Vietnam is a relatively safe country for visitors, including women travelling alone. In fact, given the country’s recent history, many tourists, particularly Americans, are pleasantly surprised at the warm reception that foreign travellers receive. That said, petty crime is on the rise – though it’s still relatively small–scale and shouldn’t be a problem if you take common–sense precautions. Generally, the hassles you’ll encounter will be the milder sort of coping with pushy vendors and over–enthusiastic touts and beggars.
Most visits to Vietnam are trouble free but you should take sensible precautions to protect yourself and your belongings.
Vietnamese law requires everyone to carry photographic ID at all times. You should carry a photocopy of the pages from your passport with your personal details and visa for ID, and leave the original document in a safe place.
There has been a reported increase in incidents of personal belongings and bags being snatched, including from people travelling on motorbikes in big cities and tourist areas. Some thieves have resorted to physical violence, though this is not common. You should remain alert and take care of your belongings, particularly in crowded areas and places visited by tourists where pick pockets and bag snatchers operate. Consider splitting key items between bags.
Sexual assaults are rare, but you should take sensible precautions and travel with friends when possible.
There have been reports of arguments over hotel, restaurant or taxi bills turning violent or abusive. It is well worth researching places to stay before you arrive. To avoid potential disputes, make sure you are clear about the level of service you can expect to receive and any associated charges.
There have been reports of scams targeting tourists, involving fake charities, gambling and taxis.
There have been fatal accidents in rural areas and parks. Don’t stray off main routes and be aware that some terrain can be hazardous. You should follow safety guidelines and procedures. Where appropriate take a reputable guide and follow their advice.
Travel is restricted near military installations and some areas of Vietnam are fairly inaccessible. If you wish to visit a village, commune or ward that is close to the border you may need to get permission from the provincial police department. Contact the relevant local authority for more information.
Undertake any leisure activities which include firearms at your own risk and make sure you are supervised by a reputable guide. There have been reports of hearing loss from those close to these activities.
Unexploded mines and ordnance are a continuing hazard in former battlefields, particularly in central Vietnam and along the Laos Border, formerly traversed by the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Mined areas are often unmarked.
From October 2015, International Driving Permits (IDPs) are accepted in Vietnam. You may only drive the category of vehicle for which your permit is valid. You’ll need to show both the IDP and your UK driving licence to the authorities as required. Don’t use your passport as a deposit for hiring vehicles or in place of a fine in the event of a traffic offence.
If you don’t have an IDP and you want to drive a car or motorcycle you’ll need to get a Vietnamese driving licence from the Hanoi Department of Public Works and Transportation (telephone: +84 4 3843 5325) or the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Public Works and Transportation (telephone: +84 8 3829 0451 or 0452).
The standard of driving and vehicle maintenance can be poor. There are frequent accidents and fatal crashes. Accidents can result in costly medical bills and you may not be covered by your insurance. It’s illegal to be on a motorbike without a helmet. Helmet safety standards vary.
Traffic accidents tend to attract a large crowd. If you are involved in a traffic accident you could face criminal charges and you may need to pay compensation to the injured person even if the injuries are minor. If you’re involved in an accident or subject to an investigation, offer the police your full co-operation and inform the British Embassy in Hanoi or Consulate General in Hoi Chi Minh City.
Metered taxis from larger firms are generally reliable. There are many taxi operators and meters are set at different prices. The meter should start at around 8,000 to 20,000 VND, depending on the size of the taxi. Where possible get hotels or restaurants to book you a reputable taxi.
There have been reports of overcharging for taxi journeys from airports. Check the published fares near the taxi stands before starting your journey.
Bus and coach crashes are not unusual and increase in regularity at night. Vehicles are often poorly maintained. When travelling by bus be vigilant against petty theft. Be cautious about offers of free transfers to hotels unless organised in advance, as these are likely to be bogus.
Rail travel in Vietnam is generally safe. Be vigilant against petty theft. There have been numerous reports of personal belongings being stolen while people are asleep on the train between Hanoi and Sapa.
There have been a number of fatal boat accidents in Vietnam, some involving foreign nationals in Halong Bay, including a major incident in October 2012. Safety regulations and standards vary greatly and are not at the same level as the United Kingdom. Check with your tour guide about the safety record and registration of boats, and the certification of personnel before setting off. Make sure you receive a full safety briefing when joining any boat. Consider safety standards carefully before taking an overnight boat trip on Halong Bay as some boats have sunk quickly and without warning.
Piracy has been known to occur in coastal areas off Vietnam. Mariners should be vigilant, reduce opportunities for attacks, establish secure areas onboard and report all incidents to the coastal and flag state authorities.
Vietnam has a single party political system, which does not welcome dissent. Some protests in recent years have turned violent. You should avoid all protests.
Providing prompt consular assistance can be difficult outside Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnam is a large country and some areas don’t have well developed infrastructure or frequent flights.