It’s time for another “Quirks” post. This time I’ll be highlighting some of the Vietnam quirks we spotted. Unfortunately we had some camera issues whilst we were there; our memory card decided to corrupt resulting in most of our pictures looking like this:-
In spite of this…onward! Vietnam, the famous home of Ho Chi Minh; the location of the infamous Vietnam War (or American War, depending on whom you talk to) and now a bustling tourist destination. We enjoyed our whistle-stop, two week trip down through Vietnam taking in six different locations and we spotted plenty of oddities.
Without further ado, onto the Vietnam quirks!
I thought I would start with the most obvious!. The triangle hat; or as it’s known in Vietnam – Non lá, meaning leaf hat. This hat, the stereotypical image of a Vietnamese person, isn’t just a stereotype. Lots of people wear them, and not just out in the rice fields. Walking around the streets of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll see many a street seller and scooter rider wearing these! I ended up posing (and paying for) a picture wearing one whilst carrying two baskets of food across my shoulders. Unfortunately this is one of the photos that fell victim to memory card corruption. That’s VND30,000/£1 down the drain!
Vietnam was heavily bombed during the aforementioned conflict and one side effect of this is plenty of space to build. However, despite this they appear to have been very economical when designing buildings, as lots of them are really narrow! Even when they’re completely on their own and not wedged between other buildings, they are still built really skinny. Quirky eh?!
Normally I try to avoid this obvious ‘difference’ as it is not a quirk, merely a part their being foreign to us. However the Vietnamese language is quirky due to its influences. As a result of more than 1,000 years of Chinese rule, Vietnam used to use symbols to depict its language. The sound of the language is also very reminiscent of Chinese. Now it uses a Latin alphabet and the Vietnamese words, influenced by French (due to its occupation in the 19th and 18th centuries) can be quite quirky, including words such as “Ca Phe”, meaning Cafe.
Scooters, scooters, and electric bikes.
In a previous post I stated that the large number of scooters/mopeds was a quirk of Thailand. Compared to Vietnam, Thailand is a scooter free zone! Arriving in Hanoi all you will see is scooters, absolute hoards of them, in a non-stop line. On the roads; on the pavements; everywhere. But not just scooters. There is also a large number of electric bikes being ridden, which in the UK would be an oddity. Surprisingly crossing the road is actually quite easy, you just walk slowly at the same pace and they manoeuvre around you. The short video above should be considered a very very quiet road based on the number of scooters – a humbling thought!
clothes shop mannequins
Given the current “mannequin challenge” craze sweeping the internet, this Vietnam quirk is quite apt. All clothes shops have them, you know the people-like models used to show you what the clothes would like on. Well, in Vietnam they have decided to make the mannequins a little less ‘people-like’ by giving them long, elongated heads! It’s rather strange. We first came across these in Hoi-Ann but saw them in several other places too.
The money itself, called the Vietnamese dong (stifles immature sniggering) isn’t the quirk. What is quirky is that they don’t appear to have any coins or secondary currency. This isn’t strictly true however; Coins do exist and are in circulation but you just don’t see them anywhere and the banks have had issues with traders not accepting them. There have also been two secondary currencies the hao and the xu (1/10 and 1/100 respectively) but due to there ridiculously low value – £1 is equal to almost 30,000 dong, they were scrapped sometime ago. Finally there are still cotton-fibre bank notes in circulation that are accepted!
As a result of the large level of traffic on the roads, there is a substantial and almost continuous amount of “honking”. However, amongst the cacophony of horns there is one that stands out: the taxi horns. They have a distinctive echoing sound which is quite bizarre and terrifying if it goes off when you’re stood next to it.
One thing sure to catch your eye on many a Vietnamese beach, is hemi-spherical basket boats, or “thung chai”. Dating back to French colonial times and trying to avoid the levied tax on boat ownership, these boats are made from hammered bamboo covered in water proof resin. I think they’re really cute, but apparently very hard to row (I didn’t have the opportunity to try).
Whilst these are not solely found in Vietnam, there was a heavy concentration in Hanoi and HCMC especially, and its where we first came across them. A three-wheeled bicycle taxi, consisting of a chair (which may or may not be big enough for two) backed by a bicycle, these are used to ferry tourists around. Dating again back to the French colonoial era, you will sure to spot one of these hailing you for a ride.
Finally, and possibly my favourite Vietnam quirk (despite not actually partaking in any, somehow!) is the street beer sellers. World street food is becoming more and more popular but this is the first time we have come across street beer. Kegs of beer will be delivered to a trader, with a spot on the pavement and a few plastic chairs, and a glass of beer will be sold for approximately 15p or VND5,000. The beer is brewed not to last, so has to be drunk within 24 hours. Once the beer is gone, the trader packs up. Strolling around the streets in the evening you cannot miss these!
Have you been to Vietnam? Did you spot any of these Vietnam quirks, or see some others that we haven’t mentioned? We’d love to hear from you so get in touch below in the comments.