Vietnam is a beautiful country in Southeast Asia featuring beaches, rivers, farms, temples, and bustling large cities. I recently took a family trip to Vietnam and spent 10 days traveling from north to south, with stops in Hanoi, Halong Bay, Danang, Hoi An, Ho Chi Minh City, and the Mekong Delta. This turned out to be one of the most enjoyable international trips I’ve ever taken, which is no small feat having visited 23 countries now. The welcoming people, mouth watering food, and activity-packed cities, made this a country that Julia, Owen, and I fell in love with instantly. Here are 10 reasons why I think you’ll fall in love with Vietnam, too!
1. The People. Especially Their Love Of Children!
The people we met in Vietnam are what we remember most fondly and talk about the most now that we’re home. Everyone we met was so kind and hospitable.
Before embarking on our flight from LAX to Hanoi, we did a lot of research on what it would be like traveling to Vietnam with a toddler. Every blog that I read mentioned how much the Vietnamese love children. They weren’t kidding! Owen was treated like a little prince at every stop of our journey. The wait staff at restaurants were so nice that we had a difficult time getting Owen to focus and eat. They all wanted to hold him!
Local craft shops were always warm and welcoming, and had no issues with us brining a toddler around to see what they were selling. One of our favorites was a wood working shop in Hoi An.
While touring Hanoi, we stumbled upon a college graduation ceremony. They had balloons for all of the graduates, and Owen just had to have one. Luckily, one of the ladies holding the balloons happily obliged him.
We partnered with Odynovo Tours for this trip, and they provided us with amazing local guides and drivers. Below is our guide from Saigon, Tino. He was such a knowledgable and professional guide, and also very accommodating for a family with a 17-month old.
2. The Incredible Food
Julia and I don’t eat out much at home, but when we do, our rule is that it has to be something we couldn’t have prepared on our own. Vietnamese food is one of our favorites at home here in California, so we were very excited to have 10 days of some of our favorite cuisine.
When most people hear’ Vietnamese food’, their mind first jumps to Phở, a soup with herbs, meat, and bánh phở rice noodles. I loved eating so much phở, but I also really enjoyed the use of lemongrass with the chicken and pork dishes. In Saigon, we got to eat a little more seafood, especially during our visit to the Mekong Delta.
Breakfast was probably my favorite meal of the day, which is largely because of the Vietnamese coffee. Vietnamese coffee is strong and bold with hints of dark chocolate. I drink my coffee black, and would put down a few cups every morning before starting our day.
Vietnam is well know for the quality and availability of street food. You’ll want to be a little careful here though, as food born illness can occur from vendor stands without proper sanitation and/or food turnover.
3. The Scooters And Street Life
The first thing we noticed when arriving in Hanoi was the number of scooters and motorbikes on the road. Here in California they make up a very small percentage of vehicles traffic. In Vietnam, they far outnumber the cars. Motorbikes fill every street, and you’ll even see babies and toddlers riding the bikes with their parents.
Traffic laws exist in Vietnam, but in most places they seem to be largely ignored. There are very few crosswalks, and stop lights are viewed more like a suggestion, and not a rule. At first we found this slightly overwhelming, but quickly adjusted. When crossing a street, just move slowly and predictably. The scooters and cars will adjust to you like a school of fish moving around an obstacle.
In Hanoi and Hoi An, you can get around the cities by way of a rickshaw. Being on a front facing rickshaw in the middle of Hanoi’s traffic jams was quite the experience!
4. The Crafts And Markets
Many Western companies have manufacturing factories in Vietnam to take advantage of the cheap labor. Because of this access to so many Western goods and electronics, Vietnam is the perfect place to find “knock-off” goods from just about any company. Salomon shoes, North Face backpacks and jackets, Coach purses, Mont Blanc pens, Brietling watches…you name it, a vendor probably has it. One of the largest shopping areas for knock-offs in Hanoi can be found in the Old Quarter.
There are also a lot of hand made crafts and unique items to be found in Vietnam. The wood working, jewelry, and clothing tailors were some of the most impressive.
