31 Aug

Remember That Time…I Colored My Hair In Vietnam?

Now that we’ve returned home and have settled back into our routine lives again we find it funny how our travel stories keep coming up. Invariably one of us will look at the other and say ‘Remember That Time…’ I thought it would make a good series; a way to tell these small stories that take us back in the blink of an eye.

Call me cheap, but I color my own hair. I always have and luckily, knock on wood, it has never turned out disastrous. It maybe hasn’t always looked exactly how I wanted it to but, then again, I’m only investing $14.95 in the process rather than $70 – a classic case of ‘you get what you pay for’.

I had even done this previously on the trip…at least 5 times previously…and had had fairly decent results even though I often couldn’t read the instructions or didn’t have all the usual equipment.

It all came tumbling down in Vietnam.

There are no drugstores in Vietnam – it seems that anyone that has any space, and something to sell, just does. I found a place selling a few boxes of hair color, chose a box labeled ‘light brown’ and headed back to the hotel.

There were no gloves in the box and I can’t even remember if there were instructions but, having done this a million times before, I just set to mixing the various bottles and applying it to my head.

I thought it strange that my fingernails stained black almost immediately but put it down to applying color without gloves and thought no more of it.

The last time I had colored my hair (in Thailand) I had not left the color in long enough as I was afraid it would be too dark and it ended up fading out sooner than it should have, so this time I was determined to leave it in for the prescribed amount of time. I busied myself while I waited for the 45 minutes to pass (yes it takes that long….I have, ahem, some grey that needs extra attention).

I rinsed the color out of my hair, toweled it dry, and took the first look in the mirror to see how it turned out.


Uh oh...a little too dark!

It was black. Black, black, black! As black as any raven haired Vietnamese beauty I could see on the street. Really, really black. I cannot emphasize enough how black it was.

I was mortified but there was nothing I could do about it. I couldn’t risk coloring over it, and besides, what color would I use? I have a sneaking suspicion that every box of hair color in Vietnam, whether labeled black or light brown or blond or red, all has the same formulation in it. Black.

At home they say you shouldn’t wash your hair right after coloring it because it will fade…so I washed it, and washed it, and washed it. It didn’t look any duller at all. Still black.

I slowly realized that I was going to have to live with it. I was going to have to go outside.

Keep in mind – this in no way, shape or form looked natural. Some black lipstick and dark clothing and I could have passed for ‘goth’.

Eventually we made our way outside – I held my head up and faked confidence I didn’t have. I felt like everyone was looking at me and laughing. Luckily the sun sets early in Vietnam and, soon enough, I was comforted by a drape of darkness. But it would have to get light again at some point.

That mistake took forever to grow out. Normally hair color fades over time and grows out eventually. Vietnamese hair color is tenacious and sticky and, even after returning home, and coloring my hair a few more times I could still see traces of the black in there.

My father-in-law referred to me as his ‘Vietnamese blond’ – funny.

9 thoughts on “Remember That Time…I Colored My Hair In Vietnam?

  1. Loved reading this. . . it reminded me of high school when my mom & I decided to highlight my hair on our own. I ended up looking like a tiger (orange, really dark brown, orange, really dark brown, etc.) We went straight to the drugstore & redyed it (even though you’re not supposed to)! It toned the wild color down a bit, but it was a not-so-fun 4 hours of hideous hair!

    I can’t wait to hear more from the “Remember that time. . .” series!

  2. I can so relate to this post Gillian! I did the same thing the first time I colored my hair in Lisbon – the instructions were in 2 languages I didn’t recognize – but like you felt confident in my ability to do it correctly since I had done it tons of times before. I also didn’t realize that the color on the box didn’t necessarily mean the color I would get would be similar. I had bought a medium brown to be safe and it was so black when I was done that it looked purple! Totally horrifying experience but it was dulled by kind comments from diplomatic friends in Portugal. btw – you are NOT cheap because you color your own hair! There are so many other fun things to spend the cash on; travel being one of them. :)

    • I think, if you’re a girl, you have some kind of hair horror story!

      @Alisha: Thanks for validating my frugal ways ;-)

      @Eric: No, I don’t think a shaved head it for me…although I may have thought so that day!!

  3. Gillian, you are much, much braver than me! I love the look on your face in the picture. Meanwhile, I have been fretting over merely getting a trim – I finally did it in Northern Ireland, where they spoke English because as we all know, it is hard enough to get them to only take an inch off even in your same language. I most likely won’t get it cut again until we get home. Yours is a lot shorter than mine – did you get your hair cut on the road or did you do it yourself?

    Looking forward to others in this series!

  4. By the way, I meant for buying strange foreign hair dye, not for dying it yourself. You are right, it may not always turn out great, but you do save a lot of money!

    P.S. You don’t look bad in black…maybe the picture doesn’t convey the true shade?

  5. This is so funny….I so love your story telling…

    Now, you know, that I get my hair colored professionally to cover up the little white friends who are not welcome. Being a red head is risky business even for the professionals. I have looked in the mirror with somewhat ‘pink’ and ‘orange’ hair. I look at them and say ‘I don’t think so’…one time I had my hair colored 3 times in a row at the salon because there was no way I was leaving with orange hair…my scalp burnt, she charged me full price and I never went back..

    And, no, I don’t have pictures of the horrific experiences…

    I can’t wait for the next stories as well..thanks for sharing.

  6. Vietnamese Blonde! HA! I ended up with magenta hair in Morocco after a hotel room dye job. I actually got hissed at!

    PS. Can’t wait for more posts in this vein!

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