Updated: Jan2013

Vietnam, in Southeast Asia, stretches 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) north to south, but is only about 40 kilometers (25 miles) wide at its narrowest point near the country's center. The Red River delta lowlands in the north are separated from the huge Mekong Delta in the south by long, narrow coastal plains backed by the forested Annam highlands. Hanoi, the capital, is the main city on the Red River and Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, is the main city on the Mekong.

Independent for almost a thousand years, Vietnam fell prey to French colonialism in the mid-19th century. During Japanese occupation in World War II, communist leader Ho Chi Minh formed the Vietminh, an alliance of communist and non-communist nationalist groups. Armed struggle won independence in 1954 and led to the partition of Vietnam.

For two decades noncommunist South Vietnam, aided by the U.S., fought North Vietnam, backed by China and the Soviet Union. American troops withdrew in 1973, and two years later South Vietnam fell. In 1976 the country was reunified under a communist regime.

To replace support lost when the U.S.S.R. dissolved, economic policy encouraged a free-market system as well as trade with the West. Vietnam saw dramatic economic progress throughout most of the 1990s. In 1995 the U.S. resumed diplomatic relations. Economic growth stalled, however, with the Asian financial crisis. A stock exchange was launched in 2000, and Vietnam has seen increasing levels of foreign investment.


Do I need a visa before departure?

Visas are issued at the airport but you must have a letter of recommendation before you depart.

How do I get a Visa?

You can apply online for a visa and you will be emailed a letter of recommendation. You will need to print this out and take it to with you. You will then be issued with your visa at the airport when you arrive in Vietnam.

What do I need?

At the visa on arrival desk at the airport you will need to provide

Letter of recommendation

Completed arrival form (available online and at the airport

Two passport photographs

Visa fee USD 25 per person

How long does the process take?

Letters of recommendation are normally emailed within 5 working days there is an express service that will send your letter within one day at an extra cost.

How much does it cost?

You pay a processing fee for the letter of recommendation. This is reduced if you make a group application. You then pay a further US$ 25 at the airport. See the table below.

Is it possible to extend my visa once I have arrived?

Yes. You can extend your visa in either Hanoi or Saigon. 

Fast Facts


Exchange Rates
$1 = 20,800d
€1 = 27,700d
£1 = 33,400d

Capital City

Main Religion

Main Language

Telephone Code

Time zone
GMT +7 hours

Emergency Numbers
Ambulance 115
Fire 114
Police 113

Best Banks
Donga: normally no ATM charge
Smallest charges we could find.

Climate: When to go?
The climate of north and south Vietnam differ greatly, with generally a hot tropical climate in the south and hot summers and col winters in the north. The monsoon season is between May and October which brings rain to most of the country. The central coast can experience typhoons between August and November.

Where to go?


Hanoi (Hà Nội) - the capital and second largest city

Dalat (Đà Lạt) - the largest city in the highlands

Ho Chi Minh City (Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh) - the largest city and the main economic centre of the country, formerly Saigon (Sài Gòn)

Hoi An (Hội An) - delightfully well-preserved ancient port, near the ruins of Mỹ Sơn.

Da Nang ((Đà Nẵng) - the third largest city

Hue (Huế) - former home of Vietnam's emperors

Nha Trang - burgeoning beach resort

Phan Thiet (Phan Thiết) - "the resort capital" with Mui Ne beach.

Vinh - the major city in northern Vietnam with very nice Cua lo beach.

Other destinations

Con Dao (Côn Đảo) - island off the Mekong Delta

Cu Chi (Củ Chi) - site of the Cu Chi Tunnels

Cuc Phuong National Park - home to some of Asia's rarest wildlife and the Muong hill tribe


Ha Long Bay (Vịnh Hạ Long) - famous for its unearthly scenery

Kontum - relaxed little town providing access to a number of ethnic minority villages

My Son - ancient Hindu ruins which are a a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Tay Ninh (Tây Ninh) - main temple of the Cao Đài

Tam Coc (Tam Cốc) - un Ninh Binh province south of Hanoi with Ha Long Bay-like scenery

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