Xin Chao & welcome to the Vietnam Volunteer Network's page about beautiful Vietnam!
When people think of Vietnam they normally envisage scenes from War movie such as Platoon, Full Metal Jacket & Apocalypse Now etc. However, after a long & bitter War, Vietnam is fast becoming Pearl of the Orient!
Vietnam is one of the most beautiful countries in South East Asia, with stunning landscapes, lush paddy fields, ethnic cultures, idyllic beaches & chaotic yet dynamic & charming cities.
With Vietnam’s long history of colonisation & War, there is a mixture of Eastern & Western influences whether it be in the guise of Chinese or French food or architecture, yet Vietnam is still very much Vietnam in its own right. The delicious food also signifies Vietnam’s personality; aromatic, gentile, strong & spicy!
The language is tonal & even the sounds of the traffic has its own language. It is truly amazing to see the amount of motorbikes & how one motorbike can hold so many people or transport such huge & sometimes strange objects! Crossing the road is certainly something you need to learn as the Vietnamese do not stop, instead they just ride or drive around you.
The spirit of the old & modern co exists in a country that is fast moving & developing in tourism. You will see a lot of beautifully preserved old colonial buildings, temples & Pagodas intermingled with modern ones.
With a population of over 86 million, Vietnam is ranked as the 13th most populous country in the world! Despite a huge population, you will always find children & people making time to say “hello” and you will certainly feel welcomed with open arms & warm smiles!
We hope this information page will help you to consider, not only volunteering in Vietnam to help the children we support but also to tour around our beautiful country on your time off & get to interact with the locals, culture & stunning landscapes that Vietnam has to offer, as well as enjoy the delicious food!
Vietnam is one country in Southeast Asia that most of us have heard about long before we have considered visiting. However, Vietnam is the latest Asian dragon to awake from its slumber and this strikingly beautiful country offers everything for the intrepid traveller and the more leisurely tourist alike.
Be prepared for all of your senses to be stimulated: from the bustling sounds of the chaotic cities to the smells of the claustrophobic street markets, from the tastes of the unique and healthy cuisine to the breath-taking sights of the varied landscapes. Vietnam is a world of contrasts with a compelling history.
Nature has blessed Vietnam with all the five topographical landscapes of Southeast Asia: mountain, plateau, valley, coastal land and the island system. The first of these provides one of Vietnam's most popular areas to visit, Sapa.
Sitting 1650 m above sea level, Sapa is synonymous with epic scenery and rich cultural diversity. Sapa and the surrounding region is home to many hill tribes and ethnic minorities such as the H'mong and Dao people.
With countless rice terraces, valleys and Vietnam's highest peak Mount Fransipan to explore, the area has stunning landscapes every direction you turn.
Sapa is at the mercy of the weather. It can be engulfed in fog and there was even snow in 2011. Therefore, Sapa may be more suitable for the more resilient adventurer.
Hanoi is one capital city in the region that is relatively undeveloped but equally unspoilt. Walking around the Old Quarter with its narrow alleyways and tangled web of streets, you really feel like you have been transported back 1000 years in this pulsating city. There are heavy Chinese cultural influences and French architectural designs from its colonial past.
Having endured many invasions and occupations throughout the ages, Hanoi's museums are a definite on any tourists itinerary. In particular, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum where Vietminh leader Ho Chi Minh is entombed.
At the centre of this magical city is the jade-green Hoan Kiem Lake which offers a pleasant respite from the frantic traffic. You may even catch a glimpse of the sacred turtle that inhabits the lake! Surrounding the lake you can roam around the various propaganda art galleries, sample the street food or marvel at the spectacle of Water Puppet Theatre.
Choose the time of year to visit Hanoi carefully. Autumn is the best time to visit the capital in order to avoid both the brutally cold and wet winter and intolerably humid summer.
Hoi An is the Vietnamese equivalent of a quaint historic English market town. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the resulting increase in tourism has had a somewhat detrimental effect on the preservation of Hoi An's culture. Most of the native communities have left the town.
