The police have imposed midnight closing on bars and clubs for several years now, mainly because of drugs, but also to curb general rowdiness, although you’ll always find the occasional bar that somehow manages to keep serving, particularly around De Tham in Ho Chi Minh City. That apart, the campaign against social evils should have little effect on most foreign tourists.
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“Social evils” and serious crime
Since liberalization and doi moi, Vietnamese society has seen an increase in prostitution, drugs – including hard drugs – and more serious crimes. These so-called “social evils” are viewed as a direct consequence of reduced controls on society and ensuing Westernization. The police have imposed midnight closing on bars and clubs for several years now, mainly because of drugs, but also to curb general rowdiness, although you’ll always find the occasional bar that somehow manages to keep serving, particularly around De Tham in Ho Chi Minh City. That apart, the campaign against social evils should have little effect on most foreign tourists.
Single Western males tend to get solicited by prostitutes in cheap provincial and seaside hotels, though more commonly by women cruising on motorbikes. Quite apart from any higher moral considerations, bear in mind that AIDS is a serious problem in Vietnam, though the epidemic has shown signs of stabilizing.
Finally, having anything to do with drugs in Vietnam is extremely unwise. At night there’s a fair amount of drug selling on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Nha Trang and even Sa Pa, and it’s not unknown for dealers to turn buyers in to the police. Fines and jail sentences are imposed for lesser offences, while the death penalty is regularly imposed for possessing, trading or smuggling larger quantities.
Military and political hazards
Not surprisingly, the Vietnamese authorities are sensitive about military installations and strategic areas – including border regions, military camps (of which there are many), bridges, airports, naval dockyards and even train stations. Anyone taking photographs in the vicinity of such sites risks having the memory card removed from their camera or being fined.
Unexploded ordnance from past conflicts still poses a threat in some areas: the problem is most acute in the Demilitarized Zone, where each year a number of local farmers, scrap-metal scavengers or children are killed or injured. Wherever you are, stick to well-trodden paths and never touch any shells or half-buried chunks of metal.
Beggars, hassle and scams
Given the number of disabled, war-wounded and unemployed in Vietnam, there are surprisingly few beggars around. Most people are actually trying hard to earn a living somehow, and many day-tours include a visit to a factory that employs disabled workers to produce handicrafts or local products.
At many tourist spots, you may well be swamped by a gaggle of children or teenagers selling cold drinks, fruit and chewing gum. Although they can sometimes be a bit overwhelming, as often as not they’re just out to practise their English and be entertained for a while. They may even turn out to be excellent guides, in which case it’s only fair that you buy something from them in return.
A common scam among taxi drivers is to tell new arrivals in a town that the hotel they ask for is closed or has moved or changed its name. Instead, they head for a hotel that pays them commission. This may work out fine (new hotels often use this method to become known), but more often than not it’s a substandard hotel and you will in any case pay over the odds since the room rate will include the driver’s commission. To avoid being ripped off, always insist on being taken to the exact address of your chosen hotel, at least just to check the story.
Another common complaint is that organized tours don’t live up to what was promised. There are more people on the tour than stated, for example, or the room doesn’t have air-conditioning, or the guide’s English is limited. If it’s a group tour and you’ve paid up front, unfortunately there’s very little you can do beyond complaining to the agent on your return; you may be lucky and get some form of compensation, but it’s very unlikely. As always, you tend to get what you pay for, so avoid signing up for dirt-cheap tours.
Vietnam is generally a safe country for women to travel around alone. Most Vietnamese will simply be curious as to why you are on your own and the chances of encountering any threatening behaviour are extremely rare. That said, it pays to take the normal precautions, especially late at night when there are few people on the streets and you should avoid taking a cyclo by yourself; use a taxi instead – metered taxis are generally considered safest.
Most Vietnamese women dress modestly, keeping covered from top to toe, unless their profession requires them to show off their assets. It helps to dress modestly too and to avoid wearing skimpy shorts and vests, which are considered by some men an invitation to paid sex. Topless sunbathing, even beside a hotel pool, is a complete no-no.
See more: Tips for visiting Sa pa Vietnam in this winter