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Mention the name Vietnam and most people assume you mean the war, thirty years since the end of the war; it is a country at peace, with spectacular geography, a vibrant culture, and genuinely friendly people. It is in reality a country filled with captivating natural beauty and tranquil village life a growing young vibrant country, its cities have superb services and facilities, coupled by the remoteness of its rural areas with dirt tracks and trails makes the journey an experience and the destination a great memory.
Vietnam has a long history of war and repression, ever since they started growing rice in Vietnam over 2,000 years ago they have been invaded starting with the Chinese who ruled for over a 1,000 years. The South of Vietnam lived independent of the Chinese rule with Indian influence.
The Chinese were finally overcome by the around 1,000 years and Northern Vietnam became and independent state. The Mongols even invaded 3 times during the 13th century and captured the capital although each time quickly withdrawing.
Once again China invaded in the 15th Century but were pushed back, this gave way to a succession of Emperor’s who controlled central and northern Vietnam. During the 17th and 18th century two families held power the Trinh in the north and the Nguyen in the south with the Nguyen family capturing the Mekong Delta area from the Khmer Empire.
A rebellion started in central Vietnam in the town of Tay Son and quickly captured the whole of Vietnam. One of the brothers’s who started the rebellion made himself emperor Quang Trung. One of the lord’s who escaped began to raise an army and in 1802 re-took the capital Hanoi unifying the kingdom and then prospering.
With the arrival of the Portuguese in the 16th century and then the French in the 19th Century, European Influence grew and the French took over Vietnam in stages eventually Vietnam became part of the French colony of Indochina in 1887.
What followed was a period of building which included roads and railways this was fuelled by heavy taxation and Communism grew and a struggle for independence. Soon afterwards Ho Chi Minh founded the Revolutionary Youth League from the safety of China in 1925 becoming the communist party in 1930.
Following the outbreak of the 2nd world war and the defeat of the French by the Germans Japan took advantage forced the French government to allow Japanese troops to occupy French Indo-China, although they left the French administration in place.
The Viet Minh (Vietnamese Communists) continued their struggle fighting the Japanese after the Japanese were defeated there was a Vacuum with Ho Chi Minh declaring and independent country at the end of 1945. This was largely ignored and the Chinese took over the North with the French taking over the south of Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh decided Vietnam had less to fear from the French and signed that the French should take over from the Chinese, with the French promising to recognise Vietnam as a free state. Once this didn’t happen a guerrilla war ensued with the French being finally defeated at Dien Bien Phu. With the French surrendering and Vietnam being divided into two, southern Vietnam was supported by the US with the view to stop the advance of the Northern Communists (Viet Cong). By 1967 there were nearly 500,000 American Troops in Vietnam yet still the Vietnamese continued their struggle waging guerrilla warfare.
A ceasefire was declared in 1973 and after the US left the Vietcong invaded and captured Saigon in 1975.
The Vietnamese reformed economically and now has a booming economy with all relations with the US and its economic embargo being restored in 1994. Tourism is a key industry in Vietnam. Southern Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh is known to be the financial hub of Vietnam with the political hub in the Capital Hanoi.
The population is young and thriving with just over 92 million people.
The Vietnamese are a very modest and courteous people. Their traditions and family values are strong; they lead a simple lifestyle with a focus on family life.
Vietnamese is a courteous country and it is considered impolite to talk loudly when interacting with women. It is also considered rude to use hand gestures to point or beckon anyone.
Traditionally family life is the most important part of life with marriage and death considered a ritual; birthdays are not really celebrated although this is changing with influence from the west.
When shaking hands the normal gesture is to shake with 2 hands holding the other person you are greeting. Although women rarely shake hands with men and a nod is more common. Shaking hands normally occurs only if the women initiates first.
There are many holidays in Vietnam with each month bringing another festival or occasion. Western holidays are also celebrated but are not an official holiday.
Tet Holiday is the most important holiday of the Vietnamese calendar normally falling between the mid January – mid February.
The festival marks the Vietnamese New Year marking the arrival of the spring based on the Chinese calendar and literally means “Feast of the First Morning”. It is the same day as Chinese New Year on the first day of the first month of the Lunar calendar. A time for family reunions; forgetting about ones troubles and look forward to a better year.
The official holiday is 3 days but normally lasts a lot longer. Visiting Vietnam during this time can be quite difficult with lots of shops closed and transport and hotels often fully booked.
Visas on arrival are now available for Vietnam when booking a tour this is arranged through a Visa Approval letter. For UK passport holders booking a tour this is arranged as a free of charge service the information required is as follows.
- Full name as per your passport
- Date of birth
- Place of birth
- Passport number
- Passport issue date
- Passport expire date
- Entry date in Vietnam
- Border to entry Vietnam (Hanoi / Danang / Ho Chi Minh)
The Visa approval letter takes 3 working days to process and you will receive it by email. You will need to print it out and make sure you have it with you on arrival at Immigration in Vietnam. Showing this letter and paying $25 USD per person you will obtain a visa on arrival you will also need two passport photos.
If you are arriving to a land border you will need to arrange your Visa beforehand which can be done via the Vietnamese embassy for a fee of around £45 pounds (three working days).
Healthcare is generally excellent in the main urban areas of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh although quite poor in the rural areas. It is recommended that for anything serious medical issue you make your way to Thailand where you can obtain a western standard of medical attention.
Please consult your doctor about the inoculations and anti-malaria precautions required for Cambodia. In general cover against polio, rabies, cholera, typhoid, tetanus, malaria, hepatitis A and meningitis is recommended
The local currency in Vietnam is the dong (abbreviated "d" or VND) which is used throughout the country. Bank notes in domination of various denominations are presently in circulation from 100 dong to 100,000 dong. The exchange rate is roughly 20,000 dong to the US Dollar so ask for the larger denomination bills unless you want another suitcase to carry around.
The other alternative is to keep a small amount of local currency and also $US dollars which are widely accepted.
Traveller's cheques and most credit cards can be used to withdraw Vietnamese dong or $US dollars in all major banks. Major credit cards can also be used in travel agencies, hotels, major restaurants and stores. When leaving Vietnam be sure to exchange or use your remaining dong these can be exchanged back to $US if you keep your receipt from when you received them. This is because the dong is still a closed currency and outside Vietnam you will have a very tough time trying to exchange them back into $US dollars or another currency.
Electricity in Vietnam is 220 volts; this means for those arriving from the UK you will not need a Voltage adapter. You will probably need an adapter as most plugs in Vietnam have 2 prongs missing the third grounding / earthing prong.
Tipping is generally becoming expected in Vietnam. In some upper class restaurants or accommodations they will directly charge you with a 10% service charge, you should clearly see that on the bill. Feel free to leave a tip for good service of between 5-10 %, it is of course up to you and dependant on the service received.
Guides are usually tipped $5 - 10 USD/day, and drivers about $2-5 again all dependant on the level of service received.
It is essential that you call your credit card company and let them know you will be travelling overseas as any unusual payments tend to put a temporary block on your credit card which could leave you in a little bit of trouble whilst abroad.
You will need two passport sized photos to obtain your visa on arrival into as well as your Visa Approval letter.
Keep a copy of your passport separate to where you keep your passport just in case this situation does arise.
Health Insurance: Make sure you have your insurance details with you and know what your policy covers.
If you don’t want to use roaming take a spare old phone sim cards are cheap in Cambodia and you can use them instead of being charged international roaming rates!
Keep our contact handy and that of our local operators as we will be there to assist you in any emergency.
Avoiding getting bitten by mosquitoes is often the best defence take plenty of DEET mosquito repellent and wear long sleeves and trousers at night!