I remembered the bewilderment I felt, during the first few months of my stay in the Netherlands, when a Dutch friend revealed to me that going to a café was very different from going to a coffee shop. A café is that place we all know, where you can enjoy a good latte (sometimes not so good) and relax in a comfy sofa. A coffee shop for the Dutch is something else entirely – it’s where you buy weed.
For some reason, that reminds me of the coffee culture in Vietnam. “Wanna go grab a coffee?” (“Đi cà phê không?”) is almost like a catching phrase for us Vietnamese, but I can count on one hand the number of times I actually order a coffee when I go out with my friends. We say it so often, whenever we meet someone new, or want to catch up with our friends, or to woo that cute guy we have been staring across the classroom for some times now.
But “go grab a coffee” is not really about the coffee itself (never mind the fact that we have one of the best coffee in the world). No, it’s an excuse. It’s something used by Vietnamese when they want to have a chat that would last a few hours, jumping from one place to another. When I go to a café with my friends, I rarely order a coffee – I’m not a big fan of that bitter and dark liquid that so many people swear by.
Does it matter? The coffee is not the point
Vietnam as a nation is obsessed with coffee. We farm the beans, we ground them, we invent our own ways of drinking coffee. When I go out in the Netherlands, I’m always greeted with the same menu selections – Espresso, Latte, Cappuccino, Macchiato. Times like that, I miss my country’s wide array of coffee. Dark, brown, iced, or Egg Coffee, Yogurt Coffee, Coconut Coffee. Vietnamese people’s creativity with food is endless, and it is reflected in the way we drink coffee, and our numerous variations of it.
You can also say we are obsessed with coffee in the sense that we are perpetually out at a café every other day (or every day, for some people). The past few years have witnessed the bloom of milk tea establishments all over the country. The street near my house now has more than ten milk tea places. However, cafés still maintain their unique standing in the Vietnamese culture. More pop up every day, with unique designs and interesting drinks menu. People go to café for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and through the night.
What do we do there, you wonder? It’s not always about enjoying a good cup of coffee. We’re catching up with our friends, we’re sharing cute cat pictures, we’re working on the next big report.
“Wanna go grab a coffee?” is about quality time with friends and pouring our hearts out over some issues. Who knew that dark, bitter liquid has such power?
So the next time a Vietnamese friend of yours ask you “Wanna go grab a coffee?”, think about the implications behind those simple words. Think about the fact that us Vietnamese tend to be rather round-about and we revel in lacing our true intentions between innocent invitations. Don’t think about how you detest coffee, because you can get anything else in the world aside from coffee, and think about how much you will enjoy your time together with your friend.
Looking for recommendations? If you’re in Hanoi, head over to Hoan Kiem Lake. On Dinh Tien Hoang street, on the second floor of a bag shop, there’s this little nest called Dinh which has the most heavenly egg coffee and a fantastic view of the lake. It’s a perfect blend of old Hanoi charm, good drinks and a chill environment.
Đạo Dừa/ Hòa đồng tôn giáo(Coconut religion or Religion of Unity) was once famous in Cồn Phụng (Phoenix islet), Bến Tre. Nowadays, even though the religion is almost dead and only a few old people follow it, many people are still curious about its unique name as well as its founder.
Coconut Religion was founded in 1963 by Mr Nguyễn Thành Nam (1909-1990), as known as Sir Coconut Monk. In the 1900s, Mr Nam was a scholar born with a silver spoon in his mouth. After having graduated with a diploma of Chemical Engineering in France, he came back to Bến Tre and started his soap business. The company shortly went bankrupt. Soon after that, Mr.Nam left his family to start his own religion. At that time, people reported him meditating on tops of coconut trees and consumed mostly coconut water for daily nutrients. That’s why he’s got his name Sir Coconut Monk.
In 1963, Sir Coconut Monk started spreading his doctrine to the locals. The religion is based largely on Buddhism and Catholic beliefs, along with the preaching of Sir Coconut Monk. It quickly adapted to the community and soon gained followers. At its peak, Coconut religion had around 4,000 followers.
