The Tet festival announces the start of the Lunar New Year and is a time for Vietnamese to reunite in the hope of good fortune for the coming year. Many people will leave the big cities and travel back to the place where they were born to celebrate Tet with their parents and grand parents. The festival falls between 19th January and the 20th February, with the exact dates varying from year to year. In 2003 New Year's Day will fall on 1st February.
Most government offices open from 8.00 / 8.30 am to 4.30 / 5.00 pm, Monday to Friday, but close from 11.30 to 2 pm for lunch. Some government offices will be open on Saturday morning (all will be closed on Sundays). Most shops and department stores open every day until 8.00 or 9.00 pm.
Vietnam is seven hours ahead of GMT so 12 noon in Hanoi is 5 am in London, 1 am in New York, 10 pm the previous day in Los Angeles, and 3 pm in Sydney.
Electric current is 220 volts, 50 cycles. Most modern appliances such as shavers etc. are suitable for a range of voltages, but if in doubt check before leaving home. Expect occasional power cuts especially if you are outside the major cities.
The telephone system is quite efficient, and you can dial direct to most international destinations from larger hotels. However, international call charges are very high so check the cost before you dial. You can also make overseas calls from the main post offices in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Cellular networks cover a large part of Vietnam and you can purchase a pre-paid card from Mobifone and Vinaphone for use with GSM phones.
The domestic postal service is reasonably efficient and inexpensive. International rates are similar to those in Europe. Post offices are open from early morning until the evening. You will also find major courier services (FedEx, TNT, UPS, DHL etc.) in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Expect to pay considerably more than in Europe of the USA. EMS is available at many post offices.
You will find many Internet cafes in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and other large cites. These are cheap and if you avoid peak hours the speed is acceptable for email and web browsing. If you are bringing your laptop you can purchase a pre-paid Internet account but you may have difficulty using this outside Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City.
Vietnam has three Vietnamese language TV channels. Many hotels have satellite channels in English with some French and Chinese channels. There are two English language newspapers, the Vietnam News and Saigon Times, plus a magazine called the Vietnam Economic Times. You will also find free tourist guides in many hotels.
Credit cards are accepted in all larger hotels and shops in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and large towns, but the use of credit cards is not widespread in Vietnam. You should be able to use your Cirrus, Maestro, Visa and MasterCard at the ATM machines in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and other major towns. See exchange rates for details of changing cash or travellers cheques.