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Ho Chi Minh City tour Travel Tips

Ho Chi Minh City
Throughout Tan Son Nhat international airport. one hour and 30 minutes by plane from Singapore, one hour from Bangkok, and two hours and 45 minutes from Hong Kong by plane, over 24 international airlines having flights to and from Ho Chi Minh City, a gateway to other cities and provinces in Vietnam by plane, car, train or ship, one hour and a half by plane from Hanoi. Thong Nhat express train connects Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, via many provinces in Vietnam.

Main attractions: Vietnam’s most modern and dynamic city still retains its old charm with colonial style buildings: Notre Dame Cathedral, the City Hall, the Municipal Theatre, etc., old pagodas such as Thien Hau, Giac Lam, Vinh Nghiem and the busy markets of Binh Tay and Ben Thanh, etc., Cu Chi Tunnels

Yet within the teeming metropolis are the timeless traditions and beauty of an ancient culture with shaded boulevards, pavement cafes and French-styled buildings helping it to retain a bygone colonial atmosphere. The city is bathed by many rivers, arroyos and canals, the biggest river being the Saigon River.

Once romantically referred to by the French as the Pearl of the Orient, the city possesses various beautiful buildings, displaying a characteristic combination of Vietnamese, Chinese and European cultures. These include the Dragon House Wharf, National Ancestors Temple, Municipal Office, Ho Chi Minh Municipal Theatre, Notre Dame Cathedral, as well as many pagodas and churches (Vinh Nghiem, Giac Vien, Giac Lam, Phung Son pagodas...). After more than 300 years of development, Ho Chi Minh City presents many ancient architectural constructions, famous vestiges and renowned sights. It is remarkable for its harmonious blending of traditional national values with northern and western cultural features.

War Crime museum
This museum exhibits crimes committed by the Americans during the war. Photographs of the My Lai massacre, human embryos, genetically deformed babies preserved in formalin and innocent civilians being tortured can be seen on display. An array of US armored vehicles, artillery pieces, bombs and infantry weapons are displayed in the courtyard. The War Crime Museum basically reveals a different side of the stories about wars - the innocent victims of modern warfare.

Reunification Palace
Built in 1868 to serve the French Governor-General of Indochina, the palace comprises of a ground floor, 3 main floors, two mezzanines and a terrace for helicopter landing. It includes many tastefully decorated rooms such as the reception room, the cabinet reference room, the study rooms, the credentials presentation room and the banquet room. It also has a basement with a network of tunnels connecting to the telecom centre and war room and one of the longest tunnels which stretch all the way to the Revolutionary Museum. The grounds outside contain one of the first tanks to burst through the gates of the palace to signify the end of the Vietnam War as well as the fighter plane which dropped further bombs towards the end of the war. Independence Palace was renamed the Unification Palace to denote the spirit and strong will for national independence and reunification

Ben Thanh Market
Ben Thanh market has long been one of Saigon's most famous landmarks. Since the French occupation, the market has been one of the biggest markets in the city where everything can be found, from domestic products, especially sophisticated handicrafts, to modern industrial goods from other countries.

Notre Dame Cathedral
Usually known as a miniature of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, she is an important mark reflecting the colonial influences as well as architecture in Vietnam. Without question, the cathedral itself bears a unique beauty and historic significance, especially as this neo-Romanesque architecture was built with bricks and tiles imported from France. In front of the cathedral in a small garden is a delicate statue of the Virgin Mary.

Cholon (Chinatown)
Cholon is in District 5 and is a maze of narrow streets, bustling with people. Most of Vietnam’s ethnic Chinese live here and they are the largest single ethnic minority group in the country.

Thien Hau Pagoda
Thien Hau Pagoda is one of Cholon’s must-sees. It is dedicated to the goddess Thien Hau, protector of the sea. Photographers are spoilt for choice with the ornate decoration inside the pagoda and the statues of Thien Hau. It is popular with worshippers and there are regular festivals during the lunar calendar.

Binh Tay Market
Binh Tay Market throngs with people from early morning and the gloomy, narrow walkways are crammed with consumer items and exotic foodstuffs. The sound of bargaining, quite often in Chinese rather than Vietnamese, and the calls of the vendors constantly fill the air. This is one of the best places to see the locals going about their daily lives.

