Do’s and Don’ts in Vietnam
- Get yourself prepared with some Vietnamese phrases like “Xin chao!” for “Hello!” or “Cam on” for “Thank you”. When it comes to greetings there are no differences to the way western people greet each other. And with the “Cam on”, saying in Vietnamese will help you show your respect and gratefulness.
- While Vietnamese are quite open to Western culture and tourists can dress quite comfortably, you should dress properly when entering sacred places such as temples, pagodas, churches, or any spiritual places. However, since you’re in an Asian country, it is still best not to show too much skin, or you will draw only stares from the locals.
- Your taxi meters indicate “Thousand Vietnam Dongs”, not US Dollars. For example, when it says 36, it means VND 36,000, not USD36. Or you can check the distance and deal with the taxi driver before getting in the car.
- Always take off your shoes at the front door before entering a house if you get invited into to a local’s home.
- Keep your cash, credit cards, airline tickets and other valuables in a safe place. Most 4-star hotels have in-room safes, otherwise, ask the reception to keep your valuable things in their deposit facility.
- Shop until you drop! Vietnam is a fun shopping heaven in every way. You will regret later if you don’t do shopping here as this is the only investment that allows the buyers to benefit. True story!
- Do some bargaining on the street. While supermarkets give a fixed price, shops on the roadside always mark up a room for bargaining. It is fun to make negotiations and you may get something cheaper than the first number. However, avoid bargaining in the early morning, or when you know you are their first customer of the day! It is considered unlucky and impolite by locals to do bargaining in the morning in Vietnam.
- Make sure you always have some change in your pocket for shopping convenience.
- Always in the mood of exploring! This country is beyond imagination. So take as many tours in Vietnam as you can within the time you spend within Vietnam.
- Take a private tour to enjoy the full version of this charming land, and have your tour guide always there for the best! You can get rid of number 03 also with your comfortable private vehicles.
- Vietnamese street food is super tasty and you should not miss it, yet make sure things are cooked. Don’t drink tap water either.
- Don’t bring too much cash with you. You can use your credit cards when you pay for something valuable, and it is now easy to pay by cards in big cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Bringing a lot of cash may be inconvenient in certain cases and drive attention from some sort of people on the street.
- Never touch someone at the head or point at someone by your finger (or…feet). It is considered as really impolitely with Vietnamese.
- Don’t be so paranoid about your security during your Vietnam vacation. This country is really safe, just only need to pay a little attention to your surrounding for your own good.
- Do not try to take photographs of military installations or anything to do with the military. This can be considered a breach of national security.
- Don’t lose your temper in public or when bargaining for a purchase. This is considered a serious loss of face for both parties. Try to maintain a cool and happy demeanor and you will be reciprocated with the same.
- Public display of affection like kissing/ physical touching may be perceived inappropriate in Vietnam.
Food & Drink
Making up a list of Vietnamese food to try, especially for first-timers, can be overwhelming. Whether you have had Vietnamese food before, true connoisseurs would surely fall in love with the light, subtle in flavour and astonishing in their variety. You’ll never go hungry when in Vietnam, and if you are travelling through the country, you will be surprised and excited to find out how different the food can be in the North, Central and the South!
In the North
Don’t miss out on the famous Pho, Bun Cha, Bun Thang, Spring Rolls, Banh Cuon, Sticky Rice, Cha Ca La Vong, Cha Muc, Banh Da Cua, Mien Luon, Banh Chung (during the Lunar New Year holiday), …
In the Central
The food in central Vietnam tends to be spicier and saltier, but they are all mouthwatering with fresh ingredients like seafood and herbs. Make sure you try out Bun Bo Hue, Mi Quang, Banh Xeo, Cao Lau, Com Hen when visiting cities like Hue, Danang and Hoi An. Also, the central region is famous for its special ‘cakes’ – Banh Beo, Banh Dap, Banh Ep, Ram It. They come in small portions and are quite cheap, thus you can try a number of these ‘cakes’ in one go!
In the South
You may see that people in this region prefer dishes with a sweeter flavour compared to the North and the Central. When you’re in the South, here are the dishes to look for: Com Tam, Banh Mi, Thit Kho Tau, Ca Kho To, Lau Mam, Canh Chua. Moreover, the southern region sees a lot of fresh seafood, so include them in your must-try list as well. The freshest seafood can be easily found anywhere in destinations like Nha Trang, Mui Ne, Phu Quoc Island!
