Vietnam travel guide: what you need to know


Best time to go, customs, culture, language, health, safety, laws, road rules, watchouts, emergency contacts and more.

Vietnam overview


When to get the best weather and avoid the crowds, and why you shouldn't tell your kids the legal drinking age - download the Vietnam travel guide.

Travel-size tips

Know before you go

  • Scams and petty theft are common, but violent crime is rare. Always check the latest safety advice from smartraveller.gov.au.
  • Driving is only permitted on a Vietnamese licence.
  • See a doctor about recommended vaccinations as early as possible before your trip.

Best time to go

The weather in Vietnam varies greatly from the north to the south of the country, with added quirks in the timing of the wet season along the central coast.

Southern Vietnam

  • Dry season: December–May
  • Wet season: May–November

Northern Vietnam

  • Dry season: September–February
  • Wet season: March–August

Central coast

  • Nha Trang's wet season: November–December
  • Hue and Da Nang's wet season: September–February

If you're planning to visit a particular area of Vietnam, check the expected weather for your dates of travel.

Lonely Planet recommends the best time to visit Hanoi is October to April, the best time to visit Ho Chi Minh City is January to March and the best time to visit Nha Trang is February to June. If you want to see the whole country, there's no perfect time to go, but spring (April to June) or autumn (September to November) is probably best.

  • Monsoon rains can cause flash flooding, delaying transport and cutting off remote villages.
  • Temperatures can reach as high as 40°C in summer, particularly in the south. Summers are generally humid and sticky.
  • Winter temperatures rarely drop below 20°C in the south, but northern winters can get quite chilly, with the highland regions even experiencing the occasional snowfall or frost.
  • The central coast is prone to typhoons, and although they're hard to predict, August to November is the peak time.
  • The busiest tourist season is between July and August, when foreign and domestic school holidays converge to drive prices high and make booking more difficult.
  • Tet Nguyen Dan (Vietnamese New Year) is celebrated in January or February (dates change with the lunar calendar and are the same as Chinese New Year). Tet is when most local people take their holidays and travel home to see family, so expect crowds, higher prices and more trouble getting bookings.
  • If you prefer to avoid crowds, mid-February to mid-March is one of the quietest times of the year when you may even grab an off-season bargain on flights or accommodation.

Culture

  • Vietnamese people are known for their friendliness, generosity and sense of humour.
  • They rarely lose their cool, so avoid losing yours. Raising your voice and arguing with someone in public is extremely embarrassing for all involved.
  • Despite the heat, locals dress quite conservatively and visitors are expected to do the same. Shorts should only be worn at the beach. Women wearing short skirts or tank tops are likely to draw unwanted attention from locals.
  • When visiting temples or pagodas, it's respectful for both men and women to wear long sleeves and long trousers, or a long skirt.
  • Cultural taboos include public displays of affection, pointing or beckoning with your finger, standing with your hands on your hips, touching a person on the shoulder or head, passing items over a person's head, passing items with one hand instead of two and not covering your mouth while using a toothpick.
  • Always ask permission before taking a person's photo and don't take your camera into ethnic minority villages, it's considered an invasion of privacy.
  • Tipping is not expected, but it's appreciated since many workers earn very low wages. Some hotels and restaurants add a 5–10% service charge to your bill, which counts as a tip.

Language: Vietnamese

The Vietnamese language is written in the same alphabet as English, so you should have no trouble reading signs and maps, although pronunciation may be tricky.

English-speakers are easily found in tourist areas, but most Vietnamese people speak very little English. Older people may speak French.

Health and safety

  • The tap water in Vietnam is not safe to drink and wells in the Red River Delta have been found to contain arsenic at levels that exceed WHO guidelines. Boiling water won't remove arsenic and other metal contaminants so stick to bottled water, avoid ice in your drinks and if you're particularly concerned about tummy bugs, avoid salads that may have been rinsed in tap water.
  • Traveller's diarrhoea is common. Wash your hands regularly and opt for fresh, fully-cooked food. Carry anti-diarrhoeal medication with you as a precaution.
  • Mosquito-borne diseases including dengue fever, malaria and Japanese encephalitis are a risk in Vietnam. Consider a vaccination against Japanese encephalitis, and if you're travelling to remote areas, talk to a doctor about malaria prophylactics. There's no vaccination against dengue fever – avoiding mosquito bites is the best protection.
  • Hand foot and mouth disease and conjunctivitis are common in Vietnam, particularly among children. Wash your hands regularly to avoid infection.
  • Other disease risks include measles, hepatitis, rabies, typhoid, tuberculosis, and meningitis. Find out about which vaccinations you might need.
  • The quality of medical care varies in Vietnam and is generally not up to Australian standards. Most doctors demand payment upfront, even in emergencies, although some may be willing to treat you if you have proof of travel insurance.
  • There are English-speaking private clinics in cities and tourist areas (see emergency contacts below), but if you are very ill you may need to be evacuated to Bangkok, Singapore or Australia at your own expense – so it's essential you have travel insurance.
  • Some medications may be hard to find, and some may even be counterfeits. Bring all of your regular medication with you – in its original packaging along with the original prescriptions.
  • For the latest health and safety advice on Vietnam, check smartraveller.com.au

Do I need vaccinations to travel to Vietnam?