The advocates of Coconut Religion were mostly men. They practised praying and consuming only coconut products for their daily diets. However, polygamy was allowed for advocates as they could get married up to 9 wives. Under the government of the former Republic of South Vietnam, monks were exempted from joining the national army. For that reason, Đạo Dừa had gained so many followers, mostly young men at the age of 18 to 35 whose desires weren’t to serve the country’s service.
The advocates donated a large sum of money for Sir Coconut Monk to build his own temple in Phoenix Islet. The temple is named Nam Quốc Phật (Vietnamese Buddha). Along with the temple, there is a large square with nine dragons columns – which stands for Cửu Long (the Mekong region). Behind, the Peace tower consists of two tall buildings which stand for Hanoi-North and Saigon-South.
*The gate, with Crucifix on the left and Vietnamese Buddhist sign on the right, expresses the will to unify the two main Vietnamese religions.
The (phantom) legacies:
Sir Coconut Monk had been notorious for his so-called “ultimate” religion since the Southern Vietnam government existed. In 1967, Southern Vietnam began the new electoral campaign. Sir Coconut Monk, with his willing for peace for the humanity, had stood for election for Presidency! He promised to pacify the Vietnam War within 7 days had he been nominated Presidency. Nonetheless, he refused to answer how he could make that happen. Sir Coconut Monk had been then sent to Biên Hòa asylum to run a mental health check.
After that “historic” event of Coconut Religion, the government had banned him from seeking intervention from other countries to help develop his religion nationwide. Despite having sent many letters to President Diệm, President J.F.K, President Charles de Gaulle, and so on, he never had a reply from any of whom he asked for help. Moreover, both the governments: the Republic of South Vietnam and Communist Vietnam had identified him as a threat of rebellion and had banned him from going abroad. Sir Coconut Monk had been caught at the border trying to pilgrimage to Angkor Thom, Angkor Wat, Siem Reap (Cambodia).
During the end of Vietnam war, Sir Coconut Monk had failed to flee outside the country. Thus, he had been forced to go to a rehabilitation camp. After a short while, they had released him on bail because of his mental issues record. Ever since the fallen of South Vietnam, the new government had identified Coconut Religion as a cult. Sir Coconut Monk continued to run Coconut Religion under the law despite the government’s strong attempts to prevent it from expanding.
On 12/05/1990, while the crowd were practising Coconut religion at Sir Coconut Monk’s private property, the government broke into his house and issued Coconut Religion a ban from spreading superstition to the community. At the tipping point of the conversation with the government, Sir Coconut Monk left upstairs to “pray for peace”, but one of his followers pulled him back to confront the government. Unfortunately, the pull was too strong for Sir Coconut Monk that he fell off the ground. Sir Coconut Monk departed the next day of a serious traumatic brain injury, aged 81. Since the death of the creator of Coconut Religion, the number of followers has ceased drastically from thousands to very few people.
For the locals, Sir Coconut Monk was an “accidental legend” of Bến Tre. In the kingdom of coconut, people do not worship this ‘creator’ anymore. Instead, they will tell either ridiculous or odd anecdotes about him. You can witness his legacy when coming to Phoenix Islet by coming to the temple and talking to his followers. I am sure there are yet things to learn about this interesting religion. If you haven’t registered on our upcoming trip to Bến Tre, do not hesitate to contact us! We wish to bring you the best discovery experience in Vietnam.
You might know that the origin of porcelain and pottery dates from 20,000 years ago in China, and the word Chinais, indeed, used to regard such clay and porcelain items. However, the ancient Vietnamese had also developed a great industry of pottery as soon as it appeared. Hence, the development of pottery reflects both historical and aesthetic aspects of Vietnamese culture.
In this article, let’s track the traces of shaping clay from the earliest to the latest changes to have an overall look at the Vietnamese pottery culture.
Vietnamese pottery began in the Hòa Bình- Bắc Sơn culture and was known as the Neolithic/ Stone Age era. The first traces of pottery found in the Viet territory age 6,000 to 7,000 years old.
Later on, the Bronze and Iron Ages ( 2000 B.C – I century) had given birth to many cultures such as Phùng Nguyên, Gò Mun, Đồng Nai, etc. In those periods, the pottery industry had evolved and expanded widely over the region so-called as ‘Vietnam’.
