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Elegant Hanoi now vies with its dynamic sister, Ho Chi Minh City (still fondly called Saigon by the locals), for the attention of visitors drawn by the eclectic mix of old and new. In both cities the streets are jam-packed with motorbikes and scooters, often carrying whole families, and the markets are chaotically busy. Elsewhere, the scenes are timeless. Early morning on the Mekong Delta brings the daily floating markets where fruit and vegetables are peddled. Everywhere the green patchwork of rice paddies stretches into the distance, broken only by the silhouette of water buffalo and conical-hatted farm workers bending down to tend the young plants.

Practical Information

Area: 329 247 km² (127 123 miles²)

Capital: Hanoi. Population: 3.2 million

Population: 83.6 million

Currency: Dông (VND symbol ₫)

Government: Socialist republic since 1980. Gained independence from France in 1954.

Tipping: Tipping is now quite customary, especially in tourist areas. Upscale restaurants and hotels may add a 5 to 10% service charge to the bill.

Time zone: GMT + 7

Languages: Vietnamese

Additional descriptions

Vietnam: Social customs

Handshaking and a vocal greeting is normal. Clothing should be kept simple, informal and discreet. Avoid shorts if possible as they are usually only worn by children. Footwear should be removed when enteringRead more Buddhist pagodas. Vietnamese people should not be touched on the head.Photography: There are restrictions at ports, airports and harbours, and in similar areas elsewhere. It is courteous to ask permission first before taking photographs of people.

Vietnam: Food and local specialties

Vietnamese cooking is varied and usually very good. It is a mixture of Vietnamese, Chinese and French traditions, with a plethora of regional specialities. As in all countries of the region, rice or noodlesRead more usually provide the basis of a meal. Not surprisingly, fish is plentiful. The national specialties are: Breakfast is generally noodle soup locally known as pho. French-style baguettes are available throughout Vietnam. Nem (spring rolls - pork mixed with noodles, eggs and mushrooms wrapped in rice paper, fried and served hot). Banh chung (glutinous rice, pork and onions wrapped in large leaves and cooked for up to 48 hours, to be eaten cold at any time). Vietnamese dishes are not complete without nuoc mam, a fermented fish sauce. Green tea is refreshing and available everywhere. The French culinary legacy embraces rich, fresh, filter coffee, usually brewed on the table in front of the customer. Bia Hoi, a local draught beer available at street stalls everywhere. It is not only cheap, but free of additives. Rice wine is also a favourite throughout the country. It is generally extremely potent.

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