Located on the eastern part of the Indochinese peninsula, Vietnam is bordered by the East Sea to the east, the Pacific Ocean to the southeast, China to the north, and Laos and Cambodia to the west. Vietnam is a country that transcends time and urbanization. There are still peasant women wearing conical hats who tend the rice patty fields in the countryside and the booming cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon) offer the congestion and amenities of any major city. Aside from the urban/rural dichotomy, Vietnam is home to two highly ranked beaches: Nha Trang and Quy Nhon, and the Hoang Lien mountain range. Also, gastronomists will feel like they have died and gone to heaven because Vietnam offers over 500 different dishes that are a mix of pungent herbs and spices.
Vietnam Medical Tourism Fame
Vietnam is the underdog in the medical tourism industry; however don’t underestimate the quality of care that private Vietnamese hospitals provide. Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Hanoi, and the resort town Vung Tao (75 miles (120 km) by car or 37 miles (60 km) by ferry from Ho Chi Minh City) are medical tourism hubs, in which the latter has its own medical tourism resort called Medicoast. So if the hustle and bustle of the big city is not your thing, then Vung Tao is the perfect fit for you.
What makes Vietnam attractive for medical tourists are its plethora of health spas and its extremely low prices, which are less than Thailand and Singapore. Vietnam has a long history of massage, and thus professional massage parlors can be found in nearly every town, with exceptionally low prices. Health spas are generally connected to resorts and hotels, and they offer a range of basic health treatments such as hydrotherapy, body scrubs, facials, body wraps, and reflexology. Since the spa industry is a newcomer to Vietnam, there are no regulations on the practice. However, upscale resorts, day spas, and hotels have the best service and the most qualified staff.
Aside from health spas; cosmetic, bariatric, and dental procedures are popular among medical tourists, but like the spa industry, cosmetic surgery is a relatively new phenomenon and thus there is a lack of official controls on the practice. For example, out of 200 plastic surgery clinics in Ho Chi Minh City only 25% are accredited by the proper authorities. So if you choose Vietnam as your medical tourism destination double check your clinic’s credentials and avoid those that claim to provide treatment with only 1 hour’s notice.
The official language of Vietnam is Vietnamese, however French is spoken as a second language by many in the older generation and English as a second language is gaining popularity with the younger generation.
The climate of Vietnam varies depending on the region. The northern part is subtropical while the southern part is tropical. In the northern mountains, weather conditions can bring frost and during the dry season in the southern part of the country, temperatures can soar to 104oF (40oC). Vietnam is also susceptible to monsoons and typhoons. The winter monsoon occurs from October to March and bring chilly, wet winters to all parts of Vietnam north of Nha Trang and dry and warm weather to the south. The summer monsoon (April or May to October) brings hot and humid weather to the entire country except for mountainous areas. Violent typhoons generally hit the northern and central part of the country between July and November. So your best bet is to travel to Vietnam in April, May or October, but if you are going to the southern part of the country, the months of November to February are dry and a bit cooler.
Visa / Entrance Requirements
U.S. and Canadian citizens are required to obtain a visa prior to entry into Vietnam. You must also have a passport that is valid for one month after the expiration date of the visa. Visas are good for 30 days but can be extended upon arrival.
You may apply for a visa by mail or in person at the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington, DC. You will need your original passport (you can request a loose leaf visa in which a copy of the photo and personal detail page of your passport will suffice), application form (downloadable at the Vietnam Embassy webpage), one (1) original 2x2 photo attached to the application (if a loose leaf visa is requested you must provide two (2) 2x2 photos), visa fees in the form of a money order, cashier’s check, or certified check payable to “The Embassy of Vietnam”, and a prepaid return envelope using USPS Express Mail or Fedex. Applicants applying together may use the same envelope to be returned to the same address and one form of payment with the total amount of visa fees.
*Note that visa fees change frequently and can range from $45 to $85 USD, so it is important that you contact the Vietnamese Embassy directly for its up to date fee schedule.
Airlines Servicing this Destination
There are many airports in Vietnam but the ones most pertinent to medical tourists are:
- Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)-Tan Son Nhat International Airport (SGN)
- Hanoi-Noi Bai International Airport (HAN)
- Vung Tau Airport (VTG)
The following airlines have flights to Vietnam:
- American Airlines
- United Airlines
- China Airlines
- Cathay Pacific
- Northwest Airlines
- EVA Air
- Korean Air
- Asiana Airlines
Vietnam is a budget travelers paradise! $5 to $25 USD per person per night will get you a private room in a highly ranked guesthouse or hostel, with the majority of rooms costing under $10 USD. 3 star hotels start at $36 USD for a double occupancy room (breakfast included) per night. However, don’t be fooled by the star rating because many 3 star hotels have a luxurious ambiance. For a 5 star room that mirrors a room in an elegant home, be prepared to spend as little as $98 USD per night. Some hotels even have an art gallery on site, multiple restaurants specializing in international cuisine, and posh boutiques. Sheer elegance for a fraction of the price compared to other countries! Note that mainland Vietnam has 2,140 miles (3,444 km) of coastline and there are many luxury spa and golf coastal resorts.
