OBSERVING VIETNAM PART 6

18)     Sirens. You can tell how important the person being transported in an ambulance is by the volume of the sirens. The louder the sirens, the more important the patient is. As if eh?!

19)      Facebook. An example of how Communists control, Facebook is blocked in VN. Easiest way to get around – free proxy websites.

20)      Converting currency. This service is usually offered at higher end hotels. If not, it’s pretty easy to get your money exchanged without too much worrying. Find a gold/jewellery store (it has to be gold, not just any random jewellery). Many places will post daily exchange rates for gold and CAD/US dollars. If you are satisfied with the rates, just ask them to exchange! (Find a privately owned store on the streets, not one in upscale malls! ;))

You should know how to find a gold store… IT WILL BE GOLD. If it doesn’t look anything like the picture below… go find a place that does!

21)      Staring. Be prepared for lots of staring and hushed whispering. Doesn’t matter if you’re Asian, even Vietnamese. Locals can tell you’re a foreigner by your looks, your clothes and the way you carry yourself. As soon as you open your mouth to talk, you’re done. Vietnamese people love to gossip and talk about others, don’t be surprised to hear that you were the center of a conservation held by people you don’t even know.

22)     Bargaining. Always always bargain when you are buying because you can be sure you’re being ripped off, especially when you’re a foreigner. Perhaps you don’t find it as a rip-off because the prices are cheaper than anything you can find here, but it’s a culture thing. You are expected to bargain, if you don’t, you are considered a fool. People will not take offense if you bargain, they will either accept your offer or they won’t. Markets always have at least 10 other stalls selling the same items, if you think you can get it cheaper at another stall, go check it out. You can always come back and buy later. And it is never a bad idea to go shopping with a local and have him/her bargain for you!

And that marks the end of my OBSERVING VIETNAM posts!
I hope you learned something, because that would just be cool 🙂

OBSERVING VIETNAM PART 5

14)   Fruit. Abundant in Vietnam, especially in season. Dessert means fruit, so expect it anywhere and everywhere you go. Fruit is also what everyone offers to guests. I know that for a fact after visiting a dozen relatives in one day and encountering fruit being served at every house.

15)      Replenishing liquids. Don’t feel the need to always carry a water bottle around! Plus it will be hard to find a trustworthy water source to refill them. Drinks are cheap and plentiful everywhere and there is always so much to try! You can go for  coconut juice straight out of the coconut, freshly pressed sugar cane juice, or one of the many canned/bottled goodies like Bird’s Nest drink, local beers (usually over ice, signs advertising draft beer (bia hoi) are found everywhere as well), bittermelon tea, guava juice, and Fanta (they have so many flavours in Asia)! My favourites are: Lemon Green Tea and Passionfruit Juice by a company called Number 1. Most refreshing 40 cents ever, every time.

You gotta try them!

16)      Power lines. Look deadly, especially in bigger cities.

I know, this video is not the greatest. It was rainy that day and I was in a taxi but look at those power lines!!!!

17)      Body odour and greasy hair. NON EXISTANT IN VN. For me at least. Like many people, if I don’t use deodorant, I smell. Here, even when I wear antiperspirant, I can still smell. I didn’t smell in VN! …and I don’t know why. My theory, because the ‘Canadian’ bacteria living on our underarms cannot survive in VN climate. No bacteria = no body odour. In addition, my hair easily becomes greasy. If I haven’t washed my hair that day, it’s embarrassing to have someone see me. No matter how much I sweated and how much dirt was in the air in VN, my hair just didn’t get greasy. It was awesome. I recently read that greasy hair is seen when the scalp is dry. Oils are produced to compensate and therefore causing that feared oily bed of hair. This makes perfect sense to me as it was always extremely humid in VN. Humid to the point that you were always always sticky. Haha.

