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.
I’ve read a lot of negative things about Vietnam so this was a pleasant surprise! I haven’t been, but it’s on the list for sure (and more so now that I’ve read this!)
I hope you get to visit. I can’t speak highly enough about this country! 🙂
Are you and Sam an item?
What a wonderful article. I will add something of what I found most enteresting in April 2013 while spending 12 days in Cholon 15 miles west of Saigon. It is the China town of Ho Chi Minh City founded 220 years ago before Saigon with people who came from South China. I was here almost 50 years ago. I come to see the people in District 5 . I was walking down the street and broke out laughing with These people have not changed in 50 years. They treat me one of their own. It is so peaceful and friendly with many saying America number 1. I tell them Cholon number 1. I spoke old French with the Vietnamese many years ago and felt like I was back home in Louisiana. The people are happy, industrious, friendly and honest. The sidewalk cafe’s here made me coin a phrase The national past time at night is eating. Watching a teenager cut vegetables on a stainless steel work table and fill the plate as one of three cooks hands her the meat or seafood main dish while her hands are in perpetual motion with never a written order. Cleaning as she goes along dumping the pealings in a five gallon bucket with no wasted motion. She becomes the star of the show. She is rolling out dishes faster than any fast food worker. I will take a video of her on my tablet. The food is great and the pho you will hunger for when you leave. Not many people that come to Vietnam know about Cholon.
That was an interesting story. The war had gone and let enjoy the peace. We are building our country so if you have chance to come back VN, I hope you would see something wonderful new and better. ^^
For me, Vietnam bears the distinction of being the first place I actually enjoyed visiting. Up until that age, I just didn’t care much for traveling, until history, culture, architecture, and other thing started to become more interesting. By the time I got to Vietnam, I was already an avid traveler, and it was a great “first trip.” That was 15 years ago (wow, I’m old). So it was quite encouraging reading this, especially since some of the press I’ve read about Vietnam, 15 years later and thus likely changed since I saw it, was less than positive. Nice to see it still has plenty of charm. I felt the same way.
Wow, Vietnam would have been quite the destination for your first ‘big trip’ – it’s such a stimulating country that you almost don’t know where to look. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed your time there. 🙂
I love your positive comments and so happy to hear that you had a good experience in Vietnam! I just moved to Hanoi and must say, it was hard at first but after a few weeks vietnams charm totally won me over! I love reading about your time here as my husband and i explore the country more ourselves!
Wow, living in Hanoi! That must be exciting. That’s the one city that I found a little bit overwhelming (there is so much activity!) but it also has its charms (like all the little restaurants that set up shop on the sidewalks). Keep enjoying! 😉
I’m doing my first trip in February and can’t wait. I wish I didn’t have to wait so long. I already have a pretty good idea of what I’ll think of the food. I eat at Vietnamese restaurants as often as I can. Make it even better and a lot cheaper and it sounds like a tough place to leave.
Awesome! That’s an exciting trip to look forward to. Do you know what parts you’ll be visiting? The food here has been amazing – I used to think Vietnamese food was bland until I came over.
I completely agree with you! When telling friends and others that we went to Vietnam last summer I cant help but notice their wrinkled noses and raised eyebrows. Believe me…I used to think Vietnam wasn’t much of a looker either, until I started researching.
Vietnam has been (by far) one of our favorite locations while traveling in Asia. We only had 9 days of travel, and as you know, 9 days will get you nowhere. It’s definitely on our ‘must return’ list.
Did you get a chance to go to Phu Quoc Island?
9 days is better than none. 😉 I didn’t make it to Phu Quoc Island this time around so I guess that means I too have a reason to come back.
Vietnam completely charmed me too! I went in incredibly cautious and wary because Tony & I had not had a very good time in China, and from what I had heard, Vietnam sounded a lot like China. We defiinitely encountered challenges as we made our way around the country, but in the end, we were completely won over by the country, particularly the people and the food. Also, I think Vietnam is without a doubt, the most beautiful country we have visited in 9 months of traveling—the scenery in certain parts of the country was just stunning.
It’s not a perfect country by any means, but it is one of the few places where I felt I could spend a LOT of time there and maybe even live. We wound up spending 2 months there (1 month wasn’t enough) and I was still so sad when the time came to leave!
