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Things I Love About Vietnam

Vietnam is a peculiar country. It often incites polarizing opinions among travelers. You either absolutely love it or hate it so much that you swear on your mother’s grave never to visit it again. There seems to be no middle ground.

Strangely though, I got to experience both extremes. On my first two visits, I couldn’t stand it at all. Out of the many countries I had visited, Vietnam was the first one that I could honestly say I hated.

But curiosity got the better of me, so I went again a third time, and lo and behold — I fell in love with it! Two weeks went by so fast, and by the end of the trip, I was already picturing myself staying there for good.

Why this huge disparity? I can’t even explain it myself, but I do know what I loved about the country.

 

vietnamese food - omelet and spring roll | Ummi Goes Where?
Rice paper omelet roll.
vietnamese food - stuffed tomatoes | Ummi Goes Where?
Stuffed tomatoes.
Vietnamese food - noodles
Noodles with fish balls in clear soup.

If you’ve read my other articles, you might have noticed a pattern: if I love the food, I love the country.

From the famous ‘pho’ (beef noodle soup), to the prawn spring rolls, to the variety of ‘banh mi’ (baguette sandwiches), I love how Vietnamese food is so fresh and healthy, and usually served with lots of fresh veggies on the side.

Vietnamese food is proof that healthy doesn’t have to mean bland.

Even if you’re not a big fan of Asian food, you may find the Vietnamese kind palatable. While most Southeast Asian cooking is laden with spices, fats, and coconut milk, the Vietnamese take their cue from the French and place emphasis on using fresh ingredients instead.

So, don’t worry if thick curries aren’t your thing. Vietnamese soups are usually light and clear with fewer spices but are still rich in taste.

2. The Vietnamese Coffee

Vietnamese iced and drip coffee
Vietnamese iced coffee (left) and drip coffee (right).
Vietnamese Egg Coffee | Ummi Goes Where?
Vietnamese egg coffee.

I don’t usually drink coffee as it tends to make me jittery and lightheaded. But I would never turn down a glass of Vietnamese iced coffee.

For some reason, Vietnamese coffee doesn’t give me any bad side effect. It’s still pretty strong and caffeinated, but I get to enjoy the phenomenal taste minus the headache.

Did you know that Vietnam is the second largest coffee producer in the world?

Cafe culture is a big deal in Vietnam, where there is a cafe on practically every corner. Most of them provide free WiFi for customers and some are even open 24 hours.

While you’re at it, I highly recommend the ‘egg coffee’. Trust me — it’s not as disgusting as it sounds. Instead, you’ll find that it makes an egg-cellent after-dinner treat.

3. The Cheap Prices

Cheap Vietnam hostel
Cheap accommodation in Hanoi.

Southeast Asia is cheap enough as it is, but Vietnam is probably the cheapest in the region. So, even if you’re a broke backpacker, in Vietnam you’ll become a millionaire, literally.

A clean and comfortable private hotel room with air-conditioner, hot shower, and cable television can go for as low as $12 (approximately VND280,000) per night.

You’ll also find that you can now afford that 5-star suite with the view of the sea, or a couple of nights in the luxury cruise, or a full day at the spa. Or all of them. While these may be expensive by Vietnamese standard, they are much cheaper than what you’d be paying at home. So, if you’ve been wanting to indulge in a long-overdue self-pampering session, this is the place to do so.

And if you’re a beer drinker, here’s some good news for you: a glass of freshly-brewed beer will only set you back 25 cents.

4. The Scenery

Riding in the rice fields in Vietnam
Cycling in Hoi An, Vietnam.

Vietnam is a long, narrow country with a north-to-south distance of 1,650 km. Along this length, it traverses different landscapes — from densely forested highlands to coastal lowlands, to swampy deltas.

What this means is that, as you make your way around the country, you’ll be afforded with ever-changing panoramas from one region to the next. In the north, you’ll find mountains and the green lushness of terraced rice fields. In the northeast, thousands of limestone islands protrude out of the water, creating an almost otherworldly setting.

