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Western Canada
The Wonders of Vietnam

Among our favorite destinations, Vietnam is a burgeoning and welcoming land. As both an ancient and developing nation, it functions a bit differently than western cultures in terms of practical matters. It also shares certain codes of modesty and conduct with its Asian neighbors. Here, we’ve listed some travel tips to help you get the most out of your trip to this amazing country of contrasts..

Dress Modestly

Although it may be less apparent in large cities, Vietnam still follows a modest dress code. It’s a good idea to respect the culture—here are some tips:

  • Avoid revealing and tight-fitting clothes
  • Don’t wear copious jewelry—flaunting wealth is impolite
  • Cover your shoulders and legs when entering pagodas and religious sites, including Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum
  • Nude and topless sunbathing is taboo

Conservative Culture

Although the Vietnamese are very social and hospitable people, loud speech, raucous laughter and public displays of affection are considered rude among locals. Always keep your demeanor cool and upbeat. Losing your temper in public will cause a serious loss of face for both you and the local.

Geographic Markers

The jumble of traffic and the maze of streets and alleys in Vietnam can challenge even a geographer. Look for landmarks any time you set out on foot. Take a business card from your hotel to show a taxi or cyclo (bicycle rickshaw) driver. Do the same with restaurants and shops you want to frequent.

Street Vendors

To truly appreciate the flavor of Vietnam, do what locals do and try some street fare—from a storefront, sidewalk vendor or bicycle food cart. Bun cha (barbequed strips of pork marinated with chili, ginger and garlic); banh mi (grilled meat with crunchy vegetables in a baguette); and pho (beef noodle soup) are just a few favorites. Follow your nose and don’t be afraid to try new things.

Road Rules

Traffic in Vietnam follows its own logic, which may be counterintuitive to yours. Narrow alleys and broad boulevards alike are filled with thousands of mopeds, cyclos (bicycle rickshaws) and cars angling in every direction. Going by rail or hiring a car and driver for long-distance forays is highly recommended. For city jaunts, take one of the many types of taxis.

Crossing the Street

Navigating street crossings in Vietnam as a pedestrian can be challenging. Look left, look right, and then do it again before venturing out—especially in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon) and Hanoi. The trick is to show confidence and proceed in a slow, steady manner so motorists can better anticipate your movement.

Vietnam by Motorbike

You should only drive a motorbike in Vietnam if your travel insurance covers it. Alternatively, you can get around town quickly and affordably by hiring a motorbike taxi. As with all taxis, you should agree on a price before departure and always wear a helmet (required by law for both passengers and drivers). If it’s cool enough, ride a bicycle in rural areas or the hill country for a slower tour.

Cash & Carry

Although many larger hotels and restaurants accept major credit cards, Vietnam is by and large a cash society. Carry small, crisp bills (torn and rumpled notes may be declined) to pay taxi and cyclo (bicycle rickshaw) fares, as well as merchants in smaller towns and markets. Notes are always preferable to coins. ATMs at ANZ and HSBC banks allow the highest withdrawal amounts, up to 4 million dong (approx. $205 U.S.); other banks only allow half that amount.

Dong or Dollar?

Both the Vietnamese dong (VND) and the U.S. dollar are widely accepted in Vietnam. Top-end locales may only list prices in dollars, while smaller merchants, cyclo (bicycle rickshaw) drivers and street vendors may only accept dong. Offering greater bargaining flexibility, the dong has smaller denominations that are easier to negotiate with than the dollar. Currently, $1 U.S. is worth approx. 19,224 VND.

Vietnamese Markets

The heart of Vietnam resides in its markets, where all walks of society pass through to eat, sell, purchase and socialize. These are three of our favorites in Ho Chi Minh City: Ben Thanh Market (District 1): Souvenirs, seafood, spices, fabric, clothing and more Binh Tay Market (District 5): Wholesale market in Chinatown; sells most everything; less touristy than Ben Thanh Night Market (District 1): Opens when Ben Thanh closes and offers most of the same items, but with more food and drink stalls, somewhat lower prices and cooler air Going north? Check out markets in Hanoi: www.haivenu-vietnam.com/des-hanoi-markets.htm

Districts of Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC)

To locate a specific address in HCMC, you’ll need to know the district number.
In general:
District 1: Financial and commercial center; houses most hotels, bars, shops, restaurants and the Ben Thanh Market
District 2: Embassy district with many foreign businesses, wealthy locals and villas
District 3: Populated with French colonial villas
District 5: HCMC’s Chinatown, famous for its street food

Undercover Finances

Large, outdoor markets are a thrill for shopping, and exploring the city is a great way to spend the day. As a safeguard, keep your money in a small purse or wallet (like our Eagle Creek® Navigator Neck Wallet), for easier transactions, hidden from would-be thieves. Find a wide selection of travel purses and wallets at travelsmith.com.

Weather Conditions

Due to its range of topography and long geographic span, Vietnam’s climate is very diverse. April and May usher in the southwestern monsoon season, when warm and humid weather prevails in most of the country. In the hills and mountains, however, the climate is cooler. For optimum travel dates, check www.vietnamtravelguide.com/weather.html. To find clothing for all climates, visit travelsmith.com

Vietnam by Rail

Rail travel offers a wonderful way to see the country without the stress of road traffic. Vietnam Railway’s air-conditioned trains with sleeper cars whisk passengers past vivid scenery between Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon) and Hanoi, and north to Lao Cai. The entire trip is a long journey (32–45 hours), so don’t attempt it all at once. For rail scenery at its best, try the coastal stretch between Hué and Danang (3–4 hours), where trains glide past hills, bays and islands. www.seat61.com/Vietnam.htm or www.vr.com.vn/English/

What’s the Proper Name?

During its reign as the French colonial capital and later as capital of the independent state of South Vietnam, the country’s largest city was known as Saigon. After the communist takeover in 1975, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) became the official name. Locals, however, still refer to it as Saigon.

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