Experiences That May Shock You in Vietnam

Vietnam is a gorgeous country, and it probably should be on the top of your travel bucket list. I visited Vietnam only for a week, it was my visa run country from Bali, but it was enough to fell in love with this country. Although I experience in Vietnam in a good way and in a bad way, depending on the place you’re coming from, Vietnam can be very tough for first-timers in the sense of culture shocks. That’s why I contributed with 14 travelers, and they traveled around Vietnam and had different experiences. I hope these stories will help you to prepare for your trip to Vietnam.

Experiences That May Shock You in Vietnam

When they celebrate they celebrate

When I arrived at the Ho Chi Minh City and just got on my Grab scooter, I noticed that there were some people on their scooters shouting and celebrating. They had Vietnamese flags, noisy instruments, and smiles on their faces. After around 10 minutes the whole streets were filled with people celebrating, they didn’t care how they look they just wanted to express happiness, some people even had pots and made noise banging them with spoons. It was so lovely seeing how people scream, high five each other, kiss and honk. Why? Because their football team won a match. It seemed that all the people were celebrating and it was a time celebration. This memory will stay with me forever.

Celebration in Vietnam

War Remnants Museum and Vietnam War

It’s important for me when I visit somewhere that I try to understand the darker side of life there.  For me in Vietnam (one of my favourite countries to visit), understanding more about the American-Vietnam war that raged from 1955 until 1975 was really important.  I thought that I was reasonably well-read on the subject, but the reality of the places that I visited, and the testimonies that I read were a huge shock.

Taking a trip to the Cu Chi tunnels just outside Ho Chi Minh City is a sobering experience, understanding how the Viet Cong lived in the tiniest of tunnels, seeing more evidence of this in the Vinh Moc Tunnels further north reemphasised how truly terrifying this war was.   Even visiting the Ho Loa Prison in Hanoi was chilling.   But it was the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City with its victim testimonies, photographs and graphic descriptions of tortures, of destruction, death and chemical warfare that still shocks me today, some 6 years later.  The use and effects of cluster bombs, which is still felt today is incredible.  It’s hard sometimes to reconcile the beautiful countryside of Vietnam, the incredible food and the friendly people with the suffering of that time.   The war isn’t forgotten in Vietnam.  Memories, I think, show through, in the attitude of the Viet people – their resilience, their determination and hard-working but generally happy attitude.  The horrors of the war surprised me, but I’m glad I visited those specific places and learned more.  Balance an understanding from both sides helps us learn and ask more questions so that we can perhaps work towards stopping such things happening again.

Contributed by Lets Grow Cooks

Dogs Sold as Meat

Instead of sitting and waiting for my bus at the station, I decided to wander around the nearby streets to kill time. I was shocked when I came across a makeshift stall selling mutilated body parts of dogs. Even their severed heads were on display, with the fur still on them, and their teeth bared in a grimace of pain. The locals explained to me that many Vietnamese people eat dogs and that their bodies were being sold as food. But it was OK; they said because these dogs were not the same type of dogs that people keep as pets.

That explanation didn’t make much sense to me then, and now that I’ve had a few years to reflect on the subject, I understand it even less. Why is it OK to eat one breed of dog and not another? Surely they all feel pain and suffering equally, and surely they all want to live. But for that matter, why does my society say that it’s OK to eat some species of animals and not others? Pigs are even more intelligent than dogs, for example, and make very loving companion animals. When I eventually realized that these beliefs about which animals can be eaten are just a cultural construct, I stopped eating all animals and their bodily secretions.

At first, I was afraid that this would be difficult to stick to while traveling, but I soon discovered that it’s easy to travel as a vegan in Vietnam, or pretty much anywhere else, for that matter. Discovering local vegan dishes has become a big part of what I love about travel, and I honestly enjoy travel even more now than I did before I was vegan.

Contributed by Wendy Werneth of The Nomadic Vegan

Dogs Sold as Meat in Vietnam

Traffic in Vietnam

We had heard that Vietnam was beautiful, a place that amazed you in every way. The people were friendly, some of the best in the world and the food were something you would dream about on your return home, BUT no one told us how bad the traffic was!

