Socialist republic since 1980. Gained independence from France in 1954.
Head of state:
President Truong Tan Sang since 2011.
Head of government:
President Truong Tan Sang since 2011.
220/110 volts AC, 50Hz; flat two-pin plugs are in use. Occasionally round two-pin plug sockets can be found, so it is worth having adaptors for both.
Vietnam is an utter assault on the senses; at once dizzying, frenetic and fascinating. Conical-hatted street vendors sell their wares on the pavements outside gleaming high-rises and exquisite temples are surrounded by streets buzzing with thousands of motorbikes.
Wherever you travel you can't fail to be intrigued by this frenetic, fascinating country. The capital Hanoi is the focus for arts in Vietnam and has been since its foundation in the year 1010 while in Ho Chi Minh City business is king. Hue is steeped in imperial history, Hoi An the place to soak up the atmosphere and the largely undeveloped coastline is the place to kick back.
Life in urban Vietnam is conducted on the streets. In bia hois (pavement pubs) men sup ice-cold beer and odours from makeshift food stalls fill the nostrils: see steaming pho, a noodle soup with various unidentifiable chunks of meat, or grilled chicken feet. Along nearly all the moped-clogged streets produce is sold. Tubs wriggle with live sturgeon, crabs and frogs (still a delicacy from French colonial days), baskets are top heavy with colourful and bizarre fruit, and every possible piece of a pig is on sale.
Rural Vietnam is entirely different. Just a short distance from the cities, water buffalo wallow in green rice paddies and elegant women wearing traditional conical headwear cycle along dusty paths.
Petty street crime is increasing in the larger cities (such as Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi) and tourist resorts. Nha Trang beach also sees an increase in bag snatching during the summer months. You should take sensible precautions.
Typhoon Ketsana passed across central Vietnam on Tuesday 29 and Wednesday 30 September 2009. The storm resulted in casualties in rural areas and damage to infrastructure, including disruption to transport and energy services, in central provinces such as Da Nang, Quang Ngai and surrounding areas. Travellers staying in an affected area, or planning to visit one, are advised to continue to register with the Foreign Office.
Typhoons and Tropical Storms commonly occur in Vietnam between June and December. In August, September and October 2008, Northern and Central Vietnam experienced torrential rain resulting in severe flooding including in Hanoi. This caused considerable damage to local infrastructure, including road and rail links.
Outbreaks of Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) in Vietnam have led to over 50 reported human fatalities. As a precaution, travellers should avoid live animal markets, poultry farms and other places where they may come into close contact with domestic, caged or wild birds; and ensure poultry and egg dishes are thoroughly cooked.
The HCMC and Hanoi Health Departments have suspended bottled water producers for violating regulations on safety and hygiene. Some bottles were found to contain Pseudomonas aerugionosa bacteria, which can cause infections and sepsis in humans.
Dengue Fever is endemic to Vietnam and can occur throughout the year. There is no vaccination or immunisation. There has recently been an increase in the number of dengue haemorrhagic fever cases in Vietnam due to some unseasonal periods of heavy rain, and there have been a number of serious cases, some of which have resulted in fatalities.
There is a low threat from terrorism in Vietnam. But you should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks, which could be in public areas including those frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers.
Serious or violent crimes against foreigners in Vietnam are rare, but travellers should remain vigilant for petty theft, especially in larger cities (such as Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi) and tourist resorts, and when travelling by bus or train.
Illegal drugs are increasingly available in major cities. You should be aware that drugs are likely to have been 'tampered with' or spiked. Drug trafficking and possession carries heavy penalties, including the death penalty, which is enforced in Vietnam.
This advice is based on information provided by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in the UK. It is correct at time of publishing. As the situation can change rapidly, visitors are advised to contact the following organisations for the latest travel advice: British Foreign and Commonwealth Office Tel: 020 7008 1500. Website: www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice US Department of State Website: http://travel.state.gov/travel