Goodbye Vietnam

I’m so glad I came to Vietnam. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it: so many of the people I’d talked to beforehand had very negative things to say about the country. I’d heard that the people were unfriendly, that it’s polluted and confusing and that everyone wants to scam you. Luckily I tried to view the country with an open mind, because I completely disagree. Vietnam is great! It’s easily as the top of my list, one of my very favorite countries I’ve been to.

Traveling in Vietnam wasn’t always easy, there were definitely huge moments of frustration: things like being forced to wait 3 hours for a mediocre meal during Tet. There were setbacks like broken cameras and lost ATM cards. There were hard lessons to be learned about traveling as a couple in a stressful environment, although I like to think we came out on top of that one.

Still, there were really rewarding moments that made me love travel, love my life, and love Vietnam.

Some of the things that made traveling here so worthwhile:

The People

More than one person has confided in me that Vietnamese people have been the most unfriendly of all their travels. I really don’t get it. It’s true that up North people are more reserved (unless they want to sell you something), but we met some of the nicest people ever down south. Vietnamese people have beautiful smiles and even when they don’t speak English will give you a wave and a greeting. They can be shy, but many love to talk to you with a friendly curiosity.

The little kids are the best though. I never get tired of them waving and shouting hello. Or staring up at me with total puzzlement. One of my favorite moments this month was at a famous temple in Hue. I was trying to take a picture next to this impressive dragon staircase, when an older woman appeared and insisted I take a picture with her very bewildered grandson:

The Food

Holy cow, the food in Vietnam is second only to China in cheapness and deliciousness. After a month in Thailand we were getting pretty tired of eating green curry (no matter how good it is), and luckily in Vietnam there is an almost infinite variety of meals. The cuisine is influence by Thai, Chinese and french cuisine. We liberally ate from restaurants, street food stalls and even took a Vietnamese cooking course to hopefully reproduce some favorite dishes at home (of course giving my cooking skillz this isn’t very likely). My favorite dishes were fried tofu in tomato sauce, rice pancakes and crispy noodles. Oh and crispy french bread. Can’t get enough of that.

street food!

Could have passed on the artichoke tea though. Blech.

The Electricity

Vietnam is one of the fastest growing countries in the world, both in terms of population and economy. It has a very young population, which makes the place pretty exciting. Constantly dodging motorbikes drove me nuts, but I loved the feeling of walking down the street and discovering something new each day. From a new street food stand, to a group of kids playing kick the can, to a group of old women drinking beer and gossiping, there was always something going on. The people watching was unparalleled.

The Beer!

From Saigon Beer in Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi Beer in, you guessed it, Hanoi, Vietnam had a huge variety of cheap and good beer. Most beers were only popular regionally, so we kept discovering new ones. My favorites were probably Saigon, Huda Beer in Hue and Halida in Hanoi. Best of all was the “fresh beer” in Hoi An that sold for 3000 dong a glass. At 15 cents, that’s got to be some of the cheapest beer in the world! Yummy too.

Yesterday I put Mike in a plane. He’s back to work in China for another semester. This afternoon I’m hopping on a bus for Vientiane (a 24 hour ride “if I’m lucky” the travel agent told me). I’m flying solo once again, and kind of nervous but psyched for the next couple of weeks in Laos, a country I’ve only heard nice things about. Still, I’m definitely a little sad to leave Vietnam. Something tells me I will be back at some point though, I’ve barely scratched the surface of this big and busy place.


20 Responses to Goodbye Vietnam

  1. Kenan Lucas March 6, 2011 at 8:55 AM #

    Interesting observations. I am going to Vietnam in a matter of weeks and I have heard similar sorts of things but am keen to see it and decide for myself.

    Enjoy Laos!

  2. NomadicNeill March 6, 2011 at 9:12 AM #

    I thought Viet Nam was great. Haven’t heard any bad things about it like you.

    That bus journey to Vientienne killed me. Bring plenty of food an water.

  3. Lauren March 6, 2011 at 11:46 AM #

    I’ve heard similar things about Vietnam and it’s made me feel a bit apprehensive, but it’s definitely a matter of opinion and i can’t wait to form one of my own! 🙂

  4. Connie March 6, 2011 at 12:09 PM #

    Vietnam was one of my favorite countries in Southeast Asia! A lot of people told me that it was their LEAST favorite so I was a bit worried prior to arriving but the people, the food, the culture and the country completely won me over! I hope more people do give Vietnam a chance for themselves! Glad to hear that you are thinking of going back. I certainly am!

  5. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures March 6, 2011 at 12:33 PM #

    Best wishes on your solo travel, I have no doubt it will be amazing! I hope you and Mike will be able to see each other again soon.

  6. Amanda March 6, 2011 at 6:27 PM #

    It’s great that you were able to set all the negative comments about Vietnam beside and let it speak for itself while you were there. Keeping an open mind is so important while traveling! And it sounds like Vietnam rewarded you.

    Good luck in Laos!

  7. Michael March 7, 2011 at 1:16 AM #

    I’m going to miss that crazy place.
    I’ll be here in China waiting for you 🙂

  8. Claudine March 7, 2011 at 6:34 AM #

    Glad you loved Vietnam. I’m in love with the country! All my experiences in Vietnam were unique and memorable! I can’t wait to head back and do a cycling trip from Hanoi to Luang Prabang and slowly explore Laos too!

