Shop Hours: Shops run from 7 or 8am to 11 or 11:30pm. Some are open from 1 or 2pm to 4 or 5pm.
generic items and local handicrafts: Local specialities include lacquer painting, reed mats, embroidery, tailor-made ao dais (female national costume) & mother-of-pearl inlay on ornaments & furniture, not to mention the local conical hats. Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) has the best buys for modern goods like CDs and clothing.
Antiques: The best place for shopping for antiques or replicas is in Hanoi. Export of antiques restricted by Vietnamese law, but laws on the subject vague & unevenly enforced. Antique objects can be subject to inspection & seizure by customs authorities with no compensation made to owners.
Determining whether something is antique is arbitrary. Purchasers of non-antique items of value should retain receipts & confirmation from shop owners &/or Ministry of Culture & Customs Department to prevent seizure upon departure. Prior to purchasing antiques, travellers may wish to determine from Ministry of Culture whether object can be exported & amount of duty. Process of exporting antiques can be difficult & time consuming; however, travellers could insist that sellers obtain all necessary permits from Ministry of Culture & Customs Department before final purchase.
Vietnamese food varies from region to region and is a total taste sensation everywhere you go. Almost 500 traditional dishes have been recorded. Rice and noodles are the staple foods and are served with nearly all meals. The most popular dishes are spring rolls, noodles with sliced pork, eggs, shredded chicken and shrimp, shellfish steamed with ginger and sea crabs fried with salt. Among common ingredients used are: shark fin, duck, pork paste, fish, spices, fruits, vegetables, crabmeat, lobster and oysters.
Rice wine is very popular, and there are many brands available. There are a variety of fruit wines such as apricot, orange or lemon. Soft drinks are processed from the many varieties of tropical fruits available. Water from the tap should be avoided, even though it has already been filtered and sterilized. If you must drink it, boil the water first.
Eating in Vietnam ranges from the cheap noodle soup for a quarter of a dollar eaten on the street to a banquet in one of the luxury hotels.
Restaurants: Government-run restaurants catering to tourists add a 10% service charge to the bill.
Tipping: Tipping is not customary in Vietnam, but it is enormously appreciated. A 5-10% tip for a meal is a very small amount of money for most tourists but to the average Vietnamese, it can easily equal a day's wages. Please avoid tipping too much, as it will set a precedent for others.
The different local foods:
Pho: The most typical Vietnamese food is Pho, the noodle soup with meat in it. It is very cheap (you can get a bowl for about VND 2000 - 3000) and usually well spiced. The main pho are: Pho Bo, with beef, Pho Bo Tai, with fish and Pho Ga, with chicken.
Com: Boiled rice is eaten for lunch and dinner. There are many different kinds of rice. Typically, fragrant rice is used, like Tam Thom or Nahg Huong. Grilled rice is served in autumn. It is eaten with eggs, bananas and sapodillas.
Banh Chung: The traditional sticky rice cakes are made of glutinous rice, pork and green bean paste and sometimes with onion, wrapped in bamboo or banana leaves. They are made by soaking the rice in water for an entire day. Wrapped in the fresh bamboo leaves, the rice turns slightly green. There is a legend attached to the creation of this traditional dish: Prince Lang Lieu created and presented the rice cakes to his father, winning high acclaim and thus securing the throne.
Nuoc mam: This fermented fish sauce is used to spice anything.
Baguettes: A legacy of the French is the small white bread loaves, resembling baguettes. You can get them for as little as VND 500. Sometimes they are combined with well-spiced meat, vegetables and salad to form an excellent sandwich.
Seafood: Along the coast you get excellent fresh seafood almost everywhere.
Cha ca: The fried fish slices are a specialty of the north.
Snake: In the Mekong delta you are able to get cheap snake. This different, but delicious meat, is prepared in a variety of ways and is well worth trying...you will be pleasantly surprised.
Beer: Imported beer is available in Vietnam, although a number of domestic beers are brewed.
Duck eggs: This popular dish is another worth trying but if you feel squeemish...don't as it consists of an already partly developed foetus, complete with feathers, limbs and beak.