Six Quirky Things You’ll Find in Vietnam

Vietnam is a country of randomness. From the lady who lives outside the front door of your apartment chopping up snake penis on her make-do food stand at 5 in the morning waking you up every day, to the guy who bumps into you with a hundred chickens tied to his motorbike, to the lady squatting in front of the Bia Hoi scowling at you while simultaneously picking her nose, no matter what your experience coming here is, whether good or bad, you will never be bored. So, here are six of some of Vietnam’s quirks…

 

The Constant Honking

 

Honking here actually means “Hello, I’m coming!” as opposed to in the West where we usually honk when we’re upset with another driver or trying to curse them off the road. In Vietnam, people honk just to let you know they’re coming up behind you, and that honking is usually accompanied by a smile and a nod. It’s just a way of saying “Hey, I’m here, just letting you know” as opposed to “Hey, get the f*ck out of the way!!” It’s totally normal in Vietnam for people to walk out into oncoming traffic, since the drivers just go around you anyway. In fact, there really is no other way of crossing the street in Vietnam’s cities.

 

Driving in Vietnam is tough enough, and the constant honking doesn’t help – Somehow they think using the horn is like magic

 

 

Motorbikes don’t stop for anyone, they just drive around you

 

Baby on a motorbike! It’s common to see babies and small children riding around with their parents on a single motorbike

 

What it looks like when you cross a street in Vietnam

 

 

One instance of this is when my motorbike taxi driver stopped his bike right in the middle of oncoming traffic and literally turned off the bike just so he could type something to me in English in Google translate along the lines of “You are so beautiful”, while the massive semi trucks coming up from behind drove around us. I was utterly terrified and thought we would surely get hit, but miraculously everyone just went around us. Something like this would never happen in a Western, developed country, and we would have probably would have been killed doing something like this on the road in a country like the U.S.

 

And I thought the U.S. was nationalistic with all the flags hanging everywhere..until I got to Northern Vietnam, where there were around 10 flags hanging on every street

No Real Concept of Time

 

There doesn’t seem to be any real concept of time in Vietnam. Whenever I asked a Vietnamese person how long something will take to be finished, or any questions related to time, no one ever seemed to know the answer to my question. It’s as if time has a completely different meaning in Vietnam, and people just assume that it’ll get done when it gets done. So it’s important for us as Westerners to let go of our deeply engrained, rather rigid concepts of time and just go with the flow like everyone else. In a way this is a good thing, since the rules of time are definitely more flexible and relaxed here, but it can also be equally frustrating when you have a train to catch and when you ask what time the train will leave you get an answer like “Soon” or “Don’t worry.”

Another example of this is when I was working at one English center, I would be given a schedule for the week, which meant absolutely nothing. Some mornings I would show up for class at 7AM sharp ready to teach, walk into a class and introduce myself and start writing on the board, all to have one of the Vietnamese staff from the company walk in and pull me out and tell me class was cancelled and that I’d have to wait around the school campus for over an hour before the next class. I was always told about important things at the last minute or when it was already too late, and that person’s immediate reaction would be “Don’t worry it’s ok, you can just wait here” and everyone would act like nothing was a problem and I should just be patient and accepting of it. Most of the times, I found there was no respect of foreigner teachers time, and the Vietnamese staff could yank us around and tell us whatever suited them at the time no matter how much time of ours they wasted, but they themselves didn’t want any of the foreign teachers to make any last minute requests or changes.

 

There’s no concept of time management or deadlines in Vietnam

The Weird Food

 

Yup, I said it. The Vietnamese are well known for eating unusual foods often controversial to foreign tastes, such as dogs, cats, half developed chicken eggs, turtles, rats, and even, dare I say it, porcupines.  To the Vietnamese these dishes are totally normal, but to the Western tongue they can sometimes seem downright offensive. If you come to Vietnam and explore some of the markets selling street food, chances are your Western senses could be offended.

 

Would you like a rat with your salad?

 

One of the specialty coffees of Vietnam, Weasel poo coffee

 

Balut, a half developed bird embryo that is boiled and eaten from the shell, is considered a delicacy in Vietnam

 

You’ll see everything from live worms to hanging dog heads to other creepy crawly critters. Everything from weasel poo coffee, to witnessing the throats of live snakes being slit in the middle of the street and drained of all their blood while someone rips out its still beating heart and guzzles it down with a beer, to fried crickets and cockroaches being munched on along with a few beers, along with fried butterflies and worms. It should come as no surprise that porcupines, despite their appalling looks, are high on the list of strange menu items. Once their spikes are removed, they look even less appealing, with a knobbly tough-looking skin, but apparently they taste like duck.