At first, it felt like every time you crossed the road; you were taking your life into your own hands, especially a bustling city like Ho Chi Mihn. Traffic is as thick as any other city, but it is more from scooters and motorbikes rather than cars. You can actually find a seat at a cafe and watch the traffic for hours. The way they cut and weave through the streets is amazing. The fact that there are very few accidents with locals involved is a surprise but a testament to how the locals seem to be able to work it all out between themselves.

After a month of wandering this amazing country, we had finally worked out how to do it and feel like you could get out on the other side safely.
YOU NEED TO OWN IT! Own that walk across the street, wait for a small gap in the traffic, and then put your hand up at your side and walk at a steady pace across the street. And after you’ve done it a few times, you’ve got it, or you can ask a local for help crossing the road, and they will show you!

Contributed by Wild Family Travel

Traffic in Vietnam

The women in Sapa

On the morning of our hike in Sapa that is famous for epic rice terraces in Northern Vietnam, I was surprised to see that a group of local women joined us. I didn’t understand why they followed us, and to be honest, I was a little annoyed at first. Then the path we were trekking turned really steep, muddy, and very tricky to navigate. The women offered help to the trekkers, but I proudly refused until I slipped in my Converse and got covered in mud. I know what you’re thinking, and since then, I learned what the appropriate hiking footwear is. So, I accepted a girl’s help and had a company for the entire hike. She was graciously walking on any terrain, always finding a small stone or a brunch for us to step on to avoid slipping or getting into a freezing stream. She had incredible balance and amazing hiking skills, wearing a pair of plastic flip flops!
After a 15 km hike, we finally got to our lunch spot where the women that accompanied us the whole morning took out some small souvenirs for us to buy as a thank you. I bought a wallet and a scarf and paid a few dollars the young girl asked for. Our guide told us that those women walk 30 km every day to sell a few souvenirs to tourists to be able to support their families!

Contributed by Raw Mal Roams

sapa women

How Instagram changed the Hanoi Train Street

A few steps on the tracks, quickly take a selfie before the next train arrives: “Train Street” in Hanoi is popular with tourists. It is a train route that runs between blocks of houses and is lined with cafes. But because entering is not entirely safe, it is now slowly but surely blocked off, at least for tourists. The authorities decided that for security reasons, only residents should have access.

In October 2019, a train had to put an emergency stop in order not to collide with instagramers on the tracks. Afterward, police officers put up barriers.

The train route, which crosses Dien Bien Phu Street at one end and Tran Phu Street at the other, dates from the French colonial period: It was built in 1902, but still plays a vital role for domestic and foreign travelers today. If you take the night train from Hanoi to the mountain town of Sapa, for example, you will also travel through this narrow canyon.

Attracted by spectacular photos on the Internet, more and more visitors have come in the past two years. Cafes opened, residents set up food stalls, or arranged particularly good places for photography. Some restaurants even put tables and chairs directly on the rails during the “train-free” period – and then quickly cleared them as the train approached.
Now Train Street is closed, and travelers have to find a new motif for Instagram. Rarely has the fate of a single street been influenced so much by Instagram.

Contributed by Travellers Archive

How Instagram changed the Hanoi Train Street

Truck full of dogs

When I recently visited Vietnam, it wasn’t my first visit to the country. Nor was I unfamiliar with the local custom of eating dog meat. In fact, one of my friends had dined at a dog meat restaurant on a previous visit, though I declined and headed elsewhere. Luckily, my friend’s guide also assured us that dog meat was only served in special restaurants, for a premium price, rather than to unwitting tourists.

However, despite my awareness, the dog meat trade in Vietnam still managed to shock me on my recent visit. We were on a small tour bus that had departed Hue for a day trip to Phong Nha Cave. The bus trip was long, with the typical slow start picking up tourists from various hotels.

Not long after we had left Hue proper and were driving north through the towns lining Highway 1, I noticed a livestock truck ahead. At first, it looked like it contained chickens, crammed into the truck. Soon though, I realized that the truck was packed full of dogs, medium-sized dogs. It was a distressing sight.

The English speaking tour guide assured us foreign tourists on the bus, which contained a mix of foreign and local tourists, that the dogs were being moved to another part of the country, where they could live a better life. But we knew without saying anything that they were being transported for the dog meat trade, with the custom being more common in particular regions of the country.

