Before going to Vietnam, I didn’t have a real image in my mind of how the country is like. All I knew about Vietnam was mostly from the conflicts the country had struggled through. Since the country’s independence from Imperial China, Vietnam fought against the French in mid-1800’s and then the Japanese in World War II to win its independence. And of course, Vietnam fought against the United States in Vietnam War and witnessed a million of deaths from both soldiers and civilians on both sides. For a country that experienced so much destruction and sorrow, I did not expect to meet so many smiling faces and take so many beautiful photos. Perhaps when people saw how fragile human lives truly are, they learn to be kind and care more about things around them. Here are my reasons to visit Vietnam.
1. Beach Everywhere
Vietnam has more than half of the eastern coast of Indochina Peninsula all to itself. I had to try very hard to not see a beach there. Of course, not all beaches are created equal. The beaches I passed by in Danang are very clean and beautiful with mountains in the background. Seafood is so common that it actually costs almost the same as beef and chicken.
2. Tasty Foods Everywhere
I’ll let pictures do the talking. Vietnamese foods are generally healthy. I ate all these foods and still lost about 10 pounds at the end of the trip.
3. Friendly people
People are generally very friendly in Vietnam. I could go ask direction from almost anyone there. Most Vietnamese don’t speak English well so I had to write down the name of the place I was going and show them. They were very patient trying to understand me. When they weren’t able to help, they usually find the person who can. Taxi drivers usually provide good directions even thoughI didn’t use their service. Most people in Southeast Asian countries are friendly to foreigners. Vietnam is no exception.
4. Easy to Move Around
Transportation is widely available in many forms and the service staffs are very helpful. When I was looking for a bus to go to Vung Tau from Saigon airport, I tried to get into one of the buses that happened to be full. The driver told me to get on another bus parked somewhere else. I walked there and couldn’t find the bus. A few minutes later, someone came looking for me and asked if I was the person who’s looking for a bus to Vung Tau.
I used bus and van to travel in long distance when an airport isn’t available at the destination. However, Vietnam has 10 international airports. Domestic flights are affordable. I flew one-way from Phu Bai International Airport in Huế to Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City for about $45 with JetStar Pacific Airline. The cost is a little higher than the train. I could probably get a better price if I book the flight earlier in advance.
Most Vietnamese people are honest and fair about their pricing. I spent very little because when the price is fair, everything is very cheap. But like at any place, there are some people who are looking to take advantage of unsuspecting travelers. For example, there are motorcycle taxis throughout Saigon. They are a good way to get around the city for people who travel alone. These taxis would often wait for passengers in tourist areas like the War Museum. They charge much more than they should. They also won’t tell me the price until I ask them. For this reason, instead of using them, I used Uber to call in motorcycle taxi. Uber controls the price so there’s no way the driver can overprice.
However, Uber’s price is actually a little bit higher than what a motorcycle taxi would cost to a local Vietnamese though. On the positive side, finding the Uber motorcycle I’ve called for was fun. Motorcycles are everywhere in Vietnam, finding the one with the exact license plate near me was a challenge because Uber’s GPS tracking has some delay issues.
Getting around in Vietnam is cheap and easy. I visited several cities during my brief stay there.
5. Safe Enough
I worried about thieves. From the hooker scene in Full Metal Jacket, a Vietnamese person walked up behind an American soldier, stole the soldier’s camera, showed off some martial art moves and got away on a motorcycle. Being a photographer, I was very cautious with my cameras. I kept everything valuable with me most of the time. I rarely wore the camera on my neck. I didn’t have anything stolen. I guess the problem isn’t as bad as I thought. In tourist areas like Saigon Central Post Office, tourist police officers were there to help in case anything happen.
For getting around, riding a motorcycle can be dangerous. From the statistics in 2011, about 30 people died every day in traffic accidents. However, the convenience of using motorcycle is worth the risk for me since I know to minimize the risk. I paid attention to my surrounding at all time. People don’t really follow traffic rules over there so I didn’t expect anyone to stop when the light is red, for example. There will always be someone driving in the wrong way. To keep it simple, I mostly stayed with other motorcycles on the road so other traffic can notice me easily.
