Citadel – Hue – Vietnam
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VIETNAM

GENERAL INFORMATION

From the miles of white sand beaches and crystal-clear waters to the lush greenery of the mountain ranges and rice paddies of the interior, Vietnam is a nature lover’s paradise. But this is just one aspect of your expedition to the Jade of the Far East. There are also the cities teeming with modern culture, from food and entertainment to shopping and exploring. Wherever they may go, visitors in Vietnam all experience the friendly smiles of its resilient people. From a difficult past, we see the Vietnam of today: a rapidly emerging nation with a very proud, vibrant and welcoming population of 95 million people.

HISTORY AND CULTURE

Mainland Territory: 331,211.6 sq. km
Population: 95,000 million inhabitants
National Capital: Hanoi
International Calling Code: +84

Vietnam defined is “the Viet people of the south.” The Viets were the main ethnic group living in this land dating back 4,000 years. To many foreigners, Vietnam is synonymous with war. Truthfully, it is a nation of gentle, peace-loving people. Vietnam is like a picturesque painting that never ceases to amaze the observer with new and fascinating discoveries. Marco Polo was one such observer who was struck by its natural beauty while sailing along the coast in the 13th century. Vietnam now, as in centuries past, is an important nation due to its location and bountiful resources. Its history is deeply rooted in many foreign influences, including Chinese, French, Japanese, and American, all of which have helped to transform Vietnam into a modernizing nation of patience and innovation.

Lying on the eastern part of the Indochinese peninsula, Vietnam is a strip of land shaped like the letter “S” which borders China to the north, and Laos and Cambodia to the west. Its natural borders include the Gulf of Thailand to the southwest, and the South China Sea and Gulf of Tonkin off her eastern shores. The country’s total length from north to south is 1,650km. Its width, stretching from east to west, is 600km at the widest point in the north, 400km in the south, and 50km at the narrowest part, in the centre, in Quang Binh Province. The coastline is 3,260km long and the inland border is 4,510km. Vietnam is also a transport junction from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.
Latitude: 102º 08′ – 109º 28’ east
Longitude: 8º 02′ – 23º 23′ north

Topography
Three quarters of Vietnam’s territory consist of mountains and hills.

Administrative Units
The nation is divided into 63 provinces and cities.

Language  
The Vietnamese language is a fusion of Mon-Khmer, Thai and Muong. Vietnamese script, created by the French missionary Alexander de Rhodes, is comprised of Roman characters with phonetic sounds originating from Chinese words that have been incorporated into the language. This Latin-based language is the official language of all ethnic groups in Vietnam. The other ethnic groups also use their own languages and dialects. Besides Vietnamese, English is now the second most widely used language in the business sector. Older educated Vietnamese people may still speak French. Learn some Vietnamese: Your first introduction to the Vietnamese culture will probably be the language, so what better time than now to start learning. 
  
WRITTEN IN ENGLISH 
WRITTEN VIETNAMESE 
PRONOUCED 
WRITTEN IN ENGLISH 
WRITTEN VIETNAMESE 
PRONOUCED 
ONE 
MOT 
“MOOT” 
FIVE 
NAM 
“N-HAM” 
TWO 
HAI 
“HI” 
SIX 
SAU 
“SOW” 
THREE 
BA 
“BAW” 
SEVEN 
BAY 
“BAY” 
FOUR 
BON 
“BONE” 
EIGHT 
TAM 
“TAM” 
THANK YOU 
CAMON 
“COME ON” 
NINE 
CHIN 
“CHIN” 
YES 
CO 
“KAW” 
TEN 
MUOI 
“MOO-OI” 
NO 
KHONG 
“KONG” 
HOW MUCH 
BAO NHIEU 
“BOW-NHEW” 
NO HOT PEPPERS 
KHONG OT 
“KONG-URT” 
SOFT DRINK 
NUOC NGOT 
“NUT-GOT” 
BOTTLED WATER 
NUOC SUOI 
“NUT-SUEY” 
GOODBYE OR HELLO 
CHAO 
“CHOW” 
Ethnic Groups  
There are about 54 minority groups which contribute to the present population of over 85 million. Most of the population resides in harmony in the cities, Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi in particular. The largest ethnic group is the Viet or Kinh people, who make up 80% of the total population. 
VISA

