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

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  1. 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!

    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

    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 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.

    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 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!

    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 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.

    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!

    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!

    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!

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

    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!

    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!

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