That’s awesome, Steph! I’m so glad to hear you had a positive experience in Vietnam. I kind of wish I had another month to spend in the country – I don’t want to leave Sapa! Did you have any favourite places in Vietnam?
Hi Audrey. If you want to comback to VietNam, Let you go to Da Lat, Dang Nang City or Ha Long Bay. I think you’ll very like.
Great post! I definitely agree with you that Vietnam is an amazing country. I found Hanoi a little overwhelming at first, but after a couple of days, I didn’t want to leave. I also met some very friendly people and look forward to going back. Ha Long Bay is just gorgeous, and taking the (very slow) train from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City is an experience I will never forget!
I have to agree that Hanoi was a little bit overwhelming at first. I wasn’t sure how to navigate the place my first day there, but it has grown on me. It’s such a quirky city! My favourite part are all the roadside bars and restaurants with the plastic children’s furniture. 😉
I totally agree. The whole time we were in Vietnam I had this blissful feeling and I loved almost everything about it. We also extended our stay in Hoi An and were even offered jobs but we decided to keep traveling and explore Vietnam more. The food, the people, the beaches, the mountains, everything just makes it such a nice country. But I’m not sure if I would recommend it to a first time traveler, it can be overwhelming at times.
A job offer in Hoi An – now that would be tempting. I was offered a teaching job while eating at a restaurant in Phnom Penh (so random!) but that city and I didn’t really click, so I’m happy to still be travelling. 🙂
So happy to read this. I haven’t been to Vietnam, but a large percentage of my students (40%-60%) are Vietnamese, and I love them. I’ve been surrounded by newly-arrived Vietnamese immigrants every day at work for 11 years, and they are one of the reasons I love my job so much. Proud, caring, funny, smart, not to mention the terrible history they have recently suffered.
Your students sound wonderful! I’m sure they have lots of stories to share from their country. Another reason to add this country to your list. 🙂
This is so refreshing to read! I’d also read and heard lots of negative things about Vietnam, so it’s nice to hear someone singing its praise! For some time, I must admit it was on my “meh” list, but you may have bumped it up to “hell yeah”!
Hellz yeah! Glad it’s on your radar. 😉
Great post! And I agree- Vietnam really has tons to offer! I also really loved how sweet and caring the locals were with tourists. Even though I did get my purse stolen and got terribly ill, I still would go back in a heartbeat! The food, the sights, the people, the shopping…truly, the list goes on and on
Vietnam is a treasure for sure! I’m so glad you had such a great time there too!
Yikes! I’m glad you were still able to enjoy the country despite having your purse stolen and getting sick – that would ruin a trip for most people, so that says a lot. 🙂
Audrey it’s great to read this post – as you said, so many less than favorable accounts come out of Vietnam but I think part of your experience is related to your personality. You’re pretty up-beat and positive and that had to shine through with the locals.
Aw, thanks Maria. That’s nice of you to say. 🙂
I agree with you completely! I’d heard so many bad stories I was a little afraid of going. But once there, I fell in love with the place! I also told my hubby that I could totally live in Saigon. It was much more cosmopolitan that I was expecting. And the FOOD!
Isn’t it such a great place? I think that hearing all the bad reviews only made me love the place even more. Vietnam completely took me by surprise, and yes, the FOOD! 😉
Great article. If you’re not yet convinced to visit Vietnam, maybe this will help:
Lots of great eats there! Thanks for sharing.
I admit that Vietnam hasn’t really made it to my list, but getting closer after reading your article. I love the story of the woman who took care of you when you were sick. You don’t find that kindness everywhere.
She was great! You don’t often meet people like that. 🙂
So true. I still miss Vietnamese food, but I didn’t like locals that much. They were pushy and so mean!!!
The food was amazing – some of the best in Asia! I actually had a very positive experience with locals – everyone was so helpful and accommodating, but I guess that all depends on who you meet along the way.
