was with trepidation that we even went to
. For years, it has been on
our list; a war-ravaged rough and tumble back route to travel overland into
southern China. That was 20 plus years ago. Back then we had heard how
difficult it was for foreign tourists to travel, with the overly aggressive
touts and thieves. You always needed to be on guard. Always someone was
trying to separate you from your money. Others who had been there agreed
with this sentiment. Then 10 years ago, we began hearing stories about how
great of place Vietnam was for people looking for someplace a little
different. Even six years ago, we traveled briefly with Astrid who told us
she wished she had spent less time in Vietnam and more time in Laos.
Laotians are so much more laid back and friendly, she said. Then our new
friend, Sander, told us Vietnam is absolutely his favorite country in SE
Asia! And it seemed everyone had just been there or is on their way there.
So what's the true story? It was now or never. We decided to give it a
Upon crossing the border from Cambodia, we immediately noticed a difference.
The people of Vietnam appeared to more entrepreneurial. Everyone seemed to
be in business. Selling vegetables on the roadside wasn’t good enough. Some
set up their vegetables in the middle of the road to better serve the
customers driving by on motorcycles. People were pleased to get us into
their hotels and restaurants.
Sure we were overcharged on buses and probably paid too much in the markets.
There are tourist cartels in some areas set up in an attempt to keep prices
up. But nobody took our money and ran. Everyone always kept their end of the
We tried to be vigilant. Never did we have someone try to run off with one
of our bags or rummage through our hotel room. We never had anything go
missing. (Okay, my bossy cow toothbrush holder disappeared somewhere along
the way - BOO HOO). We ran in to one guy who had his camera disappear from
his table in a Hanoi restaurant while he sat right there. He did not know
who to suspect. It was there when he sat down and gone when he got up to
leave. Overall, it is not anymore dishonest than anywhere else in SE Asia.
We, as tourists, didn’t even notice much heavy-handedness by government
officialdom. The press is monitored and policed if they speak out against
the regime. But we don’t read local papers. The internet is said to be
censored and controlled like in China. But we never experience any blocked
content and the transmission rates were good. Controlled capitalism seems to
be alive and well! But don’t look for McDonald’s or Walmart (yet); KFC and
Big-C, yes. Lack of the international chains is one of the charms of
Also don’t expect to see environmental damage from napalm or agent orange
used in the wars. Nature has a remarkable ability to recover. Vietnam is
green and lush and even greener and lusher than its neighbors. Many towns
will have a war monument or war museum but it doesn’t seem to be dwelled
upon. Young people we saw were raising babies, many babies, growing food and
working hard to make better lives for them and their children. Evenings are
spent relaxing and socializing on porches and in coffee shops. People seem
to be looking forward and not back.
Except for a few hundred kilometer strip between Saigon and Dalat, we didn’t
see ostentatious religious monuments. This strip seemed to have its share of
Catholic churches and overt homages. Most the country is Buddhist and the
many temples are small neighborhood affairs. We didn't see anything you’d
call 'a palace’.
We steered clear of the many beach settlements.
: Two words, "Bun Cha". Two other nice words; “Nem Nướng”. Or two
more; “Cao Lầu” Most Vietnam dishes are served with garden fresh vegetables
and they don’t pack on the oil like seems mandatory in China. They do a lot
of great things with tofu.
: In restaurants, coffees are definitively hit and miss. We’ve had
some of the best and some of the worst. Ice coffee, served as a tiny cup of
syrupy coffee with sweet condensed milk over ice, is nice in hot climates.
They have the best instant Ca phe hoa tan, a red package you see all over
with a #7 on it. They have plain instant, instant with milk and sugar and 3
different flavors of Cappuccino. We didn’t try the notorious weasel coffee
but found a whole bean Arabica that we really love too.
: Most tourist destinations rent motorcycles or
scooters (automatic or manual. Or if you don’t ride, hire an Ex Om for the
day, who can show you the best places. The Easy Riders motorcycle guides
seem overpriced for what they are.
: still easy to find different Minorities with their own dress
: Venice of Vietnam with its maze of waterways. Great place to
rent motorcycle or bike and get lost. The floating markets are fast
disappearing as more road are built, so see these now.
: Laid back and scenic with lots of possibilities to discover
surrounding area. LOVED the dried (maybe fried) vegetable chips, mixture of
sweet potato, carrot, beets, green beans, okra. XQ Embroidery and Silk was a
Touristy, for good reason. Old town and great shopping with
: This town and surroundings begs to be explored by motorcycle and don’t
forget breathtaking hikes. It was one of our most memorable stops and a nice
place to linger.
: Yes, it is touristy but this place can’t be skipped. See the
reason why it was voted one of the world’s 7 natural wonders.
BOTTOM LINE ON VIETNAM
It is a great tourist destination. Cultural Tourists, who are in to
observing the different minority cultures with their unique traditions and
customs will find opportunities plentiful in the mountainous areas in the
central highlands but more so in the northeast and northwest. Packaged
Tourist will love Halong Bay and Hoi An. Independent travelers will love
backcountry adventures. Everyone will love the food.
We loved it all. The prices are easy on the budget and the hotels are an
extremely good value for the level of the accommodations. Our spending went
up a little bit in Vietnam because of big ticket items we bought; air
tickets to get out and the Halong Tour. If our 30-day visa, and 30-day
extension, didn’t run out, we’d still be there.
We visited between the tourist high-season (Nov-Mar) and the rainy season
(June-on). Except for in Hoi An, no place was crowded with tourists. It was
a bit too hot and we didn’t see much rain. Those with a high temp tolerance
will do fine! The weather allows you to travel light any time of year!
Yep, we recommend Vietnam for all type of travelers.