Vietnam General Info

Geography of Vietnam
Located along the eastern edge of the Indochinese Peninsula in Southeast Asia, Vietnam borders Cambodia, Laos, and China. The total land area is approximately 329,566 sq km, and the Vietnamese coastline stretches over 3,260km. In 1999, the population is about 78 million, of whom 85% are ethnic Vietnamese, 3% ethnic Chinese, and 12% other groups. Hanoi, the national capital, is located in the north of Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh City in the south, formerly Saigon, is the country’s major business center. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is governed by a President and Prime Minister, together with the Government (council of ministers), all elected by the National Assembly.

Vietnam has two major river delta systems, known as the “rice baskets” of the country—the Red River Delta in the North and the Mekong Delta in the South. Vietnam is rich natural resources, with significant reserves of coal, bauxite, iron ore, lead, copper, gemstones, and oil and gas. Major products and industries include rice, rubber, coffee, food processing, textiles and crude oil. In 1998, garment and textiles were the top export earner (the US $1.35 billion), followed by crude oil (US$ 1.2billion), rice (the US $1.1 billion) and footwear (the US $960 million). During that year, exports rose by 5.8% to US$ 9.36 billion while imports, at the US $11.50 billion, were only marginally higher than the previous year, lowering Vietnam’s 1998 trade deficit to the US $2.14 billion. In 1998, GDP was USD $27.2 billion, and GDP per capita was the US $348, with annual growth of 3.5% and inflation of 7.7% over 1997.

Adult literacy is over 90%. Local employees are considered intelligent, hard-working and well motivated while labor costs in Vietnam remain relatively low.

Languages
The national language is Vietnamese, although a number of ethnic minority groups speak their own languages. As in most countries, the language includes several regional accents, with occasional differences in vocabulary. In recent years, English has become established as the most widely used foreign language in Vietnam, while Russian and eastern European languages have declined in popularity. French is widely spoken and understood, as well as several dialects of Chinese.

Trade
Eastern Europe, France and Japan have traditionally been Vietnam’s major trading partners. In May 1999, Vietnam and Japan agreed to bilateral Most Favored Nation trade status. Vietnam’s garment, footwear and agricultural industries are expected to be major beneficiaries of the resulting reduction in import duties.

Since the lifting of the U.S. trade embargo in early 1994 and normalization of relations in 1995, trade between Vietnam and the United States has continued to rise. The waiver of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment in March 1997 is likely to allow American companies doing business with Vietnam to access to export promotion programs offered by OPIC and EXIMBANK. In 1999 Vietnam and the US reached agreement in principle on a trade treaty, which will provide each side with improved access to the other’s market through Normal Trade Relations (NTR). Ratification of the agreement is expected in the near term. The World Bank forecasts that NTR status could boost exports to the US by US $800 million per year and attract increased foreign investment into Vietnam.

Currencies
Vietnam’s currency is the Dong. Since July 1997, the Dong has declined by about 12% against the US Dollar, reaching a level of approximately Dong 22,800 to the US $1 in February 2018. By law, all business transactions performed and completed in Vietnam (except those carried out by Vietnam Airlines) are required to be made in Dong. However, companies which deal in international trade may accept foreign currencies, usually US Dollars

 

Balcony over the Pacific

Vietnam is considered one of the most attractive countries in Southeast Asia, offering unspoiled landscapes, virgin beaches, soaring hills and mountains, as well as peaceful rivers and springs.  Its long history and distinctive culture serve as additional magnets for first-time and returning visitors alike.

Tourist facilities are not as developed as in neighboring countries.  However, in recent years, the emergence of luxury hotels and resorts managed by world-class groups, expansion of the domestic airline network to all major tourist spots, and significant upgrading of the infrastructure have improved choices available to visitors.

Weather

Vietnam is a tropical country.  Conditions vary from mild summers and frosty winters in the far north, to year-round subequatorial warmth in the south.  At sea level, average annual temperatures are about 27 degrees C (81 F) in the south, and 21 degrees C (70 F) in the far north.  When one region is wet or cold, there is always another area that is sunny and warm.