YES! Vietnam was my favorite Southeast Asian country out of the 3 I visited. I actually felt more like a walking dollar sign in Thailand than I did in Vietnam. From the young Vietnamese guy we shared a sleeper train with who asked us to sign his US dollar bill, to the amazing food, to the scenery…heck, everything was great. I could totally see myself living in Hanoi…or Hoi An…or Sapa…
Agreed! There are so many places where I could see myself living in Vietnam! Saigon, Sapa and Hoi An where some of the places I most enjoyed – a lot of it had to do with the food and the scenery!
Totally agree. I was absolutely in love with Vietnam. I can’t wait to go back one day!
I’m glad you also enjoyed it, Brenna! It’s been one of my favourite countries so far. 🙂
Thanks for writing this! Vietnam is one of my favorite countries, despite the bad Nomadic Matt style press it receives. I agree with your description about the diversity. Beaches, mountains, plains, two entirely different big cities – even the pho is diverse throughout the country. I love that you liked Vietnam!
Thanks Amber! I’m happy to hear that you also had positive experiences travelling through Vietnam. And I have to agree with you on the pho – who knew the flavours could vary so much from one place to the next?! I had the best pho in Saigon. 🙂
Sounds amazing! I’m really hoping I’ll get the chance to go to Vietnam this fall when I travel more of SE Asia (Thailand, Cambodia, etc.)
Add it to your itinerary if you can! I highly recommend Halong Bay and Sapa if you get a chance. 🙂
It makes me want to visit!
AND I’ve been addicted to fresh spring rolls all month too!!!! They are soooo good, and sooo filling. Im waiting for a day off when I can explore the art of stuffing rice paper with fresh goodness.
Look at you eating fresh spring rolls! Where did you find those in our neighbourhood?!
Totally agree with you, Audrey. I’ve been to Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos. If I had to go back to any of these countries, Vietnam would be at the top of the list.
I still haven’t made it to Thailand or Laos, but Vietnam is ranking pretty high right now. 😉
i remember my bahn mi lady, even if we didn’t understand her, she still spoke up & warned us to be careful of our bags… her daughter later translated it to us..
when we were struggling with our map looking for the Emperor Jade Pagoda, this man just approached us and told us which way to go… even if she didn’t speak English!!
Anthony Bourdain’s Lunch Lady, she is famous now but she remains warm and accommodating… that smile of hers was just very charming.
I’m seriously going back to Saigon!
Sounds like you had a wonderful time in Saigon. I watched the Anthony Bourdain episode in Vietnam, but sadly I didn’t get a chance to go in search of the lunch lady. I’m sure her food is amazing. 🙂
Glad to hear Vietnam does not disappoint! I’m headed back to SEA for a RTW trek in 2wks aboard a one-way flight to Jakarta. The plan is Indonesia to Portugal via land/sea travel only. Of course I will definitely be passing through Vietnam while there, am actually looking up the visa info right now. Maybe I’ll cross paths with you two a cpl countries down the road 🙂
I’m not sure why, but Vietnam has always been the country I want to visit most in that part of the world. Looks like I should make that happen soon!
Definitely, Stephanie! If you make it out here, add Vietnam to your itinerary. 😉
Seriously considering wintering in Vietnam this year – this post is helping in my thought process 🙂
Do it! If you’re thinking of hanging out in Vietnam for a while, I’d recommend Sapa, Hoi An, or Saigon – depending on what you’re looking for. 😉
Nice post! We had a great month in Vietnam, and it seems like we visited many of the same places. Hoi An was a pleasant surprise for us too, after hearing a number of negative things before we arrived. We really liked the town, and exploring outside of town even more so. We couldn’t get enough street food there! Vietnam can certainly be overwhelming at times, but I think you’re so right when you advise to just go with the flow and give it a chance.
Agreed! Hoi An was such a charming town and the food options were incredible – so many restaurants specializing in the local food. 🙂
You should go and explore Philippines too. It’s beautiful! Continue to enjoy your trip, Audrey! 🙂
I do have plans for the Philippines next year. I can’t wait to explore that country! 🙂
I think I had a bit of a bad start in Vietnam. Although the country is absolutely beautiful, I felt very unwelcome at first while I was travelling from the North. However two weeks into my trip after travelling to central Vietnam, my mind has completely changed. I’ve met a lot of lovely people now, and the country has certainly grown on me. I think I will be sad to leave as well.
I’m glad to hear things started looking up as you continued travelling through the country.
