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Top 10 Amazing Facts About Vietnam

I love to travel the world and today I'm in the beautiful country of Vietnam! So, what better things to do than to go sightseeing while I search for 10 amazing facts? Come along and together we’ll discover the most amazing things that I've compiled about this wonderful country!

10. Nguyen-ing
Vietnam may be a country of tens of millions of people, but you’d be surprised how familiar it feels. In fact, there’s one last name that rules them all. Nguyen, pronounced “win,” is the most common last name in Vietnam. From street names, buildings, businesses, airports, and even the famous Ho Chi Minh, who led the independence fight against the French and Japanese was named Ho Chi Minh and Nguyen, the southern city of Saigon was later named after him. So, imagine that almost half the people in your country all had the same last name and how stale your yearbook would be! In Vietnam, nearly 40% of the population carry the name.

9. Better Get To Scootin
If you’ve ever, out of curiosity, Google’d “Vietnam traffic,” you’ve seen the most organized, organic chaos you can imagine. Unlike any other places we’ve ever seen, Vietnam is a cityscape of about 90% motorbikes, and 10% everything else. The reason why Vietnam has so many motorbikes is that the taxes for owning a car are out of this world. With anywhere around 150% taxes on cars, it’s no wonder just 2 million of the inhabitants own one while more than 35 million opt for the much easier and cheaper motorbike or scooter. Apparently, authorities will fine drivers who are found without a helmet, but that and many other infractions are incredibly common. Despite the chaos, there is organization within it, and Vietnamese people swim through it like it's another day at the park.

8. Progressive LGBT Rights
As opposed to other countries, same-sex sexual acts were never outlawed in Vietnam. It was never a crime for any two people to have a sexual relationship. This varies from countries where even people of opposite genders but different races couldn’t have relationships. In that sense, Vietnam has already been quite progressive, setting boundaries only at age of consent, at 18. On top of that, Vietnam recently lifted the ban on same-sex marriage and with that, has seen the LGBT rights gain power and grow more progressive. Beyond that, they’ve also provided rights for transgender people which advocacy groups say will lead to the right to sex reassignment surgery, previously illegal. After legislation, those who have had the surgery can legally change their gender. Also, regardless of sexual orientation, Vietnamese people can serve in the armed forces, compulsory for men and voluntary for women. Not too bad, Vietnam.

7. Not Very Religious
Vietnam is one of the least religious countries in the world, with less than 8% of the population declaring themselves Buddhist, 6.6% Catholic, and other religions under 2% respectively, almost 80% declare themselves not religious or “traditional folk Vietnamese.” This could be why their LGBT rights and sexual laws are lenient compared to other nations where religions influence the popular decision on sexual, reproductive and marriage rights. Its neighbors are pretty religious too, with Laos, China, Cambodia all identifying as more than 50% religious, leaning overwhelmingly towards Buddhism. So in that sense, Vietnam is a black sheep in the region.

6. Coffee Paradise and Cuisine
On top of being geographically beautiful with a variety of climates and landscapes to choose from and world wonders just a few hours away, Vietnam also has what we all need: coffee. It is actually the second largest producer of coffee, right behind Brazil. Vietnam produces 16% of the world’s coffee and they’re also big coffee lovers themselves. They have their own brewing method, a thick form of coffee with lots of sediment that they drink with condensed milk to balance out the flavors. Traditional Vietnamese cooking is greatly admired for its fresh ingredients, minimal use of dairy and oil, complementary textures, and reliance on herbs and vegetables. If you plan on visiting the area, keep an eye out to taste their national treasures, which include: bird's nest soup, abalone, and Bún riêu; a noodle soup topped with crab and shrimp paste, served with a tomato-based broth and garnished with bean sprouts and herbs.

5. Rice By The Millions
Okay, millions may be exaggerating, unless we’re counting every grain. Rice fields in Vietnam are one of the go-to images of the country. With the wide hats worn by rice farmers to shield their skin from the sun and the gorgeous rice paddies all over the country, it’s a staple photo you send home to mom on a postcard. What you might not have known, though, is that there are more than 1600 varieties grown in the Vietnamese Mekong Delta. Boiled rice and rice noodles make up the most eaten foods in Vietnam for that reason. Apparently, the old rice varieties can grow in acid sulfate and saline soil, in submerged areas. This is why you’ll see rice farmers knee deep in water while still harvesting rice. These types of rice have a unique taste preserved for crossbreeding with other variations.

4. The Largest Cave and Tourist Attractions
The caves all over Southeast Asia are surprising. There’s actually a cave in Vietnam called, you guessed it, The Surprising Cave. What’s more surprising though, is that Vietnam is home to Son Doong cave, located near the border with Laos, also known as Hang Son Doong. Inside, you’ll find an underground river. Son Doong cave is known as the largest cave passage in the world. Other must-see attractions you should visit while in Vietnam include Ha Long Bay, Hoi An, Phu Quoc, Sa Pa Terraces, the Cu Chi Tunnels, Phong Nha Caves, Hang Son Doong Cave, and Hang Nga's Guesthouse in Da Lat.

3. Snake Wine, Anybody?
Whenever I think about Snake wine, I fantasize about a flight attendant offering it to me on a flight. White? Red? Snake? What is snake wine, you ask? A Vietnamese delicacy, of course! Before you scroll down to tell me off in the comments, hear me out. Though it’s very popular in Vietnam, it’s definitely popular in most of Southeast Asia, too. The wine is made with whole snakes infused in rice wine, not for their meat, but for their strength! The essence of the snake is thought to bring vitality to the one who drinks it. Would you dare to try it?

2. The Tet Festival and Traditions
February is festive in Southeast Asia with Chinese New Year, Korean New Year, and in Vietnam, Tet. Tet Festival is the most important festival of the year, celebrating the spirit of rebirth brought by the Lunar New Year. Tet means “Feast of the First Morning of the First Day.” Tet celebrations include cooking dishes like bamboo soup, sticky rice, cleaning the house, gathering as a family, visiting each other’s homes, ancestor worship, and, my favorite, lucky money envelopes! One of the more unusual traditions the Vietnamese practice is that for their dead. When a person passes away, the surviving family holds a vigil that typically lasts about five to six days. The body is washed and dressed, and a le ngam ham, or chopstick, is laid between their teeth with a pinch of rice, and three coins are placed in the mouth. The body is then put on a grass mat that is laid on the ground. According to the saying, "being born from the earth, one must return back to the earth." The dead body is then wrapped with white cloth and placed in a coffin. Finally, the funeral ceremony, le thanh phuc, is officially performed.

1. Famous Vietnamese
The Vietnamese have brought many inventions, innovations and famous people to the world. Some of the most popular inventions include Water Puppetry and the mind-controlled wheelchair for paraplegics. Famous people from the area include Thich Quang Duc, a Buddhist monk who burned himself alive at a busy Saigon road in 1963, which, many of you may recognize from an album cover by Rage Against The Machine. Eugene H. Trinh, a biochemist who flew aboard NASA Space Shuttle mission STS-50; and Jonathan Ke Quan, the young boy we all grew to love as Indiana Jones sidekick in Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. If you want a taste of famous YouTubers from Vietnam, be sure to check out FAP TV, POPS Kids, Thơ Nguyễn, Vanh Leg, and Cris Devil Gamer!

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