Vietnam: From Saigon High Rises to the Mekong Delta

What do you do when you save a bunch of money and retire at 33? Spend months at a time traveling the world of course!

This summer we spent eight weeks exploring the temples, palaces, and waterways of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand in Southeast Asia. 

In today’s article, we cover the first segment of the trip where we visited two cities in Vietnam. After a looooong flight from the East Coast of the USA, we landed in Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon, where we stayed for eight nights. Then we visited Can Tho, Vietnam in the Mekong River Delta region for a three night stay. After leaving the Mekong Delta, we headed to Phnom Penh, Cambodia (with a short one night pit stop in Ho Chi Minh City en route).


How to spend eight days in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City (also known as HCMC and Saigon) was our first main stop during our eight week trip through Southeast Asia. Our first priority was to recover from the jet lag that comes with shifting the clock eleven hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. We were fortunate to arrive in Ho Chi Minh City in the evening so we adjusted to the new time zone rather quickly. 

After taking a full day of rest upon arrival, we spent the next week seeing much of the city including some urban parks, the waterfront, the War Remnants Museum, the Independence Palace, several temples and markets, and the zoo. 


Flags of the ASEAN nations set against a backdrop of modern skyscrapers in downtown Ho Chi Minh City


Watching the motorbikes zip by


Video of the crazy traffic:




One of the many city parks open to the public


A river junk boat on the Saigon River.


Saigon Zoo And Botanical Garden

The reviews of the city’s zoo were somewhat negative so we almost skipped it. As it turns out, it was a compact but interesting zoo! It’s only a couple of dollars for admission so it’s worth a look even if you end up disliking it. The collection of tropical reptiles was worth the admission fee alone. 

And we got to see several elephants and giraffes up close! 


We sat on some benches and watched the elephants for a long time. Very cool to be this close to them as they interacted with the visitors.


War Remnants Museum

In the War Remnants Museum we got a good sense of how the Vietnamese government wants its people to view the Vietnam War. It was heavily anti-American and one sided. I don’t know if the South Vietnamese people hold the same view of America’s role in the war as the official record presented by the government in this museum.

Regardless, the propaganda-like nature of the museum was a great exhibit of the current political climate in Vietnam. I got the feeling it was best to not ask too many pointed questions. I also avoided posting anything negative about Vietnam while in the country as they have locked up their own countrymen for being critical of the government. 


US armored unit and helicopter on exhibit in the War Remnants Museum


Temples, Markets, and Malls

The temples and markets of Vietnam are a must-see for every tourist. We found the temples to be much smaller and a different style than the temples we subsequently toured in Cambodia and Thailand. 


Chinese style Buddhist temple


We visited the Dan Sinh Market in downtown Ho Chi Minh City. The main draws to this market are the Vietnam War relics for sale. Many items appeared to be cheap Chinese-made reproductions but other items looked like the real deal. 


Dan Sinh Market selling Vietnam War era relics


After walking around all morning, the Vincom Center shopping mall was a nice relief from the heat. The main feature that impressed me was the sheer scale of the vertical atrium in this mall. All of our malls in Raleigh are only two or three stories tall.  


Vincom Center


Can Tho

After spending eight days in Ho Chi Minh City, we headed toward Can Tho in the Mekong River Delta region in the south of Vietnam. It’s only three or four hours from Ho Chi Minh City. The route to Can Tho is mostly rural and traverses the Mekong Delta for an hour or two.

While passing through the countryside, we saw a ton of rice fields with small family cemeteries scattered between the fields where the earth was built up.

Can Tho feels very different than Ho Chi Minh City. It’s a lot smaller and less busy.  We stayed in the middle of Can Tho and it was nowhere near as crazy as Ho Chi Minh City. 


Can Tho – River Boat Tour and Floating Market

We took a five hour tour along the Can Tho river and the canals and tributaries that feed into the main river.  We got in touch with a tour guide through our Airbnb host and she arranged a private boat tour for us for total of USD$35.00 (800,000 Vietnamese dong).

