For those who have never visited Vietnam, what comes to your mind when you think of Vietnam? Many would say war, jungles, traffic jammed motorbikes, and movies like Apocalypse Now. It’s unfortunate but it is indeed what first comes to mind for many people. Honestly, I didn’t know much either until I had visited. I was surprised that most of what I had experienced isn’t what Vietnam is popular for (outside of the country) although it’s such a large part of the country.
The French Influence
The French had colonized Vietnam from 1883 until 1954 which had forever changed the Vietnamese culture.
Thanks to the French, Vietnam is now the world’s leading export of great coffee. Perhaps you’ve had Vietnamese coffee back at home and never realized it. There is café’s spread out nationwide in Vietnam. The locals love to sit outside on their small tables with a group of friends and their cups of coffee. I found the coffee in Vietnam to be incredibly strong which is how I love my coffee. If you’re a coffee fan, Vietnam is for you.
To go along with the coffee, Vietnam has fantastic bakeries. Sandwiches called Bánh mì kẹp thịt are sold on the streets with French bread. I look forward to every breakfast meal.
During the colonization, the French had built many buildings in Vietnam. A huge cathedral sits in the center of the city of Ho Chi Minh City. You can find similar cathedrals in many other cities (the one pictured below is in Dalat). In another example, the entire town of Dalat was French inspired and has taken a series of names such as Mini-Paris. The city even has a small replica of the Eiffel Tower and also features an amusement park called the Valley Of Love.
Friendly People (Even to Americans)
The Vietnam War (or the American War as they like to call it) has had many negative consequences on the United States. The war ended in 1975 (only 36 years ago), making much of the older folks remembering everything that had happened during that time. The War Remembrance Museum in Ho Chi Minh City is sadly a one-sided story against the Americans. With so much negativity, you’d think the people would be hateful toward the Americans but the opposite is true. We were treated no different from anyone else. Never has the Vietnam war ever come up with locals.
The hotels and guest houses in Vietnam have been some of the best I’ve ever stayed in anywhere in the world. They took us in as part of their family. For even New Years, a guest house served us all a buffet dinner to celebrate with their family at no cost.
Although they are always hustling for money, they keep a smile on even if you don’t purchase anything. I believe it’s important to remember they are fighting for survival when they are hassling you for money. It’s nothing personal. There have been a few bad encounters but not much different from anywhere else I’ve been. The North seems to be a bit more aggressive for money and can be more cleaver for it but they still kind.
Delicious Vietnamese Food
Much like China, the selection is enormous. One of my favorite things about Vietnam is how each city has their own specialty dish that sometimes can’t be found anywhere else. For example, a specialty dish called Cau Lau which includes noodles, pork, and greens is only located in Hoi An because the water must come from the Ba Le well nearby, an ancient water hole.
Some more of my favorite dishes include Bánh hỏi, Mì Quảng, Bún bò Huế, Phở, Cơm tấm, Bánh chưng, Bánh bèo, and Chả giò/Nem rán.
If you’re craving Western food, the Vietnamese have taken what Thailand is so good at doing and catering to popular common dishes like pizza and hamburgers for tourist.
Awesome Exchange Rate
At the time of writing, $1USD is about 20,000Dong. The most you can take out at an ATM is 2Million Dong or about $100USD at a time. Perhaps for the first time in your life, you can become a millionaire. Well, maybe not in the same sense as being a millionaire in the US but its close. Vietnam is a developing country with a fast growing economy but past political issues, the recent war, and its long history has damaged Vietnam that will still take some time to recover from.
Top budget hotels in Ho Chi Minh City are generally ~$20. In the city of Dalat, it cost us $15 and included a hot tub and balcony. Most cities seem to be priced from $10 to $20 for a nice budget hotel, offer free breakfast, and surprisingly fast Wi-Fi with multiple hot-spots.
A full meal generally costs $3 to $5 in most restaurants. If you want to go a bit more high-end and fancy, expect to pay $10 to $15 a person. Local beer in Hoi An and Hanoi were about $.20cents.
Prices vary but it is all relative to where you are and what you end up doing. Although I’ve spent more than intended, that’s because there are so many activities, places to go, and affordable purchases to the dollar. $200 for a hand-tailored suit is a steal compared to how much it would cost in the US.
Huge and Diverse
I didn’t realize just how big Vietnam was until I had to take a few buses to get around and was surprised with 12 hour long bus rides that hardly got me very far. What I also didn’t expect were beaches, beautiful mountains, and incredible landscapes. All I had imagined earlier were big cities and deep jungles but visiting the country had opened my mind up to much bigger country than what I had originally thought.
That’s the beauty of travel – to discover what we may have thought about a place is in fact completely different. Through each new destination, we open ourselves to a new perspective of the world. Perhaps that’s what we need more of in this world – less judgment and more seeing and experiencing.
What else should Vietnam be more known for?