Vietnam Region Guide

Vietnam Region Guide

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Vietnam is located in Southeastern Asia, is located on the eastern coast of the Indochinese Peninsula . It is bordered on the north bordering the Gulf of Thailand, Gulf of Tonkin, and South China Sea, alongside China, Laos, and Cambodia. by China, on the west by Laos and Cambodia, and on the south and east by the South China Sea. Hanoi is the capital, and Ho Chi Minh City ( Saigon) is the largest city.

The far north and much of central Vietnam are hilly or mountainous. In the north, the highlands slope gradually toward the eastern coast, forming broad plains. In central Vietnam, the narrowest part of the country, the mountains and highlands extend nearer to the coast, in a few places jutting into the sea and elsewhere dropping sharply to a narrow coastal plain. Southern Vietnam is very low lying, containing the broad, fertile delta of the Mekong River. Like the northern plains, much of the Mekong Delta is cultivated, and there are vast tracts of rice paddies.

Vietnam has about 50 ethnic and language groups, but ethnic Vietnamese, or Viets, constitute the vast majority of the population. The original homeland of the Vietnamese people was in the valley of the Red River, a river that originates in southern China and flows through northern Vietnam before entering the Gulf of Tonkin. China conquered the region in the 2nd century bc, but the Vietnamese successfully restored their independence in AD 939.

France invaded Vietnam in the late 19th century. After World War II (1939-1945), anticolonial groups led by the Indochinese Communist Party revolted against French rule. In 1954, after Vietnamese forces defeated the French at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam was temporarily divided into two zones: North Vietnam, led by a Communist government under Ho Chi Minh , and South Vietnam, headed by anti-Communists. For the next 20 years the country was torn ap a rt by a civil war in which the United States so famously became embroiled. The United States withdrew its combat troops in 1973, and South Vietnam fell to a Communist offensive two years later. In 1976 a unified Communist state was established with its capital at Hanoi. Although Vietnam remains under Communist rule, its leadership has begun implementing aspects of a market economy in order to promote economic development.

Vietnam’s climate is tropical in the south and monsoonal in the north with a hot, rainy season (mid-May to mid-September) and warm, dry season (mid-October to mid-March). The terrain is low, flat delta in the south and north, central highlands, and hilly and mountainous in the far north and northwest.

The conquest of Vietnam by France began in 1858 and was completed by 1884. It became part of French Indochina in 1887. Independence was declared after World War II, but the French continued to rule until 1954 when they were defeated by Communist forces under Ho Chi Minh, who took control of the North. US economic and military aid to South Vietnam grew through the 1960s in an attempt to bolster the government, but US armed forces were withdrawn following a cease-fire agreement in 1973. Two years later, North Vietnamese forces overran the South. Despite the return of peace, for over two decades the country experienced little economic growth because of conservative leadership policies. Since 2001, Vietnamese authorities have committed to economic liberalization and enacted structural reforms needed to modernize the economy and to produce more competitive, export-driven industries. The country continues to experience protests from the Montagnard ethnic minority population of the Central Highlands over loss of land to Vietnamese settlers and religious persecution.


  • Full country name: Socialist Republic of Vietnam
  • Area: 329,566 sq km
  • Population: 81.62 million
  • Capital City: Hanoi (pop 3.5 million)
  • People: 84% ethnic Vietnamese, 2% ethnic Chinese, also Khmers, Chams (a remnant of the once-great Indianised Champa Kingdom) and members of over 50 ethnolinguistic groups.
  • Language: Vietnamese, Russian, French, Chinese, English
  • Religion: Buddhism is the principal religion but there are also sizeable Taoist, Confucian, Hoa Hao, Caodaists, Muslim and Christian minorities
  • Government: Communist state
  • Head of State: President Tran Duc Luong
  • Head of Government: Prime Minister Phan Van Khai
  • GDP: US$24 billion
  • GDP per capita: US$300
  • Annual Growth: 8%
  • Inflation: 8%
  • Major Industries: Rice, rubber, food processing, sugar, textiles, chemicals


Visas are required for all tourists except for citizens of Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Laos, Japan and Korea. Visas can only be obtained at an embassy or consulate, and are generally not available at the border posts or airports.


  • Time Zone: GMT/UTC +7
  • Dialing Code: 84
  • Electricity: 220V, 50Hz
  • Weights & measures: Metric



The currency of Vietnam is the Dong. (Currency code: VND)


500 Dong, 1000 Dong, 5000 Dong, 10 000 Dong, 50 000 Dong, 100 000 Dong


  • Budget: D15000-30000
  • Mid-range: D30000-50000
  • High: D50000-100000
  • Deluxe: D100000+Lodging (Temporary, per night)
  • Budget: US$3-10
  • Mid-range: US$10-20
  • High: $US20-50
  • Deluxe: US$50+

Budget travellers tend to congregate around the Pham Ngu Lao area at the western end of District 1. Cholon has plenty of cheap rooms too, but Western backpackers are rare here. Travellers with a little more cash prefer the more upmarket hotels concentrated around D Dong Khoi at the eastern side of District 1.


