Suggested length of stay
For a good overview Vietnam is best visited over a minimum of 10-14 days. This will allow time to take in the highlights of the north, central and southern areas. Of course this can be extended indefinitely as there are so many points of interest throughout the country. If time is limited or you are combining with other SE Asian destinations shorter trips can be tailor-made to specific cities or regions.
Hanoi 4 nights (+ 3 nights + 1 night for Halong Bay), Sapa 3 nights, Hoi An + Hue 3 or 4 nights, Saigon 2 nights, Mekong Delta 2 or 3 nights, Dalat 2 or 3 nights, beach areas; Phan Thiet 4 nights, Nha Trang 3 nights, Phu Quoc 3 nights.
Modes of transport
For rail enthusiasts a new deluxe train connects Ho Chi Minh City with Nha Trang. The 5-star express train is equipped with cinema and dining facilities makes the journey in eight hours. Another 5 star option is the Victoria Express train to Sapa (an overnight or full day journey from Hanoi).
Other less luxurious carriages (Tulico and Ratraco carriages) also operate on the same train between Hanoi and Sapa, please ask for details.
Other train options in Vietnam include the “Reunification Express" that runs between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City; however this train is very basic with little in the way of facilities. Due to most clients time constraints and safety requirements Oasis do not recommend traveling on this train.
Adding a boat trip to a Vietnam itinerary is no problem, the only difficulty is deciding where and for how long! There are day trips along rivers and out at sea, as well as longer trips on live-aboard boats that travel through the Mekong River Delta to Siem Reap (RV Mekong) and cruise Halong Bay (Halong Ginger and Emeraude are our preferred cruise partners but if you have seen another option you feel would be more appropriate to your requirements please do not hesitate to ask). Halong Bay cruises can be arranged as a day trip or one, two or three night cruises.
Traveling the length of Vietnam by road is not a good option. Roads outside of the major cities are generally so poor that the huge distances between tourist sites are not really feasible to travel. Transfers are generally in a four seater Japanese cars when traveling alone or in pairs, people carriers and tour buses can easily be arranged in most areas for larger groups. If you have any specific requirements please do not hesitate to ask us. Taxis; are a cheap and reliable form of local transport. Always take a business card or get your hotel to write down the name of your hotel to show to the driver as English is not always widely spoken.
The huge distances between sites of interest are generally best traveled by air. The internal air network in Vietnam is relatively safe and reliable. Air travel between major cities is particularly recommended for those on a tight schedule that want to see as much of the country as possible. However road, rail and boat trips can easily be incorporated into the itinerary for those especially wanting to experience overland travel.
Cycling tours can easily be arranged in most areas of Vietnam.
The hills of Vietnam’s Northern Mountain Range are now well known to many trekkers, and of course Oasis can arrange a wide range of treks and climbs, including the challenging ascent of Mount Fansipan, Indochina’s highest peak. Less well known, but equally as adventurous and beautiful are treks around the limestone hills of Pu Luong, finishing in Cuoc Phuong National Park, an area of astonishing natural beauty and biodiversity located 140km’s south of Hanoi.
Due to the vast range of latitudes and altitudes, Vietnam's climate is remarkably diverse. Although the entire country lies in the tropics and subtropics, local conditions vary from frosty winters in the far northern hills to year-round, equatorial heat in the Mekong Delta. Because the majority of Vietnam is over 500 meters above sea level, most of the country enjoys a subtropical climate. The winter monsoon comes from the northeast between October and March bringing chilly winters to northern areas, but dry and warm temperatures to the south. Between April and October, the southwestern monsoon brings warm, humid weather to the whole country except for those areas sheltered by mountains. Between July and November, typhoons sometimes develop over the ocean to the east of Vietnam affecting the central and northern regions.
In the south, there are two main seasons: the wet and dry. The wet season lasts from May to November. During this time, there are heavy but short-lived downpours almost daily, usually in the afternoon. The dry season usually runs from December to April where late February to May is hot and humid.
Falling in the shadows of the Truong Son Mountains the central areas are generally dry and sunny between May and August but can be very wet between October and January. February and March are marked by a constant drizzling rain.
In short, any trip covering the length of Vietnam will most likely encounter a number of microclimates giving a cross-section of conditions. For detailed advice of what to expect in each area at the time you plan to travel please ask your consultant.
Vietnam is shaped in a long "S" stretching for 1600 kilometers from China in the north to the Gulf of Thailand in the south, but is only about 40 kilometers wide at its narrowest point near the country's center. The land mass makes it a similar size to Italy and Japan. The most heavily populated, grain producing areas located in the northern Red River Delta and southern in the Mekong Delta are linked with a thin, less productive and less densely inhabited coastal region. The country can be roughly divided into four geographical regions: the highlands and the Red River Delta in the north, Central Highlands running almost the full length of the borders with Laos and Cambodia, the coastal lowlands, and the Mekong River Delta in the south.
