A Blog to help all those moving to hectic Hanoi, wanting to learn about the culture in Vietnam or simply interested in the opinions of an adventurous expatriate teenager!

Saturday, 29 October 2011

The difference between sửa chữa and sữa chua

The book I have just picked up entitled 'Vietnamese for Beginners' (Gioung) tells me that I first need to start off learning the alphabet. Well that sounds simple enough. In fact the learning of the alphabet may take me 6 months, maybe even the rest of the time I have here since I cannot devote my full time to learning it. When asking a friend who has lived in Vietnam her whole life the exact number of letters she said "well it's hard to know, ask the internet". ASK THE INTERNET! This seems crazy but on further research  even Google (yes I know Google is not a person, but it's nice to think that there is one system with all the answers I will ever need) cannot give a definitive answer. There are 29 letters and then letters with dots and squiggles and little hats. I think I gave up after that.

(taken by me)

When asking for milk it's "sữa" and yoghurt is "sữa chua". Well that seems quite logical doesn't it. Well sửa chữa means repair shop, I bet your thinking "Woah that's weird the same word for yoghurt and repair shop" but no it's like this for all of the words. Since most are very short there are multiple meanings depending on the tone, there is a lot of confusion in my daily life because of tones.

I would recommend being able to recognize but not speak. Especially since everyone wants to practice their English skills on you anyway; why waste that opportunity for them?

If you add accents to the word "ma" you get the following words (Gioung): Ghost, cheek, but, rice seedling, tomb and horse. A random selection of words with not much in common really. Imagine going up to someone and trying to say "What a beautiful horse you have" It could end up as "what a beautiful ghost/rice seedling/cheek or tomb" and still make sense (except the other person would think you were really weird).

The most useful words I recommend learning are:

Directions  for taxis-

(taken by me)

Left-  rẽ trái
Right- rẽ phải
Straight- đi thẳng
Stop -dừng lại

Food- check out my "Fallback food places post"

 (taken by me)
How much money (does it cost)? - bao nhiêu tiền
Too expensive - Đắt quá
Supermarket - siêu th
Market - chợ

Numbers -

(taken by me)
Seven- bảy
Ten- mười

After this you put 10 then 1 for 11. 2, 10 and 1 for 21 and so on.
Thousand- ngàn
Hundred- trăm
Million- triệu

(taken by me)

Greetings and being polite-
Hello- xin chào - Actually a lot of Vietnamese people simply say "allo" whilst speaking on the phone.
Bye - chào
Thank you- cảm ơn


Most words are consisting of one syllable and are tonal meaning that the same word with different accents on it can have many different meanings depending on the way it is pronounced (falling, rising, short, flat and kind of combinations from what I can see). It is a common misconception that the language comes  directly from Chinese however this is not so. However Chinese characters were used in literary texts due to Chinese politics being prominent for around ten centuries. There are also many similarities between the two languages as well as with French and English. For a start the words are formed from letters not characters (Vietnamese).

The language is spoken in subject verb order however since in a sentence there are very few words and no words are marked by gender (as in for example French or Spanish), number or tense it is very important that you say everything in the right order otherwise no one will understand you (Adoptvietnam).

Here are some words similar to French and English, which a few of my friends (Newell)  thought of:

Savon - xà bông (sabon) - soap
Chemise - sơ mi (so me) - shirt
Carrot - cà rốt
Radio - radio
Chocolate - sôcôla
Antenna - ăng-ten
Film - phim
Café - cà phê - coffee

Friday, 21 October 2011

My fallback food places

The food - there are literally hundreds of restaurants here serving phô (noodle soup) costing less than a dollar to those with the finest cuisine. Having a bit of a sweet tooth my personal favourite place is the ice cream shop 'Trang Tien'1 where you can get amazing coconut ice lollies for 5 thousand dong.

(Whilst taking this photograph I was almost smashed over the head with a glass by the angry owner of the shop;, buy the ice cream but do not mess with her!)

There is also 'Fanny's' ice cream2 shop with free wifi which my sister calls "free whiffy".

My top 5 food stops which you should make are:

  1. 'Little Hanoi'3 - There are actually two of the same restaurant on the same street but all the food tastes delicious and I highly recommend the aubergine dishes.

  1. 'Phô 24'4 - Phô 24 is phô for the upper class, but since it's so cheap everyone can afford it. Most of the things are delicious so be experimental however I always avoid anything involving chicken feet!

 (taken by me - she's looking a little shocked isn't she!)

  1. 'Pappa Roti'5 - here you can buy a kind of cake/bread which tastes like coffee and butter, it is indescribable yet mouth watering I wouldn't say that it is especially Vietnamese food but definitely worth a visit.

(taken by me)

  1. 'Rainbow café'6 - this is situated somewhere in the old quarter but if you go upstairs often there is a  breeze and you can watch people walk beneath. Also there is a DVD shop really close where I always stock up on the latest movies.

