Vietnam’s largest cities are an extremely popular destination for independent travel. But safety is always a concern when traveling solo, especially for women. In this post, we’ve rounded up some actionable safety tips for solo female travelers in Vietnam.
- Is Vietnam a Safe Country for Females?
- Theft and Other Crime
- Blending in as a Solo Female Traveler
- Getting Around Safely in Vietnam’s Cities
- Finding Safe Accommodation in Vietnam’s Cities
- To Sum Up
There’s a ton for solo female travelers to do in Vietnam’s big cities. Learn to be safe in the process. (Source: Jetstar)
Several Vietnamese women were interviewed for this piece, and they all agreed: Vietnam is not a particularly dangerous country, even for solo female travelers. In fact, most big cities in the world, including those in Western countries, are more dangerous for women than Vietnamese urban centers. Part of this is due to the fact that Vietnamese generally do not have a heavily patriarchal view of society as much of the world unfortunately does.
Many Westerners have a negative perception of how women are treated in Vietnam. They have seen war movies or documentaries about expectant Asian parents praying for male children that might lead them to believe women have it rough in this part of the world. But the reality of women’s status in Vietnam could not be more different. In fact, women are extremely empowered in Vietnam. They are the cornerstones of productivity, and it is just as likely (if not more so) to see a business run by a woman as a man. The bottom line is that women here face little if any discrimination based on their gender, which means solo female travelers are rarely seen as possible targets of crime.
That being said, domestic violence is still quite common here. Angry men tend to throw chairs, bottles, and fists, but rarely at people they are not well acquainted with. Of course, there is the rare exception; some men will take advantage of certain women no matter where you are in the world. The best strategy is to blend in (see the “blending in” section below).
Good news: the violent crime rates in Vietnam, whether against men or women, are far lower than in most large cities elsewhere. This can be attributed in part to the fact that guns are illegal (a ban that has, by and large, seemed to work), but also because the Vietnamese are just a non-confrontational people. Unfortunately, the same does not apply to non-violent crimes.
Pickpockets and other thieves are comparatively common, especially in the city’s most touristy areas. Solo female travelers are perhaps the most common victim of crimes such as purse-snatching because they are often the most trusting.
“One way to stay safe in Vietnamese cities is not to trust people too fast,” says Lâm Phạm Trâm Anh, a 30-year-old Vietnamese woman. “Vietnamese people tend to be very friendly towards tourists,” Trâm Anh adds.
“It is easy to be lulled into a sense of security that thieves will take advantage of.”
Trâm Anh also points out that you should avoid wearing gold jewelry on the streets or bringing too much cash around with you. That way, you can minimize the damage if something bad does happen.
Another interviewee, 27-year-old Trần Thiên Kim, notes that a little vigilance and common sense can go a long way for female travelers. For example, “never use your phone when you’re standing by the street. If you have to, look around first and remember to hold it tightly in your hand.”
22-year old Lê Khánh Vy adds that you should abide by the safety rules solo females stick to in any city. For instance, don’t hang around late at night–Vy cited midnight as a good cutoff point for Vietnam’s big cities. Stay out of dark alleyways, a tip especially pertinent to travelers in Vietnam because the country has a ton of alleys (called ngõ or hẻm in Northern and Southern Vietnam) in its urban areas. Vy advises solo women travelers especially to bring a compact self-defense weapon with them… just in case.
Our interviewees agreed the best method of all for solo female travelers to avoid trouble is to blend in. Here are some Vietnam-specific tips for doing just that.
Clothing – Although traveling by yourself is not inherently dangerous, it is common for female travelers to be less covered up, due to the heat. Keep in mind to dress down respectfully, though; low-cut shirts are not a good idea in Vietnam.
Vietnam is by no means a place where women have to be covered from head to toe. In fact, local women can be quite stylish!
However, local residents are usually not skimpily dressed and travelers should follow suit. As we said earlier, aggression or assault from men is not common here and we are not implying that a woman’s clothing choices should provoke any ill behavior. But making smart clothing choices is the easiest way to not attract unwanted attention.
Additionally, women should be particularly respectful with clothing choices when visiting a pagoda or temple. At these places of worship, short shorts, tiny skirts, low cut tops or bare shoulders are not considered appropriate attire.
Personal belongings – We have said this before in this blog and here we reiterate. In order to stay safe and avoid scams, please be careful with your purses, phones, and jewelry. Thieves will go to great lengths to snatch purses or other valuable items. We have read all too many stories where thieves on motorcycles have tried to grab a woman’s purse and dragged the poor woman until the purse was freed from her.
If a situation such as this arises and the perpetrator is stronger than you, the last thing you want is to be physically hurt.
PDA (public displays of affection) – Vietnam is a rapidly developing country and western trends are quickly influencing both pop culture and everyday culture. Many couples are seen holding hands and being affectionate. Although holding hands is fine, other public displays of affection are not deemed respectful. It is not advisable to kiss excessively in public.
Personal Questions – In Vietnam, it is quite common to ask about the marital status of a woman. There is also a fair chance that some lifestyle choices may not be fully understood or supported. Many women travelers have reported that they wore a wedding band or said that they were married simply to avoid these questions.
