When you arrive
When you land in Vietnam, you don’t need to declare any personal items like laptops, cameras and phones if you’re taking the back with you. You can bring into the country up to 200 cigarettes, two litres of alcohol and two litres of perfume.
If you’re bringing more than $3,000 in cash with you, or any other currency up to a similar value, you’ll need to declare it. Make sure you keep hold of the yellow entry/exit slip you’ll receive on entry, or you might get a fine when you leave the country.
The Vietnamese people are very welcoming and friendly, and if you learn a few basic phrases of Vietnamese, they’ll be even more welcoming! Many people speak English or French, so no-one tours Vietnam without hearing at least a few words of a familiar language. A common greeting is “Hey, you!”, so don’t be too shocked, as it’s actually meant in a friendly manner.
Most Southeast Asians are concerned about dress and cleanliness, and the Vietnamese are no exception. Do dress modestly, though, with covered arms and legs in the towns. Beachwear is just that, so save it for the beach! If you’re wearing a vest and shorts – whether you’re male or female – you’ll get some dark looks. Revealing clothes are seen as disrespectful, so bear this in mind.
While the Vietnamese are quite tactile, this doesn’t mean they’re permissive! Topless sunbathing is a no-no, but don’t be surprised to see friends and relatives hugging, holding hands (even men) and patting one another. Men will shake hands, but it’s unusual for women to do this. If you’re worried about mentioning the Vietnam War, don’t be. More than 70 per cent of the population was born after it ended, so they’re not particularly emotionally invested in it. Don’t, however, get involved in any political arguments while you’re there.
When dining out, or even at a family home, table manners aren’t desperately important. You might use a fork and spoon, or chopsticks, depending on what’s on offer. You’ll find that the locals have breakfast before it gets too hot in the morning. They also have long lunches and then eat again in the early evenings. There may well be noodle stalls open later for the tourists.
One important tip is not to pick your teeth with your hands after eating – do it discreetly and with a toothpick. You don’t have to tip in restaurants, but it certainly won’t go amiss. Round up a bill rather than offering a percentage of the total.
Most people will need to apply for a visa to visit Vietnam, including citizens of the US and the UK. There are some countries that have bilateral agreements with Vietnam and so don’t need a visa. These countries include Norway, Finland, Sweden and Denmark, the Asian countries like Japan and Korea, and Russia. Tourist visas generally allow for a 30-day stay. You must have a passport that’s valid for at least six months beyond the end of your stay in Vietnam – remember this, because Vietnamese immigration has often turned away travellers with less than six months left on their passports!