Vietnam Tourism: Past, Present and Future

By: Mark Gwyther

"Vietnam. It grabs you and doesn’t let you go. Once you love it, you love it forever." - Anthony Bourdain

The First Generation – Adventure Tourism

If you are reading this article in Vietnam, there is a fair chance it is in part because of Anthony Bourdain. As Vietnam slowly opened its doors to the world during the last few years of the 20th century, celebrity chef and author Anthony Bourdain epitomised the country’s first generation of tourism: adventurous Westerners with backpacks travelling halfway around the world to explore the sights, sounds and tastes of an exotic country. Only 20 years ago, Vietnam received a meagre 1.5 million international visitors. These early adventure travellers increased in numbers over the next decade and as they explored the country, their favourite places became Vietnam’s first generation of tourist locations. By 2008, arrivals nearly tripled. Of course not all were these adventure travellers: Asian businesspeople, Chinese cross-border shoppers, veterans of the war and Russian oil expats were also in the mix.

tourismImage source: st-christophers.co.uk

It was not all smooth sailing. During the last decade of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century, growth was not linear or even a certainty. The SARS scare of 2003 reduced the total inbound visitors nearly 8 percent from the year before, and the Thailand political unrest in 2009 affected the entire region, dropping the number of arrivals to Vietnam in 2009 by more than 10 percent from the year before.

Despite the ups and downs, businesses serving these adventure tourists multiplied as savvy Vietnamese saw the profitability of focusing on foreign visitors. A small number of foreigners fell in love with the country (or someone) and became expats, often opening a business for the adventure travellers who followed. Inside the cities, Pham Ngu Lao (Ho Chi Minh) and the French Quarter (Hanoi) became known as “the backpacker area”. Outside of these two major cities, travel was difficult in the early days and many of the first-generation locations arose because they were accessible. Phan Thiet/Mui Ne was the first spot where Highway 1A meets the ocean. Nha Trang and Danang/Hoi An had military airports converted to civilian airports which increased access.

Adventure tourism is not unique to Vietnam; it is often associated with developing countries and it often comes with problems. Ironically, adventure travellers en masse tend to destroy what they love. First-generation destinations are almost always not prepared for the growth in tourism. Adequate waste disposal, business regulations and security never quite catch up with demand. Once shops, restaurants and hotels are built along the roads, improving transportation infrastructure becomes much more difficult and costly. Many first-generation locations in Vietnam still struggle with these issues.

Vietnam will continue to be an adventure traveller’s dream in the foreseeable future. New locations such as Sapa are being discovered (and ruined) by travellers trying to get off the proverbial beaten path. Infrastructure improvements and a loosening of visa requirements will lower the learning curve, making the country more accessible to more people looking for that once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Video source: Benn TK

The Second Generation – Mass Tourism

In January of this year, Vietnam received nearly as many international visitors as all of 1998, but not because of a huge increase in adventure travellers. A recent seismic shift in the type of visitors changed the industry. To illustrate the point, only eight years ago nearly as many Americans visited Vietnam as Chinese. Now the Chinese visitors outnumber Americans by almost six to one.

tourismImage source: citypassguide.com

The second generation of tourists to Vietnam are the new Asian middle-class from nearby countries. The growth of people with disposable income in Asia is unprecedented in the history of humankind, surpassing post-World War II United States. That leads to interesting questions about where those new American middle-class consumers travelled and what they did. The answer is they overwhelmingly headed south to Mexico, a warm country with beautiful beaches, where Americans had more purchasing power, and the culture was interesting but not too exotic. By the end of the century Mexico was a top-10 international destination with 90 percent of arrivals originating from its northern neighbour. Vietnam is positioned almost exactly the same geographically to China as Mexico is to the United States. Mexico’s tourism industry is an excellent guide for understanding the past, present and future development of tourism in Vietnam.

Tourism in Mexico began with adventure travellers, just like Vietnam. As the numbers increased, Mexico learned from the problems first generation tourism hotspots like Acapulco encountered. Rather than continue to let development occur naturally, it allocated huge tracts of land for large developers in designated locations and provided incentives to build mammoth modern resorts. Mexico invested its oil revenues to develop the infrastructure surrounding these designated tourism locations. Unlike adventure travellers, the new middle-class travellers preferred resorts with walls that kept them inside and the locals outside. This successful strategy resulted in Cancun developing 26,500 hotel rooms and welcoming six million visitors a year by 2005.

