Monday, 27 October 2014

Further impressions of Vietnam: Five firsts


Today was a day of firsts.

Or, if you're a romantic Vietnamese plastic bag, firts.

First pho. Pho is the number one food in Vietnam, noodle soup. No, doesn't sound like the most exciting culinary experience, but it was very nice! My new friend T (also a new teacher with my company, very friendly and chatty from Bournemouth) and I went to this fast-food-typey place which did all your typical Vietnamese food too – the deal we had was Beef pho & Iced Black coffee for 55 thousand dongs (about one and a half quid, or two euros).

Twas scrumptious!
You put the basil in the soup, squeeze lime into it, add jalopenos if you're into that kind of thing (I wasn't) and add some random brown sauce and Hot Chili Sauce. And you eat it with a spoon and chopsticks. T helpfully asked one of the waiter dudes to get me a fork after me ten minutes of trying to master chopsticks and failing. But in all fairness, I clearly improved from getting zero strands of noodles to about two strands, so after a few weeks of practise hopefully I will have that skill perfected!

Iced coffee is also a Vietnamese thing – and despite sounding rather disgusting, Iced Black Coffee was ready-sugared and basically tasted like an iced milky coffee, without the milk, which you may have gathered. ;) So, surprisingly nice!

First price-haggling. And no Mumsie, I am not being a picky stingy rude tourist. It's the done thing at Vietnamese markets, according to every (internet) guidebook and human being I have talked to.

We went to a market – I think we thought it was famous Ben Thanh market but it may not have been. Overwhelming crazy amounts of dresses, earrings, dried fruit, scarves, coffee beans, dodgy foods etc etc with every stall-holder desperate to get you to look at their goodies.
Hmm this pic does not give it justice though to be fair sorry! 
After T skillfully got the price of a pair of sunglasses from 150,000 dongs (£4.37/5.55 euros according to currency converter) to 60k (£1.75/2.22euros), I felt more confident to do it as well. I needed a pair of work shoes, so was happy when we found a shoe stall. Weirdly, this stall seemed to be the only one where the shop-owners didn't even smile at you. Come on, I'm here to buy, be honoured! Found out the reason quickly – when I expressed interest in a shoe, they looked at my feet and just said “too big”. To be fair I was nearly a bit offended – my shoe size is 5 (38), it is not big! I know Vietnamese are tiny, but 5 is not big!

Well, the next shoe stall owners were more keen, so I tried on a shoe. They immediately brought me a stool to sit on as well as T, took off my shoe and put their shoe on my foot, after having stretched it accordingly for my wide Western foot. I felt like a very grimy smelly-footed Cinderella.

Size 38 was too small for me, but they had a size 40 which was tight at the top bit but had lots of toe space. The shop lady told me the price: 650k (£18.95/24euros). Ha, no, I wouldn't pay that much for a well-fitting shoe in my own country! She lowered it to 600k. No, no, the shoe didn't really fit. She kept handing the calculator to T (note T, not me, their culture is still quite male-authority-centered!) asking him to suggest a price. I wasn't even sure I wanted the shoes, so I was very ambiguous and unsure.

Then the other girl, probably the one with more responsibility, said “200,000!” (£5.84/7.40euros) I tried to get it lower, but she seemed quite sad and, well, desperate. In the end I decided to go for it. I needed black shoes, here were black shoes, and the price lowered by a third.
She was so happy, and then I asked if I could take a picture of her stall, and she happily asked: “With me?” so here is the result :D

First Vietnamese Water Puppet Show. Sophia, our lovely very sweet hotel receptionist, took me, T and L (both English teachers, both coincidentally from Bournemouth, coincidentally the place I spent my last night in Europe in! (Oh and also, coincidentally, T was complaining how he had to transfer twice to get to Ho Chi Minh City, and his check-in queue in London on Saturday happened to be right next to the queue to the direct flight to Ho Chi Minh... the queue I happened to be in :D Flights were both even at 1.10pm!))
The stage
So anyways, she took us to see this famous water puppet show which has apparently gone all round the world and, according to its leaflet, “Not watching a performance of Water Puppetry means not visiting Viet Nam yet!”

