This is a love letter to Vietnam, a country I fell head over heels in love with during my two-month stay there. In this post, I’d like to share 7 reasons why you should visit Vietnam and what I think you’ll love about it. If Vietnam isn’t already on your travel wish list, it will be by the time you’ve finished reading this post.
Now, in no particular order…
Reason #1: The fascinating history
Vietnam has experienced more conflict than any country should, from the French dominance to the American-Vietnamese war. I encourage you to visit some of the museums and historic attractions aimed at teaching tourists and locals about the country’s history. We visited the hard-hitting and harrowing War Remanent museum, an incredibly detailed collection of photographs and artefacts from the American-Vietnamese war. We also visited the Prison of Hanoi, the Temple of Literature, Vietnam Military History Museum and Cu Chi Tunnels. Some of the content was harrowing and shocking, yet essential to remember the atrocities and the repercussions from the war which continue to this day.
Vietnam has a lot to offer tourists, with hundreds of museums, monuments, and art galleries across the country. There are currently eight UNESCO World Heritage sites, including My Son Sanctuary, Hạ Long Bay, Hội An Ancient Town, the Huế Monuments and the Thang Long Citadel. Even if you don’t manage to get to Hội An, Huế or the other cities which are home to World Heritage sites, simply strolling around Vietnam’s cities and towns is a history lesson and feast for the eyes. You will come across an abundance of temples, shrines, pagodas and mausoleums, many of them dating back hundreds of years.
Before visiting Vietnam, my boyfriend and I made sure to watch Ken Burn’s 10-part documentary. I am so glad I watched this fantastic series as it gave me a much better understanding of the country, both historically and geographically. As we explored the country from north to south, everywhere we visited had more context and significance as I had something about it in advance.
#2 – The food
Vietnamese food is utterly delicious: light, fresh and tasty. I love how herbs and fresh vegetables are incorporated into almost every dish. You can also find a wide range of fruit at markets, supermarkets and available to buy on the street. You won’t believe how fresh the coconuts are, which you buy directly from vendors who will give you a straw to guzzle every drop of the irresistible coconut water. Vietnamese cuisine is heavily influenced by France, and you will see a lot of variety between the north, middle and south as each region of has its own specialities.
One dish that is ubiquitous across the country is Pho (pronounced with a very soft ‘f’ like ‘fo’): it’s a tasty noodle broth consisting of four main ingredients: clear stock, boiled beef, rice noodles and herbs or green onions. Usually pho is very affordable, from 35,000 – 50,000 dong. However, check the prices before ordering as we got overcharged on two occasions (we got hit with the tourist prices!). Hanoi is both the capital city of Vietnam and known as the Pho capital. You will find thousands of restaurants boasting their own special recipe. You can read about my other favourite Vietnamese dishes here.
#3 – The scenery
You may have seen photos of Vietnam’s rivers, mountains, waterfalls, limestone islands, caves, hills, rice paddies and coastline, but trust me – photos do not do them justice! I was completely blown away by how gorgeous, varied, and luscious the country is. We ventured out of the big cities to take a boat ride along the Mekong Delta, climb 486 steps up Hang Mua mountain, marvel at the panoramic view of Heaven’s Gate Pass, drink fresh coconut waters plucked from palm trees, admire the limestone cliffs of Bai Tu Long Bay and almost get decapitated in the long, deep caves of Trang An (worth it though!).
If you’re worried about travelling from one point to another, rest assured that neither my boyfriend or I felt confident renting a car or motorbike in Vietnam, but that didn’t stop us from exploring the country from north to south. The country is extremely accessible for people without their own vehicles. Airlines fly domestically from city to city, there’s a long train network connecting the north and south, and buses and coaches connect all the major towns and cities. It was very easy to organise transfers from one place to another. We used 12GoAsia (which lets you pay online and emails you a booking confirmation), Grab for shorter taxi or motorbike rides (we were happy to travel as passengers!) and our accommodation helped us book private minivans and get on the right public buses.