Cu Chi Tunnels
Location: 70km from downtown Ho Chi Minh City, 1 hour and 45 minutes by car.
The whole system is an extensive and intriguing network of nearly 200 miles (322m) of tunnels used in the French Indochina war and American war. These tunnels are a symbol of Vietnam’s continual fight against foreign oppression and imperialism. They have complete facilities, from kitchens to printing presses and even street signs, all of which were used to aid the NLF (National Liberation Front) military. They can be seen to represent the Vietnamese attributes of ingenuity, loyalty, hard work and determination.

Although the tunnels were mainly designed with a fighting role in mind they also contained a wide array of chambers including field hospitals, meeting rooms and even private offices and sleeping quarters for senior officers. To repel attacks and infiltration, the tunnels contained many elaborate booby traps including concealed pits with bamboo spikes at the base, and mines and crossbows which would be triggered by trip wires.

  • Full Name: SOCIALIST REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM

  • Capital city: Hanoi

  • Population: 91,500,000

  • Religion: Buddhist

  • Currency: Dong (VND) exchange rates

  • International Calling Code: +84

  • Timezone: UTC +7 hours

Climate & times to visit

Move mouse over month for more info
December - Dry and warm in the south, cool in the north, an excellent time to visit November - Warm and wet, a good time to visit October - Warm and wet, a good time to visit September - Warm and wet, a good time to visit August - Warm and wet, a good time to visit July - Warm and wet, a good time to visit June - Warm and wet, a good time to visit May - Warm and wet, a good time to visit April - Hot and dry, a good time to visit March - Hot and dry, a good time to visit February - Dry and warm in the south, cool in the north, an excellent time to visit January - Dry and warm in the south, cool in the north, an excellent time to visit

Vietnam can be visited year-round. The busiest time is November to April and we recommend booking four to six months in advance. The monsoon season, from May to November, is warm and humid with refreshing afternoon showers, and rarely affects travel. December to February in the north can be cool, especially highland areas. Halong Bay can be cool and drizzly from February to April, with fog that reduces visibility but adds a mysterious air to this magical landscape. While tropical storms are frequent during summer months, sunny days may be interspersed with clouds or rain at any time of year. Central Vietnam is usually dry from February to May and wet from August to January. October and November may experience unstable weather and local flooding.

Show temperature: Southern | Central | Northern Rainfall: Southern | Central | Northern
 
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What to expect

Vietnam offers friendly people, a delicious cuisine featuring fresh, fragrant herbs, stunning landscapes, idyllic beaches, historic sites and vibrant, action-packed cities. Whether it is culture and history that you seek, trekking in beautiful mountains amongst hilltribe villages or indulging in some of Southeast Asia's best shopping, Vietnam has it all.

There are fantastic hotels from comfortable, mid-range stays to deluxe, colonial-era hotels, and fabulous eateries from pho stands in local markets to high-end restaurants. You can partake in a cooking school, explore the fascinating Cu Chi Tunnels, see the Mekong Delta by boat stopping at fascinating floating markets, or have clothes made at one of picturesque Hoi An's many tailor shops.

You can traverse Vietnam by train, or catch domestic flights between its major centers. You will find Vietnam a feast for the senses and an unforgettable place to explore, from its scenery to its cities; its historical sites to its people.

Flight times

From Australia: Flight times range from 9 hours (Sydney, Melbourne, Perth) to 12 hours (Adelaide, Brisbane)
From New Zealand: 13 hours from Auckland
From UK: 14 hours from London
From USA: Flight times range from 16 hours (Los Angeles) to 19 hours (New York)

Events

  • 1 January is International New Year's Day. Banks and public offices will be closed, as will some businesses.
  • January/February (last day of last Lunar month) is Lunar New Year’s Eve, the beginning of Tet or the Vietnamese New Year period. The Reunification Palace will be closed in Saigon.
  • January/February (first day of the first Lunar month) is Tet, or Lunar New Year, Vietnam's major annual vacation. Banks & public offices will be closed, as will most businesses. Cao Dai temples will be closed six days before the Lunar New Year, and floating markets in the Mekong Delta will not operate.
  • March/April (10th day of the 3rd lunar month) is the anniversary of Hung Kings, Vietnam's ancient rulers. Banks and public offices will be closed, as will some businesses.
  • 30 April is Independence Day, commemorating the fall of Saigon and reunification of the country in 1976. Banks and public offices will be closed, as will some businesses.
  • 1 May is Labor Day, marking the contribution made by workers. Banks and public offices will be closed, as will some businesses.
  • 2 September is National Day, marking the day Vietnam declared its independence forming the Democratic Republic of Northern Vietnam. Banks and public offices will be closed, as will some businesses.
  • 31 December is International New Year's Eve. While not a public vacation, it is celebrated in Vietnam with festive meals, parties and fireworks as it is in most parts of the world.

