Northern Vietnamese people and the story of “traveling abroad”

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I am a Vietnamese from the Northern part of Vietnam and if compared with Southern people Northerners are considered quite conservative, even today. Thus, in the frame of this blog I would not say generally “Vietnamese people” but I will talk particularly about the travel habit of Northern Vietnamese of which I am one..

We all know that before the Doi moi (1986) Northern part of Vietnam was totally “blocked” from the Western world. The only connection we had was just the communist fellows such as China, Cuba and Eastern Europe. So people from Northern Vietnam at that time just moved from Vietnam to those countries to study and work with the only passion – coming back to help build up a strong communist society in their motherland (!).

But since the Doi moi (or no, later! From my limited knowledge then I would count from 1994 when my youngest uncle went for his master in Australia) let’s see how the situation has changed! We started to go to Western Europe, Northern America and Australia! And we began to enjoy going to those countries, and actutally we “enjoyed” going to the developed countries so much that for now whenever someone say “I’m going abroad” then the expected destinations would always be somewhere in the US or Europe (Western part preferred!) Many people nowadays (even the youngsters at my age) have summed up the meaning of the word “abroad” into 1/3 of the world with such way of thinking. Well, the world is not big but it’s not that small either.

I first traveled outside of Vietnam last year. Now you would ask me why? Probably it’s another habit of Northerners. We don’t like moving and traveling that much, and even when traveling we would rather go to the South of Vietnam than go to Thailand or Malaysia although it is obviously cheaper, probably one big reason is because a lot of people still haven’t even got a passport.. My mom has not got a passport yet. Every year she would spend money for her summer vacation in the South of Vietnam, she wanted to go outside of the country as well but whenever I mentioned about getting a passport she always hesitated “I don’t have time..” A lot of my friends have the same problem – having no passport but having no time to get one. Regarding this issue then I have to agree. I got my passport two years ago and in order to get it, I had to wake up at 5am going for a queue and when I arrived at the immigration department at 6, I was already the 39th person in the queue (!) Lucky me, I ONLY had to wait till 2pm and got my passport 2 weeks after..

Well, let’s now come back to my first trip abroad. I went to Poland. Not bad! Because Poland is still in Europe so it is acceptable as “abroad” although it’s not as fancy as Germany, the Netherlands or the UK. But I still had a small problem. Normally people only go “abroad” to study or to work but I didn’t. I went for a volunteer program with no salary and to many people that sounds weird. But it was still ok, because I just went for 3 months and then I would go back and already had a job waiting so there should be no problem.

But now, I’m going to India. My uncle asked “What are you going to India for?!”, my aunt added “How much are they gonna pay you?” and my friend “C’mon stay at home, find a stable job or get married, stop wandering around with no purpose” (!) and many others would make fun of me for going to India to do.. internship, especially with such a low amount of salary (so low that it’s not enough to make any travel or party at all if I don’t spend money from my own pocket). Anyway, I think they would be laughing even harder if one day I decided to move to.. Africa (who knows?!)

However, besides my not-so-pleasant experience with “public” reaction then I can tell that there have been some remarkable changes in the traveling habit of Northerners today. Still most of them would prefer a package tour (me as well! I am actually planning to take some package tours to China next year..) either because of the language barrier (the biggest issue of elderly people) or because of the convenience and economy, but also quite a lot of young people start to do back-pack travel and plan a travel routine on their own. However, for this part we still have to learn a lot from Westerners and Japanese people..

So, all the above are just some thoughts based on my experience and the reality that happens around me, among my family and friends. If anyone has any disagreement or want to add anything or share your own opinions please feel free to jump into a discussion with me. Topic: “Vietnam Northerners and traveling abroad”

18 thoughts on “Northern Vietnamese people and the story of “traveling abroad”

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    Vietnam720 said:
    October 23, 2010 at 9:58 PM

    Keep travelling girl. Don’t let nobody stop you from doing what you like 🙂

      Pham Hoang Mien responded:
      October 23, 2010 at 10:16 PM

      Sure Ben! Thank you for always encouraging me :-). You really are my inspiration for both traveling and writing! 😉

    Vietnam720 said:
    October 23, 2010 at 10:20 PM

    Wow, thank you for the compliment Mien 🙂

    But not sure if you should read more of mine with all the f-bombs flying around. Hehe 🙂

      Pham Hoang Mien responded:
      October 24, 2010 at 2:56 AM

      Ben, this is my 1st post in Eng so I am just.. pretending to be a good girl hahahaaa. Lucky that you can not understand my blogs in Vietnamese LOL

    tomosaigon said:
    October 24, 2010 at 1:53 AM

    I think it’s interesting that Vietnam has ties with Cuba or places like the Czech Republic, former countries behind the Iron Curtain.. likewise Americans were cut off from there.

