Interesting Characteristics Of Vietnam That Make The Country Truly Unique

Officially known as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the country is located on the easternmost part of the Indochina Peninsula and is the 15th most populous country in the world. Like many of its surrounding countries, Vietnam has an incredibly rich history that dates back to ancient times, although is constantly undergoing change. There’s a lot more to Vietnam than most people imagine, as it has become an increasingly popular travel destination for people all over the world. Take a look at the many cultural and geographical aspects that make Vietnam unique and some lesser-known facts about this beautiful country.

Would you ever drink snake wine?

Finding Love At A Singles Market

Two musicians a the love market

Finding love and dating can be a daunting task regardless of which culture you grow up in. So, in order to make things easier, a love market is held every Saturday night for the single people living in the surrounding area of the market town Sapa.

Single young people from the mountain villages go for the opportunity to get to know one another and participate in activities such as singing, dancing, and playing traditional games. Many who find themselves becoming intimate at the market will make arrangements to see each other the next market and become married the following spring.

Củ Chi Tunnels Are A Look Into The Vietnam War

Photo of an empty Cu-Chi-Tunnel
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The Củ Chi Tunnels are a must-see attraction if you ever find yourself visiting Vietnam. They are located in the Củ Chi District of Ho Chi Minh City, which was once Saigon. They are connected to a more extensive network of similar tunnels that are beneath much of the countryside.

The tunnels were built by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War and are credited with being their base of operations during the Tet Offensive in 1968. The tunnels were home to many Viet Cong soldiers as well as contained hospitals, supply routes, weapon caches, and more.

Snake Wine Supposedly Has Healing Properties

Bottles of snake wine on the shelf

There’s no doubt that Vietnam has some of the most out-there food, however, many people confess how delicious it is. Not only is their food different from many other cultures, but it is also described as being some of the healthiest. A perfect example of this is known as snake wine.

The wine is believed to have a restorative effect and is drank for its supposed healing properties. A snake is often bottled alive and takes a defensive position before finally drowning in the rice wine. Many people choose the most curled up snake they can find because that supposedly means it had a fierce spirit.

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Walking A Pig Isn’t All That Unusual

Man walking his pet pig
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Although it isn’t uncommon for people in the west to have pigs as pets, for the most part, they are mainly used for food. However, in Vietnam, things are a little different with cats and dogs being seen as food, and pigs, especially potbellied pigs, are understood to be both pets and food.

It’s not uncommon to see people walking their pig down the street or carrying around babies like most people would a puppy. Even today, the Vietnamese potbellied pig has become a popular pet in other parts of the world.

Nguyen Is An Extremely Popular Last Name

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Nguyen is the most common Vietnamese family name. It is believed that the name is most likely derived from a Chinese surname with many events in history contributing to the name’s contribution in Vietnamese culture.

Because people in Vietnam are referred to by their personal name and not their family name, even on formal occasions, there isn’t as much confusion regarding the name as most might think. Currently, it is estimated that forty percent of the Vietnamese population has Nguyen as their family name.

Ho Chi Minh Was Once Saigon

Destroyed Saigon in 1975
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During the Vietnam War, one of the largest and most well-known cities in Vietnam was known as Saigon. However, it was changed to Ho Chi Minh in 1976, a year after the North Vietnamese took over the city in one final effort.

This led the United States Army and South Vietnamese to run to the hills after losing the city, essentially losing the war. Once the North Vietnamese took the city, they renamed it Ho Chi Minh after their former leader. Although the name was officially changed, many people still refer to it as Saigon.

Watch Out When Crossing The Street!

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While most people are used to sitting in traffic in their car, envious of the motorbikes weaving through traffic, it’s the opposite in Vietnam. The majority of people own and ride some form of a motorbike which they use as their primary form of transportation.

Currently, it is estimated that there are more than 10 million motorbikes on the roads of Vietnam every single day. At that point, you might as well trade in your car for a motorbike.

