Do and Don't

23/04/2013 10:10

Vietnam is a friendly and safe place to travel. With a sprinkling of common sense, your trip should be smooth and trouble free. Tourists usually complain about over-aggressive street vendors, tour operators with a bad attitude and dangerous driving. However, with a cool head and sensible planning, one can avoid these problems. 


  • Greetings are no different to western countries, there are no cultural formalities that as a foreginer you would be expected to know or practise.
  • Vietnamese dress conservatively. Despite the heat, it’s best not to show off too much skin. If you do, especially girls, you’ll only draw stares from the locals.
  • Dress well when visiting pagodas. No shorts or tatty beer t-shirts. Shoes are fine, and rarely will you have to remove them. If unsure, just follow what the locals do.
  • Drink plenty of bottled water, especially when walking around sightseeing. No need to carry huge bottles around with you, a vendor is never far away and no doubt they will find you before you find them.
  • Keep your cash, credit cards, airline tickets and other valuables in a safe place.
  • Travel with recommend tour agencies. Even if you plan to buy tickets when in country, research your journey a little first on the Internet. A good resource is Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Forum, where fellow tourists discuss travel in Vietnam. This way you avoid unreliable tour agencies and badly run hotels.


  • Wear a lot of jewellery or take a bag with you. Violent crime is highly unusual in Vietnam, but petty crime is more apparant. If you have a bag, or tout a digital camera around your neck, you are a potential target.
  • When taking a ride by motorbike taxi (xe om) make sure your bag, if any, is not on display or easy to grab. Bag snatches, although still rare, are probably the most likely crime a tourist would encounter, and it raises the probability immensely if you are tailing a camera or a laptop in the wind.
  • Don’t wear singlets, shorts, skirts or dresses, or revealing clothes to temples or pagodas.
  • Physical displays of affection between lovers in public are frowned upon. That’s why you may come across couples holding hands but not hugging or kissing.
  • Losing your temper in Vietnam means a loss of face. Keep a cool head and remain polite, you’ll have a greater chance of getting what you want.
  • Remember, this is Vietnam, a devloping country, and things don’t quite work as you are maybe used to. Don’t be paranoid about your safety, just be aware of your surroundings.

    Here are some further useful information about Vietnam customs


    Upon meeting a person either in a business environment or at home it is customary to invite the guest for a cup of tea; to decline such an invitation is tantamount to an insult for if one does have time for tea then one has time for little else. Drink the tea and chat.

    Visiting Pagodas

    It is abhorrent to the Vietnamese to visit the inside of a pagoda with ones shoes on; this shows the greatest disrespect; shoes should be deposited at the door. It is further unthinkable to depart the pagoda without making an offering in the collection box; any sum will do. It is this box by which the pagoda supports itself. Likewise, visiting a pagoda or church in shorts, a t-shirt or a sleeveless shirt shows the greatest disrespect.


    There is a sense of the individual which appears in the slow service, not so much because of the customer but because of the value with which the individual is held in Vietnamese society. There is also the sense of grace and serenity. As much as one could listen to the complete silence of a Chinese women washing dishes one could hear the service of the Vietnamese. It is something to be savored and enjoyed.


    In the event of anger or embarrassment smiles hide the situation. If you become angry and receive smiles in return know that the best face is being put upon an already regretful situation.

    Deprecating an individual in front of others will cause a loss of face and obviate any chance for the resolution of a dispute.

    Showing Anger

    Showing anger is a sign of immaturity, a lack of grace and a strong indication of an unworthy upbringing. Dignity and face are maintained by demonstrating adult control over one's actions.

    Respect of Age

    Age in Vietnam is highly respected; deference is always shown to one's elder. Anyone who is five-years older then you is your "elder," even if you are 70 and he is 75.

    Handshakes and Greetings

    A gentle handshake is the appropriate manner of greeting; a firm handshake is considered disrespectful. When meeting people, especially older people, it is polite to remove one's hat and to indicate a bow; to not do so is considered rude.

    Body Posture

    Crossing one's legs when sitting is considered impolite as the soles of one's feet facing other people, or a sacred monument such as a statue of Buddha, is disrespectful.

    Displays of Affection

    Public displays of affection are considered extremely impolite.

    Women in Society

    Women in Vietnamese society are not docile, nor subservient, nor meek. The role of women in Vietnamese society is equal to that of men. But polite women never drink nor smoke; to do so indicates that one is probably a prostitute.


    Family is at the vortex of every Vietnamese; to not have a family, or a small one, is considered pitiful. To be unmarried beyond the age of 30 for a man or 25 for a woman is considered very unlucky. Divorce is rare. You will be pitied if you are single.

    Slow Service

    Expect service which is not as rapid as it is in North America. Though much improvement in service has occurred over the past 10-years service is still slow compared to Western standards, and in some instances, very slow. To expect or to demand prompt service is considered impolite.

    Always be Polite

    Showing anger is a sure way to insure than you do not achieve the end you seek. Politeness is held in very high regard in Vietnam.

    Bottled Water

    Always drink bottled water; never drink tap water or any water that has not been boiled.


    Agree on the price before you depart. It is always advisable to have the doorman or concierge arrange the cyclo for you.

    Bed Time

    It is not advisable in Ho Chi Minh City to be out and about after 10:00 pm, a time which it seems the police go home for the evening. Take a taxi back to your hotel.

    Jewelry and Bags

    Wearing earrings, necklaces, snap on wristwatches and the like is not advisable. Likewise it is a bad idea to show large amounts of cash. Purses, handbags, cameras, etc., should not be left dangling, but secured over your shoulder.

    Unlocked Doors

    Closed yet unlocked doors are considered an invitation for entry; if you do not wish to be interrupted by the maid lock your door.

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