Vietnam, Land of Motorbikes

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.

8 thoughts on “Vietnam, Land of Motorbikes

  1. 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.

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