Vietnamese entry visa requirements vary by country. Citizens of ASEAN nations (Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines and Brunei) are not required to have a visa for a less than 30-day stay. Citizens of Korea, Japan, and Scandinavian nations are not required to obtain a visa for a 15-day visit. All other citizens are required to have a 30-day entry visa obtained through a Vietnamese consulate or embassy before departure for Vietnam, or a pre-approved entry visa (issued upon arrival at one of Vietnam’s international airports). Some Vietnamese embassies will accept visa applications directly from the traveler. To promote organized travel in Vietnam, Vietnamese embassies require that you go through a Vietnamese tour company in Vietnam for your visa clearance. The costs are somewhat cheaper to obtain it through a Vietnamese tour company. The following are the procedures for processing a tourist visa:

REQUIRED

– Passports must have at least a 3-month validity from the date of entry.
– Travelers visiting Vietnam are given 30-day visas.
– It is required that visas be acquired at the Vietnamese Embassy before arrival in Vietnam or a sponsoring travel agency in Vietnam to provide you with a visa clearance letter (see details below).
– Some Vietnamese embassies will accept visa applications directly from the traveler. Please note the visa allows visitors to enter one time during the valid date issued in the passport.
– Multiple entry visas can be issued upon request if you are re-entering Vietnam more than once within your 30-day travel visa.

The following are the 2 procedural options to process a tourist visa:

Personal information:

– Full name (as on your passport)
– Nationality
– Passport number
– Date of birth
– Arrival date and time, and your flight number
– Embassy where you want to pick up your visa (if you choose option 1)

Option 1:
Upon fulfilling the above information, you may send it to a Vietnamese tour company in Vietnam to apply for a visa clearance letter on your behalf. A clearance number is then sent to the Vietnamese Embassy mentioned in your application where you chose to have your visa stamped. Also, a copy of that clearance number is sent to you so you can include it with your passport. Two to three working days after we receive your passport information, we will email you the letter which will help you to collect your visa quickly at the Embassy. Our service fee is 25 USD/person and you will pay the cost of the stamp (costs will vary from Embassy and location) required at the Vietnamese Embassy. It only takes one working day for you to submit your visa docs together with our approval letter (travel agency provides this letter) to get your visa at the Embassy. When you receive our visa clearance you will need to follow the instructions below:

– Fill out an M3 form, which we will send to you
– Attach a passport photo to the M3 form
– Bring the visa clearance letter with you to the embassy with the M3 form
– If you have the clearance letter you can get your visa the same day. The cost for the stamp is in the value of your country’s currency.
Links of Vietnamese Embassies abroad

If you are not close to a Vietnamese Embassy to personally apply for your visa, please let us know and we will suggest the best alternative.

Option 2:
An alternative is for you to pick up your visa at the airport in HCMC, Danang or Hanoi using our authorization letter. The clearance letter must be done prior to your arrival.

1. You must send us the following passport information at least 2 working days or earlier prior to arrival for us to apply for you to pick up your visa at the airport:
– Full name
– Date of birth
– Passport number
– Nationality
– Date of arrival
– Flight arrival time and number

1. After receiving your information above we will process the visa application. In 2-3 working days we will send you our visa clearance letter by email.
2. You will use the document to show the airline check in counter that you will receive a visa on arrival. Upon arrival you will go to the “landing visa” booth on the left of the immigration area. DO NOT LINE UP in the regular immigration line until you get your visa sticker at the “landing visa” booth. Pay the 25 USD/person visa stamp fee (cash).
3. Proceed to the regular immigration line for check through.

Using option 2/visa on arrival may result in waiting in long lines to get your visa before you can move to the regular line to process your entry. Ask about our FASTRACK no LINE visa service.
Contact us for the cost for processing the clearance document. [email protected]

VISA TIPS

– Travelers are allowed to arrive at 3 airports in Vietnam: Hanoi – Noi Bai, Ho Chi Minh City – Tan Son Nhat, and Danang International Airport. You will see this written on your visa.
– Travelers crossing into Vietnam by land must obtain their Vietnam visa in advance prior to crossing the border into Vietnam.
– When traveling overnight outside the main cities, you must have your passport and visa with you.
– Business visas (multiple entry visas) are available for 3- 6 months at a time.
– Rush visas can be processed within 1-2 working days prior to entering Vietnam.