I have only been to Saigon and the Mekong Delta so far and as much as I hate to admit it, I wasn’t too impressed. This had more to do with the people rather then the beauty of the country though (because the Mekong Delta is beautiful). People tried to scam me constantly in Saigon and were getting very aggressive about it when you tried to reason with them. I heard that people in the north are much friendlier though and I would love to visit Hoi An, Halong Bay and Sapa one day.
Good job! You convinced me to visit Vietnam. haha Truth be told I was thinking about it for a long time. I hope that my stay will be as enjoyable as yours. It looks really beautiful in your photos.
Greetings from Athens
Glad to hear that you have Vietnam on your travel radar. I actually met a couple from Athens when I was there who had moved down and opened a little Greek restaurant. 🙂 I’m sure you’ll enjoy your stay in the country just as much!
I’m Vietnamese. I really appreciates this blog. Thank you for loving our country. There’re lots of things for you to explore here, come back when you have time. I you should (or must) try The áo dài/nón lá, enjoy mix rice paper (pieces of rice paper mix with shrimp salt – sorry, I dont know how to explain it clearly). And specially, you must try Viet nam coffee in Vnese style. I’m pretty sure you would love it.
Thanks for your comment. 🙂 I truly loved visiting your country and I’m sure it won’t be my last time there.
Vietnam Land of the Fallen Soldiers
I was to be sent to Vietnam in 1969. I’m glad I didn’t go at that time because the governments were not getting along and I decided to do the smart thing and go to college. Many friends were drafted and did go into the military. The things they saw with bad memories keep them from returning. They said it was hell.
I wanted always to go and fill in a missing page in my book of life. Now some 40 years after the war the country has had a chance to rebuild and wash away some of the scars of the land. It is a beautiful Asian country to visit with everything from nice beaches and water, Pho Quac an Island and great sea food and museums in Hanoi and Saigon. They have stones from emeralds to rubies and jade with natural rubber. Most people are kind and honestly helpful. I would like to return someday soon before it changes completely.
I am sold!! 🙂
I am going there sometime next year… I will defno keep you posted in how i get on! I heard many things about this country, bad and good… but this post makes a person feels better! 😉
Thank you Audrey!
I’m an Aussie living in Vietnam for 5 years now, am married to a beautiful Vietnamese lady and own a hostel in Mui Ne. I found your article so refreshing. The Vietnamese people are mostly very kind, generous and caring. Obviously you and your husband travel with a great attitude and welcome new experiences. If you are ever in Mui Ne please look us up. Continue to enjoy your travels and best of luck.
Thank you for your kind message. 🙂 We really enjoyed our month of travel around Vietnam and would definitely like to revisit again in the future. Congratulations on meeting a wonderful wife and starting a business together. All the best!
Vietnam over Thailand?!?!? Not in my lifetime!!!
In Hoi An as I write this. While I find it somewhat quaint (minus the honking of motorbikes) I find Vietnam a bit of a let down. I would rather be in Thailand, Cambodia or The Philippines any day…
That’s too bad that you haven’t enjoyed it as much. Sapa, Hoi An, Saigon, and Halong Bay were some of my highlights…what other places have you been travelling through?
Thanks for this! I have heard many people say that Vietnam was their worst experience in Southeast Asia, but I’m starting my trip there because I’ve always been so drawn to the country. You’ve really gotten me excited so thank you !
Been there twice and worst scammers, liars and double pricing. Shame on me if I go a third time
This all sounds so exciting! Were the most helpful people the ones who spoke English (like the wonderful woman who helped you at the restaurant when you were sick) or everyone? I don’t speak much Vietnamese (yet..) but I’d LOVE to walk away with stories of such warm connections with the people. Especially since I’ve read such contrasting things about this country. I was treated as a walking ATM vs everyone’s absolutely lovely…I wonder which Vietnam I will get to experience?
Your comments are highly recommend Vietnam to people in the world. Thanks for your share experience.
Great post!!! thanks for sharing….
I’ve been twice and I couldn’t love the place more. I wish I hadn’t had to come home. Yes, you will be charged more for most things than a local would, but so what, you have considerably more money than most locals have. Yes, the cab driver won’t give you your change, but the change in question is maybe a quarter. You’re really going to let a quarter bother you? Enjoy the happy faces and happy smiles and friendly people and food you can eat without fear, Vietnam is fantastic. Anybody going soon, take me with you! This entire coming back to work thing is highly overrated.
I have heard so much about Vietnam and it is really one of the countries that I would love to visit. Thank you for this post. I have heard a lot of negative things about Vietnam in the past.
I’m a Vietnamese guy and I love travelling so much. When I heard about my country from a foreigner like you, I’m so happy and proud of my country.
Thank you for visitting Vietnam and Hoian (where I was born and grew up)
Welcome to Vietnam 🙂
In Vietnam now,I love the food and Hoi An was the best. Currently in Sapa, yet to explore 🙂 I am suck of bartering for everything even water, if the people would just set a fair and honest price I’d like Vietnam much better. It’s not nearly as bad as other bloggers made it out to be. When you returning?
Im 4days away from leaving for Vietnam, what a lovely surprise to find your blog- thanks for all the useful information and beautiful photos.
Have been salivating over food images all week, cannot wait now!
Thanks for you re insightful travel tips, my girlfriend and I have been watching a few of your (well quite alot actually) youtube snippets, and find then informing as well as entertaining. Travelling in a weeks time, vietnam will be our second trip to South East Asia (spending a month including angkor in cambodia). Were originally going to return to Thailand, but your youtube vids and advice from friends were the deciding factors in backpacking in vietnam instead. Thanks!
I have been traveling in Asia for 20 years. I was planing to stay for a month but will leave ASAP I have been here a week Mat is totally right .I love Asia and am bitterly dissapointed with Vietnam the only good thing I can say is I will love the rest of Asia that much more now. Don’t come it’s just not that nice the beaches are dirty the people are not kind spend your money where the people respect you enough to smile back. K
have been to Vietnam last year. I prefer Thailand. people are more friendly and I enjoy good Thai food
I’m glad you enjoyed your visit to Vietnam. Looks like travelers world-wide are flocking there these days. I had ample opportunities to re-visit Vietnam again while visiting Thailand and other Asian destinations in the past and last year, but will not, for personal reasons. One reason in particular is doing a 12 month tour with the U.S. Army-25th Infantry-1967-1968. That is enough for me, for there’s nothing that I’d like to see there. Anyway, I enjoyed reading about your adventure in Nam. Take care.
Vietnamese mountainous are so beautiful.
If you have some experience of travelling, especially how to treat with locals, I’m sure you will have the best visit ever, here in Vietnam!!!
Yes, Vietnamese mountainous are so beautiful. VietNamese people too. i hope every one travel to Viet Nam. See and know about Vietnam, many place to go
You’re recommended to travel throughout Vietnam by Train (Reunification trains via Vietnam-railway.net) from Hanoi you can travel to Sapa on tourist cabins, Hanoi to Hue, Hue to Da Nang, Da Nang to Nha Trang & Nha Trang to Saigon. If you first arrive in Saigon, please visit Phan Thiet, Dieu Tri, Dong Hoi…All are amazing and can’t speak by words. Please visit our country to discover yourself in new level and be relaxing :xxxx Welcome to Vietnam!
Thank you so much for posting up some positive stuff about vietnam. My boyfriend and I in Hanoi for a holiday, and I am really hating it. to the point of not wanting to leave the hotel. I have never ever felt so unhappy just from being in another place. It’s upsetting my boyfriend, and so I am searching the net for positive articles about it in order to see it in a new perspective. Yours in helpful. Thanks again.
Useful information!. I also did a cruising tour with La Pinta cruise to in Lan Ha Bay – Cat Ba and found it worth it. I then traveled to Hanoi and had the chance to enjoy its amazing food like bun cha, spring rolls. Definitely come back Vietnam once.
Thanks for a great article providing useful information why international tourists should visit Vietnam at least once in life!
Thank you for visiting my country and sharing your beautiful memory with the traveler community! Vietnam is a lovely country with friendly locals.
We hope you com back to Vietnam one day! And we welcome other fellows from the globe as well
I can’t thank you enough for these beautiful feed back about Vietnam. As a local, I am so proud and welcome international friends to my country