Vietnam Travel Advice

Petty street crime is increasing in the larger cities (such as Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi) and tourist resorts. Nha Trang beach also sees an increase in bag snatching during the summer months. You should take sensible precautions.

Travel Tips, Where To Go & See?

Typhoon Ketsana passed across central Vietnam on Tuesday 29 and Wednesday 30 September 2009. The storm resulted in casualties in rural areas and damage to infrastructure, including disruption to transport and energy services, in central provinces such as Da Nang, Quang Ngai and surrounding areas. Travellers staying in an affected area, or planning to visit one, are advised to continue to register with the Foreign Office.

Typhoons and Tropical Storms commonly occur in Vietnam between June and December. In August, September and October 2008, Northern and Central Vietnam experienced torrential rain resulting in severe flooding including in Hanoi. This caused considerable damage to local infrastructure, including road and rail links.

Outbreaks of Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) in Vietnam have led to over 50 reported human fatalities. As a precaution, travellers should avoid live animal markets, poultry farms and other places where they may come into close contact with domestic, caged or wild birds; and ensure poultry and egg dishes are thoroughly cooked.

The HCMC and Hanoi Health Departments have suspended bottled water producers for violating regulations on safety and hygiene. Some bottles were found to contain Pseudomonas aerugionosa bacteria, which can cause infections and sepsis in humans.

Dengue Fever is endemic to Vietnam and can occur throughout the year. There is no vaccination or immunisation. There has recently been an increase in the number of dengue haemorrhagic fever cases in Vietnam due to some unseasonal periods of heavy rain, and there have been a number of serious cases, some of which have resulted in fatalities.

There is a low threat from terrorism in Vietnam. But you should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks, which could be in public areas including those frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers.

Serious or violent crimes against foreigners in Vietnam are rare, but travellers should remain vigilant for petty theft, especially in larger cities (such as Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi) and tourist resorts, and when travelling by bus or train.

Illegal drugs are increasingly available in major cities. You should be aware that drugs are likely to have been ‘tampered with’ or spiked. Drug trafficking and possession carries heavy penalties, including the death penalty, which is enforced in Vietnam.

Where to stay in Vietnam ?
Hotels in Vietnam
Hotels:
Hotels in Vietnam have vastly improved and most towns have small hotels and guest houses. In the major towns, there is a full range of accommodation to suit all budgets. Both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have excellent standard hotels and international chains such as Hilton (www.hilton.com), Sofitel (www.sofitel.com) and Intercontinental (www.intercontinental.com) with the facilities expected in 4- to 5-star hotels such as air conditioning, room service, swimming pool, health club and good restaurants. The major beach resorts of Nha Trang, Hoi An, Danang, Phan Thiet, Phu Quoc and Vung Tau have an excellent range of accommodation.

Grading: There is no formal grading of hotels, but usually the price gives an idea of the standard. However, make sure you look at the rooms and shop around; there are some superb deals to be had, particularly in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, where quality budget hotels are sprouting up everywhere.
Bed and breakfast:

There are very many value-for-money guest houses, or mini-hotels, across the country, mainly without air conditioning and some with shared bathrooms or without hot water. Generally they are simply furnished but usually very clean.
Camping:

There are no campsites in Vietnam. Some travel companies arrange camping for organised groups on treks, and all the camping equipment is supplied.
Other accommodation:

Budget: Most towns frequented by tourists have a selection of budget hotels and for less than US$20 a night you can expect a TV, possibly air conditioning and a very clean room. The location may not be very central but the major sights will be within walking distance or reachable by taxi, motorbike taxi or cyclo.

Homestays: Homestays are increasingly popular with visitors eager to gain a real insight into Vietnamese culture. These can be formally organised by your tour operator or done more casually if the opportunity presents itself.  Options vary – you can stay overnight with a hilltribe family in a traditional stilthouse in the north east, and join the family for a home-cooked meal. In the Mekong Delta stay with a farming family and learn a little about their way of life in a region where a boat is pretty much the only way to travel.

