10 Strange Things About Vietnam

Vietnam is where you can find the collision of Asia’s past, present, and future. This clash drives you crazy and makes you overwhelmed full of confusion at first but thrilled to discover later. Vietnam is truly a must-see travel destination.
Vietnam is also undoubtedly a strange country. I wouldn’t say that if I hadn’t chit chat with multiple international travelers. I wouldn’t come up with that if I was just stuck up at home and viewed my hometown from a local’s perspective. Deep down, with such deep-seated desire to take a pen to paper, I chew on the cobwebs stretching across my memory, and refresh my brain while digging in the filter to differentiate between Vietnam and other countries especially the ones of Western society. What I have discovered was all through my own travel abroad experience and a couple of enticing talks with foreigners on how they make me burst into laughing and tickle my mind of how my hometown works in such a bizarre way. They asked me tons of whys on the things happening in everyday life here. I mean the things that I have got attuned to in my whole life.

This article unveiling the Vietnamese ordinary habits along with things in and out will definitely offer you a close look at this small S-shaped piece on the planet that is exceedingly familiar to the local insiders but absolutely abnormal to most outsiders. Just a piece of thought. Just a piece of writing. Let’s dive in.

#1 Crosswalks – just to decor on road
Crosswalks marked with white stripes are designed to keep pedestrians together where they can cross roads safely. In lots of countries, it is a must stated in law that all vehicles have to slow down once they see the crosswalks and stop if they see any pedestrians around. However, it is a different story in Vietnam. Crosswalks here are likely seen as a type of decoration, not a signal to alert the motors? Nobody cares or stops if they see you cross the road. You just have to be exposed to the horrible flow of traffic and challenge yourself combating against all the insane scooters, speedy bus and car giants coming from every direction, otherwise you will just freeze, standing still and watching these vehicles pass by all day. This is the reason why most expats often call Vietnam crazy right on the first day they set foot in the two chaotic cities – Hanoi and Saigon. Don’t be scared, be bold and you will be the master of crossing roads in Vietnam!

#2 Watermelon and sunflower seeds onto almost every sidewalk
The vast majority of the young and the not so young in Vietnam have a strong penchant for sipping some cafe or green tea while scattering sunflower seeds onto sidewalks. It can be considered a part of cafe culture. Just a small plate of sunflower seeds and a cup of cafe with a little filter pot on top are all perfect enough to lighten up their days. The strange thing is that people crack the shell, separate the inner seed from the shell, eat the seed then spit out the shell pieces onto the ground. The sidewalks are then filled with scattered sunflower seeds. Only before the day ends do the salesmen wipe them away and clear out. Just wander around the sidewalks and your brain will get kicked off into action amid the air of weasel coffee beans mixed with the aroma of sunflower seeds.

Sunflower seeds onto sidewalks. Photo taken by Nhan Tran.

#3 The most popular drinks: Beers and iced tea
Iced tea and beers are ubiquitous in Vietnam. They are the frappé drinks for us to beat the heat during the summer. Vietnamese people can drink them anytime and anywhere. Iced tea is always offered with meals in almost every food vendor and restaurant, and what is funny is that all Vietnamese people leave a bit after drinking iced tea. We never drink up all but always leave a little bit (about 1/3 or 1/4 of the whole). We have no idea why we do that, though.

Beer street – Ta Hien. Photo taken by Nhan Tran.

#4 The power of Loudspeakers
Vietnam has about 10 000 loudspeakers. Yes, ten thousand. Loudspeakers are a throwback to the 1960s 1970s war years between N. Vietnam and S. Vietnam when they delivered news and warned people to get into a bomb shelter for protection against attack from the air. Nowadays, these loudspeakers still exist, blaring neighborhood announcements covering a range of topics like residential clusters meetings, avian flu prevention, health care information and sanitation reminders all over Vietnam through the daily 6:30 AM and 5:30 PM broadcasts in a male or female voice. They begin and end with some beautiful music sort of patriotic rhythms. If you stay in Vietnam, I am 100-percent sure the loudspeakers will wake you up in time. A handful of residents has raised their voice about being annoyed by these loudspeakers sometimes because they can hardly have a good sleep and their ears have been bombarded terribly with the noise coming out.

Loudspeakers in Hanoi. Photo taken by Minh Nguyen.

#5 The Vietnamese’s sweet friendliness
Vietnamese people are friendly and warm with their smiles on face. They are sweet and nice, always happy to welcome everyone to their country. If you get to talk with the locals and get asked about your nationality, age, job, and relationship status right on the first meeting, don’t be too shocked. It is normal here. The Vietnamese ask and answer these questions frequently and they appreciate the topic family life. Hence, to make a good impression when you meet someone from Vietnam for the first time, you can ask about their parents, their spouses, their children, and their relatives directly.

Vietnamese students welcoming international travelers. Photo taken by me.