The locals’ exposure to tourists has grown substantially over the past few years but it is possible that you will encounter some people who do not agree or understand why a woman is unmarried past a certain age or is in a common law relationship.
Another question you may encounter often is about your age. It is very common to establish your age in comparison to the person asking because it denotes how they address you in the Vietnamese language. For a westerner, this notion can be a bit strange because one never asks a woman’s age unless you’ve reached a certain comfort level! Though these questions may come across as offensive, it is not the intention, notes Vy.
“In Vietnamese culture, expressing interest in details of another’s life is seen as friendly, even if you are not close already. It’s definitely a cultural difference.”
Other common personal questions include:
- What is your monthly salary?
- How many people live in your family?
- How many kids do you have?
- Where are you staying?
Don’t let these questions worry you. They are normal things to ask in Vietnamese culture. Answering them in detail is a good way to become friends with locals. Of course, you are free to ignore them or simply make up a fantasy narrative for your own life instead.
Ride-hailing apps have changed taxi services in most places the world over, and Vietnam is no exception. Grab Bike and Grab Car have replaced the motorbike taxis known as “xe om” and traditional cabs as the safest, cheapest, and most reliable ways for tourists to get around. Trần Tiên Kim recommends all tourists, whether solo female travelers or not, to get a 4G-enabled SIM card when they arrive in Vietnam just for this reason. The Grab app is easy to navigate, even for English speakers. There are also several other apps that include reliable car and bike-hailing services, such as Be and GoViet.
If you find yourself in a situation where you cannot use a ride-hailing app, you’ll have to go with one of the old-fashioned options. You can identify xe om drivers because they tend to be parked on corners. Look for the bikes with two helmets, and ask the driver “xe ôm?”
If you’d rather take a taxi, make sure you catch one of the cars from a reliable brand. In Saigon, the safe ones are “Mailinh” and “Vinasun.” In Hanoi, stick to “Mailinh” and “Thanh Cong.”
Traveling alone as a woman in Vietnam is fairly common at all ages so a foreign woman will not raise any eyebrows for simply being a solo female traveler. Some women may have a difficult time getting on a bike with a stranger, but the bike-hailing apps in Vietnam are very safe. Just remember to check the license plate of your driver against the one shown in the app before you get on the bike.
“Xe ôm” translates literally to “hug machine.” Like xe oms themselves, though, hugging your motorbike driver is rarely seen anymore. Although it is acceptable for women to put their hands around their driver’s waist, it is more common for people to hold onto the rail sticking out from behind the seat if they want something to hold onto.
At night, however, we highly advise women to take cars rather than bikes to get around. Even local women take this advice. Bikes are more exposed than cars, and a female on a bike at night is an enticing target for a potential purse-snatching. An added reason is that drinking and driving is becoming an increasing concern in Vietnam, and it is more likely that drivers behind the wheel of a car (which is much more expensive than a motorbike) will drive responsibly.
That being said, the transportation provided in organized tours like The Foodie by XO or any of the tours included in our round-up of the best city tours in Vietnam is always 100% safe, no matter what time it is. It is for this reason many solo female travelers opt for tours to explore Vietnam’s big cities by night.
Agoda and Airbnb are the safest and most reliable choices for finding safe accommodation. Agoda is extremely trustworthy and convenient, but its listings are often a bit more sterile and “touristy.” Airbnb provides more authentic, friendly accommodations, but it is a bit more of a gamble in terms of quality than a hotel site like Agoda. Both options are safe and can be extremely affordable.
Most of the 1-3 star hotels in Vietnam are not listed online and can only be booked in person. Unfortunately, this kind of last-minute booking is not a good idea for tourists, especially solo female travelers. This is because staying somewhere without any online record of checking into that place leaves you vulnerable to theft by the hotel staff. Foreigners, especially those staying alone, are a prime target for this kind of scam. I have lived in Vietnam for five years, in fact, and the only time I have been the victim of a crime was when I had several hundred dollars stolen from the hotel room I had booked on arrival in a new city.
Here are a few safety tips for solo female travelers in Vietnam sourced from our lovely interviewees. Some of them are mentioned elsewhere in this post and some are not.
- Try to avoid using your phone near the street or in crowded areas. If you must, face away from walkways when you use it and remain wary of your surroundings.
- Try to only carry with you the amount of cash you think you’ll need.
- Don’t be too trusting. Like in most touristic areas, some people in central Saigon will try and use friendliness to take advantage.
- If possible, research a destination before traveling there.
- Befriend some English-speaking Vietnamese in case you need their help in an emergency.
- Don’t go into dark alleys at night.
- Always keep your valuables in your pockets/bag while you are walking.
Even with this inconvenience, Vietnam is a relatively safe country for solo female travelers. Still, it is important to keep your wits about you, and it would behoove anyone coming to Vietnam to familiarize themselves with the safety protocol beforehand. Check out our posts on avoiding scams in Northern and Southern Vietnam, or peruse our piece on eating and drinking safely.