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The One Thing ... Vietnam

By ben Groundwater


By Ben Groundwater

The One Thing You Should Do
In Vietnam ...

Sit on plastic chairs

Your journey into Vietnamese culture begins here, on a small plastic chair. The country’s ubiquitous seating apparatus looks like it was designed for kids. It’s tiny, low to the ground. It doesn’t seem as if it was built to support the weight of a grown adult. It’s brightly coloured, too; a little silly. But that’s what all the locals are sitting on, and it’s what you’ll be sitting on too. 

If you’re sitting on a plastic chair in Vietnam, then you’re doing the country right. You’re immersing yourself in the local culture; you’re doing as the people around you do.  

Breakfast on a plastic stool means you’re on a side street in Hanoi, slurping pho, the Vietnamese noodle soup, with the local crowd. Lunch on a plastic stool means you’ve pulled up in some cheap eatery in the Mekong Delta to feast on something like banh xeo, the fried seafood crepe. A coffee break on a plastic stool means you’re smashing a Vietnamese espresso poured over ice, mixed with condensed milk, drunk at a little pavement cafe. A beer on a plastic stool means you’re hanging out a “bia hoi” shop, drinking what’s essentially home brew with all of the locals. 

If you want to ensure you’re getting a genuine cultural experience in Vietnam, that you’re doing the normal things that local Vietnamese people do, it’s easy: just look out for the plastic chairs.  



The One Thing You Should Not Do
In Vietnam Is ...

Mention the war

The first thing you realise is that here, it’s not called the Vietnam War. It’s called the American War. That should be the tip-off. Not everyone views things in the way we’ve been brought up to view them. Maybe the Americans and their allies were actually the bad guys here? Or maybe they weren’t. Who can really say? 

Of course, there are two sides to every story, two versions of good guys and bad guys, and when you’re visiting Vietnam it pays to remember that the local experience of that infamous war was far different to the one that Westerners viewed through their TV sets. While some Vietnamese people might have been glad to have the Americans and their allies around, some definitely were not.  

And as that’s an impossible thing to discern straight away, it’s best, as a visitor to the country, to simply not mention the war. If someone else wants to talk about it, fine. Engage. Discuss. However, no one is going to be particularly fond of you if you head over there and start slinging opinions uninvited. Best to keep a low profile.   


Find out more insider tips about other destinations: read all the articles in Ben's "One Thing" series here

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The One Thing Series From Ben Groundwater


From Spain to Singapore, you can find all of Ben's One Thing Articles right here.

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