The south has two major seasons: rainy (May to November, wettest from June to August) and dry (December to April).  The hottest and most humid period stretches from late February to May.
The central coast is dry from June to October, with a rainy season between November and May.
The north has two seasons: cool, damp winters (November to April) and hot summers (May to October).
Highland areas are significantly cooler than lowlands, and temperatures can get down to freezing in winter.
Typhoons are possible between July and November, in northern and central Vietnam.
Hanoi:
HCMC:
Below are significant climate figures of major cities/provinces:
Hanoi
Ha Long
Dien Bien
Sapa
Hue
Da Nang
Quy Nhon
Pleiku
Da Lat
Nha Trang
Ho Chi Minh City
Can Tho
Hanoi
Average Humidity (%) : 83
Rainy Season : May – Oct
Dry Season : Nov – Apr
Annual Rainfall (mm) : 1680
Hottest Month (oC) Average : Jun (32.8)
Coldest Month (oC) Average : Jan (13.8)
Ha Long
Average Humidity (%) : 82
Rainy Season : May – Oct
Dry Season : Nov – Apr
Annual Rainfall (mm) : 1994
Hottest Month (oC) Average : Jun (31.6)
Coldest Month (oC) Average : Jan (13.5)
Dien Bien
Average Humidity (%) : 84
Rainy Season : Apr – Sep
Dry Season : Oct – Mar
Annual Rainfall (mm) : 1567
Hottest Month (oC) Average : May (32.2)
Coldest Month (oC) Average : Jan (11.0)
Sapa
Average Humidity (%) : 87
Rainy Season : Mar – Nov
Dry Season : Dec – Feb
Annual Rainfall (mm) : 2769
Hottest Month (oC) Average : Aug (23.2)
Coldest Month (oC) Average : Jan (06.2)
Hue
Average Humidity (%) : 88
Rainy Season : Jul – Jan
Dry Season : Feb – Jun
Annual Rainfall (mm) : 2890
Hottest Month (oC) Average : Aug (34.5)
Coldest Month (oC) Average : Jan (17.2)
Da Nang
Average Humidity (%) : 83
Rainy Season : Jul – Jan
Dry Season : Feb – Jun
Annual Rainfall (mm) : 1794
Hottest Month (oC) Average : Jul (34.5)
Coldest Month (oC) Average : Jan (17.2)
Quy Nhon
Average Humidity (%) : 81
Rainy Season : Sepl – Dec
Dry Season : Jan – Aug
Annual Rainfall (mm) : 1647
Hottest Month (oC) Average : Aug (34.5)
Coldest Month (oC) Average : Jan (0.6)
Pleiku
Average Humidity (%) : 85
Rainy Season : May – Oct
Dry Season : Nov – Apr
Annual Rainfall (mm) : 2684
Hottest Month (oC) Average : Apr (30.7)
Coldest Month (oC) Average : Jan (14.0)
List
Da Lat
Average Humidity (%) : 84
Rainy Season : Apr – Nov
Dry Season : Dec – Mar
Annual Rainfall (mm) : 1820
Hottest Month (oC) Average : Apr (26.8)
Coldest Month (oC) Average : Feb (10.0)
List
Nha Trang
Average Humidity (%) : 82
Rainy Season : Sep – Dec
Dry Season : Jan – Aug
Annual Rainfall (mm) : 1441
Hottest Month (oC) Average : Aug (33.2)
Coldest Month (oC) Average : Jan (20.5)
List
Ho Chi Minh City
Average Humidity (%) : 82
Rainy Season : May – Nov
Dry Season : Dec – Apr
Annual Rainfall (mm) : 1979
Hottest Month (oC) Average : Apr (34.8)
Coldest Month (oC) Average : Jan (21.0)
List
Can Tho
Average Humidity (%) : 82
Rainy Season : May – Nov
Dry Season : Dec – Apr
Annual Rainfall (mm) : 1560
Hottest Month (oC) Average : Apr (33.9)
Coldest Month (oC) Average : Jan (21.9)

 

Getting Around

 

By air
Vietnam Airlines has a near-monopoly on domestic flights, which are relatively expensive.  Domestic flights are available everyday.  It’s usually faster to buy a ticket from an airline office rather than a travel agent.  The departure tax on domestic flights is VND20,000 (US $1.43).