Shopping & Nightlife
Tourists love shopping in Vietnam and that’s a fact! Why? Probably because of the variety of quality goods and the tempting prices. Besides, tourists can try bargaining the prices down when shopping in the country without feeling shy, and this, most of the time, will become a memory they can’t forget after saying goodbye to Vietnam.
Each town and city usually has more than one local market and these are always worth visiting as much for the experience as for the shopping. They are also the best places to look for items such as wooden water puppets, silk, lacquerware, ceramics, colorful hill-tribe bags, clothing and hand-painted silk greetings cards, and with cheaper price compared to shops or in the malls. For international and domestic brands, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have a good number of shopping malls that tourists can visit.
Ho Chi Minh City is packed with bars and clubs ranging from dingy bars to some very upmarket venues. Most of the nightlife is concentrated in District 1, especially on Bui Vien Street. Hanoi’s nightlife tends to be quieter and the streets can appear quiet after 23h00 hrs. The venues tend to be small here and are concentrated in the area of the Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake.
Live music is mainly restricted to international acts from the Philippines and Thailand performing in international hotels, with a few bars hosting local jazz and rock bands. Elsewhere, the nightlife is generally restricted to small bars and hotels but there is a particularly good bar/café scene in Hoi An in central Vietnam.
Vietnam Airlines and Pacific Airlines are the two main domestic carriers. Fares are very reasonable and the frequency of flights to main hubs is good. Flights can be a handy way to lop off a day of travel for not as many Dongs as you may expect; Hanoi to Dien Bien Phu and Saigon to Phu Quoc Island are both popular time-savers. Note that it is often cheaper to buy domestic tickets in Vietnam than from online brokers.
Vietnam’s train system is a lot better than it used to be, and while it is not cheap per se, it is comfortable, exceedingly scenic in places, and overall, a very interesting and fun way to travel. If you are traveling during high season or during Tet, book as far in advance as possible. The train railways run primarily on the Vietnamese coastline, with just a couple of spurs out of Hanoi, most notably northwest to Sapa. The coastal line serves many of the key destinations in Vietnam, although the notable exceptions are Hoi An (alight at Da Nang), Qui Nhon (alight at Dieu Tri) and Mui Ne (alight at Muong Man).
Local buses and minibusses
These take about as long as Open Tours but can be overloaded to outrageous degrees. Local buses and minibusses are fine for trips under three to four hours, but longer than that can be a bit grueling. One disadvantage of the local bus system is that the bus station hubs that they operate from are often on the outskirts of town and the transportation to and from these hubs (‘xe om’) will put a significant dent in your wallet, reducing any savings you might hope to achieve.
Rental cars for long-distance travel are yet to be popularized in Vietnam, and seeing the state of the traffic it’s easy to see why. For those who prefer to self-cater, it is recommended to do it via motorcycle rather than a car.
Grab a Minsk and hit the road. These bikes can be purchased for as little as a few hundred US dollars and you’ll often find it easy to sell the bike off to another traveler when the time comes to leave Vietnam. These bikes are semi-reliable, but just about any local with a screwdriver should be able to fix it up should you have any minor troubles. For your safety, invest in a helmet which can be easily purchased in both Hanoi and Saigon.
Long, with a scenic flat coastline, Vietnam is a great destination for cyclists. The only grueling part is the northern mountains – even the Central Highlands are not really all that hilly. Every town in Vietnam offers some form of accommodations, so finding a room for the night shouldn’t be difficult. Make sure to pack a good supply of inner tubes and patch kits and if possible, bring your own bike as Vietnamese bikes are not top tier. The country has a good network of secondary roads which are far preferable to the main roads, where cyclists rank just above chickens in the pecking order (pun fully intended); cyclists are expected to yield to all larger vehicles.
This is really only an option in the Mekong Delta, where you can travel in boats for short-haul trips and take freighters for longer trips; the former is usually more comfortable. Boat transport is slow – set aside two days for a trip from My Tho to Chau Doc on the Cambodian border. The most popular routes are the ferry from Ho Chi Minh City to Vung Tau and the boats from Chau Doc to Phnom Penh. Boat travel generally works out to be more expensive than bus travel for the same route.