Highlights of Vietnam

Vietnam is a country that brings the treasure chest of Asia’s exotic past to the modern world. There, the ancient traditions of the East blend seamlessly with the vibrancy of contemporary city life, as the incense smoke rises over its historic temples, as the aroma of Vietnam’s rich coffee spills out of restored colonial mansions fashioned into high-class restaurants, as the boisterous sounds of the market echo across the frenetic bustle of mopeds coursing through the old lanes of Saigon. Risen from the ashes of war, Vietnam is the Orient’s last delightful surprise, where children sit atop grey oxen treading through lush rice paddies, where old women sit before brightly-painted doorways breaking fresh French loaves, where tropical bays stretch for undiscovered miles, harboring enclosed white sandy beaches and tight enclaves where antique junks with sails of burgundy navigate pillars of rock that stretch from the sea to the sky.

This vibrant, tropical country is located in the heart of Southeast Asia, bordering China to the north, Laos and Cambodia to the west and the South China Sea to the east. The country stretches between two of Asia’s great river systems, the Red and Mekong, which fan out into broad, fertile deltas, rich in alluvial deposits that feed the country’s burgeoning population. From north to south you will find ‘authentic’ Asia - the fertile plains of the Mekong Delta, majestic mountains in the north, classical pagodas and temples, bustling cities and street markets, and the faded elegance of the French colonial era. You will also encounter a nation rich in culture, tradition and history, and people with a refreshing warmth and friendliness unequalled in Southeast Asia; a people who have put their war torn past behind them and who are clearly focused on a brighter future.

The travel industry in Vietnam is growing at a rapid pace. While the freshness and novelty of travel within Vietnam is still evident, major cities now offer facilities and services at Western standards. Travelling in the more remote areas of Vietnam will, however, involve travel on bumpy roads, in noisy trains, and overnight stays in clean but basic accommodation.

Whilst travelling through Vietnam please also be prepared for possible changes to tour travel plans. Flight and train schedule changes throughout Vietnam are common and are a reality of travelling through this part of the world. TiiM TRAVEL and your tour guide will keep you fully informed of any changes and amendments to the order of sight-seeing. Be aware that if you plan to travel around the time of the Vietnamese national holidays (listed in this guide), you may experience more disruptions than usual to your normal itinerary.

History
 
Vietnam’s history may be divided into 8 periods:

One: Pre-history: From circa 400,000 years (Paleolithic) to 4,000 years (Neolithic) ago, cultures in the area included Son Vi, Hoa Binh, Bac Son, Halong and Hoa Loc.

Two: Proto-history: According to legends, Vietnam originated in the seventh century BC when the Hung Kings founded Van Lang. In the third century BC, King An Duong Vuong named founded Au Lac and ruled until 179 BC.

Three: Chinese occupation: Northern Vietnam was occupied by Chine from the first to the tenth century AD.

Four: Independence: Local kings ruled the area from 939 to 1860 AD.

Five: French colonialism: The French colonized Vietnam from 1858 to the August Revolution in 1945, and from 1946 to the victory at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.

Six: Independence: The Socialist Republic of Vietnam was founded after the 1945 revolution, when President Ho Chi Minh declared independence.

Seven: American War: Vietnam fought the Americans from 1954 to Ho Chi Minh’s victory on April 30, 1975.

Eight: From 1975 until now, Vietnam has been working towards development and success.

Vietnam is currently one of South-East Asia's fastest growing economies and joined the WTO in January 2007, following a long negotiation process that lasted over a decade. This is providing an important boost to the economy and helping to ensure the continuation of liberalizing reforms. 
 
Ethnic Group
 
There are 54 ethnic groups living in Vietnam. The Viet, or the Kinh, people account for 86,2% of Vietnam’s population and are mostly concentrated in the lowlands. By contrast, most of the country’s 5.5 million ethnic minority people live in mountainous areas.
 
Religion
 
Major spiritual influences in Vietnam include Buddhism, Confucianism, and Ancestor Worship. Christianity arrived in the late 18th century and is now the second major religion following Buddhism. Other religions practiced include Islam and Cao Dai, with higher concentrations in the South.
 
Money

The official unit of currency in Vietnam is the dong. Approximate exchange rates at the time of printing are:

1USD equals 22,700VND
1EUR equals 26,900VND
1GBP equals 29,100VND
1AUD equals 17,900VND
1CAD equals 18,000VND

You are able to bring your home currency to Vietnam in cash or travelers cheques (AUD, GBP, CAD or USD). All international currency, with the exception of US dollars, must be changed into the local currency, the Vietnamese dong. You can pay for goods and services in US dollars or Vietnam dong, however you will get better value for your money if you use local currency. Most hotels change traveler cheques (with a 1% to 2% commission) and cash at reasonable rates. Credit cards (Visa or MasterCard are the most commonly accepted) can be used in a number of shops and restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City, Hue, Hoi An and Hanoi, however they are not always widely accepted outside these cities. ATM’s are now plentiful throughout the country at all major cities and towns. Please note if travelling to remote areas of Vietnam it is advisable to carry dong or USD cash.
 