In Ho Chi Minh City, renting an apartment can be difficult. Conditions are squalid and prices are high. Privacy is hard to come by and neighbors are often nosey. Having said that, once you are in town and have built up some contacts, the people are helpful and will do their best to make you feel at home.

Count on a three month deposit. An apartment in or near town will start at about $US ?? 100 – 200 usd, while a house with 2 bedrooms or more will cost around US$ ?? 300 minimum.


The demand for teachers in Vietnam is high with most jobs to be found in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. The market in Hanoi for English teachers is only just starting to open up, and there may not be as much variety or choice as there is in HCMC.

The main types of teaching are:

  • Universities : General English, IELTS, TOEFL & Cambridge PET, FCE
  • Private Language Schools: General English, Business English
  • State Primary & Secondary Schools: General English, English for Younger Learners

The busiest period is March to December.

Salaries range from US$15 to US$25 per hour. There are higher salaries for teachers with TEFL qualification and/or experience. Tax deducted is negligible.

Contracts run from 3-12 months. Work/Business visa are arranged by employers.

Teachers are required to be native English speakers.


Special prayers are held at Vietnamese and Chinese pagodas on days when the moon is either full or the merest sliver. Many Buddhists eat only vegetarian food on these days. Some of the major religious festivals follow a lunar calendar. They include: Tet (late January or early February , co -inciding with Chinese New Year), the most important festival of the year, which lasts a week (with rites beginning a week earlier), marking the new lunar year; Wandering Souls Day (Trung Nguyen), held on the fifteenth day of the seventh moon (August), the second-largest festival of the year, when offerings of food and gifts are given to the wandering souls of the forgotten dead; Tiet Doan Ngo (Summer Solstice Day) in June which sees the burning of human effigies to satisfy the need for souls to serve in the God of Death's army; and Holiday of the Dead (Thanh Minh) in April commemorating deceased relatives.

Public Holidays

January 1 : New Year ’s Day

Traditional lunar New Year Festival (Tet Nguyen Dan): This f our day holiday often falls between January and F ebruary beginning on the e ve and the first three days of the Lunar New Year

February 3 - Founding Day of the Communist Party of Vietnam.

March: Commemoration of the Trung sisters, who in the year 41 of Christian reckoning led a rebellion against the Chinese rulers. The celebration depends on the lunar calendar.

April 30: Saigon Liberation Day .

May 1: International Labor Day.

May 19: Ho Chi Minh's birthday; national holiday

May 28: Commemoration of the birth, the enlightenment and the death of the Buddha.

August: Trung Nguyen (Day of the Wandering Souls ), celebrated according to the lunar calendar.

September 2: National Day of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam

September 3 : Day to commemorate the death of Ho Chi Minh in 1969; national holiday

September : Trung Thu ( autumn celebration ) celebrated according to the lunar calendar.

November : Birthday of Confucius , follows the lunar calendar.


Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Ho Chi Minh City is the heart and soul of Vietnam. It's a bustling, dynamic and industrious centre, the largest city in the country, the economic capital and the cultural trendsetter. The streets, where much of the city's life takes place, is a myriad of street markets, shops, pavement cafes, stands-on-wheels and vendors selling wares spread out on sidewalks. The city churns, ferments, bubbles and fumes. Yet within the teeming metropolis are the timeless traditions and beauty of an ancient culture. Sights include the Giac Lam Pagoda, Reunification Palace, the neo-Romanesque Notre Dame Cathedral, the beautiful Museum of Ho Chi Minh City, Ben Thanh market and the harrowing War Remnants Museum.

Central Ho Chi Minh City (District 1) is the place to be at night on weekends and holidays. The streets are jam-packed with young locals cruising the town on bicycles and motorbikes, out to see and be seen. The Municipal Theatre area is the hub for young hipsters. Entertainment ranges from disco, to bars such as No 5 Ly Tu Trong and the Hard Rock Cafe, where Western music is played, or experiencing traditional Vietnamese music at the Conservatory of Music.

Budget travellers tend to congregate around the Pham Ngu Lao area at the western end of District 1. Cholon has plenty of cheap rooms, but Western backpackers are rare here. Travellers with a little more cash prefer the more upmarket hotels concentrated around D Dong Khoi at the eastern side of District 1. Central Saigon is the best place to look for fine Vietnamese and Western food, while Cholon's speciality is Chinese food.


The city of Dalat is the jewel of the southern Central Highlands region. The cool climate and park-like environment (often with Vietnamese style kitsch), makes it one of the most delightful cities in Vietnam. Dalat is also a good base for trips into the surrounding highlands, which remain tranquil. In Dalat, make sure you visit the Hang Nga Guesthouse & Art Gallery , nicknamed the Crazy House by loc als , . It's a counter-cultural gem created by artist and architect Mrs Dang Viet Nga (known as Hang Nga).

Emperor Bao Da i's Summer Palace , which is stuffed with interesting art and artefacts, and is well worth a look. It's also interesting to stroll around the old French Quarter, which is little changed since the French departed. The Valley of Love, 5km (3mi) north of the city centre, is a bizarre place with a carnival-style atmosphere where you can hire a paddle boat on the lake, or a horse from one of the Dalat Cowboys (no relation to the Dallas Cowboys), who are, indeed, dressed as cowboys.