Meanwhile, in Central Vietnam, you’ll get to see pristine beaches, marble mountains, and charming countryside scenery. And lastly, in the South is the Mekong Delta with its dense jungles and mangrove swamps.

In short, you’ll never run out of things to see and admire.

5. UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Halong Bay
Credit: Arianos | WikiCommons

Vietnam has a total of eight natural and historical UNESCO World Heritage Sites, with seven more on the tentative list.

So, if you’re the type of person who keeps score of the number of UNESCO sites you have visited (I am that type of person), you can tick a few off your list in Vietnam.

List of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Vietnam

  • Ha Long Bay – a bay with thousands of limestone karsts and isles in various shapes and sizes.
  • Hoi An Ancient Town – an exceptionally well-preserved example of a Southeast Asian trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th century, featuring a blend of indigenous and foreign influences in its building and street plan.
  • Complex of Hue Monuments – a walled enclosure within the citadel of the city of Hue, the former imperial capital of Vietnam.
  • My Son Sanctuary – a cluster of abandoned and partially ruined Hindu temples constructed between the 4th and the 14th century.
  • Tràng An Landscape Complex – a scenic area near Ninh Bình, renowned for its boat cave tours, limestone mountains, rivers, lakes, and swamps.
  • Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park – a largely unexplored cave and grotto system measuring 126 km, composed of 300 caves and grottos.
  • Citadel of the Hồ Dynasty – a citadel constructed by the Hồ Dynasty (1400-1407).
  • Central Sector of Imperial Citadel of Thăng Long – a royal enclosure that was first built during the Lý dynasty (1010) and remained the seat of the Vietnamese court until 1810.
Halong Bay, Vietnam.
Halong Bay, 2011.
So far, I’ve only been to two: Halong Bay and Hoi An. I have to say that Hoi An was one of the reasons my initial hatred toward Vietnam turned into love. I’m low-key obsessed with its charming old buildings and colorful lanterns.
Hoi An, Vietnam.
Hoi An Old Town, 2019.

6. Outdoor Activities

Stand up paddling in Vietnam
Stand-up paddling in Nha Trang, Vietnam

With so many natural wonders and varied landscapes, Vietnam provides ample opportunity for outdoor activities. So, for those of you who thrive on adrenaline, I can assure you that Vietnam will keep you busy. You can go canyoning in Da Lat, kayaking in Halong Bay, scuba-diving in Nha Trang, or trekking the hill tribe villages in Sapa.

Or if those are all child’s play to you, you can try to get to the top of Mount Fansipan. Standing at a height of 3,143 meters, it is the highest mountain in Vietnam and is also known as “The Roof of Indochina”.

I’m not much of an athletic person, but I do enjoy some outdoor activities when I travel. In Mui Ne, I went sand-boarding on the White Sand Dunes. In Hoi An, I joined a cycling tour on a remote island where I cycled amidst rice fields, learned how to row a basket boat, and saw how rice wine was made. And in Nha Trang, I went stand-up paddling down the Cai River.

My dream is to one day scale Mount Fansipan and join a multi-day cross-country cycling tour in Vietnam.

7. The Workmanship

Vietnam tailor
Credit: Hoi An Now

The Vietnamese are known to be good with their hands. The workmanship standards are so high in Vietnam that many large companies do a bulk of their manufacturing here. These companies include Patagonia, The North Face, H&M, Uniqlo, Nike, and Adidas, among many others.

So, the next time you buy any clothing item in your country, go ahead and check the label to see where it was produced — there’s a good chance it was made in Vietnam.

This is also why Vietnam is a popular place for other Asians to buy counterfeit products — because they are cheap and almost as good as the real thing. Not that I’m encouraging you to buy fake stuff. My point is, if you want to buy any local products in Vietnam, you can be certain that they’re of good quality.

Vietnam also has a reputation for being a place to get beautiful custom-made clothes for cheap. The streets in Hoi An are abound with tailors. All you have to do is pick one, choose your fabric and style, get your measurements taken, and your dress will be ready in just a few days. Nicole of Yale Wanders has a complete guide on getting clothes made in Hoi An.

