For much of its history, Vietnam used the currency of those that ruled it. The first declaration of an independent currency came in 1946, when the Viet Minh government (what would eventually become the government of North Vietnam) issued a currency, called the dong, to replace the current currency, the French Indochinese piaster. The State of Vietnam (which would eventually become South Vietnam) followed in 1953, with its own version of the dong (eventually called the liberation dong after the fall of Saigon). However, it wasn’t until Vietnam became unified in 1978 that the dong became the official, united currency.
Originally the dong was subdivided into 10 hào, which was subdivided again into 10 xu. Aluminum coins were issued in 4 denominations: 1, 2, and 5 hào and 1 dong. Banknotes were issued in 6 denominations: 5 hào, 1, 5, 10, 20, and 50 dong. Rampant inflation resulted in these earliest coins and subdivisions to quickly become irrelevant. The xu and hào quickly became obsolete, and the bank continued to issue larger denominations of dong every few years. These notes includes 200, 100, 2000, 5000, 10000, 20000, 50000, 100000, 200000, and 500000.
The notes that were subsequently released lacked a unified design theme and proved to be increasingly confusing to the people. To help control the money, the government issued a redesign of the currency in 2003 and took several of the notes out of circulation. Currently, the dong denominations in circulation are 10000, 20000, 50000, 100000, 200000, and 500000.
The giving and receiving of Vietnamese Dong is an important part of Tet, or the Vietnamese New Year. The older generation takes red envelopes filled with at least one, fresh dong note and gives it to a member of the younger generation. The envelopes filled with “lucky money” are meant to express wealth and luck, and pass on the hopes that the next generation will grown up rich, clever, and faithful.