How to ask for directions as a tourist in Vietnam

How to Ask “Where is?” in Vietnamese

As a traveller and/or expat in Vietnam, you’ll spend a lot of time trying to navigate the byzantine alleyways and neighbourhoods of old town-centres and rural getaways. Based on our experience, Google Maps will only be reliable in big cities. Therefore, take some time to learn how to ask where and which direction and the common direction responses…

  • Where? – ở đâu? (like uh dough? with heavy emphasis on the d-sound
  • Which direction? – Hướng nào? (like hew-ung? nao with a down-tone LINK)

To use them as a full question, like “Where is the toilet?”, you place ở đâu after the noun: “Nhà vệ sinh ở đâu?“, which is an opposite word-ordering compared to English. Whereas most Vietnamese question-words are placed at the end of a sentence to form a question, when you ask “Which direction to…” or “Which way to…”, then Hướng nào… is placed at the start of a sentence. Here are examples of “where is …” and “which way to…?” questions in Vietnamese for tourists:

  • Where is the toilet/restroom? – Nhà vệ sinh ở đâu?
  • Where is the market? – Chợ ở đâu?
  • Where is my motor bike? – Xe máy của tôi ở đâu?
  • Where is the bus stop? – Trạm xe buýt ở đâu?
  • Which direction to the Old Quarter? – Hướng nào đến khu phố cổ?
  • Which direction to the beach? – Hướng nào đến bãi biển?
  • Which direction to the bridge? – Hướng nào đến cây cầu?

Common Responses to “Where is?” Questions for Tourists in Vietnam

  • Over there – Ở bên kia (pronounced like uh ben kee-uh)
  • To the left – Ở bên trái (pronounced like uh ben chai?)
  • To the right – Ở bên phải (pronounced like uh ben fai)
  • Straight ahead – Ở phía trước (pronounnced like uh fia? choo-uc?)
  • Close by / right here – Gần đây (pronounced like gan with a deep drawl)
  • Further ahead / a little ways further – Xa hơn nữa (pronounnced like sa hum nua with a French “ur” on nữa)
  • Opposite – Đối diện (pronounnced like doi zien!)
  • Go back – Phía sau (fia? sao)
  • Around the corner – Ở ngay đây (uh nyay day)
  • I don’t know – Tôi không biết (pronounced like toy hom bee-et)

Tip: Likely, you won’t be fluent enough to understand every possible complex-answer to a “where” question. Therefore, it is often most effective to get Vietnamese people to point to things on Google-maps (everyone in Vietnam has a smart-phone; in fact, Vietnam is one of the largest countries of cell-phone manufacturing). So, learn how to ask…

Where is it on a map? – Đây là đâu trên bản đồ?

Left and Right in Vietnamese – Trái vs Phải

I have a lot of problems remembering left (trái) vs right (phải) in Vietnamese. The problem is, when you need them most, you don’t have to time to think about them carefully, so study them beforehand…

  • Turn left! – Rẽ trái! (pronounced like zay chai? with an up-tone)
  • Turn right! – Rẽ phải! (pronounced like zay fai with a weird tone)

How to remember? Here are some goofy mneumonics that may help you remember left vs right in Vietnamese:

  • trái/left sounds like tea (chai) and I drink tea with my left-hand so I can write with my right-hand.
  • phải/right sounds like fee-fi-foo-thumb. I do thumbs-up with my right-hand.
  • trái/left has an up-tone (á), and when you order tea you ask for it like a question (chai?) with a pitch-inflection like the up-tone; whereas phải/right has no English equivalent so it gets the weirdest tone of all: the tone.

If you have a better way of remembering trái vs phải, please let us know in the comments section! We’d love to hear it.

Cardinal Directions in Vietnamese – North, South, East, West

Vietnamese people are notorious bad at (or reluctant to) give directions according to the cardinal directions: north, south, east, west. For example, if someone in Hanoi asked, “where is the city of Hải Phòng?”, a Canadian would likely answer using cardinal directions like “It is 120km east on Highway CT04″. Instead, a Vietnamese may answer something like “go left or right…” or something like “go through Hải Dương province on CT04” … everything except east.

So, there is little point in learning answers to direction-questions like north” or “three blocks east. Nonetheless, we include them here for completeness:

  • One block North – Một dãy nhà về phía bắc
  • Two blocks South – Hai dãy nhà về phía nam
  • Two blocks West – Hai dãy nhà phía tây
  • Three blocks East – Ba dãy nhà phía đông

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  1. born in a vietnamese family, yet i still have trouble. another good way i just thought of is saying phai đúng, as in “must be right”, either right/correct but using that u can remember that phai is right

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