How to pack for Vietnam and look like a local: Vietnam essentials!

So you're going to Vietnam on holiday. Nice choice! It's hard to know what to bring to Vietnam if you haven't been before, so here are our recommendations on what to pack for Vietnam to help you blend in. We have spent most of our time in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), so keep that in mind.

What's local Vietnamese fashion like? Do people wear flip flops in Vietnam? Can women wear tank tops in Vietnam? Were you planning on packing pajamas? Read on below in our Vietnam packing list essentials that will make you blend in so seamlessly that no one will notice your fanny pack and dumb foreigner grin!

*Note that this is NOT a cohesive packing list. You can check out our packing lists for ultralight travelers here (men and women).

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Twinning with my Vietnamese BFF!

What to buy before you go to Vietnam... or things to bring from home if you have them:

1. Candy.

You will inevitably meet adorable children and incredibly friendly adults during your trip to Vietnam. A fun thing to bring is your country's famous candy -- I like the idea of Starburst or Root Beer Barrels. You can give them away to kids and adults alike, plus have some fun gifts if you're invited to someone's home. Remember that chocolate will always be melty in the hot climate of Vietnam, so bring at your own risk, and pick a chocolate that still tastes good in liquid form. Just don't bring Chupa Chups -- as heavenly as they are, they are ubiquitous around the world and not all that special.

So good though.

2. Flip-flops or other slip-on sandals.

Are they good for your feet? No! Do they protect your toes while on the back of a motorbike? Of course not! 

Are they what local people wear? Always. If you don't already have a pair you like, I recommend buying some Rainbows because they are actually OK for your back if you're walking all day. If you're less sensitive to back or hip or knee pain/don't care about having nice flip-flops, pick some up on the Saigon streets -- just make sure to try and barter. Oh, you can also just bring your house slippers if you want. They are acceptable as public footwear.

Rainbows are the best flip-flops for walking around all day.

3. Compression socks.

I know what you're thinking: "You just told me to bring flip-flops! Why do I need compression socks?!" Well, sorry to break it to you, but if you want to blend in you might want to wear those compression socks with flip-flops. They'll keep the sun and the muck off of your feet. At least, I assume that's why I see women everywhere wearing them under their flip-flops... it can't just be for style, right? Seriously, the "nude" color ones look like your wax skin is melting off of your body under your sandals... gross.

To be fair, this mostly applies to women -- but men should buy them, too, because they're great on long flights. Plus, as mentioned above, they're ultra sexy!

A sexy three-legged lady

4. Pajamas!

Not just any pajamas - specifically top/bottom matching combo of a shirt with pants or capris. You can wear them in public, which is awesome. This may be my favorite thing about Vietnam -- seeing women on the back of a motorbike wearing silky pajamas like this amazing set with a Hello Kitty print, holding on to a man in a full suit. Where are they going?

I'm not sure if Vietnamese people consider these to be pajamas or regular clothes, but who cares?! Bring your fave sassy jammies with you and strut around town in style (and comfort) (like a grown baby).

Shorts pajamas spotted in the wild on a motorbike

5. Basic Vietnamese phrasebook.

Normally I'm the kind of person that says, "Just Google it! Google translate is great!" In Vietnam, Google translate is terrible.

Buy a pocket phrasebook, like this one from Collins. Practice your pronunciation with YouTube videos. You could even take online classes like italki and be super prepared! It's fun to try and people will really appreciate it. If you're struggling with pronunciation, just show them your phrasebook. Trust me, it's better than the gibberish that Google Translate spits out. I thought I ordered "beef rattles" but it turns out it's just a delicious and normal French-inspired dish. Silly Google!

This one looks pretty solid and cheap.

6. A lightweight hoodie.

Yes, it's hot in Vietnam. The hoodie is for riding a scooter. Not only can it be a bit chilly at night with the breeze, but it's also filthy when you're driving around in traffic. Vietnamese people have a scooter jacket that they throw on to protect them from the elements (and exhaust), so it's a good idea to bring one if you have one you like. Better yet pick one up that's in a print that's guaranteed to match NOTHING else that you brought. Go Vietnamese! Live a little!

Seriously, click on this picture and look at all of the patterns. Try not to buy one.

7. Sunscreen.

Always wear sunscreen. Always buy it before you get to countries where people don't wear it -- it will only be more expensive and your options will be limited. I LOVE Sunbum Signature sunscreen and think everyone should buy some. It doesn't make me break out, it's compact, and ultra strong.

And don't forget...

Bring your FUCK LIFE hat if you have it. Otherwise, apparently you can get one here!


What to buy when you get to Vietnam:

OK, so your scooter outfit so far consists of pajamas, a lightweight hoodie, compression socks, and flip-flops. You look great. Now here's what you need to finish it off:

1. Lightweight gloves.

Like the hoodie, lightweight gloves are meant to protect your hands from the nasty elements and pollution. I'm guessing you don't already own these, because they're a weird thing to own. You can get them in Vietnam.

Or, you can use this trip as an excuse to buy amazing driving gloves:

You would be widely admired in these gloves, regardless f your nationality

2. A cutesy face mask that doesn't really do anything.

Vietnamese people wear these cute face masks to protect against pollution. They absolutely do not keep exhaust out of your lungs, so don't bother getting nicer ones. They do, however, make it a lot easier to blend into the crowds... and keep visible dirt off of your face.

Bonus? No one can see your dumb foreign face if you cover it in an anime mask! Oh, and they're super cute!

Hannibal Lecter's second-cousin, twice removed

3. A scooter skirt (for the ladies).

These things are ingenious. They're basically a big thick fabric skirt, often with an elastic waist, that you Velcro on over your clothes. Combined with your hoodie, compression socks, gloves, and face mask, this basically covers your regular clothes and body from all of the nasty street gunk and exhaust and dirt. Amazing. They'll have you lookin goooooood.

Click to enlarge picture... and spot 'em all!

4. Nikes.

At least, if you wear them. They're cheaper here, so don't buy any before you go to Vietnam.

Don't want to buy anything before you go but still want to look less like a confused tourist? Here are four easy ways to blend in:

1. Grab a spot at a streetside café and get comfortable.

You can drink a coffee and lovely free iced tea for hours and no one will care. Observe your neighborhood, take notes, and feel a lot less stupid when you get up and re-enter the world.

2. Never eat while standing.

It's weird and people don't do it. You're welcome to bring food into cafes so just pick up some street food and bring it to a cafe. See point 1 above.

Streetside banh mi that we brought to our favorite cafe

3. Walk slowly.

Where are you running? Enjoy yourself and look around! Or, go local and curl up on your parked motorbike and take a midday nap!

In Vietnam, you'll fare better if you're observant, and keep a steady pace -- the world will move around you.

4. Stay out of the way of motorbikes.

OK, you can look around, but don't spread out on the sidewalk or check your phone on a busy corner. Literally everywhere is for motorbikes -- restaurants, sidewalks, dusty construction sites, and roads -- going either direction on either side.

And there you have it! Everything you need to bring to Vietnam to blend like a local. Now go out there and eat some bullfrogs and don't forget to yell, "EO!" when you cheers and finish off your bia Saigon!

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