I have been drinking Vietnamese ice coffee in the US for about 25 years now so I was happy to finally get to have some on their local soil. These places vary quite a bit in style and price but the most local ones offer up the typical plastic tables and chairs that inexpensive restaurants do. If you see one like Café Bon Bon, crammed full of locals, stop in. It’s bound to be good.
Vietnamese ice coffee is a vestige of French Colonial habits though with a decided Southeast Asian flair. It is a roast bitter dark coffee that is mixed with sweetened condensed milk that not only sweetens the brew but also makes it creamy. It comes to the table in a little drip kettle that brews right there and you then pour the contents over ice in a tall glass. It is a tasty dessert and a nice pick you up in the afternoon if hot from all the sightseeing. You should be able to get one for 5,000 d (30 cents).
Tet Nguyen Dan literally means the festival of the first day and abbreviated as TET, it is the biggest holiday of the Vietnamese year. They describe it as combination of New Years, Christmas, and every person’s birthday and though it only lasts a few days, many take off a whole week to celebrate. Much like Western Christmas time, the Vietnamese adorn their homes with trees but not the kind we know. They use colorful kumquat trees that are quite expensive by local standards (around $20). Leading up the beginning of the festival, you will see countless people lugging the trees on the backs of bicycles and motorbikes too. It is quite a spectacle and well worth timing your stay in Hanoi around it. It falls between the 19th of January and the 20th of February, but get there early to secure a room and see the preseason festivities!
TET is also a time of tying up loose ends. If one is quarreling with a friend or family member, this should be resolved before the lunar year begins. Extended families come from far to be reunited with the rest of their clan and even deceased ancestors are offered gifts of play money to appease their spirits. It is a most colorful time to visit temples as locals ready themselves for the New Year.
There are many traditional foods associated with TET as well and the most popular perhaps is banh chung. This is glutinous or sticky rice layered around some very fatty pork and bean paste and wrapped in a banana leaf. You’ll definitely be offered some to try but it is an acquired taste so take a small bite to see if you like it. No matter what, say you do….lol. This orange sticky rice pictured was another festival favorite as people bought them at the market to bring home. I grabbed one too and brought it home to Doreen, who lay sick in bed with a very upset stomach. The simple food was just the medicine for her. I liked it too as it was lightly sweet with sesame seeds for added flavor.
Though Vietnam welcomes Western visitors, it is a decidedly Communist country and one should keep this in mind when dealing with officials. There is a lot of red tape in getting even simple things accomplished, such as securing a visa to Cambodia or Laos. Though one does not feel entirely restricted, there is a prevailing feeling of being under some kind of control. There is also rampant corruption on the political level though that does not seem confined to Communist governments, now does it? Still, locals feel there are kickbacks to be paid as a general rule. This unfortunately equates to tourists being subjected to like thinking which often leads to feelings of mistreatment to those not accustomed to such practices.
If you do venture out of Hanoi, you'll notice that the locals drink rice wine neat and direct from the fermentation jar via a bamboo straw. Take note that this is a male thing (sigh! ) as village women are NOT allowed to suck on the joy juice or enjoy the privilege of getting high on alcohol.
There are several traditions in Vietnam how to be lucky in the future. One of the nicest is to go to Van Mieu, the Temple of Literature, and pray for good luck for your exams. You can do that by patting the tortoises' heads. They are already patted blank, so I guess it really works... If you've got a more important exam to pass you may consider planting a poinsettia (a flower that usually flourishes in December so that it is also called "Christmas Star"). In December, Van Mieu's lawns are full of these flowers. However, I don't know whether planting them is legal. Don't sue me if it's not!
Driving from Hanoi to Halong, we noticed that right in the middle of some paddy & vegetable fields there were some red and white tombs. There were some large & tall ones and some smaller ones.
I didn't ask the tour guide for any explanation but I guess that there are some close kin of those who own the farms who are buried there, close to where they had lived and worked.
A few kind VT'ers have since explained to me that it is a common sight in Vietnam to have family members buried because in the fields where the family lives and works. Of course with modernity, it is become less common, but the older graves are still there, out in the middle of the open fields.
