First Impressions of Vietnam: The Culture, The Food and the People

I slam the door of the taxi behind me, the driver places my closet of a suitcase next to my feet, he gives me a snag-toothy smile and a thumbs up. He’s off. I look around. It’s as if I’m a lost fish in a sea of motorbikes. The sounds of Vietnamese people devouring some soup-looking street food next to me is drowned out by the perpetual sounds of honking motorbikes. Hundreds of thousands of them, all at once, talking to each other in Vietnamese street language. Honk, HONK, honk, HOoOoNK.

Before I’m able to make sense of it all and locate my hostel, a motorbike comes out of nowhere on the sidewalk and nearly sideswipes me, almost knocking little me and my suitcase over. AH! I screech. C’mon man, there’s a street for that! I’m panting. All of a sudden, I realize I’m dripping in sweat, drenched by the unmistakeable humidity and chaos of the city. The woman cooking the soup-thing at the street food stand has been watching me and my struggles, and gives me an ear to ear smile. You know, the kind with your eyes.

Nice to meet you too, Saigon.

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Today marks one week since my initial arrival to Vietnam. Within 7 short days, I’ve tested out 4 mystery soups, in which only one of them was “pho”. I’ve consumed 15 Vietnamese iced coffees or cà phê sữa đá, and I can confidently say I’m now addicted. I ate at 13 bangin’ street food stalls that didn’t get my otherwise sensitive stomach sick once.

Banh Beo : steamed rice cakes topped with mung bean paste, toasted shrimp, fried shallots and scallion oil. Aka dank. All for a whopping total of $3 .
Banh Beo : steamed rice cakes topped with mung bean paste, toasted shrimp, fried shallots and scallion oil. Aka dank. All for a whopping total of $3 .

I got dinner with a Vietnamese local named Venessa who taught me that Vietnamese people don’t like small talk, and prefer to get right into the meaty stuff (opening a convo with “how are you” doesn’t exist here. That one’s gonna be hard for me to get used to. So sir, uh, what was your childhood like?). I got one really bad massage, but I’m okay with it ’cause it only set me back 10 US bucks.  I rode my first motorbike and lived to tell the story with all my limbs attached. I got infinite numbers of toothy smiles from Vietnamese strangers on the streets, and ate some of the best bananas I’ve ever had from the banana lady on the corner. They really do smile with their eyes.


From Saigon to Da Nang. We’re not in Kansas anymore…

Saigon is a frenetic, west-meets-east metropolis. With over 8 million people, the energy and chaos is nonstop. Walk on a side street at 4:30 am and chances are you’ll see groups of people sitting on little plastic chairs, street food vendors clanking away and of course, motorbikes. EVERYWHERE. (Real talk, where the heck all these people are going at all hours of the day on their motorbike??? Theories welcome in the comment section).  In Saigon, you’ll find everything you could ever want:  bangin’ street food, forty-foot-tall trees, charming little streets, vibey expat bars, glamorous rooftop clubs,  a neighborhood dedicated to cheap massages, and funky little rainbow houses.

Scooting outta #Saigon Next stop – Da Nang, my new home city!

Then we got to Da Nang. The city we plan on staying in for the next year. I’m gonna be honest with you guys. At first, I was thinking WTF have we done. The first impression was, uh, let’s say… authentic. We arrived at night (never a good start) and got lost finding our Air BnB. Along the way, all we saw were dingy looking street food joints, half-completed construction sites and we were being followed by this rank rotten fish smell…

Ok, bad start. Just as we were about ready to pack up and head back to Saigon or north to Hanoi, we realized we were on the wrong side of the city. HAHA joke’s on us. There’s a whole other part of the city that is actually quite charming! The city is split into two halves by a river: The beach side of the city and the city center. We crossed the river from the beach side to the city center and VOILA! It’s a bustling, vibrant city complete with trendy coffee shops, busy street food spots and riverside bars. FEWF. It turns out that the city is like a smaller, cleaner, chiller Saigon. Oh. And with this beach…

Yup, I could sea living here

Reason in itself to love this city? I think yes.

In conclusion?

I’ve been overwhelmed by the kindness of the Vietnamese people; those smiles. And that food. And those beaches! Now that I’ve got my very own motorbike, I’m READY. Bring it on new Vietnamese life.

With great wheels comes great responsibility ✌ #weout #newwhip

Check out my first day exploring Da Nang in this video!

Have you ever gotten the wrong first impression of a new place? If you’ve been to Vietnam, what were your first impressions like?!

10 thoughts on “First Impressions of Vietnam: The Culture, The Food and the People

  1. ,,,,and the adventure begins to unfold! Cool looking bike, it looks like a pretty powerful motorcycle. How fast does that baby go?

  2. CASIE – – Just love your “reporting”. Sorry for the uncomfortable start – but it’s already getting better. Just love that food and I’m glad it’s all agreeing with you!!!! Keep taking care of yourself and I’ll send you an email soon!!!! xoxox A-L

  3. Oh, so you already moved on to Vietnam? Great. Looking forward to read your new adventure. Vietnam and Thailand was on my list on moving.

  4. Awesome!! Interesting read… How would you compare your first impression of Vietnam to your first impression of your ‘pueblo’ in Spain when you first arrived? Regards from Madrid

    1. Great question German! In fact, you inspired me to write about just that on this week’s upcoming blog post!! Look out for it on Friday. 🙂 In short, they both were a big culture shock – a new language, new social norms, new lifestyle, new foreign food, and A LOT to get used to. While totally opposite cultures, both have presented very big challenges in adapting to the new lifestyle! Stay tuned on Friday for the full blog post. And thanks for the great idea. 😉 Cheers! -Casie (AWC)

  5. Even I’m a local person, I still wonder what the heck people drive their motorbikes at all single hours of all days, and here are some probable reasons: A large number of inhabitants are common/unskilled workers and/or have free time, and/or jobless. Therefore, they often travel to work, deliver, or just have a drink, coffee, or just hang out at any time.

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