Vietnam – sometimes spelled Viet Nam, officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam – is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, and the South China Sea – referred to in Vietnam as the East Sea – to the east. With an estimated 90.5 million inhabitants as of 2011, Vietnam is the world’s 13th-most-populous country, and the eighth-most-populous Asian country.
The Vietnamese became independent from Imperial China in 938 AD, following the Battle of Bach Dang River. Successive Vietnamese royal dynasties flourished as the nation expanded geographically and politically into Southeast Asia, until the Indochina Peninsula was colonized by the French in the mid-19th century. The First Indochina War eventually led to their expulsion from the country in 1954 leaving Vietnam divided politically into two countries. Fighting between the two sides continued, with heavy foreign intervention, during the Vietnam War, which ended with a North Vietnamese victory in 1975.
Emerging from this prolonged military engagement, the war-ravaged Communist nation was politically isolated. In 1986, the government instituted economic and political reforms and began a path towards international reintegration. By 2000, it had established diplomatic relations with most nations. Its economic growth has been among the highest in the world since 2000, and according to Citigroup, such high growth is set to continue. Vietnam has the highest Global Growth Generators Index among 11 major economies, and its successful economic reforms resulted in it joining the World Trade Organization in 2007. However, the country still suffers from relatively high levels of income inequality, disparities in healthcare provision, and poor gender equality. (from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnam)
The GLBT Community is slowly growing in Vietnam. Gays in Vietnam are not oppressed by the government and there are no laws against homosexuality. The Vietnamese government is adamant about suppressing a sex industry, be it straight or gay. There are very strict laws about underage sex, don’t get caught! In many hotels it is impossible or difficult to bring back a guest to your room that has not registered in advance. The younger generation seems to be very open about their sexuality, and the expat community is somewhat out and supportive of the gay community. There are several bars, pubs, discos, nightclubs, restaurants, spas, saunas, guesthouses and resorts that are gay owned or managed. The discos and nightclubs are mixed but the gays know where to gather. Prostitution is illegal in Vietnam as is the payment for sex, so be careful. There are young men cruising along the parks at night, just be careful of picking up someone, you may get ripped off or threatened. There have been a number of “gay” weddings reported in the press. These are not officially recognised and the participants have generally left the country after the wedding.
Simply walking to the nearest intersection and merely watching the driving antics is amazing. Keep watching and you may see TV’s and Fridges and other unlikely objects impossibly balanced and secured with string on the back of a motorcycle. Watch how other people and local cross the road.
You will need to observe the traffic etiquette, if you want to cross the road. Some suggest avoid crossing when trucks and lorry’s are close by, as they are less agile than motorbikes.
If your timing coincides with the to/from school hours, this is the best time to observe a glimpse of pushbikes, traditional clothing and ao dai mixing it with ‘normal’ traffic, even in the heaviest of torrential downpours. Such motivated schoolchildren!
As you travel about, you will find there are clusters of shops all selling like goods – like 20 sewing machine shops together, then 30 hardware shops all together, 200 motorcycle repair shops in the same block. Prices are competitive!
Be wary of watch shops selling original authentic fakes. Other fake watches are available but not as cheap as other surrounding countries. Pirated software is oddly, very hard to find and not sold openly. However Movie DVD’s of indifferent quality are widely available from US$1, although not all may have English on them. The local post office will strictly not allow them to be posted abroad.
Vietnam claims Health tourism is on the rise. Hygiene, infection control and proper sterilization is very important, as drug resistant ‘bugs’ are always a concern, anywhere.
Motorbike adventure tours: there are many tour operators who provide motorbike tours around the remote regions of Vietnam. Given that motorbikes are the main mode of transport in Vietnam, this can be a particularly authentic means of traveling through the country and visiting those off-the-beaten-track places. Most tours include accommodation, petrol, helmets, drivers and entry tickets to local places of interest. They usually speak good English or French and offer customised tours if desired.
The national currency is the dong, which is difficult to find or exchange outside Vietnam; change money on arrival and try to get rid of any leftovers before leaving the country. Continuing inflation and a series of devaluations continues to steadily push down the value of the dong, with US$1 dollar fetching over 21,000 dong in February 2012. Bills are available in denominations of 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, 100,000, 200,000 and 500,000 dong. In 2003, coins were also introduced in denominations of 200, 500, 1000, 2000 and 5000 dong, although these are rarely seen.