Vietnam travel guide overview
LANGUAGE: Because Vietnamese has six different tones, it is a difficult language for most foreigners to speak despite the fact that the Roman alphabet is used in modern Vietnamese. The same word can have six different meanings depending on the tone used to pronounce it. In the cities and larger towns English is becoming popular and is now spoken by many younger people while some of the older generation still speak fluent French. Russian and Chinese are also spoken by some people
RELIGION : Buddhism is the dominant religion in Vietnam usually combined with elements of Confucianism and Taoism. About 10% of the country's population are Catholic and there are also communities of Protestants and Muslims. Vietnam is also home to a unique religion called Cao Dai, a religious cocktail of all the world's major faiths.
MONEY- SHOPPING - TIPPING The currency in Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong although US Dollars are accepted in many hotels, restaurants and shops. Banks are open Monday to Friday and some are open Saturday morning. In the major cities there are bureaux de change and most hotels will change US Dollars although for other currencies it is usually necessary to visit a bank. Travellers cheques can be exchanged at banks and some exchange bureaux but can be difficult to change outside of the major cities. Visa Card and Mastercard are now accepted in many hotels, restaurants and shops but US Dollars cash are still the most reliable form of money to carry. There are some ATM machines appearing now in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. Things to look out for in Vietnam include lacquerware, silk, woodcarvings, hill tribe fabrics and handicrafts, embroidery, marble, ceramics, silver jewellery, antique watches and paintings. Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi have the best choice when it comes to shopping but Hoi An in the centre of Vietnam is also a very good place to look for souvenirs. Tipping for good service is not expected but is always appreciated in these developing nations. It is customary, though not compulsory, to tip tour guides and drivers at the end of a tour. Hotel and station porters should also be tipped.
BUSINESS HOURS Offices are usually open from Monday to Friday from 07:30 or 08:00 until 17:00 or 18:00 and often close for lunch between 11:30 and 13:00. Some offices also open Saturday morning. Shops open early and close any time between 18:00 and 22:00. Most shops are open 7 days a week.
PUBLIC HOLIDAY The most important and widely celebrated public holiday of the year is Tet, the Lunar New Year, which coincides with the cycle of the moon. This public holiday usually takes place in late January or early February and lasts officially for three days, although many businesses are closed the entire week. Other important public holidays include the Liberation of Saigon (April 30), International Worker's Day (May 1), Ho Chi Minh's birthday (May 19), and Vietnamese National Day (September 2). Customs And Immigration On arrival in Vietnam, you must complete white and blue duplicate arrival-departure forms. The blue copy is to be kept with your passport at all times. Hotels, guest houses and private hosts must register overnight guests with the local police and these blue forms are essential for this purpose. Incoming visitors must also fill out duplicate yellow and white customs declaration forms. The yellow copy is to remain with your passport until departure. Don't lose it! Customs demands that you declare foreign currency in excess of US$ 7,000 gold and jewellery not for personal use and videotapes. Duty free allowances are 200 cigarettes, two litres of alcohol, and perfume and jewellery for personal use. Banned Material Vietnam has strict laws on bringing in anti-government literature, pornography, firearms and weapons. CDs and tapes are often retained for screening, but will be returned after a few days. It is illegal to remove antiques from Vietnam. When buying handicrafts, especially those that look old, ask the retailer for a receipt and a declaration that the item may be exported.
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Vietnam general information