Sitting tall and skinny, just next to Cambodia and Laos, Vietnam is world’s away. We wandered into Vietnam just over three years ago after spending a couple of months in Southeast Asia. Already wowed by the countries we visited, we didn’t know just want to expect from this country at all. Its coastal charm, mountainous villages and distinct local vibe give this French-influenced country a diversity that’s unlike any others you’ll visit in the region. It’s the land of $0.25 beer, bottomless phở, important American history, and endless natural beauty. With so much to see and do, here’s how you can get the most out of your next trip to Vietnam:
Vietnam requires that citizens from most countries obtain a tourist visa. There are two ways you can get arrange this. You can either get a visa in your home country from the embassy/consulate where you have to mail in your application and pay $75-$90, or you can arrange for a Vietnam visa – on – arrival, which is faster, you don’t have to give up your passport and it’s only $45. Before we go any further, we just want to clarify that we’re pretty sure a visa-on-arrival for Vietnam should not be called on arrival at all. Many people get confused that you just need to show up at the airport and hand over your passport for a visa stamp. That’s actually NOT true and you need to apply in advance, which you can do online. It will be processed in 2-3 days standard, or 3-4 hours rush. Hallelujah!
We’re about to make a very strong statement here, and it’s no exaggeration: Vietnam has some of the best food in the entire freakin’ world. Yep. We said it and we mean it. You can stuff yourself silly pretty much anytime, anywhere. The best part is that it all comes at a very affordable price.
Don’t miss trying these top 5 dishes:
While there is no wrong way to see Vietnam, one of the most exciting ways to explore is by motorbike. Whether you want to hire a bike and ride it from Hue to Hoi Ann over the infamous Hai Van pass, or buy your own and ride it from Saigon to Hanoi, it will surely be an incredible experience. You’re able to see more when you travel slowly, and with a 110cc bike, that’s exactly what you’ll be doing. You can stop where you want, when you want and you can take the road less traveled up into the rural mountain towns of the country. You will probably never feel more free than you will riding a motorbike through this country.
Saigon usually steals the show when it comes to ex-pat favorite cities with its flashy neon signs, dedicated backpacker area (district 1) and trendy rooftop bars. It’s been called the new Bangkok and the non-stop metropolis is quickly skyrocketing to become one of Asia’s next hot spots. Hanoi on the other hand is a much different story and in our opinion, a much better one. The city itself is still very traditional with ancient pagodas sitting on willowy lakesides and ambling streets everywhere you look. The French quarter is well preserved, and overall the city feels much more quaint than what you’ll find in HCMC. Another thing about Hanoi is that the city is not as divided as Saigon (HCMC) is into touristy areas and non-touristy areas, so your experience might feel a little more authentic as you mix with locals everywhere you go. On top of all that, Hanoi is bursting at the seams with street food and local places to drink on every corner. The best part? Beers are a whopping 25 cents.
Vietnamese tailors are something else. If you’ve ever wanted to design your own dress, have a suit tailored just for you, or get your hands on that jacket you saw Blake Lively wearing, then Vietnam is just for you. In Hoi Ann specifically, you can find tailor after tailor ready to help you design an entirely new wardrobe. No lie, these talented tailors know how to replicate pretty much anything you show them, or can help bring to life a vision you’ve been dreaming of. Simply walk into a shop, and start browsing the infinite patterns, and books of fashion magazines.
Pro tip: have something in mind before you walk in, or you might run away from being overwhelmed
As Americans, we’ve grown up learning about the Vietnam War from history classes in school and from friends or family who may have fought in the war. Naturally, we’ve learned things from a certain perspective and visiting Vietnam will certainly challenge you to the other side of the story. While it can be difficult, it’s extremely eye-opening to do things like visit the Cu Chi Tunnels where you’ll watch propagandist videos, or talk to locals who might still have hard feelings. Either way, you’ll get a totally different perspective on the war and it’s an unmatchable educational experience.
Extra special note: The Vietnamese are some of the most friendly, warm, and welcoming people we’ve ever encountered. We felt no residual tension during our 5-week stay in Vietnam, and were treated with kindness 100% of the time we were in country. If anything, the people we talked to were appreciative of our visit and enjoyed talking to us, even in difficult subject matters.
Sapa is a beautiful mountain town that sits very close to the Chinese border in Northern Vietnam. It is known for it’s picturesque rice fields that tower high into the foggy clouds and the incredible hiking you can do among them. Nestled down in the nooks and crannies of the paddies are small villages of different hill tribes that still maintain their age-old customs and traditions. From town, you can arrange a trek into the rice fields with a local H’mong guide(s) that lasts anywhere from an afternoon to a couple of days. You’ll explore the mystical landscape, and have the opportunity to go into local houses for homecooked meals or even an overnight stay with a host family. As a rare opportunity to interact and be a part of the culture, this is a must do!
While Vietnam has good beaches, it actually has better mountains. For example, The Ho Chi Minh Highway is a 240 km stretch of historic road that twists and turns its way from Khe Sanh to Phong Nha National Park through the Dãy Trường Sơn mountain range. The road follows along the Laos border deep in the jungle and is some of the most remote, beautiful landscape in the entire country. Nothing short of Jurassic Park, the scenery on this stretch of road is some of the best we’ve ever seen in all of Southeast Asia. In case you aren’t picking up what we’re laying down: that’s saying a lot.
Speaking of Phong Nha, Vietnam is famous for its numerous caves and is actually home to one of the largest caves in the world. The problem is that this park is a little tough to get to, so people often skip over it entirely. This is a huuuuge mistake. Something you must know about Vietnam is that many times the places that are the most difficult to get to are often the ones you absolutely shouldn’t miss. With limestone karsts that jut out from lime-green rice fields like something from Avatar, Phong Nha should be at the top of your list. Other places that come to mind as harder to get to, but well worth the effort are: Sapa, Tam Coc (Ninh Binh), and Da Lat.
The currency exchange is 21,000 dong to $1 USD. Dong jokes commence.
Seriously though, a 10,000 dong bill looks very similar to the 100,000 dong bill, so when you are first starting to handle the money you need to be extra careful that you don’t accidentally mix these up. Otherwise you might be wondering why you only have little dong at the end of the day. Ba-dum-ch.
Vietnam is full of quiet, winding back streets. Around every corner is some amazing food stall that you might never be able to find your way back to. Quaint guesthouses, historic temples, old bookshops, family restaurants and local experiences are all hiding down the alley ways of Vietnam’s busiest streets. Don’t be afraid to take an entire afternoon and allocate your time specifically towards “getting lost.” It’s worth it.
Thank you to Vietnam Visa Easy for kindly sponsoring this post. All opinions are 100% honest and completely our own.
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