Vietnamese New Year Traditions

By: Lien Nguyen

In Vietnam, the Lunar New Year is known as Tết or Tết Nguyên Đán. It is the most important and popular festival for the Vietnamese people during the year. Tết is celebrated from the 1st of January to the 3rd, according to the lunar calendar. Each year a different sacred animal in the Chinese Zodiac controls the luck and destinies of all people. This year will be the Year of the Dog.

Not only is Tết a celebration of the arrival of spring and an occasion to pay respects to one's ancestors, it is also a great opportunity for family to come together. Family members will return to their homeland for a reunion and to savour the flavours of the holiday.

Here are the few must-dos to celebrate a perfect Vietnamese Lunar New Year.

Mâm Ngũ Quả (The Five-Fruit Tray)

The preparation of the five-fruit tray is an essential Tết tradition in every Vietnamese home. The tray symbolises the family’s respect for their ancestors and their wishes for the New Year. Each fruit represents a different prayer for the future. Due to regional differences in climate and customs, people display the Tết fruit in different ways.

new yearImage source: suckhoe.ecomedic.vn

In the North, people believe that the basic elements in oriental philosophy are represented by colours. Metal, wood, water, fire, and earth correlate with white, blue, black, red and yellow respectively. So people carefully choose and organise their fruit according to colour. The northern five-fruit tray often includes, banana, pomelo, peach, mandarin and persimmon.

Due to the weather conditions and red basaltic soil, people in the central areas of Vietnam have a hard time growing many types of produce. These people feel it is more important to show sincere gratitude for their ancestors than to spend too much time making a complicated arrangement. Instead, they use any fruit that they have on hand. Some popular choices for the Central five-fruit tray are dragon fruit, watermelon, pineapple, and orange.

The five-fruit tray in the South is themed around the traditional southern wish for a wealthy New Year. The tray has an abundant display and is generally made up of custard apples, figs, coconuts, papayas, and mangos. Families also like to display red watermelons to bring luck for the year.

Normally, in all regions, the tray will be put on the altar in the home, though sometimes people set it up on the table next to a box of candied fruit.

Hoa Đào and Hoa Mai - (The Planting of Peach or Apricot trees)

During Tết people love to look at beautiful flowers because they think certain flowers will bring them happiness and luck in the New Year. People buy peach flowers (in the North) and apricot flowers (in the South) to decorate their homes.

new yearImage source: c2.staticflickr.com

To make these peach and apricot trees even more beautiful, Vietnamese people often hang twinkly LED lights on them, as well as red lucky money envelopes and small plastic figurines representing the gods of wealth.

These plants are placed in the living room or in front of the house. Some companies put them in their offices to enjoy their beauty and to bring hope for good fortune.

Bánh Tét – Bánh Chưng - (Cylindrical Cake – Square Cake)

As Tết approaches you’ll notice a fire burning all night long on the stove in most Vietnamese homes. The families are cooking the traditional cakes for Tết. Vietnam is a country where wet rice is farmed, so it makes sense that there are many traditional Vietnamese cakes made from it. Bánh chưng and bánh tét cakes are made from glutinous rice, mung bean and pork and they are essential foods for the Lunar New Year. The colours of the cake symbolise the earth and the sky.

new yearImage source: c2.staticflickr.com

The Northerners prepare bánh chưng, a square cake, while the Southerners prefer bánh tét, which is shaped like a cylinder.

Each region has its own customs, beliefs, and methods, however, both cakes hold equal importance for the families that prepare them.

Video source: Hướng Nghiệp Á Âu

Bánh Mứt - (Candied Fruit)

Like bánh chưng and bánh tét, mứt is a must-have food for every family during Tết, though, it’s really more of a snack than a kind of food. The mứt is traditionally offered to guests when they arrive at a home to give their greetings and hopes for a happy new year. There are many categories of mứt, such as candied fruit, coconut jam, kumquat jam and sugared apples.

new yearImage source: blog.bizweb.vn

Cookies, candy and seeds, such as melon and sunflower seeds are also offered during Tết. The sweets and seeds will be put into a beautiful box and placed on the table in the living room, so that families and their guests can enjoy a cup of tea and something to eat while deepening their relationships with one another.

Lì Xì - (Lucky Money in Red Envelopes)

On the first day of New Year, the whole family will dress up and get together to offer New Year’s greetings and wishes to one another. This is a custom that has been maintained for generations.

