First time Vietnam? 12 Cultural Do’s & Don’ts

Do’s and Don’ts in Vietnam – Vietnam is one of Southeast Asia’s most gorgeous countries, magnetising travellers to its lush peaks, vibrant cities and crystal waters. 

Despite rapid growth in Vietnam’s Metropolitan centres such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, authentic traditions remain intact amongst the local Vietnamese people and their culture is still very important.

To make the best of your time in Vietnam it help to have that cultural awareness and understanding to give you a deeper understanding and an easy ride in this great country!

Solo female Backpacker in Vietnam (Sarah) from Colorado, U.S.A
Solo female Backpacker (Sarah) from Colorado, U.S.A. Traveling 15 countries with TownandTourists help!

1. Do – Wear Appropriate Clothing!

I have seen my people fall into error with this one, especially western tourists from the U.K , U.S.A and Australia! The goal is not to look like a nun but to just wear relaxed, casual clothing as you would normally.

The main variations come if you plan on visiting Historic Landmarks of religious significance, anywhere in which you see a Buddha is usually a good rule of thumb. This includes Temples, Monasteries and surrounding areas. 

Stylish Vietnamese Outfit! What to Wear in Vietnam! (Do's and Don'ts Vietnam)
Stylish Vietnamese Outfit! What to Wear in Vietnam! (Do’s and Don’ts Vietnam)

In these places you will be expected to cover your shoulders and knees and sometimes even remove your shoes and socks.

The temples are sacred places of worship even though you may see many tourists dressed inappropriately here, it is considered to be extremely disrespectful.

Swimwear and Bikini’s on the beaches in Southeast Asia is perfectly fine! However, don’t fall foul to walking around the surrounding streets or towns in your bikini & swimwear, no matter the weather!

You can get away with this in heavily tourist areas. But if your planning on travelling to the more traditional less touristy spots then it’s best to dress a little more conservatively and follow the correct etiquette when walking around town.

So…what should do I wear in Vietnam?

Overall, Lightweight and comfortable clothing made from Cotton or other natural fabrics is the most suitable whilst travelling around all of Southeast Asia. It’s comfy, easy to pack and doesn’t make you sweat as much!

Who Says you can’t look like Angelina Jolie while in South East Asia?

Angelina Jolie Modeling for Louis Vuitton in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Source: Louis Vuitton.
Angelina Jolie Modeling for Louis Vuitton in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Source: Louis Vuitton.

 

2. Do – Ask Before taking photos. 

Lots of tourists love going up to the people of south east Asia and even monks, posing and snapping photos with them for Instagram etc. Although most Vietnamese people would be ok with this as long as it’s not disrespectful. It is best to ask to avoid offending them.

Using your manners goes along way in any country but especially Vietnam. The Vietnamese people tend to smile often even when shy or uncomfortable, so don’t ever presume it’s okay to take a picture of someone.

Look at the Vietnam peoples body language for clues. If you ask and receive a nod of approval with a warm smile not a nervous one, then it’s ok! Snap, Snap to your hearts content!

Vietnamese People, Culture. Children
Vietnamese Culture. (Do’s and Don’ts Vietnam)

Important note: Don’t take photos of any military areas or equipment, it is a violation of national security and you could wind up in jail, which are not nice!

3. Do – Bowing over a Handshake!

When you meet and greet someone bow slightly, and put your hands together in a ‘prayer’ position. There are variations of this Bow which depend upon the persons age/status relative to yours.

The more important the person, the higher the hands are on the body. For example, when greeting an elder or monk, the hands can be placed higher at the nose and a deeper bow is done.

In general, it’s best to put both your hands in centre of your chest and just bow your head slightly (The “Sampeah”).

This can also be a great way of saying thank you.  If you meet monks or elders it’s important to remember this, as they are usually more inclined value the Vietnam people traditions more and demand greater respect.

Vietnamese Greeting, the Bow (Do's and Don'ts Vietnam)
Vietnamese Greeting, the Bow (Do’s and Don’ts Vietnam)

4. Do – Take your Hat off inside.

When you enter inside someone’s home, a place of work or religious temple, take your hat of to show respect!

5. Don’t – Touch Anyones Head!

The head is considered to be the most sacred part of the body to alot of south east Asia. In Vietnam culture and traditions it is extremely rude to touch someone else’s. Be especially careful not to do this on  children or elders.

6. Don’t – Show the souls of your feet

The souls of your feet should never be pointed towards anyone, particularly at religious statues such as the  Buddha. This is because feet are considered to be the dirtiest part of the body in Vietnam.

It is even considered rude to cross your legs when sitting because there is a good chance you will be pointing the bottoms of your feet at someone.

