Health + Safety
Food, Drink & Ice Cubes
The food and drink in Vietnam is fantastic, and it would be a great shame to miss out on some of the delicious treats available over fears of food poisioning. That being said, a few basic precautions won't hurt:
As a developing country Vietnam's water supply is in poor shape, and certainly not fit to drink, except in Dalat where fresh spring water is treated and delivered to the town. You should only drink filtered or boiled water while in the country to avoid infection.
However, unlike many developing countries ice is usually frozen at a central plant before being distributed to restaurants, bars and even street stands, and the water used is filtered and pure, meaning you can enjoy cold drinks and fruit juices without worrying about your health.
Santiation standards in Vietnam are better than in other developing countries in Asia, and food poisioning is far less common. The usual precautions are sensible - eat at busy restaurants (full of locals, not tourists!) as nobody likes getting sick and locals won't return to places that poison them, and if something looks like it poses a risk, don't eat it.
That being said, some of the best food in Vietnam can be bought from street stands, and unless it appears otherwise food from these stalls is normally fine to eat. Since the majority of Vietnamese people don't have refrigerators at home food is often bought fresh from markets shortly before cooking and serving, and some street vendors may buy fresh produce several times a day. This means the food you eat on the street can often be fresher than imported food served in posh hotels that could have sat around for months.
As any resident will tell you, Vietnam is an extremely safe country, particularly in regard to violent crime - muggings are practically unheard of and as a society that values tolerance over all, fights and threats of violence are incredibly rare.
That being said Vietnam is a developing country with high levels of poverty, so petty crime can be an issue, particularly in the larger cities. As with anywhere else, common sense applies - ensure your room is locked and if you have important valuables make sure you keep them safely. Don't walk around with your purse or wallet in your hand, or a handbag hanging off your arm. Likewise keep expensive gadgets out of sight - not just for fears of crime but out of respect for the people around you who cannot afford such luxuries. I will never forget seeing a backpacker sat on a plastic stool eating a $0.40 bowl of noodles while playing with his $400 PDA, it was not a pleasant sight.
In the big cities there have been cases of bag snatching by people on motorbikes, so when walking around make sure your backpack is on both shoulders or if you only have one strap, hang your bag diagonally across your body. Crime is still relatively rare and shouldn't be a worry during your trip to Vietnam, provided you use your common sense and take precautions when you go out.
Driving and Traffic
The roads in Vietnam are very dangerous, and the number of fatal accidents is staggering - 11,000 deaths a year or roughly 30 every day, according to the World Health Organisation. The driving style in Vietnam is very different to that of Europe or the USA and we do not recommend any short term travellers drive a vehicle in Vietnam as it is simply not possible to adapt to the intricacies of local driving techniques in a number of weeks.
Helmets are required by law and it would be very foolish indeed to travel without one - a large proportion of the deaths in Vietnam are from brain injuries due to riders either not wearing a helmet or not wearing it properly - for example by riding without the straps done up.
Pedestrians are reasonably safe but do be aware that motorbikes will mount the pavement should traffic be dense, and frequently travel the wrong way down a street, driving on both the left and right sides of the road, so please make sure you are looking around you as you walk the streets and before you cross the road.
Health care in Vietnam
There are a number of international standard hospitals in both Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, which are (sadly) very good at treating patients who have suffered from traffic accidents. Most doctors throughout Vietnam are well trained, with many having studied in France, but in the more rural areas an emergency room may be a good distance away so don't take unneccessary risks.
Nobody should travel to Vietnam without health insurance - health care, particularly emergency treatment, can be extremely expensive, and should you have a serious problem repatriation to your home country or medevac to hospitals in Singapore or Bangkok could run into tens of thousands of dollars.
Malaria has largely been eradicated in the cities and most coastal regions, but is a very serious disease. Ensure you check with a doctor whether the areas you are travelling to pose a malaria risk or not - in particular, the Mekong Delta, the Central and Northern highlands are all malarious regions. Likewise neighbouring countries such as Cambodia are also malarious regions so if you plan to travel across the region please ensure you take adequate precautions.
You should check with your doctor that your immunisations are up to date before you arrive in Vietnam.