 

 

Coconut worm larvae are eaten whole, alive and wriggling

 

These dogs heads are hanging everywhere around Hanoi, such an enticing (not) street food

 

Whole roast dog, yum yum

Roasted mice

No Concept of Personal Space

 

None. At. All. What’s mine is yours and what’s your is mine and..damn, I forgot the rest of this line!! Anyway, chances are you’ll find someone popping their head in to talk to you while you’re doing a wee. Or whenever you take your phone out to look at messages and other personal information, don’t be surprised if your Vietnamese friends gather around your phone and stare at the screen as you’re typing. And also don’t be surprised if a Vietnamese person tries complimenting you by saying something along the lines of “Oh, you’re looking well and fat today!” No, really, they mean it as a compliment.

 

Whenever you look at your phone, expect your Vietnamese friends to gather round and have a look at your screen

 

Thúoc Lâo

 

In northern Vietnam, it’s common to see a large tobacco (Thúoc Lâo) bamboo pipe or điếu cày being passed around after a meal, which is smoked since it’s believed to help aid digestion. Most restaurants usually have these pipes lying around and patrons can share with each other. Inside the pipe is a very potent kind of tobacco with enough nicotine to leave you with a hacking cough and shaking hands for the rest of the day.

 

Thuc Lau, or a huge bamboo pipe with the strongest tobacco which gives you a quick high

 

Smoking the famous Thuc Lau pipe

The Staring

 

Every time I would walk down the street in Vietnam, even in larger cities like Hanoi, I would frequently get prolonged stares from the locals, which I didn’t expect since this is something that is actually considered to be more of a common thing in countries like India where there are less Western tourists, not this part of Asia. In the West we would consider this prolonged staring to be quite rude, but in Vietnam staring isn’t considered rude, instead it’s considered to be done purely out of curiosity.

 

People are so addicted to their motorbikes in Vietnam like we are to cars in the West, they’re too lazy to even get off the bike when buying things in the markets – Flower Drive Thru

 

How many things can you fit on one bicycle?

 

I would often get intense stares from not just men but also the women, which was sometimes intimidating when I was just trying to go for a morning jog around the neighborhood. Sometimes the stares were just curious stares, but other times they were more scrutinizing and I didn’t feel so welcome in some places. Sometimes men on motorbikes would drive past me on the street and stop on the side of the road so they could turn their heads and stare at me. At times I felt like an animal in a zoo, which could get pretty uncomfortable and sometimes I didn’t even want to go out because of this.

 

You don’t even want to know what’s in the balloons they sell in Hanoi bars

 

Eating tofu noodle soup on the streets, however the woman still sprinkled bits of bone marrow on top even though I told her I wanted vegetarian

 

And if you walk into the office of any teaching center in Vietnam, all the employees would be hooked on Facebook. 😉 I know this line is totally random with respect to the rest of this article, but this is how Vietnamese work culture really is.

 

Your thoughts? I hope you found my article useful! Let me know what you think in the comments below. Don’t forget you can like and share my article with the social media links. I’d love to keep giving you tips and advice so feel free to follow me by clicking on the Follow Box below.  Don’t forget you can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube!

 


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Comments

  1. Greg Zeleny says:

    Sadly, I have to agree with many of the Facebook comments… not a very well balanced, researched or responsible article on Vietnam or its people. Maybe should be renamed 6 quirky things I discovered in Hanoi, Vietnam when there for x days.

    1. Hi Greg,

      Honestly I don’t think there was much I needed to do in line of research, seeing as I lived and worked in Northern Vietnam for over one year, and before that had traveled extensively in the South. If you noticed my previous articles, I also mention about what it’s like to live and work in Vietnam. I understand that I mostly lived in Northern Vietnam, and the South is vastly different, but many of the points could be applied to the country as a whole. Cheers!

  2. What a great opening paragraph. Fantastic post (plus I’m off to Vietnam in a few days….)

    1. Hi Anne,

      Thanks so much, I appreciate it! 🙂 Honestly a lot of these points are based on my experience having lived and worked in Northern Vietnam, in places such as Hanoi, Haiphong, and Hai Duong. Before that I’d traveled quite a bit in the South in places like Saigon and Da Lat. Which places in Vietnam would you be traveling to? Of course stereotypes can’t be applied to all of Vietnam, but I found these points to be more amplified the longer I worked in the country. Also how much time would you be spending in Vietnam? Cheers! Xxx

  3. Zuzu says:

    Any chance you can tell me where I can get the balloon? 🙂 Nice article–I just moved to Hanoi and I can already see how many of these cultural differences exist between the Western world and here!

