Vietnam Travel Tips
In general Vietnamese society is very traditional and conservative. Whilst there is some basic etiquette you need to be aware of the Vietnamese are very tolerant to foreigners and aren't easily offended. If you are visiting the more rural areas of Vietnam it is a good idea to have an understanding the basic customs and etiquette as the locals are less used to foreigners.
Do not talk loudly, shout or act aggressive in public.
The Vietnamese are very polite and well-mannered and you will be seen as fool. The Vietnamese will rarely show anger in public.
In general the Vietnamese shake hands when greeting or saying goodbye.
Bow your head slightly to show respect and shake with both hands. Elderly Vietnamese tend to be more traditional and may not extend their hand, so just bow slightly to show respect. Vietnamese women are generally more inclined to bow their head then shake hands with a foreigner. It is not a necessity but if you want to impress your local host when shaking hands you can say "xin chao" (seen chow) and then their given name. This basically means hello or greetings.
Some important things you should be aware of.
Do not touch anyone on the shoulder. Do not stand with your hands on your hips or arms crossed on your chest as this is seen as an aggressive stance. Uses both hands when passing something and never pass anything over someone's head. Do not show affection in public; however members of the same sex may hold hands whilst walking.
When visiting a Vietnamese home it is customary to bring a small gift.
Give flowers, fruit or useful items such as upmarket soaps, framed pictures or incense. Avoid anything black, yellow flowers and particularly handkerchiefs as they are a symbol of a sad farewell. Like most Asian cultures they consider using a cloth hanky and putting it back in your pocket repulsive. Gifts should always be wrapped in colourful paper. Many people don't have access to dental health so don't give sweets to children; give them something useful like pens or books.
If it's a business meeting alcohol, such as a nice whiskey, is appropriate. Make sure not to give it at the office as it may be misinterpreted as a bribe. Present it to them at home or over dinner.
When dining the following etiquette should be considered.
At the table allow the oldest person to sit first and wait to be shown where to sit. If you are not comfortable using Chopsticks ask for a fork, nobody will be offended. When you break to drink or speak rest the chopsticks on the table or the chopstick stand if supplied. Pass dishes with both hands.
The Vietnamese hold bowls close to their faces when eating. When eating soup hold the spoon in your left hand. Cover your mouth if using a toothpick.
Don't take more than you can eat and try to finish everything in your bowl. It is considered rude to waste food and it is a compliment to the cook if your bowl is completely empty at the end of a meal. When you've had enough place the chopsticks across the top of your bowl.
Dressing casual and light is appropriate in the humid conditions.
Shorts and t-shirts are acceptable around town and on the beach, however dress more conservatively if visiting temples. Male or female nudity on the beach is totally unacceptable. Women should dress conservatively as revealing clothing and heavy makeup is associated with prostitution.
When you enter a temple, pagoda or a home it is customary to remove your shoes.
If unsure watch what other people do or ask someone. You may also be expected to leave a small donation when visiting a temple or pagoda.
Tipping is not expected but always appreciated.
There is no socially acceptable minimum however 10% is appropriate and a few thousand dong will usually suffice. Some high end hotels and restaurants will add a standard service charge depending on the services provided. If going on a tour it is appropriate to tip your guide and driver at the end of the tour.
It is rude to take a photograph of a Vietnamese local without asking permission first.
If they say no do not push the issue. Never take photographs of government or military buildings or anything related to the military. This can land you in hot water and is seen as a breach of national security.
Men in Vietnam will commonly offer cigarettes around in during conversations.
The gesture is always appreciated and is widely used as a social approach or to progress negotiations or when bargaining.
Of special note is that you should never touch a child or an adult's head.
This is common in most Asian cultures. The head is considered to be where the spirit resides. It is considered a personal insult to the person that you're touching.