Things I hate about Vietnam? First, before everyone goes ballistic, and the hate mail starts, I still love Vietnam, it is still the country in which I choose to live. These are just my personal dislikes. I use the word hate, because I used the word love in the first part of this missive. I think I could probably have a love - hate relationship with most countries, I just happened to write about Vietnam, this time. However, Thailand is next up!

To find out what I LOVE about Vietnam, click here

Here are the Things I Hate About Vietnam.

1. Food

Three years! Three years I’ve been here and I still haven’t found any street food that is worth eating. I have had so many arguments on social media with people telling me how wrong I am and how it’s the best in the world. How? Where? Last time I wrote about my disappointment I was berated and given examples to try. I tried them all and they ranged from average to inedible. As a writer I am incredibly fortunate enough to be invited into loads of top class restaurants and here of course, the food is fabulous, whether it is Vietnamese or from any other country. I have had some great meals in restaurants like Time Bistro (the best Vietnamese I’ve had) on Nguyen Hue and Nha Hang Ngon on Pasteur. I enjoy some of the barbecue places like the 3Ts and Rom Barbecue. But for day to day survival, no, sorry, this really is one of the things I hate about Vietnam.

A friend recently said, “Come to where I live, the food is amazing”. We went and I just let him order. We had Chicken Rice. This consisted of a scrawny bit of fried chicken and the ubiquitous inverted bowl of steamed rice. Really? That is what I drove across town for? Only this week a friend said she was getting fish and asked if I wanted to share; I dived in, again! She came back with a fish that had simply been thrown into the fryer for about 5 minutes. Nothing else with it, no fantastic sauces like The Three Flavoured Sauce you get in Thailand, nothing.

Going out for lunch with colleagues in District 4, they recommended the spring rolls. I quite like the fried ones but am just not really a fan of the DIY fresh version. So I had fried spring rolls which were lovely. They came with a lump of white noodles and a basket of shrubbery, come on!. Quite frankly they are not as good as the ones from the local Chinese chippy back home in Manchester. A really good Hoisin sauce blows the socks off Noc Mam.

Only this week, determined to persevere, I ordered noodles with meat balls in a cafe that I frequent quite a lot. I have found 4 or 5 meals on the menu that are ok and I was determined to push on. It was horrible. The noodles, were hard and in one lump, like a pot noodle that has had lukewarm water added. And I have no idea from which animal the meat balls came, but it definitely had never possessed any balls. I sipped the broth for a few minutes and left the lot.

Pho, is ok. I have though got a bit fed up with it as I have it about 4 times every week. Even this comes with the obligatory arboreal spread, but I decline that. “Try a change” a friend said, Bun Bo Hue is much nicer”. No it is not. It is not as clean tasting, the meat doesn’t taste as fresh and the ubiquitous leaves still get left.

Banh Mi is of course one of the most popular street foods in the country. Sometimes its ok and sometimes it really isn’t. Often the quality of the meat leaves a lot to be desired. I have been sick three times after eating these French style baguettes, so they too are now off the menu. I have tried the pancakes up in HoiAn which you roll yourself in rice paper. Generally speaking the rice paper is too thick and hard, and the idea of pork with shrimps is just weird. I thought surf and turf rightly died out in the 80s.

Seating for two year olds and a plate full of shrubbery.

So I’m sorry Vietnam, but this is still the biggest fail for me in your lovely country. I came to Asia a decade ago and in every other country I eat local all the time. Here, I am reduced to eating Western food, which takes a huge amount of the pleasure of living abroad away for me. I am not picky with food; just about the only thing I don’t like in the West is cucumber, and that is because it doesn’t like me. I eat street food everywhere, the best is Malaysia and Thailand for me, though India comes mighty close. Hygiene needs improving as well. If I am going to spend all night shouting down the big white trombone though, I prefer to have at least enjoyed the meal first. Oh yes, food is one of the things I hate about Vietnam.

