Each individual country in Southeast Asia (and the world) has its own culture; their own quirks, traditions, and customs regardless of how similar they may seem to another country. The standard greetings in Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos are called som pas, wai, and nop. Even Ronald McDonald has been known to wai, as pictured in Bangkok below. Respectively, the standard greetings are more or less the same physical motion. The Vietnamese, due to the influence of China and Western nations, utilize the bow sometimes in conjunction with a handshake to greet people. Subtle and not so subtle differences in Vietnamese culture compared to the other Southeast Asian countries really made an impact on me in my short time within the country.
Some travel books mention that somewhere between one and five percent of travelers to Vietnam actually return in the future after visiting. Complaints of being blatantly ripped off or scammed, mugged, and generally hassled are some of the most common reasons for avoiding a return trip. Unfortunately I was overcharged by a Xe Om (moto taxi) when I initially arrived in Ho Chi Minh City. I estimate this was about 20 USD over the regular price of a ride. Fortunately, that was the only time I was scammed throughout my journey in Vietnam. That is, unless you count the absolutely terrible red wine that I purchased during a train stop for only 7 USD. Lacking a corkscrew, the Vietnamese woman who sold me the wine was kind enough to run down to one of her fellow shop keepers and pop the cork for me. This occurred while our train was actually trying to depart. I still appreciate her expediency. Sadly, that was the only nice facet of my experience with that bottle of wine. Sadly, I’ve had fortified wines that tasted much better.
One thing I learned about the Vietnamese and their alcoholic beverages is that taste is apparently irrelevant. The quality of the product is rated by the alcohol content. So if you are trying to impress a Vietnamese friend, or maybe your Vietnamese girlfriend’s dad, give them a gift of booze with a high proof! You will be sincerely appreciated!
The thing that I instantly noticed in most Vietnamese shops and stalls was that prices were clearly marked with little stickers. This can be quite refreshing to someone tired of haggling over the prices of items, as this behavior is commonplace in Thailand. Though some people may actually miss this thrill. When getting around town, using the taxi company Vinasun is usually a safe bet. Everything about Vinasun that I experienced was very professional. From the drivers’ uniform, their overall demeanor and customer service, to the nearly immaculate interior of the vehicles, Vinasun demonstrates a high quality of service. One taxi even had the plastic still covering the interior from factory production (or maybe he was just tired of people making a dirty mess in his cab?)
All throughout Vietnam, it seemed as though the general population spoke the English language at a much higher level of proficiency than its neighboring countries. I partially confirmed this by inspecting the English Proficiency Index. Cambodians also seemed to have more proficient English skills than their Thai and Laotian neighbors, but neither were included in the study. Now this is completely on the table for debate but the most noticeable difference between Vietnam and its neighboring countries was the understanding of what good customer service is. Every shop I visited, the workers seemed genuinely interested in the customer and eager to help, instead of hassling or practically ignoring you in certain instances in other countries. Obviously, good service can be lead to more sales. The hotel staff at both hotels we stayed at were extremely courteous and thoughtful as well. Those being the Green Suites Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, and Pearl Suites Grand Hotel in Hanoi.
As there’s much more to write about Vietnam, expect to see some of the adventures and experiences that one can take part in through future posts. You can definitely include me within the five percent of people that will return to Vietnam in the future!