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Fifteen things you need to know about Vietnam

By: TJ Vargas Posted: March-15-2012 in
Phở - A photo I took with my Motorola EX119 this morning:
TJ Vargas

So most of you have already read 15 Facts About Vietnam and I am sure you still want to know more about this country. Some of the things here have become normal to me. I have already inhaled and exhaled Saigon so much that I have become immune to it. And to be honest with you, it’s not that very different from my country. In fact, I only notice these things when a visitor points things out or when these issues come out during a conversation with other expats.

Now, if you are new to Vietnam or are traveling for the first time, reading my observations and recommendations might be very useful to you. I have also asked some of my friends on Twitter to contribute a thing or two. Here we go:

1. Phở is the most famous food in Vietnam. The spelling is correct and Oxford has already defined this word : Phở . Traditionally, Vietnamese eat Phở in the morning. Nowadays, people eat Phở anytime they want and that’s why they have Phở 24, which can be seen almost everywhere. But people I know and I agree that the best place to enjoy your Vietnamese noodle soup is at Phở Hoa on Pasteur Street. This is well-known in HCMC and I have been there many times. I vouch for it.
2. When you check in a hotel, the receptionist asks for your passport and keeps it overnight. Our friends Marissa and Alice were skeptical about it and thought this was strange as the other countries in Asia- Thailand and Singapore for example- don’t ask for the passports. Don’t worry, your passports are safe with the hotel staff and they always return your most important document the following day.

3. I happen to have a big sized foot so shopping for quality and reasonably priced shoes is a bit difficult in HCMC. True, there are a lot of shoes anywhere, Nguyen Din Chieu and Ly Chin Thang Streets display colorful, trendy and inexpensive shoes for women. Apparently, I go for solid colors like red, black, brown or white and durability is my top priority. I go to Dong Hai, a brand trusted even by locals, for my everyday wear. This shop is situated at 229 Hai Ba Trung St., District 1.

4. VN youth heart Korea and Japan. Teenagers would spend a lot of money for their costume to join the Cosplay. Could this also be the reason why I always catch them reading Japanese Comics like Doraemon? Many boys and girls also dress up like South Koreans thanks to KPOP and Korean drama.

5. Public transport could be cheap. The green bus (4,000VND) costs cheaper than the shuttle bus(15,000VND). My cousin Van usually takes the green bus in going to Phu My Hung from District 1. She prefers Bus 102 over Bus 34 as this is faster. The bus station for green buses that can take you anywhere in Saigon is located across the Ben Thanh Market. You have to wait opposite the Grand Hotel in Dong Khoi Street for the shuttle bus which is a much cleaner and cooler one.

6. It’s boiling from 9am to 4pm at the moment. I am talking about 33 to 38 degree Celsius and you can still see a lot of people wearing jackets. Also, Male employees are required to wear long sleeves and a tie at work and you see them walking outside during lunch. Making you wonder why people here eat Phở in their coat and tie at this very humid weather Wink .
7. There is a bunch of shameless expats on their 70s or 80s or 90s sharing sweet moments with pretty young Asian girls on the streets of Pham Ngu Lao or Bui Vien or De Tham. Those gals are almost thrice their age. Come on, the foreigners feel like they’re Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt or Bi Rain as these girls think anyone white is good-looking.

8. You can watch the latest Hollywood blockbusters at 50 cents! Pirated DVDs are sold at 10,000 VND and it’s ‘buy 4, free 1′ in some shops – @kingceejay
9. You can photocopy a whole book and there’s no issue on that. Vietnam’s copyright law is still at its dawn. Walk along Dong Khoi and LE Loi Streets and you’ll find photocopied books of Coelho, Grisham and Steve Jobs.

10. Things are often not constant in VN. One day they (restaurant, service, people…) are the best. The next day ‘they’ suck big time. - @Vietnam720

11. When leaving the international airport in HCMC, go up to the departures level and find the Vinasun taxi stand. Less chance of being scammed – @barijoe

12. The Vietnamese have a different concept of space, hence the space in front of you does NOT belong to you. Westerners don’t realize this. Smile – @saigonnezumi

13. They nod “Yes” when they understand you and nod the same even if they don’t. -@lyraliza
14. They’re famous for their “Vietnamese Squat”. Seen lots of locals squat on the streets while drinking their coffee (if there are no seats around) or playing Chinese checkers to wile away the time. They squat even when they’re on the chair already. – @lyraliza

15. ‘No problem’ can mean a lot of things & it’s not ‘no problem’. ‘No problem’ can mean 1. I don’t know how to solve this, if I ignore it long enough it will go away. 2. I don’t want to deal with this, if I ignore it long enough it will go away. 3. I don’t understand what s/he’s talking about, if I ignore him/her long enough he/she will go away . 4. Go away, I am on Facebook/YM/listening to VPop. - @xxxriainxxx

Here’s a bonus info:
Going through Vietnam immigration: coming in & out is a breeze! No cards to fill out. So tourist-friendly, you feel truly welcomed! – @cblaguardia seconded by: @dodjie_d

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About TJ Vargas
I have been traveling with my family since 2004 and just recently did I stumble upon the idea of blogging my experiences. Although my degree was in Education, I was an entrepreneur and a manager back home and fate lead me to teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City.

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