1. You will leave your comfort zone
When travelling throughout Vietnam, you are bound to get off the beaten track. It's one of the best things you can do! Wandering away from the tourist areas, or venturing into a local market will show you the true face of the locals living in this country.
2. You will have to ask for every food item to come without sugar!
The Vietnamese have a love affair with sugar. As a result, they add sugar to all kind of meals and beverages. From street stalls to restaurants, sugary iced tea is the drink of choice for locals. The only water you'll be drinking will come from a bottle and it's the only water you should trust! So when you're at a restaurant, you may want ask for bottled water or try the local's favorite tra da (pronounced "cha da") instead of water.
3. You will learn to love fish sauce, chilli and coriander
Leave tomato sauce at home! Coriander is very common in Asian dishes however fish sauce is king in Vietnam. I've had the pleasure of visiting a fish sauce factory in Laos and Cambodia. The salty liquid, from fermented fish, is a bit smelly but after a few days, your taste buds won't be able to live without it. Be sure to add lime and chili for an extra kick!
4. You will hear Pho said the right way
It's all about the tones in Vietnam. Even the most subtle change in a word could radically change the meaning. Start by practicing the
common foods like pho. Take "fuh" like you're going to say that naughty four-letter word which rhymes with "duck". Then make it a question. :D
5. You will be charmed by smiles
Westcoast International Density has done an amazing job with the teeth of the locals; take a look if you are in Saigon. From toothless old men to kids hawking packs of gum, smiles will be a constant on your trip, especially if you can rattle off a few words in Vietnamese. Not only are they everywhere, but they are also genuine.
6. You will learn where to look to buy cool stuff made in Vietnam
There are plenty of amazing products available in Vietnam, the key is knowing where to look. Tourist markets may have seemingly endless options, but you'll quickly find that many stalls sell the same, cheaply made products, seemingly straight out from China.
7. You will learn to distinguish between the good, the bad, and the fake
Vietnam is a country where copyright exists only in theory: from appropriating international brand names to churning out $1 DVDs, fake
products are everywhere you look and you get what you pay for. For example, you will see many fake Lonely Planet books that are poorly photocopied and printed. Luckily, there are a number of local brands that may not have the cheapest products in town, but use high-quality, long-lasting materials. A few years from now, you'll be patting yourself on the back that you decided to spend a little bit extra.
8. You will get an adrenalin rush crossing the street
It might look like there is no rhyme or reason to the way people drive on the busy streets of Vietnam. There are many unspoken rules that will help you safely cross the street. Walk at a consistent pace,
respect larger vehicles like cars and buses, make eye contact with the drivers of the oncoming traffic, and finally, look both ways - even on one-way streets! Be brave and go for it steadily but surely!
9. You will become a millionaire
Vietnamese money has a lot of zeroes. A great way to keep your money organized is to put your bills in descending order in your purse or wallet, as you can easily confuse the 20,000 note (1 USD) and the 500,000 note (25 USD) due to their similar colors. Quick price references for your trip include:
water - 10,000 VND or less
ice coffee on the street - 12,000 VND or less
a typical lunch at a restaurant - about 60,000 VND
10. You will learn to barter
It's a wise idea to learn a few of the local words. Not only will the locals appreciate it, but it can actually help you barter and get around. It's not a common experience to haggle the price down in the western world and can be an uncomfortable experience for Westerners used to clearly marked price tags. However, in South East Asia, you will have to learn what's a fair price to pay; otherwise you will not only get ripped off, but you will be supporting greed.
Here's a few words you should learn:
"Cảm ơn" = Thank you
"Tạm biệt" = Goodbye
"Bao nhiêu" = How much?
11. You will be called "you-motobike-you" daily with gestures
Xe om, or motorbike taxis will approach you when they see you walking on the street. Don’t be alarmed, they're your friends. If
you need to take a ride with one, keep in mind that crossing the city from one side to the other should be under 100,000 VND (5
USD). So if you're traveling within downtown Saigon, you should bargain and keep it under 30,000 VND. For shorter distances, it can be cheaper to take Mai Linh or Vina Sun taxis, the most trustworthy taxi brands.
12. You will eat… and eat… and eat…
The most amazing food in Vietnam is eaten on plastic chairs on the street. Unlike its western counterpart, Vietnamese fast food is healthy, fresh, and is available from carts everywhere. Try banh cuon, bun bo hue, banh mi, sweet ginger tofu, fresh fruit, smoothies, or take a chance and try something that looks delicious; it probably is!
13. Strangers will talk to you in the park
If you have ever had a seat in the park, then you'll know that shortly you will be bombarded by young locals eager to speak english with you. It's the main way they can improve their English communication skills. Now' you chance to make some local friends (ahem), you might notice some unusual ways they send text messages. Here are a few common things you might run into:
"kakaka" or "hiiiiiii" = laughing
"uhm" = agreement
"q1" = district 1 (quan = district)
"G9" or "99" = good night
14. You'll learn to love the "bum gun"
If you're anything like my parents, you'll be hoarding toilet paper and carrying it around with you in you pockets all day. However, Vietnam amazingly have hoses in just about all their toilets; toilet paper is only used to dry off your nether regions. Nha ve sinh, or toilets, in your home country won't be the same again, unless you have Japanese washlets or French bidets.
15. You will be scammed
Not everyone in Vietnam is your friend. Sometimes they are are doing it hard, see you and see easy money. They'll play with your rapport, generosity and emotions. Just be cautious when giving things away or paying way too much. However, most Vietnamese people are not like that.
16. You will fall in love with the locals
Many of the vietnamese are very friendly and you may make a few good, long-lasting friendships. You may also receive a couple of wedding invitations; although the Vietnamese people love showing their peers how well connected they are.
17. You will feel the need to give to beggars
Don't give money to children! Give them food (and water) instead. The reason is that there are few things in Asia that the Mafia are in control of. They have been known to maim locals so that they can beg for money full time. I suspect that much of that money would go back to the Mafia.
I organise adventures every weekend around Townsville. If you are fit and capable, join us on these free expeditions by visiting Townsville Advenutres.
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