Xin Chao! Are you planning to go to Vietnam any time soon? Worry not! This article offers a list of “dos and don’ts” to guide you for an unforgettable travel experience in Vietnam.
The Vietnamese culture is one of the oldest in Southeast Asia, and it is heavily influenced by the Chinese culture. The Vietnamese, like any other Asian countries, are fairly modest and humble. They are kind, hospitable, and passionately devoted to their family. But more importantly, it is undeniable that the nationalism of the Vietnamese people is extremely high.
Do’s in Vietnam
1. Check whether you will need a visa to go to Vietnam.
Vietnam offers visa exemptions ranging from 14 to 90 days to citizens of 24 countries holding valid ordinary passports. Check whether your country belongs to the list of visa exempted countries in Vietnam.
2. Take note of the prohibited items before entering Vietnam.
There are prohibited items that you should avoid bringing in Vietnam. The list starts from drugs and pornographic materials to T-shirts and toys which can detrimentally influence a child’s personality, education, social order, or safety. Thus, it is important to verify with the Vietnamese consulate or embassy in your country regarding the items that you plan to bring with you in Vietnam.
3. Carry a photographic ID at all times.
You should carry a photocopy of the pages from your passport with your personal details and the same with your visa. It is advisable to leave the original document in a safe place.
4. Observe a proper dress code.
Vietnam is a conservative country, so it is important to dress conservatively while traveling around. When visiting temples and pagodas, you need to keep your arms and legs covered. It is disrespectful to go to such places if you do not observe the proper dress code.
5. Be sensitive about Vietnam’s history.
It is possible that the person you are interacting with may have experienced the struggles of the Vietnam War. Approach any topic regarding this matter with sensitivity and sympathy.
6. Use local greetings.
It will be better if you greet a Vietnamese person in their language, such as “Xin Chao” instead of “Hello.” You can also say “Cam on” instead of “Thank you” if you are grateful for their help. Those words in their language will indicate that you really respect them, and that you feel extremely grateful to them.
7. Always carry a map with you.
Streets in Vietnam are very complicated for foreigners. You can use the GPS software on your phone/tablet to find the best direction. It is also advisable to keep the hotel business card, since most of the taxi drivers and motorcycle taxi riders cannot speak in English.
8. Secure a corresponding driving permit before driving a motorbike in Vietnam.
If you have a National Driving Permit from your home country, you will have to undergo certain processes in order to change your NDP into the corresponding driving permit in Vietnam. But if you already have an International Driving Permit (IDP) which is issued by a competent agency of the countries participating in the 1968 Vienna Convention, then you are allowed to drive.
Make sure that the expiry date of your permit is still valid, and that the type of vehicle that you are driving is specified in your IDP. It is also important to bring your IDP and the National Drivers Permit while driving in Vietnam.
9. Try some of the local Vietnamese foods.
Vietnamese food is considered as some of the best foods in the world, so there is no reason for you to skip it. Try the street foods in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, or go along the country and eat local food in each stop. You can buy a food tour or just ask the locals and discover the foods by yourself.
10. Be mindful of your personal belongings.
Bag snatching is common in Vietnam. So hold your bag in front of you while walking the streets, and keep it secure in your lap while riding a cyclo. While exploring Pagodas, there is a good chance that someone is watching you and your belongings, so keep an eye on them at all times.
11. Keep yourself hydrated.
You will need to drink a lot of water because of the humidity in Vietnam, so it is recommended to buy bottled water from a convenience store or supermarkets. Make sure not to buy just any bottled water because people on the streets may just fill water bottles from the taps and seal them.
12. Always ask permission before taking photographs.
Taking photos and video cameras into the ethnic minority villages of Vietnam are considered to be too intrusive by many local people. Conversely, some people in the places in Vietnam, particularly in the town of Hoi An, will expect a payment before you take their photo. Make sure to pay in Vietnamese currency.
The photos and videos taken in Vietnam must be developed into pictures before you can take them out of the country. Violation of this rule may lead to confiscation and prosecution.
Local vendors can take advantage of your confusion about Vietnamese currency. The local shops are also really attractive for most tourists because you can find anything here from named brands to local one. Do some bargains so you can get what you want with cheap prices.
