Vietnam tends to be a destination that travelers either love or hate. It’s extremely inexpensive and historically complex, but incredibly hot and humid almost year round. Thick, verdant jungles and high mountains mix with serene surfing beaches like China Beach — whether you decide it’s worth a second trip or not, it is most definitely worth visiting at least once.
There are generally two ways of getting into the country: by international plane or by train from Beijing. Border crossing by bus from Laos, Cambodia, or China is available but, unless you’re with a pre-arranged and trusted tour group, the process can be very difficult. Make sure you have a visa ahead of time.
The Vietnamese love their motorcycles, but watch out for the traffic! (Read about my experience getting hit by a motorbike while crossing the street!) Watching the hectic dance of vehicles at an intersection is practically an attraction on its own. Getting from town to town is best served by getting passage via train or public bus. For inner city travel, either hire a driver to chauffer you around or walk — you do not want to try navigating the road on your own. The locals drive on both sides of the road — I’m not kidding!
Food & Culture
Vietnam is a country that has an abundant history of war and colonialism. Vietnam was raided by the Mongols, invaded and ruled by several Chinese dynasties, colonized by the French, and split by a bloody civil war between the North and South which eventually featured heavy American military involvement. Despite its bloody history, the Vietnamese are usually quite friendly and excited to meet foreigners — but they might still try to overcharge you, and arguing about a higher price than expected may be seen as stingy behavior. Agree on all prices ahead of time.
Vietnamese cuisine is largely seafood and vegetable-based and it tends to be spicier in the south than the north. The large Buddhist influence means it’s also easy to find lots of fresh, delicious vegetarian food; the French influence means a Vietnamese twist on classics like the baguette sandwich. The national dish pho, a beef broth with thin-cut meat and fresh vegetables, is definitely worth a taste.
Sights & Activities
Ha Long Bay — A junk-boat tour can be a relaxing way to see this island-littered bay, as long as you don’t go during a busy holiday! With many hidden caves, coral groves, and hollow grottoes, the bay offers a picturesque cruise with many opportunities to swim and beautiful beaches.
My Son Temples — Pronounced “Mi Sun,” this collection of ancient temples strikes an inspiring and sobering image about the passage of time. What once were temples rivaling Angkor Wat have been reclaimed by the jungle and partially destroyed by bombings in the Vietnam War.
Mui Ne Sand Dunes — These white sand dunes are gorgeous at sunset! If you’re a fan of kiteboarding or sail-surfing, you’ll find ample opportunity to indulge on the nearby waves. Surfing down the dunes themselves is also an option, as there are often many children nearby ready and willing to rent plastic sand sleds to you for trips down the dunes.
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