Saigon has a large indoor market with stalls and stands selling everything under the sun. There is also a large food court area and a dedicated Street Food Market just up the street.
5. The Quaint Town Of Hội An
Of all of the places we visited in Vietnam, Hội An possessed the most charm. Hội An is a small town that preserves the look and feel of a South East Asian trading port from centuries past, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The most well known feature of Hội An is the prominence of lanterns throughout the town.
6. The Mỹ Sơn Temple Ruins
Just outside of Hội An, we visited the Mỹ Sơn temple ruins. Mỹ Sơn was a series of Hindu temples constructed between the 4th and 14th centuries by the Champa. Mỹ Sơn is also a UNESCO world heritage site and is starting to be revered in the same way travelers view temples like Angkor Wat.
7. The Bustling Hồ Chí Minh City (Saigon)
As we made our way to the south of Vietnam we visited Hồ Chí Minh City, which the locals still call Saigon. Hồ Chí Minh City is the the most populous city in all of Vietnam with some 10 million people. Hồ Chí Minh felt like the most modern of all of the places we visited in Vietnam.
We visited the Independence Palace, which was the headquarters of the US military during the Vietnam War.
Hồ Chí Minh City has a very large Chinatown called Cholon. We visited a temple here and walked around the local market.
8. The Breathtaking Mekong Delta
Not far from Hồ Chí Minh City is the Mekong Delta. The Mekong Delta is an amazing area to visit, and one that I wish we would have spent more time exploring. One of the highlights of this trip was a river boat ride along one of the delta’s many tributaries.
We also enjoyed our stops at a bee farm for tea, candied, ginger, and honey. We followed up that stop at a place where we got to hear some traditional Vietnamese music.
One of my favorite stops was at a coconut candy factory, where just about everything in the manufacturing process is still done by hand.
At the end of our visit to the coconut candy factory our guide, Tino, introduced me to a rice wine that was made with fermenting snakes. The shot of rice wine went down smoother than I thought it would!
9. The Capital City Of Hanoi
Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and the second most populous city with 7.7 million people. One of the most iconic spots in Hanoi is the large concrete structure of Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. This is the final resting place of Vietnam’s revolutionary leader, Ho Chi Minh.
In the middle of Hanoi’s Old Quarter you’ll find Hoan Kiem Lake with the iconic Turtle Tower and Huc Bridge. This was one of my favorite spots to see at night.
No visit to Vietnam is complete without taking in a water puppet show. Water puppet shows date back to the 11th century in Northern Vietnam, and Hanoi is the perfect place to see one.
One Pillar Pagoda is a Buddhist temple located in Hanoi that is regarded as one of Vietnam’s most iconic temples. The temple was built in the 11th century by then emperor, Lý Thái Tông.
10. The Beautiful Halong Bay
My 10th and final reason I think you’ll love Vietnam is the beautiful Halong Bay. Halong Bay is an iconic UNESCO World Heritage site that’s famous for it’s countless limestone pillars jutting up and out of the Bai Tu Long Bay. We were unfortunately plagued by rain and thick fog on our visit, but it was still a memorable and beautiful cruise from what we could see. We did an overnight cruise on Halong Bay, which really let us relax and enjoy the sites.
We hiked to the top of Ti Top Island on our second day at Halong Bay. The views from up top were spectacular despite the bad weather.
We also paid a visit to the Sung Sot Cave, a massive two-chamber grotto that allows visitors to explore Halong Bay underground.
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58 thoughts on “10 Reasons To Fall In Love With Vietnam”
Oh my goodness Drew! I first came across your blog when you helped me with Nikko. We are going to Iceland in June so I’ve book marked you for that. And we have just started to plan a trip to Vietnam for late August! Thank you for going everywhere we want to go!! ha ha! Your blog has helped me immensely! Our daughter will be there and so we are going to see the country and her! Now I’m even more excited!
My question is…did you go to Siem Reap as part of this Vietnam trip or was that another time? I was kind of undecided if we should go there while we’re in Vietnam. Also, did you use Dragon Legend for your cruise to Halong Bay?