#4 – The activities & excursions
If you want to sit back, relax and indulge in amazing food and coffee, Vietnam is a great choice for you. However, it is also the perfect location for more active travellers. You can have a lot of fun in Vietnam! You can rent a motorbike and snake your way through the steep hills of Ha Giang or the Sapa region. You can go kayaking around limestone islands and along winding rivers. You can hike until your feet are pounding (then treat yourself to a foot massage!). It’s very easy to book these excursions, either directly with the providers, through travel agencies or via your hotel/hostel/homestay/Airbnb host.
One or two-night cruises are popular in northern Vietnam, especially to World Heritage site Ha Long Bay. It’s a gorgeous area with beautiful turquoise water and over 1,600 limestone towers. However, we choose its lesser-known cousin Bai Tu Long which is just a few miles away, looks nearly identical and attracts a fraction of the visitors. You can read about our visit to Bai Tu Long Bay here.
#5 – The architecture
Vietnam has stunning scenery and natural landscapes, but its cities are incredibly photogenic as well. The crumbling colonial-style buildings in Hanoi, the grand, bright white embassies and governmental buildings, dilapidated buildings contrasted against gleaming skyscrapers, the mustard yellow and ochre-coloured walls in Hoi An, Vietnam’s cities are a photographer’s dream just as much as its countryside.
Spend some time just wandering around the towns and cities, taking it all in. The bustling narrow streets with vendors laughing and joking with one another. Green vines snaking down from the upper levels of buildings and colourful lanterns swaying in the wind. How tangled electricity cables zigzagging across the street can be strangely attractive. The warm smiles on people’s faces, with many of them wearing traditional conical hats as they go about their daily business. The alluring scents of street food wafting towards you, distracting you from the roar of a million motorbikes. People-watch while you relax in the numerous parks, dotted around, as well besides the lakes and rivers. Be delighted and mesmerised by how beautiful the country is.
#6 – The coffee
As a self-confessed coffee addict, I can tell you that Vietnamese coffee is on another level. I discovered it on my first day and was immediately hooked. As with many cultures, coffee is an integral part of a Vietnamese person’s daily routine. There are thousands of coffee shops across the country, which has created a wonderful laidback café culture. Most of Vietnam’s coffee plantations produce Robusta coffee beans which have a strong, bitter taste and twice as much caffeine as the better-known Arabica beans.
Did you know that Vietnam is the second largest producer of coffee in the world? Coffee was brought over by the French during colonization and is here to stay. Vietnamese coffee is usually served with ice and condensed milk (Cà Phê Sữa Đá), but you can order Cà Phê Sữa Nóng if you prefer hot coffee, or Cà phê đá if you don’t want milk. If you want something that is half-coffee/half-dessert, get a Cà phê dừa (coffee blended with coconut cream, condensed milk and ice). And if you visit Hanoi, you should try Cà Phê Trứng (egg coffee) which was invented there. Yes, you did read that right! Black coffee is topped with a creamy, frothy layer of whipped egg yolk and sugar. It creates a thick, creamy custard which has caramalised notes to it (like a crème brûlée).
#7 – The people
At the end of the day, a country can have great food, stunning scenery and fascinating history, but it’s the people that makes somewhere truly special. We met so many friendly, patient and generous people during our two months in Vietnam. Even when we didn’t speak the same language, people tried to help us with a smile on their faces. Waiters and waitresses demonstrated how to eat local dishes correctly, small children ran up to us in villages to say hello and Google Translate helped overcome language barriers and misunderstandings. We were treated with such kindness during our stay. It was clear that the people we met loved their country and culture and were keen to show it off to visitors, and from what I’ve seen, there’s a lot to be proud of.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading 7 of the reasons why I love Vietnam so much. After eight weeks in Vietnam, we still felt like we have barely scratched the surface of what the country has to offer. I can’t wait to return and explore further. If you have any suggestions on what I should do or see next time I’m there, please leave them in the comments below.
Ciao for now
The Curious Sparrow