Essential Guidelines for Traveling in Vietnam

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Ho Chi Minh City, Ho Chi Minh City
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1 year ago

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     Vietnamese locals are renowned for their warm hospitality, politeness, and generosity, going above and beyond to ensure guests feel welcomed and comfortable. Don't be taken aback if someone you've just met invites you to their home to meet their family and friends. These are the experiences that will truly enhance your visit to Vietnam.

     Vietnamese culture differs significantly from the Western perspective on life and manners. It's quite common for Vietnamese people to ask personal questions during initial encounters. There's no need to feel offended; they're simply trying to be friendly!

     How should you respond to these questions? If you're uncomfortable sharing private information, a simple smile is a polite response that can satisfy both parties. Remember not to take it too seriously and avoid giving a lecture on Western etiquette!

     The Vietnamese adhere to conservative dressing, ranging from modest attire worn by workers in rice fields to Western-style business suits in the cities. While visitors wearing shorts are generally tolerated, you may come across shirtless Vietnamese men in shorts.

     When visiting culturally sensitive areas like temples or pagodas, it's advisable to wear conservative clothing—covering as much skin as possible is preferred. It's important to note that although generally tolerant, people can be judgmental. While incidents of petty theft and pickpocketing are more common in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Nha Trang, they are relatively rare in other regions, especially in the north. While there's no need to be paranoid, it's wise to be aware of your surroundings.

     Below, you'll find a list of do's and don'ts to help you navigate social norms and avoid cultural taboos during your visit. By following these guidelines, you'll have a rewarding experience that is both culturally immersive and socially respectful.

1. What to Do when you want to travel in Vietnam

+ Ensure the safety of your cash, credit cards, airline tickets, and other valuable belongings by storing them in a secure location. Most four-star hotels provide in-room safes, but if unavailable, you can request the reception to store your valuables in their deposit facility.

Before leaving your hotel, take a hotel business card from the reception desk. This will facilitate your return to the hotel, especially when taking a taxi or cyclo.

Keep a small roll of toilet paper in your daypack during longer excursions from your base hotel. You never know when you might need it!

Be mindful of your attire, considering both the prevailing weather and local customs to avoid causing offense. Vietnamese culture has conservative dress codes, although larger cities may have slightly more relaxed standards. Refrain from wearing revealing clothing.

Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of bottled water. Especially during the summer months, it is recommended to consume a minimum of 2 liters per day. If you also consume tea, coffee, or alcohol, adjust your water intake accordingly as these can contribute to dehydration.

When entering a Vietnamese home, always remove your shoes at the front door as a sign of respect.

Always seek permission before taking a photograph of someone. If they express their reluctance or preference not to be photographed, kindly honor their wishes.

2. What to Avoid when you want to travel in Vietnam

Avoid carrying excessive cash while walking around the streets. It is advisable to carry only the amount of money you need for immediate expenses.

Refrain from wearing excessive jewelry for two reasons: (1) It is considered impolite to flaunt wealth in public; (2) Wearing valuable items increases the risk of becoming a target for pickpockets or bag snatchers.

While it's important to be aware of your surroundings, there's no need to be overly paranoid about your security.

When visiting Temples and Pagodas, avoid wearing singlets, shorts, dresses, skirts, or tops with low necklines and bare shoulders. Such attire is seen as extremely rude and offensive.

During treks through ethnic minority villages, avoid giving empty water bottles, sweets, candies, or pens to the local people. It cannot be guaranteed that the empty bottles will be disposed of properly, and the people may lack access to dental healthcare. If you wish to donate pens, ask your guide to introduce you to the local teacher and make a community-wide donation.

When in someone's house, never sleep or sit with the soles of your feet pointing towards the family altar, as it is considered disrespectful.

Maintain a calm and cheerful demeanor in public, even during bargaining or challenging situations. Losing your temper is seen as a serious loss of face for both parties involved.

Refrain from attempting to photograph military installations or anything related to the military, as it can be perceived as a breach of national security.

Avoid bringing video cameras into ethnic minority villages, as they are seen as intrusive by the local people.

     The aforementioned tips aim to ensure a wonderful trip to Vietnam.

     However, it's important not to be excessively paranoid. In general, Vietnamese people appreciate and acknowledge your attempts to respect their customs. They are forgiving if you make mistakes or forget certain cultural nuances. If you make the effort to embrace their customs, you will be warmly embraced in return.

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