Thoughts about travelling in Vietnam

20130219 Hanoi streetfood P1420065

To begin with, Vietnam didn’t make it on the list of our favourite places on this planet. Indeed it actually competes with Djibouti for the bottom rank. We have travelled in Laos, Cambodia and Thailand and tremendously liked these countries, but for some reason never felt compelled to visit Vietnam. Only this year, motivated by several very positive reports of friends, we wanted to check it out.

20130206 Nha Trang to Hoi An night bus P1410404

A very developed infrastructre

Vietnam has a very developed tourist infrastructure: Tour agencies abound and organize everything from bus and train rides to Homestays, theatre tickets, sightseeing, and scooter rental. Our first organized day trip was to the Cu Chi Tunnels and the Cao Dai Holy Sea near Saigon and we didn`t like it very much (read here why). As always, we wanted to travel more independently, but found most people quite unfriendly. Bus conductors generally demanded at least twice the normal fare from foreigners and got physically aggressive and abusive when we rejected their demands. Unlike in most other countries, the tension could never be reduced with a joke and a smile, but in Vietnam even the other passengers sided with the conductor.

“Errors” on the bills

20130208 Hoi An Morning Glory Street Food restaurant P1410524

In four out of five restaurant bills there was an error – curiously never in our favour.  “Oh, I am sorry!,” was the usual
answer if we pointed out the mistake. We know that these things happen to tourists all over the world, but we never have experienced it in such quantities as in Vietnam.

Tet holidays

By comparison, the dreaded standstill of the country over the Tet holiday season was quite endurable. Yes, buses and trains were packed and more expensive, but finding a room or an open restaurant was no problem at all. And we got the chance to experience one of the most important Vietnamese festivals. It is a very private festival and most of the festivities take place within the families, such as visiting each other or going for a picnic with the family, but we went to the big fireworks display and quite enjoyed the lively atmosphere and colaourful decoration in the days before Tet.

Going north, the cold and rainy weather did nothing to lift our spirits. As vegetarians we also ended up with more egg sandwiches and morning glory than we cared to eat, although most of the time we did have quite good food.

20130218 Halong Bay P1420060
Halong Bay

Good days in the Mekong delta

We did enjoy our last days in the South of Vietnam when we visited the Mekong delta with its meandering water ways and Hinayana temples. “Go and see the upstairs balcony! We have a festival today,” a monk in a Buddhist temple
told us, and upstairs another visitor added: “Did you notice how it is different from most Vietnamese temples? This one is a Khmer temple, in the Cambodian style.” Conveniently for us, there are far more pious (Hinayana) Buddhists in the delta than elsewhere in Vietnam, and as they observe strict dietary rules, there’s a vegan restaurant on every street corner.

20130225 Can Tho Vegetarian restaurant P1420443
Vegetarian restaurant

Vietnam does offer good value for money rooms, quite cheap restaurants, nice enough beaches and sun in the South. Overall it is very easy to travel, as long as you do not mind travelling on the tourist trail. We found the sightseeing not that interesting and the Vietnamese people quite unfriendly and xenophobic. Admittedly there is a possibility that all these incidents were just bad luck, but we are unlikely to go back to give it another try.

2 Comments

  1. We are happy to have come across your site, you’ve been to quite some exotic places!
    We have never been to Vietnam but are in the same position you were – not so interested but told by many that it is worth a visit. Hoi An seems on everyone’s list.
    But have also had quite a few people with comments that echo exactly what you say. So maybe we’ll visit one day but make sure we are not locked into anything and can leave quickly if not impressed…
    We have one country that we feel the same way about: Brazil. Sometimes you don’t know if its you or if you just got unlucky..but one thing for sure is that I’m never stepping foot in Brazil again.
    By the way, we love Germany. One of our favorite countries 🙂
    Frank (bbqboy)

  2. Glad that you liked the post. We are curious where your travels will lead you in the future. Brazil is somewhere on our list too, so we will see for ourselves.

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