Vietnam is an exotic destination with stunning natural beauty, world-renowned food and a complex history. Whether you’re dodging the traffic in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, sunning yourself on the beaches of the central coast, or bobbing around the muddy waters of the Mekong Delta, there’s always something fascinating to see and experience. Before you head off, read our tips and important info, covering everything from the Vietnamese language to money, visas, weather and more!
Population: 98 million
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)
- Approximately 40 percent of all Vietnamese, or more than 30 million people, share the same family name, Nguyen.
- The Vietnamese language has six different tones.
- 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.
- January/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.
Hot spots and itineraries
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 Hué Monuments. Here are 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
Staying safe and healthy
Typhoons and heavy rain during the wet season (JuneDecember) can cause flooding and landslides. Traffic accidents are also very common. Buckle up, if you can, and tell your driver to slow down, if necessary. You should also choose street-food vendors as wisely as you can – travellers do fall ill from contaminated food from time to time. Finally, read up on the latest COVID requirements.
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
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, and French and English are also spoken. Here are some phrases to get you started:
What is your name? Ban tên gì?
My name is __: Tôi tên là __
How much? Bao nhiêu
Thank you: Cam on ban
No, thank you: Không cam on ban
Last but not least
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.
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