Vietnam is the most popular tourist destination of the three Indochina countries. Located between China, Laos, Cambodia and the South China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand the country can offer nearly anything for any interest.
Trekking around Sapa in the far north west or in the Central Highlands can be fantastic, while near Dong Hoi you can find the biggest and third biggest cave in the world (plus a few smaller ones). The cities and towns in Vietnam like Hanoi, Hue, Danang or HCMC can offer a lot of culture and keep you entertained for a while. Hue and Hoi An are perfect places for cultural visits. Those who need some beach time should head to Nha Trang, Phan Thiet or Phu Quoc, where you can also find some diving or snorkeling. Then there are places like the Mekong Delta or Ninh Binh to experience a bit of rural life. And there is one of the most famous site is obviously Halong Bay, a natural wonder of the world. So whatever you want to do, Vietnam can offer something. But with all these attractions one of the best things to do in Vietnam is sitting down anywhere with a drink, and just enjoying the world goes pass. People watching is a fantastic experience all over Vietnam. So make sure you take some time off a busy itinerary just to sit back and enjoying the atmosphere.
Obviously, travelling through Vietnam without mentioning the two wars in the second half of the 20. century is impossible. The damage the country and the people took was too much, and you find signs and memorial sites wherever you go. And tourists who are interested to learn more about the wars will find plenty of options to do so – especially when visiting central Vietnam, in the De-Militarised-Zone (DMZ).
The tourist infrastructure is actually quite good in Vietnam. You will find accommodation of various quality (from low budget to 5* hotels) in every place, even in remote villages. There is a good network of airports enabling tourist to fly between most places. There is also a train network all the way from Sapa to HCMC, though it is not very fast. The road traffic is notoriously bad in Vietnam, and bus journeys should only be the last option, and night buses should be avoided at all cost.
Food is very important in Vietnam, and you find food stalls and little food places all over the place, offering a high variety of great dishes. There are also many restaurants offering Western dishes.
One thing to consider when planning a trip to Vietnam is the size of the country. It is over 1.300 km from Sapa to HCMC. Add the fact that travel is very slow getting from A to B can take a while. So do not rush things, within two weeks you cannot see the whole country. Too many people try it, and leave the country disappointed as they did not really experience the places. Slow it down and you get more out of the trip.
Unfortunately, despite what Vietnam has to offer the country got a reputation of tourists constantly being ripped off, that scams are everywhere and that the locals are dishonest. I must admit, I was influenced by this reputation as well, and only visited the country during my fourth visit in that region. And the reputation was kind of confirmed during my first 24 hours.
But forget about the reputation. If you are aware of the typical scams like taxis, cyclos, Xe Om etc you will hardly experience these issues. Instead you will find a beautiful country with some of the most stunning scenery, and more importantly, some of the loveliest and most welcoming people. Actually, most tourists who constantly return say the same – they return because of the people. I stopped counting when I was surprised about their hospitality and curiosity. Don’t be surprised if you sit at the Hoam Kiem lake in Hanoi, and suddenly a student is sitting next to trying to practise some English. Or if a local just invite you for a drink. There is no scam going on…just curiosity. Yes, in places like Sapa some locals see tourists as walking cash machines, but the majority of Vietnamese are the complete opposite. One other thing that impressed me is their positive mindset. There is no bad feelings about the US or the French, they are welcomed like everyone else. They rather look into the future than looking back at the past. This is something a lot of other nations could learn from – and I speak from my own experience as a German.
I have been to Vietnam for times by now, spending nearly 4 month there, and still have more places to visit. So I can only highly recommend to visit this lovely country. Do your homework and you won’t experience the scams, and you might fall in love with the country and people as I did.