While south east Asia may, in your mind, be reserved for the most adventurous backpackers, we disagree. Hanoi in particular has a way of blending the chic of old Asia with modern touches that surprise and excite every time. Enjoy the intricacies of Vietnamese culture, here’s a guide to help get you started.
Typically if it’s your first time to Hanoi you will hit up the tourist hot spots like Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum and the Presidential Palace. What’s true about most places with new cultures is that your trips stop being about the “sights” so to speak and start being about the experiences. In Vietnam it’s all about getting in with the locals, riding their wave and walking in their shoes. To do that though, there’s a few things you should know…Flights to Hanoi
Pagoda or Temple?
How can you tell which is which when they practically all look the same no matter which part of the country you’re in. According to the locals, a pagoda (chua) is a place of worship, where one goes to make an offering and pray while a temple (den) is a structure that has been built to commemorate someone who has died, usually some great historical figure.
It’s a fancy word for feng shui and it’s one of the most important elements in daily life. It is the art of living in tune with your surrounding environment… or is it a science? Locals call it phong thuy and if you plan to do any serious business while you’re in Vietnam then it’s essential to learn this.
Pass the fish sauce, please
Oh you love it, don’t say you don’t. For Vietnamese, fish sauce is like ketchup or simply salt. It goes on everything! It’s made from salty fermented fish, cured to perfection in ceramic vats for sometimes an entire year. Used for dipping, marinating, flavouring, just about anything but make sure you taste the real thing, not some cheap imitation.
The ancient art of water puppetry, known as roi nuoc, dates back at least one thousand years. Modern puppet theatres use a murky tank of water that is waist-deep as their stage. The performance is, well, unforgettable! The show is a water ballet with a dash of humour, it’s really like nothing else in the world. If you sit in the front row seats, expect a little splash.
Betel nut is for sale everywhere in Hanoi and all over Vietnam. It’s not to be swallowed though, only chewed with similar effects as chewing tobacco. Betel nuts are the seeds of a betel palm tree. It usually comes cut with a slit in it, covered in lime juice and wrapped in a leaf. Regular nut chewers say the flavour gives them a little buzz, if you can get used to it that is.
It’s not your typical father/son fishing trip to the mountains in Vietnam. The arid foothills along the southern coast are perfect for fishing but not for fish… for lizards. The traditional way to make a catch is by using a long bamboo fishing pole with a hook dangling from the end. You prop it up on a boulder and wait for the lizards to bite. If you’re lucky you’ll be eating roasted lizard pâté for dinner.
Have you ever been to Hanoi or travelled through Vietnam? What was your favourite part of the local lifestyle?