Introduction to Vietnam

Did you know that there are around ten million motor bikes travelling on Vietnam’s roads every single day? At Vietnamese’s school children hear gongs instead of bells, and the rate of literacy is 94% - although Vietnam is really a developing nation. The most important festival is called “Tet Nguyen Dan”, and it celebrates rebirth, birthdays and New Year.

As for hobbies - which is most popular in Vietnam? It’s Lizard fishing! And which surname is the most common and around 40% of people in Vietnam share this family name? Nguyen.

Read more information below!

Country local name: Cong Hoa Xa Hoi Chu Nghia Viet Nam
Government type: Communist state
Capital: Hanoi (Ha Noi)
Time difference: UTC+7 (12 hours ahead of Washington, DC, during Standard Time)
Independence: 2 September 1945 (from France)
National holiday: Independence Day, 2 September (1945)
Population: 93,421,835 (July 2014 est.)
Ethnic groups: Kinh (Viet) 85.7%, Tay 1.9%, Thai 1.8%, Muong 1.5%, Khmer 1.5%, Mong 1.2%, Nung 1.1%, others 5.3% (1999 census)
Languages: Vietnamese (official), English (increasingly favored as a second language), some French, Chinese, and Khmer, mountain area languages (Mon-Khmer and Malayo-Polynesian)
Religions: Buddhist 9.3%, Catholic 6.7%, Hoa Hao 1.5%, Cao Dai 1.1%, Protestant 0.5%, Muslim 0.1%, none 80.8% (1999 census)
Terrain: low, flat delta in south and north; central highlands; hilly, mountainous in far north and northwest
Elevation extremes: lowest point: South China Sea 0 m;
highest point: Fan Si Pan 3,144 m.
Natural resources: phosphates, coal, manganese, rare earth elements, bauxite, chromate, offshore oil and gas deposits, timber, hydropower, arable land
Agriculture – products: rice, coffee, rubber, tea, pepper, soybeans, cashews, sugar cane, peanuts, bananas; poultry; fish, seafood
Industries: food processing, garments, shoes, machine-building; mining, coal, steel; cement, chemical fertilizer, glass, tires, oil, mobile phones
Exports: clothes, shoes, electronics, seafood, crude oil, rice, coffee, wooden products, machinery
Shopping hours: Most shops are open 7 days a week from 8 am to 8 pm, some of them even till 10 pm.
Major infectious diseases: degree of risk: very high
food or waterborne diseases: bacterial diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever
vectorborne diseases: dengue fever, malaria, and Japanese encephalitis
tropical in south; monsoonal in north with hot, rainy season (May to September) and warm, dry season (October to March)
Natural hazards:
occasional typhoons (May to January) with extensive flooding, especially in the Mekong River delta


Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay

Vietnam has a tropical monsoon climate which is determined by two monsoon seasonsthe northeast monsoon (from October to April) and the southwest monsoon (from April to September). To be more clear and make it easier to remember, think of Vietnam as having three climate zones: north, central and south. Remember though, that whenever you plan on traveling, there will always be high season some place in Vietnam. But let’s have a closer look at the climate zones: 

Northern Vietnam is definitely cooler than the rest of the country. Generally, temperatures range from 14°C - 40°C, so days are mainly sunny. It is much colder between December and March, especially in the mountain areas, while it will start getting hot and damp in April - and this weather will last till October. As for the wettest season, you can brace yourselves for more than usual rain from May till October (July to September are definitely the wettest months). Perhaps, the best time to visit the north of Vietnam is from November to the end of April.



When it comes to the central part of Vietnam, Hoi An, Danang and Nha Trang, Quy Nhon, it’s best to go there during the warm season - between July and October. That’s when you will experience 21°C- 32°C of pleasant temperatures. Also, there is a coastal wind during these months, which brings a nice, cool wave of fresh air. However, you should know that during this time of year you may come across storms, as well as floods and typhoons - especially in August, September and November. Other months can be a bit cooler in this area.

In southern Vietnam temperatures rarely drop below 20°C, and the weather is rather steamy hot throughout the whole year. March, April and May are the hottest and at the same time the driest months. June and July get a lot of rain (due to the southwest monsoon), and this weather will last till September or even November. But if you’re more interested in the dry season, then you should visit between December and May.

