Traveling Luck for Vietnam

Vietnam is located in Southeastern Asia, bordering the Gulf of Thailand, Gulf of Tonkin, and South China Sea, alongside China, Laos, and Cambodia.

Vietnam has borders with China for 1281km, Cambodia for 1228km and Laos for 2130km.

Land in Vietnam is low, flat delta in south and north; central highlands; hilly, mountainous in far north and northwest.

Vietnamese land covers an area of 329560 square kilometers which is slightly larger than New Mexico

As for the Vietnamese climate; tropical in south; monsoonal in north with hot, rainy season (May to September) and warm, dry season (October to March).

Vietnamese (singular and plural) speak Vietnamese (official), English (increasingly favored as a second language), some French, Chinese, and Khmer; mountain area languages (Mon-Khmer and Malayo-Polynesian).

Vietnamese National Map

Vietnamese Map

Regions of Vietnam

The conquest of Vietnam by France began in 1858 and was completed by 1884. It became part of French Indochina in 1887. Vietnam declared independence after World War II, but France continued to rule until its 1954 defeat by Communist forces under Ho Chi MINH. Under the Geneva Accords of 1954, Vietnam was divided into the Communist North and anti-Communist South. US economic and military aid to South Vietnam grew through the 1960s in an attempt to bolster the government, but US armed forces were withdrawn following a cease-fire agreement in 1973. Two years later, North Vietnamese forces overran the South reuniting the country under Communist rule. Despite the return of peace, for over a decade the country experienced little economic growth because of conservative leadership policies. However, since the enactment of Vietnam's "doi moi" (renovation) policy in 1986, Vietnamese authorities have committed to increased economic liberalization and enacted structural reforms needed to modernize the economy and to produce more competitive, export-driven industries. The country continues to experience protests from various groups - such as the Protestant Montagnard ethnic minority population of the Central Highlands and the Hoa Hao Buddhists in southern Vietnam over religious persecution. Montagnard grievances also include the loss of land to Vietnamese settlers.


Vietnam Country Profile

Vietnam is a densely-populated, developing country that in the last 30 years has had to recover from the ravages of war, the loss of financial support from the old Soviet Bloc, and the rigidities of a centrally-planned economy. Substantial progress was achieved from 1986 to 1997 in moving forward from an extremely low level of development and significantly reducing poverty. Growth averaged around 9% per year from 1993 to 1997. The 1997 Asian financial crisis highlighted the problems in the Vietnamese economy and temporarily allowed opponents of reform to slow progress toward a market-oriented economy. GDP growth averaged 6.8% per year from 1997 to 2004 even against the background of the Asian financial crisis and a global recession, and growth hit 8% in 2005. Since 2001, however, Vietnamese authorities have reaffirmed their commitment to economic liberalization and international integration. They have moved to implement the structural reforms needed to modernize the economy and to produce more competitive, export-driven industries. Vietnam's membership in the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) and entry into force of the US-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement in December 2001 have led to even more rapid changes in Vietnam's trade and economic regime. Vietnam's exports to the US doubled in 2002 and again in 2003. Vietnam hopes to become a member of the WTO in 2006. Among other benefits, accession would allow Vietnam to take advantage of the phase out of the Agreement on Textiles and Clothing, which eliminated quotas on textiles and clothing for WTO partners on 1 January 2005. Vietnam is working to promote job creation to keep up with the country's high population growth rate. However, high levels of inflation have prompted Vietnamese authorities to tighten monetary and fiscal policies.

Vietnamese natural resources include phosphates, coal, manganese, bauxite, chromate, offshore oil and gas deposits, forests, hydropower

extending 1,650 km north to south, the country is only 50 km across at its narrowest point

Vietnamese religion is 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).

Natural hazards in Vietnam include occasional typhoons (May to January) with extensive flooding, especially in the Mekong River delta.

Travel Advice on Vietnam

Vietnam

This advice has been reviewed and reissued with an amendment to the Summary, Health and Natural Disasters section.  The overall level of the advice has not changed.

SUMMARY

  • Outbreaks of Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) in Vietnam have resulted in a small number of human fatalities.  As a precaution, you should avoid live animal markets, poultry farms and other places where you may come into close contact with domestic, caged or wild birds; and ensure poultry and egg dishes are thoroughly cooked.  For further information see Health section below and also read the FCO’s Avian and Pandemic Influenza Factsheet.

  • Cases of Dengue Fever have doubled in the south of Vietnam in 2006.

  • You should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks, which could be against civilian targets, including places frequented by foreigners.

  • In late 2006, typhoons caused considerable damage in coastal areas in Vietnam, particularly in Ha Long Bay and the Hue/ Hoi An region.  Typhoons commonly occur in Vietnam between June and December.  Please see the Natural Disasters section of this Travel Advice and Hurricanes for more information.