#6 Early school start times
Sometimes we cannot understand why students from other countries often complain about their school start times while we always wish our schools started as late as their schools do. In Vietnam, students in primary schools have to arrive before 7:15 AM, middle schools, and high schools before 7:00 AM, and college/university before 6:45 AM. Yes, 6:45 AM which means we have to try in vain opening our eyes and step away from such loving beds before 6 to prepare for schools. If you backpack to Vietnam for a certain amount of time, long enough to immerse in the local culture, don’t push away a chance to visit any elementary schools here. You will see how Vietnamese pupils yawn cutely in early morning hours, gathering together to do physical exercises at schoolyards.

Vietnamese student riding a bike to school in the early morning. Photo taken by Tung Pham.

#7 Take a nap after lunch
The Spanish cannot beat the Vietnamese when it comes to Siesta! Siesta in Vietnam must be regarded an art and the people here are professional siestars (the nappers). Vietnamese people can take a siesta almost everywhere from right on the concrete floors, pavements, motorbikes, little hammocks made of rope mesh and suspended by cords at the ends to under the trees and in the bus next to strangers. Taking a nap is even compulsory at elementary schools where little students have to listen to their teachers, quickly transforming desks made with two wood panels into beds to sleep after lunch time. Nap-time is when you can observe the very slow pace of life by strolling through the streets in light volume traffic, feeling the chilling breezes going through your hair, and seeing an idyllic Vietnam in the midday.

Vietnamese primary school students sleeping after lunch. Photo credit: thanhnien.com.vn
Motorbike taxi driver taking a nap. Photo credit: soha.vn

#8 Selfie and selfie sticks all the time
Taking selfies has become an obsession among a large number of Vietnamese people especially the youth. They selfie everywhere, believing capturing the moments is rather than living in. It is common to see hordes of couples, dozens of students or groups of workers lifting up their selfie sticks and ticking countless times on no matter where they are going to – from walking around the tourist attractions, dining out in restaurants, studying at schools to chilling in the public toilets. A recurring hobby can be described: Take a selfie, say no to the first one, take another one, adjust the shot via Instagram and then Facebook it. It is exactly what mills of Vietnamese people do every single day. And it is lovely.

Vietnamese girls taking a selfie. Photo taken by me.

#9 Putting a ton of makeup on every day
Hardly could you see any girls out there in Vietnam particularly in big cities without makeup. My friend from Germany called Hanoi “Milan the fashion world” when she was surprised at Vietnamese girls on streets dressing up so gorgeously with a lot of makeup on. It is true. They wear super-red lipsticks on, tons of face powder, slathering eyes with sexy eyeliners, eyeshadows, mascaras and all. No matter where they plan to go from local markets, schools to the workplace, they put everything on once they get out of their homes. The realm of beauty.

#10 A living room is a garage
Vietnamese families put their vehicles in their living rooms. The scooters or motorbikes fit their living rooms perfectly, so people no longer need to build a separated garage out of the floor. Vietnamese people just place their bikes or even cars there without any purpose of driving through a wall or something else. Sounds like a flexible room, right? How would you feel if your living room was packed with scooters as pieces of furniture and smelt like a garage?

Scooter in the living room. Photo taken by Vinh Nguyen.
Motorbikes in the dining room. Photo taken by Vinh Nguyen.
Little car in the dining room. Photo taken by me.

24 thoughts on “10 Strange Things About Vietnam”

  1. It was a lovely story and so fun to read. I have never been to Vietnam but I guess it would be fun to get there. I was so amazed at the dining or living room as a garage. This is the first time I have seen a car inside the house specifically in the dining room.

  2. These are some really amazing things about Vietnam. Early school timing and nap after lunch which is really great for the kids..These are some things many people have no idea about. Glad to come across your article.

  3. Now I’ll be adding Vietnam to my travel list 🙂 Very interesting place. Super smart idea with the living room turned out to be a garage too.

    I enjoy reading your post. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Vietnam has long been on my visit list and after reading these strange traditions and things about the country like they treat their living room as garage, my excitment has gone a notch higher. Would be fun knowing more such stuff personally.

  5. Actually these are not so strange things as it does happen to most countries in Asia especially when you visit the Southeast Asia. They share similar cultures and traditions.
    Yeah still strange if you are a western guest.

  6. very funny but it’s true. maybe the foreigner will feel very awerk for the first you have been to Vietnam. but if you live for a long time time you will find it interesting 🙂

  7. I’m Vietnamese and I’m not saying these “strange” things are good or bad, but you must admit that these characteristics of Vietnam are unique, right? It is funny how you could ask about people’s relationship status on the first meeting, isn’t it?
    I hope that these strange things do not scare you off, but awaken your curiosity instead.

  8. yeah, all ten things sound strang. And the strangest to me is crosswalks. I still my first experience about this. it’s horrible.

  9. All of these facts are undeniably true. While some of the common uncivilized habits may need to be discarded, the others form a unique image of Vietnamese culture. Thanks for sharing this!

  10. I haven’t noticed these 10 strange things which happen everyday in my life until I read your article. However, these weird things make Vietnam so unique and interesting. Thanks for your sharing those undeniable fun facts.

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