(and that you probably don’t need to know either)
I didn’t know what to expect from Vietnam. On one hand I knew that it was communist country and that the Vietnam war ended more than 40 years ago. One additional piece of knowledge that I knew about Vietnam was about the number of mopeds and how they’re everything. Other than that, I had no expectations. I was ready to experience Vietnam and be surprised at what it offered.
Here are some things that I wasn’t expecting (even though I didn’t know what to expect). They’re not travel tips, but rather just my observations that I haven’t learned of before going there.
1. Prices are rarely listed
Most smaller shops and restaurants did not have prices listed anywhere. If you wanted to purchase anything you would have to ask the shop owner about the price. The shop owner would then look you up and down first before deciding on a price that they think you would pay. You then can either walk away or try to haggle your way to a more reasonable price. What bothers me about this is that it applies to restaurants as well! I really rather not try to haggle the price down for the food that will be served to me.
The locals tell me that there are three prices – one for locals, one for expats (incl. Vietnamese-Americans), and one for tourists. I know that things are cheap for us, but still, I just hated knowing that I was being ripped off. On several occasions, when I asked about the price of something, you can see the shop owner thinking about the price and then consulting with the person beside them and then giving me a price. Not only that, the shop owner might have given an initial price and then they would add another 10k VND after they would have consulted with their friend.
It just wasn’t pleasant to know that they’re trying to squeeze every dong they can from you.
2. Locals love selfies!
I loved watching the locals take selfies. They would take it in front of everything and anything that slightly stood out. And since it was Christmas time, there were plenty of picture opportunities! They took it in front of Christmas trees, in front of monuments, in front of stores…everything was equal game for the selfie masters.
3. You will feel like Moses
Instead of parting the Red Sea, you will be parting a sea of vespas. Simply put your hand out and slowly move forward. The vespas will simply part around you as you inch forward. Remember, no sudden movements, don’t panic, and simply move forward slowly.
4. Department stores/malls have bad fengshui
I didn’t realize this until we hit Saigon. Then it was really apparent that fengshui (or even general architectural designs) was not applied. For example, one of the most popular malls – Vincom Mall – did not have large inviting entrances that faced the main street. If you wanted to go from the main street, you will have to pass a small park and some shrubs. One of the side entrances was the entrance to H&M whereas the other one was for passenger pick up. All the entrances were small and had lots of other walls blocking the doors…it was just very confusing and strange for me.
5. Tips are expected in the service industry
Not surprising if you’re from the States, but very surprising if you’ve travelled around Asia before. Most countries do not expect you to give a tip since service price is usually included. In Vietnam it felt the tourist industry expected to be tipped and they would also constantly remind you of that.
6. The stereotypical straw cone hats actually exist!
I used to get so annoyed when I saw non-Asians wear those cone hats. I always associated it with those racist pictures of Chinese people from the 40s. You know the type I mean. In China hardly anyone wears those anymore, so I always wondered why this stereotype was still perpetuated and why people would still wear those hats.
And then I travelled to Vietnam.
Those hats were definitely everywhere! Men and women across all age groups would all wear them. Now I finally figured out why I see people in airports wear those hats and it has nothing to do with China at all!
7. Vietnam Post is fast!
Ave and I sent some postcards on Christmas Day from Saigon. My sister in law messaged us two days later to tell us that she’s received them already in Finland! What? That fast? Nice! That’s quite different compared to Canada Post, which delivered the postcard about a month later.
8. There are quail eggs in baos
I’m used to Chinese buns and Japanese nikumans, which tend to only have one type of consistency within the buns. However, all of the baos that I’ve had in Vietnam included at least one whole quail egg. The consistency of the egg is totally different from the rest of the bao so it’s a nice surprise.
Remember, most of these points from my list don’t help people when travelling. It’s just random things that I’ve picked up that I thought would be fun to share with others.
What about your experience in Vietnam? What were some things that you have learned from your travel to Vietnam that surprised you? I would love to hear about it!