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 neighborhoods.
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 diarrhea article and you'll most likely be fine.
Internet access is available in all but the most remote towns. Internet cafes are available in most tourist spots and rates are fairly cheap, ranging from 2,000-10,000 dong per hour. Connection speeds are high, especially in the big cities.
Many hotels and restaurants provide free Wi-Fi or terminals for their guests. If you bring your own phone and/or laptop, several providers offer mobile internet services EDGE/3G services as well.
Internet censorship is applied to small number of internet services. As of August 2010, Facebook has still been blocked but Facebook Mobile is still accessible. By September 2010 it is accessible to Facebook as normal internet connection. A quick Google search for the relevant programs should help you bypass the ban quite easily. There was also a report that telecom companies block the use of Skype, although the ban has apparently been lifted. Other sites such as Gmail, YouTube, and Wikipedia seem to be unaffected. If at any time web censorship is a problem, we recommend you use the free software created by the Tor Project at (https://torproject.org)
The official language of Vietnam is Vietnamese. Like Thai and Mandarin, Vietnamese is a tonal language that uses a change in pitch to inflect different meanings, and this can make it difficult for Westerners to master. While it is very different from Western languages, a traveler may be surprised to learn that the basic grammar is pretty simple. Verbs are static regardless of the past or future and parts of speech are pretty straightforward. The major difficulties lay on tones and certain sounds.
Vietnamese consists of 4 main dialects: the northern dialect spoken around Hanoi, the north-central dialect spoken around Vinh, the central dialect spoken around Hue, and the southern dialect spoken around Ho Chi Minh City.
While the Hanoi dialect is taken as the 'standard' and widely used in broadcasting, there is no de facto standard in the education system. Northerners naturally think that southern accent is for 'hai lua' countrymen and will always recommend you to be stick to the northern accent, but the choice of accents should depend on where you plan to live. If you are working in Saigon, the main economic centre of Vietnam, the southern accent is what you will hear every day.
For learners, the written latin alphabet is a relief. Unlike English, Vietnamese phonetics are accurate at reflecting true pronunciations, although their sounds on certain alphabets are different or even don't exist in English.
Vietnamese lexicons are heavily influenced by the Chinese languages. Some words are loanwords from China like hotel khach San, children nhi dá»ng, communist party dang cong san, some are formed based on Chinese characters roots, like representative dai dien or bird flu cum ga. The knowledge on the Chinese language will make it much easier to learn Vietnamese. Vietnamese is also full of loanwords from French and English from more recent times.
Although the Vietnamese people do appreciate any effort to learn their language, most seldom experience foreign accents. Learners may find it frustrating that no one can understand what they try to say. Staff in hotel and kids tend to have a more tolerant ear to foreign accents and it is not unheard of for a kid to effectively help translate your 'Vietnamese' into authentic Vietnamese for adults.
Besides Vietnamese, Ho Chi Minh City is home to a sizeable ethnic Chinese community, many of whom speak Cantonese. The more remote parts of the country are also home to many ethnic minorities who speak various languages belonging to the Mon-Khmer, Tai-Kadai and Austronesian language families.
Most Vietnamese youths learn English in school, so many young people have a basic grasp of English, but proficiency is generally poor. However, most hotel and airline staff will know enough English to communicate. Directional signs are generally bilingual in both Vietnamese and English.
Despite Indochina's colonial history in which French was the medium of education, French is no longer widely taught in Vietnamese schools and aside from a few educated elite among the elderly, is much less useful than English when trying to communicate with locals. However in recent years, there has been a revival of the language in both the government and educated elite. In the big cities, some of the big international luxury hotel chains will have staff who are able to speak French and other foreign languages such as Mandarin, Japanese or Korean.
Souvenir shops in Vietnam sell lots of T-shirts with the red flag and portraits of "Uncle Ho." Many overseas Vietnamese are highly critical of the government of Vietnam you may want to consider this before wearing communist paraphernalia in their communities back home! A less controversial purchase would be a nÃ³n lÃ¡ straw hat instead.
It's common to be stared at by locals in some regions, especially in the central and northern side of the country, and in rural areas. Southerners are usually more open.
Asian women traveling with non-Asian men could attract attention, being considered lovers, escorts or prostitutes by some people and may even be harassed or insulted. These attitudes and behaviors have lessened but have not yet disappeared.