After waking up extremely early, we walked the five minutes to the dock where we met the boat lady at 5:30 in the morning and set out for a day of adventuring along the river. The boat lady spoke basically zero English but knew the tour route well. 


A beautiful sunrise over the river to start the day. By late morning we had to run for shelter and wait out a torrential downpour. We motored back home in a light drizzle. The boat includes tarps along the sides and a roof to protect us from the rain.


The main attraction on the tour is the Cai Rang floating market about four miles upriver from the main pier in Can Tho. 


Cai Rang Floating Market


Houses on stilts along the river


During the river tour we stopped at a rice noodle factory and a fruit garden.


Docking at the noodle factory


Mrs Root of Good is a natural noodle-catcher! If this early retirement thing doesn’t work out, at least she can find a solid job in a rice noodle factory.


Crossing the irrigation ditch in the fruit garden. Dragonfruit trees in the background along with the Vietnamese family we met from North Carolina that helped translate for us.


Video of our boat tour in Can Tho:



Sightseeing in Can Tho

There were some museums related to local history and the Vietnam War but we skipped those since we had a fill of that in Ho Chi Minh City.

Instead, we took the kids to play at the Jump Arena at the mall! Admission fees were a few dollars per kid for one hour of jumping. The kids liked it so much we came back a second time.

Us adults sat outside watching the kids burn some energy. They were exercising so hard that we got really thirsty just watching them, so we consumed a series of $1 Vietnamese iced coffees while we waited. 


Jump Arena in Can Tho, Vietnam


In the evening we walked down to the Ninh Kieu bridge and strolled along the promenade by the river. 


Ninh Kieu Bridge at night.


While visiting the Ninh Kieu waterfront area, a group of twenty local English students approached us to practice their English. I didn’t want to disclose my very early retirement in this nominally Communist country so I simply said “I work in finance” when questioned about my job in America.

Managing a passive index fund portfolio counts as “finance” right?


Bonus: Hong Kong (all-day layover between USA and Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam)

On our flight from Raleigh to Ho Chi Minh City, we scheduled an eleven hour layover in Hong Kong. We arrived in Hong Kong around 5 am and proceeded to the immigration lines to obtain our free transit visa to visit the city for the day.

After clearing immigration to get into Hong Kong, we boarded the Airport Express train to downtown. 


The very efficient Airport Express train into the city. Great views along the way.


After arriving at the main Hong Kong Station downtown, we walked a short distance to the waterfront. Once there, we boarded the Star Ferry to cross Victoria Harbor into Tsim Sha Tsui in the Kowloon district and explored on foot for a bit.


Buildings lining the Victoria Harbor


As the temperature rose and the travel fatigue set in, we called it a day and headed back to the Hong Kong Airport and the comforts of the airport’s Priority Pass lounge. 

We visited on a Monday approximately one week after the summer 2019 protests started. We didn’t see any evidence of the protests at the time, although the travel situation has deteriorated significantly since then. 



In the following sections I’ll talk about where we stayed, what we ate, and how we got around town and between cities. Lastly, since this is a personal finance blog, I’ll go over the costs of our trip.


Lodging for 11 nights in Vietnam with Airbnb

8 nights in Ho Chi Minh City

We stayed in a fairly luxurious high rise building in Ho Chi Minh City for $390 for 8 nights, or USD$49 per night. Quite a good value for this small but well laid out two bedroom, two bath apartment with a great view of the city. 

The apartment included a full kitchen and a clothes washer, plus air conditioning in the living room and the two bedrooms. 


Crazy wallpaper in the master bedroom with a small balcony and en suite bathroom.


Living room, dining room, and kitchen. Great skyline views from this vantage point


View from our 33rd floor penthouse suite


Rooftop pool!



3 nights in Can Tho, Mekong Delta Region, Vietnam

We booked what was categorized as a “tiny house” in Can Tho, Vietnam for $112 for three nights, or $37 per night. It was located in the back alley of downtown with neighbors very close to us on all four sides.

