Being a tour guide and trip leader for the last 12 years, I see that one of the most confusing things for visitors to Vietnam is figuring out the tipping custom. Unlike the United States and other western countries where tips are expected, and considered as a part of the wages paid, in Vietnam, tip is not a part of the culture, wherever you drink or eat. However, in the past decade, it’s become common to leave a tip when you are pleased with the services provided, to leave extra after a drink or meal as a gesture of appreciation.
Of cause, tipping is not compulsory by law in Vietnam, but it’s greatly appreciated throughout the country (same to Laos, Cambodia and other Southeast Asian countries), especially in the service industry, and you should be prepared to tip your guides, drivers, porters, waiters and waitresses who directly assist you during your stay.
To save you the hassle of when and how much to tip attentive services along the way, here’s a guideline based on my experiences and observations traveling around Vietnam with travelers:
Hotel Porter & Concierge
For hotel porters, a tip of US$1 – $2 per bag is appreciated. If the bag is extra-heavy, then you can be a bit more generous.
In most 4 & 5-star hotels, there is a concierge to make you a restaurant reservation or help you book a local service such as a massage, there’s no need to give anything. But if your concierge goes out of their way to help you into hard-to-get places, or if you give them a list of places and services that you’d like them to book you at, it’s a nice gesture to give them something for their efforts, a small box of chocolates or a bottle of wine is always welcome and it’s a good way to show your appreciation.
Most of the time, even if you are part of a group tour which collected a nominal pre-determined amount from the beginning, tipping for housekeepers (and also your trip leader) at hotels are not included in that amount. Because there are different housekeepers cleaning your room each day, so you’re encouraged to leave a tip by yourself. The best practice is to leave US$1 per person per day on the pillow when you go out for touring, then the housekeepers clean the room and get your tip with appreciation.
Meal & Restaurant
In most local restaurants, including cafés, you can leave US$1 to US$2 for every US$20 bill. So if the check is $40, you can leave anywhere from $2-$4. At upscale restaurants, 5 to 10% service charges are sometimes added to the bill. But if it wasn’t, then a tip of between 5 to 10% on the total bill is fine to leave. Please think of it as a gesture, not an obligation. Once again, it’s not necessary but is appreciated for good service. And I think this equation works out just about right.
When you leave a tip for the server, don’t add it to your credit card slip as the money sometimes doesn’t find its way to the service staffs, leave the dollar bills on the tray where the check was presented, or please leave them on the table.
Coffee & Bar
If you have a drink at a local coffee shop or bar, though not necessary, you may wish to leave the change. If the bill is $2.70, you can leave $3 or more. Simply round it up the nearest whole figure if you wish.
Rickshaw/ Cyclo Driver & Taxi
It’s appropriate to tip a rickshaw/cyclo driver $2 per person per one-hour ride, it’s useful to have several dollar bill notes to hand for your convenience, alternatively an equivalent amount in Vietnamese dong will suffice.
Like restaurants, tipping a taxi driver isn’t necessary, but it’s very common to give a little extra, rounding up the fair to make it easier for them to give you the changes, or giving an extra dollar for exceptional services such as he quickly took actions to avoid the bad traffic. If coming from the airport and the driver helped you with luggage and the like, US$2 - $5 tip is fine to give him or her.
Massage Therapist & Hairdresser
Massages and spa services in Vietnam are said to be cheap comparing to the western countries, one of the reason is that the massage therapists’ wages are pretty low. Please give your masseuse or masseur between US$3 to $10 or more for each hour, and depending on your level satisfaction.
For hairdresser, if you happen to have your hair cut during your stay in Vietnam, an amount of between US$2 to $5 gratuity is a nice gesture to give directly to the person who cuts or washes your hair.
Tour Guide & Driver
As a guideline, if you are traveling alone I would recommend you to tip your guide between US$8 - $10 per day (either US dollars or Vietnamese dong works just fine), if traveling in a couple then allow US$15 - $20 per couple per day. When traveling in a group of three to four, then tip your guide in the region of $25 - $30 per group per day is appropriate. When traveling in groups larger than four, allow an increase roughly equating to 10% or more for each additional person in the group.
For your driver, please give him around half of the total tip given to your guide.
If your itinerary includes more specialized elements like driving for long hours, kayaking, hiking or biking then please increase these guidelines by 20% or more depending on your satisfaction level.
If you are traveling within one region for a period of time with your itinerary booked as one package, you are likely to have the same guide and driver for the whole time frame, then you should tip for all the services at the end of your stay, rather than on daily basis.
There you go, my fellow travelers, that’s Vietnam tipping customs. Hope this “tipping guideline” help you avoid being bothered of uncertain tipping and gives you an idea of how to make a graceful exit from wherever you are. As a Vietnamese trip leader, I live on my travelers’ tips, I do the job the best of my ability to make them happy, so they’ll give gratuity at the end, I don’t expect it though, as there are still some happy travelers leaving without tip.