However Hoi An retains its charm and is a place where frantic motorbikes are replaced with sedate push bikes and time appears to have stood still for centuries.
With many authentic Vietnamese restaurants, some of which offer cooking classes and numerous renowned tailors, Hoi An is the perfect place to recharge your batteries midway through your Vietnam adventure.
Ha Long Bay
Translating into English as “descending dragon bay”, Halong Bay is arguably Vietnam's most popular tourist destination. Nominated as one of the World's New 7 Wonders of Nature, Halong Bay features more than 1000 awesome limestone karsts and islands of various sizes and shapes.
Ha Long is also home to great biodiversity with typical eco-systems like mangrove forest, coral and tropical forest. It is also home to thousands of plants and animals of numerous species, such as shrimp, fish and squid. Some species are particularly rare and can be found no where else.
The only way to explore the bay is by boat, and there are many tour companies offering one or two night cruises. These often include kayaking trips around the floating villages, walking tours of the incredible limestone caves and squid fishing!
Hue sits astride the Song Huong (the 'Perfume River'). This mysterious, somber city is a historian's dream come true.
This is a main stopping off point for travellers making their way up or down Vietnam’s coastline. Over the years, a backpackers scene has developed in the city’s cafés and eateries.
Despite being largely destroyed by heavy fighting during the bloody Tet Offensive of 1968, Hue’s Citadel is a great place to visit. Some of the buildings have been refurbished or managed to escape damage.
Also well worth a visit are the tomb of Tu Duc and tomb of Khai Dinh. Hue is full of history, and the ever-changing community of travellers creates a unique experience.
Vietnam's third largest city, Da Nang is located on the coast midway between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Whilst it lacks the atmosphere of Hanoi and the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang is a great place to recuperate on the city's beaches.
Outside of the city, the Marble Mountains and My Son ancient Cham temples are great spots to catch a unique view of this region of Vietnam.
The city is often overlooked by tourists but is one of the most friendly to backpackers in all of Vietnam. China Beach, a former R & R destination for American G.I.'s, is now home to a small community of guest house owners, marble statue shops, and other various trades. Some of the most beautiful and isolated beaches in Vietnam are found here, among some of the friendliest people. This is a must stop for the budget traveller.
Nestled in the South Central Highlands, Da Lat was originally a retreat of the French who sought an escape from the heat and humidity of the coast and Saigon.
The scenery around Da Lat is quite unique, with both French and traditional Vietnamese influences. Lakes, pine-covered hills and cooler temperatures than the rest of Vietnam, Da Lat makes a superb location to cool down and maybe hit a few balls on it's stunning golf courses!
For those who are looking for a more lively retreat than Da Lat, be sure to have Nha Trang on your 'must see' list. Originally a small and sleep fishing village, Nha Trang is now renowned for its beautiful bay, its islands and white sand beaches.
Other activities include boat tours to explore the outer laying islands, bicycle tours around the town or a visit to the Oceanographic Museum of Vietnam. During the evening you can experience Nha Trang's vibrant nightlife.
Nha Trang is also the scuba diving centre of Vietnam, although scuba in Vietnam is no comparison to scuba in other countries in the region, such as The Philippines.
The Mekong Delta is a vast agricultural region in Southern Vietnam and has rightfully earned the title “Rice Bowl of Asia”.
The bustling trade towns of Can Tho and Vinh Long are contrasted by the slow pace of life on the river. Organised tours usually take tourists to sites where you can see traditional foods and crafts made such as coconut candy, rice paper and rice wine.
With vast low-lying rice paddies and an extensive river network surrounded by dense mangroves and palms, the Mekong Delta is possibly the most stereotypical image that comes to mind when one thinks of Vietnam.
Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon
Whilst Hanoi is the centre of government, Ho Chi Minh City is the bustling heart of the country's economy.
Modern skyscrapers contrast the numerous Chinese-style pagodas that are dotted around the city. Along with food stalls lining the streets and heaving markets such as Ben Thanh, Ho Chi Minh City has an exciting urban atmosphere.
