It was 2014 when I experienced Vietnam in all its intimidating glory. After a few years of processing, I feel prepared to write about it. From the delicious foods, to the intimidating adventures, I want to offer the full scoop as to why you definitely should (but maybe shouldn’t) visit this exotic country.
First, the shoulds:
Every traveler’s main priority: cheap travel!
Once you arrive in Vietnam, you’ll be greeted with low prices for mostly everything! The first thing I bought was something most of us have heard of: a bowl of Pho (Vietnamese soup). I only dropped one US dollar on this (about 20000 dong) alongside a local beer which was another dollar.
I ended up spending most of my time in a widely renowned beach town called Nha Trang. It is widely regarded as one of the most popular beach destinations in Vietnam. There are beach clubs and resorts directly on the beach. In this town, I was able to rent a clean apartment only a block from the beach for under 200 dollars per week! And this is a more touristy region we’re talking about!
Though you’ll be able to afford the essentials in this place, flights can be pricey, but we’ll get to that in the “shouldn’ts.”
There’s a good exotic to safety ratio.
By exotic, I simply mean different. Vietnam is a place where you will DEFINITELY experience the thrill of culture shock. There are some bizarre foods, different styles of driving, different social norms and expectations, and enticing religions.
When I first stepped foot out of the airport, I was in utter disbelief at the webs of fast moving traffic that was zipping around at intense speeds! Legend has it that you can cross these roads with your eyes closed and never get hit. I didn’t close my eyes, but I am living proof that the streets can be crossed and that you will be dodged by the incredible maneuvering Vietnamese. Talk about breaking stereotypes.
From the roads I entered an eating center that was covered by a giant cabana. All the foods on the menu were already prepared and displayed in baskets for customers to see. There were all kinds of creepy crawly seafoods, french baguettes, and other unidentifiable foods (you still won’t know what it is after being told in broken English).
Many non-seasoned travelers will picture such scenes and immediately think DANGER. But if you view the World Peace Index here: http://visionofhumanity.org/indexes/global-peace-index/ you will see that Vietnam is ranked 59th of 163. To put this to scale, the United States is ranked 114th of 163. You are safe in Vietnam, just always keep a close eye on your money and belongings no matter where you travel.
The food of Vietnam!
The moment we’ve all been waiting for: the food. Vietnamese food has become more popular in the West, especially with the rise of Pho noodle soup.
To me, the street foods were the most rich, authentic, and tasty foods. I had good luck with them. I never got sick from them (not even the runs!). With that being said, after a bit of experience, you’ll be able to tell the difference between the sanitary and unsanitary street foods and where to go and where not to go. Some of these vendors are empty while others have people just swarming like pollinating bees. If you see loads of locals at a street food vendor, I suggest giving that a go for an authentic, money-saving experience.
and now the shouldn’ts:
Before I jump into why I would NOT suggest traveling to Vietnam, I want to say that the good definitely outweighs the bad. I had such a good experience there that this list was not easy to compile. There were, however, minor complications that enabled this list to come into being.
Getting there. . .
With Southeast Asia being one of the more distant regions from the West, you’ll find that getting there isn’t always cheap, especially if you plan to go during the summer season. Basically, you’ll find that when going during the fall/winter seasons (as long as it’s not too close to Christmas) you’ll be spending a bit under $1,000. But during the summer season, you’ll be spending a bit over $1,000.
Dealing with social discomfort.
During the time of my travels to Vietnam, I was with a girl who experienced what you might call “visual harassment.” Everywhere we went, men were giving her the stare-down. They didn’t care if she knew, or that she was with me. We discovered that the social construct of checking people out is much different there.
In most other countries I’ve been to (including where I’m from), guys are very sly and even embarrassed about checking out women. But in Vietnam, no shame is the name of the game.
It’s an overall adventure out of the comfort zone.
Don’t get me wrong, there are comfortable, tourist infested areas of this often-time-uncomfortable travel destination. There are resorts, breweries, a warm ocean, and many people who speak English.
But outside of this comfort there will be experiences that will push your limits. There will be people who are difficult to communicate with, congested streets, detours through strange alleyways, drunk drivers, smelly foods, uncomfortable bathrooms, etc.
During my travels, I had dry fish and beer on the ground for dinner with local, uni-lingual fisherman. I was approached by intimidating locals. I had bats fly in my face while exploring temple caves. I had a lift home from a local who had obviously been drinking. I had monkeys jump on my back and steal my food.
Though these experiences might seem uncomfortable, they are what travel is all about. They do sound fun and adventurous, you have to admit! So it is left up to you. Will you leave your comfort zone and experience (what I believe to be) one of the best travel destinations?