The currency of Vietnam is the Dong (VND), but the U.S. dollar is pretty widely accepted in urban areas.
The exchange rate of U.S. dollars to Vietnamese dongs is $1 USD to 17,795 VND (exchange rate subject to change).
The international access code for Vietnam is 84.
Important area codes include:
- Ho Chi Minh: 8
- Hanoi: 4
- Vung Tau: 64
In order to call Vietnam from the U.S. or Canada you must dial 011 (exit code), then 84 (country code for Vietnam), then the area code (one to three numbers), and then the phone number (five to seven digits).
To call a cell phone in Vietnam from the U.S. or Canada you must dial 011 + 84 + area code (three digits, begins with the number 9 or 1) + phone number.
In order to call the U.S. or Canada from Vietnam you must dial 00 + 1 + area code + phone number
Cyber-cafes are widely available in major cities and towns. Many hotels throughout the country offer Broadband Internet connection.
Emergency Telephone Numbers
U.S. Embassy Hanoi: (4)3850-5000
U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City: (8)3520-4200
Vietnam has a lot to offer from ecotourism to beaches to landmarks that are remnants of the Vietnam War. One of the most popular sites for the latter is the Cu Chi Tunnels, located 2 hours northwest by car of Ho Chi Minh City, is a maze of tunnels used by the Viet Cong army. The Khe Sanh Combat Base (now a museum) was the site of one of the bloodiest battles during the Vietnam War, which occurred in the early part of 1968.
For the architectural connoisseur visiting Ho Chi Minh City, the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Palace of Unification (formerly known as the Presidential Palace) are a must see. The city is also home to a significant Indian population and is also the location of the Sri Thendayyutthapani Temple, which is a Hindu temple with lavish murals, statues, and paintings of Hindu deities. For the kid in all of us, visit the City Zoo, which is located near the History Museum and houses an impressive array of snakes and birds.
Despite its population of 3 million, Hanoi is lower key than than the young and brash Ho Chi Minh City. One of the more popular attractions is Hoan Kiem Lake located between the Old Quarter and the French Quarter. In the center of the lake is a Shrine to the golden turtle who is said to have returned a magic sword to its home in the lake. Also popular is the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in which Minh’s embalmed body is put on display. Architectural enthusiasts will enjoy the Temple of Literature which was built in 1070 AD, St. Joseph’s Cathedral, the Quan Thanh Pagoda, and the Tay Ho Pagoda.
Sightseeing does not end at the boundaries of the two main cities of Vietnam. Nha Trang is a popular tourist destination and is home to one of Vietnam’s best beaches and the huge White Buddha statue, which was created as a symbol against the repression of Buddhism by the Diem regime. Vietnam is also home to many national parks and natural wonders including Ba Be National Park, Bach Ma National Park, Binh Chau Hot Springs, and Yok Don National Park.
You can find good prices on goods in Vietnam if you know what to look for and how to bargain. Stay away from imported and famous branded goods because taxes make them more expensive than in neighboring countries. Popular items to purchase include art, antiques, silk, bamboo products, clothing, jewelry, war souvenirs, and handicrafts. In Ho Chi Minh City, there are art copiers who make excellent reproductions of classic western masterpieces such as Monet’s ‘Bridge Over A Pond Of Water Lillies’ and Botticelli’s ‘The Birth of Venus’. Throughout major cities there are tailor shops where you can pick western style clothing from a catalog, and they will take your measurements and make the garment for a fraction of the retail price in the U.S. Some tailor shops will even have the pieces ready in 1 hour.
Nightlife and the Arts
Major cities and tourist destinations such as Ho Chi Minh City, Phan Thiet, and Hanoi are bursting at the seams with clubs, bars, and pubs. Note that a fun-filled night out on the town will not eat a hole in your wallet, because Vietnam brews some of the cheapest draft beers in the world. In Hanoi, the Old Quarter is the place to be for lively nighttime entertainment. Unlike Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City does not have round-the-clock entertainment and many places close just after midnight, but there is still a lot of quality fun to be had in the city. Although Phan Thiet is a small town, there are enough entertainment venues to curb any feelings of boredom. The most popular night spots are those run by expats such as Jibes, Beach Break, and Sand dollar.
Both Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi have fine arts museums and war museums. However, Hanoi has a greater variety of exhibits and is famous for its historical and social museums that include the Museum of Ethnology, the Army Museum, Vietnam Women’s Museum, Vietnam History Museum, and the Ho Chi Minh Museum (dedicated to the person, not the city).
There are a few English language newspapers in Vietnam:
Vietnam News Agency
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