3 Reasons Why I Fell in Love with Vietnam

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Vietnam is a country that often evokes strong opinions from travelers.

Some love it. Some absolutely hate it.

Me? I definitely fall into the former category.

Sampan boat ride in the Mekong Delta

Sure, there are travel scams in Vietnam. There are taxi drivers and touts who will try to rip you off. There are market vendors that will swear at you and swat you away if you don't want to pay their prices. There's a really big pollution problem, especially in northern cities like Hanoi.

But, these issues are not confined to Vietnam — you'll find scammy drivers, pollution/litter, and unfriendly vendors all across Southeast Asia. In my case, I actually encountered LESS of them in Vietnam than anywhere else. Yes, there was smog. Yes, there were touts who would try to hang a shoulder pole on you and then ask you for money. And yes, I could see how a few bad interactions could color your whole travel experience.

Overall, though, I had a fantastic time in Vietnam. I didn't get scammed. I didn't feel unsafe, or unwanted because I was American. And, I didn't find anything to hate about this interesting developing country.

Yes, I am definitely in the “I love Vietnam” camp. And here's why:

Vietnam

The scenery

Vietnam has some incredible landscapes, from the limestone karsts of Ha Long Bay to the braided waterways in the Mekong Delta. I was constantly surprised by how different different parts of the country looked — beaches one day, and rice fields the next. And the cities? They have their own sort of beautiful scenery, from imperial gates covered in carved dragons to colorful hanging lanterns. Vietnam is BEAUTIFUL, no matter how you look at it.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Vietnam rice paddies

Thu Bon River in Hoi An, Vietnam

Saigon

The food

I'll admit it: I'm not a *huge* fan of a lot of Asian food. Try as I might, I have never loved Indian food. Thai food does nothing for me, either (probably because I don't like spicy dishes). Even Chinese food is hit-or-miss as far as I'm concerned. But Vietnamese food? It's probably my favorite Asian food I've tried so far. Fresh spring rolls, delicious pho, and Vietnamese coffee… mmm, my mouth is watering just thinking about it all!

Cao lau in Hoi An

Pho in Vietnam

Cooking class in Hoi An

The people

Lastly, the people of Vietnam really made an impression on me. I traveled around the country in a small group with a local guide. We met a few of his friends along the way, and he always went out of his way to make sure that we met people who treated us well. We had lunch with a local family in Hue, where the neighbor kids came over to sing songs for us. We met a local “fortune teller” at a countryside market. We played an impromptu soccer game with a group of kids in Hoi An. And, on every bike tour we took through the countryside, kids would run out of their houses simply to wave, yell “Hello! Hello!,” and get some high-fives.

Kids in Vietnam
We played soccer with this rowdy bunch.

Kids in Vietnam

Never during these experiences did I feel like these people (or kids) wanted anything more from me than a smile. And THAT'S what will stick with me from my time in Vietnam.

New friends in Vietnam

A good impression

So why was my experience so positive in a country where so many others come away with negative feelings? Well, it was a mixture of reasons — but a lot of them focused around food and people. The meals I shared with the people I was traveling with, the meals I shared with locals, and all the interactions in between.

Recently, the team over at Withlocals asked me to reflect on some of my memorable local interactions in Vietnam, and I realized that a lot of them (like the little kids singing to us over lunch, and meeting the shriveled old fortune teller at a market in the countryside) centered around food in some way.

Even some of my favorite photos from Vietnam include produce.

Hoi An, Vietnam

Food can be a great way to connect to a new culture — and to its people.

I hadn't heard about Withlocals before I went to Asia, but now I really wish I had. Withlocals is a site that connects travelers with local people to share meals and experiences with. In Vietnam, you can join a local family for dinner, go on a locally-curated food tour, or even just find a local to hang out with for the day. And the best part? The experiences are all really affordable.

Sharing a meal with a local family no doubt would have made me love Vietnamese food even more!

Ha Long Bay Sunset

In Vietnam, I was able to look past the touts and scams and downsides of the country that so many others hate. In doing so, I found a beautiful country filled with beautiful people — a country I definitely hope to return to someday.

Have you been to Vietnam? Did you love it or hate it?

 

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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66 Comments on “3 Reasons Why I Fell in Love with Vietnam

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  1. I have a family friend who’s Vietnamese and she makes the best spring rolls ever. For that very reason, I am going there at some point and you’ve only confirmed my assumptions, I feel it’s almost fate this article – I have to go!

