Facts

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Population: 89.71 million (2013)
Area: 127,881 mi²
Capital City: Hanoi


About
Vietnam officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. Vietnam is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, and Malaysia across the South China Sea to the southeast. Its capital city has been Hanoi since the reunification of North and South Vietnam in 1975.
Once a lesser-known destination, Vietnam has become widely popular in recent years. With Hanoi consistently ranked among the world’s top 10 destinations by TripAdvisor, one can now find European tourists as far as in Ha Giang, one of the most remote mountainous provinces.


Currency

The Vietnamese Dong, or đồng, has been the currency of Vietnam since 1978. Issued by the State Bank of Vietnam, it has the symbol ₫ and is subdivided into 10 hào. However, the hào is now worth so little that it is no longer issued. The word đồng refers to Chinese bronze coins which were used as currency during the dynastic periods of China and Vietnam.

Climate
Because of differences in latitude and the marked variety in topographical relief, the climate tends to vary considerably from place to place. During the winter or dry season, extending roughly from November to April, the monsoon winds usually blow from the northeast along the Chinese coast and across the Gulf of Tonkin, picking up considerable moisture. Consequently, the winter season in most parts of the country is dry only by comparison with the rainy or summer season. The average annual temperature is generally higher in the plains than in the mountains, and higher in the south than in the north. Temperatures vary less in the southern plains around Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta, ranging between 21 and 28 °C (69.8 and 82.4 °F) over the course of the year. Seasonal variations in the mountains and plateaus and in the north are much more dramatic, with temperatures varying from 5 °C (41.0 °F) in December and January to 37 °C (98.6 °F) in July and August.


Languages
The official national language of Vietnam is Vietnamese, a tonal Mon–Khmer language which is spoken by the majority of the population. In its early history, Vietnamese writing used Chinese characters. In the 13th century, the Vietnamese developed their own set of characters, referred to as Chữ nôm. The folk epic Truyện Kiều by Nguyễn Du was written in Chữ nôm. Quốc ngữ, the romanized Vietnamese alphabet used for spoken Vietnamese, was developed in the 17th century by the Jesuit Alexandre de Rhodes and several other Catholic missionaries. Quốc ngữ became widely popular and brought literacy to the Vietnamese masses during the French colonial period.
Vietnam’s minority groups speak a variety of languages, including Tày, Mường, Cham, Khmer, Chinese, Nùng, and H’Mông. The Montagnard peoples of the Central Highlands also speak a number of distinct languages. A number of sign languages have developed in the cities.
The French language, a legacy of colonial rule, is spoken by many educated Vietnamese as a second language, especially among the older generation and those educated in the former South Vietnam, where it was a principal language in administration, education and commerce; Vietnam remains a full member of the Francophonie, and education has revived some interest in the language. Russian – and to a much lesser extent German, Czech and Polish – are known among some Vietnamese whose families had ties with the Soviet bloc during the Cold War.


Economy
In 2012, Vietnam’s nominal GDP reached US$138 billion, with a nominal GDP per capita of $1,527. According to a December 2005 forecast by Goldman Sachs, the Vietnamese economy will become the world’s 21st-largest by 2025, with an estimated nominal GDP of $436 billion and a nominal GDP per capita of $4,357. According to a 2008 forecast by PricewaterhouseCoopers, Vietnam may be the fastest-growing of the world’s emerging economies by 2025, with a potential growth rate of almost 10% per annum in real dollar terms. In 2012, HSBC predicted that Vietnam’s total GDP would surpass those of Norway, Singapore and Portugal by 2050.
Vietnam has been for much of its history a predominantly agricultural civilization based on wet rice cultivation. There is also an industry for bauxite mining in Vietnam, an important material for the production of aluminum. The Vietnamese economy is shaped primarily by the Vietnamese Communist Party in Five Year Plans made through the plenary sessions of the Central Committee and national congresses. The collectivization of farms, factories and economic capital is a part of this central planning, with millions of people working in government programs. Vietnam’s economy has been plagued with inefficiency and corruption in state programs, poor quality and underproduction, and restrictions on economic activity.


Safety
Rural Vietnam is a relatively safer place for tourists than urban Vietnam. Low level street crimes like bag snatching regularly occur in major cities like Hanoi and Saigon. Few instances of knife attacks during robberies have been reported. Touristy areas and high population cities in Vietnam are areas to watch for thieves, pickpockets, and scammers. They especially target foreigners. Pickpockets and motorbike snatching have found their home especially in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Nha Trang. Thieves on motorbikes will snatch bags, mobile phones, cameras, and jewelery off pedestrians and other motorbike drivers, and it is a crime committed so regularly that even local Vietnamese are common victims.
Also infamously common are thefts on popular beaches. Never leave your bag unattended on beaches. In hotel rooms, including five star ones, reports that belongings are stolen have been heard regularly by hotel staff, especially when it comes to small personal items of high value (cash, digital cameras, etc), so take your cash or put it in a security deposit box, and the same with small digital equipment.
One of the tricks employed by con men is targeting tourists traveling on bikes by deliberately crashing into tourists bikes to blame them to extort money. Corruption is a big problem in Vietnam and locals are convinced that the police are not to be trusted. Police officers may stop motorcycle riders for any reason including missing insurance papers or a missing driving license, and fine you around USD$20 for each offense. Remember to stand your ground and all officers are required to write all traffic violations in their notebook and give you a receipt with directions to pay to the station (not the officer).