On your travels around Vietnam, you are sure to see the large Wreaths for sale, the same as the ones in my photo. Some places they vary in colour a little.
I did see a couople of Funerals, and at a stop in a country town, heard the music. I was on tour, and we all wondered what it was, so our guide filled us in on Funerals in Vietnam.
WE WERE TOLD, .....Vietnamese attach great importance to care for their parents in their old age and to mourn them in death, and that they mourn the dead parent for 3 years. Sometimes, mourning even begins beforehand!
At this time, the eldest child suggests a name for the dying person for it is considered unfortunate to continue the same name used in life after the relative has died.
According to ritual, when the parent has died, the children do not, as yet, accept the idea of death.
They place a chopstick between the teeth of the deceased and place the body on a mat on the floor in an effort to "bring it back to life".
The next rite in this tradition is for the eldest son or daughter to take a shirt the deceased has worn in life and to wave it in the air and call upon the soul of the dead to return to the body.
After this rite has been completed, the descendants then perform the ceremonial cleansing of the body.
The corpse is bathed, hair is combed and nails clipped.
Money, gold and rice are placed in the mouth of the dead to indicate that the deceased has left this world without want or hunger.
The corpse is then wrapped in white cloth and placed in a coffin and members of the family form a honor guard around the clock until a propitious time for burial is selected.
AND.......I also had a motorbike whizz past my Taxi, it had a Coffin stapped to the back, they sure were getting a fast ride!!
Dog meat is still eaten in Vietnam.
Our guide told us , that we would never have dog meat served to us, as it is classed as a luxury.
Certain breeds of dogs are raised on farms and slaughtered for their meat.
The raising and consumption of dog meat has been linked to the transmission of rabies to humans.
On my walking around Hanoi, I came across a street in which every shop was selling "DOG"
Whilst on my City Tour of Hanoi, we were at the Temple of Literature when we spotted a professional photo shoot being done. There was quite a crowd of people watching the proceedings.
Lucky we were on tour, and had a guide with us, as he told us what was going on, otherwise I would have never known.
The couple in the photo, as you can see, were beautifully made up and dressed, were have shoots taken before their upcoming wedding day.
He said that before the wedding day, couples usually arrange a photo shoot, during which the bride and groom will wear their wedding garments and a range of rented outfits.
ALSO.........Vietnamese brides usually wear two wedding gowns on their wedding day - a traditional red ao dai (the traditional Vietnamese tunic-dress) for the main ceremony in front of the family altar and, later in the day, a white Western-style wedding dress at the wedding party for friends and relatives.
I think I was lucky to see the lovely couple and to find out the information!
On a visit to Tam Coc, take a look how some of the ladies row their boats.
Would you believe, that they ROW WITH THEIR FEET.
Actually, the photographer who took my photo, rowed alongside our rowboat, paddling with her feet, and taking the photo at the same time!
Coffee in Vietnam is VERY STRONG, and served differently to Western countries. The photo shows how sometimes it is served to you.
If you happen to get your cup of Coffee this way, and you do not like strong Coffee, then ask for a cup of hot water, they will oblige with that, at least it made the coffee more drinkable!
In Hanoi, the phrase street culture takes on a new twist when you see groups of people, such as the family pictured here seated outside right on the street having their evening meal.
On one of the side lanes outside a touristy souvenior shop, I observed this family tucking into a tasty meal of steamed water snails (escargot). I had a quick look around but I couldn't see the kitchen or stall where the food had came from. Despite the rather unusual setting (by the drain & peeling yellow wall), the adults and kids seemed to enjoy their dinner. As is common in Vietnam, the seats & table are both set very low-I reckon you have to have a flexible body to eat like a local!
A common mode of transport in and around Hanoi is by the use of motorbikes. Nights are pretty romantic in Hanoi and it is not uncommon to see young couples cruise around on motorbikes under the moonlight (because the streets are barely lit).
I guess the "om" hug is a way of dating and spending time with your lover. While most of the time the rider is male, sometimes, it is the female that is the rider and the guy who is the pillion rider. You have to wonder who enjoys the ride more?
Thanks for Bpacker for enlightening me on the "om" hug.