The Chinese domination period (I-X century)
For over 1000 years, the Chinese culture had spread its enormous influence on the southern land (Vietnam.) The pottery industry in this period inherited the original methods and also adapted some Chinese techniques such as ceramic glazing, making pottery by the ceramic turntable or in molds, and so on.
* The Lý – Trần dynasties (XI – XIV century) – the independence period.
During 4 centuries, under 2 dynasties: Lý (XI-XII century) and Trần (XIII-XIV century), the pottery culture developed independently from Chinese culture, which opened the culture rehabilitation stage for Đại Việt (Vietnam). Ceramic products in this period had reached perfection in shape, decoration and colouring. They represented the quintessence of the arts in ceramic, especially items from the Hoa Nâu Lý Trần collection.
*The Lê dynasty ( XV-XVI) – the era of exporting Vietnamese ceramics.
In the XV century, the Lê dynasty boomed in prosperity. During this era, the pottery industry organised in good order with the establishment of several pottery trade villages. Ceramic products from Bát Tràng, Thổ Hà and Phù Lãnh trade villages expanded their markets to foreign countries. There were official records of mass trading pottery to Japan and some south-east Asian countries. Within the years 1596-1873, Japanese potters had adapted Vietnamese ceramic technique and called it Kotchi (Giao chỉ) ( La ceramique Japonaise – Oneda Tokomosouke).
* The Nguyễn dynasty (XVI-XVIII century) – the Blue era of ceramics.
There wasn’t any innovation in the pottery industry in this period. The only remarkable collection was “Bleu de Huế” (Blue of Huế), containing sophisticated blue-white patterned porcelains which belonged to the royal Nguyễn family. These products were marked with Chinese characters: Nội phủ thị (Vietnamese transcription, meaning for internal (royal) use). Sadly, the products weren’t authentic Vietnamese pottery. They were indeed exclusively ordered from China for the royal Nguyễn. The pottery industry suffered in blues as it failed to make a change.
In the modern times:
In the modern times, Vietnamese pottery is competing with other strong competitors such as Taiwanese, Japanese and Chinese pottery in the market. The hidden cards of Vietnamese pottery to succeeding in such a competitive environment lie in the rusticity, simplicity, yet, elegance and more importantly, durability in every product. Some famous Vietnamese ceramic brand names are Bát Tràng, Minh Long, Đông Triều, etc. are working their best to provide products to meet the domestic as well as international demands.
Over the centuries, the Vietnamese pottery culture has been through peaks and bottoms. From the sophisticated minds and hands of our potters, many legacies had been made and kept with our utmost respect. We take pride in the culture that the ancestors had gifted to us, and with much appreciation, we wish to develop Vietnamese ceramics more well-known to the world.
The Cochinchine region (former name of southern Vietnam) in the French colonial period was very prosperous due to the boom in agricultural economics. In Bạc Liêu at that time, the number of landlords held 2% of the population. However, their possessions including private farming lands seized 95% of Bạc Liêu province. Therefore, this period had given birth to the lavish spending lifestyle of many sons of money-bags landlords.
During the 1900s, a few profligate sons living in Bac Lieu were notorious for spending money limitlessly. The term “Công Tử Bạc Liêu”, indeed, referred to this specific type of “rich” guys. The most well-known “Công Tử Bạc Liêu” was Trần Trinh Huy (1900-1973).
The Father Built
The Trần Trinh family had their fortune built by Trần Trinh Trạch (1872-1949), who wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Nevertheless, he was fortunate enough to go to French schools as a replacement for a son of a rich family he worked for. After graduated, the lucky scholar was a secretary at Bạc Liêu mayor house and was then admired by Sir Phan Văn Bì – a wealthy landlord. Sir Bi married his fourth daughter to Mr.Trach and gave the couple a large number of farming lands in Bạc Liêu. Mr.Trach quitted his job as a secretary to manage the landlord business of Sir Bi.
Mr.Trach had a good sense of business. Not only he developed the landlord business for his father-in-law, but also dictated the salt market over the Cochinchine region. Later on, Mr.Trach began doing real estate. He had several buildings in Bạc Liêu as well as Saigon. However, the man wouldn’t be satisfied with his success, he switched to banking enterprise and became the co-founder of Vietnam National Bank (1927).
