Thoughts on Visiting Vietnam Today

There are some places you visit that you instantly fall in love with, or perhaps by the time you leave you have conflicted emotions. Then there are those places that slowly seduce you and have you missing them before you’ve even left. That is exactly where I found myself during our too brief time in Vietnam.

Vietnam Today

What is it like in Vietnam today?

Vietnam is composed of 54 different ethnic groups. For much of its earlier history, it was actually 3 separate kingdoms and regions. While it is well known that the French occupied Vietnam for a fair amount of time, China was its most frequent foreign occupier, and its influence on Vietnamese culture is much more obvious. For Americans, most of our information about Vietnam is related to the US’s efforts to keep communism from spreading southward during the almost 20-year war that began in 1955.

The other most common factors my fellow Americans seem to be familiar with are: There are lots of rice paddies, they wear conical hats, and pho is absolutely delicious. Perhaps they’ve also seen photos of the insane motorbike traffic in the former Saigon. (Saigon’s name was officially changed to Ho Chi Minh City after the fall of Saigon; however, people still call it Saigon, and even many of the official signs in HCMC refer to the southern city by its former name.)

While the impressions above are certainly correct, Vietnam is so much more. It is a country with breathtaking scenery with some of the best cuisine I’ve ever tasted. The markets in Saigon are absolutely incredible, with some of them being the cleanest and freshest wet markets I’ve experienced in a large city. When you can stand next to organ meats sitting on blocks of ice and not really notice a foul smell, you’re seeing some of the freshest meat available.

Vietnam Today

With the exception of the capital city of Hanoi, the Vietnamese are among some of the friendliest I’ve interacted with in Asia. They are very community minded and ready to help each other out.

While some areas and practices may seem more. . . vintage, smartphones are everywhere. Almost all cafes, restaurants, bars, etc., have free WiFi that has decent speeds.

It is perfectly normal to see a person carrying a large refrigerator or a pane of glass on their scooter. Speaking of scooters, Vietnam is one of the most chaotic when it comes to driving. Or crossing the street. And they love their horns. You honk to let people know you’re coming through an intersection, to tell someone to get out of your way, and to inform them you’re about to crush them with your vehicle if they don’t move. I’m pretty sure sometimes the honking is simply just to honk, too.

Some cities, like Saigon, simply defy expectations. This city is an amazing blend of sleek and modern and dull, old Soviet-style buildings occasionally mixed in with beautiful French architecture. Not many cities would offer a French-named popular bar with salsa dancing that is owned by a Japanese man.

Not many towns in the world offer an amusement park on a nearby island complete with a free, multilevel arcade; fantastic water park; lovely aquarium; extremely reasonably priced food; and which can be reached by riding the world’s longest sea-crossing cable car system.

And don’t even get me started on the incredible and very diverse food!

Vietnam today

Vietnam is unlike any other country I’ve been to. While part of me wants to keep it a secret, the other part of me wants more people, especially Americans, to come experience its extreme beauty, fantastic people, and absolutely delicious cuisine.

The way things constantly change, and with the government’s apparent interest in attracting more foreign companies, etc., visiting Vietnam today is the best idea. Who knows how quickly some of these great areas will drastically change! Although, part of me believes there is a large section of the country that will always remain somewhat untamed. And that puts a smile on my face.

Have you been to Vietnam? If not, what’s holding you back? Please share your thoughts.

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30 Comments

  1. Something definitely is lacking in regards to tourism if you compare the statistics with those of neighboring countries. Thailand leading the region, have higher year on year tourist growth and especially a higher satisfaction rate (the answer to the question “would you like to come back in the future”). I don’t think making the tourist visa more expensive will help solve this either..definitely a bad move for those wanting to come to Vietnam.
    This being said, I’ve been living in Vietnam for quite a while and am loving it. I know it might sometimes be challenging for tourists but as long as you have a minimum of care with your belongings and take it all in with a smile, you will be fine and make many friends.
    I’ve been to Hanoi a few times, and even though many other expat residents say the same, in my case, I found them friendly and funny (we laugh about each other’s accent as South and North have differences). I guess speaking broken Vietnamese does help to avoid those that make a living from actively hassling and scamming tourists.

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    • I think there are several factors affecting tourism in Vietnam, but definitely one of the largest is quite likely the cost of visas, which they’ve just increased again. I know many people who took Vietnam off their list because of the visa cost, especially when the most you’ll pay at any neighboring country (other than China) is $20 USD. It’s really a shame because I think it’s a wonderful country that shouldn’t be missed.

