10 Surprising Things about Vietnam

Vietnam is another must-visit country if ever you are planning to tour around Asia. It has a rich heritage, the country is a dream for foodies, and the people are welcoming and hospitable of their tourists. 

But before booking the next flight to this wonderful country, it won’t hurt to know a few interesting things about it. Here are 10 surprising things you might not know about Vietnam, the Land of the Ascending Dragon. 

Motorbikes are the main transportation

Surprising Things about Vietnam, 10 Surprising Things about Vietnam, Culturenesia

Typically in most countries, cars and public transportation is the common way to get around. However, it is different in Vietnam, where their main mode of transportation is through motorbikes. 

Vietnam has over 45 million registered motorbikes, which means that roughly half of the population owns a motorbike. These could also be the reason why the traffic in the country can be described as “chaotic” and crossing the street might be a bit overwhelming as well. However, it’s not that scary once you get used to it and motorbike riders also have road etiquette, where you just walk and they’ll adjust for you. 

Crossing your fingers is rude

Crossing the fingers might be a normal action for most countries. We can this see with students who hope to pass their exams or when we are wishing for something so desperately. But, crossing your fingers in Vietnam is equivalent to raising the middle finger and saying f*ck you. 

It’s considered rude and it’s best if you avoid doing it, especially in public places, if you want to avoid confrontation from a native. 

White skin is the most beautiful 

In the West, tanned skin can be seen as an “ideal” skin tone, sometimes even seen as a sign of wealth, saying that you’re from a holiday abroad and could afford to lounge around the sun for a bit. But not in Vietnam or most Asian countries at all. 

White or pale skin is considered the most beautiful in Vietnam and having tanned skin is seen as a laborer who works under the sun. Because of this beauty standard, whitening products are a huge demand across the country and some would even resort to medical treatments to achieve that white skin. 

Snake wine for health

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Despite being common in Southeast Asia, Snake Wine is not for everyone. 

It is generally defined as, “an alcoholic beverage produced by infusing whole snakes in rice wine or grain alcohol.” 

Yes, you’ve read that right. Snakes, usually venomous ones, are not preserved for their meat but for their essence or snake venom that dissolves in the liquor. This beverage is believed to have good health benefits and medicinal qualities. It is said to cure farsightedness and even hair loss. Aside from that, it can also increase sexual performance. 

Generally, it is usually, but not always, safe to drink. And it is up to you to decide whether this is ethical or not. But isn’t this an interesting and surprising thing about Vietnam?

Vietnam houses 16% of the world’s species

Housing 16% of the world’s species is not just a fact to look over and signifies the abundance and richness of Vietnam’s biodiversity. In the country resides 15,986 types of flora, 310 mammals, 840 birds, 260 reptiles, 120 amphibians, and a whopping 7,750 varieties of insects. 

Famous animals that can be found in Vietnam are Great Hornbills, Indian Elephants, Water Buffaloes, Burmese Pythons, Tigers, and Dolphins. 

Hang Song Doong, the world’s largest cave (and more!)

Surprising Things about Vietnam, 10 Surprising Things about Vietnam, Culturenesia

Vietnam is also the home to the world’s largest cave, Hang Song Doong, which is measured to be more than 3 miles long, 650 feet tall, and almost 500 feet wide. The river cave is estimated to be 3 million years old. 

It is located in Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, Central Vietnam, and was accidentally discovered in 1990. So far, only the British Cave Research Association was able to explore the cave in 2009. By 2013, it was opened to visitors but only through the tour company, Oxalis. Aside from that, the government only allows 1,000 visitors per year and only 10 tourists per tour. 

However, that’s not all. What we thought is the largest cave just got larger. In 2019, a team of British divers discovered an underwater tunnel connected to another colossal cave named Hang Thung. When the caves are officially connected, they will now measure roughly 1.4 billion cubic feet. 

Beware of gifts

Giving gifts might be something we do out of goodwill but every country in the world has its own belief and style on what gifts are appropriate to give or not. In the case of Vietnam, avoid giving the following: 

  • White flowers – white flowers, especially adorned with black accents, are commonly used in funeral mass. So giving them as presents might not be the best way to go. 
  • Sharp objects – gifting native Vietnamese sharp objects, like scissors or knives, might give them the wrong impression. Sharp objects usually pertain to you wanting to cut off your relationship with them. However, there are certain exceptions to this, such as giving cutlery set for a housewarming party or gifting them to a friend who loves cooking. 
  • Watches – In the West, a watch is a gift that is considered fancy, however in Vietnam, gifting a watch means that you are counting down’s a person’s time to live. 

Almost everyone is “Nguyen” 

The last name “Nguyen” is named the fourth most popular last name in the world and is the most common in Vietnam. 

36 million people in Vietnam have Nguyen as their last name and that is nearly 40% of the country’s population. This means one of every three people in Vietnam has this particular last name. This is the main reason why Vietnamese prefers to call people by their first name instead of their surnames. 

A tropical country that snows

Surprising Things about Vietnam, 10 Surprising Things about Vietnam, Culturenesia

Not the whole of Vietnam though but just a small town situated in the North called Sapa. It is a tourist destination where people flock for its cool weather and beautiful scenery. Depending on the weather, snow in Sapa usually falls between December 15 and January 1. This is the coldest period of the year and snowfall often lasts for 1 to 2 days. 

When the sky is clear, rain and fog nowhere to be seen and the temperature drops to -1 degrees Celcius, then you can expect the snow. 

Halong Bay: Asia’s largest limestone island ecosystem

The Halong Bay is a sight worthy to be awed over. The Bay consists of 1,600 limestone islands and islets, making it the largest limestone island ecosystem in the whole of Asia. It is believed that these islands went through 500 million years of formation. 

In 1994, the area was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

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