learning the hard way in vietnam

meeting the shop owner in vietnamTrying to learn enough of the local language to help you get around can really be a challenge for your comfort zone. What’s more unnerving than being warned that a slight mispronunciation can be the difference between saying “thank you” and swearing profusely? But locals really appreciate visitors making an attempt to use their language and will often help with a little coaching, as John Kirk discovered in Vietnam…

“Our group had some time to chill out in Nha Trang, so I decided to hire a bike and explore the surrounding countryside. It was a fantastic way to take in the local sights, but being a scorching hot day I took a break under the shade of a large tree next to the railway line to Ho Chi Minh City. Nearby was a railway crossing attendant’s hut. Its occupant was having a blissful siesta, obviously not expecting either trains or guests, as he had shed most of his uniform in the heat!

When the attendant realised a visitor had arrived, he quickly got dressed and brought out 2 chairs – one for each of us. We exchanged pleasantries in Vietnamese and got on famously – until I quickly ran out of Vietnamese vocab! This amused the railway guy and he set about giving me a Vietnamese language lesson. He started with my clothing, teaching me the words for each item of apparel and then started on my anatomy – I got a bit worried where it was all going!

At the end of his instruction, it was time to test me – to see if I had remembered any of the words. He tugged at my shirt and I responded with “ao” – a big smile for the correct answer. Next item, my pants – got that one wrong, so was reminded that it was “quan tay”. My socks was easy – “vo”. And so it went on, with much hilarity at my attempts at Vietnamese. I should have done better, as the gathering crowd of bemused locals were all yelling out the answers to help the bumbling foreigner.

Although I’d now probably struggle to recall all the words, I’ll never forget how much fun I had trying to learn from a local!”

Tour Vietnam with Intrepid on trips like these great small group adventures:
Classic Vietnam – 21 days
Cycle Vietnam – 15 days

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* photo by Abbie Watson-Taylor – Intrepid Photography Competition

About the author

Sue Elliot - Like many of us, Sue contracted a serious travel bug at an early age. She's visited over 90 countries in search of a cure, but her wanderlust just seems to get worse. Thankfully at Intrepid Travel she's amongst people who understand the affliction and since 1998 Sue has enjoyed being our blog and newsletter editor. Here you'll find helpful travel advice and inspiring tales from Sue and other Intrepid travellers.

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