Vietnam topped Forbes’ list of the 10 Coolest Places To Visit In 2015 and now everybody is in an uproar. After spending years of hogging more than our share of this paradise, the tourists are coming. While it’ll probably be another decade before Vietnam is competing with Thailand for attention, this quiet country is slowly filling up with luxury resorts and backpacking hostels.
Ready to get in on the front end of this trend? Here’s everything you need to know before jumping on the plane.
Hanoi vs Ho Chi Minh City: The Tale of Two Cities
Tourism was nonexistent in Vietnam following their 25 year civil war. While the country has seen a complete transformation in the past four decades, you’ll still see some remarkable differences in life across the country. One of the most distinctive difference is between the north and the south.
Despite reunification, stereotypes persist among compatriots. People in northern Vietnam are known for being frugal, law-abiding and maybe even a bit old fashion while southerners are thought of as entrepreneurial and modern.
It’s hard to sum up the character of a city in a few words but, very generally speaking, there are some notable difference between the northern city of Hanoi and the southern Ho Chi Minh City. The thousand-year-old capital, Hanoi, is marked by its French colonial buildings and massive network of quaint lakes. In contrast, Ho Chi Minh City has a few more modern and commercial vibe. It’d be impossible to choose the better city. Likewise, it’d be impossible to get a true sense of Vietnam without visiting them both.
Plan time to just walk around Hanoi, particularly the Old Quarter. The mix of Eastern and French influence create a unique atmosphere. Visit the temples and museums then head down to one of the lakes to relax.
When you’re ready to move on, get down to Ho Chi Minh City. Learn about the civil war history by exploring the impressive tunnels of Củ Chi that allowed the Viet Cong to traverse the entire country underground.
No matter where you are, eat. Watch your lunch being cooked on the side of the street and prepare to be blown away by every single meal, no matter how humble the restaurant or stall. This is particularly true of the food around Ho Chi Minh City’s Ben Thanh Market. Be sure to devote at least one afternoon to just shopping and stuffing your face there.
Lounging in the Sun
Vietnam’s beaches are some of the most underrated on the planet. Nha Trang is a proper white sand, resort-style town. The southern city is the place to walk the promenade, lie around with a coconut drink and go scuba diving. It’s a 6k stretch of sand so it’s easy to find a spot for yourself.
When you are ready to go island hopping, head to Phu Quoc. It is everything that a tropical island should be. The white sand beaches eventually lead into a dense jungle filled with exotic wildlife. Be sure to explore Long Beach, Ong Lan Beach, and Bai Sao. They’ve each got their own distinctive charm.
The Con Dao islands are tied with Phu Quoc for being the most beautiful places in Asia. Again, imagine postcard quality beaches and wildlife-watching opportunities galore. If you love beaches, bring along a trusted friend who will be able to talk you into ever going home again.
Photo by jmboyer