It was in 2015 – semester break was rapidly pproaching and a friend casually suggested a backpacking trip to Vietnam. Having saved up money for months, I didn’t have to think twice, as flights were booked with a carefree “Why not?!” on that same day.
Vietnam and me, It wasn’t love at first sight. Getting used to each other after a long red-eye flight in the heart of the ever-buzzing Ho Chi Minh City (or simply HCMC) made for a complicated start. And the humid heat didn’t promise quick relief. But in the three weeks that were to come, I didn’t only fall for Vietnam. I came to adore one of the most vibrant nations around.
Sip a cocktail at a fancy rooftop bar in HCMC, maneuver the backwaters of the Mekong, and hike through remote mountain villages – Vietnam is a land full of contrasts. Here are five reasons why you should visit Vietnam.
5 Reasons to Visit Vietnam
#1 Eat the Freshest Vietnamese Food
One of the reasons to visit Vietnam is for the food, obviously. Vietnamese food is known and served around the world – for a reason. Low in fat, mostly gluten-free and loaded with vitamins and minerals, Vietnamese cuisine ticks many boxes in terms of nutritional value. In fact, it is considered one of the healthiest diets in the world. And you will have a chance to enjoy its freshest and most authentic version.
Most of the dishes are based on fresh produce, lots of vegetables and herbs, and topped-off with mouthwatering sauces, the most prominent being the nuoc mam fish sauce. Be it a fresh banh-mi, a delicious bowl of steaming-hot pho, or a freshly ground Vietnamese coffee – this will be a journey for all your senses.
#2 Discover the Highlights of Vietnam
From the depth of the Mekong Delta to the northern mountain village of Sapa, Vietnam nowhere fails to amaze. Three weeks will be just enough to scrap on the surface of the most important natural and cultural riches this nation has to offer.
A couple days in the lively districts of HCMC are a must. And roaming the French colonial quarters of Hanoi is a given, too. In between, make sure to squeeze in some time for a visit to the beachside resort town of Nha Trang, atmospheric Hoi An, and – of course – Halong Bay. The latter is best explored on a boat trip or, if you have some extra means to spend, an overnight cruise.
#3 Get to Know People & Culture
Despite growing numbers of international visitors, that flock the nation every year, Vietnam still ranks as an underdog among Southeast Asian tourist destinations. Don’t get me wrong, the country is not lagging behind in terms of infrastructure. There’s a wide range of hotels and guest houses that cater to all budgets. But it’s a far cry from the over-tourism observed in other parts of Asia. For curious travelers, this is gold – and just another reason to visit Vietnam.
In Vietnam, your hunger for glimpses into other ways of living meets mostly approachable, open, and helpful people. I am still thankful to the elder man, who, upon arrival in HCMC, helped (jet-lagged) me cross a busy intersection. “Don’t be afraid of the motorbikes”, he mumbled – “just walk, and the traffic will flow around you.” In other instances, language barriers were not a problem and quickly overcome. Try a home-stay to dive even further into Vietnamese local life.
#4 Profit from Vietnam’s Quick & Reliable Transportation System
Vietnam’s rapid journey from post-war enclave to highly digitized nation is stunning, to say the least. Cell phone coverage in the midst of the Mekong Delta is not a wish, but a reality. The transportation system, be it a bus, a boat, a motor bike, or a domestic flight, is quick, reliable, and easily accessible.
And the best part, you can book virtually any form of travel for any route across the country in one of the many travel agencies that line the streets of both the bigger cites and the smaller towns. A travel agent in Hue, only equipped with a cell phone, managed to book us onto an overnight bus, a train, and finally a cruise across Halong Bay. While we only had to present a handwritten voucher as some sort of proof of payment, our data had already been transmitted digitally. It doesn’t get easier than that.
#5 Uncover Vietnam’s (Complex) History
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a history nerd or simply crave some basic context when traveling, Vietnam’s past should itself be one of the reasons to visit the Southeast Asian nation. The French-Indochina War, US military presence, division and reconciliation – even today, clouds of war still hover over Vietnam. When trying to understand Vietnam’s fabric, there’s no escaping the tensions between communism and capitalism. Uncovering these cultural complexities needn’t be dull!
For instance, roam former military sites of the Viet Cong, explore the Vietnam War Museum in Hanoi or spend a visit to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, which is generally open to the public. The embalmed body of Chairman Ho serves as a constant reminder of the nation’s roots. A nation, that will allow glimpses into its turbulent history, while simultaneously assuring the curious traveler of its bold future.