General Information Population-84million people Total Area - 329,560 square kilometers Capital - Hanoi Time Zone - Standard time zone: UTC/GMT +7 hours Location Vietnam is one of the most beautiful countries located in the South East Asia. In the North, Vietnam shares the long borderline with China. In the East, Vietnam is bordered by the Gulf of Tonkin, inn the East and South by the South China Sea, in the South West by the Gulf of Thailand, and in the West by Cambodia and Laos. Owning to stretching the length of the Indochinese Peninsula, Vietnam boasts a unique shape of an elongated S and a long coastline of 3,444km (2,140 miles) with a lot of wonderful sites. Climate/Weather Although Vietnam lies entirely within the tropics, the Vietnam’s climate surprisingly varies from region to region with the annual average temperature from 22ºC to 27ºC because of its topography. The mountainous people of Sapa in the north might be seeking shelter from snow while the urban dwellers of Ho Chi Minh City in the south seek refuge from mid-day heat. In the North (from Hai Van mountain pass in the middle of Vietnam to the North), it is the weather of four different seasons in a year: Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. Spring lasts from February to April with warm weather. In Spring, it is characterized by fine drizzle that helps plants grow fast and flowers bloom brightly. Summer lasts from May to August with hot and showery weather. The sun shines almost days. And there are sometimes sudden thundershowers that make summer less hot and become cooler. Autumn lasts from September to November with cool air, and dry and lightly windy weather. It can be said that it is the most beautiful season in a year with yellow leaves falling on the streets and yellow bright shines in day time although sometimes typhoons threaten life and agriculture in the country. Winter lasts from November to January with cold and dry weather. It is the coldest season in a year. Frost and snow can also occur in the mountains (over 1000m above level sea), that make Vietnamese people eager to go up to see and take nice photos of such scare event of a year. The southern region is predominantly sub-equatorial with two main seasons of wet rainy season and dry season. A wet rainy season ranges from April to September. It is often sunny in mornings and rainy in late afternoons. Showers often rain heavily but stop quickly. A dry season spans the months of October to May. The weather becomes hotter. The Sun shines all days. But it becomes so cool at night. Definitely, the weather is rather stable in the south. Language The official language of Vietnam is Vietnamese, which is the mother tongue of the Vietnamese people who constitute 86% of Vietnam’s population, and of about three million overseas Vietnamese. And it is the second language of the ethnic minority groups in the country. It is monosyllabic, with each syllable having six different tones that can change the meaning of the word. This makes it quite difficult for new learners. Beside the official language, each ethnic minority group has its own dialect that has been used and preserved in daily life. The Vietnamese writing system in use today is an adapted version of the Latin alphabet, with additional diacritics for tones and certain letters. The different tones are indicated by the use of accent marks. This system of writing, called quoc ngu, was created by a French Catholic missionary, Fr. Alexander De Rhodes, in the 17th century to translate the scriptures. When France invaded Vietnam in the late 19th century, French gradually replaced Chinese as the official language in education and government. Vietnamese adopted many French terms, such as đầm (dame, from madame), ga (train station, from gare), sơ mi (shirt, from chemise), and búp bê (doll, from poupée). In addition, many Sino-Vietnamese terms were devised for Western ideas imported through the French. However, the Romanized script did not come to predominate until the beginning of the 20th century, when education became widespread and a simpler writing system was found more expedient for teaching and communication with the general population. People Although it is a small country with the area of 329,560 square kilometers, there are up to 54 different ethnic groups inhabiting in Vietnam, of which Kinh (Viet) people accounts for nearly 86% of the whole population, and the others are ethnic minority groups that represent about 14%. According to historical materials, Viet people was the first group living in Vietnam. And then other people came from the Southeastern Asian area. Almost of them are from China. Their ancestors migrated to Vietnam few hundred years ago. There are ethnic minority groups such as Khmer and Cham, descendents of inhabitants who lived in central and southern Vietnam before the area was conquered by Vietnam. The other groups are Muong, Pathen, Pu peo,etc. All of them are divided into 5 major groups following the language they speak: Austro-Asiatic, Mon-Khmer, Viet-Muong, Sino-Tibetan, and Austronesian. Nowadays, Kinh (or Viet group) mostly base in plains, especially in the Red River Delta and the Mekong Delta. The ethnic minority groups locate in the mountainous areas. Each group has their own custom and tradition. However, they are all friendly and love peace. Food Eating out in Vietnam ranges from street food to fine dining in luxury hotels. Though from anywhere, it cannot be denied that Vietnamese food is tasty and healthy. It is often made by different kinds of vegetables. Rice is the staple cereal and fish-sauce “nuoc mam” is extensively used. The most popular dish among the local people is the Phở - a noodle soup with meat, beef or chicken. The chicken soup (pho ga) or beef soup (pho bo) is quite spicy and available at all food stalls at US $0.60 per bowl. Pho Bo Tai is a soup with rare beef fillets. Another specialty is the spring roll, which is found in many versions, with varying ingredients used. The menu in restaurants is mainly non-vegetarian with dishes made from pork, fish and beef, snake and soft-shell turtle, which is considered a delicacy. Chè is a dessert made from sticky rice, beans, and a seasonal fruit. International cuisine such as French, Chinese, Japanese, Italian and American is also available. Fruit smoothies made from seasonal fruits are popular. Fruits such as custard apple, sugar apple, banana, avocado, durian, strawberry, jack fruit, passion fruit, dragon fruit, lychee and mango can be found in fruit stalls. You will need to clean the fruit thoroughly before eating. It is also recommended that you buy bottled water rather than drinking tap water. Don’t miss out the bia hơi (meaning ‘beer gas’), as the Vietnamese call draught beer. Imported brands such as Carlsberg, San Miguel and Heineken are available along with local brands such as Tiger, Saigon, and 333 (pronounced “ba-ba-ba”). Currency/ Money The currency is the Vietnamese Dong (VND). Notes are available in denominations of VND 100,000; 50,000; 20, 000; 10,000; 5,000; 2,000; 1,000; 500; and 200 hundred. Many tourists call Vietnam is a country of many thousand Dong. Coins have just recently been re-introduced and are available in 5,000; 2,000; 1,000; 500; and 200 Dong denominations. The USD is widely used in Vietnam’s cities. Tourists can use USD when travel around Vietnam but please look at exchange rate in the exchange rate table before coming to Vietnam. VISA, MasterCard and American Express cards are accepted in major hotels, restaurants, and shops in the urban areas. Travelers Checks are easily changeable at banks and moneychangers all over the country. Commissions are US$1 for a US$100 TC at Vietcombank, US$2 at ANZ Bank. Shopping Vietnam is not exactly a shopper’s paradise, and the streets are awash with little shops selling all manner of items. You can do a lot of souvenir shopping in Hanoi, Hanoi’s Old Quarter is particularly excellent for visitors with shops selling clothes, gold, embroidered tablecloths and handbags. Around Hanoi have many handicraft villages, Good souvenirs are marble figurines and vases, ceramics from Bat Trang village, silk paintings from silk village, and hand-painted greetings cards. In particular, the lacquer ware, tailor-made ao dais (female national costume), mother-of-pearl inlay work, silk paintings, and wood block prints are very artistic and worth acquiring to take back home. The hill tribes of the Central Highlands and the north of the country now sell colorful woven bags and clothing. Ho Chi Minh City is also a good place to shop for jewellery, carpets and leather work.