Health
Tropical diseases such as malaria, dengue fever and Japanese encephalitis are endemic in rural Vietnam. Malaria isn’t as much a concern in the bigger cities such as Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi, but always remember to take mosquito liquid repellent with you. It may be very useful, especially in the countryside and crowded neighbourhoods.
Thanks to much improved hygiene conditions in recent years, cooked food sold by street vendors and in restaurants, including blended ice drinks, are mostly safe. Just use your common sense and follow the tips under the Traveller’s diarrhoea article and you’ll most likely be fine.
Do not drink tap water, it’s a game of Russian Roulette. Always drink only bottled water.


Education
Vietnam has an extensive state-controlled network of schools, colleges and universities, and a growing number of privately run and partially privatised institutions. General education in Vietnam is divided into five categories: kindergarten, elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, and universities. A large number of public schools have been constructed across the country to raise the national literacy rate, which stood at 90.3% in 2008.
A large number of Vietnam’s most acclaimed universities are based in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Facing serious crises, Vietnam’s education system is under a holistic program of reform launched by the government. Education is not free; therefore, some poor families may have trouble paying tuition for their children without some form of public or private assistance. Regardless, school enrollment is among the highest in the world, and the number of colleges and universities increased dramatically in the 2000s, from 178 in 2000 to 299 in 2005.


Cuisine
Vietnamese cuisine traditionally features a combination of five fundamental taste “elements”: spicy (metal), sour (wood), bitter (fire), salty (water) and sweet (earth). Common ingredients include fish sauce, shrimp paste, soy sauce, rice, fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables. Vietnamese recipes use lemongrass, ginger, mint, Vietnamese mint, long coriander, Saigon cinnamon, bird’s eye chili, lime and basil leaves. Traditional Vietnamese cooking is known for its fresh ingredients, minimal use of oil, and reliance on herbs and vegetables, and is considered one of the healthiest cuisines worldwide.
In northern Vietnam, local foods are often less spicy than southern dishes, as the colder northern climate limits the production and availability of spices. Black pepper is used in place of chilis to produce spicy flavors. The use of such meats as pork, beef, and chicken was relatively limited in the past, and as a result freshwater fish, crustaceans particularly crabs and mollusks became widely used. Fish sauce, soy sauce, prawn sauce, and limes are among the main flavoring ingredients. Many signature Vietnamese dishes, such as bún riêu and bánh cuốn, originated in the north and were carried to central and southern Vietnam by migrants.


Culture
Due to its long history as a tributary state of China, as well as several periods of Chinese occupations, Vietnamese culture is heavily influenced by that of Southern China, with Confucianism forming the basis of Vietnamese society. The Vietnamese language also contains many loan words from Chinese, though the two languages are unrelated. Buddhism remains the single largest religion in Vietnam, though like in China but unlike in the rest of northern Southeast Asia, the dominant school of Buddhism in Vietnam is the Mahayana School.
Nevertheless, Vietnamese culture remains distinct from Chinese culture as it has also absorbed cultural elements from neighbouring Hindu civilizations such as the Champa and the Khmer empires. The French colonization has also left a lasting impact on Vietnamese society, with baguettes and coffee remaining popular among locals.


Transport
Traveling by plane is cheap and fast. For longer distances it is probably the best way to get around.
The railway is the least developed transportation infrastructure in Vietnam. Most of the network was built during the period of French colonization and since then it has not been expanded. There have been various programs for rehabilitation in the last decade but the network still has many deficiencies. Nevertheless, trains are undoubtedly the most comfortable way to travel overland in Vietnam, although prices are more expensive than buses.
Long-distance bus services connect most cities in Vietnam. Most depart early in the morning to accommodate traffic and late afternoon rains, or run overnight. It is important to note that average road speeds are typically quite slow, even when travelling between cities. For example a 276 km (172 mi) journey from the Mekong Delta to Ho Chi Minh City by bus will likely take about 8 hours.
The xe ôm (literally ‘hugging vehicle’) is a common mode of transport for Vietnamese as well as tourists. They are widely available and reasonably cheap it should get you anywhere within the city centre.
As a coastal country, Vietnam has many major sea ports, including Cam Ranh, Da Nang, Hai Phong, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Gai, Qui Nhơn, Vũng Tàu and Nha Trang. Further inland, the country’s extensive network of rivers play a key role in rural transportation, with over 17,700 kilometres (11,000 mi) of navigable waterways carrying ferries, barges and water taxis.

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