Due to the shape of the country, there are several distinct climate zones:
The north experiences four distinct seasons with a hot and wet summer, a pleasant spring (March-April), mild autumn (October-December), and a chilly winter. However, in the Highlands, both extremes are amplified, with occasional snow in the winter and temperatures hitting 100°F in the summer.
In the central regions, summers are normally hot and dry. North East Monsoon conditions (September – February) bring strong winds and rain, making this a difficult time to travel through Central Vietnam.
The South has three seasons: Hot and dry (March - May/June), rainy (June/July – November), and cool and dry (December – February). April is the hottest month, with temperatures of 90°F or more on most days. During the rainy season, there are lots of mosquitoes and heavy afternoon rains can lead to street flooding. December to February is the most pleasant time to visit, with cool evenings down to around 68°F.
Vietnamese is the official language, with four main dialects spoken in different regions. Young people study English and many older Vietnamese people speak French. There is a large ethnic Chinese community who, in addition to speaking Vietnamese, can also speak Cantonese. The language is written with the Roman alphabet, plus some accent marks.
National Holidays and Festivals
Last day of the last lunar month (January/February) – Tet (Vietnamese New Year)
April 30 – Liberation Day/Reunification Day
May 1 – International Workers' Day
September 2 – National Day
Full moon of the 1st lunar month – Lantern Day
5th day of the 4th lunar month – Mid-year Festival
15th day of the 7th lunar month (August) – Ghost Festival
15th day of the 8th lunar month (September) – Mid-Autumn Festival
The official currency is the dong (VND). The exchange rate as of March 2010 is 18,680 dong to US$1.
US dollars are widely accepted at a lower exchange rate, so it is better to pay in the local currency. Notes of high denominations will give you better exchange rates than smaller denominations. Gold shops will exchange at a reasonable rate.
Bargaining is commonly practiced as prices are usually inflated for foreigners, especially with street vendors and tourist areas.
Tipping is not necessary but is highly appreciated; however, tipping to tour guides, tour bus drivers, and porters are customary.