People either seem to love it or hate it!
When I was first doing research for my trip, I discovered a lot of people seemed to not enjoy Vietnam. Other writers would complain about rude and standoffish locals and a general discontent for foreigners, an abundance of muggings and scams, and plenty of hassle. According to statistics, only 6 percent of tourists will revisit Vietnam for a second time. It begs the question, why do so many people visit Vietnam, only to not return? Sadly, reading this information, especially when it comes from people who seem to have some authority on travel, is enough to put many off Vietnam. Even more so when it seems to be such a hassle to get a visa. Every other major South-East Asian tourist destination is accessible with a Visa On Arrival, but with Vietnam, your visa needs to be acquired prior to your arrival, either at an embassy, or by applying for a visa on arrival online. Is it even worth it?
My answer to that question: yes! Yes yes yes it is so worth it. It may seem a hassle to get a visa, but it really is not if you simply make the effort. Applying for a visa on arrival online is simple and only requires that you must fly into the country. In comparison with other countries such as India, a Vietnamese visa is simple.
So you’ve got your visa, what about the country? Of course, everyone will have different opinions and experiences on travel. I must admit, Vietnam was tiring to travel through and was not my favourite country. The vibe wasn’t as relaxed and the people weren’t as warm as, say, Cambodia. But I still adored the country, the people and my experience there, despite it being sometimes stressful and full on. Vietnam is a vibrant and varied country. There is something for everyone, whether you love trekking in jungles or scuba diving, whether your a beach babe or prefer the cooler climes of northern mountains, whether you like the vibrancy of big cities, or to amble along in quiet, riverside towns. Vietnam can offer you what you want and what fits your personality and travel style, as well as offer you new opportunities and experiences.
As you travel up or down Vietnam, you’re faced with the indescribable beauty of changing landscapes, from outstretched seas to towering mountains that are unlike anything I’ve ever seen. In Vietnam, I learnt about the culture in museums in Hanoi and Saigon, I trekked through rice paddies, I sunbathed in Hoi An, I absorbed the beauty of Halong Bay, and I went canyoning in Dalat. I discovered huge caves and good food. I spoke to eager and happy Vietnamese schoolchildren. I got clothes tailor-made in Hoi An. Basically, every single day in Vietnam was an adventure. Every day I was learning something new, or discovering something, or doing something that was adding a beautiful and unforgettable experience to my trip.
Also, Vietnam was heaps of fun as it has a brilliant backpacker community. Everyone is travelling either up, or down, so it’s easy to meet people and make friends. There were lots of parties and opportunities to socialise, so despite any culture shock or the overwhelming nature of staring locals or busy city traffic, it’s a great place to start a solo travel trip, as you meet so many people in the same boat, and there are so many fab, social hostels all through Vietnam.
As I said above, despite all this fun, or perhaps, because of all this fun, I did find Vietnam pretty exhausting. I was always on the go, as while there was plenty to do, there wasn’t one place in particular I found myself wanting to stay for more than a few days. Most people are on a time limit anyway, with a one month visa, so constantly travelling long distances every few days is one of the exhausting realities of travelling Vietnam. And when you do arrive at your destination, theres so much on offer to do, some of which is physical, like trekking or canyoning. And all that cheap beer? And cheap cocktails? Yeah that takes it’s toll too. It’s not always plain sailing. It’s a tiring place to travel, the cities are truly hectic, and in some places you may find you need to be more vigilant around potential motorbike thieves or scam artists, but that goes for anywhere. There are also places in Vietnam which are calm, tranquil and friendly. Whilst I was excited to get to Cambodia and enjoy some beach time by the end of my time in Vietnam, it was all so worth it, because of the beauty and diversity I got to witness, because of the people I got to meet, and because of the experiences I got to enjoy.
I think the main reason many people don’t return to Vietnam, especially when compared to countries like Thailand, isn’t because people don’t like the country, but because once you’ve done and seen it, that’s probably it. Some places such as Nha Trang in the south are popular resort style holiday destinations for Russains, and so they would attract a returning population of people, it’s true. But for the average backpacker or holiday maker from further afield, there’s only really one way to travel Vietnam, there’s all the hotspots along the way, and all the activities you can do. Once you’ve done that, however enjoyable it is, for most there is not a desire to do it all again. Because it is tiring. And there’s so many other countries to explore. Thailand on the other hand, attracts tourists who wish to revisit the country, I believe, because it’s easy to get in the country, it’s easy to get to your chosen destination, and there are so many parts of Thailand that you may have skipped on your first visit, because it’s not as geographically simple to travel as Vietnam.
Of course, this isn’t the case for everyone. I met one guy on my travels who had backpacked through Vietnam three times. He had even been Canyoning in Dalat all of those times! He clearly loved the country and each time he met a group of people he loved hanging out with and wanted to continue doing so. Vietnam might not be as popular as Thailand, but I think that’s more of a reason to go and visit, and to visit now. Already it is very set up for tourists, and I believe that will only grow year on year. Now it still has a bit of a rawness and an edge to it, the same rawness which puts some people off, but I believe only adds to the cultural experience of travelling a country. It’s also ridiculously cheap, which again, as popularity increases, could easily change. It’s by far the cheapest place I’ve been to eat, drink, play and travel.
With every place, it’s up to the individual to go and visit, to see it for themselves, and then decide if the place is for them or not. Which is why, if you’re undecided on Vietnam, I urge you to visit. It can be crazy and hectic at times, but that craziness only adds to the experience of a country which is naturally beautiful and diverse, and is filled with every sort of opportunity. Don’t let visa applications, other peoples comments, or doubts, put you off.