I’ve been back from Vietnam for about 2 weeks now. I have to admit it’s been tough being back – to the cold, the snow, back to working 9-5, not traveling …
Today I want to talk a little about my overall experience in Vietnam. What I loved, things I wished I had done and things that perhaps I wasn’t overly fond of.
If you’ve been following along with my blog and my journey through Vietnam, you’ll quickly remember how much I love this country. Every one should get to Vietnam given the chance, it truly is spectacular (well I think so anyway) … I’m envious of my daughter for making this country her home.
As with any other country, Vietnam has a glowing list of fantabulous things to see and do, its natural beauty, its history, culture, kind and giving people whom I met and made my experience in Vietnam one for the record books. But, it also has things that need to be improved upon and aren’t so glamorous, I’ll highlight some of those things in this blog.
I encourage you to go back and read my last few blog posts if you haven’t, just to catch up on the amazingness of Vietnam prior to reading this post.
🎶 Let’s Talk About Food Baby 🎶
The food 😋 was one of the absolute best parts of Vietnam, so many yummy choices, which vary from region to region. For example, some of the foods I loved in the north (Ha Noi) weren’t necessarily available in the south (HCMC). But, it’s great to be able to experience each region’s specialty dishes.
Eating street food in Vietnam is a rite of passage for every visitor, and I’m all about throwing myself into the local culture so I was prepared to give most foods a go. In every doorway, on every street corner, and down every alley, food is being prepared literally on the street. Many a time I pulled up a tiny plastic stool to a tiny plastic table and ate.
Traditional Vietnamese cooking is greatly admired for its fresh ingredients, complementary textures, and reliance on LOTS fresh herbs and vegetables. Vietnamese cuisine is considered one of the healthiest cuisines in the world and always combines fragrance, taste, and colour.
Below are just SOME of the foods I ate over my month long visit.
👍🏻 Fan Faves:
(1) Bún chả – served with grilled fatty pork (chả) over a plate of white rice noodle (bún) and herbs with a side dish of dipping sauce. I ate this twice while in Vietnam. Definitely worth trying guys! It was super good!
(2) Bún Rieu – LOVED this, I first tried this in Ha Noi – it was incredible. See below for the types of Bún Rieu I wasn’t so fond of. Freshwater crab flavours this soup which is made with rice vermicelli and topped with pounded crabmeat and deep-fried tofu. Chilies, lime and fresh herbs add the finishing touches.
(3) Bánh khọt – if you love crispy savoury pancakes, you’re going to love Vietnamese bánh khọt- it’s usually provided with lettuce, tons of herbs and dipping sauce – really good. Equally as yummy in the pancake department is bánh xèo.
(4) Bun Bo Nam Bo – could be the best street food in Ha Noi – the broth at the bottom of the deep bowl is made of fish sauce, sugar, lemon and chilli and has deliciously light sweet and sour undertones. The sauce is topped with marinated beef, vegetables, noodles, onion crisps and crushed nuts.
5) Cơm tấm – broken rice and pork chop – very basic meal – but reliable, inexpensive and yummy. Usually served with pickled veggies and a side soup for about 20K – about $1.15 CDN.
I could GO ON … I had sooooooo …. many amazing meals whist in Vietnam, but, I’ll limit it to my top 5 —- Honorable Mention to rau muong xao you- morning glory with garlic.
👎🏻 Not So Fussy On:
(1) Chicken Feet – I just didn’t enjoy them at all – no meat on them. They were crispy, like chicken wings, but with NO meat. Imagine just eating chicken skin on bone – that’s what I can best compare it to. I didn’t hate them, but I could definitely do without them. Don’t quite get the appeal. Is it your thing?
(2) Bún riêu with congealed pig’s blood – bún riêu is a truly sensational Vietnamese street food — if you forgo the blood cubes. I realized that in different areas of Vietnam – there are differing varieties of bún riêu. For example I DID NOT like the bún riêu in HCMC at all, I liked the one in Da Nang and loved the one in Ha Noi – all a little bit unique with their own regional touches. But , the main thing I realized is that I did not like it at all with the congealed pig’s blood. So, now I know to always order my bún riêu “không huyết” — with no congealed pig’s blood.
(3) Mixed Rice Paper in a Bag – this wasn’t a salad – I’ve heard of Rice Paper Salad – this was more like a seasoned rice paper snack in a bag – which was essentially rice paper strips as well as chilli powder and other seasoning. I had seen it on many vlogs and YouTube videos on Vietnamese street food- but I was disappointed. It was hard, the texture was weird and only got soft after you chewed it for a bit – I guess I would liken it to chewing rice paper 😂.
(4) Rượu rắn – Cobra Snake Wine – an alcoholic beverage produced by infusing whole snakes in rice wine or grain alcohol. The snakes, preferably venomous ones, are not usually preserved for their meat but to have their “essence” and snake venom dissolved in the liquor. The snake venom poses no threat to the drinker. It is denatured by the ethanol—its proteins are unfolded and therefore inactive and would be denatured by stomach acid anyway. It was good just to say I’ve tried it, but I just couldn’t imagine sipping on this – it tasted more like tequila than wine to me (and I loathe tequila).
