Only thinking of Vietnam about 20th-century war is nuts! Do a trip then you will think differently. The slim S-shaped country in Indochinese Peninsula boasts gorgeous natural landscapes, rich culture, and super tasty cuisine.
But first, let’s explore 15 things about Vietnam you must know. These informative facts will give you some hints about how attractive and unique the country is.
1. Vietnamese is the national language
Numerous foreigners consider Vietnamese one of the most difficult language to learn due to the challenging tones. On the other hand, that special tonal pronunciation makes the language sounded like a song with various rhythms.
Vietnamese is a beautiful language with 6 tones.
It took a long time until modern Vietnamese became the official national language. In the past, due to over 1000 years of colonization, the written language made use of Chinese characters. After that, Vietnam developed its own “Chữ Nôm” and then modern language with the adoption of the Latin alphabet.
Unlike most languages in the world, Vietnamese uses 6 tones to create a word. You need to pay attention because a change in tone can change the total meaning of the word. Let’s take a look at our example:
- Level tone: “ma” = ghost;
- Hanging tone: “mà” = but;
- Sharp tone: “má” = mom;
- Asking tone: “mả” = grave;
- Tumbling tone: “mã” = horse;
- Heavy tone: “mạ” = baby rice plant.
2. Ao dai and conical hat
Without any description but a hint “the traditional Vietnamese costume”, what’s the first idea coming to your mind? Surely, Ao dai (or “Áo dài”)!
Yep! The well-known Ao dai is one of the most precious heritages. It is for both sexes but nowadays it’s mostly worn by women. When visiting Vietnam, you will see local women usually wearing Ao dai on special occasions, for instance, weddings or celebrations. Moreover, some high school uniforms for female pupils are simple white Ao dai.
Besides Ao dai, “Nón lá” or conical hat is a cultural icon of Vietnam. The special hat is rustic but it will turn into an elegant item when combined with Ao dai. One thing that foreigners might not know is that “nón lá” was the very first traditional costume in Vietnam. In other words, it appeared before any other costumes.
Although Ao dai and conical hat are a perfect match, they reflect different angles of the Vietnamese lifestyle when mentioned separately. Ao dai is something formal and dress-up for special occasions. Otherwise, the conical hat seems to be more rustic in the fact that Vietnamese people wear it every day from farmers, workers to vendors.
3. The S-shaped-with-two-dot country – thing about Vietnam you might not know
The S shape of Vietnam is so unique that there isn’t any other country has. It stretches along the Indochinese Peninsula with a north-to-south distance of 1,650km. The S-shaped country boasts an extensive coastline, diverse geography, and stunning natural landscapes. That’s one of the most special characteristics reminding people about Vietnam.
But that’s not enough!
Besides the S-shaped part on land, Vietnam also has two “dots” which are the Paracel Islands and the Spratly Islands. Many a Vietnamese hero sacrificed their lives to bring back peace to the land. Therefore, we strongly and proudly claim that the two islands belong to Vietnam.
4. Saigon and Ho Chi Minh city
We have met a lot of foreign travelers wondering the same question: “Is Saigon the same as Ho Chi Minh city?”. So, here is the answer:
Saigon (in Vietnamese: “Sài Gòn”) was the old name of Ho Chi Minh city. Vietnamese government changed the name in 1976 to celebrate the reunification of two parts: North and South and the title named after Uncle Ho.
Nowadays, Vietnamese locals still use the name Saigon, especially in daily speech. That’s because the term has fewer syllables and seems more familiar with the older generation. Therefore, when you want to mention about the most populous city in Vietnam, you can use either Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City.
5. Vietnamese cuisine
Let’s raise your hand if you are a big fan of Vietnamese cuisine! Full of flavors? Balance in meat and greens? Healthy? Kid-friendly? Vietnamese foods tick all the boxes! And now, we are representing to you some interesting facts about it.
- Do you know that there are two Vietnamese dishes entering the Oxford English Dictionary? They are “banh mi” and “pho” that go directly into the dictionary without being translated into English.
- In Vietnam, rice is the staple food. Actually, steamed rice is served with other side dishes at lunch and dinner. On the other hand, locals use rice as the main ingredient of numerous dishes from savory to dessert. For example, we have pho, rice paper, steamed rice cake (“bánh cuốn”), porridge, steamed sticky rice, and square sticky rice cake (“Bánh chưng”).
- Besides various delicious dishes looking good at first glance, Vietnamese cuisine also features terrified exotic foods. Some foreigners can bear it, some can’t. Will you dare to try? The list of Vietnamese foods is so long that we can only name some as examples: alive coconut larva, balut, silkworm pupa, and bugs.
6. The currency of Vietnam
The official currency of Vietnam is Vietnamese Dong (VND), or shortly Dong (in Vietnamese: “Đồng”). The name sounds funny like “ding dong” but not that meaning. Additionally, while operating private tours, we heard plenty of foreign tourists sharing that they felt like a billionaire in Vietnam. That’s because the note comes with multiple zeroes.
Vietnamese money is made of cotton or polymer. The smallest cotton note is VND 1,000 and the smallest polymerized note is VND 10,000. The highest note you can find is VND 500,000. Each note comes in a certain design and color.
In terms of the untrained eye, you can make some mistakes when using Vietnamese Dong. The most common cases are about confusing the multiple zeroes and similar appearances. Therefore, you should check the note carefully before paying:
- VND 10,000 looks quite like VND 100,000 since they are similarly greenish.
- VND 10,000 is also confused with VND 200,000.
- VND 20,000 has the same bluish color as VND 500,000.
Nevertheless, Vietnamese polymer notes sometimes stick together, leading you to overpay for your goods. To prevent the risk, don’t forget to peel or flick your notes carefully before giving them to the seller.
7. Lotus – The Vietnamese national flower
Flowers feature the beauty of nature with the colorful appearance and even fragrant. Each country in the world has its own national flower which somehow reflects special national characteristics and culture. So, what is the national flower of Vietnam?
Lotus is the answer to the question! It is also known as the flower of the dawn and the symbol of purity, honor, serenity, and optimism for the future. It was voted to become the national flower of Vietnam in 2010.
Locals widely grow the aquatic plant throughout the country in muddy ponds, lakes, and rivers. When the flowers are in full bloom, they paint the vibrant pink color on the entire area and give off a pleasant scent. Besides the beauty and the fragrant, all parts of a lotus tree are useful. For instance, seeds and roots are for delightful dishes, leaves are for wrapping, flowers are for praying and tea-making.
8. Regional weather
The tropical climate in Vietnam is greatly monsoon-impacted that most times of the years are sunny days, rainfall, and high humidity. Plus, because of the north-to-south length, there are three typical regional weather patterns in one country.
Can we catch up on snow in Vietnam?
The answer is definitely “Yes”! Plus, the right place for you is in mountainous areas in the North. Unlike other parts, Northern Vietnam has four seasons which are spring, summer, fall, and winter. The temperature can drop to zero or sub-zero which causes snow sometimes.
The weather in Central Vietnam is hot and dry. Although there are monsoon-level rains in several months, the part of Vietnam is considered the toughest climate of the country.
In the South, the weather is constantly warm. There are two simple seasons that are rainy and dry. From May to October is the rainy season while the other months is the dry season.
9. The meaning of V-sign in Vietnam
When someone makes a V-sign, what do you think about the meaning? Probably, it’s the sign of victory or peace in Western culture!
So, do you wonder why Vietnamese usually make the sign when taking photos or greeting?
Don’t freak out! They just want to say “hi” to you, in a friendly way. Two fingers represent number 2 which is “hai” in Vietnamese. The word has the same pronoun as “hi” in English.
Therefore, there is no victory or peace sign here – Vietnamese people just want to welcome you. Is it among interesting things about Vietnam? Next time, let’s smile if you meet people doing V-sign with you.
10. Vietnamese population
Vietnamese is the name of the people of Vietnam. That makes foreigners think there’s only one minority in the country. If you think so, you will be shocked to know we have up to 54 ethnic groups! The fact is one of the most astonishing things about Vietnam for tourists.
According to official Vietnamese figures in 2019, the percent of ethnic Vietnamese (also known as “Kinh”) is 85.32%, another remaining percent is non-Vietnamese ethnic groups. In spite of the largest ethnic minority, Kinh people inhabit a little less than half of the country.
The origin of Vietnamese ethnicity was a long and complicated story. Overall, Kinh people lived originally in the area which is present-day Northern Vietnam. They migrated toward the south (Central and South Vietnam). In the meantime, Cham people formed the majority population in the Central, Khmer people were scattered the Mekong delta. Moreover, many other ethnic minorities inhabited the highlands (mostly in the North).
11. Religion in Vietnam
Religion in Vietnam is the mix of Vietnamese folk religion, Buddhism, Roman Catholicism, Caodaism, Protestantism, Hoahaoism, and others. Among these, Vietnamese folk religion outweighs, with a percentage of around 73 %. Actually, Vietnamese people list themselves as no religious affiliation but they still hold beliefs in Daoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.
The earliest forms of religious practice were totemic and animistic in nature. As the up and down of history, Vietnamese religion was added more dimensions. Nowadays, Vietnam is a country with relative freedom of religion but still certain limitations.
12. The kingdom of motorbikes – a realistic fact about Vietnam
If we say that traffic in Vietnam is pretty safe, will you believe us?
Obviously, it’s hard to say “Yes” because Westerners always think crossing the road is top-rated dangerous things in Vietnam. On the contrary, you’d be ok with the organized chaos of motorbikes.
Besides gorgeous landscapes, rich culture, and tasty cuisine, Vietnam is also famous for the title “The kingdom of motorbikes”. As you can see, locals use the type of transportation as many as Westerners use cars. In fact, one family has at least one or two motorcycles.
To give you a clear idea, the population of the country is almost 100 million people. According to a report from the Ministry of Transport, the number of motorbikes is almost 60 million, only 2 million cars are in use.
A huge amount of riders on the road might be a nightmare for foreigners, especially in rush hours. On the other hand, it’s not that dangerous as you see. The chaotic traffic seems to work together in an organized manner. If you want to pass the road, you’d better walk slowly and predictably. Therefore, you give the rider hint to guess your direction and negotiate around you.
13. Things considered unlucky according to Vietnamese superstition
Due to the rich culture and local folklore, Vietnamese people still hold a strong belief that certain behaviors will bring bad luck. To prevent causing offense and facing culture shock in Vietnam, you’d better take a look at some common superstitions:
- In Vietnamese belief, pregnancy is not accepted to be in weddings, funerals, and sacred places (like pagodas and temples).
- When a baby is born, people must resist complimenting the child too much.
- Want to give Vietnamese a gift? Then, you should exclude chrysanthemum, things in black, sharp culinary, handkerchief.
- Don’t wear a hat or use an umbrella when you are in a house.
- Strange owl/ barn owl and cat are considered bad luck.
Last but not least, do you want to know how Vietnamese reverse bad luck?
A duck embryo (or balut) is the key in this case. Locals believe that one certain egg can help them turn bad luck into good luck. That’s because the egg is called “trứng vịt lộn” in Vietnamese, and the word “lộn” translates to “reverse”. The proper potion is only one egg. If you eat two, your bad luck reverses twice and nothing is changed.
14. Most Vietnamese believe in fortune tellers
In Vietnam, many people hold a strong belief in Feng Shui and fortune. The role of fortune-tellers in their daily life seems to be pretty crucial. Indeed, the old generation takes it more seriously than the young. Does this thing about Vietnam surprise you?
The consultation from a fortune-teller is believed to help people attract good luck and to reduce the risk of misfortune. For example, when organizing special ceremonies like engaging, wedding, opening, locals tend to meet a fortune-teller to choose the most appropriate date. The date is chosen according to the lunar calendar and personal horoscope.
Moreover, it is said that a fortune-teller has the special abilities to see through the human future. People consult the teller to help them predict what will happen, especially about unwanted issues. Of course, the fortune teller never tells clearly about the future but gives some hints.
15. Electrical wires and tube houses
Tube houses and chaos of electric wires are considered unique things in Vietnam city life. Foreign visitors are impressed and curious about the quaint.
Tube houses and the tangle of electrical wires in Vietnam.
Tube houses in Vietnam feature a narrow facade in contrast with an endless extension behind. One house has three to five floors stacking up on a plot of land.
The type of construction helps a big family live together in the same space. They just need to build up more floors to expand the living area. Moreover, the tube house is also a money-saving method for middle-income people.
The tangle of electrical wires is one of those unusual things about Vietnam. They are messed up with all types from television cables, electrical wires, internet cables to phone cables. Such messy is liken to a spaghetti street installation. It’s dangerous but also a special trait reminding visitors about Vietnam.
You made it to the end of our 15 things about Vietnam! Those Vietnam facts might give you some hints about the local lifestyle and culture. If you want to know more about useful travel tips, let’s take a look at our related posts.
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