It’s hard to believe but after 14 days in Vietnam our trip was coming to a close. We ended our Vietnam experience in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam in the north. When we arrived we toured the section of the city that houses all the government buildings.
The two main buildings we focused on were the President’s Palace and Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum.
The President’s Palace was built and used by the French during their occupation of Vietnam. Since Ho Chi Minh was elected Vietnam’s first President the palace has only been used for receiving foreign dignitaries. According to our guide Ho Chi Minh was a very humble person and refused to live in such opulence.
He reportedly also wanted to be cremated but after he died the Communist Party of Vietnam thought it was important for the people to have someplace to mourn and remember Ho Chi Minh so they enlisted the Russians to build a mausoleum similar to Lenin’s in Red Square and Zedong’s in Tienanmen Square.
After touring the government section of the city we had lunch at KOTO Van Mieu Training Restaurant. This restaurant trains underprivileged kids restaurant and cooking skills to help them find jobs and be self-sufficient. I had my best meal of the entire trip here! I had fish wrapped in banana leaves with lemon grass and rice. Amazingly delicious! KOTO Van Mieu Training Restaurant is a must try.
From lunch we went to the Temple of Literature. The Temple used to be the site of the Imperial Academy where the country’s smartest would go to learn and prepare to work for the King.
It’s made up of several historic buildings and gardens. It no longer hosts any students but students from local universities still go there on graduation day to take pictures.
We also went to the theatre and saw the traditional Thang Long Puppet Theatre. The production was in Vietnamese but was still enjoyable. The show uses puppets and live musicians to portray a story using traditional folk songs. Great cultural experience!
That night we went to Little Saigon and ate street food. It’s overwhelming sometimes how many people are out and about in the cities. Vendors set up restaurants on the street littering the roads with people sitting on little stools. That doesn’t stop the motorbikes though! They continue to plow down the streets creating chaos.
For our last night we had barbecue. They bring you a stove and raw meet and vegetables and you cook them yourself. It’s a lot of fun although you get pretty warm.
On our final day we woke up and did some last minute shopping. There are so many markets and great shops for tourist souvenirs in Hanoi.
After some shopping I took advantage of the cheap spa rates for the last time and had a facial. I couldn’t believe it but two hours later I was hoping in a taxi on my way to the airport, two weeks goes by quickly!
After my time here I have a few insights:
Vietnam is a beautiful country filled with friendly people, pristine scenary, and authentic Southeast Asian cultural experiences.
It’s an incredibly affordable place to visit with hotels in the $50 range and meals around $5. Vietnam is also not a tipping culture so there’s no need to tip anywhere you go.
It’s a safe place to visit. Like anywhere else you travel there is the chance you’ll be pick pocketed or ripped off, but for the most part the Vietnamese people are excited to have you (and your tourist dollars) there. They are accommodating and helpful. And if you are ripped off, with the exchange rate the way it is you’ll likely be out very little.
It’s hot and humid. Be prepared to wear your hair au natural and bring plenty of clothes to allow for multiple changes per day. You get used to it though, I promise.
It’s not a Third World country but it is definitely still a developing one. Driving down the streets of Vietnam is not like driving down the streets of America. There is still a lot of poverty and their infrastructure, while improving every year, is still not First World. Most of your accommodations, housing, and bathroom facilities, are all going to be a little older and more rudimentary than you are used to. It is a culture shock the first time you use a public bathroom but you get used to it quickly. I am happy to report most of the bathrooms are equipped with sit down toilets, not squatting toilets, so that’s a perk!
You’ll be eating rice and noodles (or Pho) for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There is no such thing as specific food for certain times of the day and what’s appropriate for breakfast is appropriate for dinner.
The Vietnamese like Americans. After our history with the Vietnam War you’d understandably be worried they don’t like Americans, but that’s not the case at all. In the South I actually had a few people come up to me and tell me about their involvement in the war and how they worked with Americans. They were proud to show me how good their English was and practice with me. Even in the North the people were friendly. I love to talk with cab drivers and store clerks and I was told multiples times, “We like Americans, we don’t like Chinese.” Not liking the Chinese seemed to be a common sentiment amongst the people I spoke with.
Get there soon. Vietnam is changing and I have a feeling it will feel less authentic and more touristy the longer you wait to go.
I had an amazing time on my trip to Vietnam and can’t say enough positive things about my experience. It’s definitely a place to add to your bucket list! Have you been to Vietnam? Do you agree with some of my insights?
Thanks for the unforgettable memories Vietnam!