Vietnam isn’t all rice fields and pointy hats (although there is a lot of that, so you won’t be disappointed). Here are a few fun facts about Vietnam that might surprise you – things that most guidebooks don’t bother to cover.
If you find yourself in a hostel or a bar and are trying to make friends then any one of these facts will make a great icebreaker!
20 fun facts about Vietnam
- Most guidebooks and even Vietnamese people may tell you to say “Xin chao” as ‘Hello’. In reality, NO Vietnamese people say that in daily life. “Xin chao” is only for foreigners and event moderators. If you want to surprise a Vietnamese person, try saying “Chao em” (hello, little sister/brother), or “Chao anh” (Hello, older brother), or “Chao chi” (Hello, older sister). It’s more natural and will earn you major culture points.
- The Vietnamese language has 6 tones (5 tones in the Southern accent) and if you use the wrong tone then the meaning will be totally different. E.g., ma (ghost), ma (but), ma (mother), ma (grave), ma (rice seed), ma (horse). The combinations of sentences in which you can get those words confused is endless – and hilarious!
- How do you say, “I love you” in Vietnam? I can’t answer that until I know who you want to say it to. “I” and “you” can be translated in various ways, depending on the gender, age and the relationship between you and the listener.
- The most common family name in Vietnam is Nguyen, more than 38% of the population have this surname, followed by the name Tran (12%). Nguyen also ranks the 4th in the list of the most common surnames in the world.
- People often take a nap after lunch, usually from 12:00 to 13:00. Even companies and factories have this rule to allow their workers to catch a few z’s.
- Pedestrian lanes or zebra crossing are just for, erm, … decoration!?. No one cares about them. If you want to cross the road, just close your eyes to forget the fear (and numerous motorbikes whizzing past) and just cross. The drivers will know how to deal with you. Good Luck!
- In many hotels, you have to give the receptionist your passport when you check in. Don’t worry you can have it back when you check out, it is just a formality to check tourist ID’s.
- Coins are no longer used (although they are still part of the official currency). This means that there are no vending machines.
- The image of Uncle Ho (Hochiminh, Former Chairman) is printed on ALL bank notes (which are nowadays made by polymer). His body was embalmed in 1979. You can visit his tomb at the Mausoleum in Hanoi.
- Vietnam tops Southeast Asia in beer and wine consumption. It ranks in Asia’s top 5 beer-drinking countries, consuming 31.7 liters per capital, per annum. Vietnamese enjoy drinking beer with ice. Don’t knock it until you
have tried it, you will be grateful for the cold refreshment!
- Streets are named after great men in Vietnamese history, something that was adopted during French colonial rule.
- Vietnam has 54 ethnic groups with different languages and cultures. The most prevalent group is the Kinh group (more than 80%) (2014).
- Only about 12% of the population is Buddhist (2014). However, many Vietnamese still enjoy going to pagodas, regardless of their religious or spiritual inclination.
- Vietnam is the largest exporter of cashew nuts and black pepper in the world with one-third of the global production. It is also the second largest exporter of rice behind Thailand and the second largest coffee-producing nation after Brazil. Vietnam produces 16% of the world’s total coffee.
- Vietnamese people enjoy fruit with salt (mixed with red pepper).
- Vietnam has nearly 43 million motorbikes. In 2015 the population was 90.5 million, that’s 450 motorbikes per 1000 people. The density of motorbikes is even higher in big cities like Hanoi or Hochiminh City.
- Most Vietnamese people are crazy about football even though many of them have never kicked a football in their lives. During the FIFA World Cup or Premier League, Vietnamese football fans stay up all through the night to watch the matches. The Vietnam Electricity (EVN) even pledges no blackouts during the season so the screening of the matches won’t be disrupted.
- A plain white Ao dai (Vietnamese traditional costume) is the chosen uniform for female students in most Southern Vietnamese high schools.
- The most expensive tour in Vietnam costs just over $3,000 per person. Needless to say that even for a 6-night tour, this is pretty expensive, especially by Vietnamese standards. The tour takes in the spectacular Son Dong Cave and by all accounts must be worth the money because it is already fully booked for this year (2016). Son Dong Cave is the largest cave in the world, located in the Phong Nha Ke Bang National park (central Vietnam). To give you some idea of the size of this underground oasis you could fit all of New York State (including sky scrapers) into the cave. Or, if you really wanted, you could fly a Boeing 747 through it.
- The Vietnamese follow the twelve earthly branches and each year is sponsored by one of the zodiac animals in sequence. So, if you tell a Vietnamese person that you were born in 1983 don’t be offended if they say ‘Ah so you are a pig!’.