OBSERVING VIETNAM PART 4

11)      Harassment. If you are a girl, and if you are alone (even if you’re not), you will be verbally harassed. I am not hot, not even close, but I was constantly bothered by creepy guys everywhere I went. There’s not much you can do, just expect it so you won’t be caught off guard. With my character, I always want to run my mouth and tell them off, but I didn’t dare to in VN… so I blatantly ignored them instead. They will never bother if you if you’re with a guy that can pass as your bf/husband though, so it’s always nice to travel with someone! I was walking through the market with a cousin my age. Whenever I walked beside him, I could walk in peace. To prove my argument, I decided to walk behind him. You know it, as soon as it looks like you’re walking alone, sleazy comments get thrown your way. Kind of pathetic!

12)      Ice cream buffet. They have all you can eat ice cream in Saigon. Enough said.

13)      Toilets. Be prepared for dirty and smelly toilets. Especially when you’re outside the typical tourist areas. Oh, and expect squatting toilets too! Word of advice – always carry kleenex/tissue/toilet paper. I don’t know how most people do without, but you will be surprised to see the lack of toilet paper everywhere.

OBSERVING VIETNAM PART 3

8)      Pollution and dust. Everywhere, over everything. The reason why you see so many people wearing masks while going out. The reason why people sweep and wash their floors multiple times a day.  The reason why people like light rain as it makes the dust settle. Houses are also very open in VN so it doesn’t help much!

9)      Cheap taxis. Taxis are cheap and plentiful in bigger cities. It should take you no more than 5 minutes to hail a cab or to have one come pick you up after calling the company. There are a lot of sketch taxis so keep to the prominent and well known names (ie. Mai Linh, Vinasun). Rates are pretty much the same across all companies so no need to worry much about prices. A ride will end up costing an average of 10 000 VND/km, about $0.60 CAD. Taxis in VN do not charge waiting time! I love that. No matter how busy traffic is and how long it takes to reach your destination, you will still be charged the same. It probably helps to know your streets (perhaps check out the best route on a map before getting in a taxi). There were plenty of times where we alerted taxi drivers of our knowledge that they were taking the long route. Another thing, if you particularly liked a driver, ask him for his card. Then whenever you need a taxi, you can call him directly to come pick you up. Drivers are grateful for that business and it’s a win win for the both of you. Also, taxi drivers would love the opportunity to drive long distances, so don’t be afraid to do so! We often taxied from Can Tho back to our hometown, Phung Hiep, which took about 1 hour and cost less than renting a private car and driver. This is a good option for travelers who are not comfortable taking shuttle buses/vans. Shuttles are cheaper, but often dirty, sketchy and scary, especially if you’re travelling alone on in a big vehicle full of strangers.

You can see how many taxis go by in a span of over a minute. And! That building is where we stayed while in Saigon (:

10)      Cell phones. Service is great and cheap! There are no contracts, no fees, and operates similar to Pay As You Go. You buy a phone (or bring your own), and then purchase a SIM card. I think I paid 60 000 VND ($3.50) for a SIM card with a prepaid balance of 50 000 VND (my service provider was MOBIFONE). The SIM comes with a local cell phone number and caller ID. Incoming calls are ALWAYS free. Rates are super cheap and even cheaper when you’re calling/texting someone using the same provider. I think it cost me about $0.02 to text locally with others using Mobifone and about $0.15 internationally. Service providers have awesome promotions going on all the time. One that went on throughout my stay was “1 to 5 minute calls are free” which was awesome because I usually never had to talk for any longer than 5 minutes. My favourite promotion was “We’ll match 100%” – the service provider will send you a text to let you know when and for how long the promotion will run. If you top up during the promotional period, the service provider will fully match the amount you top up. So if you top up with $20, you automatically get $40 in your account. I loooved this! Other times, there will be smaller match promotions, such as 25% or 50%. Another great thing, balances expire one year after top up (unlike the usual 30 or 60 days here!) so you can definitely take advantage of promotions when they come up! Did I mention I never had to top up my cell myself? I just paid the lady and she topped up for me 🙂 Loved it. Haha

Some of the most popular cell phone carries/service providers:

OBSERVING VIETNAM PART 2

4)      Motorcycles. Or scooters, or motorbikes… whatever they are called. They are as numerous as ants in Vietnam. Most families have more than one, and usually, every person capable of driving owns one. You can imagine what it is like during rush hour traffic. Yet these people expertly weave in and out, twist and turn, without crashing into one another. It is even more amazing when you watch this from an aerial point of view at an intersection with no streetlights.