Do the money exchange at banks or make use of the ATM at some major cities. Note that most ATMs accept Mastercard and Visa cards with quite high transaction fees.
16. Apply for a work permit if you intend to work in Vietnam.
The Vietnam Work Permit allows you to legally work in Vietnam for longer than three months. Vietnam Work Permit is issued for a duration of up to 12 months and is renewable. You can apply to renew it before it expires.
17. Be cautious of your probationary period.
If you have just been employed in Vietnam, your probationary period cannot exceed for 30 days of employment with a position that requires professional or vocational qualifications; 60 days of employment with a position that requires a college-level qualification or above; and just 6 days for all other cases.
Personal relationships play a large role in Vietnamese business culture. Third-party introductions are almost a necessity, as Vietnamese people prefer to work with those they know and trust. For them, trust is key to good business. They will be looking for honest commitment to the relationship from you.
19. Use your right hand (or both hands) when receiving a business card.
Asian culture interprets the respect you show in someone’s business card to be indicative of the respect that you will show them in business. Make sure to use both hands (or the right hand only) to receive a business card. Do not put the card away immediately. Regard it carefully and place it in front of you on the table, until everyone is seated. Do not put it in the back pocket of your pants as that could be taken as you sitting on the other person’s face.
Don’ts in Vietnam
1. Do not take photographs and videos everywhere.
Taking photos or videos of border crossings and military installations is prohibited, and may result in arrest. You should also avoid taking photographs during public demonstrations.
2. Do not ever speculate on Vietnam borders.
Vietnam has sensitive borders. You could be detained if you venture too close to its borders− such as China, Cambodia, or Laos without prior written permission from the local authorities.
3. Do not export antiques without a permit.
It is against the law to export antiques from Vietnam without a permit. Thus, if you intend to bring these antiques at home, you will have to consult with the Ministry of Culture for the necessary permit.
4. Do not engage in gambling.
Gambling is illegal in Vietnam, except when it is done in government licensed casinos. Specifically, the access to licensed casinos is restricted to holders of foreign passports.
5. Do not join the crowd which you have no idea about.
The crowds organizing a protest are considered acts of disrupting public order and against the government. The police will arrest anyone involved in this crowd, whether they know the purpose of the crowd or not.
6. Do not talk about the Vietnam War.
The Vietnamese call the Vietnam War as American War. The pain of war still lingers here and there in the life of Vietnamese people. This is a sensitive topic, so it is advisable to avoid talking about politics altogether.
Keep a cool mind, observe both ways of the road and walk slowly. You might feel like drivers are going to crash into you, but do not worry because they do not want to cause an accident too.
Remove unnecessary jewelry because it shows that you have money, and could make you a target for petty theft. Keep all valuables in a safe place.
Public display of romantic love is not encouraged in most Asian countries, including Vietnam. Do not shower your partner with kisses and cuddles, unless you are in a private room. Anything beyond holding hands is seriously frowned upon and considered offensive in public.
10. Do not be too loud inside the religious institutions.
You are expected to keep quiet and pay respect when you are at a pagoda, temple or church. Simply walk around in silence. Tranquility is what most people seek when coming to this sort of place.
The Vietnamese are accustomed to shaking hands. Some Vietnamese might use two hands to shake by resting the left hand on top of the grasp with the other person’s hand. Bowing the head while shaking hands indicates respect.
Most Vietnamese people do not wear shoes inside their house. Look around if you see any shoe rack. In most cases, you will leave your shoes at the door.
Do not stick the chopsticks in the bowl, or upright in the rice because this reminds Vietnamese of the two burning joss sticks used for funerals. To signal that you are done with your meal, place the chopsticks across the top of the bowl instead.
The Vietnamese are generally observed as indirect verbal communicators. However, while there is less reliance on explicitly descriptive vocabulary, they give strong clues about their message through their surrounding posture, expression and tone of voice.
15. Do not work for more than 48 hours a week.
In Vietnam, normal working hours shall not exceed eight hours per day or 48 hours per week. Therefore, any person who overworks will be liable to penalties.
You will lose the Vietnamese’ trust in doing business if you display anger or lose your temper. Also, be aware that Vietnamese business people may take spoken word as fact. You will lose face in their eyes if you do not act on your word. It can be very difficult to regain their confidence once you have broken a promise.
Alyanna Jhanima Oro