Overall Score : A
Dates visited: Nov 29 – Dec 29, 2013
Places visited: Hanoi, Ha Giang, Thac Ban Gioc (waterfall), Ba Be Lake, Cat Ba Island, Lan Ha Bay (Ha Long Bay), Hoi An, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Phu Quoc island, Can Tho (Mekong Delta)
Notable places we did NOT visit: Sapa, Hue, Danang, Dalat, Nha Trang, Mui Ne, Ninh Binh, Dien Binh Phu, Mộc Châu, Saigon (we did not explore the city very much)
Food: A (excellent). The food did not disappoint.
People: C. I like Vietnamese people, but they take some getting used to. They are not overtly friendly or hospitable to tourists. They are aggressive towards each other, not in a negative way, but shouting at each other to communicate a point is normal. I was often grabbed by the arm and steered somewhere (Matt was not, so it was probably because they assumed I was a native Vietnamese) if the people wanted me to see or understand something. They grumble and gossip often (I got extremely tired of people grumbling about me not knowing Vietnamese), and they can be painfully truthful. They are also very helpful and friendly in general, but you have to get past that hard, rude exterior first.
Touts: B. In touristy areas, there are a lot of scams to watch out for. Often, they will charge a locals price and a foreigner price which we were sometimes able to afford by traveling with locals. In non-touristy places, there aren’t many touts and people just want to talk to you.
Ultimate: C. Ultimate in Vietnam is not very developed. The Vietnam Hat tournament was a blast, but it was made up primarily of foreigners.
Weather: All over the board. Hanoi was very mild while we were there (60s). Further up north, it got “cold” but never got below 40s and was up in the 70s during the day, though it did snow in Sapa while a friend of ours was up there a week after we were in the north. In the central highlands, the weather was still in the 60s, but when we made it down south, it was pretty hot again.
Infrastructure: B. Roads and sidewalks are decently maintained (except for the fucking hole in the sidewalk in Cao Bang), and cell service almost everywhere (3G most of the time!). Internet access available everywhere we went.
English: C. It was rare to find someone who spoke good English in non-tourist places, and even in the somewhat touristy Old Quarter in Hanoi. Thankfully, I learned more and more Vietnamese as we went which made things easier, but it can be challenging here if English is the only language you know.
Cost of living / budget travel: A (low). We had several days where we spent less than $20 USD. Traveling by public bus is a cheap way to get around, but outside of major cities, it can be very, very painful. Sleeper buses were great for saving money, but don’t expect to get much actual sleep on them. Hoi An and Phu Quoc were pretty expensive for us, but we made some poor decisions, and it could definitely have been much cheaper.
Safety: A. We didn’t have any issues while we were in Vietnam, and I never felt unsafe.
Would you visit again: Absolutely. We maxed out our visas as long as we could (entered at 12:30am on November 29th and will depart late in the evening of December 29th), but 30 days wasn’t even enough time for us to see it all. We probably should have gotten the 90-day visa for just $10 USD more. Alas, I will have to return after I get better at Vietnamese and am more comfortable on a motorbike!
Summary: For me, Vietnam was a life-changing experience, and I’m sad to be leaving it. But obviously not everyone will take away what I did from traveling here. Garrulous, loud, ornery but also curious, helpful, and friendly people. Amazing scenery. Hanoi is a great cultural city. We opted not to go to Sapa because we heard it was too touristy and instead went to Ha Giang. The tradeoff was amazing scenery with fewer tourists but also fewer options for getting around. We skipped a lot of places in favor of Hoi An and do not regret that decision at all. Phu Quoc was a great island to relax on, though we never ventured farther than Long Beach which was perfect. We spent one day in the Mekong Delta, specifically Can Tho, and that was plenty of time for us.
Alright, Vietnam, you’ve been amazing. Up next: Thailand!