2. Vietnamese TV

This is, to be fair, utterly crap right across the Asian continent. It’s not confined to Vietnam, nor to Southeast Asia, but the whole works. One does not have to be fluent in a language to know that the daytime soaps are completely laughable. I used to be quite fond of TV, Southeast Asia has cured me. I haven’t owned a TV since I left Thailand and I didn’t watch the one I had there for about 3 years.

The soaps are big business here, and it is a weekly occurrence to see TV crews on the streets of the city, filming the latest instalment of the latest cringeworthy drama. I live in District 2 and They are out filming their inane nonsense on the streets here all the time. They block off streets and disrupt local life so bad actors can have a ludicrously soft fight in the middle of the street. If all one ever saw of Vietnamese culture were the soaps, one would think that women spend all their lives crying, men spend half their lives fighting or apologising to their girlfriends and fat transgender people pop up out of nowhere purely to make everyone feel better. It might make them feel better but this one of the things I hate about Vietnam.

A couple stand in a canal, as you do. A scene from one of Vietnam’s soaps.

The Vietnamese language is so far removed from English or indeed any other western language that it just doesn’t sit with us for things like sports commentary. This is not a criticism, just an observation for whereas in English we can relate that a guy passes the ball to another guy who turns, shoots and beats the keeper, as quickly as that. In Vietnamese this requires a whole array of descriptive phrases and excited chatter, that goes on long after the ball has hit the net.

3. Massage

This is another of the things I hate about Vietnam. I have serious health issues since massive spinal surgery four years ago. The Vietnamese have got no idea how to massage. Their idea is to hurt you as much as possible, thus giving you the chance to show how macho you are. Massage is supposed to be a sensory, sensual, sedentary experience, it is not UFC, for Christ’s sake! I am not supposed to go home bruised. To be honest, I felt better the last time I fell off my motorbike than I do after a massage here.

Go to Thailand, Cambodia or Laos and walk into any massage parlour and book an oil massage (I have to be honest, the traditional Thai massage is crap as well; it’s just origami for legs!). You can explain exactly what you need, be it light, medium or strong, you can inform them of any problems you have, you can tell them which part of your body needs attention, and they will follow it, to the letter. Go into a Vietnamese massage shop, tell her that you have so much metal in your back that on a hot day you are 6 inches taller, and she will start by kneeling on your back. Show her the scar and tell her how many screws are keeping this particular Homo Erectus - erect, and she will proceed to jump up and down like a demented punk fan.

The hot stones are a gimmick to make you feel good before the WWF starts

I used to say that the best massage I have ever had in Vietnam was not as good as the worst one I have ever had in Thailand. Whilst this still holds true a lot of the time, I am happy to report that I have indeed had one great massage here, but it comes at a price. The spa at The Grand Ho Tram Strip is utterly divine. The therapists are amazing and the venue is off the scale beautiful. I explained everything, my therapist listened intently and came up with a program to suit. It was easily the best I have had in three years, the best I have had in Vietnam by a huge margin, and one that challenges the very best in Thailand. However, I can’t see many people, hopping on the free bus from Ho Chi Minh City every week for a much needed relaxing massage. With this one exception, this remains one of the things that I hate about Vietnam.

4. The Wet Season

I have a love-hate relationship with the monsoon season in Vietnam. The first rains are amazing; following month after month of glorious sunshine and hot temperatures. However, when the rain comes it really does ‘dig in’. In other parts of Southeast Asia, the monsoons come in the afternoons and people simply dive for cover for an hour or so until it stops. In Saigon, it is a little different, sometimes it rains for days, As I am writing this is raining in an almost Mancunian way. To quote Peter Kay, it’s that fine rain that wets you through! It remains one of the things I hate about Vietnam.

The wet season in Vietnam is also long. When it really gets a hold, it is 5 months of really not very nice weather. As much as we all are looking forward to it after the dry season’s heat and humidity build up, after a few weeks, most people are fed up with it and ready for the sunshine again. It is also starting to last longer and that has made it one of the things that I hate about Vietnam.