Don’t be afraid to go to Vietnam for safety reasons, they are avoidable.
6. Cheap. Cheaper than Thailand
Every time I visit Thailand, I thought the cost of foods, hotels, and transportations are cheap there. Vietnam is about 40% percent cheaper. This is because the minimum wage in Vietnam is $0.65 an hour while in Thailand, it’s $1.15 an hour.
In Ho Chi Minh City, I spent about $40 a day. I stayed at Cosmopolitan Hotel in District 3 for $24 per day. It was a very good deal for a three-star hotel in a tourist location. The decoration in the room actually looked more like a four-star hotel. It includes breakfast buffet as well. The cost of Uber Motorcycle to get around the city averaged at about $0.70 per trip. A meal was usually under $2 per meal.
In Thailand, to get a similar hotel in Bangkok, it would cost about $40. There is no Uber Motorcycle in Thailand, so I had to use UberX which averaged at about $4 per ride around Bangkok. A meal in Bangkok for me was about $5 per meal. But that’s because I ordered Tom Yum all the time. A good Tom Yum cost about $2.50 per bowl. It’s not something one eat all the time.
But whether it’s Vietnam or Thailand, some people think they need a lot of money to travel at all. This is false. Travel is just a matter of demand and supply. Travel when the demand is low so that the price is also low. A plane ticket from Houston to either Thailand or Vietnam can cost as low as $680 round trip. I paid $720 using Korean Air for this trip. Sames goes for hotels, traveling on the low season helped me find hotel deals without much effort.
For currency, Vietnamese đồng is not easy to carry or buy stuffs with. The smallest bank note I had was 1000 đồng (4 cents). The largest I had was 500,000 đồng (about $20). So with about $50 dollars, I became a Vietnamese millionaire. The trouble is when I break that 500,000 đồng, I have to carry a bunch of smaller bills with me. If someone uses a minimalist wallet or money clip, I don’t think they can store all these bills easily.
7. A Mix of Chinese and French Cultures
If there’s anyone who can’t decide whether he wants to go to China or France, he should go to Vietnam. When I visited Ho Chi Minh City, I thought I was in China when I visit a Buddhist pagoda. Then I saw Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica and I thought I was in Europe with Vietnamese people everywhere.
8. Romanized Script Language
Vietnamese uses romanized Vietnamese alphabet for writing. I was able to at least read the words or names on the signs and navigate the city. Other Southeast Asian countries have their own writing script.
On an unrelated note, since I also speak Thai, I found that some Vietnamese and Thai vocabularies are the same or very similar. Here are some words I found.
With friendly people, beautiful beaches, tasty foods and cheap accommodations, Vietnam is a very easy place to travel for beginners while having the dangers for adventurers to enjoy if they choose to. Vietnam will not stay cheap as I described for long. In the past recent years, Vietnam’s economy grew very quickly compared to other Southeast Asian countries. A lot of manufacturing jobs from China and Thailand moved to Vietnam to reduce costs. Olympus cameras (that I use) were made in China but are now made in Vietnam. In Thailand, several factories near where I used to frequent closed because the owner (Samsung I think) moved the factories to Vietnam. As this continues, the minimum wage in Vietnam will increase like China. This will subsequently increase the price of everything in Vietnam. For this reason, I think now is a good time to travel to Vietnam.
If you recently visit Vietnam, I am interested in learning your perspective. Thank you for reading!
Update 8/24/2016: I’ve read other people’s opinion of Vietnam. Several travel bloggers said they will never return because they were treated poorly. My experience was not bad at all. I traveled with Vietnamese friends for most of my trip so that is factor. However, I also traveled alone in Ho Chi Minh City as well. Yes, many people tried to overcharge me but I’ve found ways to avoid being victim like using Uber for example.