If I had to describe Vietnam in one word, it would be “motorbikes.” Not only do they clog the streets and the sidewalks, but hawkers are constantly yelling at you to take a ride on their motorbike-cum-taxi. Tomorrow is our last day here, so below are a few of my other impressions from our tour of Vietnam, which included Hanoi, Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang, and Saigon.
- Vietnamese cuisine boasts a lot of rice and rice noodles, soups like pho, fresh herbs, and lemongrass. One specialty of Hanoi is Bia Hoi, fresh, weak beer you can get for under 50 cents.
- Lots of restaurants are simply a cluster of plastic stools around a food stall. I’m told this is because many residents technically have no permit to live in the city, so they can’t open an official business.
- Vietnamese trains are a bumpy and boisterous experience, with attendants knocking on your sleeping compartment around 7 am to offer breakfast and locals opening the blinds and chattering at a similar hour.
- Copycats abound. We saw things like an HP hotel with the Hewlett-Packard logo (the old one), a Donut’s Donuts with Dunkin’ Donuts colors, and taxis that imitate the “reputable” brands (Vinasun and MaiLinh become Vinason or Vinasum and MeiLinh or MaiLin).
- Vietnam has a higher concentration of tourists than China and the country caters to them, with tons of hawkers, bootlegged Lonely Planets, and Western restaurants featuring burgers and pizza.
- The critters you’ll see the most of in Vietnam include tiny ants, which we found in all our hotels and hostels, and wall- and ceiling-crawling lizards.
- Even the biggest cities, Hanoi and Saigon, don’t seem to have huge downtown areas with modern skyscrapers. (The photo below is Saigon and its most conspicuous skyscraper.)
- Houses are very narrow, with a thin facade facing the road. Our host in Saigon lived in a 4-floor house with one bedroom and ensuite bathroom on each upper floor.
- Vietnam is cheaper than China, with private rooms for as low as $9 and meals for under $5. (Hanoi is cheaper than Saigon.)
- Almost every shop, hotel, and restaurant has a table full of food and other offerings for ancestors, and you’ll find incense sticks stuck on everything from sidewalks to tree trunks.
As I was reading this and thinking (again) how brave you are, we had an earthquake here in LA… (12:33am TU)
Oh no! I hope it wasn’t too strong. I experienced my first earthquake on the East Coast last summer, a 5.8, and it was quite scary.
No, it just felt like a huge eel swam under the floor and kept going.
With private rooms that cheap, maybe I should do my dissertation from there rather than here. Do they have the amenities “westerners” are used to for that price?
Who are the primary tourists they cater to?
Seriously, it’s an interesting option. You can find hostels that are extremely clean, with air conditioning, and sometimes free breakfast.
The tourists are a mix – in Nha Trang, for example, there are tons of Russians, and we met mostly Europeans (not Americans). I could definitely survive in Vietnam eating Western food and sushi.
I miss Vietnam! Nice roundup. We were told that the reason the houses are so narrow is your tax bill is based on how wide your house was (not sure if this is true). Also, I think you’d like this video of the Saigon motorbike traffic: http://vimeo.com/32958521
Awesome video, thanks! I heard that about the houses, too.
its nothing compared Indonesia 😀