Travelers to Vietnam don’t need to worry too much about things to avoid. It’s an amazing country filled with incredible food, fascinating history, stunning landscapes, and wonderful people. And it is generally a safe and easy place to visit.
However, nowhere is perfect, so we’ve taken a look at the most common issues that can upset or ruin a Vietnamese vacation. We’ve listed them here, along with a bit of advice about how best to avoid those problems and situations.
Some entries on our list are about keeping you and your belongings safe from harm, while some are more about ensuring that you don’t offend other people while you’re there. So, avoid these 11 things, and you can have a fun, safe, respectful vacation in Vietnam!
Getting Food Poisoning
Vietnamese street food is some of the best in the world. It’s delicious, budget-friendly, and easily one of the country’s highlights. And on the whole, it is safe and hygienic, but there are a few things to look out for if you want to avoid getting ill.
- Firstly, wash your hands or use hand sanitiser before eating anything!
- Food spoils quickly in Vietnam’s hot climate, so you want to avoid food that has been sitting out for a long time. Look for carts with high turnover.
- Cooking and serving food at hot temperatures reduces the risk of harmful germs and bacteria, so avoid raw dishes or food that has been allowed to go cold.
- Some farmers are known to use harmful chemicals on their crops. So unless you can be sure that produce has been properly washed, only eat cooked veg and peelable fruit.
- Avoid cheap coffee vendors. Coffee is a competitive business in Vietnam, and some unscrupulous roadside sellers mix it with harmful chemical fillers to stretch their profits. Pay a little extra and go to a real cafe.
- Raw blood pudding, pufferfish, and toad are all served in Vietnam. Each can be excellent if made properly, but equally, each can cause sickness and even fatalities if poorly prepared. Don’t risk it unless in a very reputable establishment.
- As a general rule for street food, the busier, the better! Not only does this ensure a fast turnover of ingredients, but if the locals are eating there, then you know it’s good!
It’s best to avoid tap water in Vietnam. It contains harmful bacteria that can make you sick and quickly ruin your vacation. Choose bottled water instead, and always check that the seal on the bottle is intact before you drink it. Some places do refill bottles with tap water and resell them, so don’t get caught out!
Alternatively, since buying endless plastic bottles is not ideal, consider refilling a bottle with purified water from your hotel. Or using a refillable water bottle with a water filtration system.
Getting Caught Short
Although western toilets are common across Vietnam, especially in the cities, you still might find that they’re often lacking in toilet paper. Some will provide a water hose in place of paper, but if you’re not up for trying that method, get used to carrying your own toilet paper. Also, public toilets aren’t very widespread once you’re outside of the cities, so make a habit of going before leaving your accommodation or restaurants.
Taking photos without permission
The Vietnamese are real people, not tourist attractions, so please remember to be respectful! If you want to take a photo of a market trader or villager, then simply ask for permission first. Don’t be offended if someone asks for money in exchange for posing for your shot. They’re perfectly within their rights to do so, especially in touristy areas where they must get asked over and over again. If you’re happy to pay, agree on an amount in advance. If not, politely decline and move on.
Vietnam is home to scams of all sizes, but most can be avoided if you keep your wits about you, practice politely but firmly saying no, and do your research beforehand. Here are some of the more common ones to be aware of.
- Nothing is free. Not the bowls of popcorn that keep appearing next to your drinks and not the ‘free’ samples given out by street vendors. Trust us, they will be on the bill at the end.
- Shoeshiners will often not wait for agreement before going to work on your shoes and then expecting payment. And if you do agree on a price? It was only for one shoe! Prepare for it to double.
- That famous restaurant or five-star tour you read about? There will be at least five copy-cat businesses with extremely similar names operating out of the same street. Ensure you’ve got the correct website, address, and contact details for the original business.
- If a friendly local offers you their conical hat, street cart, or other ‘authentic’ prop for a photo, expect to pay heavily for the privilege.
- At market stalls, authentic goods are often switched for lesser quality items while they’re beings packaged up for you. Always check what you’re actually leaving with.
- There are a lot of counterfeit luxury goods for sale in Vietnam. If you want the real thing, research reputable shops beforehand.
There are so many ways that taxis in Vietnam will try and fleece you, that they got their own section on our list! Some of the scams are relatively harmless such as taking you to a friend’s restaurant instead of the one you wanted to go to. Some are expensive, like taking the extra-long route or using a modified meter. And some are dangerous, like taking you to the middle of nowhere and demanding large sums of money.
