I must admit that I really like Vietnam and traveling around the country early this year is one of the best things that had happened in my life. The country has so much to offer. I met a lot of cool people along the way, ate some of the country’s amazing local dishes I didn’t know about, fell in love with its beautiful and breathtaking landscape, learnt its unique local cultures, and many more.
Regardless of the many hiccups experienced during my journey, everyday troubles seemed to be rather common and they did not stop me from having a good time. This journey taught me seven things I’ll never forget.
1. Vietnam’s Landscape is Amaaazing
Even if I exhausted all the vocabulary I knew, words can’t really describe how beautiful Vietnam really is. The country’s beautiful landscape shows me the beauty of the world we live in and reminds me of the importance of preserving such a wonderful gift Mother Nature has given to us. If I had more time to spare, I would have stayed longer. Vietnam is indeed one of the most amazing places I visited and when I left the country, I had no regrets at all! I mean just look at this:
Yes, I took this photo myself while basking in the glorious landscape! Vietnam is not all about Ha Long Bay or Cu Chi Tunnels – it’s so much more than that. Even the less touristy places are super-wonderful! While I was traveling in the country, I had the chance to look at its gorgeous mountains, healthy rice fields, well-maintained national parks and peaceful rivers. Oh, and how can I forget the infamous Mekong River? It is one of the places I read about in my history books (which I had always wanted to visit) and when I finally got there, I took the chance to have my feet soaked in its cold water!
2. Traveling on a Motorbike is the Best Way to See the Country
Whilst this mode of travel is not for everyone, it was for me, at least for my trip. My travel buddy, Alex, and I, traveled around the country by our Honda Win motorbike. One can easily purchase it from the city centres of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. We got ours from Hanoi. A second-hand Honda Win would cost about USD200. If you’re lucky, you can get it at a cheaper price. Tip: If you need one, go around the city and ask around if there are travelers nearby, looking to sell theirs.
It was still winter when we started our journey. The weather was very cold and traveling by bike with the cold wind blowing in my face was indeed a challenge as I’m not a big fan of the cold weather. But the reward was what kept me going.
I figured that travelling by motorbike is one of the best ways to see the country. Thanks to it, Alex and I were able to explore even the most remote areas in the country. We visited many small villages and talked to local people even though language barrier existed. The locals were also always interested to know about our travel stories.
The Honda Win, even though less preferred in big cities especially, is most favored in less urban areas. Thanks to our Honda Win, we also discovered many beautiful beaches which only local fishermen knew about.
3. Not All Vietnamese Are What Others Say They Are
I heard from many people that the Vietnamese are not the easiest people to get along with and they’re not very warm and welcoming. Many bloggers have also written about how many travelers have been treated poorly in Vietnam.
For me, I did meet many nice individuals there. I also made some new friends.
When I was in Ho Chi Minh, I was hosted by a Vietnamese girl named Amy. Amy’s little sister was also very nice. They allowed me to stay at their place for about four days and while I was there, they were very hospitable and took care of me. Amy took me around the district where she currently lives and her sister cooked delicious lunch meals for me almost every day when Amy was out at work. I also met some cool Vietnamese people at one of the parks in Ho Chi Minh. The young ones were very approachable and it is in fact common to see many of them at the parks, talking to tourists. Vyna, a Vietnamese girl I met in Malaysia many years ago, met me again in Ho Chi Minh. She is undeniably one of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. On the night of our meeting, she took me to some nice hangout places. We were joined by two others; Michael and Doan Hieu.
In rural areas, people are typically more friendly. I stayed in a small guest house where the owner and his family live on Lunar Day. Although I was just a guest, I did not feel left out when the whole nation was celebrating their New Year. Old or young, the people I met along my journey were very helpful and nice. Many of my friends were upset about how they got scammed by local sellers, but to avoid this I befriended the locals to learn about things I didn’t know – for example, how to get the best bargain or identify overpriced items – a lesson only a local can teach you. I did meet rude and bad people in the city too. But isn’t that common, especially in big cities? Everyone experiences different things. That’s understandable. As for me, I’d say I would visit the country again (and again!).
4. I Learned to Live with Horn and Crazy Traffic
When I first visited the country in 2013, I was traumatized by the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh city. The traffic is unbelievable. For the first time, I didn’t know how to cross the road! After a while, I started to get the hang of it. The trick is to just cross the road slowly. If you run, someone might accidentally knock you! Just be careful of buses and lorries (trucks). Most Vietnamese travel by motorbike, and in big cities, driving is not recommended.
I had never taken a bus trip longer than 8 hours. But I did it from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi. It took me 2 days! It was a challenging journey; not because it was a long one, but because it was a long, noisy one! The bus driver couldn’t stop honking and the horn kept me awake most of the time. I was lucky to have Max, an American traveller whom I met in the bus to keep me company. It would have been a lot more miserable if I had to stay awake all day listening to that.
Honking is acceptable in countries like Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. But the bus drivers (who took turns every 6 hours) made me wonder if they actually meant “Be careful, I am passing by,” or “Get lost. You’re in my way.”
5. The Roads Are in Pretty Good Shape
In comparison to the roads in some of its neighboring countries, Vietnam’s roads are pretty good. Riding a bike around the country shouldn’t be an issue. Almost everywhere is paved and you can find roads that are in good condition even in the more remote mountainous areas.
BUT, watch out for the road from Hanoi to the Vietnam-Laos border. Some of the roads are still not paved. Tip: If you have heavy things on your bike, get off the bike, and walk with the bike instead when going up a hill. I did an amateur mistake: I did not do what I should have done and fell off the bike. Five minutes after I fell, two Vietnamese ladies arrived and one of them got off the bike whilst the other continued riding.
6. Young Vietnamese Take Initiatives to Learn English
As mentioned earlier, in the parks of Ho Chi Minh city, young Vietnamese would approach tourists and start a conversation. That’s one of their ways to learn and improve their English.
How would I know? They approached me too! You may be approached by just one individual at first, but you’ll be joined by many others after that. It was surprising to me because they really made an effort to talk to me, introduced themselves, and showed interest in my travel stories and in me as a person. In fact, I have already made some Vietnamese friends this way and I am still in touch with them since I left. Tip: If you’re lucky, one of them might even invite you to see their hometown.
7. Vietnamese Are Early Birds
This is the country where I regularly woke up early due to many reasons. But the main reason is because most Vietnamese are morning people. Forgive me if you disagree, but this is what I thought while I was there. It doesn’t matter whether you are at the south or the north, you’d hear loud sounds and voices, as early as 6:00 a.m.! Vietnamese start their day early, basically the minute the sun rises, and for those living or working in the city, it is always best for them to leave home early due to the massive traffic jam.
I remember one particular day when the hotel receptionist called me at 8 o’clock in the morning just to wake me up. In some rural places, check-out time is as early as 7:00 a.m.! On Lunar Day, the owner of the guesthouse where I was staying woke me up at 8:00 a.m. and made me drink rice wine and eat sticky rice. He even introduced me to his whole family. Also, not forgetting the loudspeakers on the streets of Vietnam that “talk” to the people. These old-style loudspeakers were once used to warn the Vietnamese to take shelter from American aircraft bombing.
That wraps up the seven things I learned during my journey in Vietnam. Whatever positive and negative experiences others may have gained from their trips in the country, I believe that the good and bad experiences are part and parcel of travel. This trip didn’t just expose me to a world different from mine, but it also left me with good memories I’ll never forget.
Do you have unforgettable memories in Vietnam, too