For those interested in Vietnam's compelling history, there are many museums such as the Ho Chi Minh Museum and the War Remnants Museum. Although the latter contains some quite evocative images, the American War (as it is referred to by the Vietnamese) is an important part of the country's history and offers some insight into the tenacious and resilient nature of the Vietnamese people.
Think of Phuket before the mass development and hoards of tourists arrived and you've got Phu Quoc.
This peaceful tropical paradise, floats in the warm turquoise waters in the Gulf of Thailand, 50 kilometres from the Vietnamese mainland and a 50 minute flight from Ho Chi Minh City. You can explore the local markets which probably sell some of the freshest seafood in Vietnam, relax on a remote and stunning beach or explore life below the surface with scuba diving and snorkelling.
The untouched natural environment, friendly locals and relaxed and easy-going atmosphere has created a quite spectacular tropical island.
We hope that you will be able to plan your holiday to include these festivals in Vietnam on your trip or to utilise these dates & book in advance to avoid disappointment.
21. Jan. ~ 18. Feb.
TET Vietnamese New Year Festival
Date changes yearly after the moon calendar.
International womens Day
(No official bank holiday: Women, female co-workers get flowers)
(from the American war in Vietnam)
(Free 3rd of may, as 1. Is a Saturday)
Ho Chi Minh‘s Birthday
(No official bank holiday)
Late August - Early September
Cow Racing Festival (Khmer people's festival to pay respect to their ancestors; normally found in Nui Bay, An Giang)
National Bank Holiday
Ho Chi Minh‘s Death/Passing Away
National Theatre Day
Mid Autumn/ Moon-Festival
If you do not hold a Vietnamese passport you will certainly be required to obtain a visa. The only exception is for some neighbouring countries.
We will be updating this blog on other countries who need to obtain a visa as well as 'Visa on Arrival' & Visa exemptions for Overseas Vietnamese in due course. Until then, we hope this information from the Vietnamese embassy will be of help.
• Vietnamese Embassy websitehttp://www.vietnamembassy.org.uk/consular.html
12-14 Victoria Road, London W8 5RD
Tel: 0207 937 1912
Fax: 0207 937 6108 or 0207 565 3853
• Direction to the Embassy:
The Embassy is located on Victoria Road, off Kensington High Street and Kensington Gardens. Nearest Underground stations are High Street Kensington or Gloucester Road.
• Opening Time: 09.30 to 12.30 only, Monday to Friday, except Vietnamese and England and Wales public holidays. 2009
• Application for an entry VISA to Vietnam can be made in person or by post to the Embassy of Vietnam. Application in person can be made by the applicant or any representative. Application by post must be sent by Royal Mail Special Delivery.
The Vietnamese weather is quite diverse & hopefully this section will you enable to pack clothes accordingly.
Located in both a tropical & temperate zone, Vietnam is split into wet, dry, hot & cool seasons. There are strong monsoon influences, yet Vietnam’s weather also has glorious sunshine & can also be quite humid.
The climate in Vietnam differs between the north and south, however both regions experience monsoons. From November to April, the north is cool and dry, while May to October is hot and rainy. North of Nha Trang, the central coast has a similar climate with cool, wet weather between December and February in the winter monsoon season. The seasons tend to begin a bit later in the south, which is hot and humid all year round, particularly from February to May, while the rainy season lasts from May to November. The Central Highlands have a similar climate to the south, but is somewhat cooler and temperatures can reach freezing in winter. The temperature in Hanoi can range from 63°F (17°C) in January, to 84°F (20°C) in June.
Tip: As the Vietnamese tend to like skin whitening lotions, you will find loads of sun block to purchase, however it would be advisable for you to remember to pack sun tanning lotion if you want to top up your tan as sun tanning lotion can be hard to find or very expensive.
Best Season Wet Dry Hot Cold
North (Hanoi): Nov - Mar May - Oct Nov - Apr Apr - Sep Nov - Mar
Middle (Hue): May - Jun Sep - Jan May - Apr May - Aug Dec - Jan
South(Saigon): Nov - Apr May - Sep Mar - Apr All Year None
Here are a few tunes about our beautiful Vietnam or sung by Vietnamese artists & we hope that you love them too!