The house wasn’t as tiny as we feared. We spent a lot of time on the river and waterfront and hanging out at the mall across from the alleyway so the limited interior space wasn’t an issue.

It must have been recently remodeled as it was in great shape inside and furnished in a fun modern style.

The only thing that made this Airbnb smaller than all the other Airbnbs that we rented while in Asia was the lack of a living room. Our Airbnb was still much larger and more comfortable than two hotel rooms would have been.


Small dining room in the kitchen (with our bedroom in the background).


Kid’s bedroom. The Airbnb host set up a floor mattress for us. The kids had their own bathroom and air conditioner too!


The main downside to this Airbnb was the proximity to neighbors. I didn’t notice it but Mrs. Root of Good said her appetite for her morning coffee diminished greatly when the neighbors hocked and coughed and spit out the resulting phlegm to clear their throats. Such is life in the back alleys of Can Tho, Vietnam. 

The main downside was simultaneously a huge upside. It was pretty cool to see how the locals lived in these cramped alleyways with every day life unfolding before us. Hocking phlegm aside, we saw parents taking care of babies, old men stretched out on the cool tile floor to beat the summer heat, and women squatting by their laundry tubs doing their best to get the wash clean. Teenagers were stooped over their laptops doing homework or playing games while the older folks watched Vietnamese music videos on large flat panel TVs.

Around meal time we could spectate what the home chefs were cooking and then watch as the families gathered together to eat. It’s a very different way of life with a lot less privacy than we take for granted in the United States. Although I imagine it makes you a lot more familiar with your neighbors! 


A view down the alley. It was only three to five feet wide – just enough for a motorbike to pass by you.


Here we are walking through the alleyway to our Airbnb:



Don’t forget to use my $40 off referral link off your first Airbnb stay if you end up booking any of these places (or anywhere listed on Airbnb for that matter!).

We also booked two hotel rooms in Ho Chi Minh for a very short 1 night stay since we had to transit through HCM to get from Can Tho to Phnom Penh, Cambodia by bus. Instead of traveling for 10+ hours in one day, we decided to make it a two day trip with a short stopover in HCM.  The hotel was almost free using some Expedia Rewards points I obtained from booking cruises through Expedia. 


Food in Vietnam

Here’s the honest truth: food in Vietnam was a mixed bag. We enjoyed some really good meals yet others were just okay. I don’t think we had a good idea of what the food would be like, but the one aspect that stood out the most was the lack of bold flavors and spiciness. 

Several times after eating a meal we would comment “that was good but not as good as what we have at home”. I felt like the low cost of the food was often reflected in lower quality of the ingredients. 

Don’t get me wrong – the food was definitely good. But we didn’t have a lot of meals that were mind-blowing – the kind that makes you want to come back to visit a country a second time because you can’t get the same thing at home. I did appreciate the novelty of spending a buck or two on a freshly prepared hot meal and enjoying it in a sidewalk eatery along the busy streets of Ho Chi Minh City. 

Mrs. Root of Good and her Southeast Asian family cook a lot of this stuff at home, so that definitely reduced our “wow” factor. But for those that don’t cook this type of food at home frequently, I bet it will be delicious! 


Bun bo hue soup eaten at a busy sidewalk street food joint. USD$1.50 for a steaming bowl of noodles, broth, and whatever meats you want, plus a heaping plate of veggies on the side and a small assortment of seasonings and condiments on each table.


Date night – Mrs Root of Good and I had a night out alone. We found a seafood hotpot place and had our fill of shrimp, fish, squid, and octopus.


Bahn mi, spiced shredded chicken, and rice paper chips delivered to our apartment using Grab Food delivery. Total cost for all of this was USD$5


We all went to a neat little cafe around the corner from our apartment. We had roasted chicken, rice, soup, veggies, and boba tea for about USD$2 per combo meal.


Local Vietnamese restaurant behind our apartment. It was recommended by our Airbnb host. Delicious!


The food court in the CoopMart grocery store in Can Tho. We tried a ton of stuff and it was all great. Ban Xeo (crepes), roasted chicken, rice and veggies, bread, muffin, iced coffee, noodles with tofu, rice flour dessert.


