Visas: All foreign nationals other than citizens of Japan and Singapore need a visa to enter Vietnam. Tourist visas are generally valid for thirty days. Public holidays: New Year’s Day (1 Jan); Vietnamese New Year (Jan, three days, though increasingly offices tend to close down for a full week); Founding of the Vietnamese Communist Party (Feb 3); Liberation of Saigon, 1975 (April 30); International Labour Day (May 1); Birthday of Ho Chi Minh (May 19); Birthday of Buddha (eighth day of the fourth moon in June); National Day (2 Sept); Christmas (Dec 25). Good buys: The specialities to pick up here are embroideries, threadwork, silk, sandalwood and stone carvings. Local dishes: The staple of Vietnamese meals is rice, with noodles a popular alternative at breakfast or as a snack. Typically rice will be accompanied by a fish or meat dish, a vegetable dish or soup, followed by a green tea digestive. Seafood and fish are favoured throughout the country, either fresh or dried. The most commonly used flavourings are shallots, coriander and lemon grass, though ginger, saffron, mint, anise and a basil-type herb also feature strongly, and coconut milk gives some southern dishes a distinctive richness. The most famous Vietnamese dish has to be spring rolls, variously known as cha gio, cha nem, nem ran or just plain nem. Another dish you’ll find throughout Vietnam is pho, a noodle soup eaten at any time of day but primarily at breakfast. Good reading: Vietnam: A History by Stanley Kurnow is a readable account of Vietnam’s history. Dispatches by Michael Herr takes a look at the Vietnam War through the eyes of an American correspondent. Vietnamerica by Thomas Bass brings the Vietnam War home to America in a more poignant and personal form, following the fortunes of the children fathered by American soldiers in Vietnam. The Quiet America by Graham Greene is set during the last days of French rule and is probably the most famous Western work of fiction on Vietnam. The Lover by Marguerite Duras provides a French perspective on colonial life in Vietnam.