  1. Roadside stalls - Lemon juice, Bun Bo Nam Bo and people-watching, what could be more sublime? Pick any roadside stall (if there are Vietnamese people eating there it's bound to be fine) and drag up a plastic stool; guaranteed to be one of the highlights of your trip.

The first time I went to a local restaurant we decided to have the hotpot, a bubbling cauldron of stock in which we added cabbage, and what seemed like a chicken recently scraped off the road. Me and my sister identified a lot of the organs of that chicken therefore I feel it was actually a very educational experience, plus this is the story I recount most often to people back home.

Make sure you know how to use chopsticks!


- chicken

is beef.

cơm / gạo is rice

Kem is ice cream

Bun bo nam bo - A bed of green leaves with noodles, strips of barbecued meat, coriander, chilli ,lime and peanuts.

Chè - tea

bia - beer-  obviously I don't drink any at all but just in case you need it!

I would recommend speaking English since trying out your newly acquired Vietnamese skills may mean that you end up with jellyfish (Sứa) instead of milk (Sữa).

These are the only food related words I frequently use so hopefully they will help anyone either visiting or moving here.

Restaurant locations -

  1. No. 35 Tràng Tin Street - this is the original shop therefore it is extremely busy all the time however there are some other shops in other districts of Hanoi.

  1. 48 Le Thai To St., Hoan Kiem Dist., HANOI
  2. 21 Hang Gai Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi.

  1. Since this is a chain it is hard to only name one restaurant but there is one in Vincom towers and one in the middle of town - to find one closest to you they have a search tool on their website:

  1. 34 Hang Gai, Hoàn Kiếm - this is the most central however like phô 24 it is a chain so there are many spread throughout the city,
  2. Rainbow café - Hang Hanh street near Hoan Kiem lake.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Myanmar compared to Hanoi

Since Myanmar (formerly Burma) is just around the corner we decided to pop over for the autumn break. My mum kept telling everyone she met how similar it was to Hanoi but actually I thought it was pretty different as well. Here is a collection of our pictures from the trip showing you similarities and differences between the two countries.


Like India the buses were packed full of people like sardines except they were also all sitting on the roof which is something you don't see here,

This picture was taken at a monastery at 10 o'clock in the morning since monks cannot eat after lunch,

 There were hundreds of temples covered in this gold leaf, (the umbrella is because the sun was burning me),

Buddhism was very important and there were Buddhas everywhere,

They wear a white sandalwood make-up which is made by rubbing the wood on a stone with water to form a paste. You can't really see it on my porcelin skin but it was obvious on everyone else there,

The dress in Myanmar was a lot more conservative with long skirts and trousers respecting the Buddha whereas here there are a lot more see through items...

I have never seen horses and carts here not even on my trip to Ba Be which I would consider pretty rural.

The food was amazing a combination of Thai and Indian food (unfortunately I didn't take enough pictures of my dinner as it disappeared too fast), in some ways it reminded me of here, but in other ways it was even more backwards and different. Even the language was softer.

Does anywhere remind you of Vietnam?

Friday, 14 October 2011

It's not just strangers who talk about the weather

Only strangers talk about the weather but here I really do think it's very necessary. In summer it is absolutely boiling, humid constantly so you drip with sweat and it's actually hard to breathe properly. Then the rainy season where it tips it down at every opportunity especially when you've just left the house with no umbrella and suddenly there us a huge drop in temperature as winter approaches and you need a huge coat that you didn't pack because no one told you Asia could ever be cold.

Just the other day we were bracing ourselves for a huge hurricane which only blew a few branches lopsided.

The weather is perfect for approximately one day, and boy is that day  good.

Friday, 7 October 2011

The busiest week of my life

This week I'm doing my two posts combined. I think it has been possibly the busiest week of my life and it was all because of this one event. At UNIS UN day is where everyone where's their national costumes and brings in food from their home country. There are huge tables stacked with spring rolls, sushi, and sweet treats. This year there were these adorable children from Sapa who danced and sang in their traditional clothing.
Here's some pictures from the day:

We were both in pretty bad moods when this was taken so I'm not really smiling but these dresses were really cool!

Here are the cute Sapa children performing their dance,

Singing on stage was one of the scariest moments of my life!

There were hundreds of people there, and check out all the flags - over 66 different nationalities are represented.

Soon I'm going to have to do a post about being really busy and coping with all the stress! I find strawberry tea usually helps - with a huge number of oreos :)

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Culture shock


Grandmothers chase around the young children, not as some sort of game but to try to feed them so they grow strong. This comes from the days when food was scarce and parents had to force feed their children whenever they could to help them to survive. These days though food is plentiful  and slowly but steadily more fast food chains are beginning to pop up throughout Hanoi, yet the grandmothers are still chasing the children around: this is the beginning of a newfound problem; obesity.

Sometimes in the streets you will see a portly Vietnamese businessman or spoilt rich child with a protruding belly and dumpy arms and it makes you wonder "eventually will Vietnam become another fast food nation?"