Our Top Articles

Over the past 100 issues we’ve published good articles, bad articles and some pieces that are just, well, controversial. Here is a selection of writing from Word journos past and present. The full versions can be found online at


January 2014

Article with the most online hits on our website


Mr. McDonald’s

Is it the inexorable path of progress or is it a sign simply of changing times? Nick Ross speaks to Henry Nguyen, the man behind McDonald’s in Vietnam. Photo by Kyle Phanroy


If last year’s market entry of Starbucks can be viewed as a prototype, then by the time you read this piece there will have been extraordinary queues outside McDonald’s. Using the Drive-Thru model to enter the Vietnamese market, images of motorbike logjams trailing back down Saigon’s Dien Bien Phu come to mind.


The arrival of this fast food monolith, this symbol of American culture, has been a long time in the making. For many, too long.


Says Henry Nguyen, the man charged with bringing McDonald’s to Vietnam, “A lot of my friends here and a lot of young people I meet, ask me, ‘Why hasn’t McDonald’s come earlier, doesn’t McDonald’s think Vietnam is a promising market?’ There is a lot of economic self-esteem embedded in the presence of McDonald’s.”


Full Article:


September 2009

Second most online hits on


Relativists vs Colonialists

By Tim Russell


In my experience there are three types of expat in Vietnam. Those who – let’s call them relativists – think the whole country is wonderful and the people lovable and honest, and that even the bad things can’t be criticised as it’s their culture and we have no right to find fault with it.


On the other extreme, we have the colonialists – those who think the country is a festering rat’s nest of dirt, corruption and greed, run by people who haven’t got a clue what they’re doing, and who need a good dose of foreign management to sort them out.


Then in the middle you have a third group, of which I like to think myself a member, that kind of flits between these two extremes. Obviously we like living here, or we wouldn’t stay, and there are days when Vietnam feels like the best place in the world; but we aren’t blind to its faults and we try our best to offer advice as to how these faults could be rectified.


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November 2013

Most read food article on


The Best Street Food of Vietnam: The North


Vietnam has well over 100 street food dishes, most of them dreamt up locally, with a smattering coming from overseas. But which of these dishes are quintessentially Vietnamese? And which dishes are the true originals?


To try and get at what we believe is the core of Vietnamese street food, we have put together a selection of dishes found in this country. There are variations of course — both on a dish itself and on the way it is served up in different regions — and then of course, there is pho, which in terms of style and taste has developed into a beast all of its own. That a restaurant chain in the UK even had the gall to try and trademark the name of Vietnam’s best known dish, says much for how Vietnam’s street food is being received around the globe. It’s popular.


So, time to get that saliva running.


To read the full piece, click on


October 2015

One of the most commented upon pieces on Facebook


25 Things Vietnamese Don’t Understand about Westerners

Cultural faux pas. Contrasting world views. Preconceived ideas. Here are all those things that people in Vietnam don’t understand about Westerners. Words by Kieran Crowe


I recently reached out to my Vietnamese friends and colleagues to ask them what things Westerners do which they find amusing or odd! Any Westerners reading this, prepare your ego for a bruising. Vietnamese people, get ready for answers to all those questions you had about Western people but were too shy to ask.


1) Why won’t you tell me your age?

Because when we do, you tell us “you look so old!” which drives us straight to the anti-aging moisturizer shelf in the nearest Maximark.


2) Why do you eat cheese and wine for dessert?

What better way to satisfy your sweet tooth than indulging in some… pungent blue cheese? Alright, maybe this one is a bit weird.


3) Why are Western guys into tanned girls?

Vietnamese girls have told me they are attracted to tanned guys, regardless of nationality, because they look healthier than pale guys (I guess that’s why Vietnamese girls aren’t exactly beating down my door). However, they don’t understand why Western guys are attracted to tanned girls.


Click on for the full article


December 2012

Our most popular travel article online


A Journey to the Land of Whispers

Seeking a unique travel experience, after much deliberation Chrystian Cohen took the train into Pyongyang to visit North Korea


North Korea feels frozen in time. It lies somewhere between a 1930s Soviet Union and a futuristic vision of society, as imagined back in the 1970s.


