Travel Destinations / Vietnam
Vivid colours, bolder landscapes, dramatic coastlines, compellint history, life in the fast lane...welcome to Vietnam, the latest Asian dragon to wake from its slumber. Vietnam has been blessed with a bountiful harvest of soaring mountains, a killer coastline and radiant rice fields. Inland, peasant women in conical hats still tend to their fields, children ride buffalos along country paths and minority people scratch out a living from impossible gradients.
It is a nation of determined optimists who have weathered war after war, survived colonialism and communism, and are now getting to grips with the wheeler-dealer world of capitalism. Fiercely protective of their independence and sovereignty, the Vietnamese are graciously welcoming of foreigners who come as guests not conquerors.
The richness of Vietnam's origins is evident throughout its culture. Spiritual life in Vietnam is a grand panoply of belief systems, including Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Tam Giao (literally 'triple religion'), which is a blend of Taoism, popular Chinese beliefs, and ancient Vietnamese animism.
The most important festival of the year is Tet, a week-long event in late January or early February that heralds the new lunar year and the advent of spring. Celebration consists of both raucous festivity (fireworks, drums, gongs) and quiet meditation. In addition to Tet, there are about twenty other traditional and religious festivals each year.
Vietnamese architecture expresses a graceful aesthetic of natural balance and harmony that is evident in any of the country's vast numbers of historic temples and monasteries. The pre-eminent architectural form is the pagoda, a tower comprised of a series of stepped pyramidal structures and frequently adorned with lavish carvings and painted ornamentation. Generally speaking, the pagoda form symbolizes the human desire to bridge the gap between the constraints of earthly existence and the perfection of heavenly forces. Pagodas are found in every province of Vietnam. One of the most treasured is the Thien Mu Pagoda in Hue, founded in 1601 and completed more than two hundred years later. In North Vietnam, the pagodas that serve as the shrines and temples of the Son La mountains are especially worth visiting. In South Vietnam, the Giac Lam Pagoda of Ho Chi Minh City is considered to be the city's oldest and is notable as well for its many richly-carved jackwood statues.
As a language, Vietnamese is exceptionally flexible and lyrical, and poetry plays a strong role in both literature and the performing arts. Folk art, which flourished before French colonization, has experienced a resurgence in beautiful woodcuts, village painting, and block printing. Vietnamese lacquer art, another traditional medium, is commonly held to be the most original and sophisticated in the world. Music, dance, and puppetry, including the uniquely Vietnamese water puppetry, are also mainstays of the country's culture.
Shopping in Vietnam is a fun and interesting experience, and guarantees good bargains to those who know what to look for. It is true to say that you can find nearly anything in Vietnam. Markets vary from high class shopping malls, supermarkets to bustling open market, galleries, boutiques and street stalls.
It is not recommended that you buy imported, famous branded products such as clothing, perfume or electronics in Vietnam as tax makes these items more costly than neighboring countries. In terms of shopping for tourists, Vietnam is most famous for its handicrafts, war souvenirs, authentic clothing, art, antiques and gems.
Car & motorbike - The relative affordability of vehicle hire makes the latter a popular option. Having your own set of wheels gives you maximum flexibility to visit remote regions and stop when and where you please.
Bus and Tram - there are regular bus service that connects even the remotest areas of the country.It is very cheap but the emphasis is on economy not comfort
Train - these modes of transport offer a more relaxing way to get around and more room than the jam-packed buses. The trains are also considered safer than the country’s kamikaze bus fleet.
Taxis - In the major cities the easiest method of transport are taxis. Most are relatively new models of car and are air-conditioned
Vietnamese dong (VND) is the official currency in Vietnam.
Notes: 500d, 1000d, 2000d, 5000d, 10,000d, 20,000d, 50,000d, 100,000d, 200,000d and 500,000d. Now that Ho Chi Minh has been canonised (against his wishes), his picture is on every banknote.
Coins: 500d, 1000d and 5000d. The second currency is the US dollar and that needs no introduction.
Credit Cards: Visa, MasterCard and JCB cards are now widely accepted in all major cities and many tourist centres. However, a 3% commission charge on every transaction is pretty common; check first, as some charge higher commissions than others.
Vaccinations: The only vaccine required by international regulations is yellow fever.
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When it comes to weather, it’s a tough call, as Vietnam’s climate is so diverse. Think frosts and occasional snow in the mountains of the north, and temperatures soaring to 40°C in the south during the dry season.
Vietnam’s weather is dictated by two monsoons, meaning double trouble on the rain front. The winter monsoon comes from the northeast between October and March, bringing damp and chilly winters to all areas north of Nha Trang, and dry and warm temperatures to the south. From April or May to October, the summer monsoon brings hot, humid weather to the whole country except for those areas sheltered by mountains. For the best balance, we’d vote for the months of April, May or October. For those sticking to the south, November to February is dry and a touch cooler. From July to November, violent and unpredictable typhoons hit central and northern Vietnam, which can dampen the spirits of even the most enthusiastic traveller.
It gets pretty crowded from November to March and in July and August during high season. Domestic tourists are a major force now and they tend to travel in numbers during July and August as well. Prices peak over the Christmas and New Year period, and if you don’t fancy sharing the sites with the masses, try to avoid this busy time. May, June and September are usually the quietest months.
Some travellers like to time a visit with Tet (Vietnamese New Year), the biggest festival in the calendar, which falls in late January or early February. It’s a nice idea in principle, but not in practice, as the whole country is on the move and prices rise dramatically. Transport is crammed in the runup and aftermath, the Reunification Express shuts down during festivities, and most shops and businesses are closed for the best part of a week.
Best time to visit:
September to December or from March to April.