      Haha, well that’s a pretty great reason to want to go to Vietnam! Such delicious spring rolls….

    I already love Vietnamese cuisine, so I really want to travel there. Thanks for the encouraging perspective!

      You would be in food heaven there!

    I hope I love it when I visit next year. It looks like a fascinating country and as I love Pho, I want to try it in a the country that its from.

      I know plenty of people who’ve loved Vietnam just as much as I did, so hopefully you will, too! And don’t worry – no shortage of pho there!

    I haven’t been. I went to Thailand for a month and had to come back to India because of my dog, while all my friends went on to Vietnam… such a bummer! Looks amazing.

      Well hopefully you get another chance to go, Rachel! I think you would probably like Vietnam more than Thailand.

    I’m lucky enough to have shared that very trip and can endorse every aspect.Much older I look at travels with a different eye, but Amanda has it just right Vietnam has that magical feel. It fills you with wonder and welcome at the same time.

      “Wonder and welcome” – I love that description, Robin!

    I’ll be there next year and you’ve definitely gotten me excited! 🙂

      Awesome to hear! I hope you have a great time!

    I have such mixed feelings about Vietnam. In many ways it just didn’t seem ready for tourism, especially the obnoxious and inappropriate party types. But all the reasons you gave kept me from hating it! Especially the food and the cutest children I’ve ever seen.

      Comparing it to, say, Cambodia, I think Vietnam is much more tourist-friendly. But you might be right about the party-types… I’m glad you still found some redeeming qualities there, there! (And yes, how ADORABLE are the kids??)

    This withlocals thing sounds pretty awesome. I might have to check that out- and pass it on to my sister, too 🙂

      Definitely! I love the idea, and will definitely try it out next time I’m in Asia. I hope they expand to other parts of the world!

    I think I would like to visit it for its landscapes! Though the scams and touts sound scary, I think one can take care of them with proper research.

      There are scams and touts everywhere – just be smart and you’ll be fine! I saw many more of them in Cambodia and Thailand.

    It’s nice to read a good experience in Vietnam. I personally didn’t have a good experience in 6 weeks in the country in early 2013, but I have got over my “travel rage” now, so I am willing to give Vietnam a second go. I particularly want to explore more in the Mekong Delta (I left there early in a mad travellers rage and crossed the border to Cambodia) and I would like to spend more in around Sapa and in the north (I was there in January so the weather was not so good).

    The food and scenery, like you said, was amazing. Unfortunately the cold welcomes and scams were what put a dampener on my experience. I know it can happen anywhere and you always get *a little* ripped off every now and then while travelling in developing (or even developed!) countries, and I am used to travelling, but in Vietnam it was EXTREME.

    But…everyone deserves a second chance 🙂

      I’m glad that you’re willing to give it a second chance! Just goes to show how different travel experiences can be from one person to the next!

    I have come across a number of negative reviews on Vietnam. However, your blog proves otherwise. I haven’t been there but doing a Thailand-Cambodia-Vietnam trip is definitely on my checklist. Shall be there sometime soon.

      To be honest, out of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand, I think I enjoyed Vietnam the most! It just goes to show that everyone has a different experience, and that you should never completely write off a destination just because somebody else didn’t like it.

    Hi Amanda!

    I just discovered your website when I was looking for information about where to plan my next trip. Your adventures have been really inspiring to me! I also think we would make excellent travel companions 😛 since I have a similar personality to you (I’m not much of a partier, I prefer to travel for the history/culture/scenery, and I tend to miss home when I’m gone for too long) Anyways keep up the great work!

      So glad you discovered my blog, Lindsey! I’ll have to check out yours, too!

    I did hate the sheer number of people who tried to scam me and rip me off (and I definitely experienced it more than in Thailand and Laos; probably on a par with Cambodia though), but as you say the landscapes completely blow you away and I could eat fresh spring rolls every day of the week! 🙂

      Erm, what is #WebsiteWednesday? I didn’t post it!

        I have no idea – looks like CommentLuv somehow pulled it in when you posted?

      Yeah, it was easier for me to ignore the attempted scamming in Vietnam, I think. Plus, traveling around with a local most definitely helped!

    I’m going early 2015 for the first time. I’m really looking forward to it. As a Kiwi, I think we’re perhaps a little more well-looked upon that Americans might be.