Given these developments in Vietnam as well, it might lose some of the less mass-tourism-inclined visitors to less developed neighbouring countries, but many will be motivated to find less-known locations in Vietnam. An indirect benefit could be that tourism revenue may spread to some of the poorer areas of the country.

Vietnam’s second-generation of tourism is just beginning, despite tremendous growth in the last few years. The government is targeting 20 million international arrivals by the end of this decade. It is likely that nearly 30 million visitors will come to Vietnam by 2022. Destinations such as Phu Quoc, Cam Ranh and Danang are turning into Asia’s versions of Cancun and Cabos.

Video source: Hi Hai

Individually, these travellers might not spend as much money as more experienced travellers, but their sheer numbers make up for that and more. Additionally, the environmental and social impact is contained in a proportionately small area. For a developing country like Vietnam, the economic impact might be great enough to push the country towards the top end of the middle-income scale. For that to happen, the government’s proceeds from tourism should be reinvested back into programs that offer a high rate of return such as better infrastructure and education. While that may be uncertain, what is certain is that investors, developers and the Vietnamese government will continue to focus on this growing market segment.

The Third Generation – Sustainable Tourism

Once people travel internationally a few times, they become more adventurous and look for quality experiences outside the resort wall. The third-generation of tourism arises when the experience or activity is integrated into the surrounding environment. Specific cultural, geographic and historic properties are integral to the vacation. Companies engaging in third-generation tourism act in a more sustainable manner since their business model depends on the surrounding environment remaining relatively the same. This is also what industry experts mean when they discuss diversifying tourism products. Rather than focusing on a geographic market, the focus is on people from around the globe interested in some activity. Third generation tourists are searching for specific experiences and thus are willing to pay more. Price becomes less of an issue. This is the holy grail of tourism.

tourismImage source: baodulich.net.vn

How will tourism companies in Vietnam take this next step? Culturally, Vietnamese food is gaining an excellent reputation for being both tasty and healthy. Foodies all over the world might be interested in coming to Vietnam to experience their favourite dishes cooked and served authentically, especially if they know it is safe to eat. While an adventure traveller is comfortable eating on the street without guides, third-generation travellers need value added by a company that understands their needs. They pay more and expect more. Home stays and indigenous villages also offer a view into Vietnam’s unique culture. Vietnam has great potential for medical tourism as a low-cost alternative to Western medical procedures.

Vietnam’s incredible and diverse geography is another advantage companies may use to entice sophisticated travellers. Photography, adventure sports and spelunking are just some of the activities that potentially could bring vacationers from around the world.

Historical tourism will be a tougher road. Vietnam’s recent past damaged or destroyed many of its ancient sites. Although many Cham structures still stand, most could use renovation and support services to make the experience better. While war tourism is not a big market, maybe a small niche might arise for tours focused on the recent past wars. The Cu Chi Tunnels, after all, are a popular attraction.

tourismImage source: huracars.com

The evolution of tourism in Vietnam can and will happen concurrently. Third generation tourism businesses already operate quietly. Examples include the Amano’i Resort in Ninh Thuan Province which offers spa and wellness services to the super rich and famous. Eco-lodges in both the North and South try and co-exist with locals outside of the popular destinations. It will be up to individual businesses like these to move past the mega resort model since the Vietnamese government’s focus should be directed towards the low hanging fruit from the North. But Mexico’s tourism industry learned that as Americans gained more travel experience they eventually desired more than a beach and buffet. The new Asian middle-class travellers will also evolve past mass tourism, and those working in the tourism industry in Vietnam need to be prepared for the shift and get ahead of the curve.

Banner Image source: yenbai.org


How to Enjoy the Dry Season

By: Keely Burkey

Take a Day Trip

Explore the Cu Chi Tunnels

Not the most original idea in the world, but still worth a visit. Although these tunnels have been slightly repurposed to fit larger frames, you’ll get a closer look at the everyday living conditions of thousands of people during the American War.

