What comes to your mind when some one mentions Vietnam? Is it rice paddies and jungles? The cool Asian rice hats? Backpackers in elephant pants? Or the war? Before travelling to Vietnam I knew little to nothing about the country. Anything I did know, came from briefly studying the war during A-levels. Arriving in the country, I had absolutely no idea of what to expect.
My initial, instinctive impressions of a country are usually pretty accurate. My first day in Vietnam, I knew it was a country I never wanted to leave. This list is a quick collection of the things I loved most about Vietnam. If you are travelling SE Asia or are simply curious about the country then give it a read.
1. Positive culture shock
Arriving in Hanoi was reinvigorating and eye-opening. I had never experienced anywhere like it. Everything was so different from home in such a beautiful way. Fruits, veg and meats were being sold fresh, en mass, on the pavement. Everyone was travelling via motorbike and traffic laws seemed nonexistent. Streets were brimming with both locals and tourists dining on tiny, colourful plastic chairs and tables, smaller than those you sit on in first school.
Hanoi Old Quarter is seriously lacking in vehicle-free walking space which keeps you alert and alive whilst you dodge the tuk tuks and motorbikes. There was hustle and bustle but it felt more like the atmosphere of a festival than a big city. Everyone is so relaxed and happy. People say that New York is the city that never sleeps, well Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh are the cities that never blink.
Vietnam is still an incredibly affordable country to visit. We ate some meals for about 67 pence. Not only were they cheap, but they were so delicious! Coffee costs on average 50 pence to a pound. You can find beds in dorm rooms for under a pound. Beer? Well if you are lucky, you may find beer that barely registers into your currency.. Generally it costs around £1 too though. We got so used to the low prices, we grew to be unnecessarily stingy with our money. You might get to a point where you feel guilty for splashing out on a £3 meal.
Vietnamese coffee is world renowned and for good reason. It’s strong enough to satisfy even the toughest of drinkers. With the addition of condensed milk it’s sweet enough for young kids to enjoy (they probably shouldn’t though). The best stuff is found in big open cafe and served on the small plastic tables and chairs. If all the locals stare at you when you walk in, the staff speak broken English, and the coffee costs 12,000 dong.. you know you’re in for a treat.
There are lots of coffees to try. Most days, we were drinking regular coffee with condensed milk. Other favourites of mine were the coconut coffees and the egg coffees. Coconut coffee was lovely and fresh, it was a tall glass of black coffee with a scoop of coconut ice cream on top. Egg coffee is something you must try in Hanoi. The egg makes for a lovely, creamy brew and is a ‘level up’ from your regular latte.
Did you know.. Vietnamese coffee is made of weasel poo. We visited a coffee plantation in Dalat. They literally feed the weasels the coffee beans and then take the.. aftermath.. and craft it into a delicious brew. You can also get elephant poo coffee.
One of my fondest memories is the smell of fresh Vietnamese coffee. The best part of working in Vietnam was when I came in every morning and the whole lodge smelled of freshly brewed coffee. Harry and I have brought four kilos of that coffee back with us..
4. The motorbike scene
The world of no limits. I have seen full families of five squeezed onto scooters. People with six cages stacked up on top of one another, each with a live chicken inside. Vendors with what seems like their whole shop on the back of their scooter. People with fridges, TVs, you name it. What we fit into our people carriers- they squeeze onto their scooters. A great morning activity is to sit on the balcony of a high up cafe, overlooking a junction and admire all that chaos below.
Rent your own scooter and shoot off on your own adventure. Dalat and Cat Ba Island are perfect destinations to explore on scooter. You can rent scooters for as low as 300,000 dong a day (roughly £3) and it’s a perfect way to explore the area to the fullest. Find out more about Dalat and the motorbike tour here.
Food is one of my favourite things. Before Vietnam, I was content with the food I had eaten in my life. I wasn’t anxious to try new foods or ever really imagined the other flavours that were out there waiting for me. Once I had my first bite of Vietnamese food- all my standards in life changed. Tasting Vietnamese food opened up my mind to all the incredible, culinary concoctions there are across the world.
The finest meal I have ever had the pleasure of eating was in Ho Chi Minh. It cost us 67p and was cooked by a man and his wife on the corner of the street. It was a grilled pork chop glazed with honey and chilli. He cooked it so masterfully, it was gliding off the bone and melting into our mouths. We went back nearly every evening and each time we were greeted with a beaming smile and top notch service.
There are so many wonderful dishes to taste in Vietnam. No matter how many overpriced restaurants we try out in our own countries, to get true quality of ingredients you have to go to the home of the cuisine itself.
Come to Vietnam and be wowed by the warm, natural flavours of Pho, the wide array of fresh seafood and comfort of Bánh mì,
Right now, I am thinking back to all the people I met in Vietnam. Flashing through my head are all the smiling faces. Everyone is so kind and the smiles are genuine. It is, hands down, the most welcoming country I have ever been to.
One day, Harry and I got caught in a monsoon downpour in Hanoi. A business man pulled up on his bike next to his home and insisted we came inside. He gave us drinks and fruit and introduced us to his daughter. We spent a couple hours sheltered from the rain, discussing his travels in Europe and ours in China. We did some English writing with his 12 year old daughter. She seemed quite shy and embarrassed by her father but very sweet none the less.
Vietnam is a very social country. Neighbours spend their evenings drinking together, children spend their days playing outside in the streets and everyone says hello to you when you pass by.
When you come to Vietnam, get to know the locals. You might get lucky and find find yourself sat around a big bowl of mi xào (fried noodles), drinking saigon with a large lizard on your lap. It doesn’t matter about the language barrier, everyone is enjoying themselves and laughing away. So long as you know how to say cheers (pronounced ‘Yo’) you will get on just fine.
Planning your trip?
The only boring parts about planning any adventure is the visas. So it’s great when you can get it done quickly and easily. If you’re a UK citizen you can get two weeks visa free but I would advice that, to get the best from the country, you need at least one month. We were there for three altogether. It still felt too short. Save yourself the drama and the hassle of visas and use Vietnam-Visa.
They are the leading visa-service provider for Vietnam and have been running for 10 years. You can simply apply online and then get your stamp on arrival. Click the image below to check them out.
Thank you for reading! Let me know your thoughts on Vietnam in the comments below, or contact me with any questions you have about travelling the country! I am currently working on more Vietnam pieces, that go into more detail of certain aspect and places. Be sure to subscribe and keep your eyes peeled for future content! 😀
All the love,
Elle on Travel