PLEASE MAKE SURE NONE OF THE PAGES IN YOUR PASSPORT ARE TORN OFF OR MISSING AS YOU WILL NOT BE ALLOWED TO ENTER THE COUNTRY

VIETNAMESE EMBASSY LOCATIONS WORLDWIDE

Links of Vietnamese Embassies abroad:

WEATHER & HOLIDAYS

Climate
Vietnam lies in the Southeast Asia inter-tropical monsoon zone. There are neither good nor bad seasons to visit. When one region is wet, it is sunny and warm somewhere else. The average temperature ranges from 20°C/68°F to 32°C/90°F. The hottest seasons are March and April in the south (Ho Chi Minh City), and June and July in the north (Hanoi). The rainy season is from May to October in the south. The Central Highlands enjoys a milder climate year-round. Vietnam is a long and narrow country in a tropical region, and the climate can be different between Northern, Central and Southern regions. Therefore, don’t expect the same weather while traveling in the country. You may have warm, beautiful weather in the South, but it can be cold in the Northern border regions, so please pack properly before traveling to Vietnam. 

Holidays
There are many holidays in Vietnam, almost one for every occasion. Western holidays are celebrated in Vietnam but not as official national holidays.

Tet: The Lunar New Year
The celebration of the Lunar New Year falls between January 19 and February 20 on the Western calendar. Officially three days long, it typically lasts for weeks. It is a time to call the spirits of ancestors home and make temple pilgrimages. It is also a time to eat, drink, and be merry with fireworks displays, concerts, and street theater during Vietnam’s biggest party of the year. The most important one for most all Asians is the New Year’s “Tet” celebration.
We recommend that you visit Vietnam and leave about 1 week prior to the actual date of the Tet celebration as most stores and shops close and food prices are much higher than usual. Lunar New Year dates: 2019: Feb 05 2020: Jan 02

Food
Vietnamese cuisine is known for its fresh ingredients, whether on the milder side with subtle herbs or a bit more zing with hot peppers. The national dish is pho, or noodle soup. A fixture on any menu, pho is loaded with rice noodles, meat, scallions, garlic, ginger, basil leaves, star anise and pepper. Another staple is rice with nuoc mam (fermented fish sauce), an accompaniment to almost any meal. Spring rolls, seafood, tropical fruits and many unique sweets are also widely enjoyed throughout the country.

Internet
Internet access is widely available in internet cafes and hotels throughout Vietnam. Vietnam is very much an internet savvy country with most large cities having Wi-Fi everywhere you go. In most cases Wi-Fi is included in your room charge.

Health
Travelers are advised to be up-to-date on tetanus, typhoid, and polio immunizations. Bottled water is available throughout the country. Always keep hydrated as you are traveling in a warm humid region where you can lose fluids quickly form perspiration. There are still some issues regarding sanitation and tropical diseases, such as dengue fever in some periods of the year, but Vietnam is less susceptible to malaria due to the local government’s constant educational awareness of malaria prevention. Tap water is not potable anywhere but it’s safe for brushing teeth. Bottled water is abundant and can be purchased anywhere in the country (foreign and local brands). Avoid eating raw (uncooked) vegetables for the first 2 days until your body adjusts to local cuisine. In sit down restaurants in the larger cities like Hanoi and Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), food preparation is to world standards.

Here is a short checklist:

– 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 used 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.