How to get there: About 40km from the city centre, there are a few options: take one of the many tours offered through just about every travel agency in Pham Ngu Lao, or do it yourself by motorbike (it’ll take around two hours).

travelImage source: huracars.com

Cruise the Mekong Delta

The Region is more than 40,000 sq km, so you’ll have to make a choice or two about where to go and what to do. For a relaxing bike ride and a leisurely nap in a hammock, check Ben Tre, My Tho and An Binh Island. For small-town city life, there’s no better place than Can Tho.

How to get there: We recommend the Phuong Trang bus line or, for the scenic route, pick a river cruise with the typical Mekong Delta tour package: the floating market, coconut candy factory and set lunch.

travelImage source: baolau.com

Monkey Island (Can Gio)

An underrated spot definitely worth a day visit. About 75km from HCMC, this is doable if you’re confident on your bike; be sure to have some small change on you, as it does involve a ferry ride to Can Gio. The main point of interest here is definitely the mangrove island, which features a recreation of a Viet Minh army station and hundreds of incredibly social monkeys, just waiting to snatch your sunglasses.

How to get there: If a motorbike is not for you, there are several tour companies for about US$50 for the day.

travelImage source: citypassguide.com

Family Fun

Experience Giang Dien Waterfall

Great for a family day with the little ones. Hidden away in Dong Nai, not many people know about this hidden gem. Here you can swim (or wade with a life jacket), kayak, bike, camp, lounge and generally just enjoy life.

How to get there: About 50km from HCMC, it’ll take about an hour-and-a-half by car, two-and-a-half hours by bike. Be sure to save the directions on Google maps, as a lot of the drive is in the countryside, with limited reception.

travelImage source: visavietnam.net.vn

Have fun at a water park

HCMC has water parks aplenty. Head to Binh Duong to enjoy the sun at Dai Nam Van Hien, or slip and slide in District 11 at Dam Sen Water Park. In District 9, check The BCR Club, which features a large pool and a paintball and archery shooting range, or Suoi Tien Park, probably the most established amusement park in the city.

travelImage source: vietnamtravel.co

Give Back to the Community

OK, not strictly an outdoor activity, but admirable nonetheless. Several organisations and institutions are always looking for help; although it certainly helps if you speak Vietnamese, for many it’s not a requirement. Here are some of our top choices:

Helping Orphans Worldwide (HOW)

HOW has a Vietnam branch, Free Hugs Vietnam, that does great work with underprivileged children. They’ve been helping out the community since 2007. Check helpinghow.org.

travelImage source: directconnectaid.org

Thien Phuoc Orphanage

All the way out in District 12, gives orphaned children the love and care they need. About 60 children, most with severe disabilities, reside here, and Sister Kim, the organiser, is always looking for people to spend time with them. See their website for more information.

Animal Rescue Service

In District 2 holds two daily dog walks, and would love you to take part! With a morning walk and an afternoon walk, you can play with a pooch and get outside at the same time. Maybe you’ll even find the canine companion of your dreams.

Banner image source: enchantingtravels.com


July 2014 B2B Newsletter

By: City Pass Guide

 

July, 2014
The City Pass Post: An Insider Look

MY JOURNEY THROUGH THE HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY


YEGA THIYAGARAJAN


This is the first in an occasional series in which we profile a successful industry identity. We find out what makes them tick, how they got to where they are now, and what they learned along the way.

We caught up with Yega Thiyagarajan, the general manager of Villa Song SaigonRead the full article that reveals the path to his success.

If you have an interesting business background and would like to participate in our series, don´t hesitate to contact us: send an email to carlos@citypassguide.com or emilio@citypassguide.com

by Rob van Driesum
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TRAVEL NEWS: INSIDE & OUT

STAY UP TO DATE WITH NEW ONLINE MARKETING TECHNIQUES

 
The latest news in the Travel and Hospitality Business. We've gathered the best articles to keep up to date with the latest Online Marketing practices in our industry:
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MOBILE USAGE CHANGES TRAVEL EXPERIENCE

PLACEABLE RESEARCH


Hoi An Entrance Fee
The rapid move to mobile research and bookings means travelers require easier ways to access content. In 2014, approximately 40% of leisure travelers and 35% of business travelers will use mobile search engines to find hotels, and this number will only grow, with 72% of travelers worldwide saying that the ability to book via mobile device is useful.

