We leave Vietnam tomorrow for Malaysia so it is time for final thoughts on Vietnam. Bear with us…we were in Vietnam for quite some time and have lots of thoughts about it. Here goes (once again in no particular order):
We both continue to love this country. If the language wasn’t next to impossible to learn and the health care wasn’t miserable, I could easily see us retiring here someday. The food is good, the scenery is amazing, and the people are friendly. Vietnam seems to us like a country that is scratching and clawing its way right into the first world and we have no doubt it will get there soon.
We should have eaten more street food. Don’t get me wrong. We did eat street food and plenty of it. But there were several nights where I was dragging and just wanted something easy where everyone spoke English and I could get a pizza. And with one notable exception (where we had the best pizza we have ever had in Asia), those were generally the worst and most expensive meals we had.
Boy, do the Vietnamese love their sugar. They put sugar in everything. Fried corn? Check. Orange juice? Check. Coffee? Check. It got to the point where Robert just stopped asking for black coffee because all the coffee had sugar in it (plus, in many cases, condensed milk).
The eggs here continue to be amazing. I do not know what they feed their chickens here, but the chickens lay the tasty eggs ever. Robert decided he did not even want omelets here – a nice, simple fried egg with some salt and pepper was the perfect breakfast.
The music is not so amazing. As I write this, I am listening to the Muzak version of “Joy to the World.” I can’t count the number of times we have heard Auld Lang Syne and various Christmas classics. Yesterday the coffee shop played The Grinch and Winter Wonderland. It is April….and 90 degrees…with 90% humidity…
I will never understand tourists. Nobody stands in the middle of a busy street taking photos or checking a map or looking for a restaurant at home. Why do you think you can do so when on vacation?
American parents could learn quite a bit from Vietnamese parents. Until we got to Hanoi, neither of us saw anything even resembling a stroller (unless it was being pushed by tourists). Babies ride scooters from just about the moment they are born, and are balanced standing up between mom and dad long before any American baby is standing on its own two feet. And the toddlers quickly transition to standing in the foot well. (Although the booster seats in the foot well — without any seat belts of any sort — were pretty cool too).
They have incredible decorative lights here. For example, in Can Tho we crossed under a bridge that was covered in strings of lights. Not only did the lights change colors and make various patterns, but at one point they created the appearance of fireworks. Thereafter, each strand of lights was lit up one bulb at a time so it looked like the strand was growing. I want some of these lights….Many of the streets are decorated with colorful light displays and we even saw huge apartment buildings with lights running up and down the building.
Did you know you can buy socks and nylons designed to be worn with flip-flops? Yep, the big toe is separate from the rest of the foot. Crazy. But even more crazy is the fact that most of the women wear them. Its 95 frigging degrees and they are wearing socks and nylons…
We are so going to miss fish sauce.
If the tv on the train is to be believed, Vietnamese television shows have one of the following themes: child abuse, sex abuse, spouse abuse, and forced arranged child marriage. Must see tv, indeed.
The love of toothbrushes continues. All of our hotels had free toothbrushes. Not sure why. Who doesn’t pack a toothbrush when they travel?
Some of the people here are scrupulously honest. For example, we had drinks one night at a bar in Saigon. Turns out the beer was 2 for 1. They insisted that Robert drink the second beer because we had paid for it even though he didn’t even really want it. Similarly, on a local bus in Ham Tien, we thought the price was 140,000 dong and handed the ticket taker that much. In fact, it was 70,000 dong, and that was all he took. You wouldn’t think these two things would stand out for us, but so many people do everything they can to scam the tourists out of a dollar or two that it is beyond refreshing when someone doesn’t take advantage.
Seeing dragon fruit growing in a field is one of the coolest things ever.
Who knew that there was such a strong Russian presence here? In several cities, the menus, signs, etc. were all translated into Russian. Interestingly enough though, every Vietnamese person we spoke to about it claims to hate the Russians (and the Chinese).
Driving is a thing to behold here. Nobody, and I mean nobody, looks behind themselves. Want to back out of an alley? Just go…oncoming traffic better see you and get out of your way. Want to turn? Just turn and hope oncoming traffic gets out of the way. Just going a short way? No need to drive on the correct side of the road.