  • Around 80,000 British tourists visit Vietnam every year.  Most visits are trouble-free.  The main type of incident for which British nationals require consular assistance in Vietnam is for petty crime (mostly theft) and deaths, mostly from natural causes.  Serious or violent crimes against foreigners are rare.  The majority of consular cases occur in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and in the central Hue/ Danang region.

  • We strongly recommend that you obtain comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling.  You should check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake.  Please see:  Travel Insurance.


SAFETY AND SECURITY

Crime

Crime levels are low, petty street crime is increasing in the larger cities (such as Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi) and tourist resorts.  Several violent assaults against tourists were reported on Cat Ba Island (close to Ha Long Bay) and in Nha Trang (Central Vietnam).  You should take sensible precautions.  Do not walk in secluded locations alone, or with people you do not know.  Petty crime is not confined to the backpacker district but also occurs in the main tourist shopping areas.  Bag snatchers on motorbikes can also be a problem.  You should avoid carrying handbags or wearing highly visible jewellery, especially necklaces, and expensive looking watches.  When possible, leave passports and valuables in a hotel safe and only carry a photocopy of the data page of your passport.  You should use taxis after dark to minimise the risk of robbery by cyclo or motorbike drivers.

When travelling by bus or train, remain vigilant against petty theft.  Always use licensed taxis or pre-arranged hotel pick-up when transferring from airports.  Do not accept offers of free transfers to hotels, as these are likely to be bogus.

You should be aware of spiked drinks, particularly late at night in the bars.  You are advised not to leave food or drink unattended or to accept food or drink from strangers.

Illegal drugs are increasingly available in major cities.  You should be aware that drugs are likely to have been ‘tampered with’ or spiked.

Political situation

Vietnam Country Profile.

Vietnam operates a single party political system, which does not welcome dissent.  Internal conflict is rare, although there have been some violent clashes between protestors and police in the Central Highlands region of Vietnam, which resulted in a number of deaths.

Local Travel

Unexploded mines and ordnance are a continuing hazard in former battlefields, particularly in central Vietnam and along the Laos Boarder.  You should not stray off main routes in rural areas and you should check with your tour operator before travelling to affected regions.

Road Safety

Some parts of Vietnam are fairly inaccessible.  In others, widespread road construction makes driving hazardous.

The standard of driving and vehicle maintenance is poor, including for public transport, and is the cause of many accidents and injuries.  Before driving any vehicle you must obtain a Vietnamese driving licence from the Vietnamese Road Administration in Hanoi, (fax:  +84 4 8571440) or, in Ho Chi Minh City, from the Department of Public Works and Transportation (tel:  +84 8 829 0451 or 0452, fax:  +84 8 829 0458).  Vietnamese law requires the use of crash helmets for motorbike riders on major highways.  You are advised to wear a crash helmet at all times when travelling by motorbike.

Pedestrians should take particular care crossing roads in major cities.  Driving is erratic and sometimes dangerous.  Taxis are a common mode of transport, but you should be vigilant avoid using smaller unlicensed taxis.  Always agree with the taxi driver the cost of your journey before embarking.

Sea Safety

There have been attacks against ships in the waters off Vietnam.  Mariners are advised to be vigilant; reduce opportunities for attacks; establish secure areas onboard; and report all incidents to the coastal and flag state authorities.

Rail Safety

Rail travel in Vietnam is generally safe (there was one serious accident in 2004).  There are sometimes incidents of crime on trains and therefore you should remain vigilant..


LOCAL LAWS AND CUSTOMS

You should avoid any involvement with drugs.  Drug trafficking and possession carries heavy penalties, including the death penalty, which is enforced in Vietnam.  Other crime, such as sex offences or fraud, can result in very long prison terms or a death sentence.  The Vietnamese legal system is not well developed and the standard of prisons is very poor.

Foreign visitors to Vietnam are not permitted to invite Vietnamese nationals into their hotel rooms.

Photography of, or near, military installations is generally prohibited.


ENTRY REQUIREMENTS

You must obtain a visa prior to travel unless, exceptionally, prior arrangements have been made (by your tour operator or if you are an officially sponsored visitor).  You should check visa validity and conditions carefully.  They are usually valid for one month.  There are fines and/or imprisonment if you overstay your visa.  Entry to Vietnam may be refused if your passport has less than six months validity.  For further information, check with your nearest  Vietnam Embassy.

Single parents or other adults travelling alone with children should be aware that some countries require documentary evidence of parental responsibility before allowing lone parents to enter the country or, in some cases, before permitting the children to leave the country.

You should retain the yellow customs form on entry to Vietnam, as this is required for exit.  If you lose this form you are likely to be fined on departure.

