Be you beach lover, culture craver, adventure seeker, romantic, foodie or self-confessed geek: there’s something for everyone in Vietnam.
Vietnam has recently become the next “it” destination for South East Asia. In the past few years Thailand has dominated as the most popular destination for young travellers but this year, it’s all about Vietnam. Far less tacky than Thailand but just as cheap and party orientated, Vietnam has boasted a 10% a year increase in tourism since 2011.
Recently I came back from Vietnam so I can vouch first-hand for the country. I went with a group of friends and was told before I went, “you either love or hate it” – ironically however, everyone I spoke to loved the place. Naturally I went with high expectations and thankfully wasn’t disappointed. The beauty of Vietnam is in the eclectic mix of culture, the rampant party scene, scenic beaches, and let’s not forget the cuisine.
There are two ways to do Vietnam. You can either do it cheap – less than $1.20 for a huge bowl of noodles and a beer – or extravagant – and even then it’s relatively cheap. Five star hotels with private butlers for $100 a night? Yes please. I chose the latter having worked all year for the holiday and wasn’t disappointed. Websites such as agoda.com and skyscanner.com were bookmarked for the best deals.
The bustling city of Ho Chi Mihn (formerly Saigon) is a good place to immerse yourself in the culture of Vietnam. From the moment you exit the airport a wave of taxi drivers approach you – anxious to rip off the next naïve tourist. Had I thoroughly read my Lonely Planet book beforehand, I would have been aware the price from the airport to the city is $4, not $60. It can leave a bad taste in your mouth, to be taken for the unassuming tourist you are just moments into your trip, but if you have the expectation you will be ripped off at least once, it may not be such a surprise when it happens. The city is renowned for its shopping malls and rooftop bars and restaurants. Shri restaurant, an Indian/Vietnamese fusion style restaurant, is one of many popular haunts for those seeking exquisite food and breathtaking views. There are over 30 sky bars and restaurants to choose from including Chill sky lounge and the Sheraton’s bar on the 23rd level.
Further north, and about an hour from the city, is Nah Thrang, which, as more of a beach town, is a welcome relief from the crowds of Ho Chi Minh. The air feels a lot cleaner than the polluted city air and it is here tourists come for some relaxation. Mud baths, spas and massages are plentiful and hours can be spent on the back of a motor bike exploring the town.
As far as food is concerned, it is cheap, diverse and often better than any Michelin star restaurant. Did you know traditionally spring rolls are supposed to be eaten with lettuce leaves wrapped around the outside? Pho is the classic Vietnamese dish. While different regions claim their pho tastes different, we travelled around the whole of Vietnam and personally, I couldn’t tell the difference but the division of the North and South of Vietnam is still prevalent through their preferred presentation of pho. Jessica Tran, a student of southern Vietnamese heritage, insists the south is better for pho. “The north don’t use as many condiments, which makes it plainer and less tasty, in my opinion.”
Pho is essentially a DIY noodle soup. You are provided with noodles in the broth and the rest is up to you. Add onions, chilli peppers, cilantro, lime, bean sprouts and Thai basil to use to taste… As spicy or mild as you like, and as flavoursome, sweet or sour as you desire Pho truly is a versatile, delicious dish.
While there are also “high end” restaurants in Vietnam such as the hatted La Maison at the Intercontinental in Danang, often the best food can be found in the markets or at street corners. Fresh food markets operate in every city every day and hours can be passed wandering through the stalls. Bird saliva is considered a delicacy in Vietnam as it is said to prevent aging- it can be very insulting to reject it when offered but I think I’ll take the wrinkles!
There is no ideal time to go to Vietnam either, it is enjoyable at all times of the year according to the Vietnam Tourism Board. So for your next holiday consider Vietnam before it too becomes tacky and over populated with tourists! – Benedicte Earl
Images by Benedicte Earl