45 minutes of short water puppetry performances, meaning the puppets were somehow manoeuvred underwater, ok maybe the picture explains more...
Buffalo flute act
Final dragon act
On both sides there were three musicians who played drums/flutes/etc and did the vocals for the performance, be it singing, funny (Vietnamese) dialogue or duck sounds. Very talented and cool! Our favourite scenes were the one where two puppet men competed who could catch for puppet fish, or when the puppet dragons did pretty shapes, or when the puppet phoenixes got a baby puppet phoenix!

A very fun cultural experience.

First Vietnamese pancake. After the Water Puppets, Sophia took us to this Bamboo – Vietnamese pancake place. I pulled the short straw when it turned out everyone liked seafood, so I picked around it since all the food we got was to share.

Sophia showed us how to eat the pancake – take a lettuce leaf and put a basil leaf on it, then put some pancake and fillings on it, then wrap it up like a wrap, dip in the dip we were given, and, voilà, enjoy. It was wonderful having a local with us teaching us all of this!
We also had gorgeously scrumptious spring rolls and these mini “pancakes” with some filling I don't want to know the details of (I don't think it was anything too bad, but defo shrimpy), but they were DELICIOUS. They had a coconutty flavour and were AMAZING.
Dessert was various tiny bowls of various funky sweet things like beans in a sticky sauce or banana in condensed milk. Yeah, not your typical Western idea of desserts, but they were fine. As in, I haven't fallen in love with them, but they were sweet and interesting, so I ate. :D And literally each of us had about seven teaspoons of 'dessert' each. It's just not such a big thing here. After I finish my stash of Welshcakes (one left!) I hope to be able to easily lose a bit of weight here. :D

First Vietnamese taxi-ride. Intriguing.

A very fun day, and very happy I got to get to know people, both expats and locals!

Lots of love


Traffic picture of the day. Notice lady with wheely food stall amongst the crowd.


  1. Tosi kiinnostavaa! Ikkuna uuteen maailmaan. Mahdatkohan vallan tottuakin mereneläväsyötäviin siellä? Syömäpuikot - ehkä joka paikassa ei ole haarukkaa tarjolla. Mahtavaa, että teitä on kolme uutta siellä yhdessä kokemassa!


    1. Hyi en. Ja juttelin just yhen tyypin kaa joka sano et se on eniten wary (miten kirjotetaan??) seafoodista jos haluu yrittää välttää mahapöpöjä... joten en koe tarvetta totuttautua.

  2. I always used to enjoy haggling and bargaining in those countries that did it... One African friend explained that people from some countries always pay the first price suggested - but that was boring: the stall holders enjoyed the fun of haggling! Water puppets looked good. I guess "mua" means dance. Zz

  3. KIWI. Buy a moped!

  4. x(( where did my comment go!!!!
    I enjoyed reading your post a looooooot, made me even more excited to explore my home country all over again! Im also happy to know about all your experiences in vietnam, ur definitely on the right track girl! ^^ Just a small tip about the bargaining. All those retailers are aware that they are known worldwide as ridiculously over-priced sellers and they do that even to us locals! Sometimes they priced an item 10 times more that what they could actually settle for. DO NOT HESITATE TO BARGAIN HARD. If they say 600, you say 100. Pay close attention to their reactions, you can always tell something. Pretend to lose interest over the price and walk away, if they try to hold you back by saying 200, you know you can get it definitely for 120! Be consistent and don't get too excited over the items. If they let you go, know that you should raise up the price a little. Hope this helps!!! Have a wonderful time Emma and all the best to you! Do not carry anything fancy with you while walking on the street or public places. Keep your cash in your clothes pockets, not purses, and make sure they aren't back pockets xD - Nhi

    1. Heyyy! Thank you very much for your comment it made me very happy :) And thanks for the advice! Didn't realise they can price an item so ridiculously high! It's all good fun though :D I'm sure I will have a wonderful time, I've been in Vietnam only a few days and I love it already!! Now to master the language haha... :)