Vietnam is a fascinating wedge of a country. A coastal gem bordered to the east by the South China Sea, Vietnam is a must-see staple for travellers embarking on a Southeast Asian journey.
Many start their travels in the southern Ho Chi Minh City, the largest metropolis in Vietnam. The city’s boulevards still boast elegant French colonial architecture, remnants of a time when Ho Chi Minh City was primarily referred to as “Saigon.” The city was an important hub during the Vietnam War, and history buffs can feel as though they’ve stepped back in time at one of many city museums and the Rex or Caravelle hotels where American officers and war correspondents alike hung out during the period.
Then grab a sleeper train and start your way up the coast. Stop in Hoi An for a stroll through a beautifully preserved ancient town. Later in the week arrive into Hanoi and explore, before taking a bucket list-worthy boat cruise around the idyllic Halong Bay.
Before heading to Vietnam, remember to note the country’s distinct seasonal and geographic differences in weather, in addition to a variety of health precautions. Ensure you do your research so you can appreciate Vietnam for all it’s worth.
Travellers do not require any vaccinations to visit Vietnam, though the Public Health Agency (PHA) recommends seeing a travel medical specialist six weeks before your trip to talk about the following health concerns:
- Yellow Fever– there is no risk of Yellow Fever in Vietnam, though proof of vaccination is required for travellers coming from a country where the disease occurs.
- Hepatitis A– spread to humans through the consumption of contaminated food and water.
- Hepatitis B– a liver disease spread through unprotected sexual intercourse, an infected needle or piercing tool, or exchange of bodily fluids.
It is recommended that travellers to Vietnam take proper precautions against mosquito bites, since diseases such as Dengue fever, Chikungunya, and Japanese encephalitis are all found in the country. Vaccination can only protect against the latter of the diseases. The likelihood of being bit by an infected mosquito is higher at sunrise and sunset. Malaria is also a risk, especially in areas away from the coast and closer to the Cambodia and Laos borders.
Vietnam experiences around 100,000 new cases of tuberculosis each year. The bacterial infection affects the lungs and chance of exposure is highest for travellers who will be working in homeless shelters, orphanages, schools, or visiting friends and family in a rural region of the country. Otherwise the risk to travellers is low. Your Passport Health Travel Clinic provide pre and post-travel testing for the infection.
In the summer of 2015, two strains of Avian Influenza were reported in northern and southern parts of Vietnam. More than 250 infected birds were killed by the virus, though there were no reported cases of humans becoming infected.
Vietnam has three distinct climatic regions: the north, the south, and the central part of the country. Here’s what you can expect in a few key cities:
Hanoi: The northern capital city has four distinct seasons. Summer lasts from May until August and includes hot and humid conditions and the highest amount of rainfall in the year. Winter is cooler and less humid, though there is generally quite a bit of fog during this period. Temperatures range from an average of 16º Celsius in the winter months to 29º Celsius in the summer.
Ho Chi Minh City: Ho Chi Minh City is the most populous city in Vietnam and experiences tropical conditions throughout the year. Nearly half the year is rainy, with most precipitation falling between May and October. The average temperature is 28º Celsius.
Hoi An: This UNESCO World Heritage Site is located in central Vietnam along the coast of the South China Sea. Unlike Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, the best time of year to visit Hoi An is May until the end of August when seas are calm and temperatures are more moderate.
Petty crime is a tourist’s greatest risk while in Vietnam, particularly in the cities. Don’t show signs of affluence, and keep your bag close to you at all times. Be aware that bag slashing is a common way for thieves to steal items, as is grabbing bags from passing motorcycles. In some instances, Canadian travellers have even reported having their smartphone snatched by a motorbike passenger while they were taking a photo.
Only take registered taxis, especially from the airport. Ensure that if you’re being picked up you have the driver’s name, license plate, and telephone number in order to avoid being scammed. Always map out where you’re going in advance so you can try and track the taxi’s route.
Avoid public demonstrations as they are highly illegal and can lead to heavy jail sentences.
Transportation in Vietnam can be dangerous because of road conditions. Only drivers with a Vietnamese license are allowed behind the wheel. If you are driving illegally and harm someone by accident, you could be responsible for paying them compensation before you can leave the country. Boat rides in Halong Bay are a popular choice with travellers, but ensure your tour operator follows proper safety standards. Travelling on the roads after dark is considered unsafe.
Soft sleeper berths are the best bet for travellers looking to have a comfortable haul along Vietnam’s famous north-south train service. Soft sleepers and the slightly less expensive hard sleepers are usually air conditioned, which can be essential to getting a good night’s sleep during your journey.
Often hotels can buy train tickets, which can help travellers avoid tourist ticket scams and any lost in translation moments. It is common that a small delivery fee will be charged for this service.
Keep your ticket stub with you even after it has been checked as you will need it to exit the station at your terminus.
Here are a few essential items you won’t want to miss as you prepare to leave for Vietnam:
- Vietnamese visa: Italian travellers must have a visa prior to travelling to Vietnam. Applications can be done online or in-person through the Embassy of Vietnam.
- Ear plugs and a sleeping mask: These two items will help you get a good night’s rest if your itinerary leads you to an overnight train. Some airlines will provide these items as part of an in-flight care bundle, but you may wish to pack your own, just in case.
- Lightweight or quick-drying clothing: Cotton clothing will be your worst nightmare in Vietnam. Buying quick-drying fabrics or functional sports shirts will mean you’re not wearing clothing damp with sweat, humidity, or rain. Remember that clothes are very cheap across Vietnam, so there will be no shortage of wardrobe expansion options once you get there.
- Sarong or scarf: There are temples of all religions across Vietnam. Have a sarong or scarf to cover your shoulders so you can show the proper amount of respect. Some temples may restrict entry for both men and women who are deemed to be wearing clothing that is too revealing.
- Travel sickness medication: Be it cross country train rides or a boat ride on the famous Halong Bay, bring travel sickness medication from home to ensure you’re able to enjoy these experiences on an unsick stomach.
All Italians visiting Vietnam should register with the Embassy. This will inform the office of your travel plans within the country and will allow them to reach out to you in the case of an emergency or evacuation. If you plan to purchase a local SIM card you can also enter your phone number to receive SMS updates from the office.
The Embassy of Italy in Hanoi
9, Le Phung Hieu Street
tel: +84.4.38256 246/256
fax: +84.4.38267 602
24/7 Emergency line: 090 343 0950
Visit the Embassy website prior to your departure.
Italians should get their visa before leaving for Vietnam. Only in exceptional circumstances can a visa be gotten on arrival to the country. A visa is required regardless of how long you plan to stay in Vietnam. To apply, Italians need a passport that is valid for at least one month following the expiry date of their Vietnam visa. You can apply online for the visa, and more information can be found on the Vietnam Visa services website, you can also submit your application in-person at the Embassy of Vietnam during office hours.
Fees and processing times depend on whether you’re getting a single or multiple entry visa and the length of stay you’re requesting (the standard periods are one month and three months).
Upon arrival in Vietnam, travellers must register with the local police, a process that will happen automatically if you’re staying in a hotel. A hotel may ask to keep your passport until your stay is through, but you have no legal obligation to leave it with them.
If you have any questions about travelling to Vietnam or are wondering what shots you may need for your trip, schedule an appointment with your local International Health Passport travel clinic today or call +39 392 0056499.