Climate
 
Vietnam is essentially a tropical country with a humid monsoon climate. Average temperatures year-round range from 20 to 35 degrees Celsius so there is no particularly good or bad time to visit Vietnam.

In June and July, the average temperature in Hanoi is 29 C., in Hue is 29.3 C., ad in Ho Chi Minh City is 28 C. Lowland areas receive around 1,500mm of rain per year, while mountainous areas receive 2,000mm to 3,000mm. Humidity can reach up to 90% in the rainy season.

South Vietnam has only two seasons: cool and dry from November to April and hot and rainy from May to October. Humidity in the south during the months of June and July ranges between 75% and 85%. The hottest months are from March to May. The South is warm all year round, with seasonal variations in temperature averaging just three degrees Celsius.
North Vietnam has four seasons though conditions can change dramatically throughout the day. Autumn is considered the most beautiful season. The winter months from November to April are usually cold and humid. The months of December and January can be particularly cool with temperatures as low as 8 degrees Celsius. Temperatures can drop to 0 degrees Celsius in Sapa (in the highlands near the Chinese border) in winter. Summer, from May to October, can be quite hot and wet with regular downpours and occasional typhoons. The hottest months are July and August in Hanoi.

Central Vietnam is usually dry from May to October and wet from December to February. October and November may experience unstable weather conditions and flooding.
 
Food
 
Vietnamese cuisine is diverse and tasty, and one of the many highlights of a visit to the country. Most food presented is well cooked, however some optional dishes may be served cold. Travelers should note that raw, cold food presents a higher risk of stomach upset than well cooked food. Breakfast is included each day on our tours and is usually a mix of buffet and continental style. Lunch should cost around $US5-10 and dinner approximately $US7-20, depending on the restaurant. Drinking local tap water is not recommended, even in hotels. Bottled water is readily available throughout Vietnam.
 
Recommended Reading
 
Guide Books

Insight Guides - Vietnam
The Rough Guide to Vietnam 
Lonely Planet Guide to Vietnam
World Food Vietnam - for people who live to eat, drink and travel

History

A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam by Neil Sheehan
Ho Chi Minh by William J. Duiker
Once Upon A Distant War by William Prochnau
The Siege of Dien Bien Phu, Hell in a Very Small Place by Bernard Fall
In Retrospect - The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam by Robert McNamara 
The Living and the Dead - Robert McNamara and Five Lives of a Lost War by Paul Hendrickson
The Vietnam Reader Edited by Walter Capps
Fire In The Lake by Frances FitzGerald
Vietnam - A History by Stanley Karnow
 
Contemporary

Shadows and Wind by Robert Templer
Catfish and Mandala: A 2 Wheeled Voyage through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam by Andrew X. Pham
The Trouble with Tigers – the rise and fall of South East Asia by Victor Mallet.
 
Fiction

The Quiet American by Graham Greene
The Sorrow of War - a novel of North Vietnam by Bao Ninh
Paradise of the Blind by Duong Thu Huong, Phan Huy Duong, Nina McPherson 
Earth and Water: Encounters in Viet Nam by Edith Shillue, Kevin Bowen
Novel without a name by Duong Thu Huong
After the Sorrow by Lady Borton

Local Time
 
Vietnam time is:
7hrs ahead of GMT
3hrs behind Australian Eastern Standard Time
5hrs behind New Zealand
12hrs ahead of Canada Eastern Time
15hrs ahead of Canada Pacific Time
12hrs ahead of US Eastern Time
15hrs ahead of US Pacific Time
 
Important dates

31 Dec 2017: International New Year's Eve: Not a public holiday
01 Jan 2018: International New Year's Day: Public holiday.
16 Feb 2018: Lunar New Year’s Eve (Vietnam).
25 Apr 2018: Anniversary of Hung Kings (Vietnam): Public holiday.
30 Apr 2018: Independence Day: Public holiday.
01 May 2018: Labor Day: Public holiday.
02 Sep 2018: National Day: Public holiday.
24 Dec 2018: Christmas Eve: Not a public holiday.
 
Information herein is correct at the time of preparation; however, the rapid development of tourism in Indochina has the potential to make some of the information in this guide irrelevant. This information is intended as a guide only and TiiM TRAVEL is not responsible for any inaccuracies. This document does not, in any way, alter our conditions of reservation. Please contact us with your comments if, during the course of your travels, you find that the information in this guide is incorrect or out of date.