20 infamous facts about Vietnam

Vietnam was the first destination along my five-week backpacking tour of Southeast Asia. I touched down in Ha Noi and was immediately swept away by the rich culture and history to discover in this country.

Vietnam was colonised by the Chinese for over a century, Japan in 1940, and the French up until 1954. Each have left their mark on Vietnamese culture. As is to be expected, the French influence is most noticeable in the food, with ca-phe (coffee) and bahn mi (French baguette) now intergrated in to the national diet along with Pho, Vietnam’s national dish.

Here’s a few things you probably didn’t know about Vietnam…

Politics:

1. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is one of the four technically* remaining one-party states in the World, along with China, Cuba and the bordering Laos. Like China, Vietnam is a communist state but with a capitalist system.

* I say technically because there are other countries which operate like a one-party state, such as Cambodia, whose democracy has not seen a change of government for forty years due to corruption.

Vietnamese flag
photo by Laura Sanders

2. Nobody is unemployed in Vietnam

“What? I thought it was a developing country?” I hear you say…

As there is no government support in Vietnam, earning a living is solely down to the individual. If you don’t go out and find a way to make money, then you do not eat. This is why, according to my local guide Khang, nobody can “technically” be unemployed in Vietnam because anybody can go out and sell something on the side of the road to earn a living. Hence, why there are so many street vendors in Vietnam.

Street vendor in Hoi An
Street vendor in Hoi An | Laura Sanders

3. ‘The American War’ is how the Vietnamese refer to the Vietnam War

Both refer to the same war – where a greater human loss than the Second World War and the Korean War was incurred.

Cu Chi tunnels, Saigon
Exploring the Cu Chi Tunnels | Laura Sanders

4. To be elected as a local officer in Vietnam, (the only part of the system which allows for public votes) you must be:

– A member of the communist party

– “Three generations clear” – meaning if your father or grandfather worked alongside the Americans in the war, you are not allowed to run.

Hoi An
Hoi An | Laura Sanders

Population:

5. The population (according to the 2017 census) is 95 million people, making Vietnam the World’s 14th most populated country.

Ha Noi old quarter
Ha Noi old quarter | Laura Sanders

6. It is rare to see an elderly person in Vietnam

Vietnam has been left with a young population partly due to the tremendous loss from the War – making this wonderful couple even more precious.

So and Loi
So age 95 and wife Loi age 87 | Laura Sanders

7. No word in the Vietnamese language is longer than one syllable.

Ha Noi street food vendor
Street food vendor in Ha Noi | Laura Sanders

8. The pronunciation of a word can determine its meaning

For example: “Xin Cao” can either mean “hello” or “get me a bowl of rice” depending on the tone you use to say it. I’m not making this stuff up, I swear! After this was explained to me, I realised why I received a few odd looks from people I believed I was greeting…View this post on Instagram

#travel #wanderlust #explore #backpacker #femaletraveller #solofemaletraveller #southeastasia #welivetoexplore #travelcommunity #culture #instatravel #travelgram #travelblogger #travelwriter #travelphotography #photojournalism #immersivetravel #meaningfultravel #travellife #travelstories #cityphotography #urbanphotography #vietnam #hanoi #conicalhatsofvietnam #conicalhats #peopleofvietnam #urbanphotography #flaneur

A post shared by Laura Sanders (@lauraloves2travel) on Jul 25, 2018 at 3:38pm PDT

Geography:

9. Vietnam is home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Halong Bay, Hue and Hoi An.

Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay | Laura Sanders
Imperial City, Hue
Imperial City, Hue | Laura Sanders
Hoi An
Hoi An or “the yellow town” | Laura Sanders

10. The Capital city is Ha Noi, but the largest and more modernised city is Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) in the south.

Ha Noi old quarter
Ha Noi | Laura Sanders

11. Saigon used to belong to Cambodia until the French handed it over to Vietnam.

Saigon
Saigon | Laura Sanders

12. Vietnam is the third largest exporter of rice in Asia, after Thailand and India.

Rice worker in Tra-Que
Tra-Que village, Hoi An | Laura Sanders

And now for the really fun part… Vehicles:

13. There are 37 million registered motorbikes in Vietnam, and only 2 million cars.

Perhaps this has something to do with the 100% tax incurred on car purchases,160% on imported cars!! Not to mention the cost of shipping an imported car back every couple of years for an MOT! This is an example of the dramatic wealth gap between rich and poor in Vietnam.

Ha Noi
Ha Noi | Laura Sanders

14. Motorbike accidents are the number-one cause of tourist deaths in Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia. Leave it to the experts!View this post on Instagram

#travel #wanderlust #explore #backpacker #femaletraveller #solofemaletraveller #southeastasia #vietnam #hanoi #motorbikes #asiancity #urbanphotography #flaneurism #welivetoexplore #travelcommunity #culture #instatravel #travelgram #travelblogger #travelwriter #travelphotography #photojournalism #immersivetravel #meaningfultravel #travellife #travelstories

A post shared by Laura Sanders (@lauraloves2travel) on Jul 25, 2018 at 3:24pm PDT

15. Talking of biking experts, did you know that the Vietnamese motorbiking license is obtained through just a two-day driving test?

Day one consists of theory classes and day two is the practical test, where candidates must prove they can manoeuvre the bike around a figure eight drawn out on the side walk. If you fail, you can try again immediately, that’s a good job for Jeremy Clarkson…

Image from Pinterest - Jeremy Clarkson taking his driving test in Vietnam on BBC Top Gear: Vietnam Special
Image from Pinterest – Jeremy Clarkson taking his driving test in Vietnam on BBC Top Gear: Vietnam Special

16. It is cheaper to take your motorbiking test again than to pay a speeding fine.

A local I met in Saigon told me that he once had his license confiscated for speeding and a fine of $40 had to be paid to retrieve it. Instead, he retook his test and paid $10 for a new license! Crazy – right?

Ha Noi
Ha Noi | Laura Sanders

17. Your scooter is like your Tinder profile.. swipe left to the Chinese makes!

A Japanese branded scooter may set you back $300, but it will also attract a girlfriend according to Khang – who has a Chinese scooter and tells us he will be single forever with one of these – best get saving up then Khang!

A bird’s eye view in Ha Noi | Laura Sanders

18. The legal limit of people on one motorbike is two adults and two children.

*This does not mean you can have three adults in place of the two children.

*It’s also illegal to ride your bike on the pavement, (but a lot of people still do when police are not looking, so watch your back!)

As for any other object you can fit on to a motorbike? I guess that’s left at your own discretion… 

Street vendor
Laura Sanders

Architecture:

19. Buildings in Vietnam so narrow and long because…

When buying a property In Vietnam, you are paying for the frontage. This is why, particularly in the old quarter of Ha Noi, buildings are very narrow at the front, but tend to stretch back and up a lot further. I stayed in a small boutique hotel in the old quarter of Ha Noi similar to the example in the photo below. True to form, my hotel only had two bedrooms on each floor but went up about six floors.

Lots of hotel bedrooms across Vietnamese cities will also be without a window for this reason.

Thang Long, Ha Noi
Ha Noi old quarter | Laura Sanders

Religion:

20. 80% of Vietnamese people believe in Buddhism but are not strictly-speaking practising Buddhists.

Buddhist Pagoda on The Perfume River, Hue | Laura Sanders
Buddhist Pagoda on The Perfume River, Hue | Laura Sanders

And there you have it!

Twenty infamous, wonderfully quirky facts about the fascinating country that is Vietnam. I hope this has inspired you to pay a visit! If you are looking for more inspiration, check out my photos to inspire you to visit Vietnam.

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