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Guide To Our Destination
Although many westerners still imagine Vietnam through the lens of war, it is in reality a country filled with captivating natural beauty and tranquil village life. Its highlands and rainforest regions, far from being devastated, continue to yield new species and team with exotic wildlife. Its islands and beaches are among the finest in all of Southeast Asia, and its cuisine is very possibly the most delicious you will ever find. Over two decades have passed since Vietnamwas officially united, and in that time it has done a remarkable job of healing its wounds. Today, this gracious and graceful country is an outstanding travel destination.
Location, Geography, & Climate
Shaped like an elongated S, Vietnam stretches the length of the IndochinesePeninsula and covers a surface area of 128,000 square miles--making it roughly the size of Italy or, in the U.S., New Mexico. China lies to the north, Laos and Cambodia to the west, and the East Sea to the east.
Topographically, Vietnam is a verdant tapestry of soaring mountains, fertile deltas, primeval forests inhabited by exotic fauna, sinuous rivers, mysterious caves, otherworldly rock formations, and heavenly waterfalls and beaches. Beyond nature, the curious and open-minded visitor will find in Vietnam a feast of culture and history.
For convenience, the country can be thought of as comprising three unique areas: north, central, and south. The north is known for its alpine peaks, the Red River Delta, the plains of Cao Bang and Vinh Yen, enchanting Halong Bay, and historic Hanoi, as well as for the diversity of its ethnolinguistic minorities.
Central Vietnam, also home to many ethnic minorities, is characterized by high temperate plateaus rich in volcanic soil and by spectacular beaches, dunes, and lagoons. It is also the location of the ancient imperial city of Hue. In the South, visitors encounter modern life in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) and the fertile alluvial delta of the Mekong River. Vietnam's territory also encompasses a large continental shelf and thousands of archipelagic islands.
Vietnam's climate is as complex as its topography. Although the country lies entirely within the tropics, its diverse range of latitude, altitude, and weather patterns produces enormous climatic variation. North Vietnam, like China, has two basic seasons: a cold, humid winter from November to April, and a warm, wet summer for the remainder of the year. Summer temperatures average around 70 degrees Fahrenheit (about 22 C), with occasional typhoons to keep things exciting. The northern provinces of Central Vietnam share the climate of the North, while the southern provinces share the tropical weather of the South. South Vietnam is generally warm, the hottest months being March through May, when temperatures rise into the mid-90's (low-30's C). This is also the dry season in the south, followed by the April-October monsoon season.
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.
Although rice is the foundation of the Vietnamese diet, the country's cuisine is anything but bland. Deeply influenced by the national cuisines of France, China, and Thailand, Vietnamese cooking is highly innovative and makes extensive use of fresh herbs, including lemon grass, basil, coriander, parsley, laksa leaf, lime, and chili. Soup is served at almost every meal, and snacks include spring rolls and rice pancakes. The national condiment is nuoc mam, a piquant fermented fish sauce served with every meal. Indigenous tropical fruits include bananas, pineapples, coconuts, lychees, melons, mandarin oranges, grapes, and exotic varieties like the three-seeded cherry and the green dragon fruit.
Lying in the heart of the Red River Delta, the Vietnamese capital city of Hanoi blends the old world charm with the dynamism of a rising Asian city. Its legacy as a former French colonial city is still evident from the French-inspired features - lakes and parks, colonial architecture and broad tree-lined boulevards - that still dot the present cityscapes. The city has undergone dramatic transformation over the last thirty years and is now seeing a burgeoning population paralleled by rising motorbike ownership, a rapidly expanding retail sector and a flourishing art scene. Yet when compared with Ho Chi Minh City, the economic powerhouse in the south, Hanoi still retains a romantic and elegant atmosphere.
Situated along the south central coast of Vietnam, Hoi An is an outstanding example of a well-preserved ancient town that has been designated a World Heritage Site. Known as Faifo in the past, it was a major port town that boasted multi-cultural influences from the 16th – 18th centuries. Today, it is a quaint and picturesque town that can be easily explored on foot.
Ho Chi Minh City
Commonly referred to as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is Vietnam’s largest city and undisputed commerce capital. It is a dynamic city that is currently enjoying the fruits of Vietnam’s economic boom – lavish hotels, decadent restaurants and trendy nightspots are continually added to the cityscape. The younger residents may seem status oriented and eager to flank their new-found wealth, a significant change from the war-savaged population barely one generation ago. Yet against the backdrop of new-found confidence, frenetic development and urban bustle, the boutique charm of HCMC still lives on amongst the tree-lined boulevards, quaint wooden shops, old temples and colonial architecture. The city is quickly making a name for itself in Vietnamese crafts shopping, an emerging art scene and a wide range of dining pleasures (with almost every imaginable cuisine available).