Laws and watchouts

Laws

  • Vietnam has no minimum legal drinking age (just don't tell your kids).
  • The country has strict drug laws with severe punishments, including the death penalty. Don't be fooled by the party drug culture – drugs are illegal.
  • Pornography, prostitution and public nudity (including topless sunbaking) are illegal.
  • Gambling is illegal, but foreign passport holders can gamble at government-licensed casinos.
  • 'Political actions' are illegal – that means marching in protests or even voicing your political beliefs, so don't go around telling locals what you think of their communist government. This also applies to activities online, like social media.
  • Avoid taking photographs of demonstrations, border crossings, police or military.
  • Religion is only somewhat tolerated by the secular government. It's no problem if you're religious, but westerners who have tried to openly preach Christianity have been detained, fined and deported from the country. Again, be careful about your online activities too.
  • It is illegal to export antiques from Vietnam without a permit.

Watchouts

  • Violent crimes against travellers are rare, but petty theft such as bag-snatching and pickpocketing is common.
  • Touts are a fact of life in Vietnam. In cities and tourist areas, expect to be offered taxis, hotel rooms, souvenirs, sunglasses and more. A polite 'no thank you', or 'tôi không muốn' ('I don't want it') should do the trick.
  • Always make sure you know the exact price before you agree to buy something – for example, are you sure you're negotiating in dong not dollars? Are you agreeing to a price per room or per person? And always count your change.
  • Lonely Planet recommends Mai Linh and Vinasun as the most reputable taxi companies. But beware of impersonators pretending to be members of these fleets! More about taxis in Vietnam.
  • The scams in Vietnam are many and varied, and forever changing. See our article on common tourist traps all over the world, or read up on Vietnam's latest and most common scams at virtualtourist.comtripadvisor.com and vietnamonline.com.
  • When making purchases or booking services, it's not unusual to be quoted a very high price and then have to haggle your way down. Don't lose your cool, this is a normal part of life in Vietnam and if you're a tourist you can probably afford to pay a little more than the locals do anyway.
  • travelfish.org advises: "Have your wits about you, always, always, always ask for personal recommendations from other travellers, and don't obsess about being ripped off. You will be ripped off at some stage or another – that's just a part of the Vietnamese experience unfortunately".

Making a complaint

If you fall victim to theft or any other serious crime, contact the police (numbers below).

Most police officers don't speak English, so unfortunately they may not be much help unless you can find an interpreter. Police can choose whether or not to take on your case, so they're likely to turn you away if they don't think the crime is very serious.

If you need a police report so you can make a claim on your travel insurance, expect to pay for it. This isn't bribery, it's a legitimate fee.

Vietnam doesn't have much in the way of consumer protection, but if you have a dispute with a local business or service and you're unable to reach an agreement, you could try contacting the non-profit Vietnam Standard and Consumers Association for advice (email vinastas@fpt.vn) or the National Administration of Tourism (vietnamtourism.com). The Vietnam Hotel Association (vietnamhotel.org.vn) may also be able to help.

If your gripe is with an Australian or international tour operator, airline, or booking site, follow the usual procedures for making a complaint or seeking compensation.

Emergency contacts

If calling from your Australian mobile phone, dial the country code (+84) first.

Operators are unlikely to speak English, so consider calling your hotel, your insurance provider, an English-speaking hospital or the Australian Embassy instead.

Police: 113
Fire: 114
Ambulance: 115

Some hospitals have their own private ambulance services, or you may find catching a taxi is quicker and easier than waiting for an ambulance. Paramedics are unlikely to speak English.

Hospitals

Vietnam's public health care facilities are not up to the standard of Australia's, but there are a number of private English-speaking hospitals and clinics in cities and tourist areas.

The US embassy to Vietnam has a full list of clinics, specialists and dentists.

Hanoi

International SOS (24 hour)
51 Xuan Dieu, Tay Ho, Hanoi
+84 4 3934 0666
internationalsos.com

Hanoi Family Medical Practice (24 hour)
298 I Kim Ma Street
Van Phuc Compound, Ba Dinh District, Hanoi
+84 4 3843 0748
vietnammedicalpractice.com

Ho Chi Minh City

International SOS (24 hour)
167A Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City
+84 8 3829 8520
internationalsos.com

Family Medical Practice HCMC (24 hour)
Diamond Plaza Clinic
34 Le Duan Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
+84 8 3822 7848
vietnammedicalpractice.com

Columbia Asia International Clinic
​8 Alexandre de Rhodes, District 1
+84 8 3823 8888
columbiaasia.com/vietnam

Hai Phong

Viet-Tiep Hospital
1 Nha Thuong Road, Le Chan District
+84 31 370 0436

Hue

Hue Central Hospital
16 Le Loi Street, Hue City
+84 54 382 2325/6

Da Nang

C Hospital
74 Hai Phong Road, Da Nang City
+84 511 382 1480 (administration), +84 511 383 2642 (emergency)

Nha Trang

Central Hospital of Khanh Hoa Province
19 Yersin Street, Nha Trang City
+84 58 382 2168

Vung Tau

Le Loi Central Hospital of Ba Ria Vung Tau Province
22 Le Loi Street, Vung Tau City
+84 64 383 2667

Phan Thiet

Central Hospital of Binh Thuan Province
Hai Thuong Lan Ong Road, Phan Thiet
+84 62 382 2733 (Administration), +84 62 382 1733 (emergency)

Australian Embassy, Hanoi

vietnam.embassy.gov.au
8 Dao Tan Street, Ba Dinh District
+84 4 3774 0100
Facebook: Australian Embassy Vietnam

Australian Consulate-General, Ho Chi Minh City

hcmc.vietnam.embassy.gov.au
20th Floor, Vincom Centre
47 Ly Tu Trong Street, District 1
+84 8 3521 8100
24-hour Australian Consular Emergency Centre: +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 or SMS +61 421 269 080

Got a travel tip about Vietnam? Or spotted something in our guide that needs updating? Please add a comment below.


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