Yes, the Friday series is back with another ‘gateway country’. This week we head on down to South East Asia, and just to shock and awe and confound you, I’m not calling ‘Thailand’ on the region, rather I am going with Vietnam as the best gateway to the region.
In a region which boasts Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and more, it might seem strange for me to suggest dipping your toe in the Vietnamese water as first port of call, especially as Thailand gets far more tourists. So let me tell you why. Firstly, if you ARE just looking for a party country, then yes I think Thailand will forever be the best destination in South East Asia, if not the world. But if you’re just starting out as a backpacker, maybe you want to steer clear of the party scene, because it is really INTENSE. Yes, full on ragers and so on excepted.
Vietnam today is just so EASY to get about, to sample, to enjoy. You’ll find a mix of cuisines about the place, even Thai food is readily available if spice and more spice is your go, there’s a well worn backpacker circuit (well, it’s more a line from south to north or vice versa), the accommodation is cheap, clean and exceptional for the price, oh and the number one reason – the people are the friendliest in South East Asia. Thailand might be the land of smiles, but the people there have had westerners stomping about their country for decades and well, people can be understandably stand-offish. In Vietnam, you can sit down in a park in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi and have someone come up to you to practice their English. Within an hour you have 20 new friends! It’s brilliant.
What can I say? I loved my time in Vietnam. It was so easy to travel, guesthouses CAN if you want pretty much organise everything for you. Rooms were always clean and never more than 20 bucks with aircon, TV and fridge. The country is so full of things to see as well. Highlights include –
The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Seriously, there’s a dead guy persevered for everyone to see. It’s out of this world and you just have to see it to believe it. Sadly, cameras are not allowed inside.
Ho Chi Minh City. Probably my favourite big city in SE Asia. Colour, life, some brilliant temples to see, watching the bikes and scooters dominate the roads is in itself quite amazing. The parks are really cool too, there are many lively bars, it’s an awesome city.
Mekong Delta. I didn’t get there, but I hear it’s amazing too!
Dalat. A charming town in the hills. Full of character with a wonderful toy train to ride.
Weddings. Everywhere you go there are weddings taking place, making for excellent photo ops!
Hoi An Seriously, a Unesco listed world heritage site. Another charming spot with an old town to die for. The character of the place is great, and it’s not too far from My Son as well, little brother to the ruins of Angkor in Cambodia.
Halong Bay. It’s traditional to spend a night or two on a boat in Halong Bay. The pictures tell the story.
And that’s just the start. There are beaches too in places like Nha Trang (which also has an excellent array of restaurants), there’s a great journey up the coast by train, there are like three different levels of bus depending on your budget, and a solo traveller can get to see most things for 40 bucks or less a day, including transport and a decent if not 5 star room. Vietnam is really a gem – easy, enjoyable and relaxing, yet adventurous travel. Yep. I do love the place. Nope, no-one is paying me to endorse it!
For any more information, I have a short ebook out on Vietnam – Short Journeys: Vietnam, via kindle only at the moment. Please check it out if you feel so inclined. Tomorrow it’s back to Japan with part four of the ‘Interac Experience’. Until then, may the journey never end!