Travelling Vietnam? The cool and the ugly!

Phap-Bao-temple-Hoi-An-Old-town

– By Ophelie. 6mn reading –

Are you wondering if travelling Vietnam would be for you? Well, it’s true that Vietnam is a capricious one! Locals sometimes seem to not be used to smile. Bus journeys seem to not want to stop. But travelling Vietnam, it’s also seeing one day Californian-like coastal landscapes, the next day untouched waterfalls in hidden mountains. I went back with no regrets to have travelled Vietnam. And I tell you the cool and the ugly about a solo travel in Vietnam. With my personal travel tips!

Overview – Travelling Vietnam

  1. Solo travel Vietnam: touristic destination – The good and the annoying
  2. What to do in Vietnam – Diversity
  3. Food – Sweets and coffee
  4. The good for photographers
  5. Safety
  6. Visa

Solo travel Vietnam: solo, really? A touristic country with travellers and expats.

I say, touristic in comparison to Cambodia and Laos. If these two are still quite good preserved from tourism, it was unfortunately different for Vietnam 2 years ago. Maybe because of the two international cities Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh – they have universities, are economical hubs in South East Asia. Travelling Vietnam feels way more touristy than it neighbours. The beauty and the beast of it?

Travelling Vietnam, in practice: places well connected, accommodation and other practical good points

Since many travellers hit the road every day to see Vietnam’s must-see places, the country understood the importance of providing good roads, busses, trains… for us to visit Vietnam on an itinerary from South to North. So, finding a bus to get to your next stop will be easy. Or finding accommodation in most towns. There are always several hostels, guest houses, hotels… almost anywhere you go in the country.

Vietnam itinerary 14 days map
Travelling Vietnam from South to North: stops with bus connections

Taxis and Grab (alternative to Uber) are also common to get around in towns. Even if you might have to be the GPS and wake up taxi drivers to get a drive!

Other practical things like ATMs, supermarkets, motorbike rentals can be found at many places. If you went to Laos, you know that it’s sometimes pure luxury.

In big cities like Hanoi, Hue, or Ho Chi Minh, you’ll feel almost like in the occidental world: fast food restaurants, night clubs, and even big shopping malls with everything. I admit, it’s not necessarily what you aim when travelling Vietnam but on a long road trip, it also does good to do shopping or having a fat muffin at Starbucks. So, travelling Vietnam feels easier on the practical side, thanks to its developed infrastructures and tourism culture.

 

UBER : Grab

Bus: the cheapest and best way to travelling Vietnam. Some companies I used:

  • Sinh Tourist Bus. It was ok. Quite on time. Night journeys aren’t super comfortable and the bus had to stop to get fixed at night.
  • Hanh Cafe. Seats were comfis. Drive to Dalat was a challenge for the stomach (windy roads).
  • An extensive article about bus companies reviews operating in Vietnam: practical info!

Average prices bus journey: 10$

Average price for a night in a guest house: 16$

The ugly of touristic Vietnam travels

Scams, higher prices, less authentic flair… and some rude people! That’s the bad side of travelling Vietnam as a more developed destination than Cambodia and Laos.

While visiting some of the best places in Vietnam, my travel mate kept getting irritated by the strange habit of some locals to ‘scam’ tourists. Can we blame them? Well, that’s another debate. The thing for you to know: avoid scams situations. Take your time before buying anything.

As travel tips in Vietnam:

– book tickets at official places and try comparing prices from different providers (travel agencies, guest houses…)

– take information about average prices before going to a touristic place

– don’t accept anything on the street

– be wary of ‘too cheap’ travel agencies

– avoid parking your motorbike too close from touristic places – locals come to you asking for inadequate fee. We got the case at Mui Ne’s sand dunes.

Who says tourists, says crowds. I can imagine that some of the best places to see in Vietnam like Ha Long Bay are quite the horror in high season. Just people everywhere. A simple trick: prefer the low season for travelling Vietnam, if possible. Between April – June and September – November, the country is quieter.

International community – almost more expats than locals

But who says tourists, says also fellow travellers. And that’s good for a solo travel to Vietnam: stay a few days at typical backpackers’ places like Ho Chi Minh, Hoi An, Hanoi. And meet others at hostels or guest houses to maybe hit the road together. While travelling Vietnam, you’ll also notice that the expat community is well spread. I met a few of them teaching, or being digital nomads.

The bad in it? I found it more difficult to get in touch with locals, in comparison to Laos and Cambodia. Partly because of scams, partly because of tourism – locals themselves seem sometimes not willing to smile to you. Or maybe it’s their way of being.

