After graduating college, I treated myself with a year-long solo trip around the globe. After 20 different countries and countless incredible experiences, it should be impossible to choose a favourite, but for me Vietnam reigns supreme.
In terms of natural beauty, Vietnam can’t be beat. With the white sand beaches of Nha Trang, the red dunes of Mui Ne, the waterfalls and pine-scented highlands of Dalat, the emerald rice paddies of the lowlands, the jungles, the largest cave system in the world, and stunning vistas everywhere you look, it is a naturalist’s paradise. The sheer diversity of landscape is a stunning treat, and when you consider that it has all of the charm of Thailand or Bali with half the tourists, Vietnam is a no-brainer.
The culture in Vietnam has been fortified by many decades of brutal war, which has amazingly created some of the most humble, quick-to-laugh, and friendly people in the world. In most countries, you may have to help your elders across the road, but in the whirlwind traffic of Vietnam streets, don’t be surprised if a grandma grabs your hand to guide you through the chaos. The city streets of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh are a sensory overload of street markets, bia hois (streetside pubs that sell homemade beer for 25 cents) and motorbikes laden with livestock, soup pots, three generations of family, and even, occasionally, another motorbike.
And then there’s the food. I’m a serious foodie, and cuisine can make or break a travel experience for me. Luckily, Vietnam has some of the most delicious, affordable, and healthy food in the world. The influence of French colonization has given Vietnam the gift of fresh bread, and they’ve turned that gift into an even better one: the banh mi. These spicy and savory pork sandwiches are packed with flavor, and usually sell for less than 50 cents USD. Vietnamese roads are lined with carts selling banh mi, noodle soups, and pork buns for less than a dollar, and every one is more delicious than the last. Also ever-present are Vietnam’s famous cafes, serving rich Vietnamese coffee hot or cold and sweetened (or not, depending on how you like it) with condensed milk.
For history buffs, Vietnam also has you covered with incredible museums and memorials. In Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh you can find my personal favourite, the Vietnamese Women’s Museum. This amazing museum shows the vast diversity of indigenous cultures in Vietnam, their customs and costumes, and the history of Vietnamese women, their incredible strength, and their crucial contributions as farmers, soldiers, and nurses during wartime, as well as their current position as the economic backbone of many Vietnamese communities. Ho Chi Minh City also has the famous War Remnants Museum, which hosts the sobering history of Vietnam’s wars with the United States and China, as well as the current and lasting effects on their soil and water from chemical warfare.
After you’re full of delicious budget eats and tired from a day of museums or hiking, rafting or swimming in the crystal clear ocean, you can go get your measurements taken at a local tailor and get custom-made garments cheaper than the generic ones at your local Target. The coastal town of Hoi An is famous for its skilled and affordable seamstresses, and the streets are lined with tailors, as well as gorgeous paper lanterns and vendors of Cao Lau, a savory pork and noodle dish found only in their charming town. At night, for an extra touch of magic, you can also see candle-lighting ceremonies, with lanterns floating peacefully in Hoi An’s central river.
Between Hoi An and Nha Trang, there are many sleepy fishing villages on the coast, and I have to give a special shout-out to a hidden little hostel in a tiny town near Quy Nhon, appropriately called Life’s a Beach. Difficult to get to, yes, but the perfect stopover between bigger tourist areas and an incredible slice of paradise. The hostel, located right on the beach, only has a few rooms (but many hammocks), and due to its isolated nature, the entire hostel dines together every night family-style, at a long table laden with fresh seafood looking over the ocean, only yards away.
With its rich history, cuisine, nature, and culture, Vietnam truly offers something for everyone, at an amazing price and with unending kindness.
Travel to Vietnam, a Mecca for tourists and travellers, eat delicious local food and discover the northern highlands of Sapa, the limestone karsts of Halong Bay, and the immense Mekong Delta in the South. Explore quaint towns with historical significance like Hoi An and the ancient capital of Hue, where e famous tombs, beautiful citadels and pagodas are located.