Vietnam is among the most popular destinations in Southeast Asia. Partly because of its diverse natural landscapes, it has much to offer. From endless beaches to impenetrable jungles. Vietnam has it all. With the possibility of applying for an e-visa, a trip to Vietnam can be arranged in no time at all. Read more about the history, culture and climate of the country here.
Facts and Numbers
|Population||98 million (2022)|
|Currency||Vietnamese dong (VND)|
|Time difference||7 hours (winter) or 6 hours (summer)|
|Flight time||15 hours|
|Electricity||220 or 110 Volts (different from in the UK)|
|Plugs||Type A, C and D (travel plug required)|
|Tap water||Not safe to drink|
|Visa||Visa is required|
Vietnam covers the entire east side of Southeast Asia and therefore has a long coastline. From north to south, Vietnam is approximately 1650 kilometres long and at its narrowest point, the country is only 30 kilometres wide. Because of the long distances between the northern and southern borders of the country, there are lots of cultural and demographic differences. In the north, Vietnam borders China, the neighbouring country that has most influenced Vietnamʼs society throughout its history. In the west, Vietnam borders Laos and Cambodia.
The Vietnam prehistory
The areas that make up modern Vietnam have been inhabited since the earliest prehistoric times. Humanoid remains dating back half a million years have been discovered in Vietnam. Agriculture was most likely practised for thousands of years BC in the area around the Red River in the north of the country. This makes Vietnamʼs civilisation among the oldest in the world. The first urban areas date back to approximately 3000 years BC. According to local legends, the Vietnamese people are descended from a mythical dragon and a fairy who together had a hundred offspring. The eldest son would have founded the Hồng Bàng dynasty and ruled the north of Vietnam. This dynasty ruled until 258 years BC, after which the area was taken by a rival ruler.
The Kingdom of Nanyue, the first Vietnamese state?
Chinese dynasties gained an increasingly strong grip on mainland China over the centuries. From the third century BC, Chinese influence gradually expanded until it reached Vietnam. A Chinese commander of the Qin Dynasty, named Zhao Tuo, founded an independent empire in the south of modern China. This empire consisted not only of Chinese territories, but also included the north and a good part of the coastline of present-day Vietnam.
Vietnamese historians therefore disagree whether this period should already be counted as the era of Chinese rule. Although Nanyue was a vassal state, in practice it was independent of the Chinese dynasty. This came to an abrupt end when Nanyue entered into conflict with the Han dynasty. Nanyue lost the battle and had to give up its areas to the Chinese conquerors. In Vietnam, the Nanyue period is looked back on with pride. The Vietnamese spelling of Nanyue is Nam Việt and the name of present-day Vietnam therefore comes from Nanyue.
Vietnam under Chinese influence
Between 111 BC and 1427, Vietnam was ruled by several Chinese dynasties. However, the Vietnamese rebelled against the Chinese rulers numerous times, often with success. An almost mythical revolt is that of the Trung sisters, who raised an army and thus liberated all of Vietnam. Their reign thereafter only lasted three years, because the governing Chinese dynasty struck back quickly and regained control over Vietnam. The two sisters are still regarded as Vietnamʼs national heroines. The most famous rebellion against Chinese rule is probably the Lam Sơn revolt, in which, led by independence fighter Lê Lợi, they fought against the Ming dynasty, after which Vietnam was freed from Chinese rule for good in 1427.
Despite all of this resistance, China has strongly influenced Vietnam. For instance, many Chinese techniques in agriculture, infrastructure and administration were adopted by the Vietnamese. Moreover, under the Han Dynasty, Vietnamese people were forced to adopt Chinese customs and traditions. Expressions of local customs were hereby banned. Vietnamese were forced to write the Chinese language. Nevertheless, local Vietnamese was also still spoken.
The Trấn Quốc Pagoda, a Buddhist temple built in the 6th century AD, is the oldest pagoda in Hanoi
Contact with European colonists
In the years after its independence, Vietnam was not always a unitary state. Multiple dynasties competed for power over the centuries. Although Vietnam managed to ward off Chinese invasions, Vietnam could not withstand European colonisation forces forever. The first Europeans to set foot in Vietnam were the Portuguese. In the early 16th century, the Portuguese established trading posts to trade with the homeland, but did not penetrate further into the interior.