      To be honest, I didn’t meet very many people there who were anti-American. I mean, I’m sure they exist. But I think most people have moved past it (or, at least realize that younger American tourists weren’t even alive when all that nastiness went down).

    Vietnam is very high on my bucket list! I will be living in Korea for the next year and hope to make it over there. My boyfriend has no interest in going (I know, crazy!), I’m going to show him this post in hopes to sway him a little! Your pictures are amazing!

      Living in Korea, you’ll be able to explore lots of Asia!

    I’m definitely in the Love Vietnam camp, and I’m always so happy to hear of others who are too. Vietnam takes a little while to get into your blood, but when it does you’re hooked. I was there for 3 years and didn’t get scammed. I did get pick-pocketed once, but in the space of 2 months my boyfriend got pick-pocketed twice, and my friend had her apartment broken into, in Stockholm (allegedly, a ‘safe’ city) , so it really could happen anywhere.

      So true – the “bad stuff” can literally happen anywhere. I’m glad you’re in the Love Vietnam camp, too!

    I plan a trip to Vietnam after our UK trip (leaving Australia on Christmas day for the Uk, planning to do Distance Education for the girls) and stay up to 6-12 months…) BUT Vietnam is on the top of the list and I look forward to taking our time there, will be such an experience for the girls! Have pinned your article to my Pinterest board!! Thanks for a great read Amanda!

      Glad you enjoyed it, Jane! I feel like Vietnam would be fascinating for kids. So many new sights and smells and sounds!

    Great photos, and three very good reasons to love it!

    Unfortunately I haven’t made it to Vietnam yet, and I’ve been living in Asia for a year! You’e definitely cemented the fact that I need to get there soon!

      I hope you make it there, Stacey!

    It’s great to hear from someone who likes the country. I’ve heard so many bad versions I’m nervous about going. 🙂 Thanks

      I think you tend to remember the bad reviews more than the good ones. It was all the good reviews of Vietnam that convinced me to go in the first place!

    Still bummed I didn’t make it to Vietnam! Looks like such a beautiful country, and perfect for backpacking in. And the food…ahh looks so scrumptious!

      It’s such a beautiful country – and yes, DELICIOUS food!

    I LOVE Vietnam. The food, the people, the crowds…it’s so…well, south east Asian, if that makes sense?

    I want to go back again and again. I think it’s probably one of my favourite places so far. Almost better than Thailand…

      I agree, Carolina! I think I liked Vietnam better than Thailand, too.

    Three reasons for me

    a) The Kids
    b) The Kids
    c) The Kids

    These were some of the most adorable kids I have seen.

    Kudos,

    Bhavya.

      Seriously. I told my mom that if I ever decide to adopt, I will be adopting a Vietnamese child because they are just TOO CUTE.

    I also loved Vietnam and had the exact sentiments about it! It quickly became one of my favourite countries!

      It’s one of my favorites, too!

    Completely agree. I’ve been to about 30 countries now and I would say that Vietnam is my favorite of them all for the reasons you mention here. The countryside is some of the most beautiful I’ve seen anywhere, the food is unique and AMAZING, and the people we met there were so warm and genuinely kind, I never can believe when people talk about getting scammed or all the other horror stories people like to attribute to the country. As you rightly point out, those kind of things are rife throughout all of SEA, but there is so much that is great about this country it surely outweighs the niggling bad bits.

      I think Vietnam is a country where it’s very easy to have a different experience, based on your travel style, attitude, etc. I’m so happy that I had such a positive experience there – I really wanted to love Vietnam, and I did!

    I would like to give my personal opinions from a Vietnamese American perspective. Regarding Scams and Scammers. we all have a fair share of them. It happens everywhere and every countries in the world due to the income gaps getting wider. now I can mention a lot of scams in the USA too. well in the US; they have scams for the internets, tax scam,insurance scam, welfare frauds, seniors scam, telephone scams, scams on the streets. Will you remember one time somebody just wipe your windshield and demanded some money? or somebody just slams on the brake so that you will rear end their cars. Life is at so much perils any where anytime. It is the real life experiences that counts for traveling. Do your researches before you go. get a well established guide. or make friends with a local so that they can be your guide. they know you get help for situations like that. i am sure everywhere we travel to there are positives and negatives interactions or experiences. but would you let something negative ruins your entire trip?. vietnamese people are very friendly and love to smile. they love to get in to a familial relationship when they reach out to you. that is why they address each other as brothers, sisters, uncles or aunts. i am sure if you do the same all the interaction with vietnamese will be so pleasant and lasting. there are still a lot of poor people in Vietnam. and with the income disparities leave a lot of people behind. Sure they are aggressive with their touts just to get the upper hand in the price, but I say that most of the food and stuffs in Vietnam already cheaper compared to the Western World. so please dont get upset if you happen to pay a few cents more than the locals. It is just that you are not as savvy in the bargaining processes. Be friendly, smile a lot and enjoy your time there. I do every time i come back to VN.

