Despite its recent history, living in modern-day Vietnam is safe and fun. I’ve had to shake my head when people have asked me over the years whether there is still a war being fought here; that war officially ended over 40 years ago and Vietnam has moved forward.
In today’s Vietnam, violent crime is rare and the greatest risks are being overcharged by a taxi driver or street vendor, being involved in motor vehicle accidents or crossing a busy road.
Crossing the street is not a life-endangering act, but you need to know how to do it. Cars and motorbikes don’t yield to pedestrians, but they do adjust to their presence and make every attempt to avoid hitting them. Here’s the secret: once you begin crossing the street, don’t stop and think about it; keep a steady, slow and predictable pace and watch the traffic flow around you. If you can’t bring yourself to take that first step, there’s safety and comfort in numbers: wait until there are others ready to cross and join the group. I’ve been a frequent visitor to Vietnam since 2005 and have lived here full-time for more than seven years, crossed countless streets and have never been hit by a vehicle.
Driving in Vietnam has its risks, especially on the busy highways. Traffic is chaotic in the cities, but if you take the time to learn the rules of the road—and they do exist—you’re unlikely to be involved in more than the rare low-speed fender-bender. I generally avoid driving on high-speed highways; motorbikes are often restricted from highway access or delegated to driving on the verge.
Snatch thefts occur occasionally in Ho Chi Minh City, but are rare elsewhere in Vietnam. Use common sense. Be aware of your surroundings, keep your backpack or purse secure, don’t stand near the street while using your mobile phone and don’t count your money in public. If you plan to drink until the wee hours, take a reputable taxi home.
Burglaries and other crimes of opportunity can occur anywhere but are more common in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. Lock your doors and don’t leave valuables lying out in the open unattended. I know a lady who left her purse hanging on her motorbike as she went into a store; not surprisingly, it was gone when she came out. These types of crimes are rare and being aware of your belongings and your surroundings is all that is needed to avoid being a victim.
Vietnam is not prone to earthquakes, volcanoes or wildfires, though heavy monsoonal rains and typhoons can affect low-lying areas. Cities where expats are likely to live have adequate infrastructure to prevent disastrous flooding, but road closures, downed trees and electric lines aren’t uncommon when heavy storms occur. Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City frequently experience flooding that can take several days to resolve. In these areas, it’s best to consider less flood-prone locations when choosing a place to live.
Vietnam has an outdated reputation for scams–they happen less frequently now than a decade ago. Unscrupulous taxi drivers are the most common culprits, but ride apps like Grab Taxi have all but eliminated that risk. Reputable taxi companies include Vinasun, Mai Linh and Hanoi Taxi Group.
Unless you know where you’re going and how to get there, it’s best to avoid the smaller, less established taxis. If you want to take a ride in a cyclo (a three-wheeled bicycle taxi) or motorbike taxi, be sure to agree on the price before starting your trip.
Always agree on a price before purchasing anything from a street vendor; having your picture taken with a vendor’s basket of pineapples balanced on your shoulder or getting a shoeshine should never cost more than a dollar or two.