Vietnam - A General Introduction
So you’re considering visiting Vietnam?
Well, you are in for one heck of an experience, and I say this after a visit to Vietnam changed my life. Two years after that initial visit I came back, this time without immediately booking my flight back. Since then I’ve been living in this wonderful, crazy, beautiful country and I haven’t looked back once. However, Vietnam may be a little overwhelming for the first time traveller, even if they’ve visited other South-East asian countries. That’s why I felt it necessary to compose this blogpost, as a general introduction to this country. In subsequent blog posts we’ll be taking a deeper look at the specific regions, customs and cuisine. Sign up to our mailing list to ensure you never miss out on any of the fun!
It’s rather difficult to try and capture the essence of Vietnam in text. How could one possibly find the right words to describe this country’s spirit, her charm, and the stunning soul that leaves so many travellers yearning for more. Resilient or industrious sounds cold and mechanical… Words like “soul”, “stunning”, and “charm” sound overly romantic and idealised. “Encapsulating” on the other hand, falls short of the mark… But unfortunately, words are the only medium I have, so they will have to make due, with all of their inadequacies on full display.
To call Vietnam diverse is a disservice. It’s more than diverse, it’s mesmerizing in its diversity. And by diversity we do not only mean it’s natural diversity. No, we mean it in every sense of the word, from the hundreds, if not thousands, of different dishes that you’ll find cooking, grilling and frying on every street corner, to its natural splendour and breathtaking beauty, all the way to 54 ethnic groups inhabiting this land, each with their own culture and stories.
In this blogpost we’ll be specifically looking at the weather and cuisine throughout Vietnam, as well as some pointers when it comes to the currency and safety when dealing with money.
Vietnam's 3 Main Regions
To make sense of it all we’ll need to look at Vietnam’s three main regions: Northern Vietnam – with Hanoi as its focal point; Central Vietnam – with Danang & Hoi An as its focal point; and Southern Vietnam – with Ho Chi Minh City as its focal point. Each of these regions can be subdivided into smaller regions, each with its own set of attractions and sights.
The North is famous for destinations like Halong and Lan Ha Bay, the mountainous areas of Sa Pa and Ha Giang, and the mystical province of Ninh Binh, which is also called Halong Bay on land.
The central area is famous for the lantern lit town of Hoi An and the amazingly preserved Imperial citadel of Hue. Other sights include the infamous demilitarized zone, and more recently, the absolutely instagramable attraction, the Hands Of God Bridge.
The South is famous for the bustling metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City, the slow beauty of the meandering Mekong Delta, the sand dunes of Mui Ne and of course, the Cu Chi tunnels which have been preserved since the Vietnam war.
The Weather In Vietnam
Just like you’ll find differing flavours throughout Vietnam, you’ll also find that the weather differs greatly between these three regions. This means that, practically speaking, there is no “perfect season” during which you should visit Vietnam. The weather that you’ll encounter during a two week trip might be just as diverse as the cuisine and customs of the people that you’ll encounter along the way. That being said, it is always worth being informed about what one could be expecting. Once again we’ll be looking at the regions’ weather in a general kind of way, with more in depth information in the destinations specific entries. For now we’ll focus on the three regions mentioned above.
The Weather In Northern Vietnam
Hanoi and Northern Vietnam have two distinct seasons – a cool and dry winter lasting from the middle of November to the beginning of March. December and January can get frosty, with maximum temperatures dipping below 15C on a couple of days. These cold days are the exception, with the average temperature hovering around 22C. While the winter is relatively dry, this does not mean that there is no rain or even a low rainfall amount. Instead it means that the type of rain differs from a light drizzle during the winter to a torrential downpour during the summer.
Summer lasts from March until the end of October. During this season, North Vietnam can get rather hot, with the mercury sometimes rising to highs in the mid 40’s. The average temperature during these months hovers in the middle 30’s. This is also the main rainfall season, with torrential rain pouring down in buckets. A note on the rain: it is seldom that it will rain non-stop for days on end. This usually happens when a storm hits the mainland from the coast. The normal rain pattern during this season is that it will rain for an hour or two, normally late afternoon or evening, with the rest of the day being a sunny and pleasant day. This ensures that you’ll rarely encounter those periods of being rained in.
Source: Friends Travel Vietnam https://www.friendstravelvietnam.com/en/activity/39840/hoi-an-cycling-fishing-half-day-tour
The Weather In Central Vietnam
Whether you dream about exploring the Ancient Citadel of Hue, losing yourself in Hoi An’s lantern lid alleyways, or just lazing about on one of Da Nang’s pristine beaches, the weather can play a big role in either aiding or destroying your perfect day out. A mistake that many a traveller has made is assuming that the weather in Central Vietnam would be the same as the weather of the south or the north. Long story short, it isn’t.
Central Vietnam has a hot and dry season, stretching from late January, all the way to the end of August. During this season temperatures generally reach the mid 30’s, but it isn’t unheard of for them to climb into the low 40’s. The minter months, ranging from September to the end of January do not bring much in the way of a change in temperature, but rainfall sharply increases during these months. The rainy season reaches its crescendo during the months of October and November, with the odd typhoon or two making its landfall in this area.
Overall, DaNang and Hoi An is pretty similar in their weather, with the two destinations being only 25km apart. Hue, on the other hand, is a bit cooler, especially during the early months of the year. The main reason for this is that DaNang and Hue is separated by a mountain range, which means that the weather can drastically differ between the two on any given day. So, just because its sunshine and clear skies in DaNang and Hoi An, don’t expect the same to be true of Hue.
