Visiting a foreign country is both an exciting and nerve-racking endeavor. There are certain must-knows before immersing in a foreign culture. Vietnam isn’t your average touristy destination, although it is a fascinating place. Vietnam is in the most eastern part of Southeast Asia, it is most famous for Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi, which is located at the bank of the Red River. It has been the capital of Vietnam for 1,000 years. Studying the culture and particular ways of life in Vietnam is important to do before arriving. Knowing the way the people’s values, beliefs, and daily practices can be the difference between an amazing or a traumatic experience.
1. Don’t Forget To Apply For A Visa
Visiting a foreign country requires some type of Visa application. These applications take time to process, so being proactive and getting the process started as early as possible is best. The application can be submitted here. The fee may vary depending on how many visas you are applying for.
2. Donʼt Wear Shorts, Short Skirts To Pagoda/Temple
Respecting the expectations surrounding visitation of the Pagoda and Temples in Vietnam is extremely important to the culture. Outside of a religious building, the dress code isn’t a major concern, but dressing more on the conservative side is encouraged.
Upon entering a Temple, the less skin showing, the better. It is best to come dressed in skirts or pants that go just below the knee. Be careful with the tightness of pants if you choose to avoid wearing a skirt. It is best to keep the shoulders covered and refrain from any low v-neck shirts.
3. No Public Display of Affection
Believe it or not, there are varying public displays of affection guidelines throughout the world. Before traveling to any new location, becoming knowledgeable about these important social norms should be a priority.
When in Vietnam don’t kiss or cuddle in public. It is considered inappropriate. Holding hands is OK.
4. Never buy bottled water without checking the seal
Vietnam has been known to reuse bottles of water and fill them with tap water to resell. In some cases, they are able to use a machine to then reseal them, looking as though it is a fresh bottle of water.
Be sure to be aware of which markets are reputable and check your bottles of water closely. The tap water in Vietnam is not life-threatening, but properly sealed bottled water will always be your most trustworthy choice.
5. Never forget to take off your shoes when entering a Vietnamese house
In Vietnamese culture, it is expected to take off shoes before entering any household. In Vietnam, along with several other Asian cultures, it is taught at a young age that it is the polite thing to do when entering a house.
(photo: Markus Winkler)
6. Donʼt hesitate while crossing the street in Vietnam
Crossing the street in Vietnam is an art of itself. There is not much order when it comes to traffic laws in the town of Vietnam. The congestion of cars, trucks, mopeds, and motorbikes will not stop for me. You must take the initiative and demand your presence to cross.
It is all about slow, steady, and confident steps in your desired direction. First, make eye contact with the drivers to be sure they know you are about to be on the move. Make sure it is known which direction you are headed. Do not stop! It is important to continue forward movement.
How to cross the street in Vietnam
7. Donʼt Use Taxi/Use Grab, Uber
Vietnam is known for scamming tourists. Using Grab or Uber will ensure that the price will be exact and what you see when you book the ride. Most of the taxi drivers in Vietnam will not speak English, with a high chance of miscommunication which may lead to further complications.
Grab and Uber will always be cheaper than the taxis and overall more safe and reliable.
8. Donʼt Be Afraid To Haggle
Before you begin haggling, be sure to know the conversion rate of your currency. Most of the markets and shopping centers in Vietnam do not enforce specific pricing on the items they sell and tend to sell for as much as the buyer is willing to pay. Having some basic background in the local language will help when negotiating prices.
Simple Vietnamese Phrases You Should Know:
• “How much?”
• “Too expensive,”
• “I’ll take it”
Always be kind and respectful in the way you interact. The kinder you are, the bigger the potential bargain may be. A smart plan of action is to begin at a 50% discount and try to work your way to a 75% discount.
How To Haggle In Vietnam
9. Donʼt Skip Street Food
The Vietnamese are passionate about their cuisine. Any time of day you can find the streets and markets alive with people eating. One of the best parts about experiencing Vietnam is getting to eat all of the incredible ethnic dishes. One of the most popular dishes to try is Pho, a hearty noodle soup simmered in a bone broth. Some other streets foods you definitely need to try are:
• Banh Mi – Baguette sandwich with deli meats
• Bún Chả – Vermicelli noodles with bbq pork patties
• Bánh Xeo – Crepe folded with shrimp, pork and beansprouts.
• Bánh Cuốn – Steamed Rice Rolls filled with ground pork and mushrooms
• Bún Riêu – Vermicelli tomato soup served with minced freshwater crab
• Bun Bo Hue – richly flavored noodle soup served with vermicelli, beef, trotter, frozen blood, minced pork
Best street food in Vietnam
10. Donʼt plan your visit during Tet (New Year)
Tet is short for Tet Nguyen Dan, which is the most important holiday in Vietnam. It is the Lunar New Year. Tet can be compared to Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years’ all in one. Families will travel back home, taking up the majority of the lodging and transportation spaces.
The celebrations last 9 full days. Most of the local businesses will close for this time. Many recommend not traveling during this time because it is difficult for tourists to make the most out of their trips.
11. Keep your hotel number a secret, Donʼt give your hotel number to anyone
As with any place you are visiting or traveling, never share your hotel number with anyone. This is something one would never do with their home address and the same logic should be carried to the visitation of Vietnam.
12. Donʼt ask for prices in the early morning
Vietnamese culture has its superstitions. One of those being the luck received from the first custom of the day at local shops. The shop owners will base the amount of money spent by their first customer to be a prediction of how the day is going to go. It is best to purchase souvenirs earlier in the day.
13. Donʼt Hug When Greeting Others
The Vietnamese are not huggers. Hugs are saved for family members only. The common greeting in Vietnam is a combination of a slight bow or a gentle handshake. The women tend to bow and give a slight nod of the head.
14. Don’t forget to research common scams in Vietnam
The Vietnamese are proud of their country and take pride in showing it to foreigners. However, as with all places, there are those who will do anything to take advantage of a tourist and scam for money.
Some common scams involve:
- Renting a Motorbike From a Local- There is potential for the locals to trick you into paying more for the bike rental than you should. This is more easily done to those who are unfamiliar with the exchange rate and typical rentals around the area. It is common for scammers to trick you through giving change using smaller bills that look similar to larger bill amounts.
- Photographers Around Touristic Places- It’s easy to get tricked into taking touristy photos from a local pretending to be a professional. The photos are fun, but not when you get tricked into paying an obscene amount for it. The photographers are known to follow tourists after photos are taken if not compensated. Bring you own camera and take your own photos.
- Switching the Bills- It is common for scammers to trick you through giving change using smaller bills that look similar to larger bill amounts.
- Shoe Repairs- It is common to get offered shoe work on the streets of Vietnam. It is best to kindly decline and continue on your way.
- Motorbike Taxi Drivers- There are many imitators that will trick tourists into thinking they are a taxi service. These scammers have been known to drive to places in the middle of nowhere and ask for a large amount of money. Only take rides from an accredited service like Uber or Grab.
Scams in Vietnam
Traveling to a foreign country is incredibly exciting. To make for the most epic, safe, and memorable experience, there is an amount of research and knowledge to be gained about the culture and customs of the local communities. In Vietnam, there are many differences to discover in basic day to day activities that will result in the difference between a traumatic or positive experience. Do your research, know your travel necessities, and enjoy the discovery of Vietnam.