      Pham Hoang Mien responded:
      October 24, 2010 at 3:16 AM

      Well, Vietnam USED TO stick with Cuba and the Soviet Union as well as some other former Communist countries. However, it’s not “trendy” any more to go to such countries despite the fact that Czech Republic still has one of the strongest Vietnamese-abroad communities nowadays. And America, Europe and Japan have now turned out to be “our” favourite destinations.. Ironic 😀

        Tom said:
        February 17, 2015 at 9:52 AM

        Being Czech citizen living in Vietnam, you have my great respect for knowing what is the Czech Republic. Many of these “so called western” countries still call us Czechoslovakia. And we split 25 years ago. Obsession of Vietnamese with these “high-end” countries is one of the biggest mysteries ever for me.
        BTW, thanks for this great blog. Good inspiration for my travels in this beautiful country.

        Pham Hoang Mien responded:
        February 17, 2015 at 8:56 PM

        Hi Tom, thanks for the comment. What “so called western” countries can ever call you “Czechoslovakia”? Wait.. let me guess.. Yeah must be American!!! (haha stereotype on the poor geographical knowledge of American people). I visited Prague during my time in Poland, such an amazingly gorgeous city! 🙂

    Hien said:
    October 24, 2010 at 9:19 PM

    i like the 1st comment of this topic.
    This is the 1st time i found that not being an Hanoian is a privilege while doing passport 😀
    My mum wants me to have a ”stable life” as u know what it means 🙂 but no one can not stop me traveling. Frank fully, I’d love travel to some ”heaven places” in vietnam like Phu Quoc, Mui Ne, Nha Trang, Da Lat before continuing my abroad journey 🙂 But now u have chance to explore new places, just enjoy it in every moment

    teolin said:
    October 24, 2010 at 9:35 PM

    “What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do – especially in other people’s minds. When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.” ~William Least Heat Moon, Blue Highways

    To me, Viet-namese people are pretty much like you, as you are the second person I ever met from Viet-Nam; I will be probably surprised to find out otherwise :). With you, the whole Viet-Nam travels, and what I seen so far, I like …

    nguyenngocvu said:
    November 22, 2010 at 7:10 PM

    haha u wrote “and many others would make fun of me for going to India to do.. internship, especially with such a low amount of salary”… How’s about studying in india?How good is going to study in India!? I faced the same problem ,and still people in Vietnam do not have a positive views of India education except computer courses T_T.But i believe that i have gained petty much good knowledge from India education.Anyway, i think we can learn many new things by traveling especially abroad ^_^

    t.on.air said:
    March 20, 2012 at 6:59 PM

    Hi there,
    I sometimes get the same reactions from my Vietnamese relatives when I talk about my travel. Don’t let them get to you.

    […] to later stay in the country. Living in the West has been the dream for so many generations of Vietnamese since the Doi Moi in 1986. People simply believe, sometimes naively, that moving to the West means good fortune and consider […]

    Stephen James said:
    August 21, 2014 at 6:07 AM

    Hello Mien, I do not know if you are still posting on this site or not. If you are, I am a graduate student with a Masters Degree from the University of London who is now studying at the University of California for a Masters in Southeast Asian Studies and a PhD in Anthropology. My focus is on Vietnamese living outside of the Homeland. I was wondering if you could assist me in finding out about Northern Vietnamese people living in California, particularly Southern California? Any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated! Where have you traveled lately?

      Pham Hoang Mien responded:
      August 21, 2014 at 10:23 AM

      Hi Stephen, I’m quite busy with other works recently and can’t take care of the blog that much. Hopefully will have a new post in September, been too long already.. Thanks for asking.
      Regarding your request, I have never been to the States so I don’t have much connection with Vietnamese people there. Maybe you can check out the blogs by these 2 Vietnamese Americans (in fact I’m also not sure exactly where in the US they are currently residing, my geography knowledge about America has always been terrible):
      Hope this helps.

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