If this is your first time visiting one of the most beautiful countries in Southeast Asia – Vietnam, there are certain things that will both surprise and confuse you. A little bit of research is already a significant step to make your trip easier and more enjoyable.

Let’s start to find out what is a big “NO NO” and what to shoot to stay away from awkward, embarrassing situations once you make it in Vietnam.

Looking out to the view of Halong Bay
Looking out to the view of Halong Bay

Things you should do:

  • Keep an eye on your belongings: Even though Vietnam is a fairly safe and secured country to live in, thieves and pickpockets are hanging around especially in the city center. The bad guys always know where to hunt and they would pick the most “vulnerable” moments to pick on you. Don’t give them a chance to snatch your bag, your camera, your phone, take caution when you about to take a picture or even simply checking your phone. always keep your bags in the front be alert. At the same time, you should also be able to enjoy your trip rather than having to worry too much! In this case, if you don’t have to carry everything with you, and an anti-thief bag or hidden pouch should be enough.
  • Keep valuables away: People can simply take advantage of you cause it is available and it’s seemingly welcome if you let them. Even though it is not banned in Vietnam to wear jewelry, you don’t want to draw people’s attention towards your worth-million necklaces, for instance. Try not to carry any or just a tiny, plain item when you are walking around in public. Trust me! Reporting lost items process with the police is the last thing you would want to do.
  • Dress appropriately: Vietnam generally does not have a dress code when you are out, you can actually put on anything. It is important to remember to cover your knees, your elbows when it comes to holy sacred places such as temples, pagodas, churches, etc. Stay away from skimpy, revealing attire would be smarter to do. It shows your respect and politeness in the locals’ eyes towards their culture and customs.
A tourist next to the dragon statue
A tourist next to the dragon statue
  • Shoes off when entering one’s house: If you are coming from another Asian country, then you probably can skip this one. Asians basically don’t have such a thing called “shoes in the house” let alone in bed. They sometimes would have slippers in the house but mostly don’t. Shoes are something that carries dirt, bacterium, and diseases into the house and it is certainly not invited. Therefore, you are expected to leave the shoes outside before walking in. Shops and restaurants don’t generally ask you to but keep in mind that they might somewhere. Pay attention to the signs before pushing through the door next time.
  • Bargain hard or head straight to supermarkets: Since you clearly don’t look like a local, you can tell by noticing that you get stares a whole lot more than necessary. It is understandable that vendors and shop owners would approach and overcharge you as “it is for tourists only”. To avoid purchasing overpriced items, either you have to be confident in your bargaining skills or go ahead with the wholesale supermarkets. Supermarkets or marts usually have fresh, original, quality food, essentials…., with fixed price tags for everything with tons of choices as in options.
  • Take cash, money exchange: Double-check and update yourself with the money exchange rate as it changes quite often daily. The best is to go to local banks or international ones. Their working hours range from Monday to Saturday morning. The other option is to try ATMs around somewhere in the city, they do accept master and visa cards but those normally charge you a higher transaction fee. Stay alert to see if they sneakily installed a hidden camera to steal your information somewhere in the ATMs.
Tourists at Cuchi tunnel
Tourists at Cu Chi tunnel
  • Give street food a go: If you have a history of food allergy and not sure about the type of water they give you?, take it a bit more carefully once you eat out! Make sure they understand that you don’t want certain things on your plates. Ice cubes that are made out of tap water, raw vegetables, and exotic things can be a deal-breaker too. Hospitals are probably the least favorite place you wish to pay a visit.
  • Ask before touching anything: Once you are in the country, you will constantly get approached by street vendors taxis, bike drivers, and so on. Kindly ask for the prices before nodding, ordering food, purchasing anything, and jumping on the back of anyone. Restaurants without priced menus can also be a big red flag.
  • Watch out for those who persistently follow you: Be careful with those who seem to be overly friendly and helpful when it is not necessary to. Watch their moves and hold on to your belongings. Be firm saying no and ask for help if you consider they are harassing you.
  • Know where you are: Bring your accommodation’s business card or have their address/name noted on your phone at all times. This way you can easily return to your place by cabs or bikes. Keep track of their routes if needed on Google Maps in case they try to scam you believing that you are unfamiliar with the area.

Things not to do:

  • Don’t be hesitant when crossing the streets: Once you decide to make a move, just do it! Focus on where you are going even though it can be somewhat frightening. It turns out it is even more simple than it sounds “cross the street” actually! Remember that you are not the first pedestrian they have seen. The traffic shall try to avoid you at any cost. If it is your first time though, to tag along with a local, ask for help, follow and walk with a group, etc are also great options to ease the experience.
Tourist are on cyclos in Saigon
Tourists are on cyclos in Saigon.
  • No PDA’S: Vietnam has slowly but surely adapted bits of Western culture, the explosion of social media, internet, ex-pats’ living style affecting locals’, etc..but it is still a conservative country. Showing affection in public is simply considered inappropriate. Hand-holding on the other hand is acceptable, especially if you need support to pass through the crazy traffic.
  • Do not take selfies, pictures, videotape in holy, sacred places, altars: Watch your body, do not let your butt or your feet facing toward anything considered honorable. People will give you the look which basically means you are being disrespectful, irreverent. The tip is to observe how locals act and react, ask for permission if you need anything. They will show you their respect and admiration.
  • You should not mention the war: Everyone knows that Vietnam has been through 2 wars back in time. It was obviously a painful time for everyone. Reminding them of their loss during that mayhem is probably not going to leave a great first impression. Unless they start off the conversation, or they consider you are close enough to share more stories, then you will know.

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