    Can’t wait to read about your Laos posts!

    Enjoy your solo trip again!

  9. Rebecca March 13, 2011 at 1:26 AM #

    Before I went to Vietnam a lot of people told me that you’ll either love it or hate it – everyone walks away feeling either way. Glad you are leaving having had a good time though!

  10. Jo June 26, 2011 at 11:45 AM #

    The photo of you with the little Vietnamese boy is adorable. The same thing happened to me many times in Italy. On many occasions, we’d just be sitting down and small children would be forced to sit next to us for a photo. Most of the time the grandmas didn’t even ask! I’m not surprised this happens in Asia, but in Italy? I know pale skin/blonde hair/blue eyes in an unusual combination in less touristy areas, but it just struck me as bizarre! But it’s nice to feel like a celebrity sometimes!

    • Steph June 26, 2011 at 11:54 AM #

      That’s so funny- in Italy! I’m blonde and I remember getting a lot of catcalls in Italy, but no photographs.

      I really do love that picture, that little boy was just so totally bewildered.

  11. thuan January 5, 2012 at 12:44 AM #

    I’m Vietnamese. I’m on this blog by chance. I have read the article of Steph (chị Steph) and comments of all of you guys. I’m very happy to hear you talking about VietNam. But I think that Vietname is not good at some things. I hope that you can comment a little about negative points of VietNam. If you (all of you. ^^) are going to VietNam. I will help you a few things before traveling VietNam.

    I’m not very good English. If any word is not correct. please GUESS it!^^


    • Steph January 9, 2012 at 3:03 PM #

      Hi Thuan, thanks for stopping by! I really liked Vietnam but there are definitely some things that were annoying- mostly up north where it felt like people were somewhat antagonistic and only want to make money off of foreigners. I think there is a lot of history behind that though.

  12. gus June 13, 2012 at 2:19 PM #

    Vietnam certainly has it’s share of scams, I’ve never been to a country where people have gone to the trouble to completely pirate a whole taxi company (they copied Vina Sun). The paint job and name is the same but the phone number is different and apparently the company is completely different and boy do they try to charge you. Having said this Vietnam is my favorite place to go in SE Asia, I love the mix of French architecture, the big wide footpaths around District 1 in HCMC and the food is fantastic.

    I spent 4 months up in Hanoi working and while I agree that people there can seem harsh initially I found that after almost exactly one month that these same people broke out of their shells and started talking and wanting to get to know me. By the end of my 3 months there, people were giving me gifts, cooking me free meals and spending a lot of time with me just hanging out and talking. I made friends with a whole bunch of street kids who at first were only interested in selling me stuff but after seeing me around every day for all this time they wanted to talk and know what I did in my home country and I’d often invite them to lunch with me for some pho or rice.

    I only spent 2 weeks in the South so my experience was actually that the people of the North were more open and sincere with me and the people in the South only wanted to sell me stuff but of course I didn’t spend enough time in the South to really get to make friends and know people. All up there is something about this place that I really like, there is something very real about the people that keeps me coming back.

    • James February 11, 2013 at 10:19 PM #

      Completely agree with you 🙂 People in the south can be very friendly, but the longer you stay you will find the northern people are sincere, and if they count you as a friend, they will go out of their way to be nice 🙂

  13. Leanne Pittsford December 26, 2012 at 10:33 AM #

    Hi Steph – After being here for almost two weeks I thought I’d go back and reread your post on Vietnam. It’s crazy how different you see things after you visit a place in person. It reaffirms that no matter how much we read or experience things through others, we will always have to experience it first hand to really understand a place.

    We have been in HCMC for almost almost two weeks and we can definitely understand the love hate relationship people speak of when they talk about Vietnam. Part of us loves it here. The energy, the freaking incredible food and the scooter situation. I mean, I am in serious scooter happy place. In HCMC the people here really value aggressive driving. But the air, holy crap, I mean we can barely walk down the street let alone work out (even in our apartment). Leah’s had 3 migraine’s in a week and my asthma is acting up like whoa.

    We’re not giving up yet though. I think we’re going to head to Hoi An for clearer air and then to Hanoi. Did you do Halong bay or Hoi An? What cities did you go to in Vietnam?

    More to come.

    • Steph December 26, 2012 at 12:07 PM #

      Thanks Leanne! It’s always nice to hear a variety of impressions. The air quality in HCMC is definitely not awesome but Hoi An or Dalat are much clearer quality. We really enjoyed both- Dalat is kind of a kitschy but pretty vacation city and Hoi An is old and charming with amazing food. If you look at my vietnam tag you can see some more of what I wrote:

  14. [email protected] December 18, 2013 at 7:01 AM #

    Good to know the food is reliable and tasty, I am planning a longer trip some time in the near future and SE Asia is on my list. Thanks for sharing these wonderful tips and pictures 🙂

  15. Tinh Nguyen March 31, 2014 at 9:19 AM #

    I hope you will come back to Vietnam, We love you

  16. Marcello November 22, 2014 at 3:40 PM #

    I’m trying to plan a trip to Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, with my girlfriend. Now I know the beer is so cheap I will definitely make it there! Thanks for your advice.

Leave a Reply