Grilled meats in the Can Tho, Vietnam Night Market. USD$1 per skewer.


The ramen noodle aisle in the CoopMart grocery store. Impressive!


Getting To/From/Around Vietnam


We booked flights from Raleigh to Ho Chi Minh City using American Airlines Aadvantage points that we obtained primarily through credit card sign up bonuses. The one way flights to Vietnam were 37,500 points plus $20 in tax per person including the free all-day layover in Hong Kong. 

If you want to score free travel from credit cards, there are several cards currently offering 50,000 points or more. These points can be redeemed for $500 cash or $500+ in free flights or hotel stays. Compare current travel credit card deals.


Taxi/Grab App

Grab is Southeast Asia’s version of Uber. It’s incredibly simple to book a ride through their app.

The Grab app lets you pay using a credit card if you have a local telephone number for verification purposes. Otherwise you can pay using cash. We used the Grab app almost daily to get around town. 

We spent approximately $75 on the Grab rides. Most rides into the tourist center of town about 1 or 2 miles away were USD$2 while longer rides across town to the airport and bus station were around USD$5.

It was hot and humid throughout our time in Vietnam so we took Grabs even for distances slightly less than a mile. It was kind of silly but better than being soaked with sweat as soon as we arrive at our first destination during a day of sightseeing. 

The economics of having five of us sharing a ride meant that city buses would cost about the same as a single Grab fare divided by five. As a result we didn’t ride any local buses while in Vietnam. 



In Hong Kong, we took the Airport Express train for $59 round trip for the whole family.

While in Vietnam, we booked round trip tickets “luxury” limousine van tickets from Ho Chi Minh to Can Tho for $36 each way. Luxury was a bit of an overstatement but the van was nice enough. “Run down luxury with crappy station facilities” would be a more accurate description. At least the van was nicer than the first class bus available at just a couple dollars less per ticket than our “luxury” van. 

We booked another “luxury” van from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh, Cambodia for $73 (plus $5 in mandatory bribes Expedited Processing Fees at the border crossing location). 


“Luxury” limousine van from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Tickets were USD $14.50 per person. We had the back half of the van to ourselves.



We walked some but not like we usually do while exploring overseas. Insane traffic plus high heat and humidity made strolling along the sidewalk a necessary but mildly unpleasant experience (unlike in cooler climates like Mexico City and Berlin). 



We had wifi included in the rent in both Airbnb apartments. The internet throughout our stay in Vietnam was very fast.

For cell phone service, we were fortunate to be loaned two unlimited data and voice SIM chips by our Airbnb host in Ho Chi Minh City. These provided fast 4G service while we were in Ho Chi Minh City.

We took them out of our phones the night before we left and ended up losing them somehow (operating theory: our daughter inattentively swept them up with a broom when she was tidying up). I let the Airbnb host know and she asked us to leave 200,000 Vietnamese dong (about USD$4 per lost SIM chip) on the counter to cover their cost.

As we were leaving the Ho Chi Minh Airbnb, we unpaused our Google Fi service to use for the remainder of our stay in Vietnam. Google Fi worked flawlessly in Vietnam and for the rest of our eight week trip throughout Southeast Asia. 

Google Fi is my go-to phone service for overseas travel. I use a different low cost provider (Freedompop) while in the US, but use Google Fi when traveling overseas. It costs $20 per month for unlimited voice and texting plus $0.01 per megabyte of data.

I was a little concerned that we would consume a ton of data and run up the bill. However, during our entire stay, we used only 300 megabytes of mobile data which costs USD$3.00. This represents the occasional search for directions or restaurant review lookup and tons of Grab ride requests. I kept the cell data turned off other than when we specifically needed it. 