Hang Son Doong Is The Biggest Cave In The World

Entrance to the cave

Located near the Laos-Vietnam border is Hang Son Doong, considered to be the largest known cave passage in the world by volume. Its name, Hang Son Doong, is translated to mean “cave of the mountain river,” and is believed to be twice as large as the second biggest cave in the world.

The cave was found by a local man in 1991, only becoming internationally known after it was surveyed by a group of cavers in 2009 from the British Cave Research Association.

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There’s No Shortage Of Electric Lines

Image of electric lines in Hanoi
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The use and hanging of electric lines in Vietnam is much different from other parts of the world. Although their system is much more dangerous, people are far less worried about them such as in the western world.

There are massive clumps of lines that, more often than not, can’t be deciphered where they even lead to. Being an electrician is no easy feat, especially when half of the lines are broken anyway. This mass of lines is most noticeable in the city of Hanoi, which ominously looms over its citizens.

There’s Been A Lot Of Violence In The Past

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Even before the Vietnam War which involved the United States, Vietnam has been wrapped up in conflict. Not too long before the war, Vietnam was involved in a conflict with France who attempted to colonize the country during the 19th century.

This led to the Vietnamese rebelling against the French for years. However, during World War II, Vietnam was overtaken by Japan. Under Ho Chi Minh, the Viet Minh was formed and they fought until they gained their independence in 1954.

The Meaning Behind The Flag

Image of Vietnamese flag

The Vietnamese flag has much more meaning than a lot of people would actually think. Even though it’s simply a yellow star on a red background, the five points of the star represent the five different groups of people that keep the country running.

The five points symbolize the farmers, soldiers, workers, intellectuals, and youth of the country. Overall, the flag is more a symbol of the people of the nation rather than some kind of flag that simply represents the government.

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The Origin Story Of Vietnam

Drawing of Vietnamese origin story

Vietnam is located around Cambodia, Laos, and China. According to Vietnamese folklore, the origin of Vietnam tells the story of a young and beautiful fairy named Âu Cơ that lived in the mountains. She was skilled in medicine and would travel around, helping those in need.

At one point, she was scared by a monster but was saved by a dragon king named Lạc Long Quân. Âu Cơ fell in love with the dragon king and produced an egg sack filled with 100 children. They each took 50 children and Âu Cơ settled in the mountains of northern Vietnam, the beginning of the Vietnamese people.

The Vietnam War Was One Of The Most Devastating In The Country’s History

Soldiers in the wreckage of the Vietnam War
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The Vietnam War was a conflict that was fought between the communist government of North Vietnam against South Vietnam and its ally, the United States. In Vietnam, it is referred to as the American War or the Second Indochina War. It was fought between the years 1955 and 1975, resulting in the death of more than 3 million people, including 58,000 United States soldiers.

Unfortunately, more than half of the Vietnamese deaths were mostly innocent civilians. The war also caused serious social strain in the United States, with some people being against it and others being for it.

Giant Turtles Are Revered In Vietnam

Statue of giant turtle

Although there is no shortage of turtles in Vietnam, they are still considered to be sacred animals. The status that turtles have can be dated back to the 15th century supposedly when Emperor Ly Thai defeated the Chinese army with a magical sword gifted by the gods.

As the story goes, the next day at the lake Hanoi, a giant golden turtle swam to the surface and took the sword to return it to its rightful owners. The giant turtles in Vietnam are thought to be ancestors of the giant golden turtle and to see one is believed to bring you good fortune.

There Are Two Major Cities

Map depicting the distance between Saigon and Ho Chi Minh

In Vietnam, there are two massive cities that are the main sources of activity in the country. These cities are Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi. Although they are the two biggest cities in the country, they are on opposites ends.

Hanoi is very far north and Ho Chi Minh is in the south, separated by 930 miles. Although Hanoi is the capital of the country and home to 6.5 million people, Ho Chi Minh is actually larger, having a population of 7.5 million.

