Surviving Vietnam

Whether in Vietnam for a holiday or to work these tips will make your stay a bit easier.

Rice terraces in Vietnam

Tips for Living in Vietnam.

I have been living and working in Vietnam for over 15 years and these few tips will help you in your daily life in Vietnam.

Vietnam is a beautiful country with some truly wonderful people and fantastic landscape. For example, Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage site renowned for its emerald waters and limestone islands covered in rainforests. If you wish to find out more about Halong Bay visit my article on “Holidays in Halong Bay“.

My top 10 tips.

1. When entering someone’s home, remove your footwear. Vietnamese are very neat and clean and it is expected for all to remove their outside shoes at the doorway.

2. Like a lot of Asia, patting or touching someone’s head is seen as rude. The younger generation doesn’t care so much about this, but it is better to be discrete and not do it.

3. Do NOT put toilet paper in the toilet. You will find a basket or bin (Yucky) next to the toilet, put it there. Even after a wipe. The pipes in Vietnam are not big enough for paper. There is normally a water gun ( bidet, foreigners call it a bum gun ) next to the toilet, do NOT drink the water. This is to wash your bottom and other parts.

4. Do not drink tap water unless you are staying in a 5-star hotel. Otherwise, you will get sick. You can brush your teeth, cook, and use it for washing dishes in most urban areas. However, I would recommend using bottled water or boiling the tap water for several minutes before use. It is better to be more cautious in rural areas though and boil or use bottled water in all cases.

5. Please do not put boiling or very hot water down the kitchen sink. Most houses have thin plastic pipes and not metal, and they will dissolve in contact with boiling water. (and there will be water all over the floor) Then you have to go to the hardware store and try to find the correct pipes. Haha, I can laugh now, but it was not fun when it happened.

6. Drinking beer is a BIG part of Vietnamese culture and is used to relax after work. Quite often you will see the workers out having a good time, and where are the wives? But please do not vomit or fall asleep at the table, that is what the toilet is for. Also, be prepared to have ice in your beer, it keeps it cold and waters it down. A good idea if you end up drinking 15 beers. Be careful of the ice, although it is much better now than when I first arrived in Vietnam. I was out having a few drinks with my Vietnamese co-workers when I saw firsthand a waiter scooping ice out of the urinals for a customer. Lol, be nice to the waiters. What I do like though is that food and beer go hand in hand, so you are always eating and drinking at the same time.

7. This tip I should have put this as number one. Before you come to Vietnam, please leave any preconceived ideas at home. Please remember that Vietnam is run by and for the Vietnamese and if we can understand that our life will be much easier. If you wish to delve deeper into this, please look at my blog, “Living in Vietnam

8. If you invite someone for coffee or lunch, dinner, etc, you pay.

It was common that if you had bought a new “toy” like a motorbike or another expensive “toy”, then friends and neighbors would be invited for drinks. This is certainly not as common these days.

9. Don’t be mean. It is OK to bargain, but when I see foreigners quibbling over $1.00 it makes me angry. That is the Vietnamese merchants profit and while $1.00 is not much for us, it is for the Vietnamese. Also, when haggling, be polite.

Do not get angry. Sometimes not easy but if you get angry……you lose. You lose your dignity, and it turns your day into something less pleasant.

10. Vietnam uses phone cards to top up their credit on their mobile phones. It is not difficult to do, but you may want to ask the shopkeeper to add it to your phone the first time or two. Obviously, you can not add this to any phone you have brought with you (Unless you have transferred it to a local carrier like Mobifone or Vinaphone). Be aware you only get 3 attempts to add credit to your phone. If you make a mistake and use up your 3 attempts, you will lose your money.

Final Thoughts.

Whether you come to Vietnam for a holiday or an extended stay including work, you will have a great time as long as you remember we are a guest in this wonderful country and things are quite often done differently than what they are at home. You can read more about etiquette in Vietnam in an older post here.

Learning a few phrases will go a long way in opening the doors of friendship. Even if you get the phrases wrong, you will be appreciated for making the attempt. My preference is the “Mondly” app to help learn a few phrases and you can find the link on the right-hand side of this article.


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