(5) Sweet Snails with Lemongrass – oc huong hap xa – not a dish I was particularly fond of. They say half the fun is extracting the hot cooked snails from their shells (who actually says that?) – I did not find it fun nor tasty. I’ve had snails here in Canada – but we cook them with lots of garlic and butter and out of the shell. Even here, I don’t LOVE them, but I liked them less in Vietnam. They were chewy in texture – especially the head and had little to no taste. It was decent enough to try, but I won’t order them – thankfully, I was offered one by a girl I met who ordered an entire plate – she loves them 🤢
Things I Really Enjoyed/Liked:
PLACES TO VISIT
I can’t pick just 2 places I loved to visit — I really enjoyed every place I chose to visit for different reasons. Some were for beauty, some for historical importance or significance, and others for simple relaxation. There wasn’t a moment that I didn’t enjoy being in Vietnam. The sights, the sounds, the culture, the people and the food ♥️.
For things to do I would suggest the following as they were my top places, but truly, I loved every place I went, so you can’t go wrong:
- Hoi An – all of the silk lanterns at night were gorgeous and the ancient town is a fabulous place to visit. See my blog on Hoi An here for more details on things to do and see.
- Cu Chi Tunnels – outside of HCMC – you’ll learn about its important role in the Vietnam War, the daily struggles of its inhabitants, as well as the ingenious strategies and weapons that were used. Click my blog here for more about the tunnels.
- The War Remnants Museum – HCMC – sad and heart breaking at times, but I would 10000% going to this while you’re in Saigon – it really gives you pause for thought
- Ha Long Bay and Ha Long City – WOW! Spectacular views, scenic, breathtaking – I only did a day trip – but next time I go I’d like to do an overnight trip and sleep on the ship. Click here to see more about my trip to Ha Long Bay and Ha Long City.
- Mekong Delta – this is what I think of when I think of Vietnam – this trip was priced right 550K for 2 days, 1 night – hotel breakfast and lunch included as well as English speaking guide and A/C Bus, for more click my blog here.
COST OF LIVING
As a foreigner, the cost of living is ridiculously low for us. The exchange rate when I was there was $1.00 CND Dollar to 17,000 VDN.
Most basic every day things are super inexpensive for us as Westerners.
Here are some approximates:
Beer was between 11K and 20K on average, depending where you purchased and the type of beer – Larue was usually the cheapest (and luckily my favourite common beer), and then 333, Saigon and Tiger. My absolute fave was Tiger Crystal in a bottle (I could def use one of those now).
Most street foods ranged between 10K and 70K – bánh mì was always on the low end at about 10-20K as was cơm tấm at about 15-20K
1.5L of water was approx 10-20K, again depending on where you purchase it.
Grab taxis are super cheap compared to Canada – I think the sitting rate just to enter a taxi is now up to $3.80 where I live – in Vietnam that could literally be my whole trip (by Grab). Taxi’s are more expensive and not always reliable for pricing.
Fresh fruit was always well priced – I picked up pineapple for 10K, jackfruit and a 1/4 watermelon both for 50K. There are fruit cart ladies on each street corner, sometimes more than one.
Ice coffee was anywhere between 10-25K (depending where you went – chain coffee houses are more expensive).
Even hotels – my most expensive hotel on the trip was $17.00 CDN – and it was a very nice hotel.
Some days, I was living off less than $20.00 CDN and that included my hotel rate!
Below are some of the every day items that we would buy back home and their associated VDN price — remember $1.00 CND is 17K VDN!
Things I Wish Were Different:
What I could have done without perhaps is all of the HONKING! They honk at and for everything. Unlike us back in North American – we honk when we are trying to relay something important or semi important “hey, you’re crossing over into my lane”, “Come on man, the light is green!” or even “I’m at your house, let’s go.”
But in Vietnam they honk to signal EVERYTHING … I’m here watch out, I’m behind you, move over, get out of my way, I said get out of my way 😜, I’m not stopping, go already, I’m turning …
Honking is so loud and so regular in the country that people just seem to accept it, I’d be scared, in fact, of asking them not to honk … somewhere along the way, it has become habitual and a major cause of noise pollution. It can really get on your nerves when drivers keep pressing on their horns for no apparent reason.
I was fairly decent at blocking it out most days, however, the one day I was about to scream out “please, for the love of God, stop effin honking” … I mediated when I got back to the hotel and the moment passed 😂
LACK OF RULES OF THE ROAD
In certain parts of Vietnam there weren’t any traffic lights or signs – it just seemed like a free for all – some type of organized chaos that I wasn’t privy to – but somehow works, I don’t know how but it does!
I’ve literally seen people drive on sidewalks rather than waiting in congestion.
The Vietnamese don’t often obey the traffic lights or signs when there are any – they seem more like suggestions than an actual legal traffic requirement.
Traffic moves in all possible directions, no matter if it’s a sidewalk, a pedestrian street, an alley obviously too narrow for a motorbike – I’ve also seen on many occasions traffic flowing in the WRONG direction – YEP – coming at you when it’s clearly a one way street!