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My Son Sanctuary Has Dozens Of Abandoned Hindu Temples

Image of My Son Temples
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Constructed between the 4th and 14th century by the kings of Champa, the My Son temples are a cluster of abandoned temples once dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. Located in Central Vietnam, the temples are scattered around a mile wide valley surrounded by two mountain ranges.

With over 70 temples, My Son is considered to be the longest inhabited archaeological site in Indochina, yet many of its architecture was destroyed by carpet bombing during the Vietnam War. In 1999, My Son was recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site for numerous reasons.

Tet Nguyen Dan Is The Most Important Celebration

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Tet Nguyen Dan, otherwise known as Tet, is the Vietnamese New Year and the most significant holiday in Vietnamese culture. Tet Nguyen Dan is translated to mean “Feast of the First Morning of the First Day,” and celebrates the arrival of spring on the Vietnamese calendar.

This is ordinarily during January or February on Western calendars. It is usually celebrated on the same day as Chinese New Year and lasts for around three days. The festivities include cleaning the house, cooking special holiday food, worshipping ancestors, family reunions, and games, among other celebrations.

They Have Always Had A Thirst For Knowledge

Drawing of Confucius

In 938 AD, the Vietnamese were feeling stagnant and knew that it was time to make a change to better themselves as a people. They were exposed to everything that China was both exceeding as well as failing in.

Although they felt the Chinese lacked the tropical gods that they worshiped, they admired China’s strengths in philosophy, literature, information, and science. So, to gain a better understanding as to what China was doing right, they began to trade their ivory, animal pelts, and other goods in exchange for China’s scrolls on knowledge.

They Have Some Of The World’s Most Unique Food

Image of a variety of Vietnamese dishes
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Vietnamese cuisine is incredibly unique and is described by many as some of the most unforgettable food in the world. The food is usually comprised of a combination of five staple flavors with each dish containing one or more of these tastes. Common Vietnamese ingredients include shrimp paste, fish sauce, soy sauce, rice, fresh herbs, ginger, mint, meats, and much more.

Traditional cooking is known for its fresh ingredients as well as its balance between meats, herbs, and select spices. Their cuisine is considered one of the healthiest in the world with much of it having been influenced by traditional Chinese medicine.

You’ll never guess what they fish for besides fish!

There’s No Shortage Of Wildlife

Picture of a giant muntjac

Being one of the top 20 locations for biodiversity on the planet, Vietnam is home to countless types of flora and fauna as well as animals. Incredibly unique endemic species can also be found there such as the giant muntjac and Pu Hoat muntjac, among others, making Vietnam particularly unique.

In regards to wildlife, Vietnam has 310 species of animals, 700 freshwater species of fish, 2,000 species of marine fish, 296 species of reptiles, 162 species of amphibians, and 889 species of birds. Unfortunately, it is estimated by WWF that around 10% of the wildlife in the country is threatened by extinction.

The Vietnamese Are No Stranger To The Sun…or Rain

Women working in the field
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For the most part, Vietnam remains around the same temperature year-round depending on the region. The climate can be divided into tropical and temperate zones, although the whether is usually the same everywhere during the summer.

One of the only differences is that the north and more mountainous regions tend to be cooler, especially during the winter, but not by much. There is plenty of sunlight, heavy rainfall, monsoons, and high amounts of humidity. The temperature typically ranges from 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit year-round.

It’s A Conglomeration Of Cultures

Picture of Dong Xuan market
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Since its ancient origins, Vietnam has always had a particularly unique culture. However, starting back in the 1850s, Vietnamese culture started to become affected by others from all over the world. Today, Vietnam has a culture that isn’t just unique to them but has also been greatly influenced by Chinese, Japanese, French, and American culture as well.

Every nation that has come into contact with Vietnam has left its mark on society in one way or another. One specific thing that differentiates Vietnam from other East Asian cultures is that it uses a Latin alphabet.