From Hanoi, a scenic 3-hour drive through the Red River Delta leads you to Hanoi. In the famed Halong Bay, the sublime beauty of magnificent limestone formations rising dramatically from the waters is best experienced on a boat cruise. Be transported back to the nostalgic charm of yesteryear aboard the Emeraude, a luxurious replica of a grand colonial steamer. Other charming vessels in Halong Bay include Indochina Sails and Bhaya Cruise. Make a stop at a local village to enjoy the captivating performance of traditional water puppetry, a distinctive art form of the Red River Delta.
Vietnam’s northern mountain ranges are breathtakingly beautiful with fresh air and cool temperatures. To visit these remote mountains, take advantage of the elegantly restored Victoria Train with its plush seating and wood-paneled Pullman carriages. Home to a diverse group of ethnic minorities such as Tay, Red Dao, Black and Flower H’mong, Sapa boasts of ample hill tribe trekking and home stay opportunities. Victoria Sapa Resort combines mountain traveling with stylish comfort while Topas Eco Lodge provides a peaceful retreat amid the lush valleys. Beyond Sapa, Mount Fansipan (Indochina’s highest peak) is great for trekking and exploration.
Although not a major stop on the tourist trail, Danang’s location between Hoi An and Hue makes a nice stop along the way. The city is one of the most dynamic of Vietnam’s modern cities with rapid industrial and economic growth. Visitors to Danang can enjoy the understated, yet fascinating Cham art and culture at Cham Museum. On the outskirts of town is China Beach, steeped in legend yet wonderfully deserted.
Buon Ma Thuot and Central Highlands
Buon Ma Thuot is the largest city in Vietnam’s Central Highlands region, an unexplored area with great adventure and trekking potential. The abundance of untouched forests, stunning landscapes, national parks and hill tribe villages are still off the tourist trails.
With its perennial cool weather, pine-clad valleys and weathered but elegant French hilltop villas, Dalat is Vietnam’s premier hill station. Opportunities abound for meetings and incentives in boutique colonial hotels such as the Sofitel Dalat Palace, as well as mountain adventures of absailing, canyoning and even world-class golfing. For an opulent alpine retreat, Ana Mandara Villas Dalat is a good fit.
Just a four-hour drive from Ho Chi Minh City, Mui Ne is renowned for its long stretches of sandy beaches and perennial sea breezes that greatly complement wind-surfing and kite-surfing. It is also famous for the wind-sculpted red and white sand dunes that make great postcard shots and adventurous sports. Golfers can tee off at the Nick Faldo-designed Ocean Dunes Golf Course. Home to many different resorts, the luxurious Victoria Phan Thiet, the boutique Cham Villas and the newly refurnished Blue Ocean are our top selects for this charming beach town.
Located in Binh Thuan province, Phan Thiet is a small coastal town with a thriving fishing industry. Check out the production of nuoc mam (fish sauce seasoning commonly used in Vietnamese cuisine). Golf lovers will be delighted with a choice of two international class golf courses overlooking the sea – Ocean Dunes and the recently established Sealinks.
In the heart of Khanh Hoa province, Nha Trang is the undisputed beach capital of Vietnam. Besides long stretches of sand lapped by crystal clear waters, it is dotted with many islands each with its own distinct character. The turquoise waters play host to teeming marine life, and snorkeling and scuba diving are perennial favorites. This beach town also features a vibrant night life. The brand new Novotel Nha Trang is a great accommodation choice; and for travelers seeking a luxurious resort experience, the six-star Six Senses Hideaway Ninh Van Bay does not disappoint.
Quy Nhon is Vietnam’s other ‘secret’ destination. Occupying the stretch of coastline between Danang and Nha Trang, this port city is close to spectacular secluded bays and unpopulated private islands. The Life Wellness Resort Quy Nhon makes an ideal location for a peaceful retreat.
One of the world’s most fertile areas, the Mekong Delta is home to countless rice fields and tributaries across thousands of square miles of flat land. An overnight cruise in the Mekong Delta is definitely worthwhile, for the experience of awakening in the early morning to find floating markets and villages floating around you is incredible. The small sizes of the Song Xanh Sampans and Cai Be Princess are perfect for glimpses into the local ways of life while relaxing in the comfort of a floating boutique hotel. The restored colonial vessels of Pandaw and Bassac are great for Mekong Delta cruises between Saigon and Phnom Penh.
Off Vietnam’s southern coast in the Gulf of Thailand, the island of Phu Quoc is one of Asia’s up and rising beach destination. The island’s clear waters, isolated beaches, forested interior and charming local character make for an ideal beach escape. Do not forget to sample Phu Quoc’s famous traditional products - fish sauce and black pepper. For a relaxing tropical beach retreat, try La Veranda Resort & Spa.
In order to enter Vietnam, you will need a valid visa. You cannot get a visa on arrival without having applied for it in advance. We recommend you get your visa in advance in good time by application to the London consulate. In exceptional circumstances, we can pre-arrange your visa for collection on arrival, but this is normally only appropriate for late bookings.
When you book your holiday with Travel Authentic, we will send a booking pack containing full visa application details and application forms.
Airport Departure Taxes
Airport departure tax (service charge) is now included in your air ticket. It is no longer necessary to pay it in cash at the airport.
The currency in Vietnam is called the 'Dong'.
At the time of writing: US$1 = 20540 Dong approx.
There is no point in trying to obtain Dong in the UK, it is best to buy what you need on arrival. As it is awkward to change Dong back into Sterling, change only small amounts to cover your immediate needs.
The US dollar is also universally accepted. Sterling can readily be changed to Dong in the larger cities, but we have experienced some difficulties changing sterling in smaller places. In summary, we recommend you carry US dollar bills and a credit card for settling hotel incidentals bills and major purchases.
ATM’s are widely used in Vietnam. For most ATM a limit between 400 – 600 USD a day (you will receive local currency from ATM’s). You should check with your bank as they usually set the limit on your card.
Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted in high end restaurants and some high end shops. Most or all hotels will accept Visa and Mastercard. USD cash are accepted everywhere. The USD is very strong in Asia so you will get a good exchange and use the local currency to pay your purchases.
We don’t suggest you take the traveler checks because most hotels, restaurant, shop will not accept traveler’s checks. If you bring traveler’s checks you will have to go to the bank to change it. If you change to local currency usually there is not commission charge
Regarding bring cash I would advise bring 50’s, 20’s, 10’s, 5’s and 1’s in USD cash. We find you can never go wrong by bringing USD.
If your mobile phone is enabled for roaming, you will find it works in the most parts of Vietnam except perhaps remote country areas.
We strongly recommend you take medical advice from your doctor before visiting any part of Indochina. He or she will be be able to advise you on the latest health-related recommendations and preventive measures.
Bring some insect repellent (with Deet) as you are traveling in a tropical area. While traveling always remember to drink water as it will help you acclimatize to the tropical temperatures. Bring a cap or a hat. Bring medicine for your stomach in case food doesn’t agree or to treat diarrhea
Water from the faucet is use to brush your teeth not to drink. Always drink bottled water if you are thirsty. Drinks at restaurants should be chilled avoid drinking ice cubes when traveling in the rural area.
Avoid eating fresh salads when you eat on the street. Fruits should always be peeled right when you eat if you wanted to eat in the rural area not peeled before and left out in the sun.
Visitors to Vietnam rarely experience crime or other difficulties but please remember that there are bad people everywhere and, particularly in the main cities (especially HCMC), petty crime e.g. theft can be a problem. Please take sensible precautions as for any 'third-world' country.
Please do not carry passports, important papers or a lot of money when walking in the street: make use of hotel safes where available. Handbags and cameras have been snatched by motor-cycle pillion riders. Ostentatious jewellery or watches are a temptation.
Cyclos (bicycle rickshaws) are more of a tourist attraction than practical city transport. Always negotiate fares with cyclo drivers before embarking, and avoid cyclos after nightfall. Taxis are inexpensive and a much better bet for city travel beyond walking distance. Most taxis are clearly marked with the taxi company's name and drivers are licensed and usually reputable.
(Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Hai Phong) has two distinct seasons - hot and rainy summers and cool and dry winters.
Summer: May - October. Average temperature 24 - 33º C It is hot and humid, especially inland, which is not touched by cool coastal breezes. Tropical rain showers and the occasional typhoon are also possibilities - light clothes and an umbrella are recommended.