Despite being a trillionaire, Mr.Trach and his wife lived a simple life. They didn’t fancy luxurious things, but indeed, always saved money for investment.
The Son Destroyed
*The paradox of Mr. Trach
Tran Trinh Huy, the third child of 7 children of the family, was trusted as the ‘suitable heir’ for the fortune by his father. Hence, Mr.Trach invested the most money in Huy to study and take over the family business.
Of all the children in the family, Huy disposed to be clever. He treated people equally despite superior or lower classes. Huy was a generous guy. He gave money to whomever he felt like need help from him. Overall, it seemed like Mr.Trach had trusted the right child to inherit his legacies. But little that he knew Huy was a real spendthrift.
*The Black Prince of Bac Lieu
In 1926, Huy came back from Paris after 6 years of studying abroad with nothing but an aeroplane driver’s license, flirting girls, dancing and gambling skills. Back home, Huy began the life of a ‘cash burner’. With the limitless money source from his father, Huy could purchase anything he wanted in the world. He became the second person who owned a private jet, after King Bao Dai. People at that time had witnessed Huy driving his aeroplane just to watch over the family’s farming land property. Huy also liked to drive supercars around Saigon and dived in luxurious parties with champagnes (temporarily the fanciest drink). Huy also spent a vast amount of money on gambling and pursuing beauties.
*The Black Prince and the White Prince confrontation.
At that time, there was another ‘Huy’ named George Phuoc, who happened to be the rival against Huy. They were both competitive and extravagant spenders. People set their nicknames by their skin tones. George Phuoc was the White Prince and Huy was the Black Prince. They spent money against each other, mostly to win the girls that the other was dating. There were several anecdotes about the Black and White Princes. Here are the two most famous ones:
_ Once, George Phuoc invited Huy and one of his beauties to the theatre he owned to see a play. While they were watching, the beauty dropped a 5 Bạc note (let’s assume that it was a $5 note). George Phuoc immediately burned a $100 note to ‘make light’ for the beauty to find her money in front of Huy to impress the beauty as well as his rival.
_ Huy and George Phuoc were very eager to show their fortune and win over one another. They once held a competition in which both of them burnt money to maintain the fire to boil an egg. This anecdote wasn’t proven the accuracy for a long time. However, recently, a son of Huy has declared that it was a false rumour.
*The fallen of the wealthy family
After almost a century, the Trần Trinh family went corrupt under the destruction of Trần Trinh Huy. It is obvious to reckon the day Huy went from hero to zero. For such a great fortune Huy had inherited, it was a shame that he lead that mountain of wealth to completely fall into a black hole. At the end of his life, Huy suffered many diseases resulted from the former abundant lifestyle. On January 1973, Huy died in loneliness, leaving his descendants poverty-stricken, miserable and failure to redeem his debts. Huy has in total 3 official wives and 8 children. Otherwise, the Tran Trinh family also admitted children resulted from his affairs with many mistresses. The children sold the remaining of their father’s property and fleed everywhere and struggled to make ends meet. None of his children returned to Bạc Liêu except for Trần Trinh Đức, the third son of Huy. Đức struggled in debts of his gambling daughter and eventually returned to Bac Lieu in his 50s. He is now a tour guide in his former house “Nhà Công Tử Bạc Liêu” ( Huy’s former villa).
The tragedy of Công Tử Bạc Liêu has contributed to the southern Vietnamese people a lesson to educate their children to use their money wisely. If you have a chance to visit Bạc Liêu once, come to Công Tử Bạc Liêu‘s villa to witness his luxurious life. I hope you enjoy reading the story and don’t forget to register for our upcoming trip to Bạc Liêu.
Tết Nguyên Đán or Tết Holiday has a very special position in the hearts of every Vietnamese no matter where they are. As the most important holiday in Vietnamese culture, it is held on the first days of the year in Lunar calendar, usually falling into February in solar calendar. Although Tết is traditionally a 3-day celebration, it actually involves preparations in the week(s) prior. Starting from Tết Táo Quân/Tết Ông Công – Ông Táo or Kitchen God Worship Day (December 23rd of the Lunar Calendar,) the atmosphere becomes festive and jolly when everyone rushes to prepare for the ritual and Tết.