Exactly what I was talking about:

5)      Pedestrians. Follow these simple instructions to cross the street: Close your eyes and just cross slowly. Okay, not literally, but that’s pretty much how it works. Traffic is insane in Vietnam, there are just too many bodies on the street which makes it impossible for them to stop just to let you pass. You just have to step down and cross (unless there are traffic lights). The KEY is to walk slowly and steadily, vehicles will weave around you. You will hopefully safely cross to the other side. I think it was easiest for me to get used to this concept, although my mom seemed to think the faster you move, the safer you’ll be. A big no no. She eventually became quite used to it though. Also important, if you are crossing with a group of people, cross in a single line (parallel to traffic)! That way, vehicles will only have to weave out of the way of ONE body, not a blob of people! My family always let me lead because if anything, I would get hit first… T_T

At around 30 seconds, you see a school boy in a white shirt… keep your eyes on him as he blends into the traffic and crosses the street. Now you know what to do when you go!

These brave souls are another perfect example! Haha


6)      The highways. Similar to our Canadian ones, yet different. The left most lane is for those driving at a faster speed, like us. However, cars ONLY pass in the left lane in VN. So, if you’re in the left most lane and going slow enough where a car behind you wants to pass, he will honk or flash his lights at you. You would then switch into the right lane to allow the person behind you to pass. You have to move out of the way. It was so weird for me to see that. Dangerous as well, because then it involves tailgating!

7)      The honking. Oh my god, do I ever miss the peaceful silence when in VN. Honking is a continuous drone you eventually get used to. At first, I just couldn’t understand the need to incessantly honk, but eventually I caught on. Motorbike drivers don’t really use rearview mirrors, or check blind spots, or shoulder check… Constant honking while driving allows you to alert surrounding drivers of your approaching presence so that they don’t suddenly swerve into you. Sounds crazy, but it works. Cars are always constantly honking to alert motorbike drivers of the same thing.

Simply put, traffic in Vietnam is orderly chaos. Notice the honking:

OBSERVING VIETNAM PART 1

A bit overdue, but better late than never!

As you know, my family spent 6 weeks in Vietnam over the summer. During that amount of time, I couldn’t help but notice certain things that are better (or worse) than what I’m used to.

Today, I have the pleasure of sharing those experiences with you!

1)      Good things come in small packages. Vietnam is a tiny country with an area of about 331,690 km2 and a population of 85,846,997 (2009 census). To put into perspective, Canada is 30 times larger than Vietnam, but Vietnam has a population that is 2.5 times greater than Canada. During the small number of trips we made during our stay in Vietnam, it was always a nice surprise to see the amazing changes in scenery that occur in very little time. Within an hour, we can go from staring out at the beautiful blue seas to gazing up from the feet of enormous mountains completely covered in trees. VN is a beautiful country with many natural gems, it’s a shame what the country went through during the wars and now, industrialization.

2)      Table manners. An average Canadian would most likely cringe if some of the table manners often seen in VN were witnessed at a dinner table here. Although acceptable in VN, it would more than likely get you kicked out at restaurants here! In everyday eating establishments, it is common practice to spit out your bones and other debris onto the ground, or right onto the table/tablecloth. Once customers at the table are done eating, the waiters will sweep all the garbage away to prepare for the next group. Unsanitary? Yep.

3)      Pro drivers. All cars in VN use standard transmission. There is no such thing as driving automatic. I am amazed at their driving skills, especially taxi drivers. They are able to maneuver into the smallest of alleys and then reverse back out with such ease, I feel like a failure as a driver. Well, I am a failure… but that’s a different story.