How to be safe in Vietnam.
Vietnam is a relatively safe country when compared to many others in the world today. It often amuses me when I talk to old friends or relatives who fear that Vietnam is 100% corrupt and similar to living in the “wild west” during the cowboy era.
However, Vietnam is ranked 57th out of 163 nations for safety in the 2019 Global Peace Index, much ahead of the United States, which is ranked 114th.
Currently, violent crime is uncommon in Vietnam. The biggest dangers are being overcharged by a street vendor or taxi driver, getting into an accident, or crossing a busy road and being hit.
Pickpocketing and snatch theft are prevalent forms of petty crime in Vietnam, especially at and around train stations, seaports, and airports. Traveling alone in isolated locations after dark might be dangerous, especially for foreigners.
Yes, there are places you should avoid and places to be wary of. But overall you should not let the worry of anything terrible happening to you, outweigh the amazing experiences you can and will find in Vietnam.
Don’t lock yourself away in your 4 or 5-star hotel when you come to Vietnam as you will miss out on a lot of incredible experiences. Here are several tips and some general advice to make your next stay stress free and safe.
Safety Tips for travelers in Vietnam.
1) Theft. Carry your passport, travelers’ checks, and other valuables in a hidden money belt. Tourists are targets for robbers (who might be your fellow travelers). Use a safe, if you have one, and don’t leave anything valuable lying around in your room. Do not leave anything valuable in your safe if a smaller hotel. I have heard stories of missing items from safes in less than scrupulous hotels.
Also, make sure your doors and windows are locked when you leave and at night when you sleep. Keep some small change in a separate pocket so you are not opening your wallet all the time. Vietnam is the land of opportunistic crime.
Snatch and grab is more prevalent than it should be. Mainly because of tourists being lax in security. If taking photos, make use of the camera straps. If you are staying in a good hotel make use of the hotel safe and store your passports etc with the concierge.
2) Snatch and Grab. It’s advisable to avoid being flamboyant on the street; avoid wearing eye-catching jewelry and dazzling watches, attempt to withdraw cash covertly, and pay extra attention in crowds and on public transportation. When it’s most susceptible, such as just before departure, during lunch breaks, and when you arrive at your destination, keep an eye on your pack if it’s on top of the bus. Either cable-lock your bag or tuck it under the bottom bench seat on trains to keep it hidden from view.
It’s advised to avoid accepting food or drink from someone you don’t know and trust because it has been claimed that travelers have been poisoned and subsequently robbed. Keep a tight hold on your bags and avoid dangling costly sunglasses or cameras from your neck. But if you do become a target, it’s better to let go than to take the chance of being dragged into the traffic and getting hurt badly.
3) Women Travelers. In general, it is safe for women to travel alone in Vietnam. The odds of coming into any threatening behavior are really minimal; the majority of Vietnamese will simply be interested as to why you are traveling alone. That being said, it still pays to use common sense care, especially late at night when fewer people are out on the streets.
You should also avoid riding xe-om (motorbike taxis); instead, use a taxi—metered cabs are typically thought to be the safest. There have been a few complaints of cab drivers’ molestation, however, they are uncommon. It is a good idea to have the local “grab” phone numbers downloaded onto your phone when you arrive in Vietnam.
Get your Grab download here
4) LGBTQ and Safety. Although socially conservative in some respects, Vietnamese people are surprisingly accepting of the LGBTQ+ community. You’ll be alright if you refrain from heterosexual conduct and public demonstrations of affection. Same-sex relationships are not prohibited by law in Vietnam.
I used to live in the same street as two gay men and they were accepted unequivocally by all their neighbors. One of the men’s ex-wife’s lived with them in the same house. How that worked, I don’t know, but outside the house, everything was “peachy” You will not get the same degree of “hate crime” that can be seen in some western countries.
5) Covid. For entry into Vietnam, you no longer need to present a negative COVID-19 test result or vaccination certificate. There can be variations in airline criteria. If you get COVID-19 in Vietnam, you must isolate yourself, and if you are a close contact, you must carefully check your health. Public health measures ( and mask use) are in place, however, they vary by province and are subject to sudden change.
Your ability to travel and receive necessary services could be affected by certain actions. Pay attention to what local authorities advise. Keep an eye on your local Embassy’s social media accounts for important information. The situation with covid has improved greatly because of the rigorous enforcement of the Government and while you should still wear your mask it has become much safer.
6) Water. Avoid drinking tap water, as you will get sick. This includes brushing your teeth. Most of the 4 and 5-star hotels will have their own water source, however, no matter where I am I still rely on bottled water.
If you are invited to someone’s house, do not pour boiling water into the sink. Most of the pipes are made of plastic and you will be left extremely embarrassed when boiling water starts flowing across your new friends’ floor.
7 ). Crossing the Street. The traffic in Vietnam takes a lot of getting used to, and there are times when you think you will never make it walking to the other side of the street. Do not think that pedestrian crossings or “walk” signs are to make life for the pedestrian easy.
Motorbikes and cars will not stop for pedestrians and your “walk” sign or pedestrian crossing means nothing to the Vietnamese driver. They will not stop, no matter what you are gesticulating or saying at the top of your lungs. However, they may be laughing.
At first glance, it could seem dangerous to cross the street in Vietnam. Motorbikes and cars don’t stop for pedestrians, but they do adjust and try to avoid hitting you. Here’s the trick: once you start crossing the street, don’t pause and second-guess yourself; maintain a moderate, steady pace. Do keep an eye out for any bike riders who might be using their phone more than watching out for you.
There is safety and comfort in numbers, so if you can’t bring yourself to take that first step on your alone, wait until there are other people prepared to cross and join the group. I’ve been a resident of Vietnam for 15 years, and I’ve never been in an accident. As I have said before, Vietnamese are very kind and you may have someone offer an arm to help you cross the street.
8 ) Driving a Motorcycle. If you’ve made the decision to remain in Vietnam and find employment, you’ll probably choose to buy or rent a motorcycle. Risks come with driving in Vietnam, particularly on congested roadways. The city traffic is crazy, but if you take the time to study the road rules—and they are there—you’re unlikely to get into more than the occasional low-speed collisions. . You can ride a 50cc motorcycle without a license, but it is preferable to take the time to familiarize yourself with the local traffic laws. Electric cycles are becoming more popular, but I personally dislike them as they make no sound you can find yourself in the lap of a pedestrian who wasn’t paying attention.
I don’t need a pickle, all I need is a motorcycle. Racing Bike.
My personal preference for a motorcycle is something around the 150cc mark. The roads are so busy that you will not have the opportunity to go fast. This size also accommodates my weight and gives enough “zip” when you need it. Yamaha verse Honda is a topic that can be debated by the locals, seemingly for hours. And the best way to choose which is for you is to rent until you are ready to buy.
The weather is hot in Vietnam but this is no reason to not dress safely for riding. At the very least, please wear a helmet ( Mandatory by law ) and cover your feet and wear long trousers and a jacket. Most people who come to live in Vietnam who end up owning a motorcycle will be in an accident sooner or later.
Get your Vietnamese driver’s license. International driver’s licenses are not accepted here, whatever you hear. It is not difficult and you can organize an interpreter to help translate. I only had to do the practical, as I had completed my theory in my home country.
Hustles and Scams and Beggars.
9 ) Hustles and Scams. There seem to be fewer hustles and scams around at the moment, and that may have something to do with the government trying to raise the level of foreign tourists coming into the country. But they still exist and these are the most common ones.
Getting short-changed on your bill. This is the most common one to be aware of and the one that is most easily fixed. It doesn’t take much to learn the native currency which is the “dong”. After converting your money to dong you will no doubt become an instant “dong” millionaire. The exchange rate for one US dollar is 23,712 dong. To be an instant “dong” millionaire you only need $45.00 US. To stop being scammed install a money converter ( I use XE) or work put roughly the conversion rates on each purchase. After a while, you know that $1.00 works out to be about 20,000 dong.
Download your XE Money converter.
And get used to the look of each denomination. A 20,000 dong note can, in the dark, look similar to a 500,000 dong note.
Taxis. These have become much less normal than before. After entering a taxi please make sure that they turn on the meter. I have heard many stories about people being charged huge amounts for short trips. And I too was ripped off when I first came to Vietnam, even though the meter was on. The driver said 500,000 when it should have been only 50,000 dong.
Just being aware of the conversion rate will nip these little scams in the bud.
The latest scam I almost got caught up in was going to Thailand, and it was at the Thailand end. Someone took my luggage off the conveyer belt and had surrounded it with their own luggage. I guess they hoped that I would give up looking and then they would walk out of the airport with my stuff. The ground staff was quite helpful but it was by me looking that my luggage was found. Be aware of your luggage and try to get to the baggage terminal as quickly as possible after your plane lands.
With most scams and hustles you can easily avoid being the victim by being aware of your surroundings and taking precautions whenever necessary.