It is of an important matter for Vietnamese people to clean their houses every Tết holiday. The act of cleaning and tidying the house at the beginning of the New Year is a mark point for a fresh start. We clean our houses to exorcise the evil spirits out of our doors and also to welcome good blessings to the whole family.
1-2/Buy new clothes
Buying new clothes as gifts for the youngsters of the household is one of many beautiful acts to celebrate the start of New Year. As Vietnamese people in the past used to endure starvation and poverty, the children were not given enough clothes to wear throughout the year. Almost the only chance for them to have new clothes is the occasion of Tết, when their parents spend most of the savings for the family to have the best New Year celebration, which includes the buying of clothes for their lovely children.
One of the most common act of celebrating is of course eating. And in order to eat, we need food. The preparation usually starts very early before the arrival of Tết, so that during Tết, we do not need to cook much. Another reason for this early preparation is that during the first three days of Tết, the market is usually closed.
Depending on each region and also each household, there are some traditional Tết food that should be prepared in advance. Here are some references for you.
Many customs and traditions are practiced by Vietnamese people to celebrate a new year on its first three days. We usually go back to our homeland, visit our ancestors’ grave and pray at the pagodas to receive good fortune and blessings. Besides, we visit our relatives, teachers, friends to dine and have fun with them, while children receive lucky money. This is the perfect opportunity for reunions and gatherings, because only at this time, most people have free time to spend with their beloved ones talking and sharing their lives to make up for the time of separation.
Because of increasing demands, many means of public transportation like planes, trains, long-route buses, etc. offer tickets with doubled or even tripled price compared to that of ordinary days. Therefore, those who want to celebrate Tết at their homelands must book tickets several months in advance.
3/Typical New Year Food
Bánh chưng (Chưng cake)
Bánh chưng is the most common food eaten during Tết. Originated from the North of Vietnam, this dish has many times proved to be more than just a piece of cuisine. Bánh chưng is a national representative, a part of tradition that all of us inherited from our ancestors from the distant past.
Bánh tét (Tét cake)
As paralleled to bánh chưng in the north, bánh tét is in the south. This the representative of the south, sweeter and more like a dessert. This dish can convert the truism in the souls of the makers of it, as well as of all the Vietnamese in the south of Vietnam.
Nem chua (Fermented pork roll)
Nem chua is not only famous in the center of Vietnam, but throughout the nation. People from everyone area of the country enjoy nem chua, for its sour but sweet taste that none other dishes has to offer.
For further information about the three special dishes of Vietnam, please refer to these articles:
During any Tết activity, food is served to increase the enjoyment of each event. Here are some popular types of food specialised for this particular purpose:
4-1/Mứt (Candied fruit)
Candied fruit, also known as crystallized fruit or glacé fruit, has existed since the 14th century. Whole fruit, smaller pieces of fruit, or pieces of peel, are placed in heated sugar syrup, which absorbs the moisture from within the fruit and eventually preserves it. Depending on size and type of fruit, this process of preservation can take from several days to several months. This process allows the fruit to retain its quality for a year.
In Vietnam, mứt is most loved by children, especially during Tết. It’s healthy, natural and tastes amazing. Lots of adults still enjoy it too. The most popular fruit being candied is coconut, ginger, etc.
4-2/Khô (dried food)
Khô mực (Dried shredded squid): a dried, shredded, seasoned, seafood product, made from squid or cuttlefish, commonly found in coastal Asian countries, Russia, and Hawaii. The snack is also referred to as dried shredded cuttlefish.
Khô bò (Beef jerky): a type of jerky, a lean meat that has been trimmed of fat, cut into strips, and then dried to prevent spoilage. The resulting jerky from the above methods would be a salty and/or savory snack. However, sometimes a sweet or semi-sweet recipe is used, with sugar being a major ingredient in that variation. Jerky is ready-to-eat and needs no additional preparation. It can be stored for months without refrigeration.
