“Good evening, madam.”
“How may I help you, madam?”
“Please, madam, allow me to open that door for you.”
It was my second week overseas, not in France, but in Vietnam where French influence flavors everything from language to architecture. Madam Carol. It had such a nice sound to it. I could definitely get used to this, I thought.
French influence began in 1861 when France captured Saigon. For the next eighty years, they remained a presence in Vietnam and brought all things French along with them—French architecture, French food, etc. Colonialism decidedly came to an end at Dien Bien Phu, but the French factor in Vietnam can still be seen all over the country today. Case in point…
The French Quarter
Most people go to Hanoi and visit the Old Quarter, with its unique maze of narrow streets. But the French Quarter is definitely worth a visit as well. The wide boulevards are all patterned after the Champs Élysées and lined with lush, towering trees. You can sip a coffee at a street side café, browse one of the many galleries, shop, or appreciate the stunning display of French architecture.
Wander around parts of Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi and, for a minute, you might just think you’re in Paris. The Hanoi Opera House’s lavish marble staircase and crystal chandeliers were inspired by the Palais Garnier in Paris. You can listen to anything from Tchaikovsky to traditional Vietnamese music, all while enjoying the beauty of your surroundings.
Or you might prefer appreciating the square towers and stained glass windows of St. Joseph’s cathedral, a miniature version of Notre-Dame. Or, visit the Sofitel Legend Metropole, the hub of French colonial society and considered today to be one of Asia’s most luxurious hotels.
French cuisine and oh-so-unforgettable baguettes
Crusty on the outside and warm on the inside, baguettes are found everywhere from street side bakeries to elegant hotel buffets. Top that French baguette with pate and thinly sliced meat, and various veggies and the result is a sumptuous sandwich called Bánh mì, which is worthy in my opinion, of an article of its own. The French crepe also inspired the creation of banh xeo, a crepe filled with ground pork, shrimp and bean sprouts, and served on a bed of fresh greens. So delicious!
Vietnam is the only country in former French Indo-china that has the Roman alphabet, thanks in part to a French missionary who developed a writing system that replaced Chinese-style ideograms. While the original system posed no trouble at all for the Vietnamese, today you will be pleasantly surprised to find you can actually recognize the letters, even if you can’t understand the words. (From personal experience, this is particularly helpful when you are trying to find a restaurant.)
There’s no doubt the French factor hints of less-than-pleasant time in Vietnam’s history. But it still influences what Vietnam is today–a magical blend of culture and history and cuisine that yours truly can hardly wait to visit again.
If you’re interested in experiencing Vietnam and
seeing some of that French factor yourself,
you’ll be glad to hear we’ve got an upcoming trip. Stay tuned!
Photos courtesy Bigstock