Every country is different in its own way, but what makes Vietnam unique? I have been jotting down answers to this question since we arrived in Vietnam a month ago, and I am still adding to it daily. Some of these you may already know, but some not! This is what I have thus far, this is what makes Vietnam unique.:
- The way they drive and use the roads. Completely insane! So incredible in fact that I have a whole page dedicated to the unspoken rules for getting around in Vietnam.
Also read: Unspoken rules for getting around in Vietnam
- Vietnam has a large number of historic buildings, and not limited to temples. Hanoi’s French Quarter and Hoi An’s Old Town are two very good examples of that.
Most houses in Vietnam are tall and skinny, and just like it happened in Amsterdam, this is apparently as result of authorities levying taxes on the width of the houses. Some houses may be 4, 5 or even 6 stories high, but only 2-3 meters across.
- Women hardly ever wear skirts. It’s just impractical: riding motorbikes and bicycles , sitting on teeny-tiny chairs, squatting on their haunches is a favourite pose, and of course women are the real workers in Vietnam! Dresses and skirts would just get in the way
- The Vietnamese love to sit on tiny Lilliput-style chairs. The reasons quoted to us are because they take of less room (on the pavements!), can easily be moved when the police are out enforcing the ‘not on the pavements rule’, are light and can often be stacked. That is all fair and well, but you’ll notice some of the smaller variety of chairs in cafes and bars too – where there is no restriction!
- Vietnamese love their coffee, and as they grow it, it is cheaper to buy than neighbouring countries. Typical Vietnamese coffee is served very strong, and poured onto condensed milk over ice. I don’t like milky, sweet coffee, but this I like as it tastes more like a Frappacino than milky coffee. You can also have it black, with or without sugar, and of course without milk. My favourite is strong, black, bitter coffee over ice.
Also read: Weird Vietnamese street food in Hoi An
- Vietnamese high street coffee shops (like Highlands Coffee) are generally extremely noisy. It sounds like you’re sitting in the middle of a kiddies’ birthday party. But, there is a new generation of quiet cafes emerging. Think coffee shop, with the quiet of a spa or library. Reading, whispering and working is encouraged, but noise is taboo!
- Most papaya is eaten green, and used in salads. I have yet to find a ripe papaya here that can eat as a fruit!
- Avocado smoothies are awesome. I think the goodness may be cancelled out by the condensed milk they add, though! Vietnamese are also more likely to add sugar when eating an avocado, rather than a salty salad dressing or balsamic vinegar (or soya sauce).
- Whenever anything on a menu says cheese, assume it is Laughing Cow, unless it specifically says otherwise.
- Pavements are not really for walking on. They are to sit out on, park you motorbike or bicycle on, display your wares on, do any heavy cutting or welding on. Walking can be done in the street where you can compete with bikes, motorcycles, trucks, cars, buses and rickshaws!
- Tourist attractions and museums are often closed on Mondays, and they close for lunch from 11.30am to 2pm.
- Vietnamese love naps. It is not unusual to see people napping at lunch time. And they will nap wherever they are: at their desks, in their rickshaws, behind their market stalls, on a mat under a tree, in a hammock, in their car or even on their motorbike! But nap they do.
- People smoke everywhere, but luckily there are normally fans on, that help blow it away. Even where there are No Smoking signs, they are often ignored – especially by locals.
Also read: Getting to know the Vietnamese
- Don’t be alarmed by police raids, especially in Hanoi Old Town, where it is illegal to drink on the pavements. Cafe owners will suddenly move all chairs inside and shout “Police Police!“, but as soon as the police have passed, the chairs will go back, and you can drink in peace until the next police round.
- Halong Bay is more beautiful than you could ever imagine, but if you aren’t there on a sunny day, your photos will look rather drab!
- Vietnamese propaganda is alive and well. Visit the Maison Centrale Prison in Hanoi to experience this first hand.
- Streets are filled with motorbikes, but at least this means there are no traffic jams! It the Vietnamese all converted to cars, the roads would be more congested than Bangkok!
Also read: Hanoi to Hoi An by train
- A visit to the doctor in Vietnam is cheap, but don’t expect patient confidentiality! The consulting room is shared, so that multiple people can be can seen at once!
- Mobile phones are easy to use in Vietnam. Just ensure your phone is unlocked, buy a new sim card at the airport or any mobile phone shop. 200.000 VND ($8.80 / £6.60 / R115) buys a new Viettel sim card and about 7GB of data for a month. But English will be limited, so you may not always get what you’re expecting to get! At the airport, they have tourist deals that are more expensive, last 2 weeks and cannot be topped up.
- And if you’re looking for a mobile phone shop: they are generally painted yellow, and have big speakers blaring out 1980s pop music!
You can follow this blog from the altrinchamlivingandtravel.com homepage, if you want to receive similar updates on different cities and countries. And if you missed the updates, you can read them now:
- Bangkok observations and interesting facts
- Vietnam – first impressions
- Random Hong Kong facts
- Getting to know the Vietnamese
- Weird Vietnamese street food in Hoi An