4-3/Hạt khô (Dried seeds)
The seeds are usually cleaned, heated and then roasted for eating purpose. There are many types of seed which can be eaten, for example dried roasted watermelon seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds,… We Vietnamese love to crack the seeds and eat them, just for fun.
5/New Year Games
As Tết is also a holiday and a festival, many traditional games are carried out during this occasion. The games are not only for children, but also for the adults to reminisce back into their childhood.
Tết is usually initiated in February, which is the season of winter in spring, but still the weather is still chilly in the North of Vietnam. Therefore, in the years with warm weather, some rural areas hold the game of catching ducks in the pond. People choose a deep pond, or a pond with high shore, or use a grid or bamboo stick to strap around the pond. The number of players varies on the width of the pond, usually from two to four players maximum. Two large ducks will be dropped down into the pond with for the players to try to catch. The players of this game are not blindfolded but are required to have good agility and swimming techniques.
This game usually takes place on a large grass field. The players is divided into pairs. Each pair will take turn to join the field. One person of each pair will be blindfolded, and have to catch the other person without getting out of the drawn circle. The person who acts as the goat must sometimes makes noise so that the blindfolded person can know where they are. This game is only for fun, and usually it’s the children who enjoy playing it the most.
Wrestling is a beautiful performance of Vietnamese people’s martial arts spirit. The game is an opportunity for the strong wrestlers of the villages to compete with each other to find the winner of the championship. This is the chance for people to show off their strength and also to strengthen the bonds between villagers and villages.
Đánh bài (Card games)
Tếtis the season of gambling. For new year’s luck, people are more willing to bet their money on something that they usually don’t. Sometimes we just play cards for fun, with only a small amount of money between the family and relatives, for the sake of the long lasting tradition of the nation.
Tiến lên(literally: “go forward”): also known as Vietnamese cards, Thirteen, Killer 13, “‘Bomb”‘, is a Vietnamese shedding-type card game devised in Southern China and Vietnam. It is similar to Zheng Shangyou, which uses a specially printed deck of cards, Big Two, and other “climbing” card games popular in many parts of Asia. Tiến lên, considered the national card game of Vietnam, is a game intended and best for four players.
Bài cào: This is one of the simplest, quickest, and most dependent on the element of chance. This game played with two or more people, the number of people is unlimited but it must be made sure each person has three cards.
Bài tấn (Durak): a card game that is popular in post-Soviet states. The object of the game is to get rid of all one’s cards. At the end of the game, the last player with cards in their hand is the durak. Co-op is not allowed in durak. This game is popular in Vietnam.
Phỏm or Tá lả: A Vietnamese card games, with 2-4 players.
Xì dách (Chinese Blackjack): Traditionally, most non-hardcore gamblers will play some form of gambling during the Chinese New Year as it is believed the new year brings in fresh new luck, and Chinese Blackjack is one of the most popular games to be played during the new year.
Xì tố (Poker)
Bầu Cua Tôm Cá (Gourd – Crab – Shrimp – Fish)
The game Bầu Cua Tôm Cá is a Vietnamese gambling game using three dice.The six sides of the dice, instead of showing one to six pips, have pictures of a fish, a prawn, a crab, a rooster, a calabash gourd, and a stag. Players place wagers on a board that has the six pictures, betting on which pictures will appear. If one die corresponds with a bet, the bettor receives the same amount as their bet. If two dice correspond with a bet, the bettor receives two times their money. If three dice correspond with a bet, the bettor receives three times their money. For instance, if one were to place $3 on fish, and the dealer rolls 2 fish and 1 stag, then the bettor would receive $6. Bầu Cua Tôm Cá is essentially the Vietnamese variation of Hoo Hey How (Fish-Prawn-Crab) played in China, the dice game Crown and Anchor played by British sailors, or chuck-a-luck played in America.
We usually play this game during Tết, for fun.
These are a few of many customs and traditions practiced during Vietnamese Tết Holiday, as we are celebrating the New Year and also the cultural beauty of our country. If you want to know more about this special event, you can look through our other articles discussing Tết. Happy New Year.
If you have any questions about this article or are in need for assistance about travelling in Vietnam or just anything at all, please do not hesitate to contact us, and we are sure to be thrilled to help.