South-East Asia has long been the travel destination for most of the westerners but they were limited to Bali (Indonesia), Thailand or partially into Malaysia. Only in the past 20 odd years, new venues have opened up like Vietnam, Philippines, Myanmar and few more. Also, the western Asians who were only inclined to visit Europe and America now consider South-East Asia as another considerable and well cheaper option with more culture.
Vietnam tourism is still a novice on the travel charts, it’s still not as open as Thailand or Indonesia which becomes a bit of a challenge in communication but that necessarily is not a bad thing. In fact, I consider it to be good, this is one essential factor in preserving the culture. After a certain level, people/places tend to change and lose their original identity but become more open to tourist so that’s always the pros and cons of traveling to commercial vs a non-commercial destination.
Vietnam has a history full of bloodshed, a war that went on for about 20 years and crippled the economy in every possible way. Vietnam war was one of the worst human atrocities ever committed but since we are on the subject of Vietnam travel we would not get into those details and rather look at the good part of Vietnamese food like the egg coffee which is an outcome of the same.
How To Get There
The Vietjet is a crazy super-low cost national carrier for the country which is also regarded as the “Bikini Airlines” where at times scantily clad women greet and serve you on the plane, I was lucky to not come across such a scene though.
I flew for tickets as low as 100 USD for 4 hours direct flight with 7 kg of cabin baggage only, which is dirt cheap if you can travel light. There is also a slightly expensive option which is like regular economy for other airlines where you pay 2.5-3X but you can carry the usual 30Kg of weight and allows you to cancel and change at low cost. I booked the cheap flights as I was sure of my dates and booked an extra 15 kg check-in baggage for $20 amount.
The visa is on arrival but you need to fill a form and let them know your dates beforehand, the visa fee is $25 and the best way to get to Hanoi main city is the Express Bus 86 which will charge only $2 and leave you outside the old quarters.
My dates were last week of Feb 2020 to the first week of March, which is when Covid-19 already had an outbreak in China, Germany as well as Italy. The very fear of Corona Virus worked in my favour and I got a complete set of 3 seats free to sleep while going as well as coming back.
Vietnam is backpacker’s paradise, the hostels are ample, on point with service and have all the necessary information you could need. If you are someone who values his privacy then there are a lot of cheap hotel options too.
The north is where the capital of Vietnam is, it has the best Vietnamese food and hands down the best scenery for you to enjoy. As you head south it will get warmer, the food will become fattier and sweeter and everything is more commercial. It’s like India, where although Delhi is the capital but Mumbai is still the commercial capital.
Finding a place to stay is easiest in the capital of Vietnam Hanoi. This city has a small area called the French Quarter or the Old Quarter, it is a small place which packs a big punch with the best food, shopping, hostels all in walking distance. I will list the city-specific stay options in each city guide for complete details, still, I will list some of the best options you can stay in across all country.
Hostels– For once this section is loaded with options and it gives me immense pleasure to see the same. My best bets in this category would be Aquarizon Boutique City Hostel also Tribee is a chain of hostels spread across Hoi An in central Vietnam any hostel from them maintains a standard and lives up to its expectations. I stayed in Tribee Kinh Hostel and you can check the same.
Budget Hotel– There are a lot of budget hotels in Vietnam but beware, they take you away from the centre of the city ie where all the tourists come. So naturally, you will have to commute to and fro but if you like it peaceful then choose the same. My option would be the Splendid Star Grand Hotel and Spa and Tan Hoang Long Hotel.
Lavish– Nothing screams luxury like the only hotel in the world which is gold plated, enter the Dolce Hanoi by Wyndham. A newly opened hotel with gold plated cutlery, gold dust on food and even gold in your toilet. Well if you are one of the sheikhs or royal then why not?
Vietnam is a surprisingly big country, which somehow feels small when you look at the map. The vertical stretch of the same is pretty big though. I took 2 internal flights to move from North to Central and then to South both about 800Km apart.
If you are not short on time like I was, then purchase a locally branded scooter which will cost approximately 200 USD go around the country and sell it in any city after your stipulated time for 150 odd USD which is the cheapest way to see all country.
Getting within the city can also be done on a scooter which can be rented for a low cost of $5/day.