Vietnamese food is considered to be one of the healthiest cuisines in the world because of its ingredients and the way of preparing dishes. Moreover, as a result of many years of cultural exchange with Cambodia, China and even France (especially baguettes), this cuisine is extremely diverse. As you may know, rice is the basic ingredient of many dishes in Southeast Asia – and it is no different in Vietnam. Even pasta can be made of rice! It is often served with seafood, fish, meat, vegetables, soup or stew. After the main dish Vietnamese food lovers appreciate a good desert, and often you will come across Bánh bò màu, which is a type of cake. The whole meal is complemented by green tea, which is good for your digestive system. In general, in Vietnam you won’t have trouble finding a wide variety of drinks. You might be interested to know that most meals are usually served with chopsticks. Perhaps consider some sort practice before you visit. :-) 

Now let’s find out more about Vietnamese food, drinks & flavors.

Pho - a popular noodle soup served with beef or chicken, with the addition of ingredients such as leaves, mint, ginger, coriander, lime, egg yolk, basil, chili pepper, vinegar, bean sprouts, which are used interchangeably and add great flavor. Bun cha - small patties or hamburgers of seasoned, grilled pork served with cold rice noodles - is a popular choice during lunchtime, and is served along with a big bowl of salad leaves and a slightly sweet sauce. Then we have Lau. It’s a special Vietnamese hot pot with vegetables, beef and prawns. You should also try Nem – small, crunchy spring rolls filled with pork, mushrooms, prawn or crab meat (sometimes also eggs and vegetables) wrapped in rice paper and then deep fried. However, if you are looking for a more light & healthy diet – then you should go for Goi cuon - spring rolls made from shrimp, pork (or both), mixed with herbs and rolled up in rice paper. You can order goi cuon together with a peanut sipping sauce, which is served cold and adds an interesting taste to this dish.

Green tea is the most common drink, although Vietnam is the second largest producer of coffee. People drink very strong coffee and in small quantities, often with condensed milk. In terms of beer - Saigon Export and Saigon Lager are the most popular local brands, while the Bia Hoi is probably the cheapest beer in the world. It is an unpasteurized beer, brewed daily, and you can buy it at almost every single bar for 13-25 cents. Most of the drinks are served with crushed ice, including beer.

Vietnamese girl

Vietnamese girl. Photo by Brigitta Dao.

·    The Vietnamese language is actually quite difficult to learn because it has six different tones which can change the meaning of a word.
·    Did you know that earlier the country was called Viet Nam?
·    The Vietnam War is known as ‘the American War’ in this country.
·    Vietnamese speak English, French, Chinese and other languages.


Xin chao. – Hello.
Tam biet. – Goodbye.
Ban co khoe khong? – How are you?
Cam on ban toi khoe. – I’m fine, thank you.
Ban thi sao? – And you?
Ten toi la… - My name is...
Cam on rat nhieu. – Thank you very much.
Xin loi. – Sorry/ Excuse me.
Ban co noi duoc tieng Anh khong? – Do you speak English?
Toi khong hieu. – I don’t understand.
Ban co the giup toi duoc khong? – Can you help me?
Vang. – Yes.
Khong. – No.
Bao nhieu? – How much?
Nha ve sinh o dau? – Where is the toilet?
Tot! – Good!
Cai nay la gi? – What is this?
Toi muon an. – I’d like to eat.
Toi muon uong. – I’d like to drink.


Wonderful Hanoi

·    The Vietnamese are a hospitable and open people, with a very friendly attitude. Family and friendships are extremely important in their lives. 
·    When greeting someone, shake hands and bow your head slightly.
·    As for dress code – try to wear modest clothes. A conservative style is seen as more appropriate than a liberal one. When planning to visit temples and pagodas remember always to have your whole body covered. It would be perceived as extremely rude to show off. Good advice for women is to avoid putting on too much make-up.  
·    Avoid touching the other person during your conversation, and don’t look too long into their eyes. Indirect eye contact is more comfortable for your interlocutor. 
·    Vietnamese people feel quite free about the time and schedules. For them, it is much more important to be empathetic.
·    If you are invited to someone’s home, it is nice to bring some fruits, sweets, flowers (but not chrysanthemums or yellow flowers), or a gift wrapped in colorful paper.  
·    Under no circumstances should you touch someone’s head or shoulders. You shouldn’t also point your fingers at people. The same goes for public displays of affection – they will make people around you feel uncomfortable.
·    When at a restaurant or if you have been invited to someone’s house – remember always to finish your meal, especially rice. Leaving something on your dish would be considered a waste. Our advice is: simply don’t order more than you think you can eat. :-)

Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay

Hanoi is Vietnam’s charming capital city. At the heart of the city are its Old Quarters, designed in colonial style, with dynastic temples and national monuments which today remain exactly in the same state as the end of the Vietnam War found them. Having said that, Hanoi is abundant with hotels, restaurants, and new office blocks. You will also have many opportunities to practice Tai Chi or yoga on the shores of the Hoan Kiem Lake. Tourists have many places to visit, such as the Grand Opera House, Temple of Literature, One Pillar Pagoda (a complex of app. 600 temples and pagodas) Saint Joseph Cathedral, and the Presidential Palace. 