Apart from clothes, nail treatment is another booming business in Vietnam. Vietnamese manicurists may well be the best nail artists in the world. From simple stenciling to hand-painting to 3D effects, you can get any nail design you want for as low as $2.

8. The Nightlife

Bia Hoi Hanoi Vietnam
Credit: Vietnam Online

And I’m not even talking about nightclubs (although I’m sure there are plenty of those too). Instead, what I’m referring to is the ‘Bia Hoi’ culture.

Bia Hoi is a unique after-work hangout/drinking culture that only exists in the northern towns and cities of Vietnam. Starting from around 4 p.m. every day, you’ll see locals and foreigners start to fill up the tiny plastic furniture on street corners.

The sight of full-grown adults semi-squatting on tiny plastic stools seemingly made for kindergartners is interesting enough in itself. Upon closer inspection, you’ll notice that they all have the same things on their tables: glasses of homemade beer and a choice of beer snacks, usually groundnuts.

In my naivete, I thought they were drinking sugarcane juice.

Bia Hoi snack in Hanoi
Credit: Saigoneer

Bia Hoi roughly translates into ‘fresh beer’, which is brewed daily and has to be consumed within 24 hours as it contains no preservatives and therefore doesn’t keep as long as normal beer. Depending on the brewer, it can have a rice content of up to 50%, which is what gives it the golden color and light draft taste. Each establishment produces its own brew.

Unfortunately, I didn’t join in the fun as I was traveling alone and I figured it was something best enjoyed with company. But it was still fascinating to watch this unique culture, and it makes you feel safe walking at night, knowing that there will always be many people on the street.

9. The Sleeper Buses

Vietnam Sleeper Bus
Credit: Ecow | WikiCommons

In Vietnam, if you book a long-distance overnight bus, you’ll be surprised to find that it’s not a regular coach. Instead, you get this unique dormitory-style ‘sleeper bus’ with three rows of double-decker beds. 

It may not be everyone’s favorite, as the seats/beds can be uncomfortable if you’re tall. But it was perfect for my 5’5″ frame.

I liked the fact that it was cheap and convenient — you book the ticket at your hostel, and on the day of your departure, someone will come and pick you up at your accommodation. You don’t have to worry about finding the bus terminal. Best of all, unlike on regular buses, I had my own private space — no seatmate!

Another thing I noticed about long-distance buses in Vietnam was how clean they were. Be it the regular day-time coaches or the night-time sleeper buses, you’re not allowed to wear shoes on board. At the entrance, you’re given a plastic bag to put your shoes in (remember to bring your own if you want to reduce single-use plastic).

Day time long-distance bus in Vietnam
Daytime long-distance bus in Vietnam.
No shoes allowed on Vietnam buses
No shoes allowed on Vietnam buses.

10. The Grab Bike

On a Grab Bike
On a Grab Bike

Crossing the roads in Vietnam may still be a nightmare to me, but riding a motorbike amidst the chaos is actually pretty fun, as long as someone else does the driving for me.

In Vietnam, there is this service called Grab (the Uber of Southeast Asia), and while it does offer regular car rides, I prefer booking Grab Bike, which is a motorcycle taxi service. It’s a really fun, cheap, and convenient way to get around like a local.

Everything is done through the app, including payment, so you can be sure that there will be no meter scams. On top of that, you don’t need to worry about language barrier either, as the app does all the translations for you. 

And what I like most is that you know you’re in capable hands. It’s much safer than renting a motorbike.

With Grab Bike, you get to experience zooming around the city on two wheels without putting your life in danger. Grab Bike riders are put through training before they can take passengers and they always provide you with a helmet.

I’m sure there are many more reasons that make people fall madly in love with this country. Perhaps it’s the rich history. Perhaps it’s the unpretentious, no-nonsense attitude of the people. But these 10 listed here are the ones that I personally liked the most during my stay.

