Sunrise of Nha Trang photo by Duy Huy Dao

 

4 Unforgettable Things in Vietnam

 

Every country you visit will leave you with unique memories that you’ll associate with just that place. There are certain familiar images of the activities and culture in Vietnam, the s-shaped country in south-east Asia, that always come to my mind, that I want to share with you. Hopefully, you will get the chance to visit this small, beautiful country too and experience these things, or maybe you’ve been to or you’re from Vietnam, living elsewhere, and have already experienced them.

1. Everything is so cheap in Vietnam.

The first of the memories I have of the country is of the cost. Everything is so cheap in Vietnam.

Soda can be bought for 50 cents, a meal for $1, a bus ticket for 35 cents, and a hotel room for $10 a night. Visitors are often surprised at just how cheap it is to eat, drink, and play in Vietnam. When I lived abroad, I’d have to go to a convenience store to get a drink or some junk food. But, in Vietnam, you’ll see all sorts of food and drinks being sold from carts in the street for bargain prices. When I was travelling, I once craved a bowl of steaming “pho” (a kind of Vietnamese soup) and found a restaurant to go to. It was great being able to enjoy the taste of Vietnam again, but it cost $10 for the bowl. In Vietnam, it wouldn’t have been more than $3! 

2. The craziness of the traffic and the huge amount of motorbikes on the road.

The second thing I always think about is the craziness of the traffic and how many motorbikes are on the roads.

Once you’ve been to Vietnam, you’ll never forget the image of the dozens of motorbikes passing you by. You have to quickly immerse yourself into the traffic, or you’ll find crossing the road to be a very difficult and frustrating task to do. I remember once, seeing an old foreign lady struggling to cross the road. She was bewildered and unsure what to do. She spotted me, and so I went to help her. I shared with her about the transportation culture in Vietnam and she was a little shocked, but then smiled and told me it was interesting, and like a children’s game with an obstacle course trying to get across the road! We looked at each other, laughed, and went our own ways.

It brings back another forgotten memory from another trip. I was in Tel-Aviv, Israel. It was around sunset, and I remember stepping out of the airport - and being amazed at the total lack of motorbikes. It was all cars, taxis, and the odd few buses there. I laughed to myself, and missed the roads of Vietnam.

3. The rich and diverse cuisine

Cơm tấm

The third thing I always think of with Vietnam, is the extremely rich and diverse cuisine. I bet that 90% of visitors will never forget eating "Bánh Mì" in Vietnam. For under $1, this Vietnamese sandwich is found everywhere. The small baguettes are stuffed with all sorts of fillings, like char siu, grilled pork rolls, Vietnamese pork sausages, salads, etc. Of course, there’s also the “phở” I mentioned earlier, and other dishes like "bún bò huế", or "bún chả Hanoi". And other street foods like spring or summer rolls or other snacks in baked rice paper, or rice paper mixes, and fried bananas, and so many other dishes! 

Bánh tầm bì xíu mại

In the south of Vietnam, where I’m from, it seems most of the dishes have a richer and sweeter taste in comparison to the stronger and saltier taste preferred in the north. Some of the dishes I really miss from the south, and can’t wait to go back and enjoy again include “bánh tầm bì xíu mại” and a broken rice dish called “Cơm Tấm". These are very typical dishes in the south, and I hope, after reading this article, you’ll have the opportunity to go to South Vietnam one day, and try these dishes for yourself. You’ll definitely remember them afterwards.

4. The Vietnamese new year

The final thing I want to mention is Tết, the Vietnamese new (or lunar new) year. This is one of the most memorable things for me. It falls around late January or early February, and is one of the most important holidays in Vietnam. The actual holiday is on the first, second, and third days of the lunar calendar month, but Vietnamese people often spend a whole month celebrating this special event.

Tết begins on the first day of the lunar year, but preparations begin long before that. The 23rd day of the 12th lunar month, a week before the holiday, is Tết "Ông Công"," Ông Táo", the Kitchen God Festival (Táo Công). It is believed that every year on this day, three deities (two men and a woman) go to heaven to pray to the Jade Emperor for all the activities that take place in households on earth.Then, on New Year’s Eve, they return to the earth to continue taking care of their families. 

Wrapping “Bánh chưng” to preparing for Tết Day

Sweeping during Tết is taboo or xui (unlucky), since it symbolizes sweeping the luck away; that is why they clean before the new year. It is also taboo for anyone who experienced a recent loss of a family member to visit anyone else during Tết.

On the first day of the new year, the first people to arrive to wish their family a happy new year are called the ‘earth rushings’. This is very important and they need to be selected carefully, as they are said to hold all the family’s luck for the coming year. On the third or fourth day of the celebration, people meet up with their relatives, friends, and colleagues, to wish them happiness, good health, success, and other good things for the coming year..

If you are able to come to Vietnam to see the Tet celebrations, it will make your trip even more memorable, for sure.

TET - Vietnamese New Year from Nhi Dang on Vimeo.

And how about you? What things do you always remember once you’ve left a country? I’d love to know, and maybe you have experienced other unforgettable things yourself in Vietnam!

Written by Nhat Pham from Vietnam

 

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