Things To Do In Vietnam
Ha Noi– The capital of Vietnam is Hanoi; a lot of people confuse it to be Ho Chi Minh/Saigon somehow but it’s not. Hanoi is located in the North of Vietnam. It has beautiful foothill weather which is not to hot or cold. The old quarter/French quarter is the best place to stay, it has the best Vietnamese food, great shopping options and everything is walking distance from here. Flying in and flying out would be best from this Vietnam city.
Ha Long Bay– The most surreal place in Vietnam, this place has been extensively featured in National Geographic and is also a UNESCO heritage site. The place literally translates to “descending dragon”. It’s a bay of limestone crates, massive hidden caves and pristine water. It offers the best view anyone can imagine. This is definitely the place that carries the crown of Vietnam tourism on its head with a maximum pull of travellers and still uniquely preserved.
SaPa– This is an extreme northernmost commercial Vietnam city, It’s a beautiful hill station where one can relax in the lap of nature. This is a place a lot of people like; I being an Indian have been on ample treks and hill stations in my own country, so I skipped this one and moved on in search of other options that would lure me.
Hoi An– This is Vietnam’s second UNESCO heritage site. This city has been preserved exceptionally well by the locals, the old town is covered in Japanese wooden bridges that date back to the 16th century and still being used today. Hoi An is beautiful as you will see Chinese lanterns everywhere at night, there is also a lantern festival that happens here every year. If you want to get customised formal suits and leather goods then this one place you will love.
Da Nang– Also known as the city of beautiful bridges, located very close to Hoi An. This city has a lot of exceptional looking bridges like the Dragon Bridge that blows fire every Sunday or the Golden Bridge that has been widely pictured by many photographers. Da Nang is the airport to and fro for Hoi An.
Hang Son Doong– Located in the central west Vietnam near Laos, this is the world’s biggest natural cave. The cave is expected to be 2-5 million years old. It houses its own river and climate. This place takes Vietnam tourism to next level but remember, you cannot be rushing here, my suggestion is if you ever want to visit this cave, give it at least 4-5 days else skip it completely.
Saigon– This is the most commercial Vietnam city, the city has a feel like any other metropolitan city. The weather here is warm and humid; it’s like being in the tropics. The Vietnamese food here will feel so different from the northern counterpart, here the food is heavy with fat and sweet. That’s how the locals like it. This is an ideal place for people coming from cold places who do not want to move to a completely solitary state.
Mekong Delta– This is mostly a day trip from Ho Chi Minh city, it is a river delta on the south-western end of Vietnam. This is where most of the rice paddy farmers stay and cultivate their rice. This can be done as a day trip to see the local life of rural Vietnam or you can also choose to spend a night here with the locals, eat their food and come back the next day. This is historically the oldest region of ethnic Vietnamese people.
1. Choose the hotels if you are ok to share the room with 2-3 or more people. They are cheap, clean and some of them even include breakfast for as low as $6.
2. Carry USD (Cash) and look for jewellery stores (yes, you read that right) for the absolute best exchange rate. The Vietnamese currency is Dong its exchange to USD is $1-23200VND or ₹1-310VND
3. Take the city map from your hostel reception, all of them have a printed version with complete details. If you are out and trying to see multiple things in one go, Google Maps would not be as helpful as this, you might just miss the thing which is next to the one you are looking for on the map.
4. Eat Local, I can’t stress enough on this. Most of the Asian street food is far more hygienic and healthy than its western counterpart. Also, it tastes so nice. The juices and drinks from local carts are unique and totally refreshing when it gets hot.
5. Rent a local scooter, it’s cheap and the best way to move around the city. The traffic does not stop but if you are slow, you will be able to navigate, do not get overwhelmed by the same. If you do not know how to ride then use Grab or GoViet for the scooter or car.
6. The very idea of Vietnam tourism is crafted around it being cheap, vibrant and great on tastebuds and eyes, so make sure you relax your senses and let yourself enjoy like a local.
- Just like every other major Asian city, the massage, drinking and party is limited to a single lane, if you are not on it, you are completely safe.
- A lot of food has pork but if you ask them, they would be happy to tell and also ready to prepare food without pork for you.
- There are few Halal restaurants you can find across major cities but they will mostly be far from the tourist areas.