To avoid any taxi-related drama, opt only for respectable taxi companies. Vinasun and Mai Linh are the most honest, however, it can be difficult to tell them apart from the many cars masquerading as them. So ask your accommodation to book a good company or use a ride app like Grab or Uber to avoid the risk.
Also, motorcycle taxis are fantastic ways to get around the cities, but they tend to be driven by nefarious characters. Don’t be surprised if your driver offers to sell you drugs along with your ride. And they’re notorious masters of the ‘bill switch’ – where the large denomination note you just gave them is swapped a small one in the blink of an eye. They’ll loudly swear that’s the note you gave them and suddenly you’re getting a lot less change. Avoid this by breaking your large notes in shops and only handing over small bills to taxi drivers in Vietnam.
Scams and taxi dramas aside, the main crime that tourists need to watch out for is pickpocketing and bag snatching. This is unfortunately quite common in the bigger cities of Vietnam, and the only way to avoid it is to be vigilant.
Limit the number of expensive items you take with you, and if possible, leave valuables and travel documents locked away in your hotel. Don’t flash your valuables or your cash when you’re out, and be aware of your surroundings when using phones or cameras.
When it comes to bag snatching, it often happens from motorcycles. The thief zips past you, grabs your bag, and races away, leaving you with no chance of catching up with them. To avoid it, wear rucksacks or crossbody bags. Keep your bag on the side of your body away from the street, and if you sit at pavement cafes or bars, hook your bag strap around your ankle or the leg of your chair.
Trying To See Everything
Vietnam is an amazingly varied place filled with breathtaking sights and incredible experiences. The country has over 3000km of coastline, plenty of beautiful beaches, and over 40 islands. There are cities of all shapes and sizes, from fast-paced Ho Chi Minh to elegant Hanoi and ancient Hoi An. And simply stunning natural wonders, like the majestic Ha Long Bay, the Mekong delta, and the Hai Van Pass.
There is just too much to see on one trip, so don’t try. Don’t overfill your itinerary, and be sure to include travel and rest days. Focus your full attention on a couple of well-chosen spots, and remember that just ticking sights off a list is not always the best way to see a country.
Prices in Vietnam are confusing as vendors often quote in US dollars instead of Vietnamese Dong or write their prices without all of the zeros. So 20 could easily mean 20$ or 20,000 Dong (0.90$). And the difference between spending 500,000 (21$) or 5,000,000 (210$) can really mess up your vacation budget.
This is not (always) done intentionally to fleece you, but it can lead to confusion and misunderstandings. Double-check the prices and exchange rates and get vendors to write down or type the price into a calculator so you can be sure of all the zeros.
And don’t be afraid to haggle for a better price. It is generally expected and is acceptable so long as you’re friendly and reasonable.
It’s important to respect local customs and traditions when traveling anywhere new. Remember these guidelines to avoid causing offense in Vietnam.
- Always dress appropriately when visiting sacred places, temples, or pagodas. This generally means covering yourself from shoulders to knees in loose-fitting clothing.
- Public displays of affection are best avoided in Vietnam. Anything beyond holding hands in public is seen as inappropriate. This goes for hugging too. The Vietnamese aren’t huggers except for close family members. Opt for a handshake instead.
- When visiting someone’s home, always take your shoes off at the door, and when sitting or lying down, never point your feet at a family alter.
Traveling Without Insurance
We hope your vacation goes off without a hitch, but it’s important to have travel insurance in case it doesn’t. Insurance will give you options if flights or bookings get canceled. It’ll help if luggage, valuables, or documents go missing. And most importantly, it will cover you if you get sick or injured while away. Medical care abroad can get very expensive, especially if you need to be flown home for treatment.
Also, and we cannot stress this enough, if you’re going to ride scooters in Vietnam, get insurance! It is not (always) just a scam for the vendor to get more money out of you. If your vehicle gets stolen or if you get into an accident and you’re uninsured, it can end up costing you thousands of dollars plus plenty of hassle and foreign bureaucracy. And the way they drive in Vietnam, accidents are likely! Take the insurance!
So there we go, hopefully, our tales of bag snatching, fake taxis, and offensive behavior haven’t put you off a trip to Vietnam. Because generally, this country is a friendly and welcoming place. And if you use your common sense and follow our list of things to avoid, you will have an amazing time in Vietnam!