There’s few places quite like Vietnam.
By the time we arrived, we'd been travelling for nearly 9 months and Hanoi brought a sense of culture shock we hadn’t felt in a long time.
Here's just a few of the things that make Vietnam so unique:
This has to be the most confusing currency in the World as 33,000 dong = £1. Just think about the logistics of 33,000 being a very small sum of money, and before you know it, the mind has boggled and you're messing up the zeros. Not only are most westerners billionaires, but most cash withdrawals you make will be in the millions.
We first withdrew 1,000,000 dong from an atm thinking it would be enough money to last for days. After getting the calculator out we realised it was little more than £30. Although to be fair this does last quite a while in Vietnam!
There's something about the hats
Many motorcycle riders wear Second World War military helmets for protection whilst rickshaw drivers wear safari hats. Can't say we've seen that anywhere else in the world.
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
The tomb of the great leader is a little bit like a Vietnamese Disneyland. The very long queues are under a covered walkway which has widescreen TVs every 50 metres playing propaganda including the Ho Chi Minh song. Once you're in, you're given seconds to take in the embalmed body of the great leader before being ushered out. It's a very surreal experience.
In the middle of the night the roads look alive with moving bushes! These are flower sellers, piling up as many bunches as possible on their scooters to ensure they make as few journeys as possible. It's only when you look closely that you can see a small wheel poking out beneath the mass of flowers and leaves and you realise that there's a person on a bike underneath.
The motorbike is King
It's hard to comprehend just how many motorbikes there are. Vietnam has 2-3 motorcycles for every man, woman and child. There are so many that people have started to park on the pavements as there’s no longer any room on the side of the road. This makes walking around even harder….
Not quite getting the point
The tour sellers bring a whole new level of persistence to a sale. I'm pretty sure Hanoi is the only place where conversations with tour sellers go like this:
-Hello sir, would you like a tour?
- No, I’m ok thank you.
- I can tell you’re undecided…..
In Hanoi, food is everything
Hanoi takes food tourism to a whole new level. We met two Vietnamese girls on the flight who wrote about 12 dishes we must eat, but could only think of three or four things to see or do.
A coffee trend that won't catch on
In Hanoi, Coffee is served with an egg… an egg... in the coffee… That is wrong on so many levels. Even stranger is that no one seems to understand why we thought it was a bit odd.
Good luck crossing the road
Remember how I said there were 2-3 motorbikes for every man, woman and child? Well pair this for a general disregard of traffic lights and the Highway Code and you get chaos (organised chaos, as everyone else seems to know what they're doing). This isn't too bad in the rural areas and small towns like Hue and Hoi An, but it makes walking around Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh treacherous.
If you waited for a gap in traffic to cross a road in a major city you'd be there for days. I found out that the trick was to close your eyes and start walking at a steady pace and - whatever you do - don't stop. It may sound like madness, but the motorcyclists anticipate this and move well in advance.
Cat didn't like this suicidal tactic, and instead commandeered the nearest person, the older and more experienced the better, and they guided her across.
Fine dining on plastic chairs
If your food isn't served to you on a plastic table (whilst you're sitting on an undersized plastic stall) you've gone to the wrong restaurant. In Hanoi, the more basic the set up, the better the food.
Some of the best food in South East Asia was served on a street in Vietnam for a grand total of 15c per bowl.
Conversations with the barber
The Vietnamese don't hold back with their thoughts, case in point when chatting to the barber. Enjoy the conversation below.
The slowest country in South-East Asia?
Vietnam's national speed limit is 60 km/h and we can't understand why. It's not because of the traffic (most people ride motorbikes, so there's little congestion) and the roads are pretty well maintained.
It makes getting between places in this incredibly big country time consuming, Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi takes 40 hours on the road (as opposed to 2 hours in a plane). It's hard to understand why when you're on an empty, modern highway and plodding along at 40 mph.
The cheapest tours in Asia
Most countries in South-East Asia are pretty cheap, but Vietnam took the biscuit. On top of 15c for a bowl of delicious Pho (a dish everyone must try) we secured a tour to Cu Chi Tunnels and Cao Dai Temple for $5 (including transport and guide). Our trip to the Mekong Delta for 2 days (including all meals, accommodation and transport) was $23. We're not fans of tours in general but sometimes it just doesn't make sense to spend more going it alone.
It's astonishing how far your money goes here.
Pet monkey trips to the beach
In Phu Quoc we often saw people taking monkeys tethered on leashes to the beach. It's hard to know where to even start with that. Poor monkeys 🙈
Have you visited Vietnam? What would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments.