This could be Vietnam

14 Nov
Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay

I will go with mixed feelings to Vietnam, as i was supposed to go there for the Vietnamese new year with someone special… Therefore Vietnam could be a bit of therapy ;-) There’s still lots of things to discover, like the differences between north and south, get some inspiration from buddhism, or indulge in the yummy vietnamese kitchen…

  • Do you have any suggestions? Add them in the comments below ;-)
  • I have my (expensive) visum for Vietnam from 15 January till 15 February 09

North versus South

Vietnam is a long stretched country – with a different climate in the South and North, as well as different historic background, and influence on their ‘culture’ (habits, stereotypes, etc). So one thing i want to experience is the difference between North & South – but there is a lot more…

  • N-chinese influence / S-Khmer and Cham influence
  • N- more austerity, harder suffering from communism / S- more French & US influence
  • N- avoiding decision making, rather working on compromises, bureaucracy / S-more entrepreneur, more private initative, more decision making skills, more competition
  • N- hardworking, patient, prudent, planning (because of limited produce on the fields) / S- considered ‘lazy’ by northeners (because more fertile soils, less worries about food), spend more, do not plan the future
  • N- more ‘traditional’, the cultural/government capital / S-more foreign contact, the economic capital, more dynamic, ‘modern’
  • N- more honest about their feelings / S-looking for things behind, entrepreneurial motives
Vietnamese flag

Vietnamese flag

As in other countries the community, the family and children are very important, and respect of the elder people and those in authority…

Tet – Vietnamese New Year

I will be in Vietnam during Tet (Vietnamese new year-lasting 3 days) so I’ll try to go with the flow and practice some of the customs there: apparently all life comes to a stand still, all shops close, everybody moves through the country to their family. During the 3 day festivities (25-28 January 09) people don’t cook so they eat only dried foods. They buy 2 watermelons – and the redder the inside, the more luck in the new year (red is colour of luck). The Vietnamese offer food, incense and whisky to their kitchen god (protecting the house), before he goes and gives an account of the things you did during the year in heaven. During his absence, people chase the bad spirits away with lots of noise and light (fireworks a gogo). The first thing you hear on New year’s day is an omen of how prosperous your hear will be, as well as the first person you meet – so I’ll try to get a nice & prosperous person visiting me. And on New Years day you only say positive things – not to meddle with your/people’s chances of bad luck.

Map of Vietnam

Map of Vietnam

Some of the places I want to visit:

  • Ha Long bay (see pic) – with over 3000 limestone islands rising vertically out of the sea
  • The mangrove swamp city of Ca Mau
  • the southern tip of Vietnam (near Cambodia) – Rach Gia with superb white beaches – and Phu Quoc island
  • hill topw of Da Lat with its waterfalls and elephants
  • Cam Ranh Bay where the russians had their leisure resorts during their stay in Vietnam, as well as the Japanese during the WWII
  • Passing over the Hai Van pass through the magnificent mountains (between Hue & Da Nang) – where also most of the road accidents happen on the narrow mountain roads (and crazy dirvers)
  • And of course a few days each in Hanoi (visit Ho Chi Minh mausoleum) & Ho Chi Min city (Saigon) to see the French influence (and eat nice bread)

The road to a man’s heart goes through his stomach

Culinarily, there is of course also lots to taste and test – not sure if I’ll be able to savour everything, but I’ll give it a go. The guidebook recommends just to go to any restaurant and point at a few arbitrary dishes on the menu (as pronouncing it will be impossible) and wait and see what happens ;-)

  • I once had a big food argument about fries with my ex – in Vietnam they eat (french) fries with SUGAR – am very sceptical about it but just have to try what they do with my favourite food
  • coffee – a heritage of the French – but adapted to Vietnamese style and standards – hmm
  • drink the fresh coco-nut milk from the green coconut – they just cut a slice of it and then you drink the liquid with a straw
  • when going really exotic, one could think of snake, monkey, dog, frog legs, turtle etc… Hm, we’ll see
  • Nuoc Mam (the fish sauce) is apparently the ‘salt n pepper’ of vietnamese cuisine – and tastes different according to the regions…

Typical Vietnamese thingies

Riding a bike...

Riding a bike...

I definitely want to try and survide riding a bike in bike-infested streets. The train going between South and North also seems to be very scenic – but would take 38 hours to do the trip… Depending on time.

There is also something like ‘traditional water puppetry‘ in the ponds of the villages (to gather the community and bring luck upon them – the vietnamese seem very lucky people ;-) And in the North they have Cheo – popular (and funny, exaggerated) opera – also worth a try.

Yep, I’ll definitely will have to adapt my rythm, as people in Vietnam tend to get up at 5h30 (horrible!!) and have breakfast at 6am, after which they go to the market to get fresh food stuff. work starts at 7am, Lunch is at 11h-11h30. Then life comes to a standstill for siesta till about 14h. And dinner is at 6h30 (forget going to restaurant after 20h) and 10 is bed time…

Superstitions

As Vietnamese are very superstitious, I’ll also look into that. Apparently 3 is an unlucky number – so taking pictures of 3 people is very bad, avoid doing important things on 3th, 13 or 23rd of the lunar month, etc. I’ll see if I can find a numerologist, to find out which are my lucky numbers – and the same goes for Geomancy – he could tell me where would be an auspicious place (in the world) to settle down

Buddhism – doing good upon others

Buddhist temples a gogo...

Buddhist temples a gogo...

The majority of vietnamese are buddhist, so there i could also learn something. Buddhism is about preserving happiness (unlike in the West, where we ‘pursue happiness’) – the vietnamese are born with happiness, and have to live a good life in order to keep it eg not killing, not doing wrong, being good to others etc. This all will give you lots of merit for your next life. e.g. they even sell caged birds, not as pets, but to be set free by the buyers, to earn merit for the next life… Idem with present giving (quite selfish actually – giving present to get better yourself ;- )  MAybe the avoidance of direct confrontation is also part of this: so vietnamese people would rarely confront you, be aggressive or say no. when you get angry, you simply loose your face and respect.

And if there’s time left, it would be great to play some badminton with some guys (as this is a very popular sport). And if i can get up that early, i might join the old folks in the part at 6am for Tai Chi

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3 Responses to “This could be Vietnam”

  1. travelony 24 November 2008 at 16:45 #

    just testing the comments function – it is so easy – you just create a login – and you can comment on all the different posts – and you can also ‘subscribe’ to this blog…

  2. Marius 16 December 2008 at 19:01 #

    Hey Tony, best luck in Asia.. this will be life time experience, i am sure.. Make sure you explore Ha Long Bay.. it is really amazing place.. we have spent our honeymoon there last year. have a boat trip for one or few days.. relaxed and amazing.

  3. Sofie 29 December 2008 at 14:06 #

    Hey Tony,

    Ninh Binh is the place you should visit while in Vietnam! The nature is even more beautiful than Ha Long Bay, to my opinion! You can do a boat tour or rent a bike and ride in between the rice fields! Astonishing!

    Have an interesting and safe journey!

    Take care,
    Sofie

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