May 16


12 Things I Learned From 12 Months of Living in Vietnam

By Odyssa

May 16, 2023

1. Motorbike is life.

Eleven months ago, I swore never to drive here. Two months ago, I started driving an automatic Honda bike that now takes me to where I work every day. 

My guess is almost every household in Vietnam - whatever economic status - has at least one motorbike. 

With a motorbike driver in Sa Pa, Lao Cai, Vietnam. 

2. A single meal in Vietnam is not just rice and 'ulam'. 

There's soup, meat, vegetables, nuts, fruits. It's a complete, big meal all the time. Every meal has an assortment of vegetables (pickled, sauteed, or boiled). Seriously, food is amazing. And there's hot or cold tea everywhere.

Below is a photo of one of the lesser known dishes called 'bún cá'. 

Bún Cá

Bún Cá

In 2019, CNN Travel listed Vietnamese cuisine as one of the world's top 10 most delicious foods, while Travel + Leisure has also ranked Vietnamese cuisine highly in their own "World's Best Food" list.

And did you know that pho is breakfast food?

3. Western ways have caught up with the country.

Vietnam began to open up to foreign countries only in the late 1980s and early 1990s, following a period of isolation and conflict. Today, a big part of the culture is influenced by the Americans and Europeans. 

To be very specific, most of my students have social media accounts, learn from YouTube and Tiktok, adore influencers, and play video games popular in the US. I have met students who learned English through YouTube and Netflix videos. 

4. They love football.

Another influence by the French. My students religiously watched the FIFA World Cup 2022. I witnessed the older ones sitting outside bars and cafes to watch matches during freezing winter evenings.


5. Northern Vietnam has stunning countryside views.

From Hanoi, it only takes a minimum of two hours to reach lush green hills, terraced rice paddies (in the Philippines, we call these rice terraces) and rivers.

There are traditional villages nestled among the hills, with farms and fields dotting the landscape. It's breathtaking. 

Breakfast view from my hostel in Ba Be Lake National Park.

6. It gets really cold during winter. 

In Hanoi, the lowest it got last winter season was 7 degrees Celsius. I read that it got up to 1 degree in Northern Vietnam. 

How did I get here?  

7. Summer is scorching.  

It burns through your skin. If you're traveling as a tourist, bring the smallest, thinnest pieces of clothing you got. 

8. As a tourist or expat, you need to adapt to many things.

Some of those things include the traffic (especially if you are driving), language (English is not widely spoken in many areas especially outside the cities), food (if your palette is used to Western taste), and way of living. 

There's so much to see, do, and learn here - I don't think a year is enough.

9. The main spiritual practice followed by the Vietnamese is ancestral worship.

In almost every home and business establishment I have visited, there's an altar where food, drinks, flowers, ritual items, and incense are offered to ancestors. 

This type of worship is based on the belief that one's ancestors continue to play a role in the lives of their descendants even after death.

10. They love to sing, dance, and do elaborate performances.

I noticed this in schools and other gatherings. 

11. At school, the language used to teach all subjects is Vietnamese. 

Only the English subject is taught in English. 


12. They have big love for their country.

Most of the Vietnamese I know love and prefer to travel within the country, think their food is the best, and simply love where they are from. 


About the author

Odyssa is a writer from the Philippines. She is the author of Like A New Sun Rising: A Collection of Poems on Love. When not working or writing at home, she's out walking their dogs. She enjoys traveling, practices yoga, gets lost in books and Korean drama. To her, making time for a daily practice or ritual is the best gift to one's self.

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