How’s been Saigon treating me lately? I love it here! I am feeling spurts of happiness and excitement, I am feeling like I’m in a right place with the right people at the right time.
Vietnam is a friendly and safe place for backpackers, also very cheap with lots of food (I just can’t stop eating the spring rolls!), diverse, sometimes flashy and, above all, very simple.
In the morning I feel like being in China and at night it becomes as posh as New York. Most of travellers I have met here say their journey in Vietnam has gone smoothly and safely.
Those who entered the Vietnamese houses and tried to live like locals say Vietnamese are very hospitable and they felt like home. I feel the same way actually.
However, Vietnam can be a hassle if you are not entirely familiar with the customs, traditions and habits.
If I wanted to count all my gaffes and blunders and wrote them all down, I could write a 100-page book about it and keep laughing at myself for ages.
There are things you should NEVER do in Vietnam in order not to insult, ridicule or offend someone by accident.
There are also things you should ALWAYS do as a sign of respect and gratitude.
Some of these Do’s and Don’ts mat save your life, make your journey nicer and smoother and make you see the real side of Vietnam.
DO’s: Things you SHOULD do in Vietnam
Greet everyone Vietnamese way
You should greet people in their native language which is “Xin Chao!” for “Hello!” and always use “Thank you” which is “Cam on!” with bent head when you get something from them. It shows how much you respect them and how grateful you feel. When it comes to greetings there are no differences to the way western people greet each other.2
When you enter the church, temple or any other holy or spiritual place you should dress smartly and modestly. You should cover your breast, legs and arms as most of locals are very conservative.3
Pay in the right manner
When you pay for something hold the money in both hands when passing it to the receiver.4
Cover your tattoos
When you visit pagodas you should cover your tattoos with some piece of clothes. Vietnamese think that people with tattoos are “bad” and “evil” people. It looks very bad especially on girls’ bodies (according to more traditional Vietnamese).
Get a pepper spray
Buy a pepper spray in your country before you head to Vietnam in case of any life-threatening situations such as assault. You might get robbed at night even if you walk down the street with your friends in the centre of Hanoi city. Nearly happened to Cez, but he was armed with the spray.
Keep small change at all times
Try to have plenty of change in your pocket and don’t let people know where you keep your money. If they know you do not change with you they will quote higher price. Also, once you haggle the right price and give them more money, they try not to give you change back, often by ignoring you.
Check if your bottled water is properly sealed
Buy only bottled water and make sure the bottle is sealed. Locals are likely to pick up some empty bottles from the street, put some tap water in it, label and sell it!
Keep your valuables safe
When you book a hotel room, make sure there is a safe there to put your cash, credit cards and other valuable stuff in it. Otherwise, you might lose them in the blink of an eye.
Check online before booking
Check the reviews of the travel agency you are going to book a tour with online, before you pay the deposit. There are many unreliable travel agencies here so it’s easy to become a victim of a scam.
Agree the price before enjoying the ride
Ask for the price first before you get in the car/taxi/bus/ train as Vietnamese are likely to make the price much higher once you decide to get in without knowing it.
Keep the receipt/ticket
Always keep your receipt when you do some shopping or park your bike/ motorbike/car. Your shopping basket will be checked after you pay for it and getting the motorbike/car/bike park without the ticket is almost impossible or very troublesome.
Do shopping in the supermarket if there is one around you. Prices for foreigners are much higher when you buy something on the local markets.
Bargain as much as you can. The longer you haggle, the better price you get. It’s part of the culture, so you’re quoted a much higher price to start with.
Take off your shoes
Always take off your shoes when you enter someone’s house. It’s extremely impolite to walk into a room with your shoes on.
This country is beautiful beyond imagination. So take as many tours in Vietnam as you can within the time you spend within the country.
DON’Ts: Things you should NEVER do in Vietnam
Don’t show off
Don’t wear valuable jewellery and don’t show off your expensive iPod/phone/clothes. Petty crimes happen a lot here.
Don’t lose sight of your belongings
Never wear your bag on your back in crowded places, always keep it in front of you zipped or locked properly. Thieves sometimes use the knives to rip your bag and they are so smart! You won’t even feel it.
Don’t rush people. They hate it. They take their time and there is no rush for them. If you have to wait 10 minutes for your coffee, just deal with it, don’t scream or show how unsatisfied you are because people take things slow and easy.
Don’t lose your temper
Never lose your temper. You lose your temper, you lose your face and locals won’t speak to you again or will not respect you the way you wish.
Don’t show affection in public
If you travel with your girlfriend or boyfriend don’t show in public how much you love each other. Kissing, touching or holding hands may be perceived inappropriate.
Don’t forget to share
That’s right, you should share this article with someone who is travelling to Vietnam. They can learn something, get better treatment from locals and maybe even avoid a bad time.