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Vietnam

WHAT CAN I EXPECT FROM Viet Nam?

As an American traveling to Vietnam, all I can say is expect the unexpected. I was a bit nervous to go here, given our history and the never dying American hatred of “Commies.” I could not have been more surprised by how strong, resilient and friendly the Vietnamese people are. For a country that has been through decades and decades of shit – the people are just amazing. 

Vietnam is a large country, and Jordan and I spent our time in the North. When I booked the tickets, I wanted to see the colors and lanterns in Hoi An. So, der-da-der, I booked flights to Hanoi! My B. But what a good thing, because this gave Jordan and I access to the wonders of the north like Sapa and Cat Ba.

At first there are many things in Vietnam that can feel overwhelming – the shouts of “Halo!” that seem harsh – until you realize this is how the word “Hello!” is said, to everyone. The constant flow of traffic, scooters, cars and humans, all ignoring traffic lights as if they are not there, took me a minute to get used to. Jordan loved it. 

Some of our favorite things in Vietnam consisted of Bia Hoi (sidewalk bars where the grownups sit on children sized tables), Vietamese coffee serve with plates of sunflower seeds, French architecture in the middle of rice paddies, the oddity that is Confucian religion, and the foooooood!!!! Again with the French influence and Bhan Mi… I could go on and on (everyone knows of Pho and siracha…) 

There is nothing like being crammed into a tiny restaurant or child sized table on the street with complete strangers who don’t speak English to share some of the best food you’ve had in your life and that has been cooked on a hot wok in the ally next to the restaurant. If you’re eating on the street, there will most likely be a fan drilled into the nearest tree to keep you cool. Did I mention most bia hoi has ice cubes in it because the beer isn’t refrigerated? What a great, strange place. 

I can’t leave out the arrival and visa process to get into Vietnam. Jordan and I had to apply for a visa before we came into the country. The visa fee was only to be paid at the airport upon arrival – in US cash only. Thankfully Jordan and I traveled with US cash. It always comes in handy when we go to Mexico, and it’s a good travel tip – US cash is good almost anywhere when in a pinch. And in this case, it was necessary. When we went through customs getting off the plane, I don’t recall seeing any cash exchange or atms anywhere. I do remember a family of some US citizens and some British, and they were very upset they had different procedure to get in, having not done their research first I can imagine the process took much longer for their poor American member. 

THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN Northern Viet Nam

Try every street cart Bhan Mi
Kayak the islands of Ha Long Bay
Vietnamese shadow puppet show
Visit Hanoi Hilton
Rice paddies of Sapa
Take a tourist bus on a long trip
Waterfalls of Ban Goic
Bac Ha market

“The Vietnamese Countryside”

“Religious pagodas”

TYPICAL COSTS WHEN TRAVELLING

Accommodation – Vietnam is cheap as mate. Jordan and I chose to get hotels for about $11/night instead of the $3-5 usd hostel dorms. It just makes sense for a couple to do. 

Food – I recommend going street food all the way. (Have your water pills handy for the first three days, as always.) One can eat like a queen for a couple of bucks, including the beer. The variety and deliciousness of Vietnamese food is endless.

Transportation – If you’re going a long distance, definitely take the tourist sleeper bus. If traveling in town, take public transportation! You will not regret the adventure of flooding busses or the ticket master smoking his cigarette next to the driver with the doors and windows open the whole time. Did I mention he’s barefoot? We only rented a scooter on the island of Cat Ba where is was safe to do so. All this is completely affordable and a fraction of the cost in the West.

Suggested daily budget – 20 USD/day. Live a little! This daily budget is high for a backpacker and allows you the luxury of adding some activities in too!

Food in the north

(french and chinese blend!)

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Bun Cha Hands down, this bbq and rice noodles is my FAVORITE Vietnamese food. I'm sad this isn't as widely known in the Western world as Pho or Bhan Mi.
2
Egg Coffee Sorry Italy, Vietnam might have you on coffee. In addition to being just friggin delicious espresso shots on their own, the Vietnamese have a wide variety of servings of coffee. From Egg coffee to coffee and coconut blend....all served with a plate of sunflower seeds!
3
Com lam Sticky rice straight from the field and cooked inside a bamboo tube. It comes out like the best rice you've ever had. Pair it with some bbq meats and siracha!
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Cuon Soi Similar to Pho, this noodle dish is more Chinese with a nod to the Vietnamese national dish. Once served, pour the sauce over the noodles and meat, mix with your choice of veggies and destroy with your mouth.

Language Lesson

  • Halo!
  • Cam on!
  •  Banh
  • B´ün 
  • Hey!/Hello!
  • Thank you!
  • Bread
  • Fish
  • Noodle

What to pack for your trip

Everything you need from city to beach.

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