10 interesting facts about Vietnam you didn’t know
Vietnam is one big #foodporn with some of the best food we tried during our travels in Asia.
We spent a month eating our way from Saigon in the South to Hanoi in the North, and picked up these 10 interesting facts about Vietnam along the way.
1. Vietnam is shaped like the letter S
Our first interesting fact about Vietnam is its shape. We love our funky shaped countries especially ones that resemble glamorous high heels (Italy).
We particularly like the shape of Vietnam because S also stands for Stefan and Sebastien ☺
2. Motorbike madness!!
In Vietnam, motorbikes are everywhere! According to the Ministry of Transport figures from 2013, of the 90+ million population, 37 million were registered with a motorbike and only 2 million with a car.
Owning a car is incredibly expensive because the tax is around 100-200%, so it’s a luxury reserved for the very wealthy. The tax for motorbikes is far cheaper, making it a more affordable means of transportation for everyday folk.
So on your first arrival in Hanoi or Saigon, the first interesting fact you’ll most like notice is that literally everything is done/carried on the motorbike.
3. Rude Vietnamese finger gesture
An interesting and rude (!) fact is that if you want to express your contempt to someone in Vietnam, just make this finger gesture at them, demonstrated by our friend Quan:
Read more about Quan in our guide to what it’s like being gay in Vietnam and the gay bars of Saigon.
4. Coffee paradise
We are coffee addicts so interesting fact #4 is our favourite: Vietnamese coffee!
Vietnam is the world’s second largest coffee-producing nation after Brazil, producing 16% of the world’s total coffee (Brazil’s is 40%).
Coffee in Vietnam is incredibly tasty, cheap, and the iced version a refreshing drink to cool you down during the warm, humid months.
5. Kings of the cashew nut
Vietnam is the world’s largest exporter of cashew nuts, producing 37% of the global number.
The nut itself is in fact the seed that grows at the bottom of the cashew apple, a fruit rich in nutrients and containing five times the amount of Vitamin C of oranges. The cashew tree is native to Brazil, but Vietnam seems to produce far more of them.
6. Ong Tao the god of the kitchen
Vietnam is the only country we know that has its own deity for the kitchen! His name is Ong Tao and for us foodies was an interesting fact to discover.
According to legend, Ong Tao makes his appearance just before the Vietnamese New Year (Tet) festival. During this time he rushes up to heaven to give his annual report to the God of Heaven on the activities of the family. This report determines the fate of each household in the new year.
Legend also has it that he wears a robe because he forgot to do up his trousers properly before rushing off.
7. The breast milk fruit!
The breast milk fruit was our new exotic fruit discovery in Vietnam and an interesting fact that made us giggle. It’s in actual fact a juicy and sweet fruit called ‘star apple’ (vu sua).
It gets its nickname because as you peel it, a few white milky drops dribble out!
8. White skin is considered perfection
In the West, tanned skin is usually regarded as more ideal then pale white, usually a sign a holiday, hence the popularity of tanning / sunbeds. In Asia, particularly Vietnam, the complete opposite applies.
White is considered the ideal skin colour and any form of tanned skin frowned upon because it’s a sign of being a labourer working in the sun.
As a result, whitening products are big business across the country and the Vietnamese cover up as much as possible when in the sun, whether they’re working the fields or at the beach!
9. The currency is called dong!
Another interesting fact that made us giggle…as soon as we found out the name of the Vietnamese currency, our childish humour took over and we wet ourselves laughing.
You can check the Urban Dictionary’s more explicit meaning in English slang, but for Stefan (a currency collecting geek), the dong was another fascinating currency for his currency collection:
10. Everyone is called Nguyen, even uncle Ho
Ho Chi Minh and Nguyen (pronounced “win”) are the two most common names you see everywhere in Vietnam.
Nguyen is the most popular family name in Vietnam, used by around 40% of the population and is also the birth name of the famous Ho Chi Minh.
Ho Chi Minh led the fight for independence against the French and the Japanese. During the subsequent US war, he was regarded as such an important symbol of unification that in 1976, Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City.
Travel recommendations to Vietnam
Flying in Vietnam: Airfares in Vietnam can be very cheap if you do your research and book in advance. For example, flights from Ho CHi Minh to Hanoi come as low as $30 (£25) one-way. We recommend using Skyscanner to find the best prices for any given month.
Visa in Vietnam: Depending on your nationality and the number of days you plan to stay in the country, entry requirements may be different. We recommend using the services of a reputable agency such as www.vietnam-visa.com to obtain your visa.
Travel insurance: Whether you go diving, hiking or just lay on the beach all day long, you need travel insurance. We use World Nomads because they offer considerable coverage especially for adventurous travellers. They also make it easy to make a claim as it’s all done online.
Internet Access: Like China, the Vietnamese government are known to censor certain websites and social media. For unfiltered internet access, you can consider a VPN to unblock websites.
Hotels: Vietnam has a huge diversity of accommodation options. We recommend Tripadvisor to research about the best places to stay and activities to do. Use Booking.com to find the best deals and book your accommodation online.