BRINGING MONEY

Currency/Banking
The Vietnamese currency is the Vietnam Dong. The US dollar is accepted everywhere in Vietnam and is easily exchanged to dong. While traveling overnight outside of the larger cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City it is advised that you to bring local currency (Vietnam Dong).  Use of ATMs:  ATMs are widely used in Vietnam. For most ATMs there is a limit of between 400 – 600 USD/day (you will receive local currency from ATMs). 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. We advise visitors not to bring traveler’s checks because most hotels, restaurants, and shops will not accept them. If you bring traveler’s checks, you will have to go to the bank to exchange them. If you change to local currency usually there is not a commission charge. If you change to USD, then there is usually a 1.8% commission charge. Bringing cash: We suggest bringing 50’s, 20’s, 10’s, 5’s and 1’s in USD cash. You can use Vietcom Bank’s website (national bank) to check on daily currency rates: https://vietcombank.com.vn/default.aspx?&lang=en

(NOTE: CHANGING MONEY AT UNAUTHORIZED JEWELRY STORES OR FROM PEOPLE ON THE STREET IS AGAINST THE LAW).

Credit Cards
Credit cards are accepted in major hotels, shops, banks, and elsewhere. Credit cards can also be cashed for currency at the bank. The main bank of Vietnam is Vietcom Bank (Vietnam Commercial Bank), with branches all over the country. ATM transactions are available throughout the country.

Banking Hours
M-F 8:00 a.m.-11:30 a.m., 1:00 p.m.-4:30 p.m.

Electricity
The electricity supply in Vietnam is 220V/50Hz. If your power plug has three pins, you might need an adaptor as most electrical outlets do not include a grounding hole. Good universal adaptors can be found online, such as this one.

Shopping
Vietnam is a shopper’s paradise. Here are a few tips before making purchases: Wood products are better purchased in the south, ceramics in the north. Fine handicrafts, embroidered articles, rattan and bamboo products, lacquerware and marble carvings of high quality can also be found. Silk in Vietnam is of some of the highest quality in the world. Women and men can have clothing custom tailored in a day or two. Jewelry can also be made to customer specification. Precious stones should only be bought from the government jewelry company (SJC) as they have certification of origination, which you will need when you leave Vietnam and reenter your home country. Please let us know if you would like recommendations. If fine jewelry is too cheap to be true, then it’s too cheap to be true!

DO'S & DON'TS

Do’s

– In Vietnam it’s ok to wear shorts. When visiting 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 otherwise avoid going to the main prayer room.
– Asia is very casual, so you won’t need any formal clothes. We do recommend bringing one or 2 collared shirts if you plan to dine at a formal restaurant.
– When you shake hands, 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.
– People of the same sex holding hands is a show of close friendship like brothers and sisters and does not mean anything more than that. The same with arms over the shoulders or hand on the lap.
– Do try local foods but make sure it’s cooked.
– 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 and Noi Bai Taxi. In Ho Chi Minh City look for 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).

Don’ts

– 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 if they extend their hands first.
– Don’t ever take cyclos (bicycle cabs) in Ho Chi Minh City 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 steadily and do not make sudden moves.

Some advice for the first-time visitor to Vietnam 

– Plan your trip well! Vietnam is not that large country but there are many places that you don’t want to miss, from the charming and historical city of Hanoi to the vibrant little port town of Hoi An or chaotic and dynamic Ho Chi Minh City. The trip can be made in 10 days if your time is limited or over a period of a month if you would like to explore further, lesser traversed regions such as the home of hill tribes in the far north or Central Highlands.

– Vietnamese are extremely friendly and quite flexible; we’ve learned that a smile is the best solution in any case for things to go smoothly.

– Vietnam is considered a safe and friendly country, but there are still some complaints about scams which may happen, such as with cab drivers, street vendors, etc.
– Before getting in a cab, please be sure that the meter is on, and use your smartphone to take a picture of the cab license plate in case of any trouble.

– Do not deal with street vendors or people who want to polish your shoes if you would like to be left alone. Just shake your head and keep walking. Sometimes it may seem impolite but it’s the best way to move on your way without hassle.

– Keep your valuables and passport in the safety box at the hotel. Carry a copy of your passport.

– Phone, camera or bag snatching can happen in the larger cities, especially by thieves on motorbikes. Please be aware not to wear your purse facing the street or slung across your chest when out walking.