That’s awesome! I’m so glad my blog has been a help for your planning to all of these places. Great to hear that you’ll be traveling to Iceland in June. We had a great time during our visit last year. We visited Siem Reap as part of this Vietnam trip. We started in Hanoi, flew to Danang/Hoi An, flew to Ho Chi Minh, and then flew to Siem Reap. Vietnam Airlines is a nice affordable airline for traveling within the country and to Cambodia. They fly Airbus 320s, so no worries with puddle jumper planes (which I will not fly!). We went with La Vela Cruise for Halong Bay. They were very impressive. Great food, great staff, and great organized activities.
Thanks Drew! I’ve read a lot about Hue and was planning on going there. Did you consider it? I’m definitely going to consider the company you chose for your tour in Siem Reap. We generally do things on our own but I think there having a tour would be helpful. Did you use tour companies in any of the Vietnam sights?
We would have loved to see Hue when we flew into Danang, but were tight on time and opted for My Son instead. If you have the time, I would definitely go. Next to My Son is the Marble Mountains which we missed as well. There is a lot of great hiking and outdoor activities in Vietnam, but we opted for more of a sight seeing tour due to time and having a toddler.
We generally do things on our own as well, but partnered with My Odyssey Tours on both trips for some photo/video work. We loved it. They had drivers take us everywhere, with all restaurants booked for lunch. We got to do our own dinners. They also took care of all flights. Since we were limited with time, having a guide and car service helped us optimize our experience.
Oh also Drew,
I was checking out La Vela cruises. They have a premium and a classic ship. Which did you use?
We were on the premium ship, which was very well outfitted.
Thanks so much Drew! I’m sure using the tour company made things a lot easier! We may consider it in Vietnam as well especially since there will be so many little flights!
We are big hikers as well but like you, this trip will be primarily sightseeing.
That’s why we really wanted to use a tour company for this trip. With an 18-month old, we wanted all of the driving, planning, and flying to be taken care of. I usually do all of that stuff myself, and I can’t tell you how much more relaxed I was for this trip.
It’s nice to do a sightseeing trip every once in a while, especially if you’re like us and do a ton of hiking at home.
Thanks for sharing! We’re looking forward to visiting several places, including Vietnam (and China and…haven’t decided where else yet for sure), in 2019. We’ll have a two year old by then. Like you mentioned with being careful with the street foods, were you pretty okay with letting your son try different foods and drink the water there? I’ve got an iron stomach and usually don’t worry when I’m travelling but now with a baby I’ve got a different taste for risk 😛 and noticed the few extra immunizations have to do with food/water. Did you just make sure he was up to date on his vaccines and go for it or pack snacks/filter water? Thanks for any tips / insight!
Thanks, Krystin! It sounds like you guys will have a very busy 2019! My wife taught in China for a few years, so that’s a trip that we’ll probably be doing soon as well. We allowed our son to eat at all of the restaurants and hotels. Our number one rule when eating out was to find busy places that had a high turnover of food. He didn’t eat any street food, just to be safe. As for water, we only had him drinking bottled water. It’s not very expensive, and even if it was, we didn’t want to take any risks with him getting sick. Like you, we have a much different approach now that we’re parents 🙂 We all received the recommended vaccinations with Japanese Encephalitis being the one we skipped. I’m going to be publishing a post in the next few weeks on something like “traveling to SE Asia with a toddler” that will include all of this info and more.
Yes please post that!! 😀 And thanks, that makes sense, just do bottled water and busy restaurants…we can do that! That’s really fun that you got to live in China for so long! Our jobs require licenses through health care so that’s not easy to transfer but we’ve definitely thought about it (though now with a baby the idea of moving away from our extended family means we likely won’t…but who knows what the future brings!). It looks like you go traveling a lot! I’m glad you’ve kept getting outdoors and traveling post-baby. It’s amazing how many people will tell you things you “can’t do”, like going on a southern river cruise with a 7 week old or kayaking with a baby… 😉 Things look a little different but having a baby doesn’t have to stop your adventuring!
