This trip to Vietnam was to visit the beautiful Ha Long Bay and the Capital city, Hanoi. I joined a tour group from Taiwan.
Where is Vietnam and Ha Long Bay?
Hanoi and Ha Long Bay are in the northern part of Vietnam.
Our tour guide speaks good Chinese (mandarin) and does not speak English or very little. However, in most of the tourist area, guides and paddlers speak some English. Many Vietnamese speak Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese). I also hear some guides speak other foreign languages such as Spanish, French and German.
Money (in 2012):
The currency is called Vietnam dong consisting of both bank notes and coins. The notes come in the following face amount; 10,000₫, 20,000₫, 50,000₫, 100,000₫, 200,000₫, 500,000₫. There are 200₫, 500₫, 1000₫, 2000₫, 5000₫coins, but I do not see any coins used during my whole trip.
Exchange rate: If you are with a tour group the chance is that your tour guide might be able to change your money, either Taiwanese dollar, or USA dollars into dongs for you. At the time of my trip the exchange rates were; 1NT$=703d /700d and 1US$=20,800d / 20,000d (official / my tour guide rate).
Culture and festival:
Vietnamese celebrate many of the same festivals as the Chinese do, Lunar New Year, 5th of 5th month in the lunar calendar (they do not make rice dumplings), etc. and probably do not race dragon boats. They hang the Chinese character ( 囍 ) of double happiness in front of their doors for weddings, and follow the tradition of exchange of gifts for engagement and the bride brings in a dowry ( 嫁莊 ) in her wedding. There are massage shops all over the place I visit but I am not sure if that is for the Chinese and Taiwanese tourists or for the locals as well.
How to get there?
There are many flights from many cities in Asia, such as, Hong Kong, Taipei, Tokyo, Signapore. For me I fly there from Taipei. On February 4, 2012, I wake up early at 4:00 am because the flight to Hanoi, Vietnam, by Vietnam Air Lines VN0579 is at 7:30 am. The check in area is quite busy otherwise it is not eventful. When I board the plane I am surprised that the plane is less than 30% full. I conclude that most of the passengers are going to Ho Chi Min City rather than Hanoi, the capital of the country. The stewardess in charge of the back section of the plane where all members of our group are sitting is not too friendly. She never smile in the whole trip. She will not let me move up to the other sections in the middle of the plane even thought those sections are almost empty (economy class). The flight is smooth and we reach Hanoi on time, at 9:30 am. Hanoi is an hour behind Taipei.