Vietnam is remembered by many, even today, as a war zone, yet this stunning country is growing at an extraordinary rate. With more and more people traveling to the shores of Vietnam, it welcomes all visitors with same open arms and warm smiles. With a rich history, unbelievable culture and delightful people, Vietnam will continue to grow well into the future. But even as it grows, the local people continue to enjoy the simple things in life, just as they have for so many years before. And the best thing is, you can join them! Check out my “10 Things to do in Vietnam”. Remember this only touching the surface, Vietnam has lots to offer!
1. Travel by motorbike taxi. If you do your research and look at the statistics, you won’t get on! But that said, cruising on the back of a 110cc Honda Dream, weaving and dodging cars, trucks, people, vendors, dogs and cats is something any traveler should experience. A great, easy and cheap means of negotiating the streets!
2. Bia Hoi (Local Draught Beer). Pull up a plastic stool, next to the gutter. Yell out “mot bia hoi” (1 beer) and sit back and enjoy this local specialty. Each shop will vary in quality and taste but at approx. 15 cents US per glass, one cannot complain!
3. Karaoke. The WORST recreational past time know to mankind. Imagine, you and 5 friends sitting in a windowless, stuffy room on an old vinyl lounge, madly pressing the TV remote to bring your favorite song. Turning up the volume, ABBA’s “Happy New Year” screams out of the dusty speakers with no words, just you to sing along. Out of tune, distorted, crackling your way through, constantly being laughed at by friends and owners, and then you have to pay? I just don’t understand what it is about karaoke, but then maybe I never will
4. Pho Ga / Bo. Noodle soup with chicken or beef, now this is must for all. Get out of bed early, walk away from the touristy areas and look for the sign – “PHO BO / GA”. You won't miss it; a good Pho soup will be packed with locals, slurping and sucking their noodles! Don’t forget to add the green stuff they place on the table and touch of lemon please!
5. Hoi An Tailors. There aren’t to many travelers hitting the streets of Hoi An Ancient Town with out a visit to at least 1 tailor! With suits starting at around $25USD, it a fabulous experience having your new clothes “made to fit” at an affordable price, even for us males!
6. Rice Wine. Now this is not every ones idea of a good time, but Rice Wine, a special mix of various spices and animals with plenty of medical properties and kick any donkey would die for, is a real winner with the Vietnamese males. Let’s just say, “Things are looking UP” if a male has a few of these! Wines can be made using a mix of herbs, snakes, goat, birds, parts of cows/pigs and other exotic creatures. There are even a few I don’t wish to write! But it’s a fabulous way to meet the locals and to sort out that bad back, among other things!
7. Halong Bay. Although most “backpackers” prefer to get away from their fellow travelers, Halong Bay is the exception. Covering some 1,500 sq/km and comprising of more than 3,000 lime stone karsts, Halong is simply one of those places you MUST see. Overnight tours, sleeping on the boat, are the best option. Giving you opportunity to cruise the bay, see the sights and take in the magical sunset, while enjoying a few cold refreshments on the top deck. It doesn’t get any better!
8. Cyclo Ride. Slower than the motorbike, cyclo’s are a great relaxing way of taking in the sights, streets and smells of any Vietnamese city. That’s until you hit the main road, then it’s anything but relaxing! Big and slow, cyclo drivers expertly negotiate their way through the madness, taking you on to your destination. Cheap and great for the action photographer, cyclos remain the favorite means of transport for me!
9. Vietnam Bongs. On any street corner in Hanoi, you will see local men, squatting near the road side, lighter pulled, ready to suck in deep and inhaling the rough, yet natural tobacco packed tightly into their water filled “Bong”! The tobacco is strong, rough and awful tasting, but when in Rome, do as the Romans do!
10. Nha Hang Cho. Not for the faint hearted, but an experience I will long remember. Sitting with several local friends, waiting for dinner to arrive at the table, they explained I was sipping a variety of “Chinese Herbal Medicine Rice Wine”. Tradition has it, that you should drink this whilst munching on “Cho” in later part of the Lunar Month for good luck. “Cho” as I quickly found out, can be cooked 7 different ways and I have to say, has a very strong and unique flavor. Ok ok, yes it’s dog (Cho). I ate dog. No I didn’t like it, it was, well ummm, well I’m not going back! But a truly Vietnamese experience was had!
Adam Hurley is an experianced tour guide in Vietnam, where he has lived for nearly 5 years. He also works in photography.