What to do in Vietnam: so many different things. The beauty of Diversity!

That’s what surprised me when travelling Vietnam: the diversity of landscapes and things to do. In Laos, it’s mainly Nature. In Cambodia, a lot of fiestas. Well, Vietnam has of everything!

Cool coastal landscapes in Californian style (according to my American travel mate. I still can’t compare!) on Hai Van Pass in Da Nang, or waterfalls in humid forests in Dalat’s mountains. But also shopping and night life in hectic Ho Chi Minh. If you like changing ambiances and activities on travels, then you’ll love Vietnam for this.

Something ugly to this? The country is extended in length. Bus journeys are frequent and sometimes very long in your travel schedule. Meaning, you’ll have to make choices on a 2 weeks itinerary in Vietnam.

My selection of best places and what to do in Vietnam!

Mui Ne – Fairy Stream

Hoi An – Old Town

Hanoi – Old Quarter

Dalat – Crazy House

Tam Coc – rice fields

Vietnam itinerary - Quick Itinerary + Bucket list

Keep with you this Vietnam itinerary and the things to do for each day! Download the free PDF – 10 pages and light-weight. On your phone, laptop or to print.

Street food and sweets

Vietnam was my second country in South East Asia, after 2 months in Cambodia. Food in Vietnam didn’t surprise me that much, since it’s pretty similar to Cambodia. I continued to love street food and the simple rice – meat dishes.

But one thing got me very enthusiastic when travelling Vietnam: the sweets! Especially in Hanoi and Hoi An, there are so many cute and yummy vegan, or just super original cakes, smoothies and other cool stuff. My fav’ forever: the banana-coffee smoothie. A killer. The bad side? You can’t stop!

Some best cafes in Vietnam and sweets to try out

– Hanoi: many vintage cafes in Old Quarter. The ‘cafes street’: Nguyễn Hữu Huân, Hoàn Kiếm, near the lake

-Chè Đậu Xanh – Sweet Mung Bean dessert with coconut milk, in a smoothie form.
– Banh: sweet cakes with different flavours, like Banh Chuoi (banana cake)
– Mung Bean pastries: it’s the national specialty. Banh Dau Xanh: small yellow ones, with mung beans, sugar and oil. You eat them with tea. 

And more that I didn’t try: 14 Vietnamese desserts and 45 salty dishes to taste on your trip!

For photographers - Landscapes or cityscapes?

There are so many different kind of photos to take on a Vietnam travel that you shouldn’t miss this destination if you’re a photographer – beginner or pro, doesn’t matter. Actually, even better if you’re a beginner looking for practicing photography on travels without getting frustrated. Because you can’t really go wrong!

Train-street-Hanoi

You’ll come back with Instagrammable-like snapshots. Especially photogenic are Hoi An, Hanoi, Ha Long Bay and national parks in the North with their endless rice fields. City or nature photography, you can find out what’s yours.

Is Vietnam safe to travel?

In my humble opinion: yes. Even if I wasn’t entirely a solo traveller on my Vietnam travels, I still adventured alone some days in the cities. And I didn’t feel in danger at any moment. At night in Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi, we were careful enough to not drink beyond limits. To not go to dark alleys or weird places. Always have common sense, please. And you should be fine.

My personal advices for solo travels in Vietnam and safety:

– Night busses: take good companies (with good reviews. Official companies), even if more expensive. Night busses were the only case where I felt a bit unsure.

– When going out: avoid going out alone. Go with groups of travellers from your accommodation at best. Don’t accept drinks. Always watch your glass.

– Remote areas: go with tours to hiking

– Keep as little cash and documents as possible on yourself. The rest, leave it at your accommodation.

– Don’t mess with rules: at borders, in transportation… Police is sometimes corrupted. They are strict with visa rules and documents. Be prepared at borders crossing and airport.

Visa

You might wonder why a 2 weeks itinerary in Vietnam is so popular. Well, it’s not only because all travellers would be in a hurry. It’s also a question of visa. If the precious document costs 0$ and is available on arrival, it’s only for a period of 15 days!

It’s the path chosen by many people: travelling Vietnam from South to North, between longer trips in Cambodia, Laos or Thailand.

But you can stay longer of course – 1 to 3 months, with single or multiple entries. Visa is just longer to get and will cost you money. You’ll have to make a visa request (approval letter) before going. To apply online, look into the Vietnamese government website vietnamvisa.govt.vn.

You’ll get the visa upon arrival at the three national airports: Ho Chi Minh, Da Nang and Hanoi. Official info about covid and visa entry requirements find you here. 

Check out other solo travel blog posts!

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