but there are some great scenes of Vietnam. And it has Michael Caine in it.

They said it

“Rice and fish are as inseparable as mother and child.” – Vietnamese proverb

“If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people.” – Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh

“If necessity is the mother of invention, then the Vietnamese should win top prize …” – journalist Jane Lasky

Hoi An Vietnam

Important questions 

Do I need a visa?

Most ASEAN (and Scandinavian) passport holders do not require a visa for a short visit to Vietnam. Other nationalities can download an application form from vietnamembassysingapore.org/en. Arrangements can also be made to collect a visa on arrival at major ports of entry; see vietnamvisa.govt.vn.

How long will it take me to get there?

Between 2 and 3.5 hours from Singapore. Vietnam is 7 hours ahead of GMT and 1 hour behind Singapore.

What’s the money situation?

The official currency of Vietnam is the Vietnamese dong (VND); be prepared to feel a little like a faux millionaire – you’ll receive more than 16,000 dong for a single Singapore dollar. ATM withdrawals are available in major cities and tourist destinations, and US dollars are widely accepted, as are credit cards.

When’s the best time to visit?

Opposing monsoon seasons in the north and south mean that seasonal changes are different around Vietnam. It is always high season somewhere in Vietnam, and the tropical south is always warm. Head to the north between May and October and the south between November and February. The popular central beaches can be wet between December and February

What’s the lingo?

The official language is Vietnamese. French and English are also spoken.

Here are some phrases to get you started:

Hello Chào

What is your name? Ban tên gì?

My name is __ Tôi tên là …

How much? Bao nhiêu

Thank you Cam on ban

Yes Vâng

No, thank you Không cam on ban

Is there anything I should know about meeting the locals?

Vietnamese show respect with a slight bow when greeting elders.

What’s a must-try dish?

Pho, an aromatic noodle soup with chicken or beef and herbs, or a bánh mì (baguette) filled with various cuts of pork, pâté and vegetables.

What should I buy as a souvenir?

Non la (palm-leaf conical hat), the traditional symbol of Vietnamese people.


Where to stay


You may feel self-conscious checking in to a place called the Palace Luxury Hotel, but the rooms are only S$200 or so a night. And worth every cent. Perched just above the lake, this French-built palace opened in 1922, and today the 45 rooms and suites are a flashback to a bygone era, from the chandeliers to the claw-foot baths and working fireplaces.

For more information go to their website royaldl.com.


For more recommendations on where to stay click here.

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This article first appeared in the Travel Guide 2017 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase a copy or subscribe so you never miss an issue!