Visiting Vietnam: tips for a smooth and awesome trip
By Laura Rocha
Basic Vietnamese and cultural norms that will prepare you for a successful trip to this Southeast Asian country
Vietnam is as culturally complex and rich as it is beautiful.
The internet is copiously populated with horror stories and bad reviews of Western tourists in Vietnam. If you want to make an effort to be a traveler–not a tourist–and approach Vietnamese culture from the perspective of someone willing to learn and compromise, this post is for you.
With Vietnam’s complicated recent history with Western civilizations, it cannot be surprising that some locals may be weary of mostly American or European visitors. Vietnam was a French colony from 1858 to 1945. The Vietnam War, which is known in the country as the Resistance War Against America, took place between 1955 and 1975. This means that much of the territory was occupied and attacked by the Western military for most of the Twentieth century. We must remember that older generations lived this war. All wars leave wounds and wounds take time to heal. It is key to understand this context because it may explain unpleasant encounters with locals.
So how do you approach such a complicated country and set yourself up to successful interactions?
Cultural barriers, such as language, make seemingly easy and prosaic conversations hard. Approach every interaction expecting it to take a little bit longer than it would in your home country. Smile and show that you are grateful for the locals’ hospitality. Always make eye contact and make kindness your demeanor.
Try to speak some Vietnamese
Learning a few basic words can make the world of a difference when you interact with locals because it shows them that at least you are trying. This is probably the quickest way to stay away from the “ugly American” stereotype. While English is in many places a lingua franca, saying hello in the local language and making an effort to learn a few key phrases and words can make people open up and make your interactions richer.
These are some of the key phrases you’ll be glad to have learned:
- Hello = Xin Chao (Sin chow)
- How are you? = Ban Khoe Khong (Ban Kwe Khom)
- Thank you = Cam on (kahm uhn)
- Sorry = Xin Loi (Sin Loy)
- No Problem = Khong co gi (Khong koh zi)
- Goodbye = Tam Biet (Tarm Byeet)
- No, Thank You! = Khong! Cam On (Khom, kahm uhn)
- Can you speak English? = Ban noi tieng anh duoc khong? (Banh noi thien an durkh khom)
- How old are you? = Ban bao nhieu tuoi (Ban ban nyew twoi)
- I am __ years old = Toi ___ tuoi (toy ___ doyy)
- What is your name? = Ten ban la gi? (Ten bang la zi)
- My name is ___ = Ten toi la ___ (Ten toy la ___)
Understand that things may have a different value
Vietnam remains a deeply unequal country. This may seem very cheap for you, particularly if you are used to a currency like the US dollar or the Euro. Nevertheless, remember that $1 may seem insignificant to you, but it could mean someone’s possibility of a warm meal. Keep this in mind when purchasing and when interacting with locals and, if you can, tip generously.
To understand the complexity of a country like Vietnam (or really any country) the best thing you can do is visit. However, a bit of research can serve as a window into the place you are about to travel to. Try to learn as much as you can about the place and this way, you will not feel like you are going in blind. Enjoy your travels!