Please feel free to suggest more songs about Vietnam that you would like to see added.
Together we CAN make a difference!
Love & light,
Kim & the VVN team xox
Here is our wonderful Kiwi VVN volunteer Sharon Thompson's account of volunteering at Go Vap Orphanage, where she is bringing much love, fun, care & culture to the kids. Thank you Sharon for your sharing your heart warming stories with us!
Love & light, Kim & the VVN team xox
I walked to the bus station to meet Andrew, he had emailed me and said to meet at 0700 and we would catch bus 18, that was fine, but I couldn’t remember what he looked like from FB and I was worried I would be late...so to cut a long story short, poor Andrew waited for me in the stinking hot and I got lost on a Xe Om (motorbike taxi) the poor fella took me to the wrong orphanage, but mind you, I didn’t have the address and thought he knew where it was, you can imagine how awkward I felt having to walk out of the SOS Children’s Village when I saw there was no mention or knowledge of the wonderful Kim Nguyen Browne. I felt stink that I wasn’t able to help them....anyway, after a very gracious driver, I finally got there, Go Vap, where I have been planning to visit for almost 9 months.
What were my first impressions? it was clean, it smelt like cleaners and the staff didn't smile or seem at all happy to have some help, but when I saw Annette and Andrew I felt SO welcome and at home. Annette is Belgian and speaks French, she has spent the last 15 years volunteering, awe inspiring really! so humble, a Buddhist and really funny. Andrew is an Aussie born Viet, he is an osteopath and is spending about 4 months here, he is handsome and has the most amazing commitment to these kids. A lovely man.
I think I may have come at a bit of a bad time (as I was late), so they were just about getting ready to feed, so i just busied myself in the rooms until Annette needed me to feed. I walked into the oldest room and say a sea of contorted little bodies, a young child with a seriously swollen head ....I had seem videos that Kim had put up to seek people to help, but nothing can capture what I felt when I stood next to her bed. I felt so helpless. How could I bring her some comfort? How could i let her know that people care? How could I ease her pain? All I could do was let he know that I cared, that I was there for those few minutes with her and I tried to somehow communicate with her on a spiritual level. then I sung her 'You are my sunshine' but realised that I don’t know the last chorus (need to google that). She lay there, her head so large that even if she wanted to move, she couldn’t, her head so heavy that I even imagine picking her up for a cuddle could be risky. I kissed her head and moved on to the other children in the room. Some responded, some didn't, some just stared right through me...I stayed and gave them my five minutes and then sung whatever song I could think of, sometimes Bruno Mars, but more often, poorly sung nursery rhymes.
Breakfast time...or just one of the two meals the kids eat each day. Congee, with a tiny speckle of some vegetables. It then occurred to me why Kim asked for vitamins as I realise that they don't get much. I fed her while she was lying on the ground with me on a wedge and was told to stay to one side so the staff could get past me if the needed to. I was feeding away and the little 8 year old with polio came in to 'help' me feed. She is cheeky, she is an 'attention seeker', but hey, she is smart, she knows we all need love and attention and she is not shy to demand it. I love her, she is funny, when i bent over to pick something up she slapped me on the ass LOL I turned around and she has the biggest grin on her face. She had some spark and she was bright and used this to get what she needed, attention. I don't blame her for being like that...in fact, I admire her. I returned to feeding the teenager with epilepsy and my little polio girl sat on my knee with a big PLONK....right into the bowl of congee. I squealed with laughter (my automatic reaction) but Annette reminded me that this could also get her in trouble with the staff (for being naughty)...her and I shared a funny moment....my dress was covered in rice and my thighs were even wetter and sweatier than they were. Priceless moment :)
After breakfast was 'play time'. The children were taken to an outside part of the rooms and laid down on mats with a crappy radio playing :) In the next 5 minutes I learnt that a raspberry (blowing a fart on a cheek) in universal, I got the biggest smiles that would melt the hardest of hearts. When Andrew came in with one of the cerebral palsy boys and raced his wheelchair there was the most amazing, guttural, face distorting giggle that came out of this tiny twisted body....if only I could bottle that sound, I would, to see this little boy lost in his own laugh was beautiful!!! Shortly after a bunch of very pretty made up Aussie girls came in. they told me that they are here to help 15 orphanages and they donate money and come every year. now, I am not to judge, but i will say what i think. They stuck to the 'cutest' babies and just kept talking about the money they give. Don’t get me wrong, this is honourable and I am pleased to see people helping, but if I have learnt one thing in the first hour at Go Vap is that money means shit to these kids....what they need is a smile, a touch, a song, a kiss and just time. Westerners are so focussed on money to make things better, they couldn’t be more wrong. I like that these girls are helping (and they look pretty with their push up bras, false eyelashes and nice nails) but i would love to see them go into the terminal ward and tell me that money can help them......crikey, that was a bit of a rant! but I feel so invested in these kids already, all we need to go is 'give a little often'.