Things To See and Do in Vietnam

Beautiful beaches

The beaches of Vietnam are superb. Nha Trang is the perfect combination of a long sandy beach for relaxing days under the palm trees and a town with restaurants and bars to pass the balmy evenings. Boat trips take you out to nearby islands and divers can explore the nearby coral reefs. Alternatively, try Vung Tau, southeast of Ho Chi Minh City for some superb snorkelling around the many offshore islands or head east of Phan Thiet to the sand dunes of Mui Ne, which stretch for miles. Whatever your budget there’ll be a resort to suit you. Relax on the white-sand beaches or have a go at many of the water sports on offer.

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Cao Dai Temple

Head out to Tay Ninh to view the colourful midday service of the intriguing Cao Dai sect held in a large temple almost Disney-esque in style. The followers wear red, blue and yellow robes and chant to the accompaniment of a traditional orchestra. En route, scramble through the tunnels at Cu Chi, from where the Viet Cong successfully launched attacks against US forces.

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Central Highlands

Dalat is as far as most people go into the Central Highlands but head further into the mountains for stunning views and waterfalls. You are assured of a warm welcome in Buon Ma Thuot, a coffee growing region and home to the Montagnards. The Ho Chi Minh trail is easily reached from Kontum.

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Cooking lessons

Learn the subtleties of Vietnamese cookery at a class in ancient Hoi An. Submerge into the hustle and bustle of the market to buy provisions before retreating to the calm of the kitchen. The best part of the day – you get to eat what you have helped prepare!

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Dalat

To escape the heat of the plains, head for Dalat, a former colonial hill station, reminiscent of a French town, with faded, elegant villas evocative of another era. Colonists from Saigon headed to its cool climes as well as the emperor and his entourage. The romantic lakes and alpine scenery are magnets for Vietnamese honeymooners.

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Halong Bay

Sure it is touristy, and if you take a boat trip you’ll be among a flotilla of dozens of old converted junks, but Halong Bay still remains one of the most impressive sights in the world. Take the opportunity to borrow a kayak (all boats should do this) and paddle through the limestone karsts dramatically rising up out of the sea. Or spend the night on one of those junks and explore the caves hidden deep in the islands, pass floating villages and at night enjoy a sundowner on the top deck and look out for shooting stars.

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Hanoi

Hanoi is a city of contrasts with the wide, leafy boulevards lined by beautiful colonial buildings in the French quarter, the maze of narrow streets of the Old Quarter and the tranquil lakes. Wherever you are, the background noise is the buzzing of the motorbikes that crowd the streets of the capital.

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Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City by train

A trip on the Reunification Express is a must. However, the trains between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are certainly not express. It can take between 30 and 40 hours to travel between the two cities so best to do one section only. Popular is the 18-hour journey between Hanoi and Hue.

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Hiking

There are hundreds of long distance hiking trails around the country, and a significant infrastructure for visitors wanting guided hiking tours. Head south from Hanoi into Cuc Phuong National Park, a wilderness of forest-covered limestone mountains which rise up from the green rice paddies, home to many rare species and the primate rescue centre. Spend the night with a family from the Muong hill tribe in their traditional stilthouse.

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Ho Chi Minh City

Gleaming skyscrapers sit side by side with ramshackle buildings and crumbling colonial houses. Monks pass deluxe car showrooms collecting alms and walk along sun-baked streets crammed with honking motorbikes. The Saigon River is constantly crossed by small boats and ferries weaving through larger boats.

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Ho Chi Minh Trail history tour

See some of the Vietnam War sights by walking part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, used as supply routes by the North Vietnamese during the war. You can’t fail to be intrigued by the network of tunnels excavated by the Viet Cong from which they launched regular attacks on the US forces. For a taste of life underground scramble through one of the narrow tunnels, specially widened for Western visitors.

