Things that surprised me about Vietnam

Asia, Travel

The level of tourism

I thought everyone had travelled to Vietnam. I felt really behind and desperate to catch up with all my friends. South East Asia is such a cheap destination so everyone I know has already been there right? Wrong. On reflection I can think of five people off the top of my head who I know have been to Vietnam. Vietnam actually has extremely low tourism rates compared to it’s neighbouring country of Thailand. While Thailand has 27 tourists per year, Vietnam has only 3 million. Thailand has a 50% return rate from tourist, whereas Vietnam’s return rate is less than 5%. Vietnam has some ‘tourist friendly’ issues to work though (refer to the A –Z of Vietnamese Cities) which are contributing to these facts.

Economic System

I kept asking our local guides why Vietnam was named the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, when it utilises a capitalist market and a voting system (for local council, not federal elections). I couldn’t get an answer. I don’t think they understood the question. So I had to Google: 10 years after operating under a socialist system Vietnam was in profound poverty and recognised the need for some urgent changes. They therefore allowed the growth of a capitalist market. Vietnam therefore has a mixed economy: partly capitalist and partly socialist. The ‘socialist’ part of the country has more political relevance in the fact that there’s a one party government system that limits freedom of speech.

The number of people

Big cities, millions of people. So many endless, endless motorbikes. As I described in A to Z of Vietnamese cities, imagine a bikie gang riding on a highway. Now imagine that bikie gang never ends and fills every street of your suburb. That is how I would describe the traffic in Vietnam. I thought it would be a little bit more like Laos with more long distance, green, secluded areas, but instead Vietnam has lots of cities and is extremely populated.

The process for crossing the road

In the busy chaos bicycles, mopeds, tuk-tuks, cars and buses seamlessly zigzag, passing each other within millimeters. Before we left for South East Asia my friend Sam told me that when I come to cross a bustling, multi-laned, packed road: I just need to cross very slowly. The locals are so skilled at driving and avoiding traffic that they will drive around you.

I didn’t get a good video in Vietnam – this is Cambodia (not so different!).

The garbage

With big cities comes big garbage. And this is a developing country. It smells mostly everywhere.


How difficult the overnight train was

This really needs a whole post in itself. I can sleep on planes, in the day, with noise. I can generally sleep in a new environment. Some people coped with the overnight train amazingly. They slept like babies throughout the entire experience. Other people (me) died. The overnight train was horrendous. Not only did I get no sleep, I was very, very ill. The overnight train is a great time saver. Travel by night while you’re sleeping instead of spoiling a whole day awake on a bus. If you’re booking an overnight journey just make sure you put in some leeway for exhaustion hours at your arrival destination – or you might miss out on a few sites! You just can’t predict who will/can’t cope with the ride.


Same shops in a row.

There are countless shops in a row that are all selling the exact same thing. In some places, this non-separation of similar shops is even intentional. In Hanoi for example, there is a shoe street, an iphone street and a scarf street. How do people make money if they lump themselves in with all their competition? Spread out, guys!



Are a delicacy. Ick!


The Rice Fields

Tourist season and rice field season don’t align. And they’re not all terraced. Why aren’t these beautiful terraced rice fields everywhere? A lot of Vietnam is pretty flat!


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