When I think back on Vietnam the number one thing I will think of is how much I enjoyed the street food. I ate an incredible amount of Pho and other noodle soups and never got tired of them. I looked forward to gobbling down noodles just about every night. Plus there’s also good bbq meats, spring rolls, wontons, corn pancake things, the banh mi sandwiches, and the usual meat + rice dishes. Oh and fruit smoothies, lots of of those too!
Dark, delicious, and everywhere. I normally had mine with condensed milk to offset some of the bitterness. If you buy it at a local place it costs 50-75 cents. I also like the idea of condensed milk in coffee, it’s already sweet so you don’t to add any sugar.
Vietnam is an incredible bang for your buck. If I stayed in a hostel it would normally cost me $5, and many of them had free breakfast. And it was halfway decent free breakfast with a baguette and eggs, not the usual toast and butter stuff. You can find an okay hotel room with TV and aircon for $10-15 in most places. Some other prices:
Motorbike rental for a day: $5
Bicycle rental for a day: $1
Ban Mi sandwich: $1
Chicken + rice: $2-3
Western style meal: $5 +
Bus: a few hours on a tourist bus is like $5-7
Massage: $8-9 for an hour
Beer: Can be had for 50c at the supermarket and very local places. $1+ in tourist places.
Train: I think I overpaid quite a bit because prices were jacked up around Tet, but I paid $33 for my overnight sleeper that took 12 hours.
Sightseeing: A lot of the smaller tourist attractions/temples cost $4-5, which was actually surprisingly high by Vietnam standards.
Multi hour tour (caves, boat rides etc) $10-12
Shisha: $8-10. I guess it must be expensive to import this stuff.
So overall it’s pretty tough to spend too much money!
Spectacular karst formations in the North, some nice scenic highlands in the central region, and south is pretty boring, just rice fields here and there (which you can find anywhere). So if you’re into the scenery, the north is definitely where you want to be.
Beaches: For a country with a gazillion miles of coastline the beaches in Vietnam are not that great. You don’t come to this country for beaches, or scuba diving for that matter.
Local people: Overall they were pretty friendly. The more touristy the place the more the locals are going to ignore the tourists for the most part, and Vietnam is certainly a touristy place. Once you get outside the main areas people are friendly, but then again hardly anyone speaks English outside the main tourist areas. Also the touts didn’t really hassle you too much, so that’s nice. Other backpackers complained about people trying to rip them off all the time. Well, welcome to Asia.
Safety: Like most of SE Asia, as long you’re doing normal touristy stuff, and not buying hard drugs, the only real thing you have to worry about is small time scams and petty theft. The motocycle bag/purse/phone snatch is more common in Vietnam than any other place in SE Asia, so that’s the main thing to worry about I would say. Despite this, I still say Vietnam is a very safe country.
Language: Tough to learn! The words that you see written in English characters are almost never pronounced how you’d think they’d be pronounced. Plus it’s a tonal language so there can be six different ways to pronounce a word thereby changing it’s meaning by how you say it. You also have address older/younger men and older/younger women differently, there’s no just saying ‘you’, which only adds to the complication. I didn’t learn as much as I’d hoped to.
Other tourists: Well the crowd I mostly hung out with was the younger UK/European backpacker type people, because those are the other people that also travel solo. I am getting a bit old for that backpacker scene though. Then you have the usual package Chinese and Korean tour groups that you pray you don’t get stuck with when you’re at any tourist attraction. Then you’ve got the Russians. In the beach towns of Nha Trang and Mui Ne, they are everywhere. They own a lot of the bars and restaurants, the signs are all in Russian, even a bunch of the locals speak it. Although I guess there are less than there used to be with the Ruble collapsing. I’ve met very few travellers who enjoy being around hordes of Russians, myself included.
Solo Travel: Extremely easy. Almost too easy. Tourist buses are cheap and take you directly to the main tourist areas, multiple times a day. Taxis, tuk tuks, mototaxis, are everywhere. It’s almost not worth it to take the local bus because you have to get to and from the bus stations, wait while they’re trawling around town picking up roadside passengers as well as blaring the horn all the friggen time. And no aircon. For me the first local or bus or two was amusing, after that I’d had about enough.
Weather: Just don’t go to north in January/February. It’s miserable. I mean I got particularly unlucky with the added rain, but there’s no point in seeing this gorgeous scenery shrouded in clouds and fog and cold. For me basically the whole country was cloudy, so it’s hard for me to remember Vietnam very fondly when I was hurriedly moving south, hoping for better weather, never getting it and continuing that cycle until I was already in Ho Chi Minh City. But it’s hard to not recommend a country to other people because the weather sucked for me!
So overall Vietnam was kind of disappointing for me. A lot of it was because I didn’t really mesh with many people this time around. Unlike most of the other countries I’ve been lately, I met almost no one around my age, and I just don’t really care to hang out with the 18-23 year old backpacker crowd anymore. And normally if I’m not meeting people I want to hang out with, at least I can work on my travel photography. Well it’s a lot harder when it’s cloudy and drizzling all the time! I don’t think I took a single landscape photo that I’m proud of. Well that’s mostly because all the cool landscapes are up north and I axed most of that out of my itinerary due to the weather.
So at this point, I’m pretty sure I’m mostly done with doing any more solo travel in SE Asia. Too touristy and too many backpackers and big package tour groups. I have absolutely no desire to go back to Thailand. Plus I’ve seen almost everything I want to see here anyway. I would go back to Myanmar however because that country is awesome. And maaaybe I would go back to the Northern Vietnam at the right time of year just to get that iconic nature photo of the water filled rice terraces reflecting the golden sunset light. Ahh, damn it.
Ok, so Vietnam was still pretty cool and has a lot going for it. But it’s just not quenching my wanderlust for new cultures and experiences and getting off the beaten track. I’m in Cambodia playing poker right now, and if all goes well my next stop will be the Stans (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan) in Central Asia. I’m thinking these countries will be more in line with my travel goals!