Vietnam is a stunning country of rice paddies, scooters, outdoor markets, good food and even better coffee. My first trip to the country, I knew very little about it but after just a week I learned quickly that travelling to Vietnam is an incredible experience.
Whether you’ve been there numerous times, are in the midst of planning your trip or just have the journey in the back of your mind here’s a list of 10 things you can expect when you arrive in Saigon.
- The coffee is the real delicious deal! It’s no surprise considering Vietnam is the second largest coffee-producing nation after Brazil, producing 16% of the world’s total coffee (Brazil’s is 40%). A hometown favorite is the ca phe sua da! It’s a strong single filtered coffee that has sweet and creamy condensed milk mixed in and topped with ice. An absolute must for all of those long and hot days of exploring. Coming across a café isn’t hard because there’s hundreds of cafes that line the streets and alleys of the city.
- Road rules don’t exist. No truly, crossing the scooter and taxi filled streets calls for a strategic plan and a heartfelt prayer. Good news is that the thousands of locals who drive the narrow roads everyday seem to have a method to their vehicular madness. This means that all you have to figure out is the perfect timing to walk straight across the street. Bonus tip, once you start to walk don’t stop or worry about maneuvering around the scooters, they see you and prefer to work around you.
(Image courtesy of Flickr, Claire Backhouse)
- Speaking of taxis, if you’re looking to catch a cab in Saigon keep an eye out for Mai Linh and Vinasun two of the most trusted and reliable companies. Your first look at the taxis will most likely be at the airport and from that moment on you’ll see hundreds more during your stay. Not only will the majority of taxi drivers get you to where you’re going fast giving your tired tourist feet a rest but you’ll find that the air conditioning is always on blast. Something to appreciate during those sweltering days.
- Did somebody say siesta? You’ll notice most Vietnamese folks take a nap after lunch. The days start early and end late for most in Vietnam, especially the busy cities like Saigon so that time to recharge during the day is a must. Some even rack out right on top of their scooters! It really is a sight to see and you can’t help but admire their sense of balance.
- K-POP love is strong! Teenagers have an intense adoration for K-POP! It’s seriously everywhere in part because of all of the imported Korean artists, music, fashions, makeup and accessories trends that Vietnamese young fans love to consume and emulate. Not surprisingly, this has led to the increasing popularity of Korean wave and now there are now more and more Korean language classes conducted throughout Vietnam. It’s not just the music but the culture that the youth wants to understand and embrace.
(Image courtesy of Flickr, Republic of Korea)
- Karaoke is huge in Saigon. This could be the case for many reasons including that Asians, in general, lack a reputation for expressing strong emotions, either positive or negative. Karaoke is cathartic for Asians who bottle up powerful emotions. But let’s not forget that karaokeing isn’t just a pastime that Asian adore. In fact, it’s a $380 million industry in the United States. Basically, it’s just good fun.
- Can I start you off with some iced tea? Endless chilled glasses of delicious iced tea is served no sooner than you sit down in most restaurants. Similar to the customary glass of ice water offered in most restaurants across North America, tea is a staple in Vietnamese culture. Of course, tea drinking has existed for a long time in Vietnam. In the past, drinking was just for noble classes but for a long time now people from all walks of life enjoy tea. It’s also a welcome greeting after stepping into the café and out from the hot and dusty streets.
- Party for Nguyen, your table to 20 is ready. You’ll most commonly run into folks with the first or last name “Nguyen”. Not a surprise since the name is used by about 40% of the population. (That’s around 35,600,000 people) If you’re wondering why here’s a quick history lesson. The surname Nguyen is believed to have originated in the Chinese surname “Ruan” (in the Mandarin language) or Yuen (Cantonese), attributed to China’s long reign over Vietnam. During this time the name Nguyen was either forced upon the public by new regimes or was chosen voluntarily by Vietnamese for other reasons.
- The night time is the right time. Vietnamese folks tend to prefer to shower at night rather than the morning. This may have to do with the fact no month in Saigon has an average high temperature of less than 89 degrees. It’s not uncommon to see the parks full of people at sunrise who want to get a good workout and stretch in before the day gets to warm. From my own time there I can tell you that it’s pretty much the best thing ever to grab a cool rinse off after a day out exploring the dusty, sweltering, beautifully chaotic streets of Saigon.
- Vietnamese people are honest, hardworking, and kind. The average work week in Vietnam is around 60 hours and most of those jobs are spent in factories and on farms. With exports of in excess of $162 billion (2015) there’s no question that it’s a hard working and hustle type of culture. In recent years ICT and software and tourism have seen growth in Vietnam as well. What the future holds I cannot say however I can tell you from personal experience that in Vietnam there is no lack of hospitality and kindness.
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