The best feature of Google Fi for the occasional world traveler is the ability to pause and resume service as often as you would like. I believe they bill by the minute only for time you actually have service activated. So if you only activate service for a day or so (and pause service after that), then you’ll only pay about a dollar for the connection plus a penny per megabyte of data consumed. I leave my Google Fi service paused when I’m back in the US. I even paused service while in Asia, such as the first week in Vietnam when we had the local SIM chips provided for free. 

If you want to save $20 off a new Google Fi account, then feel free to use my referral link (and I get a $20 credit too). 


Costs for 12 Days in Vietnam

We didn’t track every penny we spent in great detail, but after some forensic accounting I pulled together this cost summary using the transaction data from Personal CapitalIn total we spent around $1,485 for our 12 days in Vietnam (plus 187,500 American Airlines Aadvantage points). 

Lodging includes the Ho Chi Minh Airbnb for 8 nights for $390, plus the 3 nights in an Airbnb in Can Tho for $112. We also spent a night in Ho Chi Minh City while en route to Phnom, Penh Cambodia that was mostly free using Expedia Rewards points plus $8 in cash. 

Food totaled approximately $325 for 12 days which averages to $27 per day. The food category includes restaurants, groceries, snacks, and drinks. We generally ate at simple restaurants with meals ranging from USD$1 to $5 per person. Drinks included tons of boba teas and iced coffees that were usually USD$0.50-1. Groceries were mostly fresh fruits and snacks. 

The $100 expense for plane tickets represents the tax on the American Airlines/Cathay Pacific flights from Raleigh to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Bus and train tickets include the Airport Express train in Hong Kong, round trip Ho Chi Minh-Can Tho van tickets, and one way Ho Chi Minh-Phnom Penh van tickets.

Taxi/Grab expense of $75 represents what we spent on local transportation. Most rides into the tourist area were USD$2 while longer rides across town to the airport and bus station were around USD$5.

Admission fees and tours were approximately $150. This is a rough guess. Most admission fees were USD$1-3 and kids were usually discounted or free. The biggest expenses in this category were two visits to the Can Tho Jump Arena trampoline entertainment facility and the $35 boat tour in Can Tho. 

Miscellaneous expenses include a few souvenirs, some random non-grocery stuff we had to buy at the store, and $8 for two replacement Vietnamese SIM cards.

Rounding out the spending is the Vietnam e-visa fees. These were $25 per person plus a ~$1 processing fee per person. We obtained these directly through the Vietnam Embassy’s official web site without any additional intermediary fees. It took a few days of processing but it was fairly simple to obtain them online.


Summary of costs for 12 days in Vietnam:

Lodging $510
Food (groceries, restaurants, drinks) $325
Plane Tickets (+187,500 points) $100
Bus/Train Tickets $145
Taxi/Grab $75
Admission Fees/Tours $150
Miscellaneous $50
Visa Fees for Vietnam x5 $130
TOTAL $1,485



Thoughts on Ho Chi Minh City and Can Tho, Vietnam

This summer’s big trip to Southeast Asia came about like many of our other big trips.

“Hey let’s visit Angkor Wat in Cambodia and spend some time in Thailand!”

Okay. Where else do we go while we’re 9,000+ miles from home on the other side of the world? Vietnam seemed a logical choice given its proximity to Cambodia. 

Vietnam was really an add-on destination piggybacking on our “main” destinations of Cambodia and Thailand. I didn’t know what to expect from Vietnam. Before planning our travels in Vietnam, my knowledge of the country was limited to Vietnam War-era trivia so the War Remnants Museum and other Vietnam War historic sites appealed to me. As we spent time traveling the country, my perception of Vietnam as merely a former war zone slowly transformed into acknowledgement of Vietnam as a modern developing nation full of people for whom the war was now a distant memory (or no memory at all for those under age 40-50). 

I’m glad we chose to include Vietnam in our Southeast Asia trip. It has a different feel than Cambodia and Thailand. The food is different and the scenery is different from its agriculture to the buildings to the temples. 

In comparison terms, Thailand is a mostly developed nation with some rough edges. Cambodia is like the wild wild west outside the capital city.