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Hoi An

Meander the narrow streets with their tiny shop houses, relax in a riverside bar and savour tasty local dishes. This is the place to buy souvenirs, silk items, T-shirts and ceramics. Whatever you do make sure you treat yourself by having clothes made at one of the many tailors.

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Hué

The former imperial city of Hue is crammed with wonderful sights. The Imperial Citadel, suffering from the ravages and war and the tropical weather, is slowly being painstakingly renovated; riverside is the Thien Mu pagoda where novice monks peek shyly at the visitors; and the mausoleums of the Emperors, each unique in style.

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Meet the locals

The best way to meet the locals is to pull up a low plastic chair in the pavement bar order some beer, order fresh peanuts and quails eggs and chat to the locals. Even with a language barrier, you’ll be clinking glasses long into the night.

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Mekong Delta

Explore the watery world of the Mekong Delta where channels of the might Mekong Delta crisscross the land and provide a fertile place to grow vast swathes of rice and fruit. Discover riverine towns, floating markets and small riverside industries and spend the night in a homestay with a farming family.

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Motorbiking

It is becoming increasingly popular to hire a motor bike – invariably a Russian made 125cc Minsk – and ride it from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. Riddled with all sorts of dangers, not least the vast amount of bikes in the cities, it is nevertheless an exhilarating way to see the country.

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River markets

The river markets on the Mekong Delta are an unmissable sight. Life here is dominated by the mighty Mekong and much of Vietnam’s rice crop is grow, and the floating markets are still an essential part of life in the south. Get up early to experience Can Tho floating market at its best. Dozens of wooden boats, many that have seen better days, carry the freshest fruit and vegetables. Smaller boats weave through them perusing the wares and the morning air is filled with the sound of good-natured haggling over price.

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Sapa hill tribes

Sapa’s stunning alpine scenery is home to several hill tribe villages where life continues pretty much unchanged. Many can be reached by jeep but to get to the more remote villages be prepared to hike. The reward is an overnight in a stilthouse with a family resplendent in riotously colourful traditional costume.

Vietnam Public Holidays

2012

→January  01 (New Year’s Day)

→January 23 (*Têt, Lunar New Year)

→April 12 ( *Gio to Hung Vuong Day)

→April 30 (Liberation of Saigon)

→May 01 (Labour Day)

→September 02 (National Day)

2013

→January 01 ( New Year’s Day)

→February 10 ( Têt “Vietnamese New Year”)

→April 19 ( Gio to Hung Vuong Day)

→April 30 ( Liberation Day)

→May 01 ( Labour Day)

→September 02 ( National Day)

Things To Remember

● It’s in your best interests not to drink the tap water, especially after flooding!

● Dress modestly and appropriately when visiting local dwellings and religious sites, etc.

● Leave your valuables behind before a night out on the town, or going to the beach.

● When crossing the road, especially in Ho Chi Minh city, always keep looking to the left and right and walk slowly!

● Do not offer money directly to minority people – instead donate to a local charity or offer a small gift, such as pens.

● Try at least once the delicious, local street food.

● Always ask permission first before taking photographs, especially in minority areas.

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Things do not to miss

● Sleeping out on deck on a boat in Halong Bay

● Ordering custom-made clothes from the local tailor shop

● Taking a slow cyclo ride through the French Quarter of old Saigon

● Eating pho ga (chicken noodle soup) at a street side noodle stalls.

● Watching the traditional water – puppet performance in Hanoi.

● Experience the full moon festivities in the ancient town of Hoi An.

● Drinking rice-wine in the minority villages of the north

● Taking a boat along Hue’s Huong (Perfume) River, visiting the Royal Mausoleums.

● Overnight in a homestay in the Mekong Delta’s riverside orchards.

●  Bartering for a bargain at Saigon’s largest    market, Ben Thanh Market

● Taking a stroll through Hanoi’s Old Quarters.

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