If you ever decide to take a trip to Vietnam you’ll come across the Vietnamese dong, as this is their national currency. In theory it has two units that it is subdivided into – the hao and the xu – but in reality these aren’t used anymore and they do not exist in anything more than memory. When you see an amount given for this currency you will typically see a ‘d’ after it to indicate it is priced in the dong.
There are just five coins in use for the Vietnamese dong, ranging from the 200 dong coin to the 5,000 dong coin. Aside from these you will also see the 200, 500 and 1,000 dong coins.
There are lots of banknotes though, which are issued in the following denominations - 200d, 500d, 1,000d, 2,000d, 5,000d, 10,000d, 20,000d, 50,000d, 100,000d, and 500,000d.
This currency was introduced in both 1946 and 1953. Now you may think that is unusual and indeed it is – but at the time the country was divided into North Vietnam and South Vietnam. The south introduced the dong later than the northern part of the country, hence why the two dates are actually both correct.
You’ve probably heard of the Vietnam War, even if you don’t know all the details. During the Seventies Vietnam finally unified as one country and at this point the dong as we know and recognise it today was launched.
Many cash machines are available that can be used to get this currency when you arrive in Vietnam. You can also pick up the currency as soon as you get to Vietnam upon arrival at the airport, since there is a currency exchange booth here to use. You can also do the same when you leave, swapping any cash you have left over to your home currency.
Vietnamese people do tend to like clean and fresh banknotes so make sure you don’t end up with any ragged ones as you might have trouble getting rid of them. In theory you can pay in some venues with the US dollar, but in reality you may not get a great deal if you do this, so always stick to using the dong.
If you decide to take your Mastercard or Visa card with you it is likely you will be able to use it in bigger stores and in many locations in the cities. Do take the usual precautions though – alert your provider to the fact you’re going to Vietnam and make sure you keep the card in your sight whenever you are paying.
You should find this a breeze, since any good currency converter will give you the figures you need. Some are updated rather more often than others though, so watch out for those that only update daily if you want the very latest figures. All you need to do is to enter your currency first and then the Vietnamese dong to find out what the latest rate will be.
If you want to learn more about visiting Vietnam it might be an idea to visit the website for the Embassy of Vietnam in the UK. This can be found at http://www.vietnamembassy.org.uk/.
Vietnam has a lot to offer as a destination in itself. Most people who go to the country on holiday enjoy their stay and return home without incident. Of course you should always stay alert for any potential issues that could arise and make sure you assess the latest travel risks (if any) before you go. In many ways the biggest risks in Vietnam – at some times of the year – relate to tropical cyclones. Try and visit outside this season if you possibly can, and be aware that they normally hit the eastern parts of the country as opposed to elsewhere.
Aside from that, crime isn’t a major problem for tourists in Vietnam. However you should be prepared to take the usual precautions you would take if you were at home. If you have a hotel to stay in that offers you the use of a safe, make sure you do use it. It is normally wise to have a photocopy of your passport to carry with you, and to leave the original locked up while you are out. You should only have it on you when you are arriving at the hotel and leaving it to return home.
There have been reports of occasional violence against tourists and others in busy areas, although they are rare. Make sure you do not present yourself as any more of a target than necessary. Keep your bag close and hang it around your neck as opposed to on your shoulder. This minimises the odds of it being snatched. In addition to this you should keep a firm hold on it and keep it zipped up. Many people take the step of dividing up any money they have with them, so they can keep it in separate places. This is a good idea as it is rare that you would have more than one pocket picked if this were to happen to you.
However if someone comes up to you directly and tries to rob you, do not resist. It is not worth the price of getting injured and possibly worse, simply by trying to hang onto your belongings.
In the south-eastern part of Asia there is a stretch of land known as the Indochina Peninsula. Vietnam is to be found on the eastern side of this area. It is rather a long, S-shaped country, and the northern part of it shares a border with China. Going down the western side of the country, Vietnam is bordered by Laos for quite a distance, and then Cambodia borders the rest of its south-western edge. Most of the eastern side of the country is coastline, facing the South China Sea.
As you may already be aware the capital of this country is Ho Chi Minh City. This used to be known as Saigon. It can be found in the southern reaches of the country, and it was renamed in 1976 when the Vietnam War ended.
Tourism is a key part of the city and there are several sights here that are worth seeing. Certainly, the Notre-Dame Cathedral is worth a look; it is sometimes known as the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica. Either way, it looks wonderful and the building was completed in 1880.
One way to find out the history of the city and indeed the country as a whole is to visit the Museum of Ho Chi Minh City. This is open throughout the week and it has a series of exhibitions for visitors to see. These change from time to time so you will need to look and see what is on offer when you go.
Elsewhere in the city there are some other truly amazing sights. Take the Cu Chi Tunnels for example. These tunnels run underneath the city and were heavily used during the Vietnam War. Trapdoors still exist through which soldiers were able to come up from the tunnels to the surface. If you take a tour of the tunnels a guide will usually reveal where some of these trap doors are. If you enter the tunnels yourself you might be surprised to find out just how snug they are. It’s quite something to think soldiers used to live down here and move around every day.
Another location in Vietnam that is popular with tourists is Hoan Kiem Lake. This translates into Lake of the Restored Sword. It is also sometimes more simply called Sword Lake. One of the most charming sights in this area is the Huc Bridge – a bright red bridge crossing that takes you across to Jade Island. You will also notice a small tower built on an impossibly small island in the lake. The tower is called Turtle Tower. This is just one of the many sights the country as a whole has to offer you.
Vietnam may have had a chequered history but today the country is a wonderful place for tourists who may want to go somewhere a little different from their usual destinations. From the capital city itself to many quieter locations, there are lots of places that are well worth a closer look. Check out the Thien Mu Pagoda in Hue for example, or My So’n, the incredible collection of Hindu temples that date back many hundreds of years. There is more history here than you might expect, and plenty more surprises to discover on your journey through modern-day Vietnam.
Really, if you want a different holiday this could just be the destination you have been looking for.