Traveller's Essentials

Eat everything

Vietnamese food is delicious and you will want to try it all. Go ahead and buy a kilo of that strange looking purple fruit, but be aware of hygiene when you’re eating street food. To be cautious, opt for vendors who already have customers. See also “Health” on page XIV.


Don't drink tap water unless you boil it, and even then, contamination with arsenic can be an issue. Stick to bottled water. Ice is usually safe as the Vietnamese use mountains of it and there’s a huge commercial ice-making industry; if the ice is cylindrical in shape, it is probably made by a commercial distributor who uses safe bottled or fltered water.

Get your hotel details

Remember to take your hotel’s business card to make your return to the hotel much easier by handing it to your taxi, xe om, or cyclo driver.

Keep your phone and wallet out of sight. Violent crime is rare, but like any large city, both have their fair share of pickpockets. These thieves can be quite brazen, be very aware in Ho Chi Minh’s Pham Ngu Lao.Take your plastic with you

Vietnam has developed a more sophisticated payment system in recent years. Shops are now accepting

more credit cards and ATMs can be found easily in big cities. In the countryside, however, most venues

Motorbike safety

Always wear a helmet (which is required by law anyway), avoid dangly jewellery and miniskirts, and clip your bag or store it underneath the seat of the bike to keep it safe from snatchers. Blend in with the other motorbike riders and stick to their sedate pace. Check the fne print of your travel insurance. For more information on motorbike issues, see page XVII.

Walk slowly when crossing the street

Crossing the street in Vietnam is scary and a bit dangerous but can be fun nonetheless. Remember that motorbikes are trying to anticipate your movements to avoid hitting you. Keep a slow but steady pace and raise your arm to let the motorcyclists know that you are actually crossing the street.


Tipping is not expected, especially at local restaurants, but international venues have become used to the practice. Leave enough for coffee: VND10,000-15,000.

Take a break in the afternoon

It can get quite hot visiting the attractions, take breaks in the middle of the day to keep refreshed for the afternoon’s activities. Try and do most of your sightseeing early in the morning or late in the afternoon, and keep in mind that the sun sets quickly.

Cover up

When visiting temples or pagodas, make sure to pack a shawl or extra shirt and wear knee- length clothing. Remember that you are visiting a piece of history so try to show some respect to the local culture.


Vietnamese take off their shoes when entering a house. It’s common courtesy to do likewise. It may also be expected in hotel rooms and some shops.

Don’t lose your temper

This is considered a serious loss of face for both parties and should be avoided. Try to maintain a cool demeanour and it will be reciprocated with kindness. Smiling always works wonders.

Be a sensitive snapper

Most people in Vietnam love having their photo taken and will ask to have one with you, but it’s polite to ask frst. Bear in mind that there are some places like military buildings where taking photos is prohibited.

Shopping and Bargain

Sellers in most of the markets usually quote a higher price of an item than its real value. It’s advisable to bargain in tourist markets like Ben Thanh, An Dong etc. One tip is that you can bargain for less than or equal to half of the quoted price. Find such shops with the price stated clearly on a price tag. Every traditional souvenir is usually created along with a folk story that you should not forget to ask the seller for acknowledgement. Vietnamese people believe that the frst customer in a day is the one who will bring good luck for the whole day. So it’s recommended not to refuse an item after bargaining successfully for a better price, especially in the morning.

Remember that you are on holiday!

There is so much to do and see, but don’t forget to stop every octo pull up a plastic chair, order a cafe sua da, and take it all in. Sights and activities hold interest, but sometimes you can learn more about a country and its people by adjusting to the local pace.

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