Ho Chi Minh City Travel Information
Local time in Vietnam is GMT +7.
Electrical current in Vietnam is 220 volts, 50Hz. Plugs are either the two flat-pin or the two round-pin type. Three rectangular blade plugs can be found in some of the newer hotels.
The official language in Vietnam is Vietnamese. Some Chinese, English and French are spoken. Tour guides can also speak Russian and Japanese. Numerous ethnic languages are also spoken in parts.
Health risks in Vietnam include Hepatitis A and E, typhoid, Japanese encephalitis, bilharzia, plague, cholera, diarrhoea and HIV/AIDS. Malaria prophylaxis is recommended for travel outside the main cities and towns, the Red River delta and north of Nha Trang.
There has been an increase in the amount of reported cases of dengue fever in recent years, and visitors should take care to protect themselves from mosquito bites during the day, especially just after dawn and just before dusk, particularly in the southern Mekong Delta region. Travellers should seek medical advice about vaccinations at least three weeks before leaving for Vietnam and ensure they have adequate insect protection. Typhoid can be a problem in the Mekong Delta. Those arriving from an infected area require a yellow fever vaccination certificate. Water is potable, but visitors usually prefer to drink bottled water.
Decent health care is available in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) with English-speaking doctors, and there is a surgical clinic in Da Nang, but more complicated treatment may require medical evacuation. Pharmacies throughout the country are adequate, but check expiry dates of medicines carefully, and be aware that some medicines are counterfeit. Health insurance is essential.
Most restaurants and hotels in Vietnam now add a five to ten percent service charge to their bills. In top hotels porters expect a small tip. Hired drivers and guides are usually tipped, and it is customary to round up the bill for taxi drivers in the cities. Tipping is not generally expected, but some small change for most services is appreciated.
Travel in Vietnam is generally safe and violent crime is uncommon. Pick-pocketing is rife, and in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) drive-by purse snatching is a common trick. When transferring from airports only use pre-arranged hotel pickups or licensed taxis to avoid theft from opportunists. It is best to leave valuables in a secure hotel safe and avoid obvious displays of wealth. During the monsoon season (usually between June and October) the country is prone to serious flooding and typhoons (until December), particularly the Mekong Delta and Central Region. In August and September 2008, Northern and Central Vietnam experienced torrential rain resulting in severe flooding, causing considerable damage to local infrastructure, including road and rail links.
The wearing of shorts in Vietnam should be avoided away from the beaches if possible. Shoes must be removed on entering religious sites and a donation is expected when visiting a temple or pagoda. Photography is restricted at ports, harbours and airports, and it is polite to ask permission before taking photographs of people, especially of ethnic minorities. Never leave chopsticks sticking upright in a bowl of rice as it has strong death connotations.
Business practices in Vietnam are conducted in a similar fashion to those of China, Japan and Korea rather than their Southeast Asian counterparts. Pride and tact are important to bear in mind, as practices tend to be formalised more so than in Western countries. Often it is best to be introduced rather than approach the person with whom business is intended for fear of suspicion. Negotiations and settlements may take longer as the Vietnamese like to examine contracts thoroughly. Formal dress is common but in summer months the dress tends to be more casual. It is important to be on time for business appointments as the Vietnamese consider lateness rude.
The person is always addressed as Mr., Mrs., and Ms., followed by their personal name (not family name), unless otherwise referred; it is worth finding out in advance. Shaking hands with both hands is the most respectful greeting although bowing is still popular among the older population, and meetings always begin with the exchange of business cards, which should be given and received with both hands; each person expects to receive one, so be sure to bring a vast supply. Business hours are typically 8am to 5pm Monday to Friday with an hour taken at lunch, and 8am to 11.30am on Saturdays.
The international country code for Vietnam is +84. The outgoing code is 00, followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 001 for the United States or Canada). City/area codes are in use, e.g. Hanoi is (0)4 and Ho Chi Minh City is (0)8. GSM 900 mobile networks cover the major urban areas. Internet cafes are available in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and other major centres.
Travellers to Vietnam over 18 years do not have to pay duty on the following items: 400 cigarettes, 100 cigars or 500g tobacco; 1.5 litres alcohol with alcohol content higher than 22 percent and 2 litres below 22 percent; up to 5kg tea and 3kg coffee; perfume and items for personal consumption within reasonable amounts; other goods to the value of five million Vietnamese dong.
Become our Ho Chi Minh City Travel Expert
We are looking for contributors for our Ho Chi Minh City travel guide. If you are a local, a regular traveller to Ho Chi Minh City or a travel professional with time to contribute and answer occasional forum questions, please contact us.