40 Things I’ve Learnt About Vietnam in the Last 6 Months

Not long ago, I wrote a list of all the things I’d learnt about Vietnam after a month. Some were simple, some were interesting and some were complete misinterpretations. This month will mark my ‘six month anniversary’ of living in Ha Noi, Vietnam, and hopefully a few more lessons learnt. So, here I go again, trying my best to work out this funny ol’ place…


1. Whipped cream is a combination of marshmallow fluff and foam.
I still don’t know whether I love it or hate it.

2. Yogurt, on the other hand, is 100% fantastic.

3. Most ‘politeness rules’ are about food and elders.
Food and old folk get a whole lot of respect here! A lot more than queueing or saying sorry if you drive into someone.

4. There are such things are fixed meters in taxis.
As sceptical as I was, I eventually got caught out.

5. A bicycle is for life.
Even the smallest children can been seen riding full-size adult bikes.

Credit: Inhabitots
Credit: Inhabitots

6. Every child who can speak English is “fine thank you”.
And they will say so in the exact same tone, a bit like a mantra.

7. Every surface is a potential nap time surface.
Vietnamese people love to nap! Nowhere is out of bounds.

8. Vespas rule the city.
Seriously, I’ve never seen so many Vespas in my life!

9. Sleeping is a hobby.
Every time I ask a colleague or student what they do in their spare time, they say ‘sleep’.

10. Umbrella’s are for sunshine, not rain.
I’ve been corrected by my students many times.

Credit: Tuoi Tre News
Credit: Tuoi Tre News

11. Brown hair, brown eyed foreigners are not so exciting.
Children are always immensely disappointed when they’re expecting a new foreign teacher and they get me, who doesn’t have blonde hair and blue eyes.

12. K-Pop is a big deal.
And it’s really infuriatingly catchy.

13. Six months is not long enough to get used to getting stared at.

14. Then again, you don’t just get stared at for being foreign.
You can get stared at for having short hair, long legs, a nice dress, etc. People just really like staring. This is great because I can tell myself ‘that person isn’t staring at me because I’m pale, they’re staring at me because they noticed my new shoes.’ ;)

15. Locals run out of petrol too.
This is always a great comfort to me.

Credit: Roaming Konos
Credit: Roaming Konos

16. Vietnamese teachers are rather unforgiving.
“Yes, you got it!”

17. Scams do exist everywhere, unfortunately.
We even got scammed on our own doorstep for a non-existent bill recently. The building manager found it very funny that we even fell for it.

18. Difficult sounds for Vietnamese people to make in English are:
EA – eg. ‘Beach’ often sounds like ‘bitch’.
TS – eg. ‘Peanuts’ often sounds like ‘penis’.
QU – eg. I am currently teaching 5-year-olds to say ‘quilt’. It is a very difficult word to say for any age. I have said it so many time that I’m starting to question if it’s a real word at all.

19. Difficult sounds for English people to say in Vietnamese are:
NG – eg. Nguyen, which is awkward as it’s 50% of my students surnames.
KH – eg. Khong, yep, I still can’t even say ‘no’ correctly.
And basically all tones…

20. Mooncake is not too bad.
After hearing tonnes of bad things about moon cake before Moon Festival, I was dreading being force-fed it in every one of my classes. Turns out it’s pretty good!

Credit: Desk 7
Credit: Desk 7

21. Vietnamese friends will protect your feelings.
If someone says something about you in Vietnamese and you ask your Vietnamese friend what they said, usually the reply will be ‘they said you’re beautiful/handsome’.
This is almost never true.

22. Children are more fashionable than adults.
Adult clothes shops are alright but kids clothes shops are like fashion paradise! If only I was 3 foot smaller…

23. Buses are death machines.
Unless they have literally broken down, it’s not even worth over-taking them.

24. There are only two seasons.
Summer (hot and humid) and Winter (hot, humid and rainy).

25. Beeping means nothing.
I spent a while trying to work out exactly what all the beeping meant. There’s the long beep that people make all the way down the road, the repetitive little beeps, the random beeping like morse code and the echoing beep that taxis make.
I’ve come to the conclusion that it all means… nothing. In fact, there’s so much beeping in Vietnam that you make more of a statement by not beeping.

Credit: Le World Around
Credit: Le World Around

26. Birthday/congratulations/thank you cards don’t exist.
I’ve had to get get pretty crafty making my own cards.

27. Sign language does not go far here.
It doesn’t matter of you do an interpretive dance to explain what you want, you will get absolutely no response. And, you definitely won’t get what you’re looking for.

28. Cafe baristas have great memories.
If I go anywhere at least once a week, the waiter/waitress will remember my drink by my third visit. It’s incredible!

29. Shopping is an intimate experience.
By which I mean, shop assistants like to stand really close and point at everything you’re not looking at.

30. Pork is fantastic here.
I don’t think I’ve ever had bad pork…

Credit: Dishes and Places
Credit: Dishes and Places

31. Chicken is not so great.
Sorry boiled chicken lovers, it’s not for me!

32. Feet are a prominent part of the culture.
You must take your shoes off everywhere and not have the soles of your feet facing anyone.

33. Motorbike parking spots make up their closing times as they go.
I have had to get a taxi home from the Old Quarter so many times because of this. Am I missing something!?

34. Saying hello is a dangerous game.
Chào chi, chào em, chào anh, chào ban – help!

35. The countryside is only around the corner.
Literally, it’s always near by!

Credit: Vietnam Paradise Travel
Credit: Vietnam Paradise Travel

36. Change of weather really does make you ill.
I’m a believer now!

37. Shops herd together.
This is really something I should have learnt early on but I didnt. Shoe street, juice street and coffee street are all as obvious as they sound.

38. All mechanics seem to have puppies.

39. Haggling is really hit or miss.
Usually the latter for me…

40. Things that look gross are usually really tasty.
For example, my personal favourite; thạch sữa chua mít.

Credit: Mon Ngon
Credit: Mon Ngon

10 thoughts on “40 Things I’ve Learnt About Vietnam in the Last 6 Months

  1. Really enjoy your writing. Simple and joyfull but never oversimplyfying.
    Your totally wrong about the winter though. Update with a photo when you’re freezing your nose off while wearing a fur coat in 20 degree Celsius weather.

  2. I googled your name from a list of reviews of TEFL Academy just now (that sounds creepy and it is, but I googled everyone’s name that was attached to a review to see if they were real people.) I somehow stumbled upon your blog here, which is fantastic. I hope to be in Vietnam teaching English soon and seeing life from a new angle like you seem to be doing. Anyway, good luck with everything in the future, and hats off for this post. I can’t wait to try the pork…

    1. Haha! No worries, I think it’s good to be cautious with those kind of things. I’m sure you’ll love it in Vietnam, especially the pork! Just give me a message if you want any more info :)

  3. Hi Isabelle! So glad I’ve discovered your blog, especially the bits about Vietnam I find fascinating, but will make my way around the rest as well. Pleased to meet you.Marina

  4. Hey! Planning a trip to Vietnam for late April/May next year! I know it’s a bit of a mad time to go, but ah well. Enjoying reading through your posts and getting excited/hungry. Are you sticking around in Hanoi, or thinking of coming back here? I’d love to pick your brains about where to go xxx

    1. Hey Ruth! It’s a bit mad all-year-round, I’m sure you’ll have a great time whenever you go!
      I’m leaving Hanoi at the end of the months but it’s possible I’ll be back around the end of the year. Drop me message and I’d be happy to help you out! XX

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