Placeable has recently conducted a survey where they surveyed 1,000 consumers to find out about how they research and find businesses before and during their travels. Read the FULL ARTICLE for key findings and nicely illustrated infographic.

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CITY PASS GUIDE DISTRIBUTION

CITY PASS GUIDE INCREASES ITS DISTRIBUTION NETWORK


Julien Robellet, Distribution Manager at City Pass Guide, talks about the quick and high increase of the distribution network.

Lee Starnes - Content Manager
Aiming to reach a larger number of readers and provide useful and meaningful information to travellers and residents, City Pass team has done a great effort on its distribution channels. READ FULL STORY

SEE THE INFOGRAPHIC DISPLAYED ON THE LEFT IN FULL SIZE

If you wish to contact Julien directly, email him at distribution@citypassguide.com





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FOOTBALL TOURNAMENT
FOR CHARITY IN HCMC

SPORT & FUN ON SAT 19TH JULY

 
CityPass Guide is a proud sponsor of the 1st Inter-Company Football Tournament, organized by BBGV. The event will bring 16 teams together to compete for the Championship title. Colleagues, families, sponsors, associates and volunteers will support and cheer on the football teams throughout the day.

Date: Saturday 19th July 2014
Time: 08:30 to 17:30
Where: RMIT University, 702 Nguyen Van Linh, District 7, HCMC
  • Fun and games for adults and children
  • All proceeds go to support local charities in Vietnam
For more info visit the Event Page
Top Three Souvenir Shops in Hanoi

If you´re interested in collaborating with City Pass Guide in the promotion of your Events/Deals, please write an email to carlos@citypassguide.com

For more Events in Vietnam, visit our Deals & Events Calendar

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Kitesurfing Repairs: A Matter of Trust

By: Michael Mahe

Kitesurfing Repairs: A Matter of Trust 

kite repairKitesurfing equipment has become safer and more durable over the last years.  Still, it’s quite possible to damage the kite or the board.  During the high season in Mui Ne, waves can reach two meters height and the wind is strong with 25 knots.   In these conditions, a kite falling into the water might get damaged by the energy from the ocean or the wind. 

When the kite crashes in the water, the fabric may stretch to the point where the seams break.  This is an easy repair, and usually this is done with a old-fashioned sewing machine and special repair tape, called rip-stop.   A kite repaired by a professional, will fly like new.

Sometimes, the “bladder” (inner tube) which holds the air to stabilize the kite, may have problems.   Sometimes bladders leak air due to a small puncture.  This can be fixed with repair tape, not unlike fixing a flat tire on the bicycle.

Other times, the bladder might have more damage, it can even explode when it’s pumped to hard.   There, the only kitesurfsolution is to replace the bladder, and good kite-repair shops will have bladders in many sizes in stock.

The lines and the bar which is used to steer the kite, can also get damaged.  Lines can stretch from, for example, jumping, or simply due to the power of the wind, or they even can break.  Experienced kite-repairers are able to shorten stretched lines, but broken lines have to be replaced.  Other parts of the equipment, like the bar or the “pulleys” (which is the attachment between the lines and the kite) may break, in particular given the salty water in Mui Ne.   In those cases, it’s best to just replace the damaged equipment.

Kiteboards are rarely broken.  In Mui Ne, there are no stones or corals which present a danger for the boards.  The only exception may be “surfboards”, which may break due to high jumps.  Depending on the amount of damage, surfboards may not be suitable for repair.

kite repairIn Mui Ne, there are a number of specialized kite repair shops.  One of the more established kite-repairers is Frenchman Christian Bouillon who works at the Kitesurf Ananda Shop.  Christian is probably the most experienced in this profession: in his his native France a professional sailmaker.  There are also a number of local kitesurfers who have the necessary skills to repair kites.  They usually work at any of the many kiteschools during the day.  It turns out that most damage is done by novices of kitesurfing, and kiteschools are probably the biggest customer of any kite repair shop.

The best prevention for any damage that may occur is to take good care of the equipment (rinse the bar and lines and the board with fresh water after a kite session, for example), and not to leave the kite on the beach in the wind and sun during the entire day, and to be be careful in high waves.