Fishing For Lizards

Man fishing on river
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While Vietnam does more than its fair share of fishing for both freshwater and marine fish, they also participate in a specialized kind of angling known as lizard fishing. Typically, they fish for catching lan nui, a member of the gecko family that is also used as a source of food.

Traditionally, a hook and string are attached to a bamboo pole which is then dangled from a boulder until a lizard takes the bait. Than lan nui is commonly prepared either grilled, roasted, fried, or turned into a pâté.

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Home To A Very Unique Turtle

Picture of Hoan Kiem Turtle swimming

Vietnam was home to a specific population of turtle that could be found in Southeast Asia, most specifically in Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi, giving them their name the Hoan Kiem turtle.

Biologists believe that the turtle is a distinct species in which there are only three living in the entire world. The last one in Vietnam, named “the great grandfather turtle,” was reported dead in January 2016. The last time it was reportedly seen alive was in December 2015.

Vietnam Is A Major Producer Of Coffee

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While most people think of South America when it comes to coffee production, Vietnam is close behind as the second-largest coffee producers. It has been a significant source of income for Vietnam since the 20th century after the French first introduced it in 1857. It quickly grew to become a major cash crop of the country with Vietnam having the perfect climate and conditions for its growth.

Although there were interruptions in production after the Vietnam War, economic reforms aided in its production once again. Today, coffee is second only to rice in Vietnam’s agricultural export.

They’re At The Top When It Comes To Cashews

Woman sorting cashews
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Although Vietnam may be one of the major producers of coffee in the world, they take the cake when it comes to cashew production. They are currently the most significant source of cashews in the world even though cashews are not native to the country.

In 2017, Vietnam produced 3,971,046 tons of the nut, followed by India, the Ivory Coast. The Vietnamese take great pride in their cashew operation, considering cashews are one of the most sought-after and popular nuts in the world.

Halong Bay Is A Pride Of Vietnam

Picture of islands and ha long bay
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A UNESCO Heritage Site, Halong Bay, translated to mean “descending dragon,” is one of the most popular travel destinations in all of Vietnam. Located in Quang Ninh Province east of Hanoi, the bay is a breathtaking collection of limestone karsts and islands that range significantly in both size and shape.

With an area of 600 square miles, the bay contains more than 2,000 islets, most of which are made of limestone. Although a popular tourist destination, there are communities of people that live on floating fishing villages that call this place home. It was recently added to the list of the New 7 Wonders of the World.

The Whiter The Better

Woman rides bike with sleeves to cover her arms from the sun

While in the Western world people are obsessed with being tan, usually indicating that they went on vacation or have time for leisure, in Vietnam, it’s the opposite. Having whiter skin is preferred because it means that you aren’t someone who labors in the sun all day.

Much like how people use tanning oils and beds in the West, in Vietnam, whitening products are popular so people can cover up dark skin as much as they can. Women also often cover their extremities while outside to avoid the sun.

Newfound Relations With The United States

President trump with Vietnamese politician
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Things became quite sour between Vietnam and the United States after the War. During the horrific conflict, billions of dollars were spent and millions of lives were unfortunately lost. Amazingly, after some time and political agreements, neither Vietnam or the United States holds grudges against the other.

In fact, Vietnam actually encourages American citizens to visit the country, especially war veterans who need closure regarding the war. The two countries resumed diplomatic relations in 1995, twenty years after the war officially ended.

Water Puppetry Is An Ancient Form Of Entertainment

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Vietnamese water puppetry is an artistic tradition that dates back to the 11th century. It is believed to have originated in the northern villages of the Red River Delta area and would be performed after the rice fields had flooded. Although today’s water puppetry differs from its ancient origins, many of the properties remain the same.

The shows take place in waist-deep water with the puppeteers controlling the wooden puppets with large bamboo rods, usually hidden behind a screen. Many of the performances are short skits based on Vietnamese folklore and day-to-day rural life.