5 Reasons Why You Need to Add Vietnam to Your Travel Bucket List
For many years Vietnam was not a country I had ever considered. It was only really when I moved to London that I first tried Vietnamese food, and when I met people from university who had visited the place that it started to peak my interest.
It didn’t take long for me to become hooked on the idea of spending some time there and it became one of the key destinations on my backing itinerary. After just 1 week in the place I changed my flights to give myself an extra 10 days and maximise my 1 month visa – I was smitten. There are so many things I have loved about this country and as I sit here in my final few days before heading off to Cambodia it’s tricky to put exactly into words the feeling I have felt in my soul here, but here goes…
Of course, point number one, is always food. I arrived in Vietnam from India and needed a change from rice and spice, and what did Vietnam give me? Rice and spice!! But in such a different way. There’s a freshness to their cooking and flavours which you don’t get in Indian food. From their hearty bowls of Pho to their fresh spring rolls to even a simple rice and chicken dish I have very rarely been disappointed by the food in this country. The best thing about it? Eating it sitting on the side of the road on the child-sized plastic chairs, drinking 10p draught beer and watching the world go by.
Fresh spring rolls at Yummy, Cat Ba (they have pineapple in them!!!)
Peanut Donuts from the street food sellers in Hoi An (get in there early in the evening, they always sell out)
Madam Khanh – Banh Mi Queen in Hoi An (honestly the best in the world, I had 3 in a row)
Pho Quynh, Saigon (try the special if you’re a meat-lover)
When I’d planned my trip in my head it included all the main cities on the Open Bus Ticket; Hanoi, Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang and Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). After meeting a Bulgarian guy in my dorm on my first night in the place, the plan of course changed. Cat Ba, Tam Coc, Phong Nha and Mui Ne took over and boy was it worth it. I’ve enjoyed the cities here but there is nothing like the rice paddies, rivers, caves, mountains and beaches to really make you feel alive. Luscious greenery, colourful butterflies and even (a lot of the time, in my case) grey skies combined in the most dramatic of ways to make me feel like I was always in an epic movie scene, and then I arrived in Mui Ne and it all changed! Red sand dunes and bright blue skies met the crashing waves on the beach and Vietnam surprised me yet again. I know that by being confined to the bus that I missed out on a lot too; if you have the time and the means to go by motorbike you can get deeper into the heart of the place and really excite the senses.
In the last month we have encountered so many friendly souls with beautiful hearts ready to invite us into their lives and share their culture with us. From the 20 year old Hoai who I met by the lake in Hanoi and helped with her English, to the family who invited us into their home in Hoi An to try the food they were preparing for their family dinner, to the school girls who interviewed me about equality and team spirit in Saigon for a project they were working on, I have felt such a good connection with the people of this country. They are happy and smiley and proud and open and I have felt safe and content in their country every step of the way.
Vietnam’s history is long and complicated and, as I realised when I visited the War Remnants Museum in Saigon, still affecting the daily lives of the people who live here. I had high expectations for the historical sites like Hue and was disappointed, but at the same time visited temples in My Son which date back to the 4th century and blew me away. Their methods of preservation and the information given to the general public are lacking in most cases when it comes to the historical must-sees, but that adds to the mystique, charm and eeriness, giving you a sense that they really are still getting over the atrocities of their very recent past.
The Open Road
If I could go back and do it again? I’d do it by motorbike. I was lucky enough to meet people on the way who had bought bikes and they took me to places I would never have been able to reach on my own and for that I will be forever grateful. Being on the bike was terrifying at first but as I relaxed into it I began to feel sadness as I boarded the overnight sleeper bus (as good as they are) to a place while the boys zoomed off freely; masters of their own route.
As my new friend Aleks once said to me “this country is basically one giant scooter”, and it really is the only way to travel. If you can buy a bike and feel confident to drive it, don’t even hesitate, your experience will be even richer and more colourful than mine was.