6 Things That Drive Me Nuts About Vietnam
I love Vietnam. In fact, I plan to come back again in the not too distant future, after we’re done travelling the world. Who would have thought that one or even two months would not be enough time to even scrape the surface of what this beautiful, amazing country has to offer?
However, some things drive me nuts. Like anywhere, countries can have their little quirks, so I thought I would write a tongue-in-cheek post on the 6 things that drive me nuts in Vietnam… just for fun.
1. They’ve Got Something Against Black Tea
(Yeah I know… to my family who are reading this and probably just spat out their tea on the screen).
Plane coming to Vietnam: Coke. Water. Coffee.
Rooms: Coffee. Water.
Restaurants: Lipton tea… if you’re lucky.
Lipton is the only brand they seem to have in Vietnam (well, 99% of the time), hence if you say Lipton tea, they understand what you mean. Although, I did cry tears of happiness to find Dilmah in one or two hotel rooms. I’d go back to those hotels just for that reason alone. Dead set.
However, most hotel rooms have no sugar or milk, because the coffee sachets they give you are 3-in-1’s – coffee including creamer and sugar. So, why else would you need milk or sugar in the room? Gah! For those of us who love tea of course!!!
Anyone who knows me knows I love my tea. I can’t help it, my family are English born and bred, and I was indoctrinated into the ways of the tea leaf from a ripe old age of two.
When we flew to Vietnam on the plane, I took deep breaths and told myself that I could make it to Ho Chi Minh City, and then I could have my cuppa there. See, my partner wasn’t flying with us, so it was just myself and the three kids for two weeks in the city that was once called Saigon. I really needed a cuppa. I did start to hyperventilate, though, when I got to our first (of what would be many) rooms which had, you guessed it… coffee. Everywhere has coffee, lots of it and STRONG. So if you like strong coffee, you’ll actually be pinging, because they make it even stronger in Vietnam.
How Do I Cope: I don’t.
2. The Language Barrier
I get it. English is not their first language, so I do try to be as patient and respectful as possible, especially since I am in their home ground.
However, I can’t help but bite my tongue and cry on the inside when I receive yet another meal lathered in pepper or chilli, moments after we repeatedly reiterated, slowly and clearly, that we didn’t want chilli or pepper and none of us like it. There is so much fabulous food to be enjoyed in Vietnam, but I like mine without a side of mouth burning like it’s on fire.
And there was one time I felt totally dreadful, because the waiter stuffed up our order in a big way. They made three plates of the wrong thing (which my daughter wouldn’t eat), and we only ordered one. I knew there’d be a few choice words going on behind the scenes.
How Do I Cope: Besides making an extra effort to point at everything we want on the menu and using our fingers to specify quantity, I have a handy iPhone app, Google Translate. Makes life a bit easier… and funnier. The look on the waitress’s face was priceless when we translated a typo on the menu for her (I had to, because the kids were in absolute hysterics and I caught their giggles). So, she understood why we didn’t want to order the “broccoli with crap meat”.
3. Worrying You’re Going To Get Scammed
This one is enough to drive anyone crazy. Even some travel bloggers I know say they’ll never be back after being scammed left, right and centre. Before we arrived in Vietnam, I was so worried I would be scammed the minute I exited the airport. So I prepped myself on the plane and through immigration to get my mamma boss pants on. But, I was completely fine, even without my partner there to help watch over things. Although, I did stay away from scam problem areas, like the markets and transport, and utilised the trusted businesses and companies I knew from my research.
In our third week, we got scammed once, and it took us a few days to stop being paranoid about it.
How Do I Cope: After we were scammed, the first thing I told myself was to stop stressing, they probably needed the $5 AUD more than I did. The big numbers in Vietnam’s currency make it look more scary than it is. Eighty thousand dong made up that $5. After that, I asked myself, “Okay, what can I learn from this, and what can I do differently next time?” Thirdly, I reminded myself of the things I need to be careful of, and wrote an article about how to prevent Vietnam scams. Being well prepared before hand, and not going completely bargain basement on everything, I think helped us to avoid a huge amount of problems. I see so many people complain about scams where they bought into deals that were too good to be true, or quotes that were super low. Doing research and being realistic is important.