Sidewalks are not for walking. They are for scooter parking and restaurants. The sooner you learn that, the better off you will be. Walk in the street like everyone else.
And if the sidewalk isn’t full of scooters or a temporary restaurant, well then, it is the perfect place to dry rice, corn, peanuts, etc. And if the sidewalk is full, no worries, just dry your food on the side of the road.
Pricing here makes no sense. For example, in a hotel restaurant (in our defense, it was pouring rain and there were no other restaurants within a couple of blocks) I ordered a plate of rice and pork for a mere 40,000 dong (about $2). A side order of French fries in the same restaurant? 80,000 dong! (Yes, I ordered them anyways.). As another example, the two of us booked train tickets for a trip that was about 200 km long. The price was 278,000 dong. Our hotel was about 10 km from the train station, yet the taxi fare there was 190,000 dong.
One of our favorite Vietnamese foods is bahn xeo. Basically, it is like a crepe made with rice flower. We have been fascinated with the different styles of bahn xeo here. In Chicago, the fillings are always pork and shrimp and you wrap it up with a lettuce leaf and dip it in fish sauce. Here, the fillings change depending on region – sometimes pork, sometimes shrimp, sometimes cuttlefish, sometimes chicken, sometimes beef. And the dipping sauce changes – sometimes fish sauce, sometimes peanut sauce, and sometimes a mix of fish sauce and something we couldn’t identify. We also read that in some places they make a sauce with pork liver. And, in some regions, you put the lettuce inside the crepe and then wrap the whole thing up with a piece of rice paper.
Don’t be surprised if you order a Sprite and get a 7-Up. Or order a Coke and get a Pepsi. Or order an Orangina and get some god-awful local orange drink. Trademarks don’t mean much here. Wait. Who am I kidding. Trademarks mean quite a bit — they are to be stolen and copied in an attempt to make more money!
One of the saddest things I have ever seen here is a truckload of dogs headed to market. And a dog carcass hanging in a butcher shop. I don’t understand the relationship the Vietnamese have with dogs. Plenty of dogs are pets, and they seem to be very well cared for and loved. In fact, tonight we watched a woman waive a fan at a dog for about half an hour while the dog panted from the heat. But plenty of Vietnamese eat dog. And, the dogs that get eaten are really quite mangy. Given that the rest of the livestock around here looks pretty good, I don’t get it. We met a few dogs being raised for meat and it was beyond sad. The dogs were just like any other — eager for attention and a bit of love.
Thankfully, we didn’t see any cats being raised for food. Apparently, the Vietnamese started eating cat about 15 years ago. Nobody could explain to us why they started eating cat 15 years ago. Some restaurants specialize in both dog and cat which seems a bit odd to me. (No, we didn’t set foot in those restaurants).
I love that the older women spend all day in outfits that most closely resemble pjs. I want a pair! (Robert has forbidden me from buying any).
We don’t understand the love of face masks. Originally, we thought that the Vietnamese wore them when sick, like the Japanese. Can’t be that or 60% of the population must always be sick. I get why they wear them on scooters, but on trains and buses?
Watching the women get ready to ride a scooter is pretty interesting. Gloves, jackets, hats, full face masks, smaller masks and, if they have on a skirt, a blanket like thing that wraps around their legs. When all is said and done, the only skin showing is a tiny little sliver around their eyes.
There are no “limes” here. Only “lemons” – you know, the “lemons” that are green and small and look and taste just like limes…
Vietnam is definitely trying to make things easier on tourists. But sometimes that just means taking a bit of the Vietnamese experience away. For example, Nha Trang has crossing guards at some of the major intersections. What fun is that? On the other hand, it was really sweet when the train conductor stopped by our seats to make sure we knew our stop was coming up. We did, but it was nice that he wanted to make sure we didn’t miss it.
The Vietnamese have cemeteries. But sometimes they just bury their dead in their front yard. Or their rice field.
We thought we had finally acclimated to the weather. We were wrong. The humidity in Da Nang and Hanoi kicked our butts. When the backs of your knees sweat, you know it is gross outside. Good training for Malaysia, right?