Rice is the most important food in Vietnam, but noodles, fish, and vegetables are also popular. Meat is relatively expensive, but fish and vegetables are widely available. A typical evening meal would be eaten in the home, and consist of fish and vegetable dishes, a dipping sauce made of soy and fish, and bowls of rice, followed by tiny cups of green tea, without milk. Western fare is widely available in the bigger cities, hotels and tourist destinations. The hottest food is typically found in the central regions where chilies are widely used. A tasty noodle soup known as “Pho” is the Vietnamese equivalent of fast food and should be tried at least once on any trip. Vegetarian food is not widely available in local restaurants but your guide can always let you know the best local options.
It is not advisable to drink tap water in Vietnam. Bottled water is very cheap and widely available in all areas of the country.
A brief history
The history of the Vietnamese people goes back several thousand years. For much of that time various self styled Emperors fought for their independence from successive Chinese Dynasties. The country gained autonomy in 939AD and complete independence a century later. The independent period temporarily ended in mid-19th century, when the country was colonized by France. During World War II, Japan expelled the French to occupy Vietnam, though they retained French administrators during their occupation. Soon after the Vietnamese drove the French out, but were then caught up in another, even fiercer, war.
Ho Chi Minh, the Vietnamese leader, wanted to run the country as a communist state but in 1954 Vietnam was divided into two separate states. The USA supported the government of South Vietnam in a war against Soviet backed Ho Chi Minh’s North Viet Nam. The Americans were not able to defeat the thousands of guerilla fighters, and in 1973 after sustaining heavy losses, they withdrew from Viet Nam. The country was later reunited as The Socialist Republic of Vietnam which officially came into existence on 2 July 1976.
The years after the war with the USA were very difficult, and most people lived in terrible poverty. Many people tried to flee the poverty and oppressed living conditions and Viet Nam was not easily accepted by the international community. This was compounded when Vietnamese forces invaded Cambodia in 1978 and helped to topple the Khmer Rouge regime.
While the economies of other SE Asia countries, such as Taiwan and Korea, expanded with international support, Vietnam’s economy sank slowly into decline during the 1980s. By 1986, the economy had almost collapsed, and a poor rice harvest threatened famine. The government responded with a program of reform – “Doi Moi” (renovation) - which opened up the country to market forces and foreign investment. This led to an explosion of economic activity and the advent of tourism to the country. The latest step in this process, known as “tut hau”, has been responsible for huge economic growth but despite this, the gap between rich and poor is increasing, and Vietnam remains one of the poorest countries in the world.
Oasis recommends all travelers to pre obtain visas before entering Vietnam. These can be obtained through the embassy or consulate or the Oasis visalink service. Oasis accepts no responsibility regarding the issue of visas.
US dollars are still the most widely accepted foreign currency but the days when this was the only tourist currency are long gone. ATM’s are now common place in the large cities but please check with your bank whether your ATM card will work in Vietnam. Credit cards are also widely accepted at major hotels and larger stores. However, we do recommend a small supply of cash to back up credit/debits cards is taken. Traveler’s Cheque can be cashed at banks in the major cities only. Small denominations of local currency (the Vietnamese Dong) are useful in more remote regions.
Tipping is not wide spread in Vietnam other than loose change in hotels and western restaurants. If you feel your guide has gone the extra mile for you (and we certainly hope they would do so) a cash tip would be very much appreciated. No more than US$10 per day between your guide (the guide will share this with your driver if applicable)
Inoculations & health precautions
Please consult with your doctor at least 6 week before travel to Vietnam.
The standard of medical facilities and care in Vietnam varies. Foreign private medical clinics and hospitals in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are well equipped and provide services comparable to Australian standards. Medical facilities and care at most public hospitals especially in areas outside Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City are poor and medical evacuation to a major centre may be required for even relatively minor operations. Doctors and hospitals expect cash payment prior to providing medical services, including for emergency care.
Ensure you have good medical insurance before you travel.
Australian Embassy and Consulate-General contacts in Vietnam
8 Dao Tan Street
Ba Dinh District, Hanoi
Telephone +84 4 831 7755
Facsimile 84 4 831 7711
5th floor, The Landmark Building
5B Ton Duc Thang Street
District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Telephone +84 8 829 6035
Facsimile +84 8 829 6031
Vietnamese electrical current is a mixture of 110 and 220 volts at 50 cycles, with either 2 flat pins or round-prong style. In some of the more budget oriented hotels you may well see exposed wiring and whilst not ideal, is completely normal. Blackouts are common place outside the bigger cities, it is recommended you bring along a small torch.
En route stopovers can be arranged, in either direction, in Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok to name but a few. Beach extensions to Thailand, Malaysia and/or Bali can also be added to any Vietnam itinerary. Cambodia and Laos also offer ideal pre or post travel options.
Non-stop flight time Sydney - Ho Chi Minh City approximately 9 hours
Time difference GMT + 7 hours