Writer: Michael Mahe


30 Amazing Things to Experience in Vietnam

By: Aleksandr Smechov

Are you new to Vietnam or are you planning to join us here for a period of time? Here we compiled a selection of 30 more or less unique experiences you will have in the country. Some of them will leave you speechless, others are amusing, a few might be annoying, but all of them together make up the utterly amazing and inspiring cultural experience that is called Vietnam.

Without further ado, let’s dive into our 30 things to experience in Vietnam:

Test Your Patience with Visa on Arrival

Vietnam is notorious for one of the most frustrating and unorganized visa-on-arrival processes in Southeast Asia. First time tourists tend to nervously shift about the visa counter like frightened cattle as confusing instructions are barked and questions are usually ignored by staff. On return visits, foreigners get the unprecedented edge of adeptly navigating the confused group to expedite the process for themselves, a 1000-yard stare cutting through the haze of lost looks and angry grumbles. Upon a third return, a monk-like state of calm takes over.


Motorbike Madness

Rush hour on one of the major traffic arteries can turn your view of the world and fluent traffic upside down. Traffic rules? Phaw!

Motorbikes flow around each other like streams of water, those who turn left intertwining with the oncoming traffic and separating again like winding serpents. Buses lumber through the torrents of the rush hour like armored war-elephants amidst light cavalry. How to cross a street in this madness? Just dive in, but remember: The bus is the king of the road and we are on the lower end of the food chain on the streets of Vietnam.

Motorbike Madness


Tet Craze

In preparation for public holidays, especially Lunar New Year, Tet in Vietnamese, you will find yourself in the middle of the only time of year when Vietnamese people begin to show signs of stress. People work double shifts to make up for the days when they visit their families, uniformed entities knock on various doors to collect what they think is due, and robbers snatch more phones and handbags that at any other time of the year. The markets are buzzing with buyers and sellers of gift baskets, while housewifes set up huge cooking pots for preparing the traditional sticky rice cakes for Tet.

Tet craze


Empty Streets

During Tet holidays, many urban dwellers leave the major cities to visit their families on the countryside. You can walk through entire wards without seeing a sign of life. Well, that’s slightly exaggerated, but compared to the usual bustle it’s really calm and empty. While the tourist areas are less affected by this temporary exodus, in other districts so many shops close down, that usually bustling streets turn into abandoned ghost-alleys.

Empty Streets


Bui Vien

A clusterf*ck of a backpacker area, Bui Vien is a hate-it-or-embrace-it romp through all-hour bars, street food vendors, “massage” services, cheap hotels, $5 US extra-strength cocktail jars, drug peddlers, pharmacies, convenience stores, flyer girls, hagglers, hustlers, drunks and fire-breathing children. It’s fun for an occasional cheap beer and street watching session, or a stopover at the few decent Greek, Indian, Mexican or American restaurants along the strip. But most expats tend to slowly grow irritated at the neverending din of one of the most famous backpacker enclaves in Southeast Asia. If you have never been, visit Bui Vien for an evening to soak in the madness.

Bui Vien


Rooster Fights

Even if this point might cause an outcry from animal rights activists worldwide, I used to live in an alley with cock fight enthusiasts as neighbors. They take better care of their roosters than of their own families. The rooster fights as such, however, are remarkably unspectacular. The roosters are strong and healthy, quite noisy at times, but the bets that are placed among the spectators are not high enough to apply doping techniques. Or even risk the health of the animal in just one fight, like it is common on the Philippines.

Rooster fight


Gambling

During the days of the lunar new year festival, the rules change. Unwritten. People believe that gambling, be it for small money, bigger stakes or just matches, will attract luck for the new year. This is the only time of the year the police does not interfere with people gambling in the alleys. Wherever you walk, people are playing cards, dice or board games. Beer flows among the Vietnamese men in significant amounts and spectators frequently give wanted or unwanted tips to gamblers.