    Going back to Vietnam in May which will be our sixth trip since 2004. We love the place and apart from Langkawi, I can’t think of a better place in SE Asia. The only scams we have had in Vietnam were basically with cyclo drivers who demanded more money than agreed on. Once I became I little heated which was in Hue when we were taken to the Thiên Mụ Pagoda which was not agreed upon and the other driver took my partner way ahead. She was worried and I was more upset with being separated than the $5 rip off.

    That is my point. I’m certainly not wealthy but the times I’ve been scammed have cost me not much at all. There is also the fact that you can always say no to deals offered. Mind you I have stopped bargaining in Vietnam. If something seems cheap I’ll buy it because part of the markup will be the vendor’s pay. If you are worried about a dollar remember that that dollar helps Viets to eat and care for their family.

    That said if you haven’t been, Vietnamese food is the best in the world.

      Very good point, Kel! I didn’t fall into any scams in Vietnam and had an amazing time. And I’m with you on the arguing over a dollar thing – it’s just a dollar. Made me really mad in Cambodia when some people I was traveling with were arguing over 50 cents with a tuk-tuk driver. Like seriously. He needs that 50 cents way more than you do.

    I 100% agree with everything you said. I’m 18 years old and just got back from doing a 6 month volunteer program in Vietnam, and i fell in love and plan to move back long term. I lived in Ha long city and it was magical the vibe Hon Gai gave off. I have local friends who i will stay in touch with forever. And nothing beats a classic apple wine ( hint its not wine) and 333 night with my local friends then off to karaoke until you stumble home with nothing more than a smile. Also seeing halong bay everyday has its benefits haha

      Sounds like an awesome experience! Where did you volunteer?

        I did a program with lattitude global volunteering, i taught english for 6 months at Van Lang language school, which is in Halong City, but not the touristy part so basically 90% of people did not speak english where i lived. It was a very rich experience and i feel very fortunate to have lived in such an amazing place for so long and il be going back as soon as my finances allow it lol

    I have been in Vietnam last December. I fell in love with it. So sad its over 🙁

      Perhaps you’ll just have to plan another trip there!

    Hay, I recently visited Vietnam and I absolutely loved it. There is just something about the place, I’ll be writing a blog about it quite similar to yours. Hopefully you check it out when it’s live. I loved every place we visited in Vietnam for total different reasons. It’s already changed so much throughout history. I really want to go back one day and see how much it’s developed. This might be a bit silly, but I really want to go with a bit more money and not as a backpacker, we seen so many luxury resorts. I think you would have a completely different take on the country, might not necessarily be better, but at least I’d get to buy lots of tailored outfits.

    Loved this post and loved Vietnam too.

      It definitely would be different going with more of a budget – you can get really nice luxury pretty affordably in Southeast Asia!

    Lovely country! Although I just have one time to visit Vietnam, I really impressed with people in there. After 2 months, I visited Vietnam and traveled Lan Ha Bay by La Pinta cruise, but I lost my passport when transferring from Hanoi to Lan Ha by car. La Pinta ‘s staffs help me to find it your best, even taking me to local police to find the help. I am really touched about that. Thanks, La Pinta cruise so much! and love your post!

    Its so nice to see someone online be positive about Vietnam! I love it! My partner and i met in vietnam 4 years ago and we’re here again, enjoying this beautiful country.

    The people are incredibly friendly. You do get scams and such but youre right, thats all through south east asia. We were scammed on our first day even though we ‘knew’ what we were doing haha. However, the locals have also helped is in wayyyy more ways than i can express. If you can find a way to express what it is you want, theyll generally bend over backwards to see you have it.

    Then theres the food… yum!

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