Wearing a Vietnamese hat for 30 days

We arrived in Vietnam with the perception it would be a very communist, touristy and scooterized country, and that its people would be cold, greedy and not very welcoming. But 30 days in Vietnam were enough to change our minds. We felt in love with the people, the food, the scenery, the outdoorsy way of living… and even with the iconic Vietnamese hats, but not with the traffic!

Vietnam’s recent history is marked by the 100 years of French colonialism, the first Indochina War (which led the country into separation) and the cruelty of Vietnam’s war (which translated into the country’s reunification). The country’s economy, which mainly relied on agriculture, got very badly damaged, specially after the US bombings. In the aftermath of the wars the country suffered and was unable to move forward due to strong communist policies. But the introduction of Doi Moi in the late 80s was probably what saved its economy and what put the country on the road to recovery. We feel that in a short time, and unlike Lao and Cambodia, the country has been able to recuperate from the violent wars and it is now looking ahead into a bright future.

The tourism has had an important impact on the country’s growth. Vietnam has learnt to make the best of its beautiful landscape, its exuberant seaside, its rice terraces, its prolific rivers and its cultural richness to attract millions of tourists every year. In our opinion Vietnam’s approach to tourism is far more interesting, organized and authentic than for example Cambodia’s one. With thousands of tours available it is incredibly easy to visit the country, but our experience is that it’s equally easy and far more rewarding to travel independently in Vietnam!

Being such a large country, and again due to its past history, differences between the south and the north are very palpable. The south, relaxed and warm with its calm people (more typical of Southeast Asia) contrasts with the north, busy and misty with its hectic people (more typical of China). But we discovered that the love for being outdoors is shared everywhere throughout the country! Drinking ca phe da watching the live go by in front of the Mekong, exercising at the park in Ho Chi Minh City, eating a pate baguette with friends after class in Hue, enjoying a cao lau under the Chinese lanterns in Hoi An, having a tra chanh with sunflower seeds with the crowds in Hanoi, practicing English with tourists along the lake in Hanoi…

During our month in Vietnam we felt in love with the diverse gastronomy of the country. We didn’t really know much about the Vietnamese cuisine but from day one we immersed in the bustling and exciting markets and discovered many new dishes that quickly made it to our list of favourites! Pho Bo, bun nem nuong, bun thit nuong fresh spring roles, banh xeo, bun chan, hu tieue, cao lau… the list is endless!

To the question: Is there anything you didn’t like about Vietnam? Our answer is clear: Yes, the dual pricing. In some places, mostly touristy places, locals pay one price and foreigners have to pay a different one, sometimes double or even three times more. We really found this very frustrating. And what it’s even more infuriating, this is totally accepted by the locals. They always try to pay in secret so we cannot see how much they are paying.

Vietnam was the perfect finale to three months traveling around Southeast Asia. Well, at least for now, as we will be coming back after China and Japan!

While in Vietnam we watched two movies, both about Vietnam’s war. The first one, Good Morning Vietnam (1987), movie for which Robbin Williams was nominated for the best actor academy award, relates the story of a radio DJ on the US army radio service in Saigon. You may well remember Robbin Williams shouting Gooooood morning Vietnam! In the movie he gets in trouble for his irreverent radio shows and without realizing he gets involved in a plot with the Viet Cong. The second one, Platoon, tells the story of a newly arrived soldier in Vietnam who dropped out of college to serve his country. It’s based on Oliver Stone’s own experiences when combating in Vietnam. Platoon won the academy award for best picture in 1987. While very different movies, we liked them both.

This is more or less the cost of living in Vietnam:

  • Exchange rate: 1 EUR = 27,000 dong (approx.)
  • Bottle of water (1.5l): 10,000 dongs
  • Beer (330ml): 20,000 dongs
  • Food
    • Street food: 20,000 – 40,000 dongs per person
    • In local restaurants: 50,000 – 80,000 dongs per person
  • Accommodation: 210,000 – 315,000 dongs per double room
  • Transport
    • Bus
      • From Vinh Long to Ho Chi Minh City: 90,000 dongs per person
      • From Hoi An to Hue: 105,000 dongs per person
    • Train
      • From Ho Chi Minh to Da Nang: 997,000 dongs per person in soft sleeper
      • From Hanoi to Sapa: 750,000 dongs per person return in hard sleeper
  • Laundry: 20,000 dongs per kilo
  • Average expense per day: 21.7€ per person (including accommodation, food, transport, visa, laundry…)

Visit our flicker gallery for all the pictures!

To close down Vietnam’s chapter here is a video of the crazy traffic in Ho Chi Minh City.

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