Whether you decide to give money to a beggar is up to you, but there are a lot of scams wrapped up in this. I have seen young babies being passed around from “mother” to ‘mother” to endlessly parade around the foreigner while the “mother” says “baby hungry”.
I have seen beggars dragging themselves down the street only to have a “miracle” happen and they can suddenly walk again with your cash. I am not saying every beggar is a liar, but it is very hard to pick. And if you do wish to donate it is far better to choose a credible organization like Vietnam Red Cross.
10). Although Vietnam is not prone to earthquakes, volcanoes, or wildfires, low-lying areas can be impacted by torrential monsoonal rains and rare typhoons. Although the infrastructure in the cities where ex-pats are likely to reside is sufficient to prevent catastrophic floods, large storms frequently cause temporary road closures, toppled trees, and broken electric lines.
Flooding that occurs in Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City may not be resolved for several days. When picking a spot to live in these places, it is best to take into account sites less prone to flooding. There is something very annoying about having to push your motorcycle the last 100 meters through local floods until you arrive home.
11). When taking any photos it is always polite to ask before you start shooting anything. How would you feel if someone pushed a camera in your face and started taking photos without even a “please”
Not every photo should be taken, Although you can take pictures of the majority of things in Vietnam, there are a few things you should never take pictures of.
Anything associated with the military is included in this. Don’t even consider photographing the Vietnamese military since you can get fined heavily or worse. Refrain from taking photos of key locations and military installations, such as border areas, military camps, bridges, airports, navy dockyards, and even train stations. Anyone caught snapping photos near these locations runs the danger of having their camera’s memory card confiscated or receiving a fine.
Normally you will see signs where you can’t take photos, but if there are no signs still be cautious. If it has anything to do with the military, do not take the shot.
Also, do not take any photos from your flight when flying over Vietnam, and do not take any photos of “Ho Chi Minhs” mausoleum. If in doubt, ask.
12). If you are traveling in the center of Vietnam and are walking outside be aware there are still a lot of unexploded bombs around. My Son, which is a UNESCO world heritage site, is still surrounded by many unexploded bombs. However, if you keep on the well-laid-out paths you will have no problems.
A number of local farmers, metal scavengers, or children are killed or maimed each year in the once-called “Demilitarized Zone,” where unexploded munitions from previous battles are still a concern.
Because so many landmines and bombs are still present and unexploded, problems continue to arise.
So, no matter where you are, stay on well-traveled paths and avoid touching any shells or partially buried metal objects.
Vietnamese people are generally very law-abiding, and Vietnam has a comparatively low crime rate. Petty crime happens but violent crime is rare. In the large cities, there is some thievery. In some rural areas, there is also some banditry, illegal drug use, and insurgency activity. In general, violent crime does not target foreigners. If they are and the culprits are apprehended, they face serious punishment.
Police and other authorities don’t bother foreigners much unless you have done something wrong or are requesting help.
Southeast Asia is known for having one of the lowest crime rates, and Vietnam is no exception. In Vietnam, drug use and prostitution are both widespread. Ho Chi Minh City has a problem with petty crime that is mostly opportunistic, but in general, crime in Vietnam does not harm tourists or foreigners. Criminals who involve or target foreigners face harsh penalties and normally do not bother them.
Relax and enjoy your stay and by using the above advice you will make sure your stay is event free with only the good times remembered.
You may wish to also look at “Is Vietnam Safe to Travel“
And also “Etiquette in Vietnam“
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4 thoughts on “Travel and Live Safe in Vietnam”
Very informative article – thank you. Seems like a really good spot to visit, and seems relatively safe. It’s always fun and exciting to visit a brand new place you’ve never been before, and the culture is so different from the US.
One concern would be the area that has undetonated bombs. Are those areas very clearly marked? That sounds kinda scary! That would be a major concern for me, especially if traveling with my family.
Yes, the UX or unexploded ordinance is a major concern. However, it is tightly controlled in any area near tourists. With a bit of common sense and no running through the jungle, you would be ok.
Wow, really great info on Vietnam! I’m still shocked on the safety rate in Vietnam, compared to the U.S., I had no idea where the U.S. was ranked in comparison.
I really appreciate your safety tips for being in Vietnam. These seem like common sense safety measures, but good to be reminded, especially in a new neighborhood.
I especially like your USD to VND Converter you had linked, this is super useful! Also, reading about the traffic, crossing the street, photography, etc. it was all very useful information.
Thanks so much for this awesome article! I really enjoyed it!
Thanks, Albert, it never fails to surprise me that people still think of Vietnam as a violent crime-ridden country, when, in fact, it rates well below most western countries. And I am pleased you found the converter useful.