Business hours in Vietnam are usually 8am to 6pm from Monday to Friday. Some businesses open from 8am to noon on Saturdays. Banks usually open from 8am to 4pm and most are closed on Saturdays and Sundays. Retail shops are usually open from 9am to 9pm, and weekends don't seem to be a problem for many of them.
Dining out in Vietnam can stretch from a street-side stall to a lavish buffet at one of the five-star hotels in town. The range of food available is wide and everyone should be able to find a venue to suit both taste and budget, but sanitation at the street-food level won't be as high as in Singapore's famous hawker stalls.
If you plan to eat street food, keep some Imodium just in case you run into any digestive or intestinal problems. Malaria is not endemic in the cities; however, if you are travelling in more remote areas, make sure to include mosquito repellent. Anti-malarial tablets can also be taken. Contaminated water is a major cause of sickness so make sure to drink bottled or boiled water. In terms of vaccinations, the Center for Disease Control recommends Hepatitis A & B, Japanese Encephalitis, Rabies and Typhoid vaccinations.
When checking into a hotel, you will have to surrender your passport so that the hotel can register your presence with the local police. Once registered, ensure your passport is returned to you and keep it in a safe place. Passports should not be used as a deposit for renting hotel rooms, or in place of a fine in the event of any possible traffic offence. It is advisable to carry photocopies of the data and visa pages from your passport, which can be used as proof of identity.
Travel is restricted near military installations and some areas of Vietnam are fairly inaccessible. If a police officer or soldier tells you to turn around, do so as it can get you in trouble with the provincial authorities. Do not stray off main routes in rural areas and check with your tour operator before travelling. Follow safety guidelines and procedures and ensure such activities are undertaken under the supervision of reputable guides.
Vietnam has a few English-language publications. Than Nien News (thanhniennews.com), Tuoi Tre (tuoitrenews.vn) and Vietnam News (vietnamnews.vn) are the main players in Vietnam news. For business news, get the monthly Vietnam Economic Times magazine and weekly Vietnam Investment Review newspaper.
Generally speaking, Vietnam is very safe and violent crime is extremely rare. Petty crime, however, does exist in the backpacker districts and the main tourist shopping areas. Do not walk in secluded locations alone, or with people you do not know. To minimise risk, be on your guard against pickpockets and snatch thieves on motorbikes, and avoid carrying handbags or wearing expensive looking jewellery or watches. Use hotel safety deposit boxes to store valuables, money or passports and carry a photocopy of the data and visa pages of your passport. There have been reports of scams targeting tourists, involving fake charities, gambling and taxis.
Penalties for possession, distribution or manufacture of drugs can be severe and Vietnam retains the death penalty. In Vietnamese law, anyone found in possession of even a small amount of drugs can face the death sentence. Be aware that the 'purity' of drugs can be much higher in Asia, and tourists have suffered fatal overdoses in the past from small amounts.
Vietnam traditionally has many holidays religious or otherwise, but these are the ones that are publicly recognised by the government. 1 January – Western New Year's Day. First to seventh days of the first moon (usually from late January to mid-February) – Tet Nguyen Dan, the biggest holiday in the country when many businesses close down. Tenth day of the third lunar month (some time in April) – Hung Kings' Festival, commemorating the Hồng Bàng dynasty, the traditional founders of Vietnam between 2879 BCE and 258 BCE. 30 April – Liberation Day/Reunification Day, when the country was reunited after the American War. 1 May – International Workers' Day. 2 September - National Day, commemorating the Declaration of Independence from France in 1945.
The Vietnamese language is considered one of the hardest languages in Southeast Asia to learn due to its reliance on tones. When first heard, it sounds almost sing-song and can be confusing to understand for westerners who aren’t used to tonal languages. On the plus side, the modern written language is entirely based on roman characters (with copious diacritical marks), so signs are easier to read than in the neighbouring languages.
There are six distinct tones and each word can have a different meaning depending on the tone. The tones can differ in length, pitch melody, pitch height and phonation.
Use Anh (male) or Chi (female) if the person you are addressing is older than you, and Em if they are younger. Also, if they are a lot older than you, use Bac (male) and Co (female). Yes, it sounds a bit pedantic but etiquette is very important in Vietnam.
Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are kid-friendly and attractions abound. Vietnamese love children, so don't be alarmed at all the attention your child receives. Also, for those travelling with babies, supplies are readily available but stock up if you plan to travel outside major city centres. Child safety seats are not readily available for any type of transportation and it's best to bring your own. There are few facilities for changing diapers in restaurants.
The standard electrical supply in Vietnam runs at 220V, 50Hz. If you have appliances that run at lower voltage or higher frequency, make sure you have a converter if your appliance itself cannot convert (just about all of them can these days). The sockets are usually two round pins without a ground pin, but they will often fit two flat blades as well. Universal sockets that take just about any plug are becoming increasingly common, not just in hotels with international clientele. If you need an adaptor, your hotel desk may have one, or you can find them cheaply at most markets and supermarkets; converters may be more problematic.
Important Phone Numbers:
Police 113, Fire 114, and Ambulance 115
Hanoi Police Department, 87 Tran Hung Dao St; 04 825 3131
Ho Chi Minh City Police Department, 266 Tran Hung Dao, D.1; 08 3836 8426