Vietnam is one of my favorite countries to visit, mainly because of the people. I had the good fortune to spend a month there, traveling to different spots as they came up. I like to travel that way, letting chance and a bit of on-the-spot research influence my choices. It was a terrific experience and I’m grateful to have had the chance.
As with any country, there are sometimes unexpected differences, and here are some interesting ones I learned about on the way.
1. There are no songbirds in Vietnam.
If you love the sound of birds greeting the rising sun, don’t expect to hear them here. When you are in any large city, you might not expect to hear many birds. but in Vietnam, it was rare to encounter even a crow.
Even when we visited mountain villages in the north, birds were few and far between.
Between the spraying of Agent Orange and the starvation of the population during many occupations, birds were fair game.
Birds do exist there, it’s just that habitat loss and rampant poaching have reduced their population.
Our food tour in Hanoi included visits to six different restaurants, including street vendors and little hole-in-the-wall establishments. We were served a full meal at each location, including local beer, which is delicious and very inexpensive.
It was a challenge to eat it all.
At one point we were served what looked like very small chicken wings and when I asked what it was, they said pheasant.
Later in our trip, we visited a small fishing village outside of Da Nang. There we discovered a restaurant frequented by local fishermen.
The menu was extensive, and each item was carefully translated into English. We marveled at the variety of seafood available. After we made our selection, I kept reading to the end.
On the last page, I found the menu item: fresh sparrow.
2. Gender roles are reversed.
The women in Vietnam are the hardest working people I’ve ever met. They’re up at dawn, bringing vegetables into the city to sell and they’re usually carrying them in two baskets hanging from a stick balanced on their heads. Often they are also carrying a child on their back.
A whole generation of men is missing. They were killed in the war.
The ones left spend the afternoon in the bar while the women work. I know that’s a generalization, but it was something we observed in almost every village we visited, and we were in the country for a month.
3. They call it the American War.
In Vietnam, the people call it the American war. Seriously.
We’re the ones that call it the Vietnam war. And if the Americans had taken a look at Vietnamese history, they would have been very very hesitant to become involved in any war in their country.
The Vietnamese people have experienced occupation many times, including years of occupation by the French, the Japanese, the Chinese, even the Mongols. If they weren’t able to fight them off, they adapted and worked around the rules of the new oppressors. Eventually, the occupiers would leave and they would have their country back.
The Vietnamese people outlasted them all.
4. Anarchy rules on the roads.
There’s really only one rule as a driver. The largest vehicle wins, no matter what any written rules of the road are.
A second unspoken rule is don’t make any sudden moves. As long as you maintain a steady pace and direction, other drivers can take steps to avoid you or go around you.
There are speed limits that vary from place to place, but the general rule seems to be to keep up with the flow of traffic. Most people delight in traveling as quickly as they can whenever possible.
It makes for an exciting tuk-tuk ride.
5. Pedestrians are lowest on the totem pole.
The rules say pedestrians can cross at traffic lights or where the road is marked with a crosswalk, but the reality is much more exciting.
You take your life into your hands crossing the street. After several tentative and scary attempts, we learned two tips:
First, find a local, preferably an elderly person, and cross with them.
Second, once you step into the road, continue to cross at a steady pace and don’t make eye contact with any drivers.
The key to survival on roads in Vietnam is to go with the flow.
Just in case you didn’t get enough of crossing the street, here’s another one.
6. Ho Chi Minh was a Hero
Ho Chi Minh (1890–1969) was a Vietnamese revolutionary. He was born in Vietnam when it was occupied by France.
Today, in his home country, Ho Chi Minh is highly respected. He is considered the father of modern Vietnam because of his devotion to the independence of his people.
He used Communism as a springboard to resist the French colonialists and free his country, uniting the north and south.
I hope you enjoyed this short list of interesting facts about Vietnam. I love learning about new cultures and sharing them here with you.
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