Other destinations, like Dalat, Nha Trang and Phong Nha-Ke national park will be discussed in more detail in the destination specific blogs, focusing on Central Vietnam.
The Weather In Southern Vietnam
The south of Vietnam sports a fairly constant year round temperature that ranges between 25C and 35C. Given the nature of this constant temperature range, the seasons in the south is simply divided into a Wet and a Dry season. The dry season begins in November and ends in late April or early May.
The wet season lasts from May until early November. During this time, June, July, & August are the wettest months, but the rainfall rarely lasts for days on end. Much like it’s Northern brother Ho Chi Minh City will have short but heavy showers, mostly occurring during the middle of the day. The rest of the day will usually be the Sunny and warm days Vietnam are famous for.
Other destinations, like Dalat, Mui Ne, and Phong Phu Quoc Island will be discussed in more detail in the destination specific blogs, focusing on Southern Vietnam.
The Vietnamese Cuisine Throughout the 3 Regions
Barring the natural splendour that Vietnam has to offer, more and more people are visiting the “Land of The Rising Dragon” to experience its cuisine. And not without reason; the Vietnamese Cuisine is one of the most celebrated cuisines in the world, and is known for its freshness, subtle balances, and distinct flavours. One thing that travellers need to keep in mind, however, is that the cuisine in Vietnam is extremely regional. For instance, Pho Bo, the beef noodle soup that Vietnam is famous for, taste quite different in Hanoi compared to Ho Chi Minh City.
In the destination specific blog posts we’ll take a deeper look at regional delicacies, but as a rough guide it’s worth remembering that food in the south is generally more spicy and piquant; in the central areas the food is still spicy but the focus is more on the freshness of the dishes; while in the north the food is more balanced with the dishes focusing on subtlety of the flavours. A special blog focusing on the cuisine will soon follow, please sign up for our mailing list to ensure you don’t miss out!
Getting To Grips With the Vietnamese Dong
Don’t we all dream of the freedom of having that extra million in hard cash laying around and just begging to be spent on whatever our hearts desire? Well, as soon as you step off the plane and change your Euros or Dollars to Vietnamese Dong your dream will become a reality! The Vietnamese Currency, the Dong, comes in pretty large denominations.
The Denominations of the Vietnamese Dong can be divided into two categories: Paper Notes for the lower valued notes; and Plastic composite notes for the notes of higher value. All notes feature Ho Chi Minh, the late and esteemed leader of Vietnam, on the one side, with differing scenes on the other.
Travellers need to take care, because some of the notes are close to others in look and this may cause you overpaying spectacularly. Below follows a quick description of the notes, as well as the notes they can be confused with, if applicable. We always suggest that as soon as you arrive at your hotel, ask them to change your money for you so you have one of each note. Then spend some time familiarising yourself with the different notes. The easiest way for an unscrupulous vendor to spot an easy target is by being unsure of which note is which.
d1000 – Paper – Turquoise green and brown – can be confused with the d2000
d2000 – Paper – Light Pink and brown – Can be confused with the d1000
d5000 – Paper – Dark Blue
d10,000 – Plastic – Orange, Green, Brown – Can easily be confused with the d100,000 and the d 200,000 – Take Care!
d20,000 – Plastic – Light Blue – Can easily be confused with the d500,000, resulting in a loss of d480,000 – Take Care!
d50,000 – Plastic – Red – Can sometimes be confused with the d200,000.
d100,000 – Plastic – Green, Orange – Can easily be confused with the d10,000
d200,000 – Plastic – Orange, Red – Can be easily confused with the d10,000 and to a lesser extent with the d50,000 – Take Care!
d500,000 – Plastic – Light Blue – Can be easily confused with the d20,000 –Take Care!
ATM’s can be found in all major cities and most of the smaller towns. You can use these machines when you have a Visa or Maestro card. The fee will differ, depending on your bank back home, but the transaction fee should be somewhere between d25,000 and d60,000. We suggest that you find out from your bank in your home country whether there is a bank they would suggest to use while in Vietnam.
Staying Safe and Tipping
Safety is always important when withdrawing money, and this counts in Vietnam as it does throughout the rest of the world. While Vietnam enjoys a relatively low crime rate, minor crimes and crimes of opportunity still take place. When withdrawing try to opt for an ATM with a glass shelter around it. When these are not available, try to ask someone you know and trust to go with you, standing a couple of meters away. Always be wary of card skimmers. These are devices that is added on to the slot that you put your card into. It basically copies the information of your card onto a memory disc, allowing criminals access to your account. To minimize your risk always inspect the card slot – a quick and firm tug will indicate if there is something amiss. Remember, if it does not feel right, don’t withdraw money, there will be other ATMs available.
Most major shops and restaurants do accept Visa and Maestro cards, but is worth checking with the specific shop, before trying to make a purchase. For smaller shops and restaurants it’s cash only. That being said, as with most things in Vietnam, it is worth not assuming anything, and it helps to check beforehand, to avoid confusion or disappointment.
Tipping is not a common practise in Vietnam, but it is greatly appreciated when rewarding good service. Be especially mindful of the situation of the person providing the service, eg. a student or highschool kid providing a free walking tour would greatly appreciate gratuity, but they would also appreciate compliments and/or helpful feedback regarding the service that they provided. An honest smile and compliment sometimes goes further and means more than a dollar or euro would. When you feel it’s deserved, try to give both.
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