Places To See
Ba Be National Park
Ba Be National Park is a beautiful tropical rainforest region covering more than 23,000 hectares (56,800 acres) and boasting waterfalls, rivers, deep valleys, lakes and caves set amid towering peaks. The surrounding area is home to members of the Tay minority, who live in stilt homes. The park has over 550 named plant species.
Thien Hau Pagoda
One of the most active in Cholon, Thien Hau Pagoda is dedicated to Thien Hau, the Chinese goddess of the sea. As she protects fisherfolk, sailors, merchants and any other maritime travellers, you might stop by to ask for a blessing for your next boat journey.
Phuoc An Hoi Quan Pagoda
Built in 1902 by the Fujian Chinese congregation, Phuoc An Hoi Quan Pagoda stands as one of the most beautifully ornamented in the city. Of special interest are the many small porcelain figures, the elaborate brass ritual objects and the fine woodcarvings on the altars, walls and hanging lanterns.
From outside the building you can see the ceramic scenes, each made up of innumerable small figurines, decorating the roof.
Cua Dai Beach
Cua Dai is a monster beach that continues all the way up to Danang, an incredible 30km (19mi) of pristine white sands. This fine palm-lined beach is hugely popular at weekends, but can often be deserted at other times. Fresh seafood and refreshments are sold at a line of kiosks that lead to the beachfront.
Museum of Ho Chi Minh City
Housed in a beautiful grey neoclassical structure, the Museum of Ho Chi Minh City was built in 1886 and has displays of artefacts from the various periods of the Communist struggle for power in Vietnam.
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), 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; Summer Solstice Day (Tiet Doan Ngo) 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.
When to go?
There are no good or bad seasons to visit Vietnam. When one region is wet, cold or steamy hot, there is always somewhere else that is sunny and pleasant. Basically, the south has two seasons: the wet (May to November, wettest from June to August) and the dry (December to April). The hottest and most humid time is from the end of February to May. The central coast is dry from May to October and wet from December to February. The highland areas are significantly cooler than the lowlands, and temperatures can get down to freezing in winter. The north has two seasons: cool, damp winters (November to April) and hot summers (May to October). There is the possibility of typhoons between July and November, affecting the north and central areas.
Travellers should take the Tet Festival (late January or early February) into account when planning a trip. Travel (including international travel) becomes very difficult, hotels are full and many services close down for at least a week and possibly a lot longer.
Travel Visa Overview
Tourist visas allow visitors to enter and exit Vietnam at Hanoi, HCMC and Danang airports or at any of its plentiful land borders, shared with Cambodia, China and Laos. Tourist visas are valid for a single 30-day stay. Processing a tourist-visa application typically takes four or five working days in countries in the West.
It is possible to arrange a visa on arrival through Vietnamese travel agents. They will need passport details in advance and will send a confirmation for the visa to be issued at your airport of arrival.
In Asia the best place to pick up a Vietnamese visa is Cambodia, where it costs around
If you plan to spend more than a month in Vietnam, or if you plan to exit Vietnam and enter again from Cambodia or Laos, arrange a three-month multiple-entry visa. These cost around
British-style plug with two flat blades and one flat grounding blade
European plug with two circular metal pins
Japanese-style plug with two parallel flat blades
This is a general term for inflammation of the liver. There are several different viruses that cause hepatitis, and they differ in the way that they are transmitted. The symptoms are similar in all forms of the illness, and include fever, chills, head-ache, fatigue, feelings of weakness, aches and pains, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, light-coloured faeces, jaundiced (yellow) skin and yellowing of the whites of the eyes.
Hepatitis A is transmitted by contaminated food and drinking water. You should seek medical advice, but there is not much you can do apart from resting, drinking lots of fluids, eating lightly and avoiding fatty foods. Hepatitis E is transmitted in the same way as hepatitis A; it can be particularly serious in pregnant women. Hepatitis B is spread through contact with infected blood, blood products or body fluids or unsterilised, contaminated equipment such as tattoo needles. The symptoms of hepatitis B may be more severe than type A and the disease can lead to long-term problems such as chronic liver damage, liver cancer or a long-term carrier state. Hepatitis D is spread in the same way as hepatitis B; hepatitis C through blood to blood contact only. Both can lead to long-term complications.
The Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits the dengue virus, is most active during the day and is found mainly in urban areas, in and around human dwellings. Signs and symptoms of dengue fever include a sudden onset of high fever, headache, joint and muscle pains, nausea and vomiting. A rash of small red spots sometimes appears three to four days after the onset of fever. In the early stages, dengue may be mistaken for malaria and influenza. Minor bleeding such as nose bleeds may occur in the course of the illness, but this does not necessarily mean that you have progressed to the potentially fatal dengue haemorrhagic fever (DHF). This is a severe illness, characterised by heavy bleeding, which is thought to be a result of a second infection by a different strain (there are four major strains) and it usually affects residents of the country rather than travellers.
This serious and potentially fatal disease is spread by mosquito bites. If you are travelling in endemic areas it is extremely important to avoid mosquito bites and to take tablets to prevent this disease. Symptoms range from fever, chills and sweating, headache, diarrhoea and abdominal pains to a vague feeling of ill-health. Seek medical help immediately if malaria is suspected. Without treatment malaria can rapidly become more serious and can be fatal.
This fatal viral infection is found in many countries. Many animals (such as dogs, cats, bats and monkeys) can be infected and it is their saliva which is infectious. Any bite, scratch or even lick from an animal should be cleaned immediately and thoroughly. Scrub with soap and running water, and then apply alcohol or iodine solution. Medical help should be sought promptly to receive a course of injections to prevent the onset of symptoms and death.
This dangerous gut infection is caused by contaminated water and food. Medical help must be sought. During its early stages sufferers may feel as if they have a bad cold or flu on the way. Early symptoms include a headache, body aches and a fever that rises a little each day until it is around 40°C (104°F) or more. The victim's pulse is usually slow, relative to the degree of fever present - unlike a normal fever where the pulse increases. There may also be vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhoea or constipation. In the second week the high fever and slow pulse continue and a few pink spots may appear on the body; trembling, delirium, weakness, weight loss and dehydration may occur. Complications such as pneumonia, perforated bowel or meningitis may occur.
This bacterial infection is usually transmitted from person to person by coughing but it may also be transmitted through consumption of unpasteurised milk. Travellers are usually not at great risk as close household contact with the infected person is usually required before the disease is passed on. You may need to have a TB test before you travel as this can help diagnose the disease later if you become ill.
With a multitude of altitudes and latitudes there's always somewhere that is pleasantly sunny and warm if you're prepared to find it. Temperatures are usually hot and humid, around the low 30°Cs (high 80°Fs), but if you head north and along the coast they cool down to comfortable temperatures towards January. The weather is determined by two monsoons; the winter monsoon comes from the northeast between October and March bringing wet chilly winters to all areas north of Nha Trang, but dry and warm temperatures to the south. From April or May to October, the southwestern monsoon brings warm, humid weather and buckets of rain to the whole country except for those areas sheltered by mountains.
History and Culture
Four great philosophies and religions have shaped the spiritual life of the Vietnamese people: Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism and Christianity. Over the centuries, Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism have melded with popular Chinese beliefs and ancient Vietnamese animism to form what is known as Tam Giao (or 'Triple Religion').
Vietnamese (kinh) is the official language of the country, although there are dialectal differences across Vietnam. There are dozens of different languages spoken by various ethnic minorities and Khmer and Lao are spoken in some parts. The most widely spoken foreign languages in Vietnam are Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin), English, French and Russian, more or less in that order.
Popular artistic forms include traditional painting produced on frame-mounted silk; an eclectic array of theatre, puppetry, music and dance; religious sculpture; lacquerware and ceramics.
