10 Useful Tips when Traveling to Vietnam
The Vietnamese, especially in Central Vietnam, are friendly, welcoming, and generally honest people. They welcome foreigners with open arms. However like with any multicultural exchange there can be some hiccups and gaps in understanding and expectations on both sides. This section should help bridge the cultural divide and help visitors navigate social interactions smoothly while visiting this lovely slice of the world.
2. Meeting People
When meeting a new person in Vietnam it is not common to shake hands nor is it expected that a person bow elaborately as it is in, say, Thailand or Japan. A nod of the head and a simple “nice to meet you” should suffice. When meeting an older person or someone of high status—say a monk or politician—remove any headwear and bow slightly at the neck and shoulders. When saying goodbye men and women do not hug or kiss on the cheek, a friendly wave works for all genders.
3. Social Distances
The accepted distance to pass or be close to a stranger in Vietnam is much closer than is common in the west. People walk close to each other and may do something like grab an item from another table (chopsticks or a napkin) without asking. This is commonplace and not a sign of disrespect
4. Body Language
In some ways body language is universal. In other smaller aspects it differs from culture to culture. For example, in Vietnam a person should never touch the head of another person, even a child. The head represents the highest point on the body and to touch the head of a person is diminutive and insulting. Following this same thinking, the feet are the lowest and dirtiest point on the body so to point the feet at a person is an insult. Never point feet toward images of the Buddha.
5. Problems and Arguments
In Vietnam, as with much of the rest of Southeast Asia, people see calmness and reserve as virtues. So if visitors encounter problems with a local person or business, it is fine and natural to disagree and even to do so firmly. However, the moment a person becomes visibly upset or raises their voice, in the eyes of the Vietnamese, they have lost their composure and therefore their dignity and, by proxy, the argument itself.
6. Eating and Drinking
Eating and drinking (specifically, beer in the context of celebration) is a big deal in Vietnam and may go on for several hours with a large group. Chopsticks act as the main utensil and meals are eaten family-style with people receiving several small bowls to serve themselves. Politeness dictates trying each dish on the table before taking more of a favorite. When plates are passed, take them with both hands. It’s considered rude to refuse an offer of food even when already full. Chopsticks should always rest on the bowl parallel to the table. Leaving chopsticks to rest in the bowl resembles a funeral rite and is offensive. Otherwise, enjoy the local cuisine. It’s healthy, fresh, and plentiful.
That about covers the main rules of eating, as for drinking, Vietnamese men usually drink (sometimes in great quantity) while women usually abstain or drink only a small amount. The Vietnamese see the ability to drink as a sign of strength and health in men. When beer is out, it is common for a man to be asked how much he can drink. However, while drinking is often endorsed and encouraged, excessive drunkenness (stumbling, slurring words, etc.) is not seen well. When drinking at a table of Vietnamese, don’t sip alone, raise a glass and say “yo” so everyone drinks together at the same pace.
Guided tours are on offer in abundance throughout Da Nang to suit all interests. Whether looking to take in some stunning natural landscapes above ground or the sweeping coral reefs and schools of tropical fish undersea, these friendly guides will get you there. For those interested in the war or the rich cultural heritage of Central Vietnam from the ruins of My Son to the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Hoi An and Hue, historical curiosity is easily satisfied. Even the Vietnamese culinary tradition is on display with food tours and cooking classes to satisfy any appetite.
For those looking for an adventure, Central Vietnam offers plenty of options to climb and explore the lush natural landscapes. Visitors can trek up the mountains that flank Da Nang on either side, scale the beautiful cliff-faces and waterfalls near Lang Co, or explore the jagged peaks of Marble Mountain.
When snorkelling close to coral, it’s best not to use fins. The water in theses areas doesn’t have strong currents. The constant use of fins disturbs the water flow around the corral and this disrupts the ecosystem gradually harming growth.
10. Rip Currents
Beaches in Vietnam has unusually strong rip currents that can suck swimmers quickly out to sea. A rip current is caused by a gap in the sandbar that pulls water out faster than other areas along the shoreline. These currents can sometimes sweep up and disorient swimmers quickly pulling them out to sea. Here is some practical advice about how to spot and handle rip currents while swimming on Da Nang’s beaches.
Do not swim against a rip
If you find yourself without a foothold and being pulled out by a rip current, don’t panic. More importantly, don’t try to swim against it back to shore. This will only cause more fatigue and make little progress against the rip. Relax and recognize what has happened.
If you know you’ve been caught, don’t point your head toward the beach. Instead put the shore on your left or right side and swim parallel to the beach until the rip stops pulling. Then there’s little resistance and the waves should
help push you back to shore. If unable to swim relax and wait If you cannot swim or are fatigued, relax and float on your back. The rip current won’t take you all the way out to sea, only about 25 meters from shore. The impulse to panic is natural and strong, but not helpful. Tip your head back, fill your lungs with air, and float on your back. Raise your arms and signal lifeguards.
Know how to spot a rip
Waves don’t break in a rip current or are drastically smaller. If you see a calm area of water with waves breaking on either side, this is a rip current. Swim where the waves are breaking white.