People: What I heard and read before my trip about the Vietnamese, was not too good: They are rude, unfriendly, and just trying to make money off the tourists. Luckily I can say that I did not have this impression – at all! Most locals we met were very friendly and helpful, and even if there was no English – there was always lots of smiles. You did get the odd taxi driver wanting to cheat you – but isn’t that the case all over SEA! The travellers I met were mostly younger backpackers travelling for an extended time in SEA – just like I used to, 5 years ago 🙂 There were also lots of travellers in my age group or older though, so I usually found someone to hang out with!
Food: After our first horrible food experiences in Hanoi, food actually turned out pretty decent for the remainder of my time in Vietnam. I missed some of the spiciness though that you get in other SEA countries. Sometimes food was a bit too bland for me. Food during almost all the tours I booked was always extremely delicious and plentiful!
Weather: Weather was a challenge. At first we got hit by a cold front in Northern Vietnam. Then I had so-so weather in Central Vietnam – not much actual rain but mostly overcast (un-photogenic) skies. Then I had to rush up North to Sapa in order to catch the sun – since it was gonna be rainy afterwards (at least, that rushing worked out!). And I spent the last few days in Bac Ha and Hanoi freezing at around 10 degrees, and catching a cold… Nope, weather has not been my friend in Vietnam! It made me change and adapt travel plans many times – and given the circumstance I guess I made the best of it…
Costs: Vietnam can be super cheap! My daily budget ended up being about 27 Euros, and I could have easily saved a bit more. This includes the internal flight from Hanoi to HCMC, but excludes the tour with Ethnic Travels. Surprisingly, my costs of travelling alone were about the same as with my family before, where we stayed in better hotels and ate at sometimes nicer restaurants. But I guess I was often able to split some costs by 4 instead of paying all by myself. Also, I spent 3 nights in a double room by myself, which I could have avoided and I splurged during my last 2 days in Hanoi to get rid off the last cash that I still had. If I had calculated it better and not gotten too much money out of the ATM, and stayed at dorms only, I think I could have cut back my daily budget to at least 25 Euros, if not less. 20 Euros should be possible if you avoid tours/expensive sights and eat in plastic chair restaurants.
Accommodation: When travelling with my family in a bit nicer places, but still paid only around 15-20€ for a double room. Afterwards, I mostly got dorm beds for around 3-5€/night. There were maybe 2 or 3 hotels/hostels which were not that great, but overall I stayed in very nice places throughout the month. For the first time while backpacking, I ended up booking everything in advance – is this the new me!?
Infrastructure: Everything was quite modern and well-maintained with a few exceptions. Our night train was a horror trip, due to hard mattresses and the train shaking like a ship in a storm. Also, I came to hate sleeper busses. During the night, they are alright, even though too small for European-sized travellers – but during day-time I really don’t like to be forced into a horizontal position…
Illnesses: I did not get sick – until the last few days in Hanoi, when I suddenly found myself with high fever and an aching throat. Luckily it turned into a normal cold which I was able to cure during my travel break at home.
Safety: No issues, didn’t really feel unsafe anywhere. My hostel in Sapa was a little outside town and there were few street lights, so I did take a taxi back once after meeting some people for dinner in town.
Itinerary: I had a bit of a crazy itinerary due to the weather situation, seeing part of the North first, then flying South, then travelling all the way up North again. With a bit more time (and/or different weather), I would have stayed: 1 more day in Dalat, 1 more day in Hoi An to see the beaches and surroundings, 1 more day in Hue to go to the DMZ, 1 more day in Ninh Binh to drive around by motorbike, 1-2 more days in Sapa to do some more trekking or visit Fansipan mountain. Also, I might have liked to add Phong Nha-Ke Bang NP, Mai Chau and the North East around Ha Giang. Potentially Phu Quoc in the South too! So if you have 1 month or longer at hand, you will definitely not get bored in Vietnam 🙂
Highlight: Difficult, but I guess I would have to say Sapa. The landscape, the people, the weather – it was just all good 🙂 I also really liked the Mekong Delta, Halong Bay and Ninh Binh, and of course Dalat. I still stand by my words that if I had to live in Vietnam for an extended period of time, I would choose Dalat as my home base.
Lowlight: Mui Ne or Hue – can’t decide. They were both underwhelming…
Click here to see all my best pictures of Vietnam: