I remember in my early days, seeing a T-shirt that read “I made it to Vietnam before McDonald’s did!” I recall loving that concept at the time; I felt original, like I accomplished something groundbreaking. With my nine-year anniversary of living in Vietnam having passed in June, along with the news recently breaking of McDonald’s finally coming to the country, I started thinking of all of the other things this city didn’t have when I first arrived. Here’s my list of eight things that made it to Vietnam before McDonald’s (but not before me).


The days when gourmands in Vietnam could only choose from expensive imported fare are pretty much over. Across the country, artisanal producers are crafting international-style foods that spotlight local ingredients, from chorizo to gelato. Here are nine of our favorites.

Henry Nguyen - Mr. McDonald's

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 Philippines

When the most intense storm ever to make landfall ripped through The Philippines, Bea Nguyen, like many of us, tried to find how her goodwill would fit into the void left by Typhoon Haiyan.

Pulau Ubin

The ancient parable told by Lonely Planet as an introduction to the different neighbourhoods of Singapore keeps popping in my head when I make my visits to three of the offshore islands surrounding Singapore. The story goes that a group of blind men try to guess what an animal is as they are all touching different parts of an elephant. Their answers are completely different, depending on what part that they touch. The man who touches the leg says the elephant is ‘like a pillar’; the other touches the tail, and says the animal is ‘like a rope’; and so on.

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