If you only have time to explore one country in Southeast Asia, visit VIETNAM!
Let’s admit it, when it comes to travel, Vietnam gets a bit of a bad rep. Before coming here all I heard were stories of travel scams, robberies, aggressive touts, and warnings that I’d be treated like a walking dollar sign. I was beginning to wonder whether I even wanted to spend a full month in this country, but 31 days later as my Vietnamese visa is about to expire, I am sad to leave Vietnam behind.
I’ll admit I’m relatively new to Southeast Asia, and have only covered three countries in the past three months, but Vietnam has left the strongest impression on me by far.
So what makes Vietnam so special?
The people are warm, kind, and love to laugh and smile. It is in this country where I have met some of the most caring locals.
When I was sick in Hoi An, it was the woman who runs the Green Moss restaurant who took it upon herself to get me all better. She prepared ginger tea with honey for me, gifted me with a mint balm to rub on my neck and my chest, urged me to wear a scarf to bed, and then checked up on me daily whenever she saw me cycling around town or eating at her restaurant.
In Vietnam people have helped me when I looked lost, locals I met on a train have offered to show me around their hometowns (for free! Further proof that I’m not just a walking ATM), and business owners have been courteous to me even when I didn’t eat at their restaurant or didn’t take their tour.
Vietnam has been an explosion of flavours! Most dinners Sam and I have eaten in this country have been silent because we’ve both been gorging on local delicacies like the food in front of our plates is about to disappear. We’ve been known to order four different dishes in one go because there’s just so much new food to sample.
Whether I was learning to cook Vietnamese food in a dim lit kitchen with no ventilation (picture beads of sweat running down my back and hopefully not onto my food), or enjoying a meal at a local farm in the outskirts of Hoi An, the food was spectacular.
Some of my favourite dishes in this country have been bánh xèo (a rice flour pancake stuffed with pork, shrimp, onions and bean sprouts) and fresh spring rolls. Fresh, flavourful, healthy, filling – what else do you need in a meal?
Then there is the diversity that comes with travelling in such a big country. I can guarantee that Vietnam will not bore you with its possibilities!
Want to travel down the banks of the Mekong Delta and experience the chaos of vendors at work in a floating market? Do you want to get lost in Saigon’s back alleys as you go in search of the best pho? How about getting clothes custom made in Hoi An? Or can I interest you with a cruise of Ha Long Bay where you’ll be waking up to jagged karst mountains outside your boat? You could also spend your time in Hanoi drinking bia hoi at a little street side bar equipped with plastic children’s furniture? Or if you’re feeling a bit more culturally inclined, go for a hill trek in Sapa where you can do a home stay with the ethnic tribes that call this place home?
If any of this sounds interesting, then you need to come to Vietnam already!
I’ve spent the entire month in Vietnam saying things like,
“I could totally live in Saigon. Sam, how would you like to come back to Saigon?”
“I could totally stay in Hoi An longer. Sam, wanna stay in Hoi An longer?” (We extended our stay.)
“Sam, wouldn’t it be fun to spend more time in Sapa? I think living here might be fun. No?”
I can’t sing Vietnam’s praises high enough!
I’m not saying that this country won’t pose its own set of challenges – you’ll encounter that wherever you go. However, if you’re glossing over Vietnam because of the negative things you’ve heard in the past, then you’re doing yourself a huge disfavour. Vietnam is one of the top destination to visit in Asia.
Give Vietnam a chance, and it may just blow your mind.