When visiting Vietnam, it’s important to be aware of local customs and safety guidelines to ensure a respectful and enjoyable trip. Here are some important do’s and don’ts to keep in mind when traveling in Vietnam.
Do’s: Etiquette and Safety in Vietnam
- Visa Requirements: Check the visa requirements for your nationality before traveling to Vietnam. Depending on your citizenship, you might need a visa to enter the country.
- Currency: The official currency of Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong (VND). While some larger establishments might accept US dollars or other major currencies, it’s recommended to have some Vietnamese Dong for smaller transactions.
- Dress Modestly: While Vietnam has become more modern, particularly in larger cities, it’s still respectful to dress modestly, especially when visiting temples, pagodas, and rural areas. Cover your shoulders and knees when entering sacred sites.
- Remove Shoes: It’s customary to remove your shoes before entering someone’s home, certain businesses, and religious sites. Look for cues like a pile of shoes at the entrance
- Greet Respectfully: Greet locals with a slight bow or nod, or use a handshake for business settings. Address people using their titles (Mr., Mrs., etc.) followed by their last names.
- Negotiate Politely: Bargaining is common in markets but do so politely and with a friendly attitude. Keep in mind that haggling too aggressively can be seen as disrespectful. Also remember that the $1 you save means nothing to you, but might feed a hungry child that day. On average, Vietnam’s per capita income is $4000 vs. the US’s $64,000
- Talk to People: Many locals are genuinely curious about foreigners and may strike up conversations to learn about your background and experiences. This can lead to wonderful cultural exchanges. Just don’t get separated from my group 🙂
- Use Both Hands: When giving or receiving something, use both hands to show respect. This is particularly important when offering money, receiving gifts, or passing items.
- Eat with Etiquette: Wait for the eldest person at the table to start eating before you begin. When dining, use both hands to pass dishes and receive items.
- Explore Street Food: Vietnam is renowned for its street food culture. Try local dishes from street vendors, but make sure the food is cooked freshly and served hot. Do not eat street food when you aren’t with our travel group.
- Respect Traffic Rules: Traffic can be chaotic, but follow local practices when crossing the street. Maintain a steady pace, and vehicles will maneuver around you. Remember the injunctions we got in India? That’s right. Walk like a cow 😀
- Gift Giving: When giving or receiving gifts, use both hands to show respect. Gifts aren’t opened immediately; rather, they are opened later in private.
Don’ts: Etiquette and Safety in Vietnam
- Public Displays of Affection: Avoid public displays of affection like kissing or hugging, as these actions are generally considered inappropriate in Vietnamese culture.
- Point with Feet: It’s considered impolite to point at people or objects with your feet. Use your hands instead.
- Raise Your Voice: Raising your voice in public, especially in a confrontational manner, is seen as disrespectful and should be avoided.
- Public Nudity: Public nudity, including wearing revealing clothing in non-beach areas, is considered inappropriate.
- Touching Heads: Avoid touching or patting people’s heads, as the head is considered the most sacred part of the body in Vietnamese culture.
- Disrespect Religious Sites: When visiting temples or pagodas, dress modestly and behave respectfully. Avoid loud conversations and disruptive behavior.
- Use Left Hand: The left hand is traditionally considered unclean, so try to use your right hand for giving, receiving, and eating.
- Littering: Respect the environment by not littering. Dispose of your trash properly and consider the impact of your actions on the local surroundings.
- Don’t drink the water. It is generally not safe to drink tap water in Vietnam. The tap water is not reliably treated and can contain harmful bacteria and pathogens that can lead to waterborne illnesses. To stay safe and avoid getting sick, it’s recommended that you drink bottled water or water that has been properly purified or boiled. If in doubt, ask Urvashi or Alka.
- Avoid Ice in Drinks: While many restaurants and establishments use commercial ice that is safe, it’s a good practice to avoid ice in drinks to minimize the risk of contamination.
- Avoid Uncooked Foods Washed in Tap Water: Be cautious when consuming fruits, vegetables, and salads that might have been washed in tap water.
- Respect Local Laws: Drug offenses are taken very seriously in Vietnam and can lead to severe penalties, including imprisonment. Always respect local laws and regulations.
- Don’t flash your money about. To increase your safety in Vietnam, consider leaving your expensive, flashy, large jewelry at home. While shopping, try not to take out large wads of cash and start counting out what you need. It’s a lot safer to bundle your notes in batches, so you only remove one batch at a time. Not only do such signs of wealth leave you open to pickpockets, but you’re also going to be charged higher prices at the smaller shops.
- Power Outlets: The standard voltage is 220V, and the power plugs are usually Type A, C, or D. Bring a universal adapter if your devices have different plug types.
Is it Safe to Drink Tap Water In Vietnam?
No, it is not. The last thing you want is to get sick when vacationing in Vietnam. It’s not just that the water may not be filtered properly, the main reason you’re getting sick is that you’re not used to the germs and microbes in Vietnam.
- Do not drink tap water in Vietnam. Bottled water or water from hotels is recommended.
- Do not eat ANY raw vegetables. You don’t know when they were cut, or what type of water they were washed in. As much as possible, eat freshly cooked, hot food.
- Try to consume yogurt or other fermented foods daily.
- The follow-up to this is don’t eat raw veggies or fruits with their peels when on the street
- Don’t believe the waitstaff who tell you the water is filtered—it is, but not to the point where it won’t make you sick. Instead, ask HOW the water was filtered. Make sure they’re using a reverse osmosis filter, or something other than a filter attached to a tap. On my Vietnam culinary tours, we try to stay in places that use reverse osmosis filters. But if in doubt, ask.
- Don’t consume ice unless you’re sure it was made from properly filtered water. This is the one thing people forget all the time, and then I must knock that delightfully iced drink out of your hand as you’re trying to drink it.
- Think of how drinks are made before you order them. Does the lemonade use properly filtered water? Does the popsicle use filtered water?
- Just don’t be fooled by the “but that was a 5-star hotel!” argument. You’re not getting sick because it’s a dirty country/hotel/home. You’re getting sick because you’re being exposed to bugs against which you have no immunity.
The people of Vietnam are generally known to be warm, friendly, and welcoming to visitors. Vietnamese culture places a strong emphasis on hospitality and respect, and many locals are eager to interact with tourists and share their culture.
So just follow these do’s and don’ts to show respect for Vietnamese culture, foster positive interactions with locals, and have a more enjoyable and enriching travel experience.