Vietnam (Việt Nam), officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (Cộng hòa xã hội chủ nghĩa Việt Nam) is a long, thin country in Southeast Asia. Its neighbouring countries are China to the north, Laos and Cambodia to the west.
Vietnam is large enough to have several distinct climate zones.
The North has four distinct seasons, with a comparatively chilly winter (temperatures can dip below 15°C/59°F in Hanoi), a hot and wet summer and pleasant spring (March-April) and autumn (October-December) seasons. However, in the Highlands both extremes are amplified, with occasional snow in the winter and temperatures hitting 40°C (104°F) in the summer.
In the Central regions the Hai Van pass separates two different weather patterns of the North starting in Langco (which is hotter in summer and cooler in winter) from the milder conditions South starting in Danang. North East Monsoon conditions September – February with often strong winds, large sea swells and rain make this a miserable and difficult time to travel through Central Vietnam. Normally summers are hot and dry.
The South has three somewhat distinct seasons: hot and dry from March to May/June; rainy from June/July to November; and cool and dry from December to February. April is the hottest month, with mid-day temperatures of 33°C (91°F) or more most days. During the rainy season, downpours can happen every afternoon, and occasional street flooding occurs. Temperatures range from stifling hot before a rainstorm to pleasantly cool afterwards. Mosquitoes are most numerous in the rainy season. December to February is the most pleasant time to visit, with cool evenings down to around 20° (68°F).
Visitors with passports from these countries do not require a visa for stays up to the days specified:
14 days – Brunei
15 days – Denmark, Finland, Japan, Norway, South Korea, Sweden, Russia
21 days – Philippines
30 days – Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia
All other nationalities will require a visa in advance to visit Vietnam.
Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has agreed to grant visa exemption to the people of five European countries, in an attempt to lure more tourists to the country.
The countries whose residents will not require a visa to travel to Viet Nam are the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.
The PM’s decision will come into effect on July 1 this year.(2015)
Embassies are recalcitrant in publishing a schedule of fees, as the relatively high visa cost is a source of embarrassment, revenue, and a tourism deterrent (EU and US). A slowdown in tourist number arrivals has been disguised by the removal of visa fees for certain nationalities (but not former Vietnamese) resulting in neighbouring countries numbers filling the vacuum. Visa free travel for neighbouring countries is part of Vietnam’s commitment to visa free travel for fellow citizens of ASEAN (The Association of South East Asian Nations)
Foreign citizens of Vietnamese origin can apply for visa exemption that allows multiple entry for 3 months at a time which is valid for the duration of the passport.
Visa on arrival
This method is available only for Air travel.
The term visa on arrival is a bit of a misnomer in the case of Vietnam as a letter of approval has to be obtained before arrival. This is handled by a growing number of on-line agencies for a charge of USD10-21 (Aug 2014). Most agencies accept payment by credit card, some accept payment by Western Union or Paypal. You also have to pay stamp fee at the airport when arrival. You need 1 photo.
The visa on arrival fees 2014:
One month – single entry USD45
One month – multiple entry USD65
Three months – single entry costs the same with one month single entry
Three months – multiple entry USD95
Six months – multiple entry USD135
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office of Her Majesty’s Government in London states “We are aware that there are nearly 1000 travel companies that are able to arrange legitimate visas-on-arrival but this must be done prior to arrival in Vietnam. There have also been reports of bogus companies that claim to be able to arrange for a visa on arrival. As the British Embassy and Consulate cannot confirm whether a company has a legitimate arrangement in place, the safest way to obtain a visa is via the nearest Vietnamese Embassy. Vietnamese visas are usually valid for only one entry. If you plan to leave Vietnam and re-enter from another country make sure you obtain a visa allowing multiple entries.”
The situation is complicated by the fact that the Internet high level domain “gov.vn” does not necessarily denote a government agency!
Prior to 2015 it was relatively simple (and inexpensive) to obtain a one-time, 30 day extension to your standard single-entry tourist visa. This is no longer the case! As of May 2015, obtaining a 30 day extension took 10 days and cost US$185 – although the stamp still states “10 (mười) USD”. Similarly, overstaying your visa has become considerably more expensive (on the order of USD 50/day).
How to go
Vietnam has international airports at Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Da Nang. Non-stop flights are available from Australia, Cambodia, China, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Brunei, Thailand, Taiwan, Indonesia, Macau, Qatar, Turkey, Dubai and the U.S. However, most direct flights are served by flag carrier Vietnam Airlines while plenty of other long-haul flights are available with transits via Bangkok, Doha, Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Taipei.
There are direct international train services from Nanning and Beijing in China to Hanoi. Most require a change of trains at the border at Pingxiang/Dong Dang, but the Chinese-operated daily Nanning express (T8701/MR2) runs through, although it still spends about four hours at the border for immigration.
The daily train from Nanning starts around 18:00 and arrives around 05:00 to Hanoi. Hard Sleeper c. CNY180 and soft sleeper c. CNY295. (You can consider taking the bus from Nanning instead which is a cheaper and pretty convenient day journey.
The Kunming-Hanoi line was shut down by landslides in 2002 and, as of 2011, remains closed. There are no train links to Laos or Cambodia.
The main crossing is the Moc Bai/Bavet crossing on the Ho Chi Minh City – Phnom Penh road. Buses between the two cities cost USD-12 and take around 6 hr. Passengers vacate the vehicle at both countries’ checkpoints. Only one passport photo is required for a Cambodian visa on arrival. Tours of the Mekong Delta (USD25-35, 2-3 days) can provide a more insightful journey between the two cities.
