You must have a valid passport and tourist visa to enter Vietnam. Tourist visas are valid for a 30-day period from the day you enter and you should be able to get one at your local travel agent.
If you are travelling through Asia the easiest place to get a visa is in Bangkok, although you should be able to get one in any of Vietnam’s neighbouring countries. If, once you reach Vietnam, you decide you wish to stay longer than a holiday visa permits you (30 days) you can get a 30-day extension.
The currency used in Vietnam is the ‘Dong’. When written it is abbreviated to a ‘VND’ following the amount. Banknotes come in denominations of 200VND, 500VND, 1000VND, 2000VND, 5000VND and 10,000VND. The currency has no coins.
Vietnamese is Vietnam’s official language. There are different dialects spoken throughout the country. The country’s ethnic minorities speak various languages also.
Chinese is spoken widely in Cholon, Ho Chi Minh’s Chinatown.
Ho Chi Minh City has a very seasonal climate, divided into dry and wet seasons. The dry season begins in November and lasts until April. During this time temperatures can soar up as far as the 30s, but the average temperature is 26°C. The wet season lasts six months, beginning in May and ending in October. During these months the average temperature is 29°C and it can experience very heavy rainfall.
The easiest medical centre for tourists to locate is the International Medical Centre on D Han Thuyen in the Dong Khoi Area of District 1. There are more around the city and, as this is Vietnam’s largest city, a pharmacy is never far away.
There are no mandatory vaccinations required to enter Vietnam, although if you plan on visiting other parts of the country other than Ho Chi Minh City it is advised you get them. Check with a doctor before entering for advised vaccinations.
HCMC is 7 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.
Shopping is excellent in Ho Chi Minh with shops open 7 days a week between 9am and 10pm. Museums are open daily from 10am-4pm. Business hours are 7.30am-11.30am and 1.30am-4.30am and banks open from Monday to Friday and open 7.30am-11.30am and 1.30am-4.30am.
Vietnam’s largest city doesn’t have one official tourist office. Instead it has many travel agencies that, while are basically trying to sell you tours, are also good for information also.
VAT in Vietnam is organised on a four-tiered system – 0%, 5%, 10% and 20%. Most goods are taxed at 10%.
The best place to exchange your currency is in banks which are open on Mon-Fri between 8am-11.30am and 1pm-4pm. If you are travelling direct to Vietnam the best way to bring money is in US dollar traveller’s cheques.
Electricity in Vietnam is 220V at 50Hz. You may find in some cases that it is 110V at 50Hz.
Ringing Ho Chi Minh from a foreign country, dial their international access code which is +84, followed by 8 (the area code) and the local number.
To call overseas from within Vietnam dial 00 (Vietnam’s international access code) followed by the country code for the country you are calling, then the area code (dropping the 0) and the local number.
Vietnam’s emergency numbers are:
Ambulance – 115
Fire – 114
Police – 113
Directory assistance is 116, the international operator is 110 and time information is 117.
The city’s main post office is in District 1 in the Dong Khoi Area on D Nguyen Du. Open daily from 6am-10pm, it is beside Notre Dame Cathedral and is worth popping your head into even if you don’t need to.
Posting a letter costs between 800VND and 1,000VND.
Some restaurants charge 5% service charge, but this should be stated on their bill. Drivers and guides are usually tipped also.
It is worth noting what the public holidays are before you travel as the majority of businesses, banks and shops usually shut for the day.
In Vietnam they are New Year’s Day (January 1st), the Tet Festival/Vietnamese New Year (late January/early February), Founding of the Vietnamese Communist Party (February 3rd), Liberation of Saigon, 1975 (April 30th), International Labour Day (May 1st), Birthday of Ho Chi Minh (May 19th), Birthday of Buddha (June’s eighth day of the fourth moon), National Day (September 2nd) and Christmas Day (December 25th).