The length of Vietnam is roughly only the distance from New York City to Miami. This thin s-shaped country is famed for its tribal culture, ancient coastal towns and modern Ho Chi Minh City. The Mekong River cuts through southern Vietnam, spilling into the South China Sea, while the Red River passes through the capital of Hanoi and travels into the Gulf of Tonkin.
Northern Vietnam is all about culture and magnificent karsts scenery. Home to mountains and a variety of indigenous groups that sell incredible embroidery and colorful clothing, this is a region not to be missed. The history of the Cham Empire can be seen at sites in Hoi An and My Son, while remnants of the Nguyễn Dynasty can be explored throughout Hue. Nha Trang is famous for its beaches, waterfalls and great diving, while the Mekong Delta is the perfect place to enjoy a river boat cruise and floating markets.
Viet Nam is located in Asia. It shares borders with China, Laos and Cambodia, and faces the East Sea. Thanks to its location, Viet Nam is bridge linking Southeast Asian mainland together. It is an S-shape peninsula, with thousands of offshore islands, the largest archipelagoes being the Hoang Sa (Paracel) Islands and the Truong Sa (Spartley) Islands. The country’s land area is 331,690 sq.km and lies between East longitudes 102º08’ and 109º28’, and North latitudes 8º02’ and 23º23’. Viet Nam offers a 3,260km coastline and its inland borderline is 4,550km. From North to South, the country stretches on about 1,650km.
If visiting Vietnam as a whole, the months of December, January and February are the best months because they are the driest, though also the coolest of the year. Cold weather may be an issue if visiting the northwest, but elsewhere it’s not a problem. This period is also when hotel rates are at their highest due to the Vietnamese New Year (Tết festival).
April and May are the hottest in the south and can be unbearable for some, but are fantastic for enjoying the beaches along the coast or for visiting the cool Highlands. June and July are the warmest in the north, making them the ideal time to visit the mountains.
Currency: Vietnamese Dong (VND)
Official language: Vietnamese
Archaeological excavations of fossils in the caves in Bac Son, Lang Son Province, as well as the discovery of some artifacts at Do Mountain, in Thanh Hoa Province, which are believed to belong to the Stone Age, have proved that human life started in Viet Nam hundreds of thousands of years ago and Viet Nam has been considered as one of the earliest cradles of mankind.
Archaeological artifacts of the Phung Nguyen, Dong Dau, Go Mun, and Dong Son cultures, especially the Ngoc Lu bronze drums have proved that Viet Nam had a developed and glorious culture a thousand years before Christ (Dong Son culture). Besides, the vestiges of the historic period of the Kings Hung have revealed that Viet Nam was one of the first countries to be formed.
Viet Nam is a nation with thousand years of glorious history. Viet Nam’s history can be divided into four main periods:
Prehistoric Era (from 2879 to 208 B.C): Kings Hung founded a country; Au Lac Nation was established
Chinese domination period and the struggle for national independence (208 B.C – 938 A.D): This period was one of the fiercest periods of hardship in Viet Nam’s history.
National construction and defense for independence (938 – 1945): This period was a brilliant era for national revival and development of the country and was marked by the glorious victory of the Vietnamese people against the aggressors.
National independence and socialism (1945 up to now): For nearly 100 years under French oppression, the Vietnamese people had constantly fought for independence. The revolution succeeded in August 1945 under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese Communist Party proclaimed its independence on September 2, a date which became the National Day.
During the following 30 years, the Vietnamese people continued to resist and protect their independence. Viet Nam has been unified ever since the great victory in spring 1975. Since 1976, the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam was proclaimed, with Ha Noi as its capital. Viet Nam enters a new stage of peace and development as a country.
The Vietnamese culture, endowed with a long and rich heritage, is deeply stamped with national pride. Famous ancient cultures include the Nui Do culture, followed by the Son Vi culture founded over 10,000 years ago, then by the Hoa Binh-Bac Son culture.
The Dong Son culture received the most brilliant development and was deeply connected with the Red River civilization, the wet rice and the emergence of the primeval states (Van Lang-Au Lac in the North; in the Central region, the Sa Huynh culture, which belongs to the Cham people and in the South, the Oc Eo culture of Phu Nam State).
Despite of historical contingencies, there are still approximately 7,300 preserved historic and cultural sites over Viet Nam, thousands of which have been listed as national sites. These relics are concentrated mainly in Ha Noi and Hue. For example, the relics of the Kings Hung in Phong Chau (Phu Tho Province) date back to the period of the formation of the country. There are also the Co Loa citadel of the Au Lac State, the ancient capital of Hoa Lu, and the My Son Sanctuary in the Central region.
Vietnam is divided into four districts and so are its climates, with the north, the coast, the highlands, and the south all having different weather patterns. They all experience some sort of wet and dry season.
Temperatures in the mountainous northwest average around 73°F, although it can get as cold as 32°F in December and January. The capital rarely gets colder than 56°F and can reach a scorching 104°F in May, June and July. July and August are the wettest months in Hanoi, while January is the driest.
The central coast of Vietnam has a tropical monsoon climate with high temperatures year round. The wettest months are September, October and November, while March and April are the driest months. Rain is common year round, but the annual average temperature of a perfect 78°F makes up for it.
The Highlands have a steady temperature of 72°F all year, with it never getting hotter than 77°F or cooler than 57°F. It is the coolest part of the country, experiencing monsoon rainfall from July through October. The south is completely different, with three distinct seasons; hot and dry, wet and cool and dry. The wet season is the longest, lasting from May to October. In the Mekong Delta, expect major flooding at this time.
An e-visa to the Republic of Azerbaijan is valid for the period of 90 days with 30 days permission to stay in the country. The electronic visa becomes invalid if it is not used within the period of its validity. An e-visa has a single entry status.
Taxis are a great way to make short trips around Vietnam cities and are easy to flag down. The normal rate per kilometer is around 12,000 dong, but some drivers may insist on charging a flat fee. Cabs have been known to lock passengers in until they pay a hefty fee, while others may try to talk you on a sightseeing tour for a high price. It is best to stick with reputable companies such as Hanoi Taxi (+84-4-3853-5353) or Saigon Taxi (+84-8-823-2323) in Ho Chi Minh City to avoid getting ripped off.
Car rental is a great way for groups of people to travel the country, but driving downtown can be exhausting. Cars range from cheap beaters to new international brands, and can come with or without a driver. Roads are in reasonable condition, but traffic is heavy in urban areas, with Tan Son Nhat and Nội Bài International Airports offering a wide range of rental options.
Boats are a must for seeing Vietnam’s attractions, stunning landscapes and for getting around the Mekong Delta. Scenic tours are the only way to see the amazing Ha Long Bay and to visit the floating markets in the Mekong Delta and the Cham Islands. Many destinations offer river boat cruises, fishing trips and snorkeling tours.
The Reunification Express train connects Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, but you can get off at any stop in between. The journey takes between 30 and 40 hours, so it is best made by air-conditioned sleeper. There is an additional train line that runs from Hanoi northwest to Sapa, with prices varying according to time of year and seat class.
Most cites in Vietnam are connected by long-distance bus and operate tour buses. These generally run between Hanoi and Ho Chi Ming City, and passengers can get off anywhere along the way. They are cheap, but can be slow and uncomfortable. There are also local buses that reach all corners of the country, but they are not the most practical way to get around. Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Nha Trang have good inner-city systems that go to all the main tourists attractions.
Before you leave on your holiday, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:
Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)
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