Relative to it’s neighbors, Vietnam is short on superlatives for people planning trips. Want great beaches? Thailand. Want amazing temples? Cambodia. How about great surfing? Bali. Business opportunities? Philippines. Awesome big city? Bangkok. And so on.
Pile on the somewhat salty reputation of the Vietnamese, and the indisputable reality that low level vendors will try to rip you off (it’s getting better…), and we’ve got a little bit of a PR problem.
Even though those superlatives are essentially true, I think if you are planning a short to medium length trip to South East Asia, Vietnam is where I would suggest you focus your time.
Vietnam was the first place I expatriated to back in 2009, but my love affair with Vietnam and it’s culture started way back in 2001. At that time I recall the immigration officer in Hanoi slowly looking at my passport, and then up at me and I sort of got the “what are you doing here?” look.
A few days later my friends and I were effectively detained for 4 hours for for taking a photo of a government building from a busy street. That kind of thing won’t happen much anymore. A few weeks ago I decided to sneak back to Vietnam to have a look and to visit some old friends.
I was only going to stay for a week, but I ended up extending my trip. I pretty much had to be drug out of the place.
Here’s 5 reasons I love Vietnam:
I can’t walk by a food vendor in this entire country. I’ve never been anywhere where I enjoy eating more. I’m certain I gained 5 pounds in the past week just looking for excuses to eat. Mealtime in Vietnam is every time I walk by something that smells good. Elemental and fresh, Vietnamese food is a concert of elegant herbs, noodles, lovingly prepared broths, and expertly prepared meats– and best of all– it’s eaten on the street.
The food intelligence of the average Vietnamese person is astounding.
WIFI in South East Asia is improving rapidly. The speeds in Vietnam were easily 3 to 4X what they were when I lived there in 2009. We all know it’s possible to run your world-class web business from Singapore (duh) and now Bangkok– I’ll officially add Hanoi and Saigon to the list. I can run conference calls from both (randomly selected) hotel rooms I’ve stayed at. I didn’t ask if they had “good” WIFI– I just asked if they had WIFI at all.
For those of you not familiar with Vietnam, you might be surprised to hear that it has the best cafe culture I have yet to experience. Coffee and tea are a huge deal here. There’s a cafe on every corner. Pick your taste– hip joints that are open 24hours, secluded garden terraces, business cafes– they’ve pretty much got it all. WIFI signals are abundant and you won’t get the stink eye for camping out at a cafe– it’s a national pastime.
I’ll try to give you an impressionistic tag cluster:
Hanoi: cafes, tree-lined streets, backpacker beer joints, Ho Chi Minh’s moseleum and the temple of literature, lakes and seasons, chilly winters and summer floods, NGOs and government officials, festivals and boutiques on the street, proud.
Saigon: nightlife and big bowls of Pho, China Town and markets, American Chamber of commerce and HSBC capital managers, motorcycle madness and the biggest mall in a mini-Singapore, international airport, rich, loud, and friendly.
Aside from the numerous places I’d suggest you visit while in Vietnam, there probably aren’t too many places entrepreneurs would want to base themselves outside of the two major cities. One notable exception to this would be Nha Trang– a beachy ‘lifestyle’ oriented town that’s great fun, just an overnight bussride or short fligh from Saigon.
If you do plan to visit Vietnam, I’m happy to answer any questions you might have. Also if you’ve got some favorite spots in Viet, I’d love to hear them. I’m heading back in July for some serious traveling! :)
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