There are some pleasant walks or rides (on horseback or bicycle) in the countryside around the city, but be aware that areas signposted with a C-sign are off-limits to foreigners. Further out, you can visit the villages of some of the hill tribes, such as Lat Village and the Chicken Village (with a huge statue of a chicken).

Dalat is famous for its cafes and is a paradise for people who love fresh vegetables. It's extremely popular with domestic tourists and honeymooners, so there's a wide range of accommodation options. You can fly to Dalat from Ho Chi Minh City, but the airport is 30km (19mi) from town; express buses also link the two cities.

Nha Trang

Although it has the potential to develop into a flashy resort such as Thailand's Pattaya Beach, Nha Trang is still a good place to go for sun and partying. But see it while it lasts. With very clear turquoise waters (except for the wet season), snorkelling, diving and fishing are prime activities, and just lazing on the town beach is an experience in itself. You'll be offered everything from lunch to a manicure.

When you tire of the beach, there are some interesting sites nearby, such as the Long Son Pagoda, and 2km (1.2mi) to the north of town are the Cham towers of Po Nagar, built between the 7th and 12th centuries on a site that had been used for Hindu worship as early as the 2nd century.

Nha Trang's dry season runs from June to September, different from Ho Chi Minh City's. To cater for the growing influx of visitors, many new hotels have been built in town. Nha Trang is a major fishing port, so excellent seafood is available. The exotic dragon fruit (thanh long) grows only in the Nha Trang area. It's about the size and shape of a small pineapple, but tastes something like a kiwifruit. The fruit is in season from May to September, when you can find it served as a drink.

Express and regular buses link Nha Trang with Ho Chi Minh City; express buses take about 12 hours. Express trains run to both Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, and there are daily flights to Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.


Traditionally, Hu้ has been one of Vietnam's main cultural, religious and education centres. Its Thien Mu Pagoda is one of the most famous structures in Vietnam. The remains of the huge, moated Citadel (Kinh Thanh), constructed by the Emperor Gia Long from 1804, contain many interesting sights, such as the Ngo Mon Gate, Nine Holy Cannons, Thai Hoa (the Palace of Supreme Harmony), Nine Dynastic Urns and the Halls of the Mandarins. Sadly, the intriguing Forbidden Purple City was largely destroyed during the Vietnam War. About 15km (9mi) south of Hu้ are the splendid Royal Tombs, of the Nguyen emperors. Hu้ has many other places of religious and dynastic importance, and some good museums.

You can do sampan trips up the Perfume River, which include visits to some of Hu้'s main attractions. If you want to get out of the city for a swim, head 13km (8mi) northeast to Thuan An Beach, where there's a lagoon and a hotel. It can be reached by sampan or bus.

There's a range of accommodation in Hu้ to suit most budgets, and the city is famed for its fine restaurants. Hu้ has a long tradition of vegetarian food, which is prepared at pagodas for the monks. Stalls in the markets serve vegetarian food on the 1st and the 15th days of the lunar month, and there are also several restaurants serving it all the time.

Hu้ is about 700km (430mi) from Hanoi and 1100km (680mi) from Ho Chi Minh City. The Reunification Express train running between those cities stops here, and there are frequent flights and buses to both cities.

Hal ong Bay

Magnificent Halong Bay, with its 3000 islands rising from the clear, emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin, is one of Vietnam's natural marvels. The tiny islands are dotted with innumerable beaches and grottoes created by the wind and waves. The most impressive of the grottoes is the Hang Dau Go, a huge cave of three chambers, while the Thien Cung Caves are also very impressive. The name Ha Long means 'where the dragon descended into the sea', and refers to a legend about a dragon who created the bay and islands with its flailing tail. There's even a modern legendary creature, the Tarasque, said to haunt the area.

Taking a tour of the bay is the main activity here; most book a tour at a cafe or hotel in Hanoi. If you want to arrange things independently, be ready for lots of hard sell from touts in Halong Bay City. To see a lot, choose a fast boat. If you want a romantic experience but with the risk of getting hardly anywhere, look for one of the old junks. You have to charter the whole boat, but there are usually enough travellers around to make up a party and keep costs down.

The main town in the region is Halong City, which is in two halves, bisected by a bay. Bai Chay (the western part) is the more scenic and has the most hotels, restaurants and persistent touts. Hon Gai (the eastern part) is connected to Haiphong by a ferry. Masochists might try seeing the bay on a day-trip from Hanoi. Another option is to travel to Cat Ba Island (see Off the Beaten Track), where you can arrange a tour of the bay with less hassles.


Hanoi , capital of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, has shaken off its unwelcoming attitude to travellers and has become one of the most beguiling cities in Asia. It is slow-paced and pleasant, while its lovely landscape of lakes, shaded boulevards and verdant public parks is home to beautiful and diverse architectural treasures, colonial French homes and astounding modern skyscrapers. Its bustling markets, thriving nightlife and excellent food are attracting visitors of every stripe kind to this ancient city.