Through tickets to Siem Reap are also available (US$18), though it is cheaper to buy a ticket to Phnom Penh and then arrange onward transport on one of the many connecting buses.
Close to the coast is the Xa Xia/Prek Chak border. Cambodian visas are available on arrival. Buses run between Ha Tien in Vietnam to Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh in Cambodia. The Vietnamese consulate in Sihanoukville issues 30-day tourist visas on a same-day basis.
Coastal areas are also served by the Tinh Bien/Phnom Den border near Chau Doc in Vietnam
The Xa Mat/Trapeang Phlong crossing on the Ho Chi Minh City – Kampong Cham road is not well served by public transport but may be useful for accessing Kampong Cham and Eastern Cambodia.
Banlung in North Eastern Cambodia is connect to Pleiku in Vietnam by a crossing at Le Tanh/O Yadaw. Visas are avaiable on arrival, one photo required. Change buses at Le Tanh.
There are three border crossings between China and Vietnam that can be used by foreigners:
Dongxing – Mong Cai (by road; onward travel Mong Cai to Ha Long by sea or by road)
Hekou – Lao Cai (by road and/or rail, but no international passenger train services)
Youyi Guan – Huu Nghi Quan (Friendship Pass – by road and/or rail)
There are several Day buses from Nanning running every day, at least at 10:00 and 13:50 and costs about CNY160 (Nov 2014), reaching Hanoi at evening (around 22:00 although in China they may tell you the arrival is before 22:00), with a break for less than an hour to cross the border and transfer buses – all arranged in the ticket and no further hassle or arrangements by yourself. This may be more convenient than the night train from Nanning to Hanoi at 18:00 reaching Hanoi around 05:00, which is also more expensive. The ride itself is picturesque, and you receive a water bottle and some snacks at the bus. At the border crossing there are money changing ladies trying to get your dollars or renminbi for a deal.
There are at least six border crossings between Laos and Vietnam that can be used by foreigners.
Be wary of catching local buses from Laos to Vietnam. Not only are they often crammed with cargo (coal and live chickens, often underfoot) but many buses run in the middle of the night, stopping for several hours in order to wait for the border to open at 07:00. Whilst waiting, you will be herded off the bus (for several hours) where you will be approached by pushy locals offering assistance in getting a Laos exit stamp in exchange for money (usually USD5+). If you bargain hard (tiring, at 04:00) you can get the figure down to about USD2. The men will take your passports, which can be incredibly disconcerting, but will actually provide the service they promise. It is better to get the Laos exit stamp yourself for free at the border station. The sleeping bus from Vientaine to Hanoi is fairly nice as all cargo is stored in the cargo hold and you are allowed to sleep in the bus at the border crossing until it opens at 7AM. There is also a VIP bus from Savannakhet.
Donsavanh – Lao Bao
Kaew Neua – Cau Treo (Keo Nua Pass)
Nam Can ( Vietnam ) to Xieng Khuang ( Laos )
Tay Trang ( Vietnam ) to Phong Sa Ly ( Laos )
Boats can be taken from Phnom Penh to the Vietnamese border town of Chau Doc. Such a journey takes roughly 5 hours and includes brief stops both to exit Cambodia and enter Vietnam. Make sure you carry a few US dollars to tip the boat porters with, so as to avoid losing your luggage in the Mekong when alighting or changing boats.
Longer tours lasting multiple days may also be available from Phnom Penh. Check with your accommodation provider or along Sisowath Quay.
Lodging is not an issue in Vietnam, even if you’re travelling on a pretty tight budget. Accommodation in Vietnam ranges from scruffy US$6-a-night dorm accommodation in backpacking hostels to world-class resorts, both in large cities and in popular coastal and rural destinations.
Even backpacking hostels and budget hotels are often far cleaner and nicer than in neighboring countries (Cambodia, Thailand, Laos), and cheap hotels that charge US$8-10 for a double room are often very clean and equipped with towels, clean white sheets, soap, disposable toothbrushes and so on.
In hotels costing a few dollars more (US$12 per room upwards, more in Hanoi) you can expect an en suite bathroom, telephone, air conditioning and television. As with hotels elsewhere in the world, mini-refrigerators in Vietnamese hotels are often stocked with drinks and snacks, but these can be horribly overpriced and you would be much better off buying such items on the street. Adequate plumbing can be a problem in some hotels but the standard is constantly improving.
It is a legal requirement for all hotels to register the details of foreign guests with the local police. For this reason they will always ask for your passport when you check in. The process usually only takes a few minutes, after which they will return your passport. However, because non-payment by guests is by no means unknown, some hotels retain passports until check-out. If a place looks dodgy then ask that they register you while you wait and take your passport with you afterwards. It is helpful to carry some photocopies of your passport as well as Vietnam visa, which you can then hand over to the hotel, insisting if necessary that your actual passport is not in your possession but rather at a travel agency for purpose of visa extension (which is a legitimate situation). Alternatively, you can try to extend an advance payment rather than allow them to keep your passport.
Most hotels throughout Vietnam now have high-speed Internet access. Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks are blocked but a quick google search can explain how to easily bypass this ban. The use of computers is generally free, although some hotels levy a small charge.
Vietnam Hostels for Backpakers
Ben Tre Buon Ma Thuot Can Tho Cat Ba Island Chau Doc Da Lat Da Nang Dong Hoi Ha Long Haiphong Hanoi Ho Chi Minh Hoi An Hue Kontum Luong Son Mui Ne Nha Trang Ninh Binh Phan Thiet Phu Quoc Island Quy Nhon Sapa Tien Giang Vung Tau
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