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First Impressions of Vietnam

Science has proposed that it takes the mind three days to properly adjust to a new situation. On the road, I’ve been testing the theory out and in most instances, its proved true. But I really think Vietnam is the exception.

It’s been three days since I first touched down in Ho Chi Minh City and I’m floored at how different the atmosphere is here compared to the rest of Southeast Asia. Vietnam has been the most raved about country in our encounters with fellow backpackers and now I can see why. This is what every traveler dreams of! I’ve arrived in a destination where the locals are welcoming, the drinks are free flowing, the meals are satisfying, the culture is unpretentious, and best of all, everything is dirt cheap! A bowl of pho on average has cost us $1-2. You can get an hour-long massage for $5 and that’s in the touristy districts. Even a draft of fancy craft beer at a higher-end establishment will only set you back a mere $3. Since I’ve been traveling for the past six months, nothing is more tiresome than counting pennies. Here, I feel like I can actually afford to have fun, which is a huugeeeeee relief on my part. It also has left a great first impression on me. If I’ve gained anything in three days time, its the absolute confidence that moving to Vietnam was the right choice. Moving to a new country is never easy but I have faith that things are going to pan out really well for me here. Here’s what I’ve learned about Vietnam in the past few days:

1. IT’S THE MOTORBIKE CAPITAL OF THE WORLD

Ho Chi Minh City is a city of eight million people and it seems as if each and every single one of them is on a motorbike. Motorbikes are the transportation of choice here because they’re affordable to upkeep and inner-city public transportation is known to be unreliable. Despite being a devoted pedestrian, nothing gives me more anxiety than crossing the street in big cities. Ho Chi Minh City has upped the challenge to the extreme making the simple act of walking across the street a death-defying stunt. In streets flooded with millions of motorbikes and seemingly invisible traffic lights, it seems like a mission impossible to get from one side of the street to the next. Its a real-life game of Frogger except there are no replays — get hit and its GAME OVER. Womp wompppp.

Motorbiking is a thing

Motorbikes are the preferred method of transportation on the road

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2. IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT PHO

Pho is my favorite food in the entire world. I crave it all the damn time and I cannot get enough of how cheap it is here and how filling it is! But pho is not the only noodle dish on the menu. You can get Hủ tiếu, cambodian-style noodle soup served with beef broth, Mì Quảng, which are thick cuts of noodles served with meat and fresh vegetables, and Bún bò Huế, rice vermicelli noodles served with beef and lemongrass (definitely not the best one out there). All soups can also be ordered ‘dry’,without the broth. I’ve heard that noodle soups are traditionally eaten for breakfast but these canteens we’ve seen serve them up all day long. Also fun fact: the bowls of lime they give you are not only to squeeze into the soup — they’re also meant to clean your chopsticks before you use them to ensure cleanliness!

Tim loves Pho

Our first meal in Vietnam had to be pho

Bun Bo Hue is a rice vermicelli soup with beef

Bun Bo Hue is a rice vermicelli soup with beef

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3. THE COFFEE IS SENSATIONAL

I have never been a fan of coffee. Even living in Italy where coffee is a way of life, I remained a die hard tea loyalist. But I find my hard-pressed attitude on coffee softening as I tried my first taste of Vietnamese style iced coffee. In Vietnamese, cà phê sữa đá (ca phe sua da) translates to ‘coffee with milk’. But the milk they add is actually condensed milk so when paired with the rich, roasted flavor of their filtered coffee, you get a concoction that is so creamy and refreshing. Each glass tastes like a pool of melted coffee gelato. It’s really, really strong too so do not go on coffee dates in the evening unless you want to be up all night! You can get coffee to-go at the convenience stores for 9,000 VND (roughly 50 cents), chill at an open-air cafe like the one below and get a glass for 20,000 VND (less than $1), or go to the franchise of choice here, Phúc Long, and grab a cup for 40,000 (less than $2). It’s insanely good and so far, I have yet to come across a sub-par glass.

This open-air coffee shop sells $1 glasses of iced coffee

This open-air coffee shop sells $1 glasses of iced coffee

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4. TET IS A BIG DEAL HERE

It seems like Tim and I just can’t catch a break! In every country we’ve traveled to, we’ve had issues with trip logistics because of arriving at the wrong time. Getting around Nepal with a fuel crisis during their biggest holiday, Doshain was a headache-and-a-half. In India, we had train troubles due to Diwali. In the States, we were overfed and burnt out as a result of the holiday trifecta of Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year’s Eve. Now here in Vietnam, we have arrived at the most inopportune time: Tet. Tet is the Vietnamese take on Lunar New Year and its really important. So important that businesses are closed for the entire week celebrating! It starts tomorrow on the 7th and runs until the 13th. During this time, there are next-to-no teaching positions being advertised and no house listings available which is awesome when your job/apartment hunting. But all the festivities put me in high spirits and everyone has comforted us by saying there’s going to be a huge surge of opportunities available right after Tet. So maybe I’ll embrace the fortuitous nature of our arrival that I get to have two weeks to recuperate from being on the road for six months prior to starting work again.

These red banners are hanging everywhere

These red banners wishing good luck are hanging everywhere

Send some recommendations on Vietnam my way. xoxo Izzy

Millette Pulido is a Bay Area-based, Boston-bred Filipina who loves to vagabond. At 29, the former expat has traded in her nomadic ways for a semi-grounded life in San Jose, CA. Recently married, she's focusing on balancing travel with a full-time job and a destination wedding side hustle, all while planning her honeymoon in 2020. She lives for good times, good food, and good peeps. Find out her #wheretonext on Instagram @thenextsomewhere.

