You are going to get a chance to take Vietnam homestays. Though most of the houses are rented out to our travelers for years, you should be mindful of the fact that this is more of a home than a hotel. In Vietnam, small neighborhoods tend to be closely-knit and people know each other well. They socialize often and keep watch of the streets and each other’s property. This gives additional security but also means that people notice what you do and how you act. Always remember to follow local norms of decency and respect in and around your houses. Making noise late at night and being visibly drunk on your way home are heavily frowned upon and can cause embarrassment to your host family without you being aware of the fact. It is OK to have fun but please be aware that the social norms in Vietnamese society are different than back home, particularly when it comes to students. When in doubt, you can always consult us.
Importantly, when you want to have a small party at your house, you should always tell our hosts because the local police needs to be notified of foreigners staying at someone’s home after dark. This rule applies to your homestays as much as it does to local homes.
In the Field
One general rule: Dress appropriately in order to not cause offence to the locals!! Foreigners are guests and must behave thereafter. This is a very important point to remember. By dressing appropriately we can send out these signals to the local community as well.
Vietnamese have conservative dress codes and it is only in larger cities that these codes are relaxed. Due to the heavy flow of tourism in main places, many of the citizens are probably used to see foreigners in revealing western clothes.
It is also expected of you that you remove your shoes when entering someone’s house at the front door and when entering pagodas and temples. When visiting pagodas and temples it’s also good manners to leave a small amount of money on the altar or in the collecting box.
Many Vietnamese girls go swimming with their clothes on. Topless swimming is therefore definitely inappropriate!
Doing field work
There are a number of rules of conduct when doing fieldwork. In Vietnam, research on ethnic minorities is especially sensitive and most often subject to the researchers having proper permissions. Spending the night at a Vietnamese family’s house is also subject to special permissions. If you don’t have this, the Vietnamese family can get into trouble. How to conduct fieldwork, research ethics and/or contact us.
Bargaining is a very common way to establish a price in Vietnam, whether it is for a mango or a hair band. The exception is meals as restaurants, items in shopping malls, super markets have set prices. In our experience, the bargaining and first price offered for items are more fair than say in Thailand or Bali where the starting price is often 100-times the actual price. In some tourist places however, the fixed price system is becoming increasingly common.
Small shopkeepers and restaurateurs will often charge you the local rate so try not to worry too much about this. Remember, if you are being over-charged it is likely to not be more than a few dollars. This is an important perspective to keep. If you return to the same shop a few times, the owner will know we are staying a long time and will probably offer you very reasonable prices.
As always, when bargaining it helps if you know some Vietnamese numbers and have a general idea of the going rate for the item. Otherwise, the trick is to remain friendly and be realistic. If you manage to reduce the price by 40%, you’re doing very well. In most cases it’ll be more like 10-20%. A common trick is to start moving away if you’re on the verge of agreement. But don’t bargain just for the sake of it - if your price is agreed, then you are honor bound to purchase. And always keep a sense of perspective: don’t waste time and energy haggling over what only amounts to a few cents.
Taking pictures and filming
Always ask permission before taking someone’s photograph. If they indicate that they do not want you to, then abide to their wishes. Please do not push the issue or offer money. Also do not photograph military installations or anything else concerning the military. This can be seen as a breach of national security. If you travel to areas with ethnic minorities (especially the Central Highlands or the mountainous areas north of Hanoi, e.g. Sapa) also be sensitive when taking pictures of the people. Many of the ethnic groups believe you take their spirits away when photographing.
Partying and going out at night
Although Vietnam is a safe city compared to Asian standards, you should always make precautions when going out after dark. Girls should never go out alone, and anyone going out should tag up with at least one other student.
You will quickly realize that the culinary traditions in Vietnam are outstanding. On a general basis, the food is healthy, fresh and not as spicy as in e.g. Thailand. Don’t hesitate to try new dishes. You are most likely to be pleasantly surprised! Make sure you wash your hands well before each meal and that you don’t drink tap water. Often a bowl of sliced limes will appear on your table as soon as you have ordered a meal. These are used as a sanitizer for your chopsticks. Rub the lime against your chopsticks before eating and you can be sure the chopsticks will be clean!
Food poisoning and other illnesses due to poor food hygiene (at least compared to other developing countries) are not very common in Vietnam, but it can of course happen.