Experience Traditional Vietnamese Activities with Your Family!
When is the last time you snagged a catfish with your bare hands, lapped up ripe rambutan pudding, or imbibed some fresh artichoke tea? The next time your brood is navigating the frenzied thoroughfares of Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, take the chance to engage in all of these traditional Vietnamese happenings. Vietnam encompasses a diverse conglomeration of Asian cultures, never-ending friendly faces, and countless affordable adventures—you will be able to embark on all kinds of authentic activities without worrying about busting your budget. So enjoy the full array of Vietnamese cultural offerings, and dive straight into the (stinky) durian delights!
Vietnam boasts over 3,500 kilometers of coastline and more than 2,000 islands, which makes its culture heavily centered around the ocean. Fishing has always been a popular hobby and source of income for the Vietnamese, and for traveling families, it can be a perfect pastime. For those who are traveling inland, there are plenty of opportunities to seek your freshwater fish fare in rivers. Those who love beach days will enjoy searching for ideal deep-sea fishing spots. Bait, lures, poles, reels, and tackle are easily rented or purchased in local shops in towns bordering bodies of water. No permits or licenses are needed for fishing in Vietnam, so challenge yourself to catch your dinner!
Where to go:
Phú Quốc Island: Here, barter with local fishermen to arrange a trip out on the ocean for as little as $20 USD. If you are planning on catching larger varieties like ocean sunfish and marlin, you may need to commission a private trip through a tour operator. There are also opportunities to fish from the shore if you are on a tighter budget—try the Duong Dong River to hang with locals or dangle your bait off of the Cua Can Bridge.
Mekong Delta: If you are feeling especially confident, you can try “mudfishing”, where you try to catch catfish or eel hiding between rocks with your bare hands. Try this activity in freshwater areas like the Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam. Again, here it is best to barter with village fish folk for a personal boat ride as opposed to booking with tour agents—a great opportunity to practice your haggling!
If bare-handed fishing isn’t your thing, you’ll need to fuel up somehow, so try slurping down a bowl of fresh phở. The dish has become a crowd-pleaser in many Western eateries, but its home is in Vietnam. For those who are not noodle soup connoisseurs, phở refers to a broth that can be dressed up to the diner’s delight. Choose from add-ons like seasoned beef or chicken, cilantro, onions, bean sprouts, and basil, and infuse your meal with fish sauce or chili. The phở from your hometown go-to joint will pale in comparison to a piping-hot dish prepped within the energy of Vietnam, so take the time to search for your new favorite spot in the homeland of this delectable noodle soup. You’ll surely find it phở-nomenal and un- phở-gettable. Phở sure.
Where to phở:
Hanoi: Phở is usually eaten for breakfast in Hanoi, so start your day at your local soup spot. The best places often run out of fare around lunchtime, so get an early start to ensure you can taste the most delectable of phở.
Ho Chi Minh City: In southern Vietnam, the broth is often thickened with sauces and herbs, contrasting the clear broth found in the North. Venture down the coast to try this alternative version to the thin soups found elsewhere.
After filling up on phở, satisfy your kids’ sweet tooth with bowls of super cheap hot or cold chè, made from ripe local fruits. There are infinite versions of chè, but it is usually a pudding or sweet soup flavored with mangoes, sweetened black beans, coconut, rambutans, and other seasonal delights. If you enjoy the taste and smell of rotten eggs (sign me up!), try chè made from durian, the notoriously stinky fruit which is illegal in most public buildings and on many kinds of public transportation. You can find this dessert in local grocery stores or in food stalls tucked away in city streets. Adventurous eaters can down chè with seaweed and aloe vera.
Where to go:
Hanoi: Try Quan Che Muoi Sau on Ngo Thi Nham Street. Here, you can taste the chè dumplings. Chè 95 is also a great spot that serves all kinds of dessert, including yogurt, sweet sticky rice, and caramel options, all for less than $1 USD.
Ho Chi Minh City: In southern Vietnam, chè is often served with sweetened coconut cream. Chè Khánh Vy in District 10 of the city is a great place to start your sweet southern culinary tour.
