Tipping is not customary in Vietnam; however, it is becoming more common in HCMC, Hanoi and other cities frequented by tourists. Many upscale restaurants and hotels add a service charge to their bills, ranging from 5-10%. Unfortunately this money doesn’t always find it’s way to the service staff. Deciding whether to tip or not takes some sensitivity. The Vietnamese are a very proud people and a tip can easily offend the recipient; I’ve literally had tips returned!
Generally in HCMC, a tip of 5-10% of a restaurant bill is sufficient if the service is good. I usually just leave my change. In other cities, particularly at small, Vietnamese restaurants, tipping is not expected. Tipping taxi drivers is neither customary nor expected. (Although I’ve noticed some of these guys never seem to have any change!) Guides and drivers should be tipped at the end of your trip. Cigarettes, liquor, or a book are also appreciated. At hotels, I usually tip the bellman 5,000VND for carrying my bags. In small hotels, particularly for stays of more than a few days, it is appropriate to tip the maid and desk staff at the end of your stay, better yet, buy them a small gift!
In a country where most service people earn well under US $100/month, a few thousand Dong is enormously appreciated. But there are times when it can be taken the wrong way. At small hotels, the staff frequently goes out of their way to answer questions, reconfirm plane reservations, look up addresses and the like. You may even be invited to join the staff for a meal! This is a great honor and their way of saying they consider you a friend. Remember, friends don’t tip friends! A tip, no matter how well-intentioned ,will invariably be taken as an insult, or worse a proposition!
Your best bet in this situation is to buy small gifts for the staff, such as pens, writing paper or hair clips for women and cigarettes for men. If you must give money, give it to every member of the staff and only when you depart. Better yet, buy food during your stay and share with the staff. Fruit, pastry, even pizza are always a big hit. Remember, while these items are readily available to us, they are beyond the means of most Vietnamese