Things foreigners should do in Vietnam

These days a lot of travellers travel to Vietnam. If you are one of them and you don't have a friend who has experiences what to do here, this post is for you. I am not a local Saigonese, but I have lived in Saigon for 7 years, and I AM a Vietnamese, so I can tell you a bit. There are something you should (this means you don't have to) do in Vietnam, especially in Saigon.

Have "cơm tấm" or "hủ tiếu" for your meals

Cơm tấm is broken rice with grilled pork chop, eaten with sliced cucumber/potato/carrot. You can also choose fried egg and some other accoutrements such as shredded pork, pork skin... It is typical dish in Southern Vietnam. A dish of cơm tấm costs around 20000 vnd.
A cơm tấm dish in Thành Rau restaurant, Phú Nhuận District.

Hủ tiếu is a kind of noodle, popular in Vietnam and it is NOT Phở. As far as I know, there are several type of hủ tiếu: hủ tiếu bò viên (hủ tiếu with meatball), hủ tiếu xào (stir fried hủ tiếu), hủ tiếu Nam Vang (Phnom Penh-styled hủ tiếu), hủ tiếu Mỹ Tho (Mỹ Tho is capital city of Tiền Giang province), hủ tiếu mì (hủ tiếu with mee noodle), hủ tiếu khô (dry hủ tiếu)... A bowl of hủ tiếu on the sidewalk may cost 10000 vnd while it can take you up to 50000 vnd in a restaurant.
A bowl of hủ tiếu Mỹ Tho; with quail egg, prawn, sliced pork, bean sprout...

There are thousands of Cơm tấm and Hủ tiếu eateries in Ho Chi Minh City and thousands in other cities in other provinces. They are really good dished. A lot of Vietnamese people eat cơm tấm and hủ tiếu everyday, so at least try to eat the way the local do.

Buy a lottery ticket

The lottery system in Vietnam is different from the one in the US. Here the salespeople are given some sets of tickets to sell. You are almost not able to buy a ticket with a certain number that you have selected because you don't know who is selling that ticket. It's totally random.
A Vietnam lottery ticket.

When you walk on the street, there will be men/women coming to you, give the tickets toward. Buy some and you may win a prize for stay a bit longer. If you don't want to, just shake your head or say "No, thanks", they will quickly leave. Don't think that they are bothering you, lottery ticket salespeople are the most polite salespeople on Saigon's streets.

Try "sâm lạnh" or "nha đam"

Sâm lạnh (or nước sâm) and nha đam (Aloe vera juice) are popular street dinks in Southern Vietnam. They are as popular here as orange juice and pomegranate juice in Bangkok. Sâm lạnh and nha đam are bottled and kept cold in ice boxes.
Wherever you walk or ride in the cities/provinces, you can see those boxes. The price for each bottle varies between 5000 vnd and 10000 vnd.

Sâm lạnh bottles. 

Cross the streets at the zebras

Sad to say, but pedestrians have never been the top-prioritized ones in Vietnam traffic. The drivers/riders will not slow down much when they see a person walks across the street. They will not give way to pedestrians if it is not the only option.
Crossing the street seems terrible for visitors who are new in Saigon. In other cities/provinces, which are less crowded, it seems easier. Now look at the video below:

Don't be rush, don't run. Walk in the zebras and as carefully and firmly as the man in the video did. Make sure that no vehicle reaches the position you are stepping to. Always step forward or stand still, do not step backward. If there is a traffic light, remember to wait until the pedestrian signal turns on (green).

Beware of motorbike-taxi service

Motorbike-taxi is a popular transportation in Vietnam. The drivers usually appear in the corners resting on their own bike or reading paper. Besides pedicab, mortorbike-taxi is a good way to get around and explore Vietnam.
A Vietnamese motorbike-taxi rider.
Source: GettyImages

If the drivers do not use the taximeter, remember to bargain the price. Try offering 2/3 of the number they ask for. And in my opinion, the drivers with uniforms and the ones waiting at the train stations/airports are always asking for higher payments, they even double the price. Do bargain harder.
In big cities, such as Saigon, Hanoi, Danang..., I suggest that you should use GrabBike for a better service. And NO, I DO NOT EARN FROM TYPING THAT NAME :))

Use the Vietnamese names of the places

Yesterday I went on to see how many places in Saigon I have visited. I recognized the images of some of them but I really didn't know the names listed on the website.
Not everyone in Vietnam are fluent in English enough to be familiar with the international names of the places, especially the places built by the foreigners. The Vietnamese are willing to help you when you ask but it will be time-wasting if they don't know what the places you want to go is.
So I will show you how the local call the famous places in Saigon. For other cities, I will update when somebody asks.
  • Notre Dame Cathedral => Nhà thờ Đức Bà
  • Mariamman Hindu Temple => Đền Bà Ấn
  • Temple of the Buddha's Relic => Chùa xá lợi
  • Jade Emperor Temple => Chùa Ngọc Hoàng
  • Wat Chantaransay => Chùa Khmer
  • Zoo and Botanical Gardens => Thảo cầm viên
  • Chinatown => Chợ Lớn
  • Reunification Palace / Independence Palace => Dinh Thống Nhất
  • Bitexco Tower => Bitexco Tower (just kidding)

You can try "Cafe bệt" near Nhà thờ Đức Bà.

Enjoy you trip in Vietnam! Have fun!


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