Feeling a need to ward off some impending evil? Look no further than the lion dance! The artsy ones in the family will enjoy a hearty dose of culture whilst listening to Vietnamese instruments like the dan nhi (fiddle), dan nguyet (two-string guitar), and the dan tam (lute) accompany traditional dancers. The lion dance is one of the most famous boogies in Vietnam, and acrobats and martial artists usually perform alongside the dancers. The dance originated in China (Vietnam did not gain full independence from China until 1000 AD), but it has developed a distinct Vietnamese flavor over the last ten centuries. Most of these rituals are performed during lunar festivals, so chances are you’re already knee-deep in Vietnamese culture—reveling at a festive lunar celebration—if you have the chance to witness one of these traditional jigs.
Where to go:
Hanoi: Need to get your groove on? Visit this city in autumn to see the lion dance during Trung Thu, which falls on the full moon in August. This festival honors each family’s ancestors (see the final activity in this article), and fortunately involves eating tons of cake and fruit!
After a grueling day of fishing and chè tasting, it is time for a traditional Vietnamese massage, known as tam quat. Originally developed as a medical strategy to stimulate circulation and eradicate stress, tam quat is now popular for tourists and locals alike. Centuries ago, the practice was only performed by blind masseurs, as the massage is designed to react to people’s energy and muscle tone. A combination of forceful kneading and direct pressure applied to tight muscle groups helps the patient relax. Cupping is also popular, which involves applying warm suction cups to different areas of the body. Some can be turned off by the trademark circular bruises left behind after the treatment, but cupping does not hurt and instead often results in many beneficial results ranging from improved blood flow to mitigated migraines. Cup, cup and away!
Where to go:
Ho Chi Minh City: If you are in need of a cupping session to recover from your globe hopping, make a pit stop at the Traditional Medical Hospital. If you are exploring Ho Chi Minh City, try to choose an outlet that is certified by the medical Department of the city: Dai An in District 11 is a great choice, as is Cham Cuu Chuong in District 7. Expect to spend around $5-$10 USD for an hour-long treatment—even less if you choose to chance it on a street massage.
Most Asian countries have a rich tradition of drinking tea, and Vietnam is no exception—Vietnamese people have been cultivating tea for thousands of years. In Vietnam, drinking tea has historically been a practice of the upper class. Green tea, or trà xanh, is especially popular in Vietnam, and is known for alleviating infections. If you’re feeling fancy, lotus and jasmine teas are considered delicacies because they are difficult to produce. Green tea leaves are placed meticulously within the flowers where they soak in the essence of the bloom, after which the tea is packaged for consumption. Some teas even include lotus petals themselves. No trip to Asia is complete without soaking in the atmosphere from a street-side tea stall, so get sipping!
Where to go:
Lamdong: Lamdong is the home of the some of the oldest trees in Vietnam, some dating back to more than 1,000 years ago. This part of the country is overrun with tea plants, so visit this area to get a glimpse into Vietnamese tea production. Artichoke tea, called trà atiso, is the most famous kind of drink produced in the Lamdong region.
∴ In addition, Tea is actually served at almost every local restaurant. You will see a big jar of tea, waiting for you, for free, on every table. When the weather is hot, the tea will be served with huge cubes of ice, and they will drink it, with no sugar at all, from a beer glass. You can enjoy it on every meal :-).
Most Western cultures emphasize individual successes and independence, while Eastern traditions are rooted in collectivist principles like family and cooperation. One common Eastern phenomenon is the multi-generational household, which exemplifies the central aspect of family in collectivist nations. For example, Vietnamese people erect altars in their homes and prepare daily offerings to honor their ancestors, taking special care to celebrate them during the full moon. The Vietnamese believe that their ancestors have the power to bring good luck long after their deaths. As you explore Vietnamese cities and villages alike, you will discover temples and altars tucked into every nook and cranny, as the Vietnamese perpetually offer fruit, photographs, candles, wine, and even money to their ancestors.
Where to go:
Hanoi: Tran Quoc Pagoda is an exceptional example of a center of worship in Hanoi, but temples and altars pepper every inch of the country. Most temples in Vietnam will have altars where you can honor your own ancestors or place small offerings for your loved ones.
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