When asked about my experience it’s hard to find a relevant reference point, as the Hermit Kingdom, which the country has come to be known as, is unlike any place I have ever been, seen or experienced. Visiting the northern section of the Korean peninsula has been more than a trip — it’s been a plunge into a whole other reality, which outsiders were never really meant to see. I was one of the select few.


Read for the full piece by clicking on


December 2014

This piece caused a storm on Facebook. A certain Facebook group admin was not impressed


The World of Expat Facebook Groups

Whether its snakepits of despair you’re looking for or that small-town feeling you’ve been missing, the expat groups of Facebook supply that little touch of connection that we all occasionally need. Words by Niko Savvas. Illustrations by Vu ha Kim Vy


Criticising other people’s use of Facebook is terribly passé, like saying you enjoy The Beatles or hate racism. For all of its faults (and there are many), this social media superpower has become an indispensable part of life for billions of people around the world.


Personal opinions aside, it’s hard to argue that Facebook doesn’t serve many useful purposes. From the Arab Spring to the Hong Kong protests, it has given a voice to the voiceless and opened the world’s eyes to injustices that once might have gone unnoticed.


For expats in Vietnam, Facebook forums can be an invaluable resource. Need an English-speaking ophthalmologist? Ask Facebook. Want to know if that oozing wound on your foot is infected? Skip the hospital; just share a picture and wait for the crowd-sourced diagnoses to pour in.


In general my experience of Facebook has been positive. Yet I can’t shake my primordial loathing of these forums. If you’ve spent a decent amount of time in Vietnam, you probably have your own horror stories of boorish and moronic behavior online. Anecdotally it seems safe to say that expat Facebook forums are the refuge of the stupid and the mean-spirited. I decided to investigate.


Full Article:


May 2015

Another Niko Savvas special that got the tongues wagging and the comments a-flowing


Vietnamese Food Isn’t That Great

Lower your pitchforks and let Niko Savvas explain


Put on your Honesty Cape and place yourself in the following scenario:


After you save the life of a Nigerian prince with the timely provision of your US$7,500 wire transfer, he invites you to his lavish palace in Abuja for a celebratory feast. The prince decrees that every notable dish from every global cuisine will be provided for your dining pleasure, as part of the world’s largest-ever buffet table.


There is a catch, however, as there always is with Nigerian princes: you can only have one plate. So, with all of the world’s delicacies at your fingertips, how much plate-space would you devote to Vietnamese cuisine?


Your correspondent’s answer: zero percent.


Full Article:


May 2015

The piece online that got expats frothing at the fingertips


Why You Probably Shouldn’t Bother Learning Vietnamese

Unless you’re a lifer, Niko Savvas believes there are much more useful things you could be doing


If you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, then you already know that it takes roughly 10,000 hours to truly master a skill. As Gladwell himself probably says, there are exceptions to this rule — mathematical savants, child prodigies and so on.


In light of Ericcson’s findings, consider the following numbers:


500 hours — 20.8 days — 0.06 years

10,000 hours — 416.6 days – 1.14 years

25,000 hours — 1,041.7 days — 2.85 years


Let’s pretend that you could master Vietnamese in a mere 500 hours (you cunning linguist, you). All you’d need to do is lock yourself in a dank, windowless room for three solid weeks with your Pimsleur tapes, several college-ruled notebooks, and a towering pile of Bolivian nose sugar. After a fortnight and a half, you’d emerge speaking fluent Tieng Viet, switching seamlessly between Hanoi and Saigon accents. Learning Vietnamese would seem to be an excellent time investment.


Now compare this hypothetical scenario to your real-life experience, in which the hotpot waitress glares at you dumbly while you beg to know the location of the restroom. Chances are good that you’re not a Vietnamese-pronunciation wunderkind.