The eldest members of the family will give red envelopes to the children and young adults, while advising them about their life, school and work. These red envelopes symbolize wishes of luck and wealth for the youngest in the family. After receiving the envelopes, the youth are expected to give some wishes to their elders for good luck, success and good health in the New Year.

new yearImage source: vietnam-travel.org

Xông Nhà - (The Aura of the Earth)

On the first day of the New Year, Vietnamese families will carefully choose the first guest to step into their home. If the guest has a good Aura, meaning they are good fit with the zodiac of the homeowner, has good education, and is kind and healthy, then the family will receive luck and good fortune for the year. This is especially common among families who work in business.

new yearImage source: vietnam-travel.org

The chosen person may bring some gifts for the children of the house and then he or she will offer his/her sweetest words to the family. The well-wishes will depend on the member of the household. If the person is aging, health and happiness will be hoped for, a businessman might desire luck and wealth, while the children often receive wishes for success with their schoolwork and obedience to their parents.

Bữa Cơm Đầu Năm – (First Meal of the Year)

The Vietnamese believe that Tết is meant for getting together with friends and family. Therefore, the first meal of the year plays an important role in Vietnamese culture. Family members will return to their homelands, even if they’ve been living far away from home for a long time. Tết is a time to enjoy delicious food as a family and to talk about the events of the past year. Normally, the family will cook together and make traditional foods like spring rolls, Vietnamese sausages, bánh tét or bánh chưng.

new yearImage source: channel.vcmedia.vn

Now that you know the proper way to prepare for Tết, let’s enjoy it!

Banner Image source: ibb.co


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!


10 Local Things to Do in Vietnam

By: City Pass Guide

There are many things to do in Vietnam, but the country has such a well established backpacker trail that a real immersion into the local culture can seem impossible. Sometimes it’s hard to see past the famously cheap beers, tourist tours and gaudy souvenirs. But if, like us, you’re a lover of all things authentic, the question still remains - what are some local things to do in Vietnam?

If you have ever visited Vietnam, you will know that the Vietnamese population still relies very much on traditional processes as they go about their daily life. Even in the country’s metropolitan hub Ho Chi Minh City, with its transnational chains and fusion of Western and Vietnamese lifestyle, many locals still cook traditional Vietnamese food, wear traditional dress, use traditional tools and run businesses which date back tens of generations. Vietnam is well known for its rich and still thriving culture, and its past is very much a part of its present. There’s just so much to see!

In light of this, we’ve compiled a list of 10 local things to do in Vietnam that will get you off the beaten track and immersed in the country’s unique past and present. There’s nothing touristy about this list of must-sees...


Meet local people with amazing life stories 

Explore the countryside and experience the thrill of getting lost amongst the rice paddies. You never know what you might find. In the outskirts of Hoi An, you have the opportunity to stumble upon an astonishing 300 meter handmade bamboo bridge, with its builder sitting by peacefully, smoking a cigarette, and waiting to collect a small toll of 10,000 VND. Local people in the countryside are friendlier than you may think, so feel free to say “Xin Chao” and shake the hands of people like this bridge builder, Thanh. He repairs this bridge every year by hand so that local people can have a safe way to cross the river.

The bamboo bridge built by the bridge builder, Thanh.


Learn how to cook rice crackers

One of the top things to do in Vietnam is eat. But why not try cooking the food you eat yourself? Vietnamese rice crackers are a popular snack throughout the country. They are made with rice flour, chili, salt, pepper, and sesame seeds. First, the batter is steamed and then laid in the sun to dry. The final step in the cooking process is lightly toasting the crackers over an open fire. Banh Dap is a popular dish made with rice crackers and rice noodles. To eat Banh Dap, you smash the center of a large cracker to turn it into bite-sized pieces, and then dip those pieces into classic Vietnamese fish sauce. To experience this firsthand, check out Vespa Adventures’ countryside process behind that piece of culture. Vietnam Vespa Adventures provides the chance to get tours in Hoi An

Rice crackers drying on the racks.


Weave your own Vietnamese sleeping mat

Vietnam is known not only for its healthy and deliciously fresh cuisine, but also for its handicrafts. Hand-made goods are a significant aspect of traditional life here, and are still used today especially among the rural community. Many people visit Vietnam every year to purchase a piece of the country’s creativity for themselves, but what if you could be a part of the design and creation involved. Learn how to weave Vietnamese cloth and rush mats, understand the process and ask as many questions as you like while working with the smiling local women who have been weaving these mats for generations.