It would take a lot more than this to stop the motorbikes

The floods that accompany the monsoons are of biblical proportions. Few people who have never been to Asia have really seen heavy rain. That is a bold claim, I know, but trust me, this is Noah’s flood stuff, with a twist. I’ve seen roads go from parched, bone dry, to two feet deep rivers in less than an hour. The stoicism of the Vietnamese motorbike rider, however, cannot be overstated. They will ride through floods, completely defying physics on their motorbikes. Bearing in mind that most roads have huge potholes and dips in them, the fact that they stay upright is astonishing.

I quite enjoyed the wet season in Thailand, it lasts for fewer months and is generally confined to afternoon downpours. But now this is one of the things that I hate about Vietnam. It is both longer in months and more oppressive in the fact that it is every day, at different times. In addition, the amount of precipitation is simply massive. Bearing in mind that by far the most favoured form of transport is the motorbike, it is not hard to figure out that this is a problem.

5. Pollution and the ever increasing traffic

When first I came to Vietnam, the traffic in Ho Chi Minh City was amazing. I bought a motorbike and it was just so easy to get around the town. I could go from most districts in the city to any other in 20 minutes. Yes, it was busy, but what few cars there were, were separated from the bikes and everyone moved slowly and therefore got around more quickly. I used to drive from District 2 to District 12 every week, and it really wasn’t that bad.

With cars ever encroaching into the motorbike lanes, traffic will get worse and worse.

Fast forward three years and the city’s drive to become the biggest city in Southeast Asia is moving on apace. They are currently selling 140 cars per day, the city fathers intend to build the city into a mega-metropolis of 30 million people by the year 2050 and it is getting intolerable. Car ownership is such a status symbol here; it is madness and definitely one of the things I hate about Vietnam.In a city of approximately 8.5 million motorbikes, you really don’t need to start adding 4 wheel vehicles. The pollution in the city centre is getting intolerable. On some mornings, driving in from District 2, it almost looks like it’s raining in District 1, such is the thickness of the smog.

The new metro system will definitely help, but with an opening date of 2019 for the first line (Ben Thanh Market to District 9), it is a scary future. By that date, at least 150,000 further cars will be on the roads and Ho Chi Minh City will be as bad as Jakarta, and for those who have never been, that is bad . . . very bad. Not only is this one of the things I hate about Vietnam, but it is destined to become THE WORST!

6. Traffic Cops

Traffic cops are one of the things I hate about Vietnam. Everything about them, even their uniforms. I’d better leave it there!

It’s coffee money time

So there you have it. I honestly love Vietnam and intend staying here for the foreseeable future. But like a loved relative, nothing is perfect. I hope that the things I dislike, change. However the great things still by far outweigh the bad. Anyone thinking of coming here should, it’s brilliant.

  • Teh Vanarch

    While I respect your views I cannot put myself in a position to agree with a number of them.

    (1) This is the first time I’ve heard anyone exclaim to have outright “hated” Vietnamese food as opposed to simply “disliking” it or being “indifferent”. Obviously I’m unlikely to change your mind but I love the fresh rice paper rolls especially with grilled pork or grilled sugar-cane prawn fillings. They’re fresh, textural, flavourful and colourful and go together harmoniously - things I love about Vietnamese food. I will agree that phở is a little over-rated but bún bò Huế just hits the spot for me (granted the ones I have are home-made and carefully concocted). Once again there is a balance of fresh ingredients contrasting with some fermented components. The smell and taste is just regal and indeed this dish originates out of the royal Huế cuisine. The colours (red, purple, white, green and yellow/orange) are attractive and the textural component seals the deal for me. It’s incomparable to even phở let alone sloppy French onion soup or anything of the sort I’ve found elsewhere especially in the West.