Full Article:


November 2015

One of our recent online pieces that went viral


Visa Privilege

If you’re Vietnamese, getting a visa to travel to the West is hard. Getting a visa to the US is even harder. Owen Salisbury helped a friend who went through the visa application experience and was turned down


I was 30 the first time I had to apply for a visa. The concept seemed vaguely offensive; why on Earth did I need to ask anyone’s permission to travel? I’d been to 25 countries on three continents, spending money, following laws. Everywhere, visas meant showing up like an unexpected guest, enduring border control’s bored scrutiny, and hearing the stamp thwack in my passport.


I was privileged.


Extremely so; nor was I to realise how much until I helped my friend Tram apply for a tourist visa to the United States so she could meet her fiancé’s family. Not to move there; just to visit for a month.


Tram has been a friend for four years. With her fiancé temporarily in the US, she asked me to help prepare her tourist (B-1) visa application. The challenges Vietnamese people face when they wish to visit the so-called First World stunned me.


Full article:


January 2016

The one that drew out all those Americans without a sense of humo(u)r


10 Questions Americans Ask About Vietnam

Jesse Meadows has gone home to the US for a vacation. Here are what friends, family and acquaintances are asking about her adopted home


As I write this, I am home for the holidays in Florida, America’s land of golf courses and retirees. It’s the first time I’ve been home to see my family and friends since I left over a year ago, and they understandably have questions. “My little world traveller!” they say, patting me on the head. “What are you doing in Thailand?!”


Some questions are smarter than others. I do my best to contain my eye-rolling and attempt to patiently explain the realities of my life in Hanoi, a place that is hard for most Americans to imagine. And so, after a month of answering the same clueless queries, I’ve compiled my favourites.


Do you have electricity?

You know, sometimes I get the feeling my friends back home picture me living in a bamboo hut in the middle of a rice field, riding a buffalo to work and, I don’t know, killing a chicken with my bare hands for dinner.


Is it safe?

My uncle asked me this, right before delving into a rant about ISIS. It’s ironic, coming from a country like America, where school shootings have become the norm, and my dad shows off his gun collection at the dining room table.


Do you tell people you’re Canadian?

Specific to the fact that I’m American, this idea is rooted in memories of a past that Vietnam has collectively moved on from.


Full article:


January 2016

A piece that got a comment from a famous film director


Film in Vietnam

Beautiful scenery, technical expertise, a low-cost economy. Jon Aspin attempts to ask why big budget productions are the exception rather than the rule in Vietnam.


There’s no denying that Vietnam looks stunning on film. Any cinematographer or photographer worth their salt loves coming back to this country. Sweeping aerial shots of Halong Bay, drone footage of the Sapa Valley and even time-lapse photography of Saigon’s traffic. These are just a few of the images that immediately come to mind, and that’s without mentioning the people.


Traditionally though, filming in Vietnam has been difficult. While the country itself has been the subject of many a film, the most famous of them have all been shot elsewhere.


It was ‘too soon’ perhaps for the likes of Apocalypse Now (1979) which was made in the Philippines, Full Metal Jacket (1987) and Platoon (1986); also the Philippines. One notable exception is the Phillip Noyce directed adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel, The Quiet American, which most booksellers will have a copy of.


Full Article:


October 2014

Our most-read café review on


Toilet Kingdom

By Ed Weinberg


Down a Binh Thanh back alley, the writing was on the wall.


And so the scripture read: “Thy kingdom come.” No wait, it read ‘Kingdom’ — but was preceded by ‘Toilet’?


Yup, urine for some potty humour. That’s par for the course at Toilet Kingdom, where the one room in the coffee shop you usually don’t want to see has taken centre stage. You sit on toilets with Angry Bird cushions, drink out of little potties and bathtubs on glass tables over sinks with glitter and fake trees inside. Little streamers with happy buzzing flies adorn the walls and ceilings. Bathroom mirrors with stray toothbrushes and bottles of shampoo are scattered throughout.


Full Article:


To read more of this cover story, please click on the following links:


In the Beginning There Wasn't the Word


A Short History of Word


What You Say


Inbox: Your Letters, Comments and Emails from Over the Years


Did You Know?


Seven Creative Uses for Word


More in this category: « Inbox Did You Know? »

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