Vietnam sits somewhere in between Thailand and Cambodia. Although it’s still a nominally communist nation, you would never know it other than the occasional hammer and sickle symbolism. Ho Chi Minh City is a bustling metropolis with the most hectic traffic I’ve seen anywhere in the world. Markets offer anything you want from all over the world (or from just down the street).  Everyone seems to be chasing the almighty dollar (or the Vietnamese dong in this case).

I love it. Money is the Root of Good, after all.


Buying fresh mangosteen and rambutan fruits off the back of this guy’s moped for a couple of bucks. This pic perfectly captures the present day vibe of Vietnam.


Vietnam is a big country. From north to south it’s more than 1,000 miles long. It takes more than 30 hours to drive from the capital of Hanoi in the north to the financial capital of Ho Chi Minh City in the south. We only saw a tiny slice of Vietnam in 12 days – only Ho Chi Minh City and one city in the Delta region. There is so much more to see and do in Vietnam that was beyond the scope of our vacation this summer. Please approach my trip report with a fair amount of skepticism as I’ve admittedly only scratched the surface of Vietnam. 

I always reflect back on a place and ask myself “would I go back?”. I think the answer is definitely yes but probably not to Ho Chi Minh City or Can Tho. Both places are nice enough to visit and have plenty to see and do while there. The food was average to good but not universally great. The people were generally very nice. The prices were very low in Vietnam which certainly appeals to my frugal nature. However there isn’t anything that really clicked where it felt like I have to go back to either place in Vietnam. 

Maybe it was the persistent heat and humidity? Maybe it was the language barrier? 

If we find ourselves in that part of the world again, I’d like to visit other parts of Vietnam like Hanoi and Halong Bay (in the north) and Da Nang (in the center of Vietnam). It’s such a diverse country for tourism. The scenery varies from the flat delta region to languid rivers to busy cityscapes to terraced hillsides to aquamarine bays opening to the ocean. 

And that, my friends, is our brief trip through the southern part of Vietnam! After we left Vietnam, we spent two weeks in Cambodia in the capital of Phnom Penh and in Siem Reap (home of Angkor Wat). Stay tuned for the trip report on Cambodia! 



What are your thoughts on Vietnam? Have you ever been? Do you want to go now that you know more about it?



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    1. Aren’t all travelers naive when travelling somewhere they haven’t been before? If your ridiculous comment was intended as an insult, you missed the mark by a wide margin!

  1. We visited Vietnam in January (HCMC, Can Tho, and Phu Quoc island). Our experience was different, but our impression ended up similar to yours. In the end I would go back, if only because like you, I felt that thee was so much to experience. There were aspects of the trip I loved and then others that felt very meh. Nice recap, and thanks for sharing!

    I blogged about our trip, too, in case you or others would like to check it out.

      1. I was especially relieved to see that your food experience was hit or miss—ours was too. So many people rave about the food that I felt liked we’d missed something or did something “wrong”.

        1. I think that’s just the nature of the food there. Most things were okay and palatable. A few really good (like the restaurant recommended by our host). Nothing really popped out at us. Thailand food was much better I would say (more flavorful). About the only thing they did the best in Vietnam were the baked goods (breads and pastries).

          After reading all the blogs and watching all the vids hyping the awesome food in Vietnam it was a little bit of a let down. I think my expectations were set too high, as the food was definitely edible and on average tasted just fine.

          1. I agree with Ms Vine that there so much to experience in Vietnam and with you that you’ve only scratched the surface. I might suggest exploring further out in places like Mũi Né, Phú Quốc and Sa Pa.

            I have heard the same things you have said from my parents regarding food and we’re Vietnamese. We are lucky that we have family there so home cooked food are the best or ordered out only when it was recommended by relatives. Though that could be a miss since our palate are different. The best thing I found I enjoyed the most is the variety of fruits, which we typically eat the most off.

            1. There are definitely a lot of beautiful places we didn’t visit on this trip. It’s a lot like the US – I’d hate to visit New York City and think that was “America”. 🙂

              For the food, we have a lot of Vietnamese dishes at home and at families’ houses since Mrs Root of Good is from SE Asia and her sister was married to a Vietnamese guy for a long time. So I guess we are used to good quality and taste of Vietnamese food at home, so the lower quality street food and regular restaurants was a let down.

