Since coming back to America after my first trip to Asia at the end of May, I have been getting an array of responses - some expected, some unwarranted - about what people think Asia is like. The majority of people are PUMPED about Asia, want to hear more about it, and can't wait to visit for themselves (MY KIND OF PEOPLE). A lot of people think traveling and experiencing a new culture is a great experience no matter where you end up. A ton of people are obsessed with the idea of Europe and don't really even have an opinion on Asia. And more people than I like to admit, make sure to to let me know that they "have no desire to ever go to Asia in their lives" (this response always makes me sad, ugh). At this point in time, when I tell people I am going back to Vietnam for an indefinite amount of time, I prepare myself for literally any response....
So after spending four months in Asia and becoming absolutely obsessed with it, I figured I would write a blog to try to convince you to go as well! Although I could write forever on why you should go to Sri Lanka and Thailand, this blog is going to be Vietnam focused because for some reason, I don't think people hear nearly enough about why Vietnam is amazing. Especially in America. So get ready for me to be PASSIONATE.
As you (hopefully) already know, going to modern-day Vietnam will not be anything like what you learned about the county in US history. For some reason, I feel like there is some weird stigma towards Vietnam in the US like it is the same place it was 50 year ago during the war. I have been asked (I kid you not) MORE THAN ONCE if i came close to getting trench foot during my time in Vietnam. Trench foot!!!
So let me just start by making sure this very clear; Vietnam is not a third world country, and it has one of the fastest growing economies in the region. There are a plethora of 5 star hotels, nice restaurants, local restaurants, grocery stores, coffee shops, bars, shopping plazas, karaoke bars, etc all over Vietnam. There are endless things to do while you're there, and I never once felt unsafe or out of place doing them.
One of my favorite places in all of Vietnam is the capital, Hanoi.
Hanoi is in the north of Vietnam and it is absolutely incredible. One of Danielle and I's favorite things to do in Hanoi is to walk down Bia Hoi Street (Beer Street) at night and sit down at one of the hundred little tables on the street and sidewalk and have a 44 cent beer and meet new friends. TONS of people are eating local foods and drinking Bia Hoi every night on that street. If you're lucky, you might even have the opportunity to try some chicken fingers (see our food blog for pictures of what a Vietnamese chicken finger really is) while you're there. If you think night life is fun in America, imagine replacing crowded bars or loud clubs with hundreds of people sitting outside eating, drinking and listening to music together. That's Hanoi's beer street for you!
Oh, and if you don't feel like walking home after all the excitement, Uber motorbikes are WAY more fun than regular Ubers (I LOVE ASIA OK).
If you're into fitness, mornings in Hanoi are going to be your favorite. Every morning, many locals wake up early (around 6 am) and join a group or individually exercise around the lake - and by exercise I mean anything from ballroom dancing to lifting weights. Even if you're not in the mood to exercise, waking up early enough to witness the fun is a must while you're in Hanoi! Watching zumba classes early in the morning was one of my favorite things to do while I was there.
If shopping is your thing, there is actually a whole block that is called "shoe street" in Hanoi. Nike, Adidas, heels, flip flops, Converse, anything you want, you will find it on this street (for so cheap it hurts). Although shoe street is my personal favorite, there are also streets full of clothing, hats, luggage, backpacks, toys, and literally anything else you could possibly need. Be prepared to come home with at least one new pair of shoes...
If city life isn't for you, Vietnam also has a variety of places that are great for either relaxing or sight-seeing.
Both Nha Trang and Mui Ne are both beach towns that are perfect escapes from the busy hustle of either Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi. In Mui Ne, you can choose to stay at a resort and relax on the provided beach chairs all day or join a yoga class on the beach at sunset. You can also take a motor bike to the white or red sand dunes and explore for the day. Depending on how adventurous you are feeling, you may even want to try kite surfing (or at least watch others try) during your free time. In Nha Trang, you can check out local markets, go out and sing karaoke, or just relax by the ocean. No matter what mood you are in, either of these beach towns are a perfect escape from reality during your trip. Also, Vietnamese hospitality is UNREAL so expect to be pampered if you choose to stay at a nicer resort during your time in these towns.
As far as sight-seeing goes, you cannot miss out on seeing Halong Bay and Sapa while you are in Vietnam. Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage sight and is one of the most beautiful and magnificent views I have ever seen in my life. If you have the money, you have to do an over night boat cruise on Halong Bay. The cruise entails a sunset cooking class, a stop at the caves, and a bamboo boat tour. Another amazing sight-seeing experience is Sapa. Sapa is the country-side of Vietnam and a hikers dream come true. While you may think staying in the country-side will be too rural for you, the actual town of Sapa is very modernized and there are many nice hotels and restaurants.
More than just the amazing cities & sight-seeing experiences in Vietnam, the Vietnamese are absolutely amazing people to be around and if the scenery doesn't convince you to visit, I promise you the people will. Danielle and I have met some of the most amazing people during our time in Vietnam and their hospitality and generosity never cease to amaze us. Our friends in Hanoi surprised Danielle with a custom-made cake and threw a birthday party for her last came to visit. They constantly help us learn Vietnamese, teach us better bargaining techniques, and always tell us the best places to go. They always make us feel included every time we are in Hanoi and we love them so very much.
So even if this blog doesn't sway your decision to go visit Vietnam, hopefully it will at least change your mind on what Asia is like and why I love it so much (and why you would too!)