How to be a local in Vietnam
Vietnam’s rich and tumultuous history means it has a range of influences - it’s been occupied by France, Japan, China and America, and all have contributed to the unique feel of this growing tourist destination.
As such, this expansive country is a world away from its neighbours Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. As soon as you step off the plane, you’ll notice it in the airport; they use a version of Latin script as introduced by the Portuguese.
Then, a quick walk around any main town will tell of a coffee culture that rivals Paris, yet their makeshift restaurants lead the way in Asian street food.
It’s not surprising that due to their unique culture the Vietnamese have some very specific aspects that are worth knowing about before you visit. So if you’re planning to explore Vietnam, the Flexicover team has pulled together a few pointers to help you on your way.
Know your currency
It’s a good idea to get all the ‘Dong’ jokes out of the way before you find yourself giggling in a gift store. Once the joke is exhausted, the second thing to do is become accustomed with the range of notes, lest you offer the wrong one when in a rush. Look at the figures and a 50,000 Dong bill looks a lot like a 500,000 bill if you’re not paying close attention, except there’s £14 difference in value. While that might not sound like much, it could keep you full up on delicious bánh mì for a good few days.
Cross the street with confidence
One of the most visually striking differences between Vietnam and Europe is the sizable road traffic and the minimal order. There are rules of the road – they’re just not very obvious. It takes about two full days to get into the swing of things. The basic pecking order is mopeds (many of which are used to transport whole families), bicycles, cars and then pedestrians. If you’re crossing the road the key is to wait for a break in traffic, say a little prayer and then cross with confidence. Drivers will aim to weave around you but if you hesitate or change gait they may not react in time and that’s when it gets dangerous. If in doubt, stand by a local and copy them.
Eat what you’re given
Forget fine-dining - the best cuisine you’ll find in Vietnam is on the streets, and the busier a place, the better chance it is they’re serving world-class dishes. That doesn’t mean you’ll have a wide menu to choose from. Often, you won’t be asked ‘what would you like?’ but ‘how many would you like?’, and they’ll serve up their specialty. While the Vietnamese are known for eating strange food like turtle soup and snake hearts, don’t worry - these eateries’ offerings are more middle of the road, literally and figuratively.
Home sweet home
For a true local experience, many rural villages in Vietnam such as Sa Pa accept homestays offering visitors the opportunity to stay with a local family and live like they live. It may mean you’ll have to forgo creature comforts like a hot shower and three-course meal in the evening, but a glimpse into the home of your host – and a taste of the ubiquitous rice wine – will make it worth the experience.
Even locals visit tourist attractions
The Vietnamese aren’t the richest nation and so they spend much of their valuable free time vacationing in their own country. And why not - there’s plenty to see. The tranquil waters of Halong Bay or the gorgeous Lak Lake can recharge even the most hardened batteries, so even those who sign up for the cheesiest of tourist packages will find themselves queuing alongside locals. Which is perfect – it means even the famed water puppet show becomes an authentic experience.
With its melting pot of influences, fabulous sights and beautiful scenery, a trip to Vietnam is certainly worth making. And it’s good to know that Flexicover are committed to providing you with the highest level of protection to ensure that you are safe and secure 24 hours a day when away.