In the second half of the 19th century, it was the French who tried to gain full control over Vietnam. Within less than 50 years, the French managed to completely conquer Vietnam, as well as Laos and Cambodia. This was mainly due to their superior armament compared to the local population. After the successful conquest, the French aimed to extract as many resources as possible from the country and ship them to France. The locals had nothing to counter this and were exploited by their colonisers.
Independence and the Vietnam War
Early in the 20th century, nationalist sentiment arose among the people of occupied Vietnam. There were demonstrations and several underground movements. However, the greatest resistance came from supporters of the emerging communist movement, led by Ho Chi Minh. Shortly after the end of World War II, communist militias managed to occupy large parts of North Vietnam. However, the French struck back hard, marking the beginning of the Indochina Wars. After many years of bloody fighting, Vietnam was split in two, with the north coming under the Viet Minh (communist independence fighters) and the south under the control of the French.
However, tensions between north and south Vietnam continued to rise, culminating in a new war: the Vietnam War. In the 1960s of the last century, the Americans sent hundreds of thousands of military personnel to Vietnam, in order to curb the influence of communism. The Northern Vietnamese resistance persisted, leading to the complete withdrawal of American troops in the 1970s. In 1976, North and South Vietnam were reunited and Vietnam became a socialist republic.
In the years after the war, the country was in a crisis. Conflicts with its neighbouring countries caused Vietnam to become increasingly isolated, leaving the people living in uncertainty for a long time. Beginning at the end of the 1980s, the country gradually gained more economic freedom. A freer market attracted more investors and the economy grew steadily. Nevertheless, Vietnam is still officially a socialist republic without much freedom for its people.
Language and Culture
Vietnam is a country with a large cultural diversity. The majority of the population lived in the two most important river deltas in the country (the Red River Delta in the north and the Mekong Delta in the south). Vietnamese is the language spoken in the country. In the sparsely populated mountains, much smaller population groups speak a language other than Vietnamese. Even so, Vietnamese continues to be the language spoken by the vast majority of the population.
Family plays a big role in Vietnamese society. In rural areas, it is still very common for several generations of a family to live together in one big house, with a patriarch as head of the family. Elderly people are highly respected in Vietnamese culture. At communal meals, the elderly are served their food first and in discussions, the opinion of the elderly person always counts more.
Vietnamese cuisine is very varied and there are big differences between different regions. Rice is the main ingredient in most dishes. A lot of vegetables and fish sauce are also used, but relatively little oil. Vietnamʼs national dish is Phở, a soup with rice noodles, spices and meat. Phở has now also found its way to the global market and is available in many Vietnamese restaurants around the world today.
The diverse Vietnamese kitchen
Although religion was suppressed for a long time by the Vietnamese government, which imposed atheism, a large part of the population continued to follow a religion. Today, a large portion of the Vietnamese people are not officially religious but do profess a personal faith. Some 20 percent of the population adheres to some form of Christianity, but Buddhism is the religion with the most influence in the country. Altars can be found in the homes of many Vietnamese in honour of local deities or deceased relatives. Visitors should therefore behave respectfully in the vicinity of these altars.
Climate and Best Travel Time
Because Vietnam is more than 1,000 kilometres long, its climate is very diverse. For instance, the north is generally known for its temperate climate, while the south has a tropical climate. Despite these differences, the annual weather pattern across the country is influenced by the monsoon, an abrupt six-monthly change in wind direction. The monsoon causes heavy showers in the south and north of the country, especially between May and October. In central Vietnam, on the other hand, it rains more between September and January. In the north, the differences between the four seasons are evident, while in the south, where there is more of a dry and wet period, this is not the case.
Consequently, the best time to travel to Vietnam depends on the region you want to visit. The most suitable time for a trip to the north is probably spring, late summer or autumn. For a trip to the middle region of the country, April and May are more likely to be recommended. The best time for a trip to southern Vietnam is between November and January.
As Vietnam has a long coastline, much of the country is threatened by rising sea levels. More natural disasters are also expected in the coming decades due to climate change. For instance, typhoons (tropical storms) have become a lot more severe in the past 40 years.
The splendid nature in Vietnam
Vietnam has a lot to offer tourists. The country is particularly popular among backpackers. This is because costs in the country itself are relatively low. Once you have factored out the costs of the travel to Vietnam, travelling throughout the country can be very affordable. The countryʼs easily accessible public transportation makes it possible to comfortably get from one place to another. Many tourists also rent a moped, a popular means of transport among locals. There is plenty to see and experience in the country, Here are five of Vietnamʼs most popular highlights.