Health & fitness

Travelers to Vietnam should take precautions as they would elsewhere in Asia. There are now a number of international standard medical care facilities available in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Danang and Hanoi. Outside these cities, medical care facilities are more basic.

Some of the diseases known to exist in Vietnam include hepatitis A and B, typhoid, tuberculosis, Japanese encephalitis, diphtheria, tetanus, polio, rabies and HIV/AIDS. We recommend you take adequate preventative measures to minimize your risk of exposure to these health risks. We strongly recommend you consult your preferred doctor for the most up-to-date health advice at least one month prior to travel.

Visa information

Citizens of the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, UK and EU Countries require a visa to visit Vietnam. All other nationalities should check with the Vietnamese embassy or consulate in their country of residence. A visa must be obtained before departing your country of residence (unless you have gone through the official channels to obtain a visa on arrival service). It can be arranged up to 6 months before your scheduled arrival date into Vietnam.

A full passport is required, valid for at least 6 months beyond the date of your departure from Vietnam. You can acquire your tourist or business visa from your nearest Vietnamese embassy or consulate. Alternatively US residents can apply through our document partner, CIBT Visas.

All Vietnam visas are SINGLE ENTRY unless you have specifically requested MULTIPLE ENTRY and this is stamped into your passport. Please ensure you have a multiple entry visa if you are entering Vietnam twice. The status of a tourist visa cannot be changed from SINGLE ENTRY to MULTIPLE ENTRY once you have arrived in Vietnam.

Please note Vietnamese visa regulations and arrangements are subject to change and it is your responsibility to ensure your visa is in order before you travel. We strongly suggest that you check with the relevant embassies in your country of residence that these guidelines are applicable to you.

Travel updates

Tropical Storm Sontinh - Updated 27/10/2012

Please be advised that there is an active tropical storm internationally named as Sontinh in the east sea of Vietnam and is forecasted to make its landfall tonight or tomorrow Vietnam time to the coastal area of northern central Vietnam. At this stage all flights to and from the central cities including Hue and Danang have been cancelled today until further notice. Flights to and from Hanoi are still operated as normal however the Halong Bay overnight boats have been closed to tourists today. It is very likely the Halong bay will still closed until Tue 30th Oct 2012. more info

Safety & security

Vietnam is generally a safe destination by world standards, but usual common sense precautions apply. In recent years petty street crime has risen as tourist numbers increase. We recommend you take taxis rather than cyclos when traveling at night; taxis in Vietnam are numerous, metered and inexpensive. To assist in finding your way back to your hotel, make sure you obtain a hotel address card to show drivers.

Throughout your stay, always keep a photocopy of your passport, airline tickets and credit card numbers, and a detailed record of your traveler's checks. These documents should be kept in a safe place separate from the originals. You should leave valuables in hotel safety deposit boxes wherever possible.

In large cities, such as Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and Hanoi, we recommend you wear as little jewelry as possible and keep your spending money close to your body in a secure place when out on the street. For more information or to read our full safety guidelines click here.

Recommended reading

  • Ho Chi Minh by William J. Duiker provides insights into Ho Chi Minh, the man recognized as the modern father of Vietnam. It also touches on the roles of the Soviets and Chinese in the Vietnam War.
  • A Bright Shining Lie by John Paul Vann & America in Vietnam by Neil Sheehan is a historical biography of Lieutenant Colonel John Paul Vann, who witnessed arrogance and self-deception amongst the US military in the 1960s, and tried to convince his superiors the war should be fought another way.
  • Shadows and Wind by Robert Templer looks at the problems facing modern Vietnam after a century of conflict. It examines its contradictions, secrecy and corruption, and its rampant capitalism despite its Communist government.
  • Once Upon A Distant War by William Prochnau tells the stories of some of the Vietnam War's prominent correspondents, such as Neil Sheehan and Peter Arnett.
  • In Retrospect - The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam by Robert McNamara is a controversial book telling the inside story of America's descent into Vietnam.
  • World Food Vietnam by Lonely Planet is a definitive guide to Vietnam's fresh and fragrant cuisine, complete with tantalizing photographs.