If you lose your passport or have over-stayed you will need to apply for a new visa from the Immigration authorities in order to leave the country.  This can only be done during working hours and usually takes three to five working days.


HEALTH

We strongly recommend that you obtain comprehensive travel and medical insurance (including medical evacuation) before travelling.  You should check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake.  Please see:  Travel Insurance

The standard of health care is sufficient in the major cities for treating minor injuries, but more complicated treatment may require evacuation to a third country.

Cases of Dengue Fever have doubled in the south of Vietnam in 2006.  Deaths resulting from the disease have also increased sharply.  There is no vaccine against the disease.  You should take care to avoid mosquito bites during the day, especially just after dawn and just before dusk.  Dengue fever is common in many parts of Vietnam, but particularly in the southern Mekong Delta region.

Malaria and Japanese encephalitis are common in many areas of Vietnam. Both diseases are transmitted by mosquitoes.  More than three quarters of British travellers who contracted malaria in 2005 did not take preventative measures, such as malaria prevention tablets.  However, malaria can occur despite appropriate prevention, and therefore you should promptly seek medical care in the event of a fever or flu-like illness in the first year following your return from travelling to a malaria risk country.  Before travelling you should seek medical advice about the malaria risk in Vietnam.

Typhoid can be a problem in the Mekong Delta.

Since 2004, cases of Meningitis (mostly affecting young people under the age of 15) have increased in Vietnam and in 2006 there was an increase in cases of Rubella (which is particularly dangerous if contracted by pregnant women).

You should seek medical advice before travelling and ensure that all appropriate vaccinations are up-to-date.  For further information on health check the Department of Health’s website at: www.dh.gov.uk

Avian Influenza (Bird flu)

There have been outbreaks of Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) in Vietnam.  This has led to a small number of human fatalities believed to have arisen through close contact with infected poultry.  Since the end of 2003, a number of human deaths have also occurred in Azerbaijan, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Iraq, Thailand and Turkey.

The risk from Avian Influenza is believed to be low, provided you avoid visiting live animal markets, poultry farms and other places where you may come into close contact with domestic, caged or wild birds; and ensure poultry and egg dishes are thoroughly cooked.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned of the possibility that the Avian Influenza outbreaks could lead at some point to a human flu pandemic, if the virus mutates to a form easily transmissible between people.

British nationals living longer term in an Avian-Influenza affected region should take personal responsibility for their own safety in the event of a future pandemic, including considering their access to adequate healthcare and ensuring travel documents are up to date.

You should read this advice in conjunction with the Avian and Pandemic Influenza Factsheet

NATURAL DISASTERS

In late 2006, typhoons caused considerable damage in coastal areas in Vietnam, particularly in Ha Long Bay and the Hue/ Hoi An region.  On 5 December 2006, tropical storm Durian hit Vietnam, claiming a number of lives and injuring hundreds in Ria Vung Tau province.

The typhoon season in Vietnam normally runs from June to December, Central and North Vietnam are most affected by seasonal storms and typhoons.  You should monitor local and international weather updates from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).  You can also access http://www.nhc.noaa.gov for updates.  Please also see Hurricanes for more detailed information about what to do if your are caught up in a typhoon.

Provincial areas are often affected by flooding, which may result in disruption to infrastructure and possible loss of life.  You should check with your travel agent before travelling to affected areas.

Vietnam, particularly the Central Region and Mekong Delta, is subject to sporadic serious flooding in the monsoon season.  (The timing of this varies across the country but is usually from June to October).  This can cause considerable damage to the infrastructure and on occasions has left whole areas isolated, including border-crossing points into Laos.  You should check the situation carefully through the media, weather reports, transport services and tour operators before embarking on journeys into the interior of the country.

Tragic accidents have occurred during mountain climbing excursions in the north of the country, and you should ensure such activity is undertaken under the supervision of reputable guides.


GENERAL

If things go wrong when overseas, please see:  What We Can Do To Help

Providing prompt consular assistance is difficult outside Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City because of Vietnam’s poorly developed infrastructure.  It is essential that you have comprehensive travel/medical insurance.

When checking into a hotel, you will have to surrender your passport so that the hotel can register your presence with the local police.  It is advisable to carry a photocopy of the data page from your passport, which can be used as proof of identity.

If intending to stay for more than one month you should register with the British Embassy in Hanoi or the British Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City.

Money

You should bring enough money for your stay.  US$ are most widely accepted.  Credit cards are becoming more widely accepted, but outside main centres you may find cash the only acceptable currency and find it difficult to cash travellers’ cheques.  ATM distribution is still poor and limited to the major cities and tourist areas.  It is possible to have funds transferred to Vietnam via international money transfer companies.

Foreign passport holders can exchange up to US dollars 500-worth of Vietnamese dong back into US dollars on departure.