Vietnam holds a special place in my heart. Its people are incredibly friendly, its cuisine unbelievably delicious and its beer insanely cheap. For these reasons alone, you should consider it for your next travel destination. But like any country, there are dos and don’t when navigating it. I’m here to tell you all about the things I would recommend. But hey, it’s your choice. You can totally take this with a grain of salt (or maybe some tequila and lemon).
Do rent a motor bike, or at least a bike
Some ten million scooters travel the roads of Vietnam every day, but don’t let that statistic intimidate you. Renting a motor bike can be a very liberating experience and a great way to catch a glimpse of local life. If you have the time, it could perhaps be the way you travel through the entire country. I didn’t do this as I only had two weeks. But if I had more time, I most definitely would have liked to span the entire country this way. And many a backpacker does it. Many a backpacker also ends up in a ditch without insurance and badly injured. For these reasons alone, be careful. And if you aren’t a confident driver, this may not be your cup of tea. But I encourage you to try. Just be safe.
Don’t take the trains!
I repeat: NEVER take the trains in Vietnam! Why? Well, they’re infested with cockroaches, even in the “first class” cabins. I found out the hard way. I did this so you don’t have to! I took one for the team. And I’m telling you, just don’t do it. Truthfully, many of them were somewhat smaller like this guy – no massively huge like ones you see running into the sewer in Thailand. But any cockroach – of any size – is one cockroach too many on four 12-hour sleeper trains if you ask me.
Do your homework – read about their complicated history in advance
The Vietnamese endured unbelievable hardship in the 60s and 70s. Take some time to familiarize yourself with their complicated history beforehand. That way you can really absorb everything while you’re there, instead of trying to get the facts straight.
Do visit Hoi An
Considered by many to be the cultural capital of Vietnam, Hoi An is a very magical place. It has Japanese influence that you can really feel (it reminded me of Kyoto). Here you can visit high quality tailor shops, enjoy a traditional Vietnamese massage or even relax in a newly opened wine bar. Hoi An had something for everyone.
Do visit the Cu Chi tunnels but don’t fall for the tourist traps along the way
Walking (or should I say, squatting) through the Cu Chi tunnels is something I will remember for the rest of my life. For a few brief minutes, I experienced what the Vietnamese endured when living underground during the Vietnam war (granted I’m 5’9 and this experience was a lot more difficult for me) First off, if you’re highly claustrophobic this may not be your thing. But go anyway for the history.
Warning: you will stop at a souvenir shop where everything is made by disabled people. It can really tug on your heart strings and you feel like you have to purchase something. While I know it’s great to support these people, there are often better ways to do so.
Firing of the guns: Before you enter the tunnels, there will be a place where you can fire ammunition. Considering we should be promoting peace, I also strongly discourage this practice. Think about what you’re doing. For these reasons, it’s best if you don’t participate in such activities.
Don’t do Nha Trang, don’t miss Hanoi
Some people decide to fly into Saigon and just experience the southern part of Vietnam, and often including the beach town of Nha Trang. But doing so would be so wrong. While Saigon was cool, Hanoi is even cooler and Nha Trang is full of Russian tourists. If you must do one area, I’d focus on the north over the south, but that’s just me. Must sees are the 3 Hs: Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hoi An. And if you have the time, throw in Sapa for good measure
Did you visit Vietnam? What are your dos and don’ts?