Vietnam, officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is a country in Southeast Asia. Its neighbouring countries are China to the north, Laos and Cambodia to the west.
Hanoi — Vietnam's capital and major tourist destination
Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) — Vietnam's largest city
Da Nang — the third largest city
Dalat — hub of the highlands
Haiphong — the "port city", a major port in north Vietnam
Hoi An — well-preserved ancient port, near the ruins of My Son
Hue — former home of Vietnam's emperors
Nha Trang — burgeoning beach resort
Vinh — the major city in northern Vietnam with very nice Cua Lo Beach
Con Dao — island off the Mekong Delta
Cu Chi — site of the Cu Chi Tunnels
Cuc Phuong National Park — home to some of Asia's rarest wildlife and the Muong hill people
The DMZ — ruins of old American military bases, spectacular mountain scenery and rugged jungles
Ha Long Bay — famous for its unearthly scenery
Kontum — relaxed little town providing access to a number of ethnic minority villages
Sa Pa — meet native indigenous people in the hills by the Chinese border
Tam Coc — Ha Long Bay-like karst scenery along the river
Tay Ninh — main temple of the Cao ?ài faith
The country is famous for its food, and Pho is considered Vietnam's national dish.
The tank that ended the war, Ho Chi Minh City
Linh Ung pagoda in Da Nang.
Vietnam is a one party authoritarian state, with the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam as the supreme leader and president as the head of state, the prime minister as the head of government. The Vietnamese legislature is the unicameral National Assembly, from which the prime minister is selected. In practice, the president's position is only ceremonial, with the prime minister wielding the most authority in government.
Economic reconstruction of the reunited country has proven difficult. After the failures of the state-run economy started to become apparent, the country launched a program of renovation, introducing elements of capitalism. The policy has proved highly successful, with Vietnam recording near 10% growth yearly (except for a brief interruption during the Asian economic crisis of 1997). The economy is much stronger than those of neighbouring Cambodia and Laos. Like most Communist countries around the world, there is a fine balance between allowing foreign investors and opening up the market.
There used to be extreme restrictions on foreigners owning property or attempting to sell. However, a new property regulation announced on 1 July 2015 now allows foreigners to own and lease apartments in Vietnam. The biggest property website in Vietnam is VN-Property.com.
According to government estimates Vietnam sees 7.9 million tourist arrivals each year. Vietnam has a return rate of just 5% compared to Thailand’s whopping 50%.
Most people in Vietnam are ethnic Vietnamese (Kinh), though there are many minority groups who tend to live in the highlands or big cities. The three biggest minorities are the Tay people, Thais and Muong. Others include the Khmers and Hmong. There is a sizable ethnic Chinese community in Ho Chi Minh City, most of whom are descended from migrants from Guangdong province and are hence bilingual in Cantonese, Teochew or other Chinese dialects and Vietnamese. The Chams, who live in the southern coastal areas of the country, represent the bulk of Muslims in Vietnam.
Buddhism, mostly of the Mahayana school, is the single largest religion in Vietnam, with over 80% of Vietnamese people identifying themselves as Buddhist and 40% practicing it. Christianity is the second largest religion at 11%, followed by the local Cao Dai religion. Islam, Hinduism and local religions also share small followings throughout the southern and central areas.
Vietnam is large enough to have several distinct climate zones.
The south has three somewhat distinct seasons: hot and dry from Mar-May/Jun; rainy from Jun/Jul-Nov; and cool and dry from Dec-Feb. April is the hottest month, with mid-day temperatures of 33°C (91°F) or more most days. During the rainy season, downpours can happen every afternoon, and occasional street flooding occurs. Temperatures range from stifling hot before a rainstorm to pleasantly cool afterwards. Mosquitoes are most numerous in the rainy season. Dec-Feb is the most pleasant time to visit, with cool evenings down to around 20°C (68°F).
The north has four distinct seasons, with a comparatively chilly winter (temperatures can dip below 15°C/59°F in Hanoi), a hot and wet summer and pleasant spring (Mar-Apr) and autumn (Oct-Dec) seasons. However, in the Highlands both extremes are amplified, with occasional snow in the winter and temperatures hitting 40°C (104°F) in the summer.
In the central regions the Hai Van pass separates two different weather patterns of the north starting in Langco (which is hotter in summer and cooler in winter) from the milder conditions south starting in Da Nang. Northeast monsoon conditions Sep-Feb with often strong winds, large sea swells and rain make this a miserable and difficult time to travel through Central Vietnam. Normally summers are hot and dry.
Lunar New Year dates
The year of the Tiger started on 1 Feb 2022
The year of the Cat will begin on 22 Jan 2023
The year of the Dragon will begin on 10 Feb 2024
The year of the Snake will begin on 29 Jan 2025
By far the largest holiday is Tet — the Lunar New Year — which takes place between late January and March. In the period leading up to Tet, the country is abuzz with preparations. Guys on motorbikes rush around delivering potted tangerine trees and flowering bushes, the traditional household decorations. People get a little bit stressed out and the elbows get sharper, especially in big cities, where the usual hectic level of traffic becomes almost homicidal. Then a few days before Tet the pace begins to slow down, as thousands of city residents depart for their ancestral home towns in the provinces. Finally on the first day of the new year an abrupt transformation occurs: the streets become quiet, almost deserted. Nearly all shops and restaurants close for three days, (the exception being a few that cater especially to foreign visitors; and hotels operate as usual.)
In the major cities, streets are decorated with lights and public festivities are organized which attract many thousands of residents. But for Vietnamese, Tet is mostly a private, family celebration. On the eve of the new year, families gather together and exchange good wishes (from more junior to more senior) and gifts of "lucky money" (from more senior to more junior). In the first three days of the year, the daytime hours are devoted to visiting -- houses of relatives on the first day, closest friends and important colleagues on the second day, and everyone else on the third day. Many people also visit pagodas. The evening hours are spent drinking and gambling (men) or chatting, playing, singing karaoke, and enjoying traditional snacks and sweets (women and children.)
Visiting Vietnam during Tet has good points and bad points. On the minus side: modes of transport are jammed just before the holiday as many Vietnamese travel to their home towns; hotels fill up, especially in smaller towns; and your choice of shopping and dining is severely limited in the first days of the new year (with a few places closed up to two weeks). On the plus side, you can observe the preparations and enjoy the public festivities; pagodas are especially active; no admission is charged to those museums and historical sites that stay open; and the foreigner-oriented travel industry of backpacker buses and resort hotels chugs along as usual. Visitors also stand a chance of being invited to join the festivities, especially if you have some local connections or manage to make some Vietnamese friends during your stay. When visiting during Tet, it's wise to get settled somewhere at least two days before the new year, and don't try to move again until a couple of days after.
Lesser holidays include 1 May, the traditional socialist labour day, 2 September, Vietnam's national day, King Hung celebration on 10 March of Lunar Calendar, commemorating past kings, and Reunification Day on 30 April, marking the fall of Saigon in 1975. Around those times, trains and planes tend to be sold out, and accommodation at the beach or in Dalat are hard to find. Best to book far in advance.