Vietnam is one of the safest places to travel in the world. In addition to a very author itarian government, the country boasts a generally law-abiding society. Visitors can go about their activities in relative safety, although commonsense rules do apply. Sadly, petty crime is on the increase in big cities. Although violent crime is rare, it does happen. The Vietnamese establishments are generally clean, and while street food is safe enough, it is better to stick to bottled water. Healthcare facilities are still lacking. With few ambu lances or well- equipped emergency rooms, it is wise to carry travel insurance with a good medevac (medical evacuation) provision.
Though traveling in Vietnam is considered to be quite safe, there are some basic precau- tions that should be followed. Since petty crimes such as bag- snatching and pickpocketing are prevalent in larger cities such as Ho Chi Minh City and Nha Trang, avoid carrying large sums of money or wearing much jewelry. It is advisable to keep part of your cash, and passport in a hidden money belt, and leave a portion of your valuables in your hotel’s safe. Secure your cameras and purse when out walking or on a motorbike ride, as motorbikemounted thieves have been known to pull up alongside, snatch such items, and drive on. Another basic safety rule is to avoid venturing into unfam- iliar areas at night. Do not accept coffee invitations from stangers in Downtown Saigon as Filipino Mafia prey upon tourists in this way. It is also important to make photo co pies of your passport, travel insurance, and other relevant documents. In case of theft or loss, these copies will aid replacement. There is an HIV pro blem in Vietnam, and sexual transmission has taken over intravenous transmission as the main cause of its spread. In 2012, UNAIDS esti mated that there were 260,000 HIVpositive people in the coun try; the number has not increased in recent years.
In addition to the traffic and general police forces, Vietnam’s tourist police are stationed at popular tourist sites. However, their presence is generally just for show, and they may not be able to help in an emergency. Generally, the police pre sence is unobtrusive and scant. In any dealing with the police, be polite. If you are robbed, the police might help you file a report for insurance purposes, but they often refuse. You may need an interpreter.
Hospitals and Medical Facilities
Most Westernoperated and uptodate medical facilities in the country are located in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. If you fall ill in a small town, do try and get to one of these two cities. However, though the hospitals and clinics here are sufficient for daily needs and minor surgery, they might lack the drugs, equip ment, or exper tise for more compli cated cases. The same holds true for dental care. If you are seriously injured, then it is better to leave Viet nam and go to major destinations such as Bangkok, Hong Kong, or even Singapore. Most pharmacies in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City now stock a wide variety of drugs, but do check the expiry date before buying. If you re quire some specific medicine, do remember to carry a sufficient supply from home.
A general travel insurance policy is a good idea in most places, but especially in this part of the world. Make sure that in addition to illness and injury, it covers theft as well. Most importantly, it should cover medical evacuation in case of an emergency.
Food- and Water-borne Diseases
The most common ailments are diarrhoea, dysentery, and giardiasis, all of which are food- related. Each of these is treatable with antibiotics, and preventable by following some general safeguards. Wash your hands thoroughly before each meal, eat only at clean places, which offer well-cooked food or prepare the food in front of you, and peel fresh fruit yourself. Street food isn’t always risky, although due caution as well as judgement should be used. Care is also needed when eating at a buffet or using room service even in five-star hotels. If your normal diet is bland, do keep in mind that food in Vietnam can be rather spicy. This simple change of diet can lead to an upset stomach for some. Always carry pills such as Tums and Pepto Bismol for indigestion. To prevent water-borne diseases such as typhoid and cholera, stick to bottled water, easily available every-where, or well- boiled water. Drinking tea is usually safe as the water is traditionally brought to a full boil at the time of preparation.
During summer, it can become exceedingly hot in Vietnam. It is important to stay hydrated if you are traveling in this warm and humid weather. Always carry plenty of water, and rem- ember to drink it at regular intervals. To protect yourself from heatstroke, wear a hat, sunglasses, and loose-fitting clothes. Use a good sunscreen to avoid getting sunburns.
Insect Bites and Infections
A mosquito bite may lead to dengue or, less frequently, malaria, two potentially serious diseases that a few precautions can prevent. The disease- carrying mosquitos are more active at dusk or dawn, and to avoid getting bitten, apply a repellent and sleep under a mosquito net. Rooms with fans or air- conditioning usually don’t have mosquitoes. Take a prophylactic for malaria if visiting jungle areas or the Mekong, but seek advice from a doctor first. Carry your own disinfectant ointment and bandages as wounds can become infected relatively easily in this climate, and should be kept clean.
Bird flu, swine flu, and hand, foot and mouth disease (a concern for children) have all been signifi- cant recurring issues since 2005, so, it may be best to avoid public child-care facilities. Temples keep caged birds, often wild, for release as a form of prayer. These birds are best avoided.
Leftover or unexploded bombs and artillery shells are still a matter of some concern in areas such as the DMZ . All major tourist areas have been cleared of these dangers. Should you go off the beaten path and see anything that looks like a rocket or bomb, do not touch it. Walk away carefully and inform the authorities.
It is not at all unusual to see a foreign woman traveling alone. They may be stared at in some rural areas, more out of curiosity than hostility or preda tion. The Vietnamese are hospitable people, and female tourists can find themselves invited home to dinner or even a sleepover with the family. Avoid skimpy clothes as they may attract unwanted attention, especially in towns and cities.
Gay and Lesbian Travelers
Although homosexuality has never been illegal in Vietnam (in fact same-sex marriages were legalized in 2015), negative societal attitudes persisted until quite recently. However, the situation has improved dramatically over the last two decades. The influx of Western culture has led to a more tolerant attitude and Ho Chi Minh City now has a thriving gay scene. For more information, consult websites such as Utopia.
Public toilets are rare. Even in Ho Chi Minh City, only the central part of town has attended pay toilets, costing about US 10 cents. Hoi An has the largest number of public toilets per capita. Occasionally you will find squat toilets, often squalid, with little privacy. Bring your own toilet paper but don’t flush it or you will block the plumbing.