How about you? Have you visited Vietnam? If so, what did you like/dislike most about the country? Comment below.

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10 Things I Love About Vietnam

10 Things I Love About Vietnam

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56 Comments

  1. Nicole

    Thanks for linking to my post about getting clothes custom made in Vietnam, it was one of my favourite experiences while visiting Hoi An. Love your round-up of things to enjoy in Vietnam, so much inspiration to visit for the first time, or re-visit and see even more 🙂

    • ummi

      Thank you for dropping by, Nicole. I really love your thorough guide on getting custom-made in Hoi An. For a first timer, it must be overwhelming to be presented with such abundant options. It’s great that we can always count on blogs like yours for great tips. 🙂

  2. Marielle

    I wouldn’t know where to begin! So many things come in mind when I think about Vietnam.
    The morning bowl of pho with the locals, the street side ca phe sua da on plastic chairs.

    By the way, Bia Hoi is a light beer delivered daily by trucks in the north of Vietnam! A must have in Hanoi’s old quarter!

    • ummi

      Thank you, Marielle. You’re really making me miss Vietnam now. 😀 I sure enjoyed having a steaming bowl of pho on one of those tiny plastic chairs!

    • ummi

      Setuju, Yanie. Sup daging (pho) memang antara makanan yang paling popular di Vietnam dan terkenal di seluruh dunia. Sesiapa yang berkunjung ke Vietnam wajib cuba. Tapi saya belum pernah lagi makan dengan roti, biasanya dengan mee atau bihun je.

    • ummi

      Kalau iena suka Vietnamese food dan Vietnamese coffee, memang sesuai sangat la melancong ke Vietnam. Di Ho Chi Minh City ada satu jalan dipanggil Malaysian street. Kat situ banyak makanan halal dan ada yang terima Ringgit Malaysia.

  3. Sis Lin

    Sekali rasanya pergi Vietnam, tu pun transit aje sekejap, dapat bermalam semalam di bandar tu.. dapat dapat makan tomyam sedap dan minum kopi dia, perghh nikmatnyaa..

    • ummi

      Kalau baru semalam pun sis dah rasa nikmatnya, cuba bayangkan stay lama sikit. Hehe. Dapat minum kopi tu hari2 dan cuba makanan yg lain. Vietnam ni luas dan setiap tempat berbeza-beza suasananya.

  4. ZHARIF AZIS

    Vietnamese foods are the best. i love their pho. and their coffee too !!! would love to go there someday. i always enjoy listening to my friends story travelling to Vietnam. hopefully one day i be able to travel there.

    • ummi

      I hope you will, Zharif. Just be aware that Vietnam is notorious for invoking very strong feelings — either you love it or you hate it. It will be interesting to find out which camp you fall into. All the best! 😃

  5. JMR

    Selalu ke Vietnam sebab kena kerja di Vung Tau.. tapi tak sempat menikmati aktivit best macam kat sini. Biasa pergi-kerja-balik..rasa rugi lak..sekarang dah tak boleh travel ke sana huhuh

    • ummi

      Takpe, JMR. Nanti kalau ada rezeki selepas Covid ni, boleh la travel ke sana untuk suka-suka pulak. Ada banyak tempat menarik di Vietnam dan pelbagai aktiviti untuk dicuba. 🙂

  6. Kitkat Nelfei

    Wow, first time tengok Vietnamese egg coffee.. didn’t get a chance to try it before.. next trip will definitely look for this.. 🙂 Memang rindu nak explore Vietnam bah.. I suppose to visit Hanoi last year.. but pandemic hit on the month of my trip.. sad!

    • ummi

      Oh that’s too bad, Kitkat. Takpe, nanti once the pandemic is over, I hope we all can ganti balik semua trip yang postponed tu. And don’t forget to try the Vietnamese egg coffee. Sedap!