Winter: November - April. Average temperature 16 - 23º C It remains fairly dry up until late February/March.
Best time to visit: During winter when rainfall is minimal and temperatures are comfortable.
(Hue, Da Nang, Hoi An, Nha Trang) coastal areas are more temperate than the sticky south (although they do experience high rainfall), while the Central Highlands (Da Lat) are pleasantly cooler.
Summer: May - October. Average temperature 23 - 24ºC
Lowlands (Hue, Da Nang, Hoi An, Nha Trang) The weather is warm and reasonably dry from May to September. The monsoon winds then change bringing above average rain during late September. This time is not very pleasant as it can rain constantly - there is a high probability of flooding, visibility is poor and typhoons are also a possibility.
Winter: November - April. Average temperature 17 - 23º C
Best time to visit: During the winter between February and April, when rainfall is low and temperatures are warm.
Highlands (Dalat) Temperatures can fall slightly below the average and rainfall is higher than at lower elevations. However, most rain tends to fall during the summer months when it can be very wet - although these summer months do provide a respite from the often intense heat of other areas.
Light cotton clothes are recommended, although a few warm layers are advisable throughout the year as temperatures can drop away, especially at night. Waterproofs are also a good idea as rain can fall at anytime of the year.
Best time to visit: During winter when rainfall is minimal and temperatures are comfortable.
(Ho Chi Minh, Bin Thuen, Mekong Delta) is fairly consistently hot and humid all year round. Worth Carrying lightweight jumper as it can be chillingly cold inside air-conditioned buildings during summer.
Summer:May - November. Average temperature 24 - 31º C It is hot, humid and rainy but heavy downpours are usually short lived.
Winter: December - April. Average temperature 22 - 33º C Remains hot and humid, although humidity levels are more bearable between December and February. During April and May the southwest monsoon winds bring rain showers to the Mekong Delta and southern Vietnam.
Best time to visit: Temperatures are not as extreme from September to February as they can be during March and April when the heat is fierce
Checklist before you leave on your trip:
Air tickets: check your departure times and date. Where possible buy e-tickets it saves you time when you inadvertently lose the document you can always pull out a copy from the computer or provide the ticket number. Paper tickets are more likely to get lost and end up having to wait for months to claim the lost ticket. Make sure you save a copy of your e-ticket in your traveling email.
Call your credit card company to inform them you will be traveling overseas and name of countries that the card will charged and the period that you will be using the card overseas to avoid identity theft and inconvenience that your card gets blocked when you travel.
Check your visa documents and passport size photos if you need them to get visa on arrival.
Make copies of your passport and visas scan it and send it to your traveling email in case your passport is lost or visas lost you can contact the proper authorities to provide those copies.
Make sure you have your health/accidental /emergency evacuation insurance. Most important is health /accident coverage. Make sure that the coverage will pay for you while you are in the hospital or need assistance in the country you are traveling. Costs are covered and not require you to pay first and claim later. From our experience insurance underwritten by AIG in the US and Lloyds of London in Europe has come through for our clients in times of emergencies with little inconvenience.
Check with your mobile phone carrier if they have roaming coverage in the countries you are traveling. Make sure your phone is compatible to receive or make calls in the country you will be traveling. Sometimes it’s cheaper to buy a local SIM card in the country of arrival and put it in your phone to use locally. But it’s always good to have a back up to have your phone roaming coverage.
Make sure you have enough passport pages in your passport. Usually try to have at least 2 pages in your passport for each country you will be visiting (not transiting at the airports). This is if you will get your visa on arrival at the country you are visiting.
Make sure you have Travel Authentic’s hotline mobile phone number in your phone or where you can access information in case of an emergency.
Tipping with ones for the hotel porters is useful. Tipping for guides are on average 10 – 15 US/day and drivers about 5 – 10 US/day. Tipping is not expected only if they do a good job then you can tip as you feel. Tipping in restaurants are not expected either. But if the waiter provided good service then you can leave a tip in local currency of about 1-2 USD. Local food stalls along the road you do not need to tip. Usually only in sit down A/C restaurants if good service is provided.
Laundry can be done at the hotels and can usually be done in 1 day. There are also outside laundry service that’s usually 1/3 the price of what the hotels charge you but make sure you have time to send out your laundry as it make take 1-2 days.