Vietnamese cuisine is especially varied - there are said to be nearly 500 different traditional dishes that include exotic meats and fantastic vegetarian creations. However, the staple of Vietnamese cuisine is plain white rice dressed up with a plethora of vegetables, fish, meat, spices and sauces. Spring rolls, noodles and steamed rice dumplings are popular snacks, and the ubiquitous soups include eel and vermicelli, shredded chicken and bitter soups. Fruit is abundant; some of the more unusual ones include green dragon fruit, jujube, khaki, longan, mangosteen, pomelo, three-seed cherry and water apple. Vietnamese coffee (ca phe phin) is very good; it's usually served very strong and very sweet.
Pre-20th Century History
The sophisticated Bronze Age Dong Son culture emerged around the 3rd century BC. From the 1st to the 6th centuries AD, the south of what is now Vietnam was part of the Indianised Khmer kingdom of Funan, which produced fine art and architecture. The Hindu kingdom of Champa appeared around present-day Danang in the late 2nd century and had spread south to what is now Nha Trang by the 8th century. The kingdom sustained itself in part through conducting raids in the region. The Chinese conquered the Red River Delta in the 2nd century and their 1000-year rule, marked by tenacious Vietnamese resistance and repeated rebellions, ended in AD 938 when Ngo Quyen vanquished the Chinese armies at the Bach Dang River.
During the next few centuries, Vietnam repulsed repeated invasions by China, and expanded its borders southwards from the Red River Delta. The kingdom of Champa was annexed in the 16th century and eventually the Vietnamese absorbed the Khmer territories of the Mekong Delta. In 1858 French and Spanish-led forces stormed Danang after several missionaries had been killed. A year later, Saigon was seized. By 1867 France had conquered all of southern Vietnam, which became the French colony of Cochinchina.
Pro-independence forces, dominated largely by the leadership of Ho Chi Minh, resisted French domination during and after WWII. Ho Chi Minh's declaration of Vietnamese independence in 1945 sparked violent confrontations with the French, culminating in the French military defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.
The negotiation of the Geneva Accords of 1954 between the Vietnamese and the French temporarily divided the country into two zones (the Communists assumed control of the north and the anti-Communist, US-supported Ngo Dinh Diem took the south). Free elections were to have been held across the country in 1956, but Diem reneged on the plan - Ho Chi Minh seemed likely to win - and instead consolidated his own power in various ways, including fixing a referendum. Western powers embraced his government.
Political and ideological opposition quickly turned to armed struggle, prompting the USA (which had been a covert presence since at least 1945) and other countries to commit combat troops in 1965. The Paris Peace Agreements, signed in 1973, provided an immediate cease-fire and the withdrawal of US troops - signalling a famous victory for Ho Chi Minh. Saigon eventually capitulated to the Communist forces on 30 April 1975.
Going straight from the fat into the frying pan, Vietnam had barely drawn breath from its war with America when it found itself at loggerheads with Khmer Rouge forces along the Cambodian borders. The Vietnamese entered and occupied Cambodia in 1978, driving out the Khmer Rouge. This, in turn, prompted China to invade Vietnam, sparking a brief, 17-day war. Eventually, a UN-brokered deal saw Vietnamese forces being pulled out of Cambodia in 1989. Although the Khmer Rouge continued to snipe from the borders, it was the first time since WWII that Vietnam was not officially at war with another nation. The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the USSR in 1991 caused Vietnam and Western nations to seek rapprochement.
Relations with the USA, have improved in recent years. In 1994 the USA finally lifted its economic embargo, which had been in place since the 1960s. Bill Clinton became the first US president to visit northern Vietnam in 2000 and George W Bush followed suit in 2006, as Vietnam was welcomed into the World Trade Organization (WTO). Relations have also improved with historic enemy China. Vietnam's economic boom has caught Beijing's attention and it sees northern Vietnam as the fastest route from Yunnan and Sichuan to the South China Sea.
Vietnam's economy is growing at more than 5% a year and tourists just can't get enough of the place. The future is bright, but the future depends on how well the Vietnamese can follow the Chinese road to development: economic liberalisation without political liberalisation. With only two million paid-up members of the Communist Party and 80 million Vietnamese, it is a road they must tread carefully.