Dos & Don’ts for Travelers in Vietnam

Here are a few things you should and shouldn't do in Vietnam. From local customs to tips on etiquette, here's how you can avoid causing offence.


Photo © Getty Images/zgr_pro

Before traveling to a new country, do some research on local etiquette and customs so you're ready to experience the local culture and sites without unknowingly offending anyone. In Vietnam, local people are very appreciative of travelers who try to abide by their customs, and very forgiving if you get it wrong.

Here are a few dos and don’ts for your trip to Vietnam.

Things You Should Do in Vietnam

  • Vietnam is a conservative country, so it's important to dress conservatively while traveling around the country. The dress code is a little more relaxed in major cities, but don't wear short-shorts, low-cut tops or revealling dresses to the local fish market. Save the skimpy attire for the beach – if you must.
  • Drink loads of water as you’re wandering around checking out the sights. The heat can knock you about in Vietnam, and heat stroke is a real killjoy.
  • Hold your bag in front of you while walking the streets, and keep it secure in your lap hidden from sight while riding a cyclo – bag snatching is common, and if your bags are in sight, you'll be a target. While exploring Pagodas, there’s a good chance someone is watching you and your belongings, keep an eye on them at all times.
  • If you’re invited into a local’s home, take your shoes off at the entrance.
  • Travel by train in Vietnam, it’s one of the best ways to see the country. Trains are often late, and sometimes the smell is unpleasant, so keep your expectations low.
  • Carry a bit of toilet paper with you at all times. Many public toilets around Vietnam do not have toilet paper available, and you don't want to be caught out without it.
  • Make sure you have a hotel/hostel business card on you at all times. This will make your return to your accommodation in a taxi or cyclo much easier, as they can look directly at the address.
  • You will pay less for a bottle of beer than a bottle of water. Keep a non-disposable water bottle on you and fill it up with boiled or purified water whenever you get the chance. Instead of buying bottled water – which is both expensive and bad for the environment.
  • Make a difference when you travel. There's no greater way to experience a culture than to engage in community tourism and give back to the people you visit.

Things You Shouldn't Do in Vietnam

  • Don't wear shorts or old t-shirts when you visit a Pagoda, they won’t let you in. Dress conservatively by covering your limbs.
  • Don't sit with your feet pointing towards a family altar if you are staying in someone’s house.
  • Don't take pictures of anything to do with the military, this can be considered a breach of national security and you don’t want to see the inside of a Vietnamese jail.
  • Don't take video cameras into small villages, it's considered very intrusive and the people are often too polite to ask you to stop filming.
  • Don't engage in public displays of affection. Get a room – anything beyond holding hands is seriously frowned upon, and considered offensive in public.
  • Don't expect a good sleep in while traveling in Vietnam, loud noises start on the streets from 6am. If you need a sleep in, bring ear plugs.

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  • Rainer said

    All good information. In regards to Filming in anything to do with Military and Village.<br>How sensitive are things in Vietnam as fahr as Photography is concerned. My common sense and courtesy may not be their common sense or courtsey?<br>Feed back from Photographer would be appreciated.<br>

  • Anna said

    Where is the picture that is above? I love hikes that lead to excellent views and this is a view worth seeing. Any chance you could tell me where this is and how to get there?

  • Asia South East said

    Anna - the picture is of Halong Bay. The best and most usual route is to take a bus from Hanoi. Some people visit for the day and others choose to stay on board a boat or even on an island. It is very easy to get to as it is such a famous port of call for tourists in Vietnam - you can't miss the tourist agents in Hanoi, nor the pictures of Halong....pretty much everywhere. Its a must see in Vietnam - just make sure you hire a kayak and explore where the boats cannot reach - its paradise!

  • Mel said

    Hey - where exactly in Halong bay is that photo taken? Is it Titop peak?<br>Thanks,<br>Mel

  • taufikuieks said

    Hi. Thks for the tips

  • Elizabeth said

    Hi, thanks for your useful tips<br>For who love traveling and hiking, I know a good local tour operator providing interesting adventure tours in Vietnam. Last month, I have a nice trip in Halong Bay Kayaking and trekking in Nui Bai Tho Mountain. Everything is incredible!!<br>Here is the fanpage of this company:<br>May it help you :)

  • Melissa said

    I found that in most parts of northern Vietnam, as long as I asked if I could take pictures they were normally okay with it. The mass majority of rhe no picture taking thing is near any military or government building. <br>Also if traveling or staying on a boat in ha long Bay, travel with your own blanket and a plastic sheet to cover the bed. Many of those boats have a serious bed bug problem

  • Mary Purdy said

    How about the currency,what do they prefer Dong or US,dollars what does a coffee,or a beer cost .Do they serve Vodca and orange juice,or what alcohol drinks should I try.<br>Thanks

  • Manuel B said

    Ladies, please disregard the conservative conversation about you NOT wearing booty shorts. Vietnamese woman wear booty shorts too. <br>It's simply hot and comfortable and I've seen Vietnamese woman wear booty shorts at the Pagoda as well. :) <br>I have lived in Vietnam for over a year now.

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  • Eddie said

    Relax. I ate street food in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. No problems. Walked the streets at night near the Independance Palace, HCMC...plenty of Vietnamese younsters around, singing, having a great time.

    Take the taxis recommended by the hotel. Crossing the streets can be crazy but follow the locals or nip in behind them. Looks more like traffic in Shanghai 25 years ago.

  • Indochina said

    @Manuel B: Even though the Vietnamese​ girls are now more modern in dressing, but it never hurts to dress politely anywhere. In addition to respecting the culture of Asians and the oldsters, the hot weather does not have to be by always dressed in tank tops​ and hotpants. By dressing politely, local people may be more respectful of foreign tourists than tourists dressed offhand.

  • roy nirschel said

    Some of the comments are right on, others are very location-specific.
    Of course no one should wear skimpy shorts to temples or markets but beach wear in DaNang or stylish but skimpier clothing in Saigon is normal (where the average temp is 90 degrees)

    Water is readily available in large and small bottles and staying hydrated is necessary.
    I would recommend the excellent and cheap airline system - Viet Jet and VN Airlines for distance travel rather than trains or buses (the latter often unsafe at any speed) for any long distance.

    Prices are rising and Vietnam isnt the "bargain" it was compared to a decade ago, but what it. Western style accommodations, Western-style meals are pricey so try to stay as "local" as possible. get off the beaten path and try areas outside of Sapa (Sapa itself becoming an ethnic zoo), the Central Highlands, off shore islands like Con Dao to get a broader VN perspective.

  • Laura Gammack said

    I wrote a song about traveling Vietnam using my ukulele and you can listen to it at this link:

  • Apoorva said

    "The dress code is more relaxed in major cities but do yourself (and the Vietnamese) a favor - don’t wear booty shorts to the fish market."

    You could phrase this in a better sense. I understand that ladies need to be careful on this front, but saying that we are doing a favor for the Vietnamese by not wearing booty shorts sounds very condescending.

  • Orient Skyline Travel said

    It is very interesting to read your comments. Thank you very much for sharing.

  • ashley le said

    Most of these are actually incorrect. I’m Vietnamese and visit the country all the time. Many people wear shorts and and tight clothes and most people don’t care. Even at the pagodas, I’ve worn shorts above my knee, and no one told me anything about them.

  • Leon Nguyen said

    Ashley - This article was probably written 8-9 years ago so I'm pretty sure the information was true back then.

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