With the bus stopping and starting in traffic, we kept on losing the truck full of dogs, then pulling up behind it again. Luckily, we finally turned off the main highway to the side road leading to Phong Nha Cave. But it was a sad and shocking incident during our outing, and our entire visit to Vietnam.

Contributed by Travelnuity

Truck full of dogs

Golden Bridge

I’ve always been naturally drawn to Asia for my travels, but for some reason, I hadn’t visited Vietnam yet, so last December, when I could choose a Country to take a group as a tour leader, I’ve chosen Vietnam.
I loved the Country, in particular, the north-west area of Mai Chau and Pu Luong, that, contrary to the more popular Sapa, is still under the tourist radar and perfect to soak up the authentic atmosphere of Vietnamese rural life.
Whereas, what disappointed me was the Golden Bridge, one of the most Instagrammed places in the whole of Vietnam. Before visiting, I had read it is located inside a sort of theme park, so my expectations had already been bumped.
Indeed, what most people ignore when looking at the beautiful pictures you see on the internet, is that to access the bridge you have to pay a $30 entry fee to the recently built Sun World Bana Hills Park, which comprises all sort of tourist attractions including a French village and a giant Buddha.
Honestly, I found the bridge charming but nothing exceptional, certainly not worth the price of the ticket. What impressed me the most and made the visit worth, was indeed the impressive network of cableways developed across this lush landscape at 1400 meters of altitude, including the Guinness-record 5-kilometer-long funicular.
Would I suggest a stop here? Yes, if you are already traveling in the Da Nang area but be aware that to visit the Park and reach the bridge, you will need at least 2 hours, so I guess it’s not worth it if you are just looking for a picture to post on your Instagram.

Golden Bridge

Drinking Civet Poop Coffee in Da Lat Vietnam

Traveling through Vietnam by motorbike, I experienced drinking the very exotic ca phe cut chon coffee; this is Luwak coffee made in Vietnam. I am a real caffeine junkie, and since seeing the movie ‘The Bucket list,’ I have always wanted to try the famous Luwak ‘civet poop’ coffee. The civet cat is a relative of the mongoose and is native to the jungles of Southeast Asia. Vietnam was colonized by the French that introduced robusta coffee to the country; today, Vietnam is one of the biggest producers of coffee in the world. Robusta coffee can be bitter. Somehow it was discovered that coffee made with beans eaten and excreted by wild civets produced a richer, more mellow cup of coffee. Digestive processes in the gut of the animals improve the flavor of the coffee made with these beans. Picking these beans out of civet dung in the coffee plantations and washing it is a costly process since collecting a significant amount of beans is very time-consuming. This results in the Luwak coffee being the most expensive coffee in the world. Driving through the Da Lat region in the highlands of Vietnam, I did visit some coffee farms, and seeing how the poop beans were produced here was shocking. Many coffee producers were using captive civets on the farms. The wild animals were kept in cages and fed only coffee beans, and the poop was then collected in the cages. This was cruel to the animals and could result in the production of inferior quality Luwak coffee. There are 2 reasons why Luwak coffee is believed to be superior; first is digestive enzymes in the gut of the civet; second, the civets only select the best quality ripe beans. If they are being fed only beans in the cages, there will not be a selection of the best beans by the animals.

Contributed by Campbell and Alya from Stingy Nomads

Drinking Civet Poop Coffee in Da Lat Vietnam

Ha Giang Loop motorbike trip

During our time in Vietnam, we ventured up North into the mountains that border southern China. We traveled here to complete the Ha Giang Loop, which is a multi-day motorbike trip through the rugged and rural peaks of northern Vietnam.

The small roads wind up through the mountains, along with the valley floors, and pass by more rivers and rice terraces than you can count. The journey is absolutely spectacular and is starting to attract more and more tourists every year.

What really struck me as we traveled these rural parts of the country, was how different the way of life is up here. Even though it is only an 8-hour bus journey from Hanoi to reach this region, it feels like stepping back in time over 30 years.

The main towns up here felt ‘normal,’ but the small villages tucked away in the hills, were totally unique. Entire families are out working in the fields, harvesting crops while wearing the most beautiful traditional clothing that was full of color. The villages were made up of basic wooden huts with little to no infrastructure.

There is no sense of poverty here, or that the local people feel like they are missing out. Life is just much simpler up here, and the people seem more than happy to keep it this way. It was fascinating to see, especially after coming from the bustling metropolis of Hanoi.

Contributed by The Coastal Campaign

Ha Giang Loop

Dirt and Garbage

One of the things that will shock you the most in Vietnam, and is a wholly negative way, is the level of dirt and garbage you will see pretty much in the entire country. 

Not much has been done in Vietnam in terms of garbage disposal and recycling. Add to this the fact that it is a crowded country and that locals are not exactly champions of environmental protection, and you get the idea. 

Even the most beautiful places are ruined by garbage. You picture Ha Long Bay as a somewhat lost paradise with emerald waters, only to realize that garbage is floating everywhere, and you become reluctant to jump in, as it is seriously gross. 

The same happens at the Perfume Pagoda, one of the nicest places to visit on day trips from Hanoi. Everywhere you look, you will see plastic bottles, abandoned garbage, dirt, bags, and other sorts of refuse. It’s like the locals take no notice of it whatsoever as if they didn’t care at all. 

Sapa, a famous destination for hiking, is no different. Garbage is a common sight along the trails. 

Make sure to go prepared knowing what to expect, because if you go in thinking you may find a pristine country with beautiful natural sites, you will be in for a major disappointment. 

Contributed by My Adventures Across the World

plastic problems

Tracing back Communism and Politics with India

Madhurima from India is the author of Orange Wayfarer, a sustainable cultural travel blog.

It was cold and sombre inside the war remnant museum in Saigon. I saw several western (assuming they are from the US) tourists walking from one hall to another with red eyes and sobbing. At Hoi An, a girl had told me she was traveling in Vietnam to trace back her grandfather’s legacy, who died in the War. At the War Remnant Museum in Saigon, I could see moving mirror images of that girl.

By the end of the exhibits, one hall stands, which shows support for Vietnam from across the globe while the US had waged War. Fidel Castro stood with the Vietnamese flag, all smiling!

For the uninitiated, it was a part of the lingering cold War of the 70s and curbing of the spread of the Communist regime, propagated by Russia and welcome by the locals. But Uncle Sam had a problem with that and he wanted to sell democracy. How do I know this? From my elders! I was not born at this time.

There was an open disdain for the US and its policy back at home, Kolkata, which changed in our generation that saw the free-market economy taking over the globe, providing easy IT jobs, and boosting disposable income. But our grandparents and even fathers have been influenced by the mighty communist manifesto, and solidarity was always extended towards the proletariat.  Anyway, I digress.  The first time I told at home that I am traveling to Vietnam, my mother said, “Is not that the place where they waged war?” I said affirmative and wondered how Maa would know!

The last hall of exhibits at the War Remnant Museum in Saigon answered that for me. I saw a number of Saree clad women walking on the streets of Calcutta with placards in hand, stating down with America and cheering up Vietnamese soldiers for the War! Political posters in bright red were commemorating Ho Chi Minh’s victory!

This was surreal! It was 2017, and Communist rule was a thing of past in many states in India, let alone Kolkata, West Bengal. But we sure had an affinity for the downtrodden and a strong sense of community. We still do. 

Standing at that hall, I could see history being played in front of my eyes, how people of my nation came in solidarity for Vietnam against an unjust war! I expected to see beautiful nature and taste great food and find quirks in wet markets of Vietnam, but to connect with the country’s politics through pictures from the days of yore was out of blue. Serendipity is what it is called! 

Tracing back Communism and Politics with India

Pickpockets

I returned to my hostel in Hanoi at 11 pm to see a commotion building in the lobby. I was on a group tour of Vietnam, but I’d been out that night with people I had met independently. Stepping into the lobby, I was interrogated. Had I seen two of our group, Lucy and James? It turns out that James had called, they had no idea where there were, and Lucy had her bag snatched by a motorcycle thief.

Bag snatches are not uncommon in Vietnam, as they can be in all parts of the world, but Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh are definite pinch points. Pickpockets are fast and have many ways of taking your goods. One of the favorite ways, as happened to Lucy that night, is by motorcycle or scooter. Before you know it, you hear a split second of the roar of exhaust, a pull on the shoulder, and your bag is off and down the street. Motorcycle thieves tend to be made up of one driver and a passenger, sometimes with a knife that can cut the strap of your bag.