The most surprising thing about the topic of the Vietnam War the American or Reunification War, as it is called in Vietnam is that the Vietnamese do not bear any animosity against visitors from the countries that participated, and in the South many Vietnamese especially older Vietnamese involved in the conflict or with relatives in the war appreciate or at least respect the previous Western military efforts against the North. Two-thirds of the population were born after the war and are quite fond of the west. That said, there are some attractions which present a very anti-American viewpoint on the war's legacy, which may make some feel uncomfortable.
Be sensitive if you must discuss past conflicts. Well over 3 million Vietnamese died, and it is best to avoid any conversations that could be taken as an insult to the sacrifices made by both sides during the wars. Do not assume that all Vietnamese think alike as many Vietnamese in the South are still bitter about having lost against the North.
Much of Vietnam's ecology has been severely damaged and very little wildlife remains, let alone anything dangerous to humans. Venomous snakes such as Cobras may still be common in rural areas but virtually everything else has either gone extinct or exist in such small numbers that the chances of even seeing them are remote. Tigers may exist in very small numbers in remote areas, but this is yet to be proven. Saltwater crocodiles once thrived in southern Vietnam but have been locally extinct for at least 20 years.
Corruption is a big problem in Vietnam and locals are convinced that the police are not to be trusted. For motorcycle driver, police officer may stop you for any reasons including missing insurance papers or driving license, fine you around US$20 for each offense the average traffic fine should only be about US$5-10. Remember to stand your ground and all officers are required to write all traffic violations in their notebook and give your a receipt and pay to the station not the officer. If you have a cell phone, threaten to call your embassy and he may back down. You might though just find it easier to pay the fine and get on your way.
Immigration officers are known to take bribes. During the early Doi Moi the reform in 90s, bribes could be a few U.S. dollars, a few packs of 555 cigarettes. Today although officers still seem to feel okay at taking it, it is absolutely risk-free and acceptable if you don't bribe.
The international monitoring group Transparency International has rated Vietnam as one of the most corrupt nations in Asia.
The first discovery for many tourists who just arrive in Vietnam is that they need to learn how to cross a road all over again. You may see a tourist standing on the road for 5 minutes without knowing how to cross it. Traffic in Vietnam is a nightmare. Back home, you may never witness the moment of crash, seeing injured victims lying on the road, or hearing the BANG sound. Staying in Vietnam for more than a month, you will have fair chance of experiencing all these.
Roads are packed. Some intersections in main cities Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City have traffic lights patrolled by police, most are either non-functional or ignored.
To cross the road, don't try to avoid the cars, let them avoid you. Step a little forward, a little more, and you will see motorcycle drivers to slow down a bit, or go to another way. Make your pace and path predictable to other drivers. Don't change your speed or direction suddenly. Then move forward until you hit your destination.
The simplest way, if available, is to follow a local, stand next to them in the opposite side of the traffic if you get hit, he will get it first and he will give you the best chance of crossing a road.
If you are injured, don't expect that local people are willing to help for even calling an ambulance because it is not free. Make sure you tell local clearly that you will pay the ambulance fee. Hospitals will also not accept your admission unless you prove that you can pay the bill.
Highways are also risky with an average of 30 deaths a day and some locals will not even venture on them if not in a big vehicle car or bus. Taking a bicycle or motocycle on highways is an adventure for risk takers, definitely not for a family with children.
Petty crime in night clubs can happen. Avoid quarreling with local people because drunken Vietnamese can be violent to foreigners, especially when there are girls around him. Don't leave your belongings unattended. Clubs are full of prostitutes looking for their admirers but be aware that they may also take your wallet and mobile phones away. Walking very late by yourself on the streets in the tourist area is safe, but you shouldn't let any local girl getting into conversation with you. Otherwise, they will touch you, sweet talk you, and then steal something from you without you knowing it at that moment.
Avoid asking the cab drivers for recommended nightspot. Most cab drivers are paid by KTVs and lounges to bring in foreign tourist. Usually when you walked in they will tell you a set of pricing which seems reasonable. But when you check out on the bill, they will includes a number of extravagant charges. Do your homework beforehand and tell the cab drivers where you want to go. Insist on going to where you want to go despite their persuasion. There are a number of reputable pubs and disco around. Try going to those which have more foreigners.
Prostitution is illegal in Vietnam and the age of consent is 18. Vietnam has laws on the books with penalties up to 20-40 years in prison for sexually exploiting women and children, and several other countries have laws that allow them to prosecute their own citizens who travel abroad to engage in sex with children.