Vietnam Musings: Observations made over a short trip

Posted: June 21, 2016 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

The two most common businesses that you see all over Vietnam, are Karaoke Bars and Massage Spas. At the rate both of these services seem to be in demand, you’d imagine someone getting a spa on the one side, and at the same time, singing away on a Karaoke Mic. If such a combo offering is not yet on offer, that could be one big business opportunity in Vietnam!

That apart, Vietnam has a lot of similarities with India.

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I presume at many levels, the two countries are similarly placed economically, at least where an average citizen is concerned. With a larger scale and size, and perhaps a longer run at private enterprise, and English language advantage, India is a bigger economy overall, but to the common man, Vietnam and India, could seem very alike.

Emerging economies, offering a lot of opportunities for its respective citizens, industrious people, working to make a decent life for themselves.

Language though, is a big challenge in Vietnam. Most people on the road – from taxi drivers to hotel staff to the average worker – don’t get English well. Or at all. There are many who do. Our counterparts at Mirum Vietnam office, don’t believe that language is much of an issue. But for a tourist, it can be a bit of a pain.

Of course, due to that reason, Vietnam may not be able to compete in the BPO world for English speaking projects, in the near future.

As I had reason to drive around a fair bit (well, “driven around” strictly speaking), I got a chance to see some countryside parts of Vietnam. I took a 3-hour long drive from Ho Chi Minh, an hour long drive from Da Nang, and a 4-hour long trip from HaNoi.

In almost all of these drives, I could barely find barren land. One small town (village?) led to the next. Almost.

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And the characteristic with all these small towns / villages was that the people there all seemed to be reasonably settled. Unlike in India, where often, as you leave the cities and go to the interiors, you see a shade of poverty, that was not the case here in Vietnam. There were proper houses, sometimes large ones, there were many small stores, with proper rolling shutters in most cases.

What seemed strange was that a lot of these stores were closed. In any case, there weren’t a lot of customers to be seen anywhere. Or in fact, there weren’t a lot of people to be seen. So that, in fact, was one of the bigger differences between Indian and Vietnam. All else remaining same, the people were a lot lesser. Both, in the cities, and in these smaller towns.

So we saw these small towns, with good homes, lot of stores, but with a lot of shutters down, and very few people on the roads or at stores.

I would believe that besides Karaoke Bars and Massage Spas, two other areas where Vietnam may be highly over-indexed (per capita usage wise) are two-wheelers and plastic tables and chairs.

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For a population of around 90 mn, I understand that Vietnam could be having as many as 40 mn two-wheelers. I wonder if these are to the benefit of Indian giants like Hero and Bajaj? Whoever it is that benefits, what we see on streets of all cities, like Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, etc. as well as the smaller towns, are the large number of these zipping around. However, they are much more disciplined in their driving compared to what we see in India. And pretty much, every one wears a helmet. Though the helmet is not the astronaut kind covering the entire head and face, but in fact, just a half-helmet, covering the head. But I can’t remember seeing any two-wheeler rider without one!

And then comes a phenomenon that would certainly please Neelkamal Plastics, if it was a supplier here.

There’s lots and lots of street food, and then there are an extremely large number of simple food joints that could accommodate say, anywhere from 20 to 100 people at a time. Almost ALL of these have simple plastic chairs and tables. Even the street food vendors will have tiny plastic chairs or stools, and you are expected to sit on these and have a bite, unlike in India, where you stand across the bhel-wala and have your sev puri and such!

And then there’s the crazy currency! Well, crazy for a foreigner!

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Vietnamese currency VND’s rate is VND 100,000 to INR 300. So you change say, USD 100 and you could end up having upwards of VND 2 million in change! Which: a) will last you a while, and b) are a handful to carry around and figure the notes, and the change and what not.

So a water bottle could cost VND 20,000 or a glass of sugar cane juice could cost VND 10,000 or a shirt could cost a whopping VND 350,000 and you’re never sure without constantly calculating, as to whether it’s a fair price or not! Didn’t need to practice my Sudoku, as I got plenty of math exercises just figuring the money!

With all these, the one reason you’d visit Vietnam is of course, the amazing natural beauty. From a sea to a river to lakes to wonderful mountains. You get it all. And everything is pristine. There is a fair amount of tourism professionalized, so you get good hotels and food and transport. And yet, the currency factor ensures that you get a good vacation that does not necessarily drills out a deep hole in your pocket!

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