I didn’t live there, it was just her before we met. We haven’t let parenthood slow us down at all. We’ve had to make some changes and adjustments, but there is so much to see and do with young ones!
Good post, Drew. I can tell you really enjoyed Vietnam. I spent a year and a half there a long time ago, but I never made it to Siagon, the Mekong Delta, or Hanoi… but then, you missed the monsoon season! Since I spent so much time there already, I’ll have to make it to Cambodia -another great recent post -it’s been on my bucket list for quite some time. Very nice photos! (as always)!
Thanks, Mike! We were very fortunate to be traveling in December to miss the monsoons! We had a few days of rain, but it was very mild. Cambodia was wonderful as well! You’ll enjoy it.
Yes, this is a great country so full of color and wonderful people. I have yet to explore the Mekong Delta but that looks beautiful and interesting. Saigon and Hanoi are great, but I felt like Hoi An was a little too touristy. Then again, I visited during peak season on a full moon when it was overrun with people. Thanks for sharing!
I can see your point with Hoi An. It was the one place on this trip we visited that seemed to have more Westerners than locals. We still enjoyed it though. Peak season might be a different story!
Thank you for this blog. It is perfect timing as I am traveling to Vietnam in March. I am only visiting Hanoi, Sapa valley, and Halong bay. Are there any specific restaurants or activities you did in Hanoi that you recommend? I am also looking at an overnight cruise from halong bay. Could you provide the name of the company/boat you traveled on and if you would recommend it or not? Thanks for your blogs. They often correlate with travels I am doing as well.
That sounds like a nice trip in the north of Vietnam. I’ll be doing a post on Hanoi shortly that will have some recommended activities and food options. We traveled with La Vela Cruises for Halong Bay and I would highly recommend them.
I agree with all of these reasons!! I lived in Vietnam for a year a long time ago and would go back and visit again anytime! Looks like you really experienced some of the best things Vietnam has to offer.
Wow, awesome that you lived in Vietnam for a year!
Fab account of your trip. I’m all in favour of taking children on great experiences like this, even if young. Whilst they not remember everything from the experience, I’m sure they are picking up loads of sights and sounds along the way, and if nothing else developing a love of travel themselves. 🙂
Much appreciated! I agree whole-heartedly. He might not remember everything (or anything), but these experiences are shaping him into the person he will be. Plus, he can always look back at the photos and videos 🙂
I’d love to visit Vietnam, not only for the gorgeous water and beaches, but for the food! And I’m not even a foodie! As you’ve outlined here, it’s reason enough to visit 🙂
I’m not a foodie either, but loved the food in Vietnam! That alone made the trip a memorable one.
I did not fall in love ar all with Vietnam that one time I was there for a number of reasons but I’m always happy to be proved wrong and shown another perspective. With your reasons in mind, I might even give it another thought some day and go back…
Glad to know you guys loved it and made the most of it.
Thanks, Juls! I’m glad the post was able to shine a light on a few highlights. Sorry to hear your trip to Vietnam wasn’t a good one. Is there anything about that you’d be willing to share?
Nothing terrible, really. I had been traveling for 7 months on my own and felt trapped in Vietnam with only tourist-oriented over-priced tours/bus/hotels that didn’t give you any liberty to do any of those things without a guide or a tour. I don’t know if I let my guard down and was unable to look for myself or I got swallowed in the whirlpool and couldn’t find my own feet again…
I have a few fond memories of Vietnam though, and again I’m happy to have read your awesome moments there. It restores my idea that it might just have been a bad timing for me and that I should give the country another try some day 😉
More on that moment on the blog:
Thanks for sharing, and that’s very understandable!
What a great guide for families. You were able to explore popular cities like Hoi An and Hanoi but still get out onto the Mekong Delta and experience temples like the My Son. Getting out to explore the world is such a great education at any age and you show how possible it is to get your son out experiencing the world even at such a young age. Love it!
