With its dramatic landscapes, fascinating history and epic food, Vietnam was definitely one of my favorite trips. I went with a group of friends that were visiting family and had a blast!
Our first stop was Ho Chi Minh City (commonly known as Saigon). We stayed in a hotel directly across the street from the cities largest park, it was beautiful. In the early morning, you’ll start hearing the music play – you’ll then find groups of Vietnamese men and women doing every exercise under the sun. Large groups of people, young and old, gather around an instructor and follow aerobics routines with music blaring in the background. It’s nice to watch the community come together in such a way and a pleasant introduction to the city.
Since the music was so loud, we all decided that sleeping in was going to be impossible. Instead we decided to head for a walk and find some breakfast.
We found a nice 3 story cafe that overlooked the park. I was then introduced to one of my favorite things of all time….Vietnamese coffee. As the second biggest producer of coffee in the world, Vietnam knows a thing or two about coffee. Most importantly, coffee comes with sweetened condensed milk (a.k.a. the best stuff on earth) pretty much without exception.
Once there you can travel down or up this amazing country by train, plane, bus or — the preferred method of transport — motorbike. Though; one thing I was not prepared for was the Vietnam traffic. I’ve been to many major cities in the world, but this was intense. According to The Diplomat, there are currently 39 million motorbikes in Vietnam. That’s a lot of bikes — and with at least two people on every bike — that’s also a lot of people.
One of the first and more important things to learn when visiting Vietnam is how to cross the street. It may be intuitive at home, but the traffic in Vietnam’s major cities seems so chaotic, that getting from one side of the road to the other feels almost impossible at first. Also; getting on a bike feels unsafe. I was told that I would adapt, that didn’t feel true when I heard it.
Vietnam is beautiful but it’s history is tumultuous and complex. The country was occupied and divided by various countries for decades. Colonial influences are visible everywhere, from the architecture to the food and the coffee. The aftermath of the Vietnam War is apparent too — in the museums and monuments but also in the faces and stories of survivors and the overwhelmingly young population.
I visited great locations like the Notre-Dame Cathedral and several historical sites, but the war museum really left an impression on me. In the picture below I was smiling… this was BEFORE I entered the museum. Inside the museum I shed a few tears looking at photos and reading the history. If you have not read up on the Vietnam war, I highly suggest you do.
After looking at all those graphic images in the museum I desperately needed something to cheer me up. The only thing I could think of was to go get some Pho (pronounced fuh, fyi), this may be Vietnam’s most iconic dish, a beef bone broth-based noodle soup. Once you get hooked on one, you’ll definitely return for seconds. When I returned home among the first things I did was find the best Pho spots in Vegas. One of the many things I love about Las Vegas is that you will find every possible cuisine represented in this city.
Our time in Ho Chi Minh City was great but we also wanted to hit Vietnam’s beaches. The beaches in Vietnam may be one of the country’s most unsung beauties. While travelers may think of Thailand and other countries to visit for white sand and clear water, Vietnam boasts beaches that rival these countries. This became apparent when we went to the beautiful city of Mui Ne.
We spent a lot of time on the beach. You can walk right onto the beach from the hotel, sand was just feet away from our room door.
I reflect on how day one of this trip was and how the bikes on the main road was terrifying to me. The pictures don’t quite illustrate how packed and intense that was. Being comfortable in this environment felt like something I was not ever going to be. However; after 10 days, I was in love with this place. The trip was a success! Beautiful, educational and I even learned how to ride the bikes.