Socialist republic since 1980. Gained independence from France in 1954.
Head of state:
President Nguyen Minh Triet since 2006.
Head of government:
Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung since 2006.
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.