Gambling


National Flash Mob

Sometimes you may witness pedestrians, even people on motorbikes, frozen in place beside the street as if struck by some futuristic temporal flux rays. They look serious, some even somber and don’t move an inch. At first you might wonder if it’s some weird flash mob that gathered on the street, while you pass them in amazement and watch out for the cameras. But soon you realize the truth: In fact they froze, because the National Anthem was blaring out of a creaky speaker.


Burning Bills

Certain occurrences at local shops supposedly cause bad luck for the business. The proprietor may take measures to avoid that unfortunate situation and gift fake money to the spirits by means of burning it in front of the shop. The same happens during new and full moons: The fake bills you burn turn into real cash in the netherworld that can be used by the ancestors, which in turn help their descendants in daily matters of business and family.

If you are new to Vietnam, you might find the one or another $100.- bill next to the road. Don’t bother picking it up, it’s fake and used for burning.

Burning Bills


Flooded Streets

The abundance of plastic bags and other trash that gets carelessly shoved into the drains of streets during dry season may clog the drainage system, so with rainy season’s first heavy monsoon of the year, some streets get thoroughly flooded. That doesn’t stop motorbike riders testing how deep the water really is. Children take the cooling rain and deep puddles as an opportunity to splash around in the water.

Take a seat at an adjacent streetside cafe and enjoy the show.

Flooded Streets


Wai Wai Wi Ai

The tendency of Vietnamese people to drop the ending syllable of words when talking English and other foreign languages is an amusing classic. At first you might be confused when you hear an expat ordering Wai Wai Wi Ai at a Saigonese restaurant. When the waitress turned up with a glass of white wine with ice, you get it. Expat English teachers can sing you a song about dropped syllables, but westerners actually adopting this for fun - that’s just splendid!


Ao Dai Traditional Dress

Although most Vietnamese wear Western clothes, the traditional Ao Dai dress is still popular as a celebratory or workplace outfit. A beautiful pants and top combination for women, the Ao Dai is elegant and unique, and a lovely reminder of Vietnam’s culture.

Ao Dai Traditional Dress


Funerals

Be prepared to wake-up at 4 a.m. to the sounds of wailing funeral horns, which then often continue throughout the next day. Funerals in Vietnam are long, serious affairs where the deceased’s family dedicate sleep, food, money, time and energy to remembering their life and celebrating their achievements. Funerals involve large colorful tents at the entrance to the deceased’s house, tables of serious men drinking beer, feasts, visits from friends and family, music and traditional funerary rituals. Be respectful, but also feel free to watch this fascinating side of Vietnamese life, and be sure to ask a local to explain it to you.


Snacks in Baskets

There are ladies here who carry baskets on their backs, and inside those baskets are foods from your wildest dreams. Keep an eye out for the women with two massive buckets on the ends of a large pole which they support on their shoulders. Squat next to a basket lady and sample some of the waffles and crackers she is selling. If you’re feeling adventurous ask for bánh tráng trộn - a bag of torn rice paper, nuts, dried beef, herbs, spices and quail eggs which serves as a sort of Vietnamese trail-mix.

Snacks in Baskets


Talking Bicycles

If you’ve spent any time in a Vietnamese city you will have noticed those bicycles which have a voice of their own. The rider rides around on them, looking furtive, while a speaker from his bicycle blurts out ‘bánh mì đây!’ or “bắp xào đây!”. Inside the basket on the back of their bike is hot bread, a delicious corn mix, sticky rice, fruit, etc! It all depends on what the bike says…


Park Life

This one is peculiar to Ho Chi Minh City, but local parks throughout the country have their own unique blend of people and culture. Visit a park to understand the lives of those who live nearby. Ho Chi Minh City’s 23/9 Park in District 1 is a great example. Hundreds of people pass through here every day - tourists with their cameras and sunglasses, expats walking their dogs, local students looking to practise English and older women in hilarious sports gear dancing in a large organized exercise class. People from all over the place use the park’s free exercise equipment, and donut sellers, illegal fishermen, couples, singles, etc dot the park benches.

Park Life


Night Buses

Many countries have night buses, but the buses in Vietnam are strange. Uniform throughout Southeast Asia, these buses have tiny individual seats with little pockets for your legs. The walkways are like squeezing yourself down a tube and you will spend your night-ride in the fetal position, but the sheer hilarity of sitting in a pocket on a bus that glows with bright neon lights and sounds like a strangled duck will make it worth it.