By train
The train from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi stops at various stations and provides an opportunity to enjoy the changing scenery.  The train can be even slower than bus travel, but it is more relaxed and you’re likely to have decent legroom.  Air-conditioned express trains take 36 hours to complete the itinerary.  Except during the winter in northern Vietnam, non-air-conditioned trains can be very hot despite electric fans, even at night.  Petty theft can be a problem, especially in budget class.  In some areas, children throwing things at carriages, everything from rocks to cow dung, is another problem, and you are advised to keep the metal shield on the window in place.

By bus and car
Ramshackle, slow and hugely overcrowded buses run just about everywhere in the country, at rock-bottom fares.  Bus travel is definitely uncomfortable and frustrating, but if you treat it as a social function rather than a means of getting from A to B, you should survive with your sanity intact.   Most long-distance buses leave early in the morning, so it’s a good idea to buy your ticket the night before.  There are express buses, but few are really fast.  Count on an average speed of 50kmh for a genuine express bus, and 25 to 35kmh for others.

Public minibusses suffer the same drawbacks as buses.  The alternative, used by many foreigners, is to charter an entire minibus.  This allows a group to dictate its own schedule and itinerary, as well as avoid overcrowding.  Budget hotels and cafes are the best places to rent these minibusses.  There is also a well-established tourist mini-bus system running the length of the country, organized by a group of cafes which sprung up serving backpackers.  In Hanoi, shuttle buses are available to passengers between Noi Bai Airport and Vietnam Airlines’ main booking office (1A Quang Trung Street, near Hoan Kiem Lake) at a price VND40,000 (US $2.85 in November 1999) per expatriate, and VND20,000 per Vietnamese citizen.

Rented cars, which usually come with drivers, are available at reasonable prices.  While, in theory, international driving licenses are valid in Vietnam, the traffic in large cities and the haphazard observance of rules of the road can overwhelm the first-time visitor.  In accidents, the larger vehicle, or the party with more resources, is generally expected to accept liability.  Therefore, it is prudent to leave the driving to a native who is more able to negotiate his way out of a dispute.  The Vietnamese drive on the right-hand side of the road.

Using taxis, motorcycles and bicycles
Taxicabs, motorcycles, and bicycles can be easily hired.  Taxi fares start at VND 14,000 (in Hanoi) or VND 12,000 (in Ho Chi Minh City) for the first 2 km.  Thereafter, you will be charged for about VND 1,500/250m, or VND 6,000/km.  In Ho Chi Minh City, taxi fare from the airport to the center of District 1 (the main business district) is around VND 60,000 (the US $4.30).  Traffic jams can cause delays and resulting increases in fares.   On longer trips (over 20 km), you should consider pre-negotiating a fixed fare rather than using meter charges.  Taxis from the airport in Hanoi will generally accept VND 140,000 or the US $10 to any destination in the city.  The Airport Taxi Company (tel:  873-3333) offers the same fare for pickups in the city to the airport.

You may rent a motorcycle if you have an International Driver’s Permit endorsed for motorcycles.  In larger cities, the typical motorbike rental fee is US $6-12 per day.  There have been reports of the lessor stealing the bike using his own key, and charging the customer an outrageous sum as compensation.  If you have left your passport as security, you won’t have much choice but to pay up.

Traveling through Vietnam by bicycle is worth considering, though traffic is still a hazard on many highways without wide shoulders.  Trains and buses will carry your bike when you want a break.

The cyclo, a three-wheeled vehicle, is perfect for those who wish to move slowly and enjoy a city tour, especially in Hanoi.  There is no fixed rate for cyclo fare, rather you will have to ask and bargain with the cyclist before jumping onto his vehicle.  Cyclo fare is generally approximately 30-40% of taxi fare.  The Vietnamese government has announced plans to phase out cyclos in a cosmetic bid to improve Vietnam’s image.  If you’re in a hurry and have nerves of steel, try flagging down any passing motorbike.  Many people will be happy to give you a lift for a fee a little higher than the equivalent cyclo fare.

By boat
Many resort areas are served by ship routes at reasonable prices.  Four scheduled boat trips (1-1/2 hours each way) a day are available from Ho Chi Minh City to Vung Tau and back.  Ha Long City and Cat Ba Island are also connected by boat.