I have to be honest. I have this love hate relationship with my own country, Vietnam. There’s times when I adore Vietnam so much and there’s times when I absolute despise it. I think it’s quite common to have these feelings in every country you go to – even your “favorite” ones.
Vietnam is a country full of contrasts and extremes. People are either extremely nice to you or they just yell their brains out, trying to explain something that doesn’t make sense. Luckily, I know how the Vietnamese works. Most of the time at least. These are the best – and the worst – things about Vietnam, according to me.
People are so hospitable, welcoming and warm. I just sat my ass down at the bus where I’m writing at the moment, and this lady offered me fruit just randomly. I didn’t want it but she just kept insisting. The Vietnamese loves to accommodate people and they’ll happily welcome you to their home, and even if they don’t have much to give, they’ll give you everything they got. I love the fact that people just walk into peoples houses here, no need for calling 5 hours in advance, you just knock on people’s doors and enter, chat a bit, eat a bit, then go. It’s the complete opposite of Sweden.
Well, almost all. They might be dishonest about the prices, but you can be damn sure they’ll tell you what they feel about you. It can be everything from you looking fat, skinny, you’re too stubborn, slow, stupid, etc. The people here don’t shy away from saying exactly what’s on their mind. Funny thing is, they don’t see it as being mean, as we in the West might assume. It’s just their way of being very outspoken and honest and I think it’s a very underrated trait (and quite admirable!).
They’re hard workers
No one can say anything else about the Vietnamese. Enduring wars, colonialism, torture, and poverty, these people are not playing around. They’ll work their ass off day in and day out to support their family and ensure there’s food on the table. The locals are smart, they know how to survive because they had to for so many years. Whether they’re sitting in an office or ploughing the field, they do it 100% and they do it well.
Everyone’s your friend
I’ve seen it so many times here in Vietnam. People stop and chat with random strangers all the time. My taxi driver who’s been waiting for me got a new friend in those 2 minutes he had to wait. There’s no one you can’t talk to here in Vietnam, everyone’s your friend and you can even ask strangers for favors. It’s lovely.
Vietnam has no shortage of beauty
I might be bias, but I really do think Vietnam is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. It might not be the obvious beauty, like in Thailand for example, but I find that it’s in the rugged mountains, rural landscapes, old colonial houses, small alleys and the food stalls where people sit in plastic chairs, that you can find the true essence of Vietnam. Even though tourism is completely taking over the country – for better and for worse – you can still get a sense of the true Vietnamese beauty.
The food is incredible
Just gonna leave it at that. Everything from pho, banh mi, bun, banh xeo, com Chay, cha lem… The Vietnamese kitchen is arguably one of the best in the world. And it’s so easy to be both vegan and vegetarian here! There’s an abundance of exotic fruits, vegetables, spices and LOTS of coriander in everything. Which I absolutely love.
You know it, I know it – no country is perfect, and Vietnam is probably one of the least perfect countries in the world. There’s a lot of frustrating things that makes me tick here and they are…
There’s literally plastic for EVERYTHING. They’ll wrap up your plastic IN PLASTIC. It’s frustrating to see that a lot of people aren’t educated in these matters either and it really hurts when you see big piles of plastic on the streets, beaches, rice fields, etc. Why oh why does anyone think this is how it’s supposed to be?
The Vietnamese are very traditional
Listen, I think you should be whatever you want to be, but don’t impose it on others. The locals are still, very much, traditional and the main thing in life is to create babies and get married to a “good” husband. If you’re not married by the age of 27, like me, you’re a lost cause or there’s something really wrong with you. They’ll ask you questions about it all the time “When are you getting married? Why don’t you have a boyfriend?” Like it’s the easiest thing. And their view about men and women are still quite traditional, with men having more value than women. Times are changing, but they’re still indoctrinated that this is how things are supposed to be, and I just hope the new generation will be a bit more independent in their choices and dare to live their own life, not their parents.
The honking will drive you crazy
As many of you guys probably know, Vietnam is known for their many motorbikes and hectic traffic. It’s almost impossible to find a quiet place where you won’t hear the honking. When I left Vietnam, I dreamt of the traffic and all the noises, I even imagined hearing cars honking. Although you’ll get used to it after a while, it’s still incredibly annoying.
The Vietnamese can be really rude
As I said, the country is full of extremes and sometimes the locals are downright RUDE. They have zero patience, and although I love their honesty, sometimes it’s a bit too much. They’ll swear, they’ll tell you that you did this and that wrong, and they won’t feel shameful about it. I can’t imagine living in this environment for my whole life, I’d seriously become rude myself.
They eat too much meat
Yes, I’m a vegetarian so of course I’d like to see people eat more plant based, but the Vietnamese still believes that you must eat meat and drink milk in order to survive, that the only way to get protein is by eating eggs, etc. I really hate how they treat their animals too, whether it’s a dog or pig. A local told me that he believes the sole purpose of an animals life is to be able to feed us. To me, that’s incredibly frustrating and disgusting, to even think those stupid thoughts. Safe to say, it just made me wanna go vegan even more.
They’re too greedy
This is just based on my own assumptions and experiences, but I feel like when you come from a poor country that’s developing rapidly, where money isn’t a big issue anymore, you’re just focused on money and nothing else. I can understand this though, from having nothing to all of a sudden having… opportunities! But with everything good, also comes the bad. The locals I’ve met are so money driven that they are willing to do anything to earn an extra penny. You can see it in Halong Bay – absolutely no respect for nature there. They’ll haul 5.000 tourists per day in what used to be a beautiful, serene and untouched piece of nature, put them on one of hundreds of boats, throw plastic literally everywhere and just don’t consider how this is affecting the area. It’s more important for them to earn money. I totally understand this because they also have to put food on the table, but when it becomes greed, it’s just not a pretty sight. Lots of Vietnamese have money now, yet they just want more and more and more. It’s difficult to se anything else when you only have dollar signs on your mind.
With that said, I’m so proud of Vietnam. I’ve seen it come so far, it’s nothing but astonishing. Years ago, when I was only 6-8 years old, there were no people at the airport, just us. It was quite eery actually, stepping out of the airplane and being all alone at the airport, having to bribe the immigration officers in order to enter Vietnam. That was the first time I was exposed to extreme poverty, seeing people on the streets begging, my relatives barely having money, seeing little children who didn’t get enough nutrition and didn’t grow as fast, or much, as they should. We felt so privileged because we were literally the only ones who could afford going to places like Cat Ba, Hanoi and Halong Bay, where people begged us to buy something, anything, so they could support their families.
… And flashback to today, their economy is thriving and people are wearing flashy gold rings, going to fancy restaurants and buying the newest IPhones.
It’s, indeed, a country full of contrasts and extremes.