If my first impression of Vietnam was an assault to the senses, the next was a slow burn of charm, enchantment and delight. As time goes by, and I am getting to know the real Vietnam, I am loving it! Don’t get me wrong, there are still a few experiences which irritate and annoy me, but they are by far outweighed by the multiple positive ones.
The Vietnamese charm
When I arrived, my ‘scam-alert’ was set to so high, I was afraid and reluctant to speak to anyone on the street, as I couldn’t believe that they were just being friendly. They wanted something from me. And of course, you have to be vigilant, but something I have learned after being in the country for a few weeks, is that there are so many genuinely lovely people who just want to engage. They honestly want to help. If they see you looking at Google Maps trying to find your way, they want to give your directions. And of course, many just want the opportunity to practice their English. When you do open up, and chat, you find the warmest, most welcoming people.
Also read: Vietnam – first impressions
We met one chap, Bat, aka Tony van Travel, at a local eatery with Lilliput sized chairs. His English was quite good, and when I told him so and asked him where he had learnt to speak English, he said ‘YouTube‘! I loved the fact that he just did it. How often do we hear of people whose argument is, that they didn’t have the opportunity to learn. Bat proved that the opportunities are there, you just need to take them!
He later pulled up a chair after his friends had left, and we sat chatting to him for ages. He gave us great insights into the people and local area.
Of course, there are a number who have a standard conversation to try and get you to get some tailoring done at a shop where they’ll get a commission, but we can spot that a mile away. The conversation goes like this:
Them: “Where you from?”
Me: “South Africa” (you get less hassle if you say South Africa, rather than England)
Them: “When you arrive Hoi An?”
Them: “You maybe want to get clothes made while you Hoi An?”
Me: With the biggest smile I can muster: “No thank you. But thank you very much”
And that is it. End of story. Never get angry, never lose face. (Read about ‘losing face‘ in Asia – it’s very hard for Westerners to understand, but extremely important to Chinese-influenced countries).
Also read: Bangkok observations and interesting facts
And if you are going to buy, bargaining is expected. And at the end of a long to and fro game, someone gives in, and the price is agreed upon. At this point, they will congratulate you on achieving such a good price, delivered with a very broad smile.
In Trang An we went on a boat trip through the most spectacular landscape, including narrow and low caves, expertly navigated by our local Vietnamese boatswoman. She didn’t speak any English at all, but constantly communicated by gestures, a good sense of humour and the biggest smile imaginable. She oozed positivity.
The Vietnamese smile a lot. They are very friendly. And they remind me far more of the Balinese people, the friendliest people I have come across. We have a few more weeks here, so we’ll see how my opinion is moulded over the coming weeks. I predict that I will only end up loving them more!
Post communism entrepreneurs
The country is officially still a communist country, but has a market economy. For ordinary people like us, that just means people can run businesses, make money, travel etc. They can even vote, but the communist party chooses candidates. So, not quite a democracy, but better than the old communist system!
Also read: Random Hong Kong facts
But the interesting thing is, it is a country of entrepreneurs. Everyone does something extra to earn that extra income: coffee shop in the garden, food stall at night, driving tourists to the airport, opening their home/restaurants as cooking schools, taking in sewing, street-karaoke and many more.
In South Africa, we have a saying: ‘n Boer maak ‘n plan. Directly translated as: “A farmer makes a plan“, but means to find a solution by thinking creatively and being resourceful. Well, let’s just say, the Vietnamese would give the boers a run for their money. Their years of having to make do during the communist era, has created the most creative and resourceful nation. They can make and fix anything!
Vietnamese traffic and opinion on road rage
Vietnamese traffic is chaotic at best. But is is an ordered and fluid chaos. They drive on the right, but it is not uncommon to see someone on a motorbike headed straight for you on the wrong side of the road. You make eye contact, and navigate past each other. Cars, trucks and buses, wind their way through a sea of motorbikes and bicycles, providing a single hoot, just to let you know that they’re behind you.
I asked a local whether there was any displays of road rage in Vietnam. He wasn’t familiar with the concept. I explained how people get angry when in traffic, and frustrated with others, making them aggressive, which in worst cases end in violent behaviour. He just smiled and said: “What is the reason for getting angry? You should be patient. If you get angry, the only person who will be affected is you. It would be better to be patient. Vietnamese are patient”. Well said! Imagine a world where everyone in traffic was patient, considerate and fair.
I will soon be sharing the things that make Vietnam different and interesting – observations from my perspective. Watch this space!
Keep up to date and follow our trip by reading some of our earlier posts covering Hong Kong and Bangkok. See them here: altrinchamlivingandtravel.com or follow us on Instagram: @liezlhesketh and @timhermolle.