Because of the sheer diversity, it’s difficult for us to pinpoint just a few reasons to visit Vietnam. Head to the North, and you find yourself in craggy hill tribe regions with deep Chinese and French cultural influences. Down in the South, the traditional homeland of the Vietnamese flattens in the Mekong Delta and bears important historical sites from both ancient Hindu kingdoms and the 20th century war. And in the Centre? Beach towns jostle with forested highland cities to get those coveted spots on travellers’ itineraries. With such varied geography and diverse history, it’s challenging to choose just one way to travel Vietnam.
Despite the range of attractions, we’ve managed to choose 5 country-wide reasons to visit. Any more, and we’d never finish!
Travellers coming from nearby Laos or Cambodia will notice something different about Vietnamese cities immediately: their sheer energy. Landing in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, you’re dropped right in the midst of zooming scooters, honking cars, and thronging vendors. Quiet moments are saved for the hidden alleyways, but once on the streets it’s a rush of humanity and you’ve got no choice but to ride along with it. For those looking to chill, you could always head to Vietnam’s beach towns of Nha Trang and Hoi An, but let’s be honest – there’s something seductive about the frenzy of Vietnamese cities. It’s humanity, up-close and personal. Besides, once you’ve crossed the street in Ho Chi Minh City and lived to tell the tale, you’re ready for nearly anything.
The natural wonders
Once you’ve been sufficiently invigorated by the cities, channel that energy into exploring Vietnam’s natural wonders. Many visitors make a beeline for the limestone cliffs and pale green water of Halong Bay, but don’t let that be the extent of your outdoorsy experience. Take a motorcycle trip through the winding Hai Van Pass between Hue and Danang, weaving through a mountain highway with coastal views on one side and dark jungle on the other. Strap on your boots and descend into Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, where some of the world’s largest caves have recently been discovered. For those looking to relax on sandy beaches, boat out to Phu Quoc Island for the summertime vibes. And don’t miss peaceful Lak Lake up in the central highlands, where Stray passengers have their homestay in a M’Nong village.
Vietnam has long been on the budget-conscious backpacker’s list for good reason: it’s cheap! Street food runs from $.50-$2, dorm beds start at $3, motorcycle taxis will get you across town for as low as $1, tailored suits can be found for $40, and let’s not forget the fresh home-brewed beer (bia hoi) you can find on city corners for 7,000 dong ($.30). Though prices are slowly creeping up in Vietnam, it’ll be a long while until they get anywhere near the expense of travelling through Europe, North America or Oceania. So pull up a little red stool in front of your local bia hoi joint, buy a round for your friends, and stick around a while. Your wallet will happily oblige.
How do you like your coffee? Black? White? Iced? Or perhaps made with condensed milk and an egg beaten into the froth? In Vietnam, this ain’t your average Starbucks fare. Thick and often sweet, Vietnamese coffee is made country-wide using a unique filter which sits directly atop your glass, creating a bespoke cuppa every time. Get it hot as ca phe den, iced with condensed milk as ca phe sua da, or – yes, it’s real – with egg froth as ca phe trung. For the extra adventurous, pick up a bag of ‘weasel coffee’ beans at the local market – these beans were first digested by a civet before they make it to your mug. Trust us, it’s a delicacy.
The sheer diversity
So you’ve visited Ho Chi Minh City, gawked at the colonial beauty of Hoi An, swum in Nha Trang and explored the artisanal shops of Hanoi. But head even further into the north, and you’ll realise that there’s an entire world in Vietnam to discover. Up along the border with China lies a mountainous region rife with small villages and unique tribal cultures. Flower Hmong, Black Hmong, Tay, Red Dzao – these are just a few of the tribes that call northern Vietnam home. The town of Sapa is the biggest jumping-off point for trekking tours and homestays, though here at Stray we love the calmer trekking scene around Mai Chau. If you’re flexible with your schedule, plan a visit to the Bac Ha Sunday Market for a sample of local wares. Villagers come down selling livestock, clothing, tools, produce, even their own maize moonshine – and they’re happy to give free samples. With all these goodies, why only stick to the big cities?