Thanks, Jackie! Our son had a great time. We took him to Iceland in July of 2017, and it’s really fun to see how much he grows up on each trip.
I have been wanting to return to Vietnam alot lately! We went a few years ago and when we showed up we were exhausted and we just didn’t have a great time for various reasons. I would love to go back and give Vietnam another chance especially now that I have reflected and realized alot of the reason why we didn’t enjoy our time as much was because of our mentality. We have been to a few of these places but never explored the south. I wish that Ha Long Bay and the tourism there would do more to try and keep the tourism responsible and preserve the area better. It was indeed beautiful though.
It’s tough to show up to a travel location tired. I can remember having a bit of travel fatigue while backpacking through Europe a few years ago.
I agree that the tourism in Halong Bay can do more in regards to preservation and responsible tourism. As tourism continues to increase in Vietnam, they’ll have to do something soon.
Your beautiful post so makes me want to return to this part of the world. Last year we went to Cambodia and Laos but didn’t have time to also fit in Vietnam. I especially want to see Halong Bay; it looks spectacular even under grey skies.
Thank you, Caroline! We want to see Laos, Thailand, and Indonesia, but like you, had to make a decision based on time. We’re hoping to return int he future. Hopefully you’ll be able to return to see Vietnam!
Your pictures are amazing, I must say! I am sold on visiting Vietnam but I have received very mixed reviews from people who have visited recently, especially on two aspects – the people. My friends (who are Europeans) didn’t feel very comfortable with the people and they didn’t think they were too friendly (which is quite the opposite experience from what you had) and also that Halong Bay is too crowded to visit and it’s better to do one of the other ones around which are equally beautiful but not as crowded. I’m sure I will love the food though.
Thanks, Medha! I read the same accounts before visiting. It seems people had polarized opinions on the interaction with people. We tend to get along with people everywhere we go though. Halong Bay wasn’t that crowded when we were there. Only a few boats here and there. I guess it really depends on the time of year for that one.
I think I’ve fallen in love with Vietnam just by reading this! The people are such a huge part of any visit, and they sound wonderful and caring here. I would love to visit the markets – and, oh, the food! Can’t wait to experience it all in person.
I agree, the people we meet have such a large impact on our overall experience!
beautiful! definitely on my bucket list. thanks for the wonderful info.
Hopefully you’ll be able to check it off of the list soon!
Vietnam looks like a super family-friendly destination. And I already love the food, but having it at the source would be outstanding! Looks like you enjoyed a lovely trip. Hope to make it there soon one day!
It was a great place to travel with a toddler!
First of all, you have an absolutely beautiful family! Your son is so darling! I loved a lot of these things when I visited Vietnam. I went to Hoi An, but missed The Mỹ Sơn Temple Ruins and I’m so bummed about that!
Thank you so much, Paige!
Vietnam is just amazing. I found your blog at the right time as we are planing a trip to Vietnam this year. The Halong bay and the colorful markets there has won my heart completely. We would love to follow your post while exploring Vietnam.
Awesome to hear that you’ll be heading to Vietnam this year! It’s a beautiful county!
Thanks for sharing your story and pictures. I had the change to visit Vietnam over Thanksgiving and took an epic ride on the backseat of a motorbike through the streets of Saigon. I included a link to the video as I suspect you’ll recognize a few of places. Cheers!
Thanks for reading, Paul. I’ll check out your video.
OMGGGG I love this Article!
I love this post! My family and I are from Vietnam so to see other people love the country is really great. I’m going to Vietnam in a couple of days and this post made me so excited to see it once again. Keep up the great work!
Thank you! Enjoy your trip to Vietnam!
Loved this post! I’m currently planning a trip to Vietnam myself. Would you recommend a tour or do you think it’s easy enough to find your own way?
We went with the tour since we had an infant with us. It’s fairly easy to get around though, so going it alone wouldn’t be a bad idea.
I never thought about going to vietnam before until now.
I’m glad my post was able to provide a little inspiration!
Wow, amazing shots and great information.