I’m in the early stages of my relationship with Vietnam. Things are still all beautiful and rosey, not a sign of a break-up in sight. I’d like to save these moments and the things I love about my new home town, so that when one of those inevitable I-hate-everything days comes along, I can remind myself why I’m here.
My experiences come from Hanoi but I’m sure there will be similarities with other places in Vietnam. Feel free to share some of your favourites.
I love sitting by one of the lakes at night and just watching the bats flap around manically. There’s loads of them and I just can’t get over how close they get. I suppose, much like the Vietnamese drivers, the Vietnamese bats have no fear.
2. Ice cream night
I haven’t quite worked out which day is ice cream day. But, once a week, on varying days, my route home just becomes packed with motorcyclists and ice cream eaters. I quite like seeing everyone crowding around for their family night out. I’ve heard it might be some to do with the full/half moons, let me know if you know!
3. Parking attendants
Every time I come back to my bike, the parking attendant has usually kindly covered my seat with something to stop it from getting hot. I know what you’re thinking… That’s his/her job! But no, this is definitely a strong bond that I’m building with all parking attendants.
4. Ceramics on motorbikes
Every Saturday and Sunday morning, I drive home from work and catch one or two motorbikes carrying enough ceramic bowls, plates, vases and teapots to fill an entire shop (which is probably what they’re doing, come to think of it). I find the idea of carrying tonnes of expensive ceramics on the back of a rickety bike, down a pot-holed road, completely insane. I usually follow the bike, mesmorised, for about a mile just to see how they do it.
5. Weird fruit
There’s tropical fruit, spiky fruit, funny coloured fruit, weird smelling fruit and fruit that looks like it’s straight out of Rayman. Vietnam is a pretty fruity place.
6. Couples on motorbikes at night
I haven’t noticed many couples showing public affection here; no hand holding or kisses on the cheek. However, as soon as the sun goes down, you can find couples cuddled up on their motorbikes, next to any lake or river. It’s so sweet!
7. Nước Mía
Don’t be too jealous, I can’t say it either. This is delicious sugar cane juice that you can find all over the city. Just to state the obvious, you’ll find these at the cart with huge sugar canes being fed into some kind of chopping machine.
8. Moto taxis
There’s always a moto taxi near by for that moment you decide to walk to the shops in the midday heat and then instantly regret it.
9. Power cuts
This is always a huge pain at first but then you get a couple of candles out, you talk to your friends instead of staring at the telly and you feel like you’ve time-travelled a few years back! The only exception is if you’re in the lift…
10. Sun protection
I know that one sounds a bit nerdy and motherly but really, have you seen any nation better at protecting themselves from the sun damage than the Vietnamese!? Their techniques range from hilarious to freaky and down-right genius.
11. Pale love
Fair skin is an attractive quality here. So, where I used to get people asking me if I was ill, now I get people asking to take a picture… It’s a big change and it’s quite flattering, for now.
12. People saying chào chi
There’s just something exciting about crossing that boundary from ‘Xin Chào’ to something a bit friendlier. I love the fact that it’s as easy as that know if you’re on friendly terms with someone.
13. Báhn mì
In my opinion, it’s just an ordinary sandwich. But, for some reason, the Vietnamese name makes it taste so much better! And maybe the not-so-secret sauce (which I haven’t perfected myself) helps too.
14. Bia Hơi
I don’t actually like beer, and my housemates is sick every time he drinks the stuff, but 20p beer is too good to turn down.
15. Tiny stools
Even as a small person, these stools are ridiculously small. I particularly enjoy watching extremely tall Westeners try to get comfortable on them.
They may not like me, but I like them. I’d like to say I’m getting there but many restaurant servers would disagree (as they immediately bring me a fork every time they see try to eat).
17. Lack of health and safety
This sounds like a sarcastic one but it’s really not. There’s something utterly brilliant about being free to make your own stupid decisions and not being constantly mollycoddled with rules and signs.
18. Red and yellow
Everything is so much more colourful in Vietnam than in England! The houses are painted in pretty pastel colours, people wear more colours and tonnes of buildings are decorated with bright red and yellow.
19. Ridiculously thin houses
This was actually one of the first things that sold me on moving to Vietnam. I don’t know why but I just love the look of them!
20. Electricity engineers
The guys that fix and change the electricity wires are renowned for doing it in increasingly dangerous style. I saw a guy balance on the top of a fence, while leaning on the wires themselves the other day. I wish I had taken a picture just to prove it, but I know anyone else living in Vietnam will be completely unsurprised!
21. Close countryside
Hanoi has the benefits of city and country life. You only have to drive for about 30 minutes before you find yourself slap-bang in the middle of the country.
There seems to be dabs and dots of rainforest type trees lining every alleyway or street… I don’t feel like every thing has been paved over and cemented, there’s a few dashes of nature squeezing through.
23. Specific Streets
Shoe street, kitchen street, deck chair street… Whatever you need, there’s a street for it.
24. Locals trying to teach me Vietnamese
Firstly, it’s a very sweet, kind thing to do. Secondly, it’s hilarious because I’m so terrible at it. It must seem like a comedy sketch to any onlookers.
25. Endless coffees
I didn’t drink coffee before I came to Vietnam but now that I’ve discovered egg coffee, weasel poo coffee and coconut coffee… Everything’s changed.
26. The long route home
Theres always a ‘long route’ back home in Hanoi and it’s always so much more beautiful than the main road that you’ve got to take it!
27. Super tight jeans
Vietnam has the best choice of jeans that I’ve ever seen, there are so many styles! The only thing I would say is that, you better be looking for tight jeans because they make up about 90% of the choice.
28. The markets
To be honest, I love markets everywhere I the world but the ones in Hanoi are pretty good. Both indoor and outdoor ones can be found in every area of the city with various interesting bits and bobs.
29. The kids
I’d be a pretty rubbish teacher if I didn’t mention the kids. They’re super cute, loving and insane. I can’t stress enough how insane they are, but there’s never a boring lesson with them, that’s for sure!
30. Nap time
I haven’t got into this myself but everyone in Vietnam seems to have a 2 hour nap in the middle of the day. It’s not a siesta, it’s a full on sleep. Whether that’s on desks or the floor – they make sure it happens!
Hanoi is surprisingly unlit for a bit city. It’s got enough lights to lead you back home (usually) but as most people drive, they have their motorbike lights anyway, and not as many streetlights are needed. As a result, you actually get to see the stars here, which was a rarity in London.
I don’t think you can live in Hanoi unless you like the chaos. If you’re just ‘tolerating’ it then you’re going to have trouble pretty quickly…
33. Bún Chả
One of the most popular meals in Vietnam, and my favourite since my first day here. It’s basically grilled pork and noodles in soup but you have to try it… It’s so much more than that!
34. Blunt comments
There’s a whole array of comments you can get, no subject is taboo. From when you plan to get married to whether you have a bit of a belly. I would probably get offended if I were in England, but here you’ve just got to laugh!