  7. siennylovesdrawing

    absolutely agreeing with what you like listing here while travelling to Vietnam 😀 love the Vietnamese foods, as well as drinking coffee at their roadside stall by sititng down on their small stool really a nice memory I recalled.
    cheers, siennylovesdrawing

    • ummi

      Thank you, Grace. I have my reservations about Vietnam, having had bad experiences there myself. But these are the things I appreciate about it. 🙂

  8. Nina Mirza

    Oh yes, Vietnam food memang sedap. Kita tak pernah lagi sampai vietnam tapi husband dah beberapa kali pi sana shopping. Baru tahu naik bas tak a boleh pakai kasut. Bagus yaaa bersih!

    • ummi

      Haah, kalau bas long distance memang kena bukak kasut. Bersih, nak letak beg kat lantai bas pun tak bimbang kotor. Nanti bila boleh travel semula, Nina ikut la husband ke sana. 😉

    • ummi

      Memang sedap, kak Halimah. Setanding dengan makanan Thai, tapi dia light sikit, tak banyak guna santan. Dan lebih sihat sebab banyak sayur dan ulam2an.

    • ummi

      Thank you Lindajane! Glad you enjoyed your stay in Vietnam. I loved Hoi An too. Haven’t had the chance to see much of the north yet, except Hanoi and Ha Long Bay, but I’ve heard so much about Sapa. 😀

    • ummi

      It is, Krista, and I’ve only been to two of those world heritage sites in Vietnam. I hope you’ll include this country on your list! 😀

  9. Elina

    I would love to visit Vietnam, it looks like such a beautiful country! I had no idea that Vietnam had some many UNESCO World Heritage Sites and I would love to explore them.

    • ummi

      I hope you’ll get to do that soon, Elina. Vietnam does have many UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and the two that I have visited are truly beautiful. 😀

    • ummi

      I hope you will, Mayi. Food is always a great way to discover any country, but especially Vietnam! I love Vietnamese cuisine too. 😀

    • ummi

      Agreed, Linnea! The food is simply amazing in Vietnam. The people weren’t always the friendliest in my experience (just like in any other place, I guess), but there’s so much to love about this country. 🙂

  10. Bisola

    The FOOOOD!!! That’s one reason I really want to visit, it looks amazing! Vietnam has been on my list to visit for the longest and now I just have to go!

  11. A Capone Connection

    WOW! I didn’t realize that Vietnam had so many beautiful views. The food and coffee look amazing. I’d love to go to Vietnam one day to experience all of this for myself. Thank you so much for sharing. Saving it for later!
    ~ Andrea | acaponeconnection.com

    • ummi

      Thank you, Andrea! I hope you will get to visit Vietnam someday. It does have a lot of beautiful views. The food and coffee are simply amazing. 😀

  12. Susanna

    Love your honesty and such a great list of things! My husband lived in Vietnam for a few months and always raves about it. Personally, I love Vietnamese food and coffee and know I would love the country too. I hope to be able to visit experience all these myself, especially the outdoor activities!

    • ummi

      I hope you will, Susanna! There are a lot of things to love about Vietnam, but I really loved the food and coffee the most. 😀

    • ummi

      You’re welcome, Elena! Vietnam is indeed a beautiful and affordable country to visit. Maybe not so underrated — it’s actually quite popular among backpackers and travelers in the region. I hope you’ll get to visit it once it’s safe to travel. 🙂

  13. SS

    This brings back so many great memories from my trip to Vietnam almost 10 years ago! It was my first country backpacking through SE Asia, and one of my favorites. Thanks for these great memories :).

    • ummi

      You’re welcome, Sumeeta. Glad that you had great memories in Vietnam. But 10 years is a long time, maybe it’s time to visit again? 😉

  14. Charlotte

    Thanks for a great post. I can’t wait to visit Vietnam one day! It looks like such a beautiful country. I love traveling in SEA so hopefully, I would love Vietnam too 😀

    • ummi

      Vietnam is known to be a country that you will either hate or love. I hope you’ll fall into the latter category, Charlotte. It really is a beautiful country. 🙂

    • ummi

      It is, Sam. I’ve been there 3 times, spending on average a week each time, and there’s still so much more I haven’t seen. Will definitely be coming back. 🙂

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