Vietnam still surprises me every day. It is definitely unique in many ways, so my list continues. (See part 1 of the list here).
- Boats have eyes. Apparently different parts of the country, or even in neighbouring countries, they paint eyes on their boats, but the shape of the eyes are different, depending on where you are. The benefit of the eyes, is so you can see which end of the boat is the front.
- Women cover up from head to toe when outside, to avoid a suntan. Light skin is in, darker skin is out. So ladies riding motorcycles, or selling goods on the beach would often wear: hats (sometimes 2 hats!), masks, long sleeved hoodies, jeans or long trousers, socks and shoes (sometimes flip-flops). Consider the temperature is often 35+C, and with humidity the heat index is 45+C. And then of course, they don’t even perspire. I would die under so many layers.
- Dual pricing exists. Many restaurants will offer tourists the English Menu rather than the Vietnamese Menu. This generally means you’ll be charged extra for the privilege, as well as well as getting a reduced menu. We have found that we are generally charged about 30%-60% more, but remember this is all relative. Instead of 50.000VND (£1.65 / $2.20 / R30), you may be charged 80.000VND (£2.60 / $3.50 / R47) – still very affordable for westerners.
Serviettes / paper napkins are often not offered with your meal in local restaurants, so bring your own! But not only that, when they are, they may not be what you’d expect. Sometimes it’s a box of tissues and other times it’s little squares of what I would call jotter paper. A few places have had (frozen) individually packaged wet wipes, but if you use them, you’re charged extra for them. I just walk around with a little packet of wet wipes (called Teen Wipes in Vietnam for some reason) which you can pick up at any corner shop (called a Mini Mart).
- Google Maps sometimes gets addresses wrong in Vietnam, so be aware of this! In most countries, the numbering system on streets alternate. Number 1 on the left, number 2 opposite on the right, number 3 on the left etc. However, in some Vietnamese cities, the numbers are in blocks, with a completely different sequence across the road. So Google Maps may take you to the completely wrong end of the street. Luckily though, many shops and buildings display both their number and the street name, which is great for navigation.
- Sweet, is the default in Vietnam. Everything is sweet. Sugar is added to almost everything. If you don’t want sugar, you specifically have to ask for ‘no sugar‘. If you ask for black coffee, it will be black but sugared. If you ask for fresh fruit juice or a smoothie, they will add lots of sugar. It is so often sweet it is almost undrinkable. Carrying around a bottle of water is a great idea to dilute your drinks, for when you forget to ask for no sugar.
It’s not just juice and drinks that is sweet, even some savoury dishes are much sweeter than you’d expect. Asians believe you should always have 4 flavours in each dish:
- Salty (fish sauce)
- Sweet (sugar)
- Spicy (chilli)
- Sour (lime juice)
In the south, dishes are much sweeter than in the north of Vietnam. Sometimes it is delicious, but still comes as a surprise!
- Automatic audio advertising is common. A vendor will be selling something from a converted bicycle or motorcycle, then add a broadcasted voice message on repeat. It can be very loud (and annoying!) indeed.
Karaoke, karaoke, karaoke. Like most Asian countries, the Vietnamese love their karaoke. You’ll find a chap with a mobile karaoke machine singing in the street to attract attention. He’ll set up temporary camp outside local restaurants, sing a few songs (every song sounds the same to me!), and then go around the restaurants selling sweets and chocolates. Our Vietnamese friends say, you have to buy something, because it’s the only way to get him to shut up!
- There are a number of Vietnamese customs and manners that I am not so keen on, including:
- Eating with their mouths open whilst making squishy, slurpy sounds
- Cutting their nails and toe nails in public places, public transport and restaurants.
- Queue jumping, and impatiently barging in ahead of you, especially on public transport.
- Vietnamese traditional music. One man’s music is another man’s noise.
- Serving locals ahead of you, even if you have been waiting ages. At a local pharmacy, the lady served 4 people ahead of me. Each time it is my turn, someone new would turn up, stand to the side of me and start speaking to the pharmacist as if I don’t exist, and she’d serve them first. Same at the Mini Mart. You’d be at the front of the queue, someone would walk alongside you, and be served first. Really annoys me.
- Motorcyclists assume they have right of way on pavements, and will hoot very insistently if you’re blocking their way!
- You’re never far away from free Wifi. Almost every cafe, shop, spa, hotel, restaurant has free wifi, and the connection speeds are generally very good. Internet and data is cheap, so they are able to offer this for free to all their customers. Ironically, the poshest villa we’re staying at in the south of Vietnam, has really, really crappy wifi.
- Drinking beer in local restaurants, is a little different to what we’re used to in the west. If there is a big group, it isn’t uncommon for a whole crate of beer to be deposited next to the table. The empties will be thrown on the floor under the table and counted at the end. But of course, this beer can’t be kept cold, so giant ice cubes are provided too. Add one per glass. If you drink your beer fast enough, it won’t be too diluted, but will be cool.
- Money takes a bit of getting used to. There are no coins in Vietnam, only notes. And the money gets confusing as there are so many zeros. Notes range from 1.000 VND (3p / US5c / R0.58) to 500.000 VND (£16.50 / $22 / R300). Assume you’ll need to pay cash for most transactions, so you have to carry cash around. What makes this tricky is that some ATMs have 2.000.000 to 3.000.000 daily limits ($88-$130). If you’re on a budget holiday and travelling as a couple, this shouldn’t pose a problem. But if you’re a family spending, it can be quite a challenge. Credit cards are still not widely accepted or encouraged outside big cities. And where credit cards are accepted, there is usually as 3% bank surcharge added. But, what is great, is that your wallet is not weighed down by heavy coins. Many locals don’t even carry wallets, they just use money clips, or a roll of money held together by an elastic band.
- The Vietnamese have one volume: loud. Some coffee shops are so noisy, it’s almost impossible to talk to each other over the din. But there is now a new breed of coffee shops emerging: Quiet coffee shops. They even have signs up warning people to speak softly. The idea is that people can come in and work, or read, or have a quiet chat. They’re normally havens from the busy streets and noise outside. We love them.
- Getting your nails done in Vietnam should be simple. In fact, my nail bar in Altrincham is run by Vietnamese, so I assumed the same methods and skills would be available in Vietnam, but I was wrong! I have had one bad set of gel nails after another. My own nails are so weak, they are like paper, so I get my nails done just so I can actually use my nails as nails. But so far, every set has been awful. My fingers are currently so sore where my cuticles were hacked, and the one nail is already lifting after less than a week. I will need to try yet another nail bar in Saigon – see if I have more joy here.
- Visiting a doctor is an experience. The doctor Tim saw was super efficient. So much so, that he saw more than 1 patient at a time! Patient confidentiality doesn’t seem to be a priority here. But I don’t think it is an experience that hubbie would want to repeat.
- Buying some things are quite a challenge, for example: I wanted to buy a nail file. Impossible. Finally I found one at the Body Shop after a month of searching! Also, finding contact lens solution was a challenge. Eventually I found an Australian brand in an opticians in Saigon.
Seems like I am not going to complete my list today! Well, part 3 will be coming soon.
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:
- What makes Vietnam unique? Part 1
- Bangkok observations and interesting facts
- Vietnam – first impressions
- Random Hong Kong facts
- Getting to know the Vietnamese
- Weird Vietnamese street food in Hoi An