Sunday, 1 May 2011

A Month

Today is an important day in my travels, it signifies the end of my first month in Vietnam. I thought I'd type up a blog post to commemorate the occasion. I'll be writing about a few things I've learnt on my travels and hopefully give a few tips for traveling in Vietnam.

Useful Phrases

Cam On - pronounced 'cam ern' - This is the second most useful phrase you need to know when traveling in Vietnam and probably the one you'l hear yourself saying way too often. The meaning is simple, thank you. You can't get bye without it and almost every conversation with locals you have, you'll find yourself blurting it out like a stuck record.

Equally as important as a a thank you is the phrase Khong, cam on - pronounced 'kom, cam ern' - meaning No, thank you. Believe me, after you've been approached by 20 moto and cyclo drivers 5 minutes after leaving your hotel this phrase comes in handy for telling them your feet are a cheaper option for getting around.

Xin Chao - pronounced 'sin jow' - Some could argue that this is the most important phrase you need to know. Simply meaning hello it certainly is a conversation starter and the locals will love you for putting in the effort to learn a bit of Vietnamese.

Tam biet - pronounced 'tam bee-et' - For the quick getaway this phrase is your friend. Best coupled with a 'cam on' beforehand it means goodbye and will let you leave without waving like an imbecile to signal your intent.

Pho (Bo) - pronounced 'fer (boh)' - Used when your stomach is growling. Sit down at any place serving food and say these words. A bowl of rice noodles (and beef) will be in front of you within minutes and you can ease those hunger pangs.

All of these phrases will get you by just fine, but the phrase you need most of all is this:

Ca Phe - pronounced as you would expect it to be pronounced - A lifesaver, the most important phrase in Vietnamese. Coffee. Grasp this phrase and you will experience joy like no other. Look for any stall with these words written on it, sit down, say these words and wait for the magic to happen. However, sometimes ca phe isn't enough. Ca phe (nong/da) will give you (hot/ice) coffee. Ca phe sua (nong/da) will get you (hot/ice) coffee with condensed milk for a little more dong. And for the very particular coffee drinkers, ca phe den will get you a cup of black coffee. If you travel in Vietnam, learn these words if you learn nothing else.


A very important thing to learn is that everything can be bartered for and no price you get told is the going price. You're a foreigner you can expect to be charged up to 5 times the going rate. Never accept the first price you get told, you will almost certainly find it cheaper somewhere else. The most powerful bartering weapon in your arsenal is to walk away. Using this tactic will halve the price almost immediately with room left for further bartering.
In a market in Hoi An I was interested in buying some banana chips. I was told they cost 30 000 dong (R10). I immediately said the price was too high and said I'd pay 5000 dong. Suddenly the price had halved and I was being offered the chips for 15 000. I said 5000 once more and miraculously the price dropped to 10 000 dong. It was then that I employed the coup de grace and walked away, saying 'cam on, tam biet'. The lady I was bartering with stopped me and said 'OK'. I bought the chips at a sixth of the original price.

An aside: Caving - this is a term to describe giving in and accepting an offer. It is important to know that if you're prepared to barter for ten minutes you'll get what you want at the price you want it for. Don't cave! In general the person you're bartering with will cave first, you just have to be prepared to walk away.

Another aside: Absolutely everything can be bartered for. The words 'too much' are golden. Everything from hotel rooms to sandwiches to can be bought at a cheaper price if you say the words 'too much' and then quote your price.

Yet another aside: Bartering is seen as a game to the Vietnamese people. Keep laughing and smiling and treat your opponent like your best friend. If they quote a really high price, chuckle at it and say 'too much.' Never get angry. I've seen other foreigners get frustrated and lose their cool. This is frowned upon by the locals and is no way to barter. Some of the nicest conversations I've had in Vietnam have been with the person I'm bartering with.

Just one more aside

Just kidding. I'm going to tell you about shuttlecock, a game very similar to badminton, but played with one's feet. The Vietnamese people love it and every evening the parks fill with shuttlecock enthusiasts all playing for fun. Most people play it for the fun of it, not competitively and prefer to keep the shuttlecock in the air for as long as possible rather than trying to beat their opponent. I say its a game played with the feet but almost anything goes, only the palms of one's hands can't be used.
It could almost be considered an art form as the players emphasise control of the shuttlecock by kicking it from behind their backs or through their arms.

Rules of the road

There are none.

Have a lovely dong...

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