Vietnam is developing rapidly, and it's a fascinating place to be. With new opportunities emerging every day, fascinating growth and constant change, it's hard to imagine a better location to study than a country that provides daily case studies in development and change.
Vietnam has a diverse climate due to its wide range of latitudes and altitudes. Although the entire country lies in the tropics and subtropics, local conditions vary from frosty winters in the far northern hills to year-round, subequatorial warmth in the Mekong Delta.
There are two distinct seasons in Ho Chi Minh City: wet and dry. During the wet season, which lasts from May to October, there are brief but heavy downpours, usually in the afternoon.
Temperatures average around 30 degrees. The dry season goes from November to April and at this time the weather is at its most pleasant with temperatures around 33 degrees. The hottest time in this southern city is from March to April or May and temperatures can soar to 38 degrees with high humidity.
Hanoi has four distinct seasons. Winter is from December to February and temperatures may drop to single figures (Celsius scale). Spring is from March to May and is quite pleasant. Summer from June to August can be very hot and humid with temperatures in the high 30s (Celsius). Autumn, another pleasant time in Hanoi, is from September to November. Rainfall is common throughout the year.
One of the delights of visiting Vietnam is the cuisine. There are nearly 500 traditional Vietnamese dishes. Food is often superbly prepared and very reasonably priced. Markets and supermarkets sell a variety of fresh meat, fruit and vegetables as well as rice, breads, spices and other ingredients.
There has been a recent surge of more up-market Vietnamese restaurants popping up in the cities, and there is no shortage of cheap eateries, mid-level restaurants and a range of food such as French, Italian, Japanese, Korean and Indonesian. There are no set hours for restaurants as they are open most of the day and into the night. There are many and varied street stalls offering a range of cheap snacks in both Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.
A range of accommodation is available at competitive prices. Students can choose to stay in guest houses which provide a room with bed, wardrobe and desk, air conditioner, cable television and facilities at approximately US $320 per month.
Some students prefer to share a house with other students. Fully furnished, three to four bedroom houses range from $US 500 to 800 per month (as at early 2009).
KILROY and RMIT Vietnam’s Student Services Department can help find accommodation that will best suit each student’s needs and budget.
The currency of Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong, often abbreviated to VND. The US dollar is also accepted in many daily transactions, although in recent times there has been some tightening of this by the Vietnamese Government, which prefers transactions to be made in the local currency.
Banking is easy and convenient with local and international banks. All have automatic teller machines (ATMs) which are found in many department stores and hotels and throughout the city in various locations.
Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi have a wide range of cinemas, coffee shops, restaurants and bars for entertainment, allowing visitors to Vietnam to meet locals. There are also many interesting galleries and museums in both cities.
Post offices all over the country usually keep extended hours, from 6am to 8pm including weekends and holidays. Express-mail service (EMS) is available in large cities. International and domestic long-distance calls can be made at post offices. Mobile services and prepaid mobile phone cards are readily available. Every city also has a general information service (dial 1080) that provides everything from phone numbers to train and air timetables. The Internet is widely accessible in post offices and internet cafes.
Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi are well served by public transport in the form of buses, but most locals still prefer travel by motorbike. Taxis are cheap with the first two kilometres costing about VND 12,000 (which is less than $US $1). Motorbike taxis (‘Xe Om’, pronouced ‘say-om’) are half the price and can be found on street corners, markets, hotels and bus stations. It is required by the law to wear a helmet when traveling on a motorbike. Students often rent or purchase a motorbike, while others take taxis or motorbike taxis.
There is a wide range of dental and medical facilities available in Vietnam. There are also many international medical practices which offer international standard treatment at a higher cost.
The Ho Chi Minh City campus provides a medical facility which is open from 8am to 5pm, staffed by a doctor and nurse. Primary care is available to students on campus and necessary medication is available at discounted prices.
Vietnam sounds like an exotic and slightly mysterious destination to many people who have never visited the country. Some parents of our international students know Vietnam only as a country which was at war more than 30 years ago, and worry if it might be dangerous. But the Vietnam of today is a very different place to the war-time Vietnam of long ago.
The biggest threat to personal safety - and the most likely reason a person may be sent home from Vietnam - would be a motorbike accident, followed by the possibility of contracting one of the relatively rare but serious illnesses which can occur in most tropical and sub-tropical countries.
Preventive care like vaccinations and observing basic hygiene rules for oneself, and taking care in the consumption of street food and drink, can help in avoiding most of these nasty bugs.
Registering with your local consulate is always a good idea when living abroad, as it sends out useful emails on health warnings or any other information that expatriate citizens may need to know - such as elections back at home.