Happy Water, Coffee, and Bloody Knuckles. A list of Vietnam Do’s and Dont’s

Following is a quick little list of do’s and dont's while in Vietnam. 

First, let’s start off with things that you should avoid doing. 

1. Avoid trying to open shuttle van doors yourself when they come to pick you up to take you to Halong Bay. 

The very nice guy whose name I don’t recall came to our amazing hotel, HM Boutique in Hanoi, and let us know that our van was waiting for us. Lo and I walked over and stood at the door for a few seconds. As the door did not automatically open I decided to take the initiative to try and open it myself. I took the initiative because there have been times in the past when I’ve missed stops or stood at doors for long periods of time only to find that I could’ve pressed a button or just opened it. 

At first, it wouldn’t budge. I was grabbing onto one of the iron handles that spanned one of the folding doors. Then, it began to open easily…far too easily, and then far too quickly. 

Suddenly my hand was being crushed by the doors folding into one another automatically. It was a weird feeling, and I reacted with complete cool; that is I started fighting with that damn door. 

Man vs. Uncaring Automatic Machine

In any case, it closed either because the driver pressed the button to close it, or the machine took pity on me. Only the bus driver association of Vietnam really knows what went down. *I don’t know if such an organization exists, but I imagine it probably does, and that they have keg parties and initiate new members in weird cult-like ceremonies. 

When we finally entered a couple American girls were like: “are you okay?” Evidently they witnessed the whole thing. So I had some bloody knuckles and a tiny little scrape to the ego. After about a minute I told the ego to fuck off, and then I felt pretty awesome, I have to admit. Sometimes I like a little bit of pain. It wakes me up a bit. Don’t worry, I’ll see a shrink one of these days. 

Halong Bay

2. Avoid trying to run around the entire circumference of Westlake in Hanoi in an hour, unless you have a high tolerance for opening all of your pores to strong air pollution, traffic dodging, people dodging, high humidity, and can run very fast for a very long period of time. 

When I worked at Apple, my colleagues came up with a phrase where they use my surname as a verb. It’s called “Nickeling It.” “Don’t Nickel it” became a common phrase, at least while I was there. What does it mean? Well, I have a tendency to be extremely optimistic about things to the point of delusion. It started with a project we were working on, and I recall saying something like, “well that’s it, that’s all we need! It’s fantastic and nothing more needs to be done!” Then it would all fall apart, we’d find things wrong with it, people would cry, nations would fall, stars would quietly lay down to die, to depressed to explode like normal stars.

Well, maybe nothing so dramatic, but I did this enough times where the term “Nickeling It” came into existence. What did I do with Westlake? I Nickeled the fuck out of it. It was about 45 minutes or less until sunset, and I remember looking at this somewhat beautiful man-made lake and telling Lo: “I’m going to run around it.”

She was incredulous but knew that I liked to do crazy things so just accepted it. After about 2 hours later I realized a couple things:

- There was no way in hell I was going to run around that thing unless I took another hour or 2 or who knows. 
- If I continued on I would need to figure out how to not pass out from extreme dehydration
- I completely underestimated the number of roads I would have to navigate by the lake just to stay close to it. In other words, there isn’t a steady trail for runners all the way around it; just in certain parts. 
- I had no way of contacting Lo so I should try like hell to get back to our designated meeting point. 

So I decided to hail a taxi. 

It’s worth noting that at this point in time my clothes were not only saturated with sweat, it looked as though there was a constant invisible shower of water running over me. My clothes were more than drenched. There wasn't a nanometer that wasn't completed and utterly awash in my sweat. My clothing and my sweat were one. 

I could barely get my phone to function because the sweat was so profuse. I remember reaching into the first cab to try and get the map going of where I needed to go and seeing drops of sweat just pounding into the passenger seat. We couldn’t agree on where I needed to go, so I decided to try for another one. He drove off with a couple of shot glasses worth of sweat in the passenger seat. 

I hailed another one with one of the trusted taxi companies (Mailinh), and unfortunately for the back seat, sat down and let the sweat continue to reach out to everything around it. I am truly sorry to whoever got the taxi after me. Anyway, I finally got back to Lo, and she honestly thought I looked skinnier. 

So that night I ate a large and great meal, then ended up puking it up in the middle of the night. I don’t know why that happened, I just know that it kind of sucked. 

3. Lastly, avoid leaving your passports with the hotel after you checkout

This is pretty obvious. It happened to us in Muine, but thankfully I remembered when we were only about a mile out. The hotel sent a driver to meet up with the bus with our passports. We also had a really cool lad from the UK who had been working in Vietnam for 4 years and offered to call up the hotel and speak with them in Vietnamese to confirm. 

Now for things that you should check out. 

1. Watch a Game of Foot Shuttlecock

If you’re in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi, be sure to check out a good game of Foot Shuttlecock. No, this is not a pornographic game, though there may be something out there with that kind of name in the adult video world. This is where people use a shuttlecock kind of like a hackey sack. It’s really just badminton without the rackets. They're really damn good. I'll have a video soon showcasing their talent. There should seriously be a Foot Shuttlecock championship. If there is one, someone please let me know. I'll go to it. 

I suck at Foot Shuttlecock

2. Check out the sand dunes in Muine

If you’re there, do it. It’s rad. The sleds are just ok. I recommend just going and chilling, or rolling down the hill without a sled because that's pretty much what happens anyway. I was covered in sand that day. 


3. Experience In Hoi An and the Surrounding Area
Check out the lanterns at night, run through the fields outside of town, then the next day go to Marble Mountains and Monkey Mountain on a motorbike that can be rented for $6 USD.
The lanterns are ubiquitous here, and it’s really rad at night. If you’re into running, biking, or motorbiking, make sure to take a junket through the fields outside of town. There are paved paths through the fields, and it’s really peaceful. 

Hoi An pics:

Marble Mountain:

Monkey Mountain:

4. Drink Happy Water in Ta Phin with Pham

The homestay is situated outside of the village of Ta Phin on the side of a mountain. It’s stunning, and you should definitely go. Her husband is a very rad super energetic and slightly crazy guy. The absolute best food I had in Vietnam was at Pham’s place. No joke, it was just phenomenal. Before the meal, her husband breaks out this enormous jug of clear liquid that looks like it has some sort of plant life in it. 

With no hesitation, he proclaims “This is happy water, it has opium in it!” Now if that’s not a party starter, I don’t know what the hell is. He pours the happy water into bowls, then passes around shot glasses about half the size of standard shot glasses that one would find in the States. He just dips the small shot glasses into the bowls and passes them around. To me, it was like a nice little mix of vodka and tequila, in a very good way. It was a bit mild and easy to drink, and it went really well with the food. I honestly had between 5-7 shots each night, just felt loose (not drunk) and felt great the next day. 

Hooray for happy water!

5. Lastly, drink the coffee in Vietnam

It’s the absolute best that I’ve ever tasted anywhere. Hands down. I know many Australians pride themselves on their coffee, but to me, Vietnam takes the proverbial cake. It’s just so good…so damn good. I’m going into a dream just thinking about it right now as I drink “meh” coffee here in Kuala Lumpur. 

A few more pics:

Sa Pa