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  2. To be honest I’m glad I found this post on your blog. After reading so much bad about this country I kind of crossed it out of my list. But now I’m thinking about putting it back there 🙂

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  3. Interesting to see that not everyone is disappointed with Vietnam, majority of blogs I read always complain about this country and promise to never get back!

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    • And I totally don’t get why they say that, although I know some of them are, well, frankly primadonnas. Or they only went to Hanoi and didn’t venture down south where people are much friendlier.

      It is such an amazing country with wonderful people. It’s easily my favorite SE Asian country.

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  4. Just reading this is getting me really excited for my trip next month!! I’ve heard conflicting reports about how nice people are and I really hope you’re right! 🙂 Anyway, I’m so excited! Thanks for passing your link onto me!!

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  5. The captures exactly how I’ve felt about Vietnam too. Every single backpacker we met on the road had fairly negative things to say about Vietnam so when we first arrived in Hanoi it was with much trepidation. I was just saying yesterday that no other country has surprised me as much and I’ve enjoyed every second. Great writing Talon 🙂

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    • I think people who had issues either only stayed in Hanoi or, more likely, spent a lot of time in the backpacker area of Saigon. We drove through there, and it was absolutely miserable. Many people have told me that people they’ve heard complain didn’t get out of that area. No wonder they hated it!

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  6. Great article Talon. I’ve loved hearing your thoughts on your stay. You’ve got me itching to get over there and explore. I’ve never been anywhere quite like what you’re describing and as a sucker for new cultures, flavors and insights I’m keen to expand my repertoire, although perhaps I’ll leave out sampling the organ meats!

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    • It is so worth a visit! I’m already plotting our return.

      Are you SURE you want to skip the organ meats? 🙂

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  7. Loved this post about Vietnam. Just returned from 2 weeks there with my 14 yo daughter who was adopted from Thai Nguyen in 1999. I love this country!! I am sorry that your experience in Hanoi was not so good. We met amazing, open, and friendly people there and loved the city. We had the exact same experience in the central and south as well. My only regret is not having about 6 more months to spend there. I love your blog. I live vicariously through your adventures!!!

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    • Hanoi was OK. The grouchy people were just more highlighted because we were coming from uber friendly Thailand. But it definitely isn’t a place I feel the need to return to. The rest of Vietnam, different story.

      So glad you enjoy the blog! Thanks for visiting!

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  8. We absolutely loved Vietnam! It has all the culture and culture-shock value of China with less of the filth and smells and obnoxious people. Cha Ca La Vong is one of the nicest things I have ever eaten and our trip to Sapa is up there with one of the most beautiful places we have visited.

    Love what you’re doing.

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  9. Hi Talon, we were first in Vietnam in 2000 or 2001 or something, too long ago to remember. It doesn’t sound as if much has changed, I hope not, we totally fell in love with the place and the food. We’ll be back soon, it’ll be interesting to see what it’s like now. By the way, intestines as food after working in the path labs…..nooooooo!!!!

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    • It will be interesting to hear what your experience is returning there after so long!

      I’m not into intestines either, although I’ve had some dishes with it that are pretty tasty.

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  10. Whoa that intestine photo was too real talon!
    I love pho and hope to someday visit Vietnam to taste authentic pho cooking ! Traffic worse that Thailand ? My word you are brave !

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    • Make sure you try pho in Saigon. It’s even better than up north.

      Yes, the traffic in Thailand is NOTHING compared to big cities in Vietnam. LOL

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  11. Yep, I’m a BIG fan of Vietnam. It’s been 10 years between visits but I certainly remember the beautiful scenery, great food, and the people. Two places apart from the obvious I enjoyed were Dalat and Sapa in the north.

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    • We loved Dalat. Didn’t make it to Sapa this trip, though. SO much to see. We’ll need longer visas for sure next time, and I’ll plan on not planning so we can stay as long as we can.

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  12. We were supposed to go to Vietnam but we needed to get back to Europe for a family emergency. This post really makes me want to get back to SEA and finish what we put on pause, we have to do it pretty fast though before those amazing areas you are talking about change.

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    • Sorry to hear that! Hope everything worked out okay, though. Oh yes! You definitely want to return to SEA, and especially visit Vietnam.

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  13. What a great overview of the country and the people. Growing up, I had a close friend from Vietnam. I’m sure things have changed a lot since he lived there. Sounds like an awesome culture though.

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    • It is such a wonderful place, especially in the central and south regions where the culture is more friendly. We definitely need more time there.

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