– Negotiation is part of the culture in Asia, mostly in the markets or small shops (start at 20-30% below).   It can be fun to negotiate on items without a price tag. In the end it comes down to what the seller is willing to sell and what the buyer is willing to pay, so don’t stress over good deals or bad deals.  But do be aware that precious stones should be purchased from a government certified shop with certification of authentication. 

TRAVEL INSURANCE

Emergency Travel and health insurance is not included in our tour package. This is an important requirement when you travel with us for your safety and peace of mind in the unexpected event that you need urgent international standard care. You should buy travel insurance in your country as it will be more convenient for you to deal with any claims and adjustments upon your return home. AIG, Allianz, or John Hancock have good travel coverage and respond very quickly to emergencies. We do not endorse any one travel insurance company but suggest you consider www.travelguard.com, as past clients of ours have had good experiences with them in times of need. Also, check with your insurance provider to see if they cover:

1. emergency evacuation during your travels, and
2. emergency airlift to an international hospital or provide professional medical care to transport you home. The cost alone for airlifting a person home can cost up to the 100’s of thousands of USD. Travel more safely with fewer worries.

PACKING LIST

A packing list is often a forgotten part of the planning processes, but it’s one of the most important steps to ensure an enjoyable vacation. Here are some important reminders from our travelers’ experiences: 

Documentation

– Your passport should have at least 6-months validity from the date of departure on your trip.
– Check your visa requirement to your destination. Check the entry date on your visa and validity of the visa.
– When possible book e-tickets. If you happen to lose your ticket you can always print your ticket online.
– Always make extra copies of your passport and keep it separate from your original.
– Make a copy of your travel insurance and emergency contact information. It’s best to have those numbers entered in your mobile phone.
– Call your credit card company to inform them of the dates of your trip so that your charge card won’t get blocked by your card company because of a foreign charge. This will also protect you in the event your card is stolen, and you have fraudulent charges on your account. Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted as opposed to Amex.
– Make sure your tour operator knows of any allergies you may have.

Electronics or gadgets

– If you have a 3-pronged plug, you will need to bring an adapter to change to 2 prongs (flat and round). Most countries will have plugs for 2 prongs.
– Make sure your electronics can take 220 volts as this is standard in most countries.
– Sometimes it’s a good investment to bring a backup mobile phone where you can use a local SIM card for calls. It’s much cheaper than using your regular mobile phone and paying for roaming calls.
– Don’t forget your charger for your electronics and check to see if they are compatible with 220 volts.
– Bring small pocket solar calculator to convert exchange rates.

Clothing & Miscellaneous

– Know where you are traveling and the weather you should expect. Traveling to a tropical area you will expect to see mosquitoes, so bring some long sleeve shirts and long pants for evenings.
– Traveling to Asia it is frowned upon to wear shorts that are 6 in. above the knee, especially when visiting temples or places of worship. Wearing a dress is fine if you plan to dress light. But again, when visiting temples please make sure dresses are no more than a few inches above the knee with a shirt or blouse covering your shoulder. Revealing shoulders are frowned upon.
– Head cover to protect from hot tropical weather
– Sunscreen
– Insect repellent with DEET
– Stomach medicine
– A good book for those occasional flight delays

TIPPING

Tipping is always a sensitive matter for visitors to a country with different cultural expectations than the country you are from. You don’t want to over tip, but at the same time not under tip. Some countries don’t accept tips. Our philosophy for tipping in Vietnam is, if someone had done a good job it’s always nice to acknowledge their service. Our friendly suggestions: Tipping 2 USD (50,000 VND) for hotel porters is welcomed.  Tipping Guides (2 travelers): 15-20 USD/day; (4-6 travelers): 30-50 USD/day.  Drivers (2 travelers): 10-15 USD/day; (4-6 travelers) 20 USD/day.. Tipping is not expected but appreciated. Tip only if they’ve done a good job, and tip as you feel at the end of their service. Tipping in restaurants is not expected either but if the waiter provided good service then you can leave a tip in local currency of about 2 USD (50,000 VND).

CANCELLATION POLICY

Before 45 days, no charge tours.
45 to 30 days prior arrival date: 5% of the total price
29 to 15 days prior arrival date: 10% of the total price
7 days to the day of arrival: 50%
3 days to the day of arrival: 100%