Ha Long Bay is an absolutely amazing natural wonder situated in northern Vietnam, located about 130 km (80 miles) from Hanoi. This extraordinary area which has been placed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site is utterly unique – there is no other place which has to offer over 2 000 jungle-covered islands with grottoes, lakes, caves and sinkholes. You can rent kayaks or a junk boat and explore the area by yourself! This surrealistic scenery will make you feel as if you were exploring unknown areas in a fantasy movie.

Hoi An is like a living museum and is famous for its Old Town architecture. This picturesque city is situated in the middle of the Vietnamese coast, and attracts people because of its cozy atmosphere, delicious food, and two lovely beaches. What’s more, it is a fantastic place to admire it at night. Hoi An has an amazing charm which comes from its narrow and winding lanes, traditional wooden houses and tailor shops selling…. almost everything.

The northwest market town of Sapa is surrounded by a variety of hills, mountains and rice terraces, and can provide you the perfect of peace – if that’s what you’re looking for. Go trekking and admire incredible views while you’re on your way through the jungle, and take a moment to explore some if Vietnam’s traditional and tiny hill-tribe villages, or perhaps even take a rice-paddy tour. Sounds like a place out of touch with world? You will understand the real charm of Sapa once you’re there.

Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s most busy city. It’s cultural assets, commerce and economic pace set that pulsating energy that will pull you into its chaotic whirl. The city’s previous name was Saigon, and it was the southern capital of Vietnam. Today, it offers tourists plenty of attractions. You can enjoy its charming French colonial architecture, Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, The War Remnants Museum, Cu Chi Tunnels (more than 120km of tunnels!), the Jade Emperor Pagoda and many, many others.

Hue is located around the Perfume River in Central Vietnam. Culture-seekers might be interested to see the Complex of Hue Monuments, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as hundreds of monuments and ruins, such as the Forbidden Purple City, the tomb of Emperor Minh Mang, the tomb of Emperor Tu Duc, the Imperial City, the ornate Imperial Citadel, royal tombs and the colorful Thanh Toan Brige. As you can see, you simply can’t pass on the opportunity to see this city while travelling in Vietnam.

Mekong Delta is quite easy to reach from Ho Chi Minh City. People call this place “Vietnam’s Rice Basket” – why? Well, first of all, it is situated in the country’s agricultural region with a dazzling variety of greens. For example, there are many fruit orchards, plantations, fish farms, bird sanctuaries, sugar cane groves and quiet little villages. And finally, it is surrounded by a maze of canals and streams fed by the Mekong River. Being there, you should visit the floating market, ornate Khmer pagodas and Buddhist temples.

Nha Trang is an amazing beach resort, located on Asia’s great bays on the coast of South Central Vietnam. There are many things which you can do here and admire, such as amusement and water parks, old-school spa treatment (mud baths), it’s lovely promenade, boat trips around the city’s outlying islands, picturesque mountains, and finally - the city’s turquoise bay. Po Nagar Cham Towers, Long Son Pagoda, Alexandre Yersin Museum, Ba Ho falls and many other attractions are waiting for you!

Son My is an enchanting village, located on the central coast of Vietnam. It is often visited by tourists during their trips from Hoi An or Da Nang. Here you can see a set of ruins still remaining from the ancient Cham Empire -  also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Besides many destructions – only around 20 out of 68 structures have survived to this day – you may admire this region’s intimate nature, which is still as enthralling as ever.

Da Nang is the largest city in Central Vietnam. Here you will find a laid-back and friendly atmosphere, and travelers can easily enjoy beaches, restaurants, trendy bars, cafes, nightlife and spectacular bridges. It is also a good idea to go for a walk and explore the limestone caves, Marble Mountains and Monkey Mountain.

You should also visit Da Lat, Phan Thiet, Can Tho, Mui Ne, Con Dao Islands and few more places if you will be there. Have fun! 

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Read our stories from our trips to NEPAL and PERU combined with volunteering experience, which we made in 2016 and 2017 >>

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