Strung on a network of rivers between the mountains
and the sea, Vietnam is a landscape of moody alpine
fogs hovering over thatch-roofed villages nestled in
forests of rain. Vast expanses of reflective paddy
fields posturing rice stands through which gentle
breezes eddy. Lacework deltas fretted with canals
carrying fertile mud recently arrived from China,
and boiling white beaches guarded by island
Life forms evolved upon this land to husband the
wealth of resources its nature provided. This social
mirroring of the natural surroundings extended even
into city life.
"Hanoi" means the "inside of the river" and the name
"Saigon" may have been derived from "cay gon" which
refers to the poles sunk in the alluvial mud upon
which the houses were built.
Placed amongst a mosaic of lakes, Hanoi, the
capital, still retains the red-tile-roofed French
provincial ambience of years gone by amidst the
surging urbane energy of a modern metropolis fused
to a thousand-year history of Chinese cultural
influence. A city to stroll in, to gawk at its
market offerings, munch tropical fruits, sip
delicate teas, Hanoi also has places to ponder
ancient verities: the Temple of Literature, the
One-Pillar Pagoda, the Lake of the Restored Sword.
Saigon, on the other hand, commercial hub of
the south spun along mangrove riverbanks, threatens
to become a financial lightning rod. Once an Asian
Venice, its main thoroughfares are now boulevards of
filled-in canals wiring between traffic rotaries to
form interconnected molecules of enterprise.
From Chinese Cholon to very Vietnamese Dakao, each
sector of the city sports its unique flavor, its
characteristic foods, its particular pace -- all,
however, displaying little school girls, office
clerks, business women adorned in the traditional
national dress, the "ao dai" of silk over-tunic and
pantaloons, lending an air of unhurried grace to the
The sights, sounds, tastes, and smells Vietnam
offers may be diverse, but strung as these are
between the mountains and the sea, they present a
unified gestalt held together by the cultural
landscape reflecting the soil upon which it is
Vietnamese (official), French, English, Chinese.
The easiest way to obtain local currency is through
ATMs, which are found throughout Hanoi and Ho Chi
Minh City. If you need to change currency, you'll
get the best rates at gold stores along Hang Gai
Street in Hanoi. Banks and better hotels also offer
exchange services (but the rates won't be as
favorable). Avoid changing money on the street.
Credit cards can be used in most locations, but
travelers' checks are only accepted at banks.
Passports and visas are needed by citizens of Canada
and the U.S. When leaving, expect to pay a US$14
departure tax at the airport and make sure you still
have the yellow customs declaration form that was
given to you when you arrived in the country.
Reconfirm travel document requirements with your
carrier before departure.
Buddhist, Christian (Roman Catholic), Taoist.
84, country code; 4, Hanoi city code; 8, Ho Chi Minh
7 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (+7 GMT).
Daylight Saving Time is not observed
Tipping is a relatively new thing in Vietnam, and to
date, it's more commonly seen in the southern part
of the country. Gratuities usually aren't necessary
in inexpensive restaurants, but upscale places will
often tack on a 5% service charge. Tips for taxi
drivers are purely optional (and most appreciated,