Drinking Culture

Have a drink with some local people. Trust me it’s an interesting process - they drink differently. It is customary for people in Vietnam to drink together, saying ‘yo!’ (‘cheers’) every time they take a sip, and taking that sip together. People also often drink beer with ice, and it is quite usual to eat snails, giant flat crackers or BBQ chicken legs with your beverage. None of those boring crisps or beernuts here, no sir.

Drinking culture


Soup

Vietnam is, of course, famous for its delicious and varied types of noodle soup. Pho is the most famous soup, but this is just one kind of noodle. Other noodles include hủ tiếu, mì and bún, and you can eat them dry, with liquid, vegetarian, meaty, with seafood, with mountains of vegetables, etc. You name it, Vietnam probably has it.

Try some of these options:

- Mì (instant noodles)

- Bún riêu (large tube noodles with tofu, congealed blood and seafood)

- Phở (large flat noodles, with chicken, beef, or a variety of other options)

- Hủ tiếu khô (dry noodles with chicken, beef or a variety of other options)

- Hủ tiếu nước (wet noodles with chicken, beef or a variety of other options)

Also note that ‘gà’ is chicken, ‘thịt bò’ is beef and ‘thịt heo’ is pork.

Soup


Bribe a Cop

Corruption and quotas plague most police forces on a global scale. From the petty arrests in New York City to the shady police stops in Saigon, almost no major city comes without its share of seedy authority figures. Bribes are a normality in Vietnam, and it’s common practice to negotiate for an affordable bribe once you are stopped for a real (or blatantly made up) offence. If you drive, you’ll probably be pulled over once or twice. Have some money ready and brace yourself for standardized corruption.

Dribe a cop


Date a Vietnamese Guy/Girl

More so than any book, article or YouTube video, locals are your #1 resource for immersing yourself in Vietnamese culture. Take it a step further and date a local guy or girl and not only will your Vietnamese language skills steadily improve, but your understanding and empathy for the (at-first) strange culture will reach a nice equilibrium. And for those having a hard time, any attempt to speak the difficult-to-pronounce language is admirable, making your efforts all the more noticeable. Just try and avoid the “they’re out for money” mentality; this turns otherwise open-minded foreigners jaded and cynical.

Date a Vietnamese


Tiny Plastic Chairs

At first sight the tiny plastic chairs littering every street food joint might warrant a snort. At first sitting they might cause a disgruntled mumble. But eventually most foreigners come to tolerate or even embrace the tiny plastic chair setup - it means good, cheap food and iced beer is at hand and waiting.

Tiny Plastic Chairs


Speak the Language

Vietnamese is a tonal language. Meaning you won’t have too much trouble slowly learning to read and write it, since it uses Roman characters, but speaking is an entirely different matter. In most countries, a slight mispronunciation is acceptable and sympathized with. In Vietnam, it can cause a misplaced order, a hearty laugh or a dead stare. You may annunciate something five times, never changing your tone, before something clicks and the locals understand what you’re trying to say. Some understand your broken tone perfectly, while other will quickly give up without even trying. Other languages (at least, speaking-wise) will soon seem like a joke when six months in you’re still struggling to pronounce the street you live on.


Discover the World of Alleyways

Vietnam’s alleyways are a world of their own. While tourists may not venture through these maze-like clusters of clandestine streets, those who brave the country’s unseen pathways discover colorful scenes of lax local life, shortcuts to destinations and cozy neighborhood stalls and shops. While dodgy alleys may need a local’s guidance, generally alleys are teeming with life only the Vietnamese tend to see, and are worth the spelunking. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a xe om driver that knows and utilizes his alleyway shortcuts well, squeezing through impossibly thin openings, and dodging roosters, kids and other motorbikes to get to your destination.

 Discover the World of Alleyways

Image by Brian Huang


Eat a Durian

We dare you. The initial smell alone causes some to take several steps back. Imagine sweaty gym socks with a sweet tang and you’re getting close. A bite is more like a blended batch of onions with a hint of aforementioned socks, and something sweet somewhere in that mess. Many, many find it nauseating. For a lucky few it becomes one of their favorite snacks. Eating a durian can literally be a once in a lifetime experience, but only because you’ll never want to look - or smell - one again.

