Its a little shameful to admit that before travelling to Vietnam, all I associated the country with was the Vietnam War, tropical jungle, taylor made clothing and yummy French fusion food (Vietnamese baguette sandwiches and herby noodle soup to be exact).
Hollywood movies like Rambo and tales of eager tourists chasing bargains clouded my perception of what I’d find in this south east Asian country. However, almost as soon as I arrived in steamy Ho Chi Minh city my mindset completely changed. I fell utterly in love with Vietnam – here’s why:
The Vietnam War (which locals actually call the American War), lasted 20 years and, although it had a lasting impact on the mindset of local people, is a relatively small part of Vietnam’s history.
The last 1,100 years have been a constant battle for independence against Chinese, French, American and even Japanese invasions and occupation! All of these countries left their mark in terms of architecture, traditions, heritage and especially food – giving Vietnam a unique multi-cultural history and a melting-pot of flavours wherever you look.
- The Cu Chi Tunnels near Ho Chi Minh – this still existing 200km system of interconnecting tunnels was used by local guerrillas to harass American soldiers during the Vietnam War. They would place booby traps and land mines, play mind games with the Americans and generally harass them so effectively that the American troops actually gave up the fight in 1972.
- Hoi An Ancient town – this cute village of ancient yellow-washed buildings beside the canals of Hoi An have cast an almost fairytale-like spell over you. The town lights up at night among thousands of colourful lanterns with locals and tourists alike peddling their bikes through the night markets and down cute cobbled alleyways.
- The Imperial City in Hue – this was the imperial city and centralised government of Vietnam from the early 18th to mid 20th centuries. Unfortunately it was bombed heavily during the Vietnam War – you can still see indentations in walls where shells hit, destroying the stone work. Although only 10 out of the 160 buildings were untouched after the bombing, massive restoration work has returned many of the buildings to their former glory.
- Vietnamese Women’s Museum in Hanoi – this extensive exhibition into the daily lives of Vietnamese women is extremely well presented. It showcases the religion, traditions, handcrafts and motherhood cultures of hundreds of ethnic Vietnamese groups.
It’s not only Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines that have amazing beaches in Asia. Vietnam is not normally known for its beautiful coastline so we were pleasantly surprised when we arrived in Nha Trang in the country’s south. An Bang beach in Hoi An was another surprise that had us splashing about in turquoise waters with the whole bay to ourselves.
If you like beachside holidays then Vietnam won’t disappoint. Check out our blog post Nha Trang – A beach side paradise in Vietnam for more information.
Super simple to travel around
Without doubt Vietnam has been the easiest and most comfortable country to travel in during our international adventures to date.
Most people you come across will speak English well (and many even speak French, Russian and Chinese!) You’ll find free WIFI at pretty much every restaurant in the country, not to mention some high-tech street food vendors that put Australian internet access to shame! And, if you want to be connected at all times, buying a 7GB sim card will only put you back US$10.
Bus lines are frequent, go almost everywhere, are relatively cheap and very comfortable. Its by far the best and cheapest way to travel internally in Vietnam – we took sleeper buses from Ho Chi Minh in the south all the way to Sapa in the mountainous north and couldn’t believe how great the service was for a mere US $50 each. Check out our post Vietnam by bus – the cheapest and easiest way to travel for more information.
Taxis are also kept at a competitive price by Grab – Uber’s Asian counterpart which works anywhere in the country and in large cities all over SEA.
Delicious food from authentic street eats to fancy restaurants
Vietnam has it all – from $1 chicken noodle soup sitting on a miniature stool on the pavement to pricey French restaurants and international level seafood buffets you’ll be left spoilt for choice.
Food here is a wonderful mix of Asian and French cuisine with baguettes and patê being mixed with sticky rice noodles and chilli jam left right and centre. But the interesting fusion always results in a tasty bite – try Banh Canh, Pho, Bo Kho or Banh Mi and you’ll see what we’re talking about.
Although named the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, its not the communist country it once was. Businesses thrive in every tiny corner you see and the competition keeps price relatively low. All our hotels in Vietnam cost us around US$15 a night and were comfortable, clean and well located. Its easy to find meals at a simple restaurant for under US$2 and even scooter hire for 24 hours only cost us US$4!
Here is an idea of prices on staple things:
- Visa: US$ 34
- Tourist attractions: between US$1-$6 for the majority of temples and museums
- Local transport: between US$1-$3 for an average taxi fare
- Inter-city transport: US$ 33 for a flexible 4 city bus fare (we paid a little higher due to a public holiday)
- Bottle of water: US$0.50 for 2 litres of water
- Meal: between US$1 for street food and $10 for a more sophisticated restaurant meal
- Hotel: you’ll get a simple, clean hotel room from US$15 a night
- Movie ticket: around US$6
A Vietnamese tourist visa is very simple to acquire for most nationalities. Applying online for an approval letter and then getting a visa on arrival is your cheapest bet with the least hassles. It’ll cost you around half the price of applying for a visa from an Embassy in your country. For more information read Vietnam visa for half the price and no hassles.
A completely different culture to what you’re used to
Be prepared to cross roads (and even footpaths) with thousands of speeding scooters coming from all directions. In more country-side areas you’ll noticed thousands of grains of rice drying on the roads instead! You’ll be expected to take your shoes off when entering a home and even the bus! Our least favourite cultural shock was seeing whole barbecued dogs for sale on the streets of Hanoi.
The most wonderful aspect to Vietnam itself has got to be the warm, bubbly, respectful and generous locals. In every town and on every beach we visited we were welcomed with warmth and made to feel extremely comfortable. Hotel staff were super helpful, locals were friendly and very chatty and street sellers respected you if you didn’t want to buy something from them. And the local children have got to be the happiest and cutest of them all!