Located to the South East of Asia, Vietnam has a great deal to offer, from the frenetic city of Ho Chi Minh City to the picturesque city of Hoi An, the rustic capital of Hanoi, and a lot more. However, to avoid any culture shock, be prepared to do some research on its local etiquette and customs. Even though Vietnamese locals can be very kind and hospitable, there are still a few do’s and don’ts when traveling in Vietnam that you must bear in mind:
I. List of 9 Do’s When Traveling in Vietnam
1. Dress appropriately
Dress conservatively, especially for female travellers. Vietnamese are quite conservative about their dress, and it would be disrespectful to wear skimpy clothing in public, especially in religious institutions. The dress code is a little more relaxed in major cities, but don’t wear shorts, low-cut tops or revealing dresses when you go out or stop by a local’s house. Pay extra attention and do a double check on how formal you need to be to get into a pagoda or temple.
2. Remove bling and watch out for thieves
Remove unnecessary jewellery, hold your bag in front of you while walking the streets and keep it secure in your lap hidden from sight. Although Vietnam remains a safe destination, you should take good care of your own belongings. Bag snatching can be really serious in Ho Chi Minh City; don’t make yourself a target for theft.
3. Know where you live
Do make sure that you have a hotel business card from the reception desk. This will make your return to the hotel in a taxi or motorbike much easier. Almost all taxi drivers, motorcycle taxi riders cannot speak English or they may listen to the wrong address (eg, Cau Go Street – phố Cầu Gỗ is different from Cau Go Lane – ngõ Cầu Gỗ).
4. Keep yourself hydrated
The tropical heat in summer can knock you about anytime, so always bring along a bottle of water. Bottles of mineral water are available anywhere, but to avoid frauds, only buy them from a supermarket or a convenience store. Also, make sure you check if the bottle is carefully sealed.
5. Take off your shoes when you’re invited to a local’s home
Most Vietnamese people don’t wear shoes inside their house. Watch how the owner does it, or look around if you see any shoe rack. In most cases, you will leave your shoes at the door.
6. Carry a roll of toilet paper with you
You will never know how handy it will be when the time comes. Many public toilets in Vietnam don’t offer toilet paper and you don’t want to be caught out without it.
7. Be ready to haggle
Don’t hesitate to bargain until you’re happy, when you are at a Vietnamese market. People might take advantage of foreigners, as they don’t understand the language and the real values of items. Most sellers will settle for a lower price if you know how to bargain hard with a bright friendly smile.
8. Try the Local Food
Vietnamese traditional food is unarguably among the best in the world. However, learn to use the chopsticks properly, as most food stalls don’t have forks and knives available. Keeping your chopsticks upright in your bowl of rice is considered a sign of bad luck, don’t ever do it while you’re in Vietnam.
9. Learn the Language
This may seem impossible if you’re only spending a few days in the country. However, as a famous saying goes, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” People will be over the moon if you’re able to say a few simple words such as “Cam on” (Thank you) and “Xin chao” (Hello).
II. List of 7 Don’ts When Traveling in Vietna
1. Don’t take photos without precaution
Being as nice and hospitable as can be, Vietnamese people don’t really enjoy having their photos taken. Remember to ask for permission before taking photos of anyone, especially in the UNESCO Hoi An Town, where it might come with a price. Do not take any pictures in military areas, as the government considers it a breach of national security and you might end up in jail.
2. Don’t show too much affection in public
The average Asian person is far more reserved and conservative than the average Westerner. That’s why public display of romantic love is not encouraged in most Asian countries, including Vietnam. Don’t shower your partner with kisses and cuddles, unless you’re in a private room. Anything beyond holding hands is seriously frowned upon and considered offensive in public.
3. Don’t freak out when crossing the road
Getting around Vietnam is easy thanks to a various means of transportation but the traffic here can be really intimidating, especially when you’re in big cities like Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. However, panicking will only make it worse and increase your risk of getting hit. Being strong and certain, watching where you’re going and maintaining good eye contact with drivers are the best you can do to help yourself out of it.
4. Don’t sleep or sit with your feet pointing at the altar
Don’t sit with your feet pointing towards a family altar if you are staying in a local’s house. It goes against their common religious beliefs.
5. Don’t be too loud in religious institutions
You are expected to keep quiet and pay respect when you’re at a pagoda, temple or church. You might try praying like the local people by putting your hands together, or simply walking around in silence. Tranquility is what most people seek when coming to this sort of places.
6. Don’t get involved in illegal issues
If you enjoy nightlife activities, you can check out some marvellous bars and pubs in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. However, make sure you stay away from drugs and prostitution. They’re undeniably illegal in Vietnam and you might get yourself in real troubles if you mess with them.
7. Don’t mention the war
The pain of war still lingers here and there in the life of Vietnamese people. Don’t mention the war in almost any cases, as people might get either emotional or aggressive when such topic is brought up.
Being a friendly and safe destination, Vietnam welcomes tourists from all parts of the world and all walks of life. Fear not, Vietnamese people are very appreciative if they see you trying to abide by their customs, and very forgiving if you get some of them wrong. We hope that these lists of Do’s and Don’ts when traveling in Vietnam will help you make the most of your experience and avoid at maximum embarrassing situations.