I love getting to know more about Vietnam and its people. And every part of Vietnam is a little different to other parts. The north, central and south have many things that are just a little different. Some parts you fall in love with immediately, whereas others grow on you.
When we arrived in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), I really wasn’t taken by it. It was noisy, drivers are more aggressive, people less friendly and it isn’t a pretty city. But day by day, I liked it a little more. I think the thing that has won me over is the city’s vibrant cafe scene.
There are so many cafes, and each is unique. Some require you to do some clever detective work to even find them. But it is often the ones you hunt hardest for, provide the biggest and best surprises. I am currently writing this from Things Cafe in district 1. There is no sign from the street, just a dingy ally way with a few others signs up. To the right are a set of decrepit stairs. On the first floor up, you turn left and enter through a yellow door, and surprise: an eclectic, mis-matched cafe is revealed. The music is great too.
All cafes and restaurants generally offer free wifi. But if you come in to use the wifi without ordering a drink, they’ll sometimes charge you about 30.000 vnd (£1), still a bargain, but it is only right to order something!
Other bits and pieces I have noticed:
- Vietnamese bathrooms are actually wet rooms, i.e. a shower room without a separate shower enclosure, or shower curtain. This translates into “move the toilet paper before a shower to avoid it getting wet” room. I have not seen a bath in Vietnam. Perhaps they only have them in posh hotels
- Vietnamese hygiene standards aren’t quite the same as my standards. In fact, I am often completely freaked out by some of the toilets and bathrooms. The toilets themselves may have been cleaned, but the rest of the room, walls and floors are so grimy. And unfortunately there are more grimy toilets than clean toilets. I think i need to dedicate a whole post to toilets!
- Wet wipes or wet cloths are often given to you upon arrival at some posher places. And sometimes they have been frozen! Delightful on a scorching hot day
- Vietnamese dress conservatively, but women rarely wear skirts or dresses. I guess it isn’t that practical if you need to swing a leg over to get on a motorbike, or if you’re sat on Lilliput-sized chairs.
- I was taught not to put my feet on the furniture (even though I do!), but in Vietnam it is the norm. People often sit cross-legged on a chair, or sit on the floor, or watch tv sat on the coffee table in their own homes. In fact, I think one of the reasons why Vietnamese older people are so agile, is because they spend far more time sitting on the floor! Getting up and sitting down must keep them agile.
- When eating out in local, informal restaurants, people throw rubbish on the floor: chicken bones, serviettes, beer bottle empties etc. If you’re not used to it, it could freak you out a bit. But luckily they do clean up when people leave. Even though it may be a little too superficial for my liking. Let’s just say, the 6-second rule for food that has fallen onto the floor, does not apply in Vietnam!
- Some restaurants serve dirt cheap fresh beer. But be careful, this can be the cause of tummy upsets for Westerners. At one restaurant in Hoi An (Cafe 43), they keep bringing beer, but when you ask for the bill, they ask you to tell them how many beers you had! A bit of a tricky system, as the more beers you’ve had, the less likely you are to remember how many you did have. But i guess at 3.000VND (10p) each, they don’t worry too much if you get it wrong.
- Most steps into people’s front room of the house, also includes a motorbike ramp. Yes, motorbikes are stored in the lounge or kitchen!
- Many people have birds in cages as pets. Not something I am to keen on, to be honest
- Every now and then you come across a Vietnamese person who was taught English by an Aussie. And it is strange to hear the Aussie twang coming through when they speak.
- Most Vietnamese rice crackers aren’t deep fried, but roasted over coals. They are often covered in seeds and dipped into soya sauce & chilli, and enjoyed with beer. Delicious. So much better than the deep fried variety!
- Vietnamese hats may look a bit silly, but they are actually very practical. They keep the head cool in hot weather, and dry in rainy weather. (But no, I could never own one!)
- Paving is often decorative and pretty, but also in disrepair in many places
- People who live in floating fishing villages still have pets. We saw mostly dogs, but also cats.
- Vietnam is changing fast. We’ve seen many unsympathetic building, development and tourist attractions going up. Places like Halong Bay are being transformed, but not necessarily for the better. It’s a shame really.
- People dry rice in town, on residential streets!
- Eating with chopsticks makes you pick up bits, bite into it, then chew. Compared to eating with a knife and fork where you cut up meat into bite-sized chunks before chewing, you get far more bits stuck between your teeth. Probably why most restaurants have toothpicks on the table.
- Vietnamese is really hard to learn. We have managed a few phrases, but struggle with the pronunciation and tones.
If you missed Part 1 and Part 2 of my Vietnam’s interesting facts, you can read them here:
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