Comments:

  • Amy

    February 6, 2016

    It’s so exciting to hear your experiences so far – welcome to Vietnam! This post has made me miss Vietnam so much, especially those cheap foot massages! Yes, you were unlucky to arrive during TET but we had friends arrive in Hanoi about this time last year and they found work, so I’m sure you will too after the holiday (especially with your experience) in the meantime, enjoy the celebrations!

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  • February 6, 2016

    I love this! I had some of the same first impressions! It’s good to know, a bit late, that the lime is meant for cleaning the chopsticks haha! We were in Hanoi first and we tried this coffee called ‘Egg Coffee’ and it was quite delicious but very sweet! Give it a shot if you can find some! I love hearing about your adventures so keep ’em coming!

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  • Melrose Place

    February 7, 2016

    WOW!!! Red banners of good luck everywhere? These are positive signs that you and Tim will find your own place and job anytime soon. Happy Chinese New Year or Happy TET or Happy Year of the Monkey!!

    Love and miss you <3

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  • February 15, 2016

    This is awesome. I was recently in Thailand and I found that it was way too expenisve. I’ve been looking for a beautiful country that’s cheap and I’ve been debating Vietnam and the Phillippines. I’m really excited to see more of your adventures!

    P.s. As a devoted tea loyalist myself, it seems like I need to try Vietnamese coffee!

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      • February 17, 2016

        Izzy, that sounds amazing! Yay to new friends! Please give me your advice! I’d also love to read some posts about the Phillippines if you have them!

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  • February 15, 2016

    Lovely post Izzy! We spent about 2 months in Vietnam with the intentions of living there for a year teaching. After backpacking 8 months in SE Asia we were most disappointed with Vietnam. We think it mostly has to do with how much it was hyped up to us and probably because we were just tired of bargaining and avoiding getting ripped off everyday. We were ready for a place to call home and Vietnam was getting so frustrating. I think we would have had a different opinion had we traveled there first before the rest of SE Asia. Even though we thought it was a bit over hyped we did end up falling in love with some of the places. I dream about the day we can go back to Sapa. We also were in LOVE with the food, so light and fresh. Now that we have been gone for 6 months we really are having the itch to go back and give it another try with a fresh mindset and a little bit more of a realistic expectation of what to expect. We’re glad you’re having a great time! It’s making us want to go back and give it another try even more! Also, my mouth waters thinking about all that delicious food! Thanks for sharing!

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  • February 15, 2016

    Sounds like a great time! I agree that the first few days in a new place can be very strange, but I’m sure you’ll adjust just fine. I’m hoping to travel through southeast Asia after my teaching contract ends next February. I’m excited about the prospect about how cheap it will be.

    Good luck with finding work!

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  • February 16, 2016

    I visited Vietnam in summer 2014 for a short period of time (9 days.) I’ll be returning there in the next few months as I’m heading off to SE Asia in a month! Your post made me feel really excited and giddy as I really loved the country and the people. It was such a hectic yet beautiful atmosphere and I can’t wait to be back. Good luck with everything! I’m looking forward to reading about your adventures.

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  • February 19, 2016

    Izzy!! Thanks SO MUCH for sharing this post! It’s not very often that I read a blog that is written in the exact style I like to read–my version of conversational and relatable! I absolutely loved my brief visit to HCM and am very glad you are settling in so nicely. Gorgeous pictures and great descriptions of the food and coffee…. Can’t wait to read more ^^

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  • February 20, 2016

    Congratulations on getting a job and an apartment. Your coffee is awesomely inexpensive. Hubby brought home a Vietnamese coffee cup (the manual coffee maker) and Vietnamese coffee. We do it from time to time minus the condensed milk coz it’s too sweet hahahaha but yeah, it isn’t authentic Vietnamese coffee. We’re looking at traveling there this summer because of all the good reads I’ve found. Vietnam and Cambodia! So, this post and your future posts will be my additional great source! Thanks!

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  • February 21, 2016

    I am excited to have found your blog and follow along with your adventures in Vietnam. We visited northern Vietnam on vacation last July. The 10 days we spend in the country were amazing – I loved everything about it. Especially the food, like you said! Vietnam is on my radar for a possible place to teach after Korea. Looking forward to finding out more about it through your stories!

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  • February 22, 2016

    Great post, Izzy! Those foods look absolutely delicious! I really enjoyed the food in Vietnam, particularly the street sandwiches. Good stuff!

    What’s your plan for Vietnam? I’ve been kicking around the idea of moving there, and would be curious to hear your take on the process of moving there and getting a job. Looking forward to future posts!

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  • February 23, 2016

    It’s beautiful! I haven’t been to Vietnam yet but it’s definitely on my list. I wanted to go last year but it didn’t work out! The pictures are so beautiful!

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  • Nadine

    February 23, 2016

    Vietnam has been on my list forever and your post is making me want to pack my bags and head there… As in NOW!!! I mean, who doesn’t love a delicious meal for cheap.
    I had never heard of Tet before but it’s crazy to think that businesses close for an entire week. I guess I’ve been in Korea too long because I can’t think of them closing their business for that long.
    I hope you guys are able to find a fantastic job and housing.
    Best of luck

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  • February 23, 2016

    Wonderful post! And I have to agree with your points! My first time in Vietnam was quite a shocker as well—I thought we were going to die by motorbike! Not only did they go so fast but you’re walking across the street not and sometimes just not notice them until they’re almost next to you! I also absolutely agree about the coffee, and until today Vietnamese coffee is my favorite. My friend took us to Highland Coffee though, saying that that was one of the more popular places there. Hope to try the ones you went to next time. Thanks for sharing this post! Brings back good memories 🙂

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