Dress and etiquette:
In Vietnam it’s ok to wear shorts. Going to temples you should avoid wearing tank tops or revealing bare shoulders.
Asia is a very casual so you won’t need any formal clothes but I do recommend bringing one or 2 collared shirt if you plan to dine at a formal restaurant.
When you shake hands you shake with 2 hands holding the other person you are greeting.
Do not point your finger at a person unless you mean to offend them.
When you call someone to you your palms should face the ground and pull towards you. Do not have your hands facing up flipping towards you when you want someone to come to you as it’s disrespectful.
Hugging is a show of close friendship and does not mean anything more then that.
Holding hands men and men or women and women is a show of close friendship like brothers and sisters. Does not mean anything more then that. Same with arms over the shoulders or hand on the lap.
Women do not always necessarily shake hands with men and usually a nod of acknowledgement will do fine.
Cost of meals:
Meals per day you would estimate about 30 – 40 US/person/day for 2 people. As for the high end restaurants you would add an additional 20 US/person/person. You will find that high end meals in Asia are much more affordable then western countries unless you are dining in the 5 star hotel restaurants. Most 5 star hotels will take credit card charges. As for shopping you will also find that most product purchases will range from 1 US to 50 US (silks) per item on average. Visa and MasterCard is widely accepted.
Do's and Dont's
• In Vietnam it’s ok to wear shorts. Going to temples you should avoid wearing tank tops or revealing bare shoulders or thighs. Bring a shawl to cover your legs if you enter the temple or avoid going to the main prayer room.
• Asia is a very casual so you won’t need any formal clothes but I do recommend bringing one or 2 collared shirt if you plan to dine at a formal restaurant.
• When you shake hands you shake with 2 hands holding the other person you are greeting.
• Hugging is a show of close friendship and does not mean anything more than that.
• Holding hands men and men or women and women is a show of close friendship like brothers and sisters. Does not mean anything more than that. Same with arms over the shoulders or hand on the lap.
• Do try local foods but make sure it’s cooked hot.
• Do try to say a few words in Vietnamese like Hello or Thank you. Vietnamese people love to smile when they hear you try to speak their language.
• Do take lots of pictures people don’t mind. Just don’t take pictures of military installations or police officers.
• Do take a taxi when you need to get around town as they are air-conditioned and run on a meter. Some reputable taxis in Hanoi are (Hanoi Taxi, Taxi CP, Mai Linh Taxi, Hanoi Tourist Taxi and Noi Bai Taxi). In Ho Chi Minh City (Vinasun, Mai Linh Taxi and Vina Taxi). Make sure you know how to read the meter as there are many zeros and you might pay for more than the actual cost. Usual cost starts at 12,000 VND (1 USD~17,000 VND) for about first 1.5km.
• Do not point your finger at a person unless you mean to offend them. When you call someone to you your palms should face down and pull towards you. Do not have your hands facing up flipping towards you when you want someone to come to you as it’s disrespectful.
• Women do not always necessarily shake hands with men and usually a nod of acknowledgement will do fine. Only shake hands with women only if they extend their hands first.
• Don’t ever take cyclos (bicycle cabs) in Ho Chi Minh City and Hue as you will be most likely be cheated by pedicab drivers. They will start an argument with you at the end of the trip and demand 3 times the price you agreed on.
• Don’t eat food on the sidewalk unless it’s cooked hot.
• As you cross the street DO NOT STEP BACK while you are in the middle of the street move forward and do not make sudden moves.
- We’re fully-licenced ground Tour Operator:
Travel Authentic is a fullly licensed tour operator by Vietnam Administration of Tourism. When you book with us, your money will be safe and you are dealing directly with the person on ground. That is why we can give you support on spot and our prices will be unbeatable for the quality.
- All of our holidays are Private:
You can pick your date of departure, choose what hotel you want to stay, decide what touring you want to do and how much free time you want to have. For all road journeys you will have your own car and driver, offering you the flexibility to stop off along the way if you see something of interest or wish to take a photograph. All sightseeing excursions are accompanied by your own private English-speaking guide. This means that you can ask as many or as few questions as you like and take sightseeing trips at your own pace focusing on your own personal interests.
- Our unique authentic experiences:
Our guide and driver will be flexible to give you chance to meet up with friendly locals and do authentic local things to explore the insights of their life and a sense of their cultures. Inspite of not being stated or costed in the itinerary, it is a part of our tour operation and will surely give you many nice surpises and contribute to your memorable holiday.