Vietnam – What to Expect As a Tourist

No matter where you are from, Europe, America, or even Asia, cultural shocks will definitely hit you even before arrival. Climate and safety will be your other concern during the trip.

Please do not be surprised when you enter the cabin of the aircraft to find some people sitting on your allocated seat. This happens 70% of the time I travel to Vietnam. I do not have a good explanation but from what I managed to gather Vietnamese have the mentality of a first-come-first sit way of life.

First Come First Serve

So it is the rights of the person who enter first to choose his/her seat. Moreover, a lot of them are first time air travelers so you just need to bear with them. Simply approach an air stewardess to resolve this issue. If you try to resolve this issue you may get into an awkward situation later on; or the person may not understand English at all.

The same apply for coach or train seating.

Next, you may find that the overhead compartment is full! Vietnamese do not believe in traveling light, even for hand carry items. My wife typically carries 4 hand carry bags/paper bags/shopping bags. She sees hand carry baggage as bonuses. To her, not having anything as carry-on baggage is not fully utilising the air fare. I gave up convincing her after a few years why we should travel light.

Safety Last

When the plane is about to make its final decent do not be surprised to hear passengers’ phone going off and people starting to chat on their phone. Do not be surprised when passengers started taking their luggage from the overhead compartment immediately after touchdown.

This episode, unfortunately, will not be the first breach of safety you will encounter throughout Vietnam.

When it comes to safety, it sure gets last on the priority list of Vietnamese to do list. You will see motorcycles carrying full size fridge, live stocks, and whatever you can buy from store. Driving or riding  under the influence of alcohol is rampant in every city and town. Beating a red light is nothing to scream at. Tourist ferry catching fire and sinking; sleepy coach drivers, riding motorbikes on walkways, riding against flow of traffic.

I am sure you will have your fair share of encounter once there. The message I am trying to carry across is, WATCH OUT. Keep your eyes open. But at the same time don’t be too alarm and make a scene out of things you deem horrible.

There’s plenty more install for you and it will be a hell of an adventure! Try to understand that you are in their country and whatever you are doing is not the norm, rather!

Tipping Culture

Tipping is HUGE in most restaurants, but especially so if you are visiting a bar/pub or club. You are not expected to leave any tip, but the service level can be excellent next time if you intend to return again.

How much to tip?

  • The bellboy who carry your luggage up your room: 50,000VND per person on the first day. Subsequent days will depend on you. I used to tip the door man 50,000VND every day and I became the most welcomed guest during my stay.
  • Restaurant waiter/waitress who serve you: 50,000VND just one person will do. Leave the any note smaller than 50,000VND.
  • Hair salon: Stylist 100,000VND. Shampoo lady 50,000VND.
  • Nail Shop: Manicurist 50,000VND.

Tipping at a Pub/Bar or dance club is a little more complex.

In a small pub/bar, tip the waiter/waitress who brings you the bill. Rate is about 50,000VND. But you are going pub hopping and only have like 2 beers, then a 20,000VND tip will suffice. If there are “hostess” who sits and talk to you throughout the night, tip her 100,000 VND.

If you spend your entire night at the bar, tip 100,000VND for the person who brings you the bill. Hand the note and indicate “this is for you”. Then make sure you leave another tip of 100,000VND. This will be shared by the rest of the staffs.

In Vietnam, waiters and waitresses at pub makes very little money from their salary, somewhere like US$100 a month. But don’t get me wrong, their take home pay can be in the region of US$2,000 for a popular waitress in a bar like Nalopy. Most of their pay comes in the form of tips from customers.

Be careful if a gorgeous lady comes sit or stand beside you and strike a conversation with you. There are only two agenda she has. One, she is the “Public Relation” or “Guest Relation” staff maintain by the premise to keep lonely patrons company, two, she is a freelance “escort” looking for client.

In the event that the lady is the former, you are expected to tip her no less than 100,000VND at the end of the night on top of the drinks she will be ordering. As for the latter, well, I cannot advice you how far you should go in your conversation.

There is no such thing as striking a casual conversation and getting lucky. The reason is that in Vietnamese society it is unacceptable for women to patronise bars and dance clubs. Only “bad girls” prowl these places. Second reason is, normal average lady wouldn’t be able to afford patronising such places.

Price Discrimination

How much do think the piece of watermelon will cost you from that street vendor?

50,000VND.

Well, that’s alright, you might think.

Being an Asian, I probably only need to pay 20,000VND. However, as I am able to speak a fluent Vietnamese, my price can further be reduced to 10,000VND. Now we’re talking. But when my wife (a Vietnamese) buys the same piece of watermelon, it only cost her 5,000VND.

That’s 10 times more for what you are paying when compared to the locals.

Please do not get alarm and rant it out in public. You will only be making a fool out of yourself. The the rest of the people looking on, it is normal for them to hear you pay 50,000VND so what’s wrong with you?

Bargaining

You need to bargain. And you need to bargain hard. This is what I hate the most and makes me appreciate fixed pricing.

In Vietnam, most products are not priced, especially Ben Thanh Market and the surrounding shops. Sales person will push a calculator right in your face with the selling price punched in.

How much should you offer?

25% of their initial offer!

They will then curse at you, shake their heads. Simply just do the old trick of walking away completely not interested any more. They will call you back and offer 75% of their initial offer. You continue walking and they will settle at 50% of their initial offer price. TAKE IT!

Well if they don’t call you back, walk a few shops down the alley, I bet you $100 there will be 20 more shops selling the same thing! Use that trick again until a shop gave in.

Looking Into Your Eyes

In Asia, people don’t look into your eye or face when they speak to you. They will work and talk to you at the same time and it is perfectly normal and please do not take offence. Talking loudly is also the norm. For those who do not understand the language you may think a fight may be about to erupt.

Fighting is also very common in Vietnam. Minor road accidents can also lead to a bloody fight, or sometimes death. If you find yourself in a difficult spot, apologies and walk away. No point proving you are right only to receive a stab to your belly.

The trouble with booking a hotel in Vietnam is the language barrier or they practice price discrimination against western tourists. Even as an Asian tourist you will also face similar fate. Even for someone like me who speaks fluent Vietnamese I still prefer to book via Agoda. Not only their rate is always BETTER than walk in rates, the information provided on Agoda website is extremely helpful for making a right decision, especially the MAP! If a hotel is not listed on Agoda, then don't bother at all. 

Please help me by clicking on the banner below if you are seriously looking for a hotel, as I can get a referral fee which helps me fund my yearly hosting and domain name fee. TIA!


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Chi Siang Written by:

Hi! I am a Singaporean who used to work and live in Saigon for 6 years. I am married to my Vietnamese wife and we travel back to Saigon regularly. My years living amongst the Vietnamese and not amongst the expats community, gave me an unique insight into Vietnamese people, their culture, and their way of life.

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