    1. Hi Zuzu! 🙂

      Thanks for the kind words! I appreciate your support! Actually there’s a cross street near Ma May, where you can find a little dive bar that sells delicious cheap cocktails and 20,000vnd balloons. A French guy with long black hair owns the place, and it’s on the end of the cross street. I’m not sure of the name but if I recall I will let you know! Hope you have an exciting time in Vietnam! Xxx

    2. Hi Zuzu,

      I’m not sure exactly where in Hanoi, I know there are lots of nice bars near Ma May street where you can find balloons. 🙂 And yeah it is quite a stark contrast, and Vietnam is an extreme example of the East! 🙂 Xxx

  4. Duong Doan says:

    I would like to add that a man staring at a girl means he wants to tell her that she is beautiful. So be confident and happy when someone star at you. You are a lucky one.

    1. Duong Doan says:

      I mean stare*

    2. Hi Duong,

      Yeah it can be taken as a compliment at times! I just meant when he is literally undressing her with his eyes, that is just plain wrong! But just admiring someone’s beauty is fine 🙂

  5. David Nguyen says:

    Your wrote the word thuoc lao is not correct 😂

    1. Hi David,

      Haha, is it Thuoc Lao?

      Xxx

      Blossom

  6. David Nguyen says:

    You are very pretty
    That why he can help it by stopping in the middle of the street 🤣

    1. Lol but there is a difference between admiring someone’s beauty and creeeeepinnn!! 🙂 🙂

      XXxxx
      Blossom

      1. David Nguyen says:

        May be that is his way of thinking n showing his admiration to you but I am surprised too that he stop in the middle of the road !!!
        Not me no way Jose !
        Crazy huh ?!
        Also again you are sooo pretty n you knew that right ?🤣

        1. Hi David
          Yeah it was creepy that he stopped in the middle of the road!! Aw thanks a lot, appreciate it my dear! 😉

          Blossom

  7. Tony Tran says:

    You look good with the Sari😂
    Wonder why you choose to post the sexy photo of you wearing the bikini top 🤣 oh yay yay!

    1. Aw thanks Tony!! Well it just so happens to be my gravatar at the moment 😉

      Blossom

  8. Tony Tran says:

    Anthony Bourdain love Vietnam n said he may want to live there someday
    You want to live in India ?
    Wonder what n why?😂

    1. Hi Tony,

      Yes I know he went there and tried a lot of the local delicacies I would have been afraid to try!! Then again I am mostly vegetarian so yeah..Well India is also rampant with vegetarianism!!

      Xx

      Blossom

  9. Long says:

    Hi Blossom,
    The “Six Quirky Things” that you saw in Vietnam are totally true. I do not mean they are bad (or good). I had a reason to quit the country 25 years before, went to the US, and never come back. The
    The Vietnamese have a proverb: “The eyes of inside trap fish looks for getting out as the outside one seem to try to get in”.
    It’s OK for travelers around the world come in Vietnam for fun (weather, foods, cheap, studies). But not me, I know Vietnam is still a communist country. Vietnam is a China borrower many things (money, arms, supports) a hug debt during Vietnam War era, now the Vietnamese must pay back (for land and sea). It’s a long and very sad story, isn’t it?
    Thank you anyway,
    Long

    1. Hi Long,

      What has it been like for you since relocating to the states? Yes I did notice that especially in parts of the North whee I lived. Thanks for sharing!

      Xx Blossom

  10. Thanks for sharing this information.have shared this link with others keep posting such information..

    1. Thanks for sharing!!

      Xx Blossom

  11. AN H. Le says:

    I enjoyed reading your article and appreciate your observation. While acknowledging some of it are true, however, some others are still only “scratching the surface”. And perhaps, the bike guy from the north had never seen a blondie in his life up close and personal, so please pardon the creepiness. Fyi, we don’t stare and eat weird stuff in the south, and foreigners sometime become annoying with their faux pas here. I mean why do you guys expecting all Viets to speak English? And place like Nha Trang is the result of bad integration between and harmony culture and bad western tourist, especially those from Russia. I’ve seen the transformation. Nha Trang now is chaotic, hustling, the beaches are trashy, and worse gentrification.
    Again, your observations are not incorrect. But may be while you’re teaching English, you can try to learn Vietnamese and then may be you will appreciate our quirkiness here more.

    1. Hi An,

      Yes true I agree some places haven’t had as much exposure to outsiders which makes the place that much more interesting! 🙂 And agreed sometimes this gentrification can really destroy the beauty in those places like Nha Trang. I did pick up on a little Vietnamese while there, but there were more foreigners teaching there who could have really learned a lot more of the language!

      Xx Blossom

  12. Bình says:

    Hi,
    I’m Vietnamese. What do you mean here “You don’t even want to know what’s in the balloons they sell in Hanoi bars”? Can you explain more clearly? Many thanks.

    1. Hi Binh,

      I am referring to the laughing gas balloons they sell at the bars around Hanoi 🙂

      Cheers!

      Blossom

  13. Cam says:

    Staring ; maybe you’re so beautiful and people want to see you :))

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