Capital: Hanoi (pop. 6.5 million)
Largest city: Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) pop. 7 million
Population: 90.5 million (13th in the world)
Area: 331,698 km2 (65th largest country – about the size of Victoria and Tasmania together)
Population density: 260 per square kilometre (46th in the world)
Currency: the dong. Currently about 20,000 dong to the Australian dollar.
Entry visas needed for citizens of most other countries.
Time zone, 3 hours behind Sydney EST.
Other things you may not know – picked up from our guide during the trip and in no particular order of importance or location:
- In case you haven't worked it out, in Vietnam Nguyen is the most common surname, usually preceding the personal name. Hundreds of years ago people were forced to change their name to Nguyen.
- The name fro Vietnam comes from two words used by the Chinese centuries ago. 'Viet' means the people, and 'Nam' south. To the Chinese, they were simply 'the people of the south'.
- The old city of Hanoi, hundreds of years ago, used to have streets which were concerned with selling just one sort of goods – shoes, shirts, kitchenware etc. This can still be the case although not so much. You can tell when you have found one of these old streets as it still starts with the old name for street ‘Hang’.
- Motor cycles are king on Vietnamese roads – a 100cc costs around US$1200, a 200cc around US$2000. People can get a bike licence at 18. Safety helmets are mandatory for adults, although not children. Often an entire family (mum, dad and two children) are carried on one motor cycle. Soon some major roads will have separate car and bike lanes. The fine for not wearing a helmet is US$10.
- Around 56 percent of Vietnamese men smoke and the incidence of lung cancer is high.
- There are around 1.5 Vietnamese living the US.
- Tet is the name of the Vietnamese New Year and is the most important holiday in the country.
- The most popular dish is pho, a rice noodle soup.
- Buddhism is the dominant religion.
- Incomes are comparatively low compared to the Western world. Teachers earn about US$150 per month.
- Fuel is US$1.05c per litre (that’s around 23,000 dong)
- Many local people sell in either dong or USD and swap between the two effortlessly. Talk to them in either currency – and don’t be afraid to haggle. It’s expected, but do be respectful of the amount of work that has gone into the making of some of the handcrafted items.
- Ho Chi Minh has an official population of between 7 and 8 million, although at any one time it could be as high as 12 million as many people flock to the city looking for work.
- The national sport of Vietnam is jianzi a game using a shuttlecock, which is like a cross between soccer and badminton.
- A Metro system is planned for HCM city – might be several years before it is finalised.
- Traffic police wear yellow uniforms.
- The pointed white bamboo hat worn by Vietnamese ladies is called a ‘non’. Their graceful tunic dress is an ‘ao dai’.
- Vietnam is a major world producer of pepper. The country is number two in the world as a coffee producer, third in the world for rice, and fourth in the world for tea.
- Vietnams stretches for around 200 kilometres from north to south and has approximately 3500 km of coastline. China owns 80 percent of the ocean off this coastline with Vietnam only able to fish up to 10 kilometres from the shore.
- Thit Cho is the name for a restaurant where dog meat is served.
- Mekong means ‘mother river’ and flows through five countries. There are 25-26 dams on the river, built to provide hydro-electric power. The river is salt-water for up to 20 kilometres from the mouth. There is a confusion over the river’s length as China claims some of it.
- The two colours in the Vietnamese flag are red and yellow.
- The Mekong produces 53 percent of Vietnam’s rice. From September to November, flooding up-river necessitates irrigation and controls.
- Vietnam has 400 magazines and newspapers.
- There are few burials in Saigon as land is so expensive. Many bodies are cremated, and the ashes stored at pagodas and churches, depending on the family’s beliefs.
- There are 54 ethnic groups. The Kinh are the largest group, followed by Hmong, Mnong and Xiao.
Culture Shock! Vietnam – especially good for those planning on living long-term in Vietnam.
Lonely Planet Vietnam
Lonely Planet World Food, Vietnam