After playtime i was invited to have lunch with the other volunteers and managers. Wow! Heaven, they couldn’t understand what I was saying (Although Andrew translated), but they could see I was in heaven. I love food, and I love trying new food. I love that this would have been a humble home cooked meal, but by god it was incredible!
Here is a list of some budget hotels/guest houses that our volunteers have recommended.
Please feel free to recommend some more hotels to this discussion topic.HCM City (Saigon) District 1 (Or close to D1)
Thien Vu Hotel (15 mins away from Go Vap orphanage & 15 mins from District 1)
Kim Hotel on Bui Vien street in district 1.
Approx $18-22/night. www.kimhotel.com
Saigon Backpackers Hostel
96 Bui Vien Guesthouse- Saigon
Approx $13- $17/roomhttp://www.agoda.com/asia/vietnam/ho_chi_minh_city/96_bui_vien_guesthouse.html
Saigon Mini Hotel
Xuan Mai Hotel
For a range of hotels you can find on here & please double check on trip advisor.http://hotels-in-vietnam.com/ho_chi_minh_saigon_hotels.htmlHanoi
Tung Trang Hotel
Hanoi Gecko Hotel
From $30/nighthttp://hanoigeckohotel.com/Nha Trang
Khanh Duy Hotel
Approx $15-$19/room for 2 peoplehttp://www.khanhduyhotelnhatrang.com.vn/
Golden Lotus Hotel
The Light Hotel
Whilst you are volunteering with us, we like to ensure that you are also safe. You will normally have weekly Skype conferences with us & will also be given contact numbers of our volunteers that are working with us in Vietnam as your safety is our main concern.
If however the emergency you encounter is of an urgent matter & requires you to contact the official Vietnamese emergency numbers, then please view the following list of the main contact numbers:
Ambulance - 115
Police - 113
Fire Brigade - 114
Emergency Phone Numbers For Hospitals:
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
International SOS (24-hr alarm center and medical emergency teams) - 8298424, 8298520
Colombia Asia Saigon (24-hour emergency) - 8238455
International SOS (24-hr alarm center and medical emergency teams) - 9340555
Vietnam International Hospital (24-hr emergency clinic) - 5740740
Cool Vietnam Wall Clock
As we are based in the UK, I have regular Skype updates with our volunteers in Vietnam, so figuring out a time to call them is 'easy as' once you have the time zones figured out.
The standard time zone for Vietnam is UTC/GMT +7 hours & does not utilise daylight saving time.
Time zone abbreviation is ICT (Indochina Time)
The best website which we use to keep in touch with our volunteers as well as the orphanages we support is timeanddate.com
which also contains great information such as; up to date date 48 hr & weekly weather forecasts, Sun & Moon times as well the International dialling code (+84)!Time/Generalhttp://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/city.html?n=218Time Zone Converterhttp://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/converter.html
We certainly hope this information will also make it easier for you & your loved ones to keep in touch whilst you are in Vietnam!
PS. you can buy the 'Cool Vietnam Wall Clock' at Cafe Press! http://www.cafepress.com