4. Most Hotels Aren’t Designed For Guests With Small Children
Sometimes, our toddler goes a little batty in a hotel room. Heck, even the big kids too. Most of the hotels here say they’re family friendly, in that they cater for families, but many don’t have kids clubs or playgrounds for the kids to enjoy. There aren’t many public outdoor playgrounds either.
How Do I Cope: Vietnam has mini play centres and arcades in many of their shopping centres. So we take our toddler there for a play if we’re not going out somewhere for the day. Alternately, we make sure we choose hotels that have a pool, a pool table (the big kids love those) or other things that can offer a change from a hotel room. It’s not practical to be able to go out all the time, with the hot weather, a tired toddler or even a tired mamma from being woken up overnight. So finding the little things hotels offer can make a difference.
5. The Rubbish. Everywhere.
This one was a bit of a shock. I’d heard comments about it before, but coming from Australia, it’s so hard to believe a stunning country like Vietnam isn’t more proactive about preserving the environment, oceans or wildlife. I would imagine it would be a extremely noticeable if you lived in Singapore, which is immaculately clean.
With such beauty in Vietnam, you think they’d take pride in their surroundings. We stayed at one hotel on the beach, and they had cleaners frantically cleaning up every morning, picking up the mess of what was left the night before. Rubbish would regularly wash up on the beach, including light globes from fishing boats, cans, plastic food packets and bottles. People just toss rubbish. It’s sad, but it’s the way they do it here.
How Do I Cope? I focus on Vietnam’s beauty and skim over the mess. The more you focus on something, the more you notice it.
6. Second Hand Smoke
Being in Vietnam has made me SO incredibly grateful for the smoking laws in Australia. Here, you are bombarded with cigarette smoke in so many public places. Even when you’re visiting indoor kids play areas, people smoke. On the train, they smoke like a train (conductors included). We made the fatal mistake of sitting right after to the carriage door, but there was nothing else left. The train ride of 3-4 hours was nauseating to say the least — I found it hard to pick a moment where people had actually stopped smoking between the carriages. The door would open and we’d be in a cloud of smoke. Thankfully, the bus didn’t have this problem, so we used this mode of transport for longer distances, during the day only. Night travel on buses is not safe, as there are too many accidents.
How Do I Cope? All I can do is avoid it as best I can. It can get a little frustrating at times, because it can be hard to ignore when it gives you a headache or you’re worried about your kids inhaling it too. But we avoid problem areas as best we can.
Summing It Up…
There isn’t really anything compelling that makes me go completely nuts about Vietnam. Most of the Vietnamese people are kind and lovely. Many are drawn to our toddler, as much as our toddler is totally over being the centre of so much hype and attention. It makes my heart melt to see even elderly, wrinkled Vietnamese women on the street, come to life with a twinkle in their eye when they see her. “Ooooh, she so beautiful!” They love her gorgeous blonde wavy hair and hazel brown eyes.
Other people want to speak to you to improve their english, so they can connect with you. It’s truly sweet. And really, you get bad tempered people anywhere. Just as you get taxi drivers in Melbourne who complain because they don’t want to take you on a short trip, you get them here too. Anywhere in the world, you’ll have enthusiastic taxi drivers beckoning at you “Airport?!” Only to grumble under their breath when they hear that you only need to go a few kilometres away. But when you treat others with kindness, an open heart and understanding, they offer the same too.
Kelly Winder is the creator of BellyBelly.com.au, a doula, writer and mother to three awesome children. Currently she's travelling the world for 12 months with her partner and three children, and hopes to inspire more families to do the same.