I was totally shocked, and I headed straight back out to find Lucy and James, as did the tour guide in a different direction. As it happened, they found their way back to the hostel some thirty minutes later, and I got the call while searching around a pub called Hair of the Dog. I relaxed, had a beer, and ended up staying out till dawn, and had one of the best nights of my life. But that’s another story entirely.

Don’t overly worry about bag snatches – just keep your wits about you. You need to be aware when you have cameras and phones in the open, and backpacks with two straps are better than shoulder bags and slung purses. Even better, keep them on your front. Some simple precautions should keep most opportunistic thieves away.

Contributed by Dave Chant

pickpockets

How Quickly the Tailors in Hoi An can Tailor Perfectly Fitting Clothes

Vietnam is filled with extraordinary sights, sounds, and smells. The country, and more specifically, the town of Hoi An, is known for its tailoring. The Ancient Town of Hoi An is home to hundreds of garment-makers. It seems that almost every second store is a tailor.

Tailored clothing is one of the best things to buy in Vietnam, so I was intrigued during my first trip there. I was only spending two nights in Hoi An, so I had to act quickly. My partner and I walked into a tailor shop that had been recommended to us. We discussed designs with a tailor and were measured.

One thing that really amazed me in Vietnam is how fast the tailors work, and how quickly they can create a perfectly fitting garment. The next day, we went back to our first fittings. To my surprise, the garments were almost complete, apart from a few finishing touches. The tailors had taken less than 24 hours to sew two dresses, a full suit, a collared shirt, and a duffle coat. I was impressed!

That evening we returned for our second and final fitting. The next morning, our tailored clothing had been delivered to our hotel. Not only had we received multiple items of tailored clothing in 48 hours, but the clothes were also tailored perfectly to fit us, and were of such high-quality. Needless to say, when I returned to Vietnam the next year, I got more clothing tailored!

Contributed by Our Travel Mix

tailored clothes in Vietnam

Halong Bay

I spent an epic three weeks in Vietnam back in early February, well before everything shut down, but visitor numbers were already starting to drop significantly. Halong Bay was my second destination in the country, and I was excited to be heading out on a two night luxury cruise around the 1500+ limestone karsts, especially seeing as we’d been told the number of tourists visiting was as much as 50% less than usual!

I’ll admit, a number of friends had suggested I skip Halong Bay and instead visit nearby Cat Ba Island or head slightly further north to Bai Tu Long Bay. Both of those are equally stunning but far less commercial, with nothing but rave reviews about them online. But no, FOMO got the better of me, and I couldn’t bring myself to skip Vietnam’s world-renowned gem of Halong Bay.

Unfortunately, my Halong Bay experience was less than impressive. The weather hit us badly, with mist all day and the cold rain dampening (literally) our days at sea. But aside from the weather, which is the total luck of the draw, I was really disappointed in how many badly-behaved tourists I saw while exploring the islands.

From pushy crowds who were hogging photo spots for way too long to people who felt entitled to veer off track and cross barriers inside ancient caves to get a closer look to the upsetting amount of plastic bags, bottles and snack wrappers I kayaked through, it was a constant struggle to enjoy the natural beauty of the landscape. And the most disappointing thing I saw was tourists throwing wrapped chocolate bars to monkeys on the shore of an island… As if the monkey had a bin to put the rubbish in when he was done. Sigh! Next time I’ll definitely visit Bai Tu Long Bay instead.

Contributed by Finding Alexx

Here are all the experiences which we share today. We hope that your trip will be amazing and full of Vietnamese culture because it’s amazing. If you just came from a trip in Vietnam write a comment bellow with your experience. It’s always interesting to hear travel stories from fellow Here are all the experiences which we share today. We hope that your trip will be amazing and full of Vietnamese culture because it’s fantastic. If you just came from a trip to Vietnam, write a comment below with your experience. It’s always interesting to hear travel stories from fellow travelers. Also, read: What to Do if You Got Robbed During Your Trip.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Great post 😁

  2. ourcrossings says:

    I’ve never had Vietnam on my travel wish list but the more I read about it the more I want to go. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 😀 Aiva

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