Getting around

For road journeys in Vietnam, air-conditioned Hyundai with 25-40 seats are used for groups of six or more travelers. Modern sedan cars and minibuses are used for smaller groups. A combination of cyclos, boats, bicycles and your own two feet are used to explore Vietnam's towns, while domestic flights are sometimes used, with modern Airbus 320 or Fokker 70 planes. Flight schedules frequently change in Vietnam, which may impact travel plans.

Metered taxis can be used in the towns and cities, however it pays to be vigilant about scams and to use reputable taxi companies. if being greeted by a transfer driver, ensure they are wearing a Travel Indochina t-shirt and carrying a Travel Indochina signboard with your name to avoid scams, particularly at Hanoi's airport.

Internet access & communication

Internet access is widely available throughout Vietnam and is inexpensive. Some hotels, cafes, bars and restaurants in the cities now offer free WiFi connections. International phone calls can be very expensive in Vietnam, with rates from 4-6 USD per minute. Reverse charge calls cannot be made.

Mobile phones work in Vietnam, though you will need to contact your service provider beforehand to enable roaming. Alternatively, you can purchase a local SIM card on arrival. International post generally takes 7-10 days to reach its destination, with the cost similar to charges in Western countries.

Food & drink

Vietnamese cuisine is real highlight of any journey in Vietnam, with fresh, fragrant flavors, wonderful use of seasonal, locally grown produce, and a French influence apparent. Rice and rice noodles are staples, along with baguettes. Fresh seafood is in abundance, and vegetarians are well catered for. Vietnam's famous soup, pho, is a must to try, and there are many more delicious dishes on offer from pork cooked in claypot to succulent lemongrass prawns and fresh spring rolls.

In Hanoi, try the local fish dish cha ca, and in Hue, enjoy the country's famed imperial cuisine. There are also many places serving cuisines from around the world, particularly in the cities. Travelers should be aware that eating raw, cold food has a higher risk of stomach upset than cooked dishes. Tap water should be avoided, however bottled water is readily available and provided free in most hotel rooms.

Tipping

We believe tipping is a great way to show your appreciation for receiving great service, and while it is accepted practice in Asia, it should never feel like an obligation. At the beginning of each trip, your Western tour leader or local guide will ask for a small sum (around 50 cents a day) to cover tips for hotel porters and boat crews throughout the trip.

This helps prevent over tipping and having to always carry small change. We are confident that you will be extremely happy with the service you receive from our guides, drivers and tour leaders, and in many cases will choose to show this through a tip, so we do not include compulsory tipping for any Travel Indochina representatives on any of our trips. The choice to tip is always completely up to you.

Swimming

Swimming at the many beaches and bays in Vietnam is usually safe. On occasion jellyfish can be found in the waters around Vietnam. The most likely time of year they are present is during the months of June through to August in the north, and during the months of August and September in the south. Swimming can still be enjoyed during these months, however please be aware and exercise some caution.

Responsible travel

Given our long-standing presence in Vietnam, it is no surprise that our responsible travel budget funds a number of projects here, while our itineraries offer a number of opportunities for our travelers to Vietnam to support sustainable projects just by joining a Travel Indochina Small Group Journey.

Our homestay experiences in Mai Chau and in the Mekong Delta allow travelers to escape some of Vietnam's larger cities and gain greater insight into the rural lifestyle, while also helping to spread the tourist dollars to smaller, lesser-visited communities. In central Vietnam, we work with a number of charities and social enterprises, including STREETS vocational training restaurant and The SPIRAL Foundation.

Enjoy a local market tour conducted by STREETS student trainees - allowing the youth to practice their hospitality and English skills while you learn about Vietnamese cuisine! At SPIRAL, take a tour of their disabled artisans' workshop and try your hand at creating a small craft made from recycled materials. Select itineraries also visit the Wildlife Animal Rescue (WAR) Center, stay at the award-winning Topas Eco lodge in Sapa, or enjoy a meal at the popular KOTO vocational training restaurant in Hanoi. For more information on our approach to responsible travel

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