How safe is Vietnam? I get this question all of the time, especially from family back home. It amuses me that my family and friends in South Africa are concerned about Asia's safety, when they literally live in one of the most dangerous (but beautiful!) places in the world. It only occurred to me how not-normal my concern for safety was once I left my own country. Like with any question or experience, everything is relative. Based on my previous life experience and growing up in Africa, I definitely feel at ease and safe living in Vietnam as a solo female.
Let's put it this way, I don't wake up in the middle of the night wondering if someone is trying to get into the house like I used to back home. I don't walk around my house checking every lock, key and bolt before going to sleep. Heck, I often forget to lock the door at all without a worry. To me, the worst thing that's going to happen here in Vietnam is someone could steal my stuff. And that in South Africa, is considered getting away lucky! Like I said, it's all about perspective. Here's what you need to know about safety in Vietnam:
1. The Roads and Driving
The driving and traffic situation is probably going to be your biggest concern, but you get used to it pretty quickly. I personally don't drive a scooter and manage fine on a bicycle because I don't live in a major city. I'm not sure if this would work in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh because there is just so many people, and a lot more vehicles on the road. The rule I tend to follow is: look in front of you and worry about that. I think this is what everyone else tends to do as well, so just focus on whatever's happening directly in front of you. If someone seems to be driving on the wrong side of the road, go around them. Simple.
Acting confident also seems to help and I feel like most of the accidents happen because people are hesitant and are not keeping within the flow of everything else. So if you decide to turn, turn.
Be sensible. Wear a helmet and if you've never gotten onto a motorcycle, learn how to drive before attempting driving in Vietnam.
The water in Vietnam is not safe to drink and you'll have to purchase big bottles of the purified version. I brush my teeth with the tap water and wash my fruit and vegetables with it, and I've survived. I'll also drink at restaurants and who knows what the condition of the water used for the ice is like, but 9 months on and I'm still alive. When eating out rarely get sick but you can expect to have the odd stomach problem.
You'll need to watch out for things like malaria and dengue fever in certain areas too, but I don't think taking drugs or vaccinations are necessary. I've lived in high-risk areas over the last few years and I've been fine. Seek medical attention when you're concerned and be sure to have travel insurance to cover any unwanted expenses if something were to happen.
3. Petty Crime
This is what you can expect. I'll usually lock up my bicycle when at a restaurant I'm not all that familiar with, and I'll be sensible with my belongings. I live in a small town so there is less to worry about, and theft will naturally be higher in the bigger cities. Remember, that in most parts of the world foreigners are seen as having a lot of money so we easily become targets for petty crime. Practice the usual: Not flashing money or expensive items.
4. Travelling as a Solo Female
I'll admit I get a lot of unwanted attention. I like to think it comes from a good place and that I just stand out so much in my area because I'm a foreigner. I've learned to keep a balance between interacting with locals and keeping my distance, because at times my friendliness can be mistaken for permission to take a pass at me. I'll generally say hello if passing by someone who chooses to greet me but tend to avoid interacting with large groups of me. Also, if I feel uneasy about a situation then I choose to ignore and quickly move on from the group.
I haven't had any bad experiences living and traveling in Vietnam solo beside the occasional cat-calling and constant attempts to interact even when I am clearly not interested.