A tourist helping the locals weave a mat


Sleep on a traditional rush mat

A typical bed in Vietnam isn’t a plush mattress like many people may imagine when wishing for a nap or a good night’s sleep. Here, a bed is usually a thin sleeping mat made of dried reeds. These reeds are dried in the sun and dyed with vibrant colors that are weaved into intricate patterns. If you want to experience the real local way of living, try sleeping on a rush mat for a night. It’s pretty hard to find a hotel with these traditional mats, but you can always grab one at the market for a few dollars and try it out. Alternatively, using your mat to dine picnic-style is a great local experience for those who’d like to keep their cushiony mattress.

A tourist laying down a a traditional rush mat


Tailor a traditional dress: A unique thing to do in Vietnam

Ao Dai is the traditional Vietnamese dress that you will often see women wearing to work or to formal events. With tailoring prices being surprisingly low, we suggest getting one of these iconic dresses made. Pick a fabric, typically silk, with a traditional design for a fun and unique outfit. If you don’t know what kind of design you want, swing by the Women’s Museum in Ho Chi Minh City to see some beautiful displays of Ao Dai’s and more. Buy your fabric in the local market, but make sure you bargain! Some tailors offer their own range of materials.

A woman measuring up silk for a tailored ao dai.

Photo by Tommy Japan


Learn how to build a fishing boat

Seafood is a staple in Vietnamese cuisine, being both fresh and widely available throughout this skinny country. Hundreds of local families are employed, either privately or commercially, to supply local Vietnamese markets, restaurants and households with the best of the country’s seafood. And what if, aside from filling your stomach, you could understand the process behind that whiskery piece of catfish on your plate? Vietnam Vespa Adventures provide the chance to visit a local fishing village and watch as the men build and repair their fishing boats using unbelievable traditional methods, bring in their catch or head out in the early morning for a day of salty sea-spray and Southeast Asian sun.

Fishing village, vietnam, boat

Photo by Andrea Schaffer


Harvest rice the traditional way in Mai Chau

Mai Chau is a spot that’s not to be missed. The iconic scenery makes this a perfect place to travel for a few days of relaxation. There are a variety of cultures in Mai Chau, including Vietnamese, the White Thai and other ethnic minority tribes. With Mai Chau Ecolodge you can interact with the locals and help out with the rice harvesting. This authentic experience in Vietnam will show you first hand how hard harvesting rice is, but as you connect with the local people around you and gain real insight into how they live, it could also be the highlight of your travels. To really get in touch with the nature of Mai Chau, staying at Mai Chau Ecolodge is a must-do.

Woman harvesting rice in Vietnam 


Go night fishing on local boats

If you’re a fan of fishing, and even if you’re not, night fishing for squid on Phu Quoc Island is both intrepid and eventually delicious. There are many opportunities to head off for a few hours with a local operator and catch your own fresh squid, before barbecuing it on-site. Catch, cook and sample some traditional Vietnamese seafood, as you float on gentle water and watch the sun fall behind the horizon.

Squid fishing at night on a boat with harpun

Image by Sheraz Sadiq


Lounge in Vietnam’s second Halong Bay

Vinh Hy Bay on Vietnam’s central coast is usually off the radar for the typical backpacker. Far less popular than Halong Bay but with similar majestic scenery, towering rock faces and strips of white sand, this bay is protected from the tourist trail by its proximity to the Nui Chua National Park. Visit this quiet bay for a quiet getaway, and take in the area’s vibrant marine life with a glass-bottomed boat or a snorkel.

Vinh Hy Bay, Bay, Sand, Rocks, Nature

Photo by DBSSW


Drink with the locals.

Drinking with Vietnamese people is one of the best ways to interact and learn about local life. Find a busy restaurant with those iconic little red chairs and grab a seat. Although the locals might not speak perfect English, you’re bound to have a good time. In Vietnam, it’s common to put a large ice cube in your glass of beer, especially since usually they don’t keep the cases in the refrigerator. Also, you’ll notice a lot of ‘cheers!’ going on because it’s considered rude to drink by yourself. After a few hours at restaurant and a lot of beer, the locals will most likely invite you out for karaoke, a favourite here in Vietnam. Make sure to learn “Mot, Hai, Ba, Yo!” (Means 1,2,3, cheers!) before you experience the nightlife, and this will surely be one of the top things that you do in Vietnam.

Drinking with locals on small plastic chairs in Hanoi

Photo by Prashant Ram 


Conclusion

This list of top 10 things to do in Vietnam may seem unusual to travelers, however these experiences are actually very common to the locals. We encourage travelers to discover something new, and these authentic experiences will without a doubt be the highlights of your Vietnam trip.

This article was co-written with Vietnam Vespa Adventures' Lindsay Russell.

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