Pedestrians: Forget all the standard rules of crossing the street, the Vietnamese don’t seem to have the culture of respecting pedestrians. Pedestrian cross walks are rare and if they do exist, they are ignored. Crossing the street for a pedestrian is like a game of chicken each time! You learn to have faith. You start to walk and hope that the motorcycles and cars that run in both directions will avoid you. I became a pro at it very quickly – I look, I go and I watch – they will usually manoeuvre around me.
Also, they park on the sidewalks (which is customary there). So walking can be a pain from time to time as you’re constantly switching from road to sidewalk, back to road etc …
When I first arrived in Vietnam, I was struck by its beauty. However, as I started exploring I came across a lot of litter on the ground in Ha Noi. I thought it was initially just Ha Noi but as I explored I noticed that even in remote regions, I always came across large areas that were inexplicably strewn with trash. The litter consisted mostly of plastic bags, plastic bottles, beer cans, leftover food containers/items and plain old garbage. I didn’t get it! The trash wasn’t piled up, awaiting collection at the side of the road; it was spread around, over large areas and in natural beauty areas such as river beds, beaches etc. Thousands of locations all over the country are now utterly ruined by trash. It’s sad, disappointing and infuriating.
These are just SOME of the pics I took – I only started taking photos of this my last few days in the country. I could have taken dozens more.
Very few people bothered to clean up after themselves – I would see people open items and then just toss the wrappers on the sidewalk. I was told by my tour guide to just put my litter in the gutter while I was in HCMC (which I absolutely did not) and a local once brought it to my attention that I had “garbage” in my back pocket – I put the wrappers there because I could not bring myself to just toss them on the ground – it just goes against everything we’re taught here in Canada and most certainly for me as an environmentalist.
I can’t even recall seeing trash bins, if there were any, they certainly weren’t prominent enough to stand out, given I was carrying my personal trash with me. If they were more available, would people even use them? Click here to read an article by Forbes Magazine on Vietnam’s littering epidemic.
Things I’d Still Like to Do
- Head to Sapa to discover the spectacular scenery of the Tonkinese Alps where Montagnard hill tribes have lived for centuries.
- Ninh Binh is a good base for exploring quintessentially Vietnamese limestone
- Ha Giang is a beautiful destination located in the Northwest Highlands. scenery.
- Ban Gioc Waterfall – the most famous place in Cao Bang province, the landscape is dominated by limestone hills.
- I hear you can opt to skip out on Halong Bay (which is touristy) and head over to Bai Tu Long instead. Located North East of Halong Bay, this area can stretch up to 100 km to the Chinese border.
- Co To is an island located in the middle of the sea in Quang Ninh Province, a beautiful island with fine white sand and blue water
- Nam Du is one of the islands in the Nam Du archipelagoes. It’s about 60 km from the mainland. Nam Du is beautiful, pristine and peaceful with beaches.
- Kon Tum province of the Central Highlands has a border crossing with Laos and Cambodia, also known as the Indochina Fork.
These are just some of the MANY MANY places I’d still like to visit in Vietnam – I chose most of these places specifically because they were less touristy and would allow me to truly explore the country and all that it has to offer.
Overall, while Vietnam has its quirks that it’s still trying to iron out, I still very much like the country. I’ve had nothing but positive experiences there. I’ve heard others have mixed reviews and others nothing but negatives. I suppose part of it can be attributed to the way you prepare for your trip and how you’ve set your expectations … and the way you choose to look at the experience. True, you may get scammed – then try not to put yourself in a situation where you may be – book only with reputable companies, ones that come recommended to you by others. You may get pick pocketed – well, that can happen any where in the world, not just Vietnam. Yes, they will try to overcharge you on items – they’re trying to make a living – do you how much they make and live on? What’s an extra 50 cents or a dollar to me in the grand scheme of things?
It’s not a country without its share of faults, but it is an emerging country trying to change its past global footprint. They are now posting anti-littering signs and I hear that police are trying to enforce non littering (that I have yet to see).
Some ex-pats and locals who are passionate about the cause gather groups and clean beaches, neighbourhoods and streets.
Certain restaurants are now committed to recycling – when I saw this at one café in Saigon, I wanted to hug the owner.
At an ex-pat green market I attended (in D2 Saigon) they were focussing on the sale of reusable items – such as water bottles (it’s not common there to use reusable water bottles as we do in most other places in the world). They also focussed on eliminating the need for single use masks by creating cloth ones. There were also reusable cloth coffee holders for your motorcycle. I know this is probably hard to understand to us, but, because everyone travels by motorbike, they actually sell you your coffee and put it in a plastic bag or plastic cup carrier (single use) so people can hook it onto their bikes when they drive – more plastic waste. EVERYTHING comes in a plastic bag. They looked shocked when I would tell them “no bag” cause I had my Herschel knapsack with me.
Think of what changes could be made IF every person, used a reusable bag, had a cloth mask, used a reusable cloth coffee carrier and water bottle!