    (2) I somewhat agree but as of late the programs have become better overall. I disagree that the Vietnamese language doesn’t “click” when it comes to sports commentary and it also depends on the commentator. I’ve found commentary on a number of sports here in Australia to be as enthusiastic as an atheist sitting through a church session. The dramas are directed towards an audience of a different culture and I would argue are a lot more meaningful than Western soaps/dramas although they may be lower budget and though I barely watch dramas anymore. I’ve tried sitting through an entire episode of Home & Away here in Australia or the Bold and the Beautiful (US) and this is coming from someone who was raised in the West and of whom English is a part of my DNA. Contrarily I’ve watched a number of Korean and Vietnamese dramas (the latter being lower budget but) both have been more meaningful overall than the stuff I’ve seen on Western television.

    (3) Really? This one just seems a little random I’m sorry to say. Of all the things to complain about and even accounting for medical conditions.

    (4) More has to be put into infrastructural upgrades but this is what’s been happening all across the country for the past several years now. If only the American government didn’t stifle its development eh? Perhaps the war wouldn’t have even taken place and Vietnam would be a developed country by now if American presidents in the era were to have treated Ho Chi Minh and his people as human beings and not led him to communism from their ignoring of him. Ultimately, however, this is mother nature at work + infrastructural issues due to the lack of funds (at least up until recently) thanks to a war which was brought upon by the West - sad, really.

    (5) People are looking and moving forward. There is currently a lack of public transport options and the BRT lines won’t start operating until 2018 and the first metro line won’t be up and going until 2019/20. Again, this infrastructural/economic issue was heavily affected by the war which the West played a big part in exacerbating. Now enough of the blame game, as I’ve mentioned the metro and BRT systems will start their operations within the next few years but within that time and beyond there will be continued upgrades to roads, new bridges and overpasses built which, if things align, will ease congestion within the city’s core by 2025. This may seem like a long time but a lot can change in the span of 8 years. You can go from Obama to Trump. I mean, that’s a big change i’nt it?

    (6) Everyone hates the traffic cops, I’ll give you that.

  • Steven

    Greed merchants in Australia knowingly and wilfully export cattle to Vietnam where they are bludgeoned to death by a sledgehammer. My hatred of these barbarians is all encompassing. I pray Karma exacts her revenge on behalf of defenceless animals that provide sustenance for humans.

  • Thanh Nguyen

    “Three years! Three years I’ve been here and I still haven’t found any street food that is worth eating”. I have no idea how you survive and get by after three years. I find it exaggerating but if it’s not I think it’s time for you to head back to your country because you’re an extremely picky eater. I also find it weird that you hate Vietnamese foods and that’s ok. Everybody loves sushi but I don’t. Everybody loves Thai food and even Thai people love Vietnamese food. If you go to Thailand, or Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Germany, US, Canada, England, France, Australia etc… you can see Vietnamese restaurants are everywhere. And I know Vietnamese restaurants in Hong Kong, Seoul, Bangkok, Taipei are 99% run by local people.
    I think you just have a peculiar taste and can’t eat Vietnamese food. Because of a simple fact, if Vietnamese food is not good, how come Vietnamese restaurants are booming everywhere outside of Vietnam.

    • Haviet Huong

      it’s just his personal taste, why the reaction?

    • Haviet Huong

      I know most people love Thai food (including myself) but my boyfriend dislikes it. What’s wrong with people having different ideas?

  • PlayStation4Life!

    I’m a Vietnamese and i agree with you absolutely! The traffic is horrible, no need to explain, the pic speaks for itself.
    The thing about the food is also true, vietnamese food are great … only if it cooks right, but out of 100 LOCAL restaurants or street vendors in Vietnam, only 20 of them are decent, 10 of them are clean + safe and only fookin 5 of ’em meet the standard of “the best in the world”
    But the worst of all is without a doubt, the weather, i can’t stand the heat and humidity in HCM! If you get used to a cold or cool weather and want to live in Vietnam, you should settle down in Da Lat or Nha Trang. The weather is great there.
    Remember, HCM is a place for working first and foremost, not for living and relaxing.