Eat a durian


Visit Cholon

Located in District 5 in Ho Chi Minh City, Cholon is Saigon’s Chinatown, a medley of colorful shops and colonial buildings, spices and herbs, and Cantonese cuisine joints. Cholon is home to mainly Taiwanese and Chinese residents. Historic in feel and far from the run-down, cramped chain-shop Chinatowns of many Western cities, Cholon is an atmospheric trek through gorgeous Chinese pagodas, delicious street food, herbal medicine shops and ancient, colorful architecture. It’s a must-visit on a cooler day, when you can walk around the streets, alleys and markets, and sample and buy to your heart’s content.

Visit Cho Lon


Karaoke

With modulated microphones echoing your grating voice into something permissible, karaoke joints around Vietnam are a prime way to turn your shower screeches into melodious singing. Vietnam’s karaokes are ubiquitous, cheap as dirt (compared to other karaoke-culture countries, at least), and offer a nice selection of cheesy English pop “classics”. Drink and food prices are fair, but karaoke room cleanliness can be a hit or miss. In general, however, the Vietnamese karaoke scene is definitely something to get into if you’re looking for a cheaper, more private alternative to bars and clubs.

Karaoke


Ca Phe Culture

Coming from Austria with our flourishing coffee culture, I tend to look at the Vietnamese equivalent in amazement. It is so different from ours, and yet so richly developed. Hot coffee with or without condensed milk is native to the North and the Highlands, while in the South we pour it over ice. But North or South, ca phe is a social thing Vietnamese enjoy at all times of the day.

Ca Phe Culture


Herbs and Knobbly Vegetables

Vietnam’s vast array of herbs, lettuce-like leaves and other miscellaneous fruits or vegetables make eating here an experience in itself. Many of the Vietnamese herbs are only available locally, and the aroma of Vietnamese mint and other strange leaves are staple to most local dishes. You should also have a nibble of some of the vegetables here! From countless types of courgette to a long, stick-like thing which absorbs anything it is cooked with. A bit like a choko but with the texture of a sponge...

market vietnam


Supermarkets 

No two supermarkets here are the same. Even if they are part of a chain. And trying to buy western foods in any of them can be a real challenge, so why not embrace the Vietnamese choices? Skip cereal, apples, tomato paste and pasta, and get into some rice paper wraps, weird dried shrimp or some of those strange sweet-but-salty cakes. It may seem odd to pay less for a mango than for a banana, or for a Snickers to cost more than a carton of milk, but such is life in Vietnam. Embrace it!

Supermarkets


CONCLUSION

If we’re honest, it was hard to stop at 30. Vietnam is not a top tourist destination for nothing, and as we wrote this list of things that you can only fully experience here we began to appreciate just how unique and fascinating a country it is. From the impossible bubbly language and rocket fuel coffee, to the questionable legal system, terrifying traffic and that disgusting snotty durian that I never quite got the taste for…
Vietnam is a world of possibility.


30 Things to Experience in Vietnam is a post co-developed by Zoe, Aleksandr and Frank together, while Frank fiercely contradicts the other two writers’ opinion about the fragrant, fantastic and marvelous durian fruit!


Ox-racing festival in An Giang

By: Quang Mai

Annual festival for all ages

The 21th Bay Nui ox-racing festival was held at the Khmer pagoda of Ta Miet, in the southern province of An Giang, on October 14, with 64 pairs of cows from southern provinces of Vietnam and Cambodia.

In order to promote the solidarity of 54 ethnic minority groups, the festival is organized annually. This is a joyful activities in An Giang that visitors from all ages are fond of. During four-day event, visitors also have chance to enjoy the cultural identities in Vietnam.

A muddy 120-meter-long racing path is the central point of the whole event where people gathered to witness the strongest and the fasted pairs to win the race. Before the cow racing festival, farmers had chosen the best pairs of cows for racing. The cowboy held the stick with sharp point when the race starts, he hitted the cows to make them run as fast as they can. The challenge is how to keep the pair run at the same speed and stay focused, otherwise he can probably fall down onto the race and get severe injury.

Photo by: Huỳnh Bá Long

 

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