7. Don’t – Show anger or frustration.

In Vietnam Society it is embedded in them to stay calm and even smile out of awkward & even dangerous situations! 

If you loose your cool and go crazy the Vietnamese people may get embarrassed and offended. Shouting loudly can also be considered quite rude to Vietnams people in rural parts.

To make it even more confusing they may smile as you or your friend is getting more angry making the entire situation worse!

8. Don’t – insult while Bartering!

We 100% recommended bartering when visiting any market in south east Asia. It is a Vietnam culture fact that it’s part of their society. Negotiating a bargain is a great way to interact with the locals.

However, there are rules to play by to make sure you do it right and don’t offend anybody. The most important rule in bargaining is to be friendly and smile. Keeping “face” is very important in Vietnam, as in the rest of Asia.

The goal is to ensure that both parties finish the deal with their dignity, pride and respect.

I recommended practicing while souvenir shopping at local markets. However, it important to remember that  food or snacks vendors usually have a fixed price so don’t bother trying to haggle these.

The same goes for restaurants and most street food stalls. A top tip is if they have a sign with a price it usually is fixed at that price! 

Street Market Vietnam Hanoi
Street Market in Hanoi Vietnam. (Do’s and Don’ts Vietnam)

A few haggling tips to help you along are shown below:

A) Smiles connect people – So always smile especially in Cambodia. A friendly attitude will ensure a better deal and  more enjoyable experience for both parties.

B) Search around first – Check out a few stalls to find the average price for the item you wan’t.

C) Do the currency calculations before – Think to yourself how much would I pay in USD, or GBP £ or Euro. Then convert to local currency or you will pay a premium if you try it in your own. Then start negotiating.

D) Start very low if their price is very high. (The old low/high game)

E) Don’t look Desperate – Negotiation is about power in any culture 

If the price isn’t coming down, don’t be afraid to walk away! They will usually call you back if they really can lower the price.

F) Bulk Buying is Smart – If you see a few items you like at a market for example, try to purchase them all from one store to get a deal on everything. My favourite line is, “What is the best price you could do for me if i bought not just 1 but 5??” .

G) Don’t push too far!

Never get carried away. Remember it’s just a game and probably the small amount extra would mean alot more to them then you!

9. Don’t – give to Street Children – Honestly i’m not heartless!

So a cute little kid comes up to you and try’s to give you a flowery necklace or just ask for change? The best thing I do is offer to buy them food if they wan’t it but not give them money. Why?

Usually these children do have a home and parent who sends them out to pry on un-expecting tourists. We really don’t like this as it can give some the courage to believe that it is more useful to spend their time begging than going to school for a proper education.

Traditional Vietnamese Child.
Don’t give to street Children (Do’s and Don’ts Vietnam)

10. Don’t – touch a monk??

As Monks have strict rules and codes of conduct to live by, Women should not touch monks. If you wish to offer a monk something or a donation at a temple, you should place it somewhere within his reach or on the monk’s receiving cloth for him to collect

Monks in Vietnam Monk Etiquette Culture
Monks at a ceremony in Vietnam. (Do’s and Don’ts Vietnam)

11. Don’t – show public affection!

Holding hands is ok, but PDA (Public Displays of affection) is a big no in alot of south east Asia. I’m talking kissing, dancing proactively etc.

(Do's and Don'ts Vietnam) Boat Ride
Boat ride in Vietnam (Do’s and Don’ts Vietnam)

12. DO – Keep your valuables safe.

As with most countries an increase in tourism is directly proportional to a rise in petty theft! Having your valuables go missing can be a real nightmare especially your passport & cash! 

In busy places like Hanoi keep you bag away from the road side while walking to avoid drive by bag snatchers on scooters!

I don’t travel anywhere in asia now without my money belt which tucks neatly under my shirt and out of site from prying eyes.

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(Do's and Don'ts Vietnam) Secret Money Belt
Sanbar moneybelt from Mtravels Essentials. ((Do’s and Don’ts Vietnam)

Great Secret money belt for emergency cash…

(Do's and Don'ts Vietnam) Secret Money Belt
Innovative Secret Money Belt. Great for smart travellers! From Mtravels Essentials Page. ((Do’s and Don’ts Vietnam)

Final Thoughts…

Vietnam is a colourful and vibrant place, it’s great fun and wonderful. Following our top tips above you will be sure to have a great time and a smooth ride!

If you have visited Vietnam before or have any questions, comment on your experience below.

(Do's and Don'ts Vietnam) Countryside
The Beautiful Country of Vietnam  (Do’s and Don’ts Vietnam)

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