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Need-to-know Local Culture: Do’s and Don’ts in Vietnam

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. To maximize your visit to this intriguing and beguiling country, these are our tips for you to avoid culture shocks and enjoy Vietnam in the happiest way it should be.

Do’s when visiting Vietnam

1. Dress appropriately

Dress conservatively, especially for female travellers. The Vietnamese are quite conservative about their dress, and it would be disrespectful to wear skimpy clothing in public.

2. Respect at temples

When visiting temples and pagodas – keep your arms and legs covered. A sarong is very handy, and make sure your knees are covered at the very least. It is again disrespectful to go to such places if you do not observe these.

3. Remove bling

Do remove unnecessary jewelry, as it shows that you have money, and could make you a target for petty theft. Keep all valuables in a safe place. If you have much cash, you can divide into several parts and put them in different places with you, in case you meet the pickpocket or lose money elsewhere.

4. Keep your bag safe

Do hold your bag in front of you, wrapped around your shoulder, so that you are not a victim of a drive-by bag snatcher. Unfortunately, you need to be vigilant as bag snatching is a big problem, even at temples and pagodas.

5. Know where you stay

Do make sure that you have a hotel business card from the reception desk. This will make your return to the hotel in a taxi or motorbike much easier.

6. Negotiate and get a fixed price.

Always firmly negotiate the exact price before you get on the back of a motorbike or buy anything on the streets.

7. Buy legitimate bottled water

Do buy bottled water, but not any bottled water. 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.

8. Ask before you shoot

Do ask permission before you take a photo of people. Many locals may be uncomfortable or will expect payment before you take the photo. Pay it. It is not a lot of VND, the currency of Vietnam.

9. Keep toilet paper with you

Do carry some toilet paper with you at all times. While there are fewer squats in urban areas, there are still many in rural areas.

10. Use chopsticks correctly

Do use your chopsticks correctly. Sticking them upright in your bowl of rice, for example, is considered unlucky, as this is the symbol of two burning joss sticks used for funerals.

11. Do eat local food in Vietnam

Do enjoy the local Vietnamese food, which is some of the best in the world. Consider doing a street food tour to get to some of the hidden gems in the back streets of Hanoi.

12. Money exchange

Certainly confirm the exchange rate before exchanging..

“Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.”

Miriam Beard

Don’ts when visiting Vietnam

1. Don’t end up in jail

Don’t take photos of any military installations and equipment, it is a breach of national security and you could end up in jail, and you do not want to spend your vacations …and a bit … at a Vietnamese jail.

2. Watch your tootsies

Don’t sit with your feet pointing towards a family altar if you are staying at someone’s house.

3. Observe the altars

Don’t turn your back to the altars when you are in a temple or someone’s home, or pointing with one finger to the worshipped gods will really upset them. Use your whole palm if needed, and well behave when you are at the site. The Vietnamese are very spiritual.

4. No chopstick playing

Don’t play with the chopsticks for fun music when you are at a meal table, as the Vietnamese don’t want hungry and homeless ghosts to come.


Don’t publically kiss and cuddle. These personal displays of affection are not considered appropriate in Vietnam. Holding hands is ok, particularly as you cross the manically busy roads.

6. Don’t hesitate when crossing a road

Don’t suddenly stop or panic as you cross the busy roads. Frightening as it can be, just keep walking. Look at the drivers and wave your hand in the air. The traffic will avoid you. Stay calm and keep walking, no matter what.

7. Be respectful in ethnic minority villages

Don’t take video cameras into the ethnic minority villages. They are considered to be too intrusive by many local people. If you do, always ask permission first.

8. Sleep quality

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.

These Do’s & Don’ts when Visiting Vietnam are mostly common sense, but it always pays to be prepared when visiting the most amazing country of Vietnam. Obviously, everyone should know “When you are in Vietnam, do as the Vietnamese do”. Good lucks!

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