Smaller places only specialise in one thing whether it is pho or noodles, and can be an actual establishment with tiled floors, or out on the street with food served from enormous pots. In the mornings, peak hour is usually 9 am and there’s little to select from after that. At all the restaurants that I’ve been to, iced tea is served like Australia’s standard table water – the servers nod as soon they know what you’re asking for: “Can I please get iced te-” “Yes”.
Viet people seem to really like their coffee. It’s everywhere – found at home, sold in cafes, stalls parked on the side of the street, even at the beach (when you don’t need the extra heat). As I was looking out of the taxi window I’m sure there were at least five on one street. The names were original though, like “Startup Coffee Shop” and “No Name”. In the late afternoons or evenings, people can be seen sitting around the low wooden tables in their sandals and shorts, a cigarette in hand and their coffee beside them.
It was really strange to see the beach being shared by swimmers and fishermen – relaxed families and hard-workers side-by-side. You can rent large, thatched, mushroom-shaped shelters for the day, complete with beach chairs and banana lounges. It’s also not uncommon to see people cooking sea creatures caught straight from the ocean on a small grill over coals (the smell was amazing).
You can find large places, such as warehouses or churches, that have been re-purposed to fit hundreds of stores selling clothing, food, jewellery or souvenirs. But, when I say “stores”, I actually mean piles of food or clothes neatly stacked inside each tiny rectangular area which are crammed beside each other. The shop keepers themselves sit in what space they can find and try to keep cool. Speaking of shop keepers, you need to know how to negotiate with them.
You can walk right underneath the waterfall or as close as you possibly dare, which is a refreshing (and slightly frightening) change from the places that I’ve been to in Australia. In Vietnam, there are no handrails or people there to warn you that you will get drenched (even if you think you’re standing more than far away enough – it’s surprising how far spray can travel).
Vietnamese people can hustle. When the sun doesn’t even touch building tops, people are selling goods from wicker baskets attached to the back of their bicycles or wagons. It became normal for me to wake up to a loud, pre-recorded voice of “Bread! Hot bread here!” blaring from a speaker as a hustler cycled around the apartments.
Photo: Nguyen Huu Trong