This city in central Vietnam is known for its rich history. The historic centre still features many old buildings from the period from the 15th to the 19th century, when Hội An was an important port. A well-known landmark of the city is the so-called Japanese Bridge, a bridge built in the 16th century. A special time to visit this city is during Tết, the Vietnamese New Year. A huge festival of lights takes place in that time, with thousands of lanterns illuminating the city for seven days.
Phong Nha-K Bàng National Park
This park is known for its hundreds of caves, including one of the worldʼs largest and most spectacular caves, Hang Sơn Đoòng. Besides the caves, the surrounding rainforest is a major reason for many travellers to visit this national park. Tourists often come here for hikes through the beautiful nature. The dozens of breathtaking waterfalls, in particular, are a popular attraction.
Hạ Long Bay
This bay, located in northern Vietnam, is known for the many limestone islands and rocks protruding from the water. These have been created by erosion over millions of years. It is therefore highly recommended to take a boat ride on the sparkling blue water and admire the impressive rocks up close. There are also a number of caves that can be visited by kayak.
The Mekong Delta covers a large area in southern Vietnam. A popular highlight is to take a cruise on one of the river tributaries. By taking a boat trip here, travellers can see a lot. It is possible to visit a big city like Ho Chin Min City this way, but it is also a fun way to get acquainted with the nature of South Vietnam.
Củ Chi tunnel complex
The Củ Chi tunnels are a relic of the Vietnam War. During the war, the Viet Cong used these tunnels as hiding places. This tunnel network, totalling about 121 kilometres long, has been preserved as a monument by the Vietnamese government. Parts of the tunnel network are open and can be explored by visitors.
Economy and Currency
Vietnamʼs economy has grown explosively of the past 40 years. The state, with its five-year plans, has a lot of influence on economic development. Nevertheless, the market has become more free in recent years. Vietnam is largely a service economy, but industry, agriculture and fisheries are also important sectors. For instance, Vietnam is among the worldʼs largest rice exporters.
In Vietnam, payment is made using the Vietnamese dong (VND). Cash exists in the form of both coins and paper money of 200, 500, 1000 and 5000 dong. Since 2003, there have also been polymer banknotes in denominations of 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, 100,000, 200,000 and 500,000 dong. In Vietnam, it is still very common to pay in cash. Therefore, make sure you carry enough cash with you when travelling. In hotels and shopping centres in major cities, it is often also possible to pay by credit card. Moreover, you can withdraw money at most ATMs with a British or Irish debit card. Usually, no more than two million dong (about seventy pounds) can be withdrawn each time. Furthermore, keep in mind that ATMs are few and far between outside major cities.
It is very common to tip, especially in the tourism industry. It is also common to haggle in smaller shops or souvenir shops. Haggling in hotels and large shopping centres, however, is rare.
Meandering river through the Vietnamese landscape
Vietnam is generally a safe country to travel to. However, beware of pickpockets and theft in major cities. European tourists are seen as an easy target. It is therefore advised against visiting remote alleys and neighbourhoods.
Depending on when you travel, severe tropical storms can occur in Vietnam. Therefore, prepare well for any severe weather conditions. Due to rainfall, landslides regularly occur in the mountainous north of Vietnam.
Especially on the border with Laos, there is still a lot of unexploded ammunition from the Vietnam War. Therefore, avoid the cordoned-off paths here at all times.
Has the information about the country piqued your interest and would you like to travel to Vietnam? Through this website, you can easily and quickly apply for an e-visa.
Apply for the Vietnam visa now
e-Visa.ie is a commercial and professional visa agency, and supports travellers in obtaining, among others, the Vietnam visa. e-Visa.ie acts as an intermediary and is in no way part of any government. You can also apply for a visa directly with the immigration service (640.352 VND per visa, via evisa.xuatnhapcanh.gov.vn). However, not with our level of support. If you submit your application via e-Visa.ie, our support centre is available to you 24/7. In addition, we manually check your application and all the documents you provide before submitting it to the immigration authorities on your behalf. If we suspect any errors or omissions while doing so, we will personally contact you to ensure that your application can still be processed quickly and correctly. To use our services, you pay us 640.352 VND in consular fees, which we pay to the immigration service on your behalf, as well as € 24,43 in service fees as compensation for our services, including VAT. Our services have saved many travellers from major problems during their trip. Should an application be rejected despite our support and verification, we will refund the full purchase price (unless an application for a previous Vietnam visa was rejected for the same traveller). Read more about our services here.