A Day in the Life

A Day in the Life

After spending over a month in Vietnam I have observed the daily life of Vietnamese residents in 10 different cities from Ho Chi Minh City all the way up to village life in Sapa.   Below is a snapshot of what it appears the average Vietnamese person does all day, but there are still some mysterious quirks that I can’t explain, like why they get up before dawn to seemingly spend the majority of their day doing nothing in particular?

5:00 AM wake up

For reasons not entirely clear, Vietnam starts its day absurdly early.  By 6AM the streets are filled with horn honking motorcycles as they head from their homes.  Street vendors may start their day even earlier to get to the market and prepare their offerings by cutting vegetables, making broth, or buying new supplies.  We witnessed vendors toiling away at 4:30am in Hanoi…don’t even ask why we were awake at this ungodly hour.

This line was out the door at the Hanoi train station at 4:45 a.m. Why are all these people up?

6:00 AM go to the market

The early bird gets the worm, cabbage, noodles, or snake meat at the local market. This is typically a social event as well, I suppose if you get up that early you have more time to chat while you shop.  Buying fresh fruits and vegetables along with meat stuffs and any other needs.  The market vendors are set up well in advance of the 6 am rush.

In larger cities many people opt for the grocery store rather than the market or a combination of the two.  The largest grocery store chain in Vietnam is the Co-op Mart and is similar to Target, except the last time I checked Target just didn’t have a good selection of dragonfruit or worms for cooking and there was no serve-yourself raw meat section.

The "bulk section" at the local Co-op Mart, which provides raw meat and meal worms, no need for gloves, just help yourself.

7:00 AM drop off family members at school or work

With few motorbikes and many family members, it is not uncommon to see entire families of 4 or 5 on one motorbike as they get dropped off at their respective school, office or store.

The whole family riding on the family motorbike

8:00 AM park motorbike

Once everyone has been dropped off at school or work the person left with the motorbike will need to find a place to park it.  Motorbike parking is surprisingly efficient and organized, with the attendant giving the owner a claim tag and writing a number on the seat of the motorbike in chalk.

Good Luck finding your motorbike in this mess ever again, much less removing it to leave.

12:00 PM lunch

Typically people grab lunch around noon from their favorite street vendor, you can easily see which ones are “favorites” by the chaos surrounding them.  Lunch is definitely a social affair and doesn’t last too long, we have had trouble finding street food even by 1:30 PM as lunch is over.

1:00 PM Relax with coffee or sell your wares

In the afternoon you really see the differences between men and women’s roles.  In the afternoon women tend to work to earn family income by selling items or working a food stand while men drink coffee, alcohol and gamble.  Our Vietnamese guides have told us that women maintain the home and earn the money, the equivalent of having two full time jobs.  It is not uncommon for men to be unemployed, or, if they have a job their paycheck is surrendered to the wife, who manages family finances.  The women are the head of household.

5:00 PM Battle rush hour traffic home

The traffic at the end of the day is the worst with everyone trying to get home and no one following traffic laws.  If the streets are full the sidewalk becomes a road.

If the street is full, the sidewalk becomes a great way to get from point A to point B. Nevermind the pedestrians trying to use it for it's intended purpose.

6:00 PM Bia Hoi or dinner preparation

At the end of the day men will join friends for a beer on the many bia hoi street corners common throughout the country particularly in the North while women take care of kids and prepare dinner.  Once the men come home typically around 8:00 PM dinner is ready and the women are already tending to the kids getting them off to bed.  It is not entirely clear what the men do at this point, but the women watch their favorite Chinese dubbed over in Vietnamese and then head to bed since they have to be up by 5:00 AM tomorrow.

It’s a long day and one that we got accustomed to, but not a schedule or lifestyle we would choose for ourselves.

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» Kate C :
Feb 16, 2011

You know, a guide in Da Lat told us that Vietnam had a fairly low unemployment rate. We thought this a bit odd, since we too had seen men spending entire days on street corners playing dominoes and other board games. He explained that these men register themselves as moto drivers, so even if they don’t pick up a single fair all day, the government considers them employed. Great way to fudge the numbers and make the country look good.

» dad :
Feb 16, 2011

we are excited for your train ride to chaing mai….the night train converts to beds and i would suggest you get a top and bottom together as you can then control when you go to sleep…..in reality we found out the lower beds are best, as the upper bunks are right at the same height as the aisle lites……the conversion process to beds by porters is quite slick….we slept like babies on way there and froze coming home…..will write a seperat e-mail for what to do and see thoughts, but as you know we loved chiang mai….the grilled Tim fish is not to be missed…….you do want to do the crazy river rapid trip and “real” elephant rides as well……rent bikes also to see country side…..fun to have been somepalce you haven’t!?!?…..be safe…love dad p.s. i can answer my phone!!

» Ishmael :
Sep 6, 2011

I beleive everyone passes these few tips to the travellers heading to Chang Mia and they all end up loving it.
Chiang Mia is a beautiful city. If you have extra days, rent bikes and wander around the city. You never know what bargains, experience you might find along your way. But “Dad” does have good pointers. Night train experience is completely different as compared to other parts of the world. We boarded our train from Ayuthaya at night. Waiting there along with the locals, who carry their food with them and watching the street dogs fight for left overs was a good experience.

LOCAVORista Reply:

Ishmael, thanks for your comments. We enjoyed Chiang Mai and your tip to rent a bike is great- it really does offer you the opportunity to take in the city and find your own adventures. If you are looking for more things to do in Chiang Mai, see our 36 hours post here or I would really recommend a cooking class the next time you are in Chiang Mai http://www.livingif.com/a-day-on-the-farm/

Happy Travels!

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About the Author

LOCAVORista: A curious adventurer exploring the culinary delights and local traditions around the world. Currently on a 3 year round-the-world trip discovering amazing cultures, must-eats and off-the-beaten-track destinations.

About the Author
LOCAVORista: A curious adventurer exploring the culinary delights and local traditions around the world. Currently on a 3 year round-the-world trip discovering amazing cultures, must-eats and off-the-beaten-track destinations.


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