Cuisine: Pho (noodle soup) and rice, rice, rice… you can also find the rare delicacy snake, however in touristic places it is extremely expensive. I personally am not into eating weird food. In fact, the only crazy food I tried was eating Ostrich. Having said that, I highly recommend drinking the egg coffee (tastes better than it sounds) however I personally wasn’t too keen on the yogurt coffee…
High Season for Tourists: Winter/ Spring. Summer months can be too hot and monsoon season too rainy for tourists looking to soak up the sunshine.
Duration: I traveled for three weeks and felt that it was almost pushing the edge of not being able to see it all. I was able to see most of the main stream places and but I skipped the ones that were too touristy for my tastes. If I ever went back again, I would just see a fraction of the places I went and spend more quality time in the nicer places I enjoyed!
Highlights: Hoi An was my absolute favorite place as well as Ho Chi Minh city. Drive a scooty bike from Hoi An to Hue (or other way round) as the drive is spectacular. The night market in Hoi An was my favorite and I even found a few ladies custom sewing clothes and had a few authentic shirts and blazers made out of silk. They were measured to fit my exact size, took a couple of days and looked spectacular!
In Ho Chi Minh my super non-touristy thing to do was… the Jazz club! It was unbelievably good! The music was a blast and everyone was dancing. I went solo and still had a grand time enjoying the talented musicians. I also somehow got invited to a hospital (different story) where I spoke English with a bunch of doctors who wanted language practice. Then, one of the elder female doctors invited me for a gnarly game of badminton. I knew I was in trouble when all the older ladies came to badminton with proper gear and knee braces and elbow braces. (They whooped on me!)
As far as the other key things to do, I could easily have skipped many of the touristic destinations such as Nha Trang however that is my personal opinion and up to your own preferences. Sapa was a lot of fun and I can recommend the two days’ trek and spending the night one night with the local homestay family. It was off season when I went and less crowded but it was good to go for long hikes with fellow travelers. The famous thing to do is of course Halong Bay but be weary of touts selling scamy boat packages for different prices. (Same boat, different sized wallets.)
Tips: Rent a scooty bike if you’re a confident driver and drive from Hoi An to Hue (or vice versa). The route has spectacular views and will be one of the highlights of your trip. There are a lot of companies offering to carry your bags forward for you when you drop your bike off so you don’t have to worry about your things during your day long road trip. And if you’re not comfortable driving in Vietnam you can hire a scooty and driver and just enjoy the view from the back seat!
Transportation: The ultimate thing is to travel North to South by Motorbike. But alas, so many people are doing that (thanks to Top Gear) that even that has been done too many times. Buses are easy and cheap to travel from top to bottom as well and have an easy, hop-on hop-off system. Just prepare yourself for very long over-nighters. Domestic flights to key places are also available and of course you can rent a Vespa or bicycle in every city and rent by the day. I did a bit of all of the above. I crossed overland into Vietnam by bus and took some buses from North to South. I also drove for large chunks with my scooty bike. I even rented a bicycle for a day but quickly decided its too slow and timid for my personality and traded it for something that went VROOM. I had lots of experience driving and living in countries like Egypt and India so the traffic and crazy driving was not an issue for me but if your terrified of the “no rules” driving style you might want to consider riding on the backseat or playing it safe with a bicycle.
Where to Stay: I nearly always use Booking.com for my rooms when I want to pre-book something ahead of time and ensure I get the location I want or the best deals. If I feel like winging it, there's more than enough hostels and hotels in every stop and it's easy for you to walk in unexpectedly and rent a room or dorm for the night. Just be wary during peak tourist season as the rooms may be full.
Local Scams: There is no shortage of money scams in this country however it is an unfortunate reality and one must simply figure it in as “tourist tax” and not take it too personally. People will try to overcharge you for nearly anything and even may have different rates on menus for locals and foreigners. You will be hassled in any money exchange office and you might need to spend half a day walking around several different exchange places before you find one with reasonable rates.
My best advice? Haggle.
Don’t believe the numbers people tell you. Cut their prices in half (or more!) and work your way up to what feels comfortable to you. The one nice thing about Vietnam is there are no shortage of fellow travelers and backpackers who just came and went from the same place your heading and they can fill you in on what prices they paid.
Best Advice: Don’t be afraid to talk to fellow travelers or even the locals! The first cab ride from the airport to your hotel can be used as an opportunity to get some advice on the local scams or what to look out for! When it comes to scams and safety however, the best thing I can say is to recommend our Women’s Online Travel Safety Course. It covers everything you can think of when it comes to dealing with scams and difficult men or situations. And many things you couldn’t think of if you hadn’t seen it with your own eyes!
Vietnam has tons of Gorgeous Views and Stunning Scenery.
Final Thoughts: Vietnam gets a lot of tourism and tons of backpackers doing the backpacker route of South East Asia. That can be both a good thing or a bad thing depending on what you're looking for. If you want to meet lots of fellow backpackers and travel with others and meet people and party, then it's a great fit. If you're not really into the backpacking scene, its still easy to find lots to do where the tourists don't typically go. I can't tell you how many times I strayed from the path of the travelers by just a bit and found I had the place completely to myself!
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