              Fruits were pretty good – we ate a lot of durian, rambutan, mango and mangosteen while visiting Vietnam.

  2. Really enjoyed reading your travel log. Interesting and informative. My BIGGEST issues when traveling is the cost of communicating with people via text/ phone with people back home so I appreciate your information on Google Fi. I’m heading back to Saigon for my second trip in December. I made some notes from this article and visit (i.e. Dan Singh Mkt) and other spots.


    1. Good to hear re: Google Fi. It’s the easy lazy solution. Local SIM chips take a bit more work and you really have to know what you’re buying or you will end up paying a lot more than Google Fi. I did buy a local SIM chip in Thailand because it was only USD$1.50 and I needed a local phone number to register the Food Panda delivery app, but I just bought the cheapest card possible and only got 15 minutes of talk time (just enough to activate the Food Panda); no data.

    1. Yes and no. Each region of the world looks very different in terms of food, people, and built environment. Big cities do start to look all the same, so we are venturing out to more natural areas a lot more.

      But there is certainly a bit of getting “templed out” in Asia or “churched out” / “castled out” in Europe. The first 10 temples/churches/castles are awesome but each one starts to lose its unique luster when you’ve seen so many similar ones.

  3. I agree with you about the food. I found it to be mostly low quality (e.g. old, skinny, chewy beef) and unhygienic. Our first night was in old town Hanoi. The traffic was so insane that we could only walk to a few restaurants (for fear of getting run over by a motorbike) and they were so filthy and unhygienic that I ended up eating packaged cookies and chocolates for dinner. #epicfail. During the rest of our stay, we only ate the local food and we were not impressed at all. The Vietnamese food found in North America is way better.

    We spent 3 weeks traveling from the North down to the South. We got ripped off so many times. I did not enjoy the food, or my interactions with the locals, or the polluted air and lackluster scenery. The only city that I felt was worth visiting was Hoi An (2 days is enough there). I could not wait for the 3 weeks to end so we could escape to Thailand (delicious, high quality food, friendly and honest ppl, beautiful scenery). I’ve traveled to over 50 countries around the world. Vietnam is one of the few that I can say I have no desire to return to. There’s really no need when there are so many good Vietnamese restaurants in America.

    1. Interesting that you felt that way about the food, too. We definitely had some decent meals but it was nothing special that would make us want to return. I’ve heard similar comments about Vietnamese food being higher quality in the US before. It’s probably economics. A $1-2 meal will sell to the locals in Vietnam whereas a $7-8 meal would be very expensive and not sell very well. And you can only get a certain quality level of ingredients for $1-2 and still turn a profit.

      Thailand was definitely a few steps up in terms of food and nicety of the environment. And surprisingly it was about the same price as Vietnam for a lot of stuff ($1-2 meals were readily available and much better quality IMHO).

  4. Wow, looks like a great trip! And surprisingly cheap too! Too bad the food wasn’t better!

    We have some pretty fantastic Vietnamese food here in the States, so I imagine it was a tough comparison!

    Thanks for the great write-up! I hope to visit there too one day!

  5. I grew up in Saigon VN and left as a young teenager when the war ended. I have traveled to almost 50 countries but VN has a special place in my heart. I have been back 8 times in the last 4 years for work and play. Here are my general comments:

    – Beautiful and diverse country. Best are Hue/Danang/HoiAn, Nha Trang, Dalat, Sapa, Halong Bay, Phu Quoc.
    – Horrible and unbelievably corrupted government at every level. A policed state. Human rights issues galore.
    – People are friendly, especially in the South. Northerners, not so much.
    – Low quality food unless at upscale restaurants and hotels.
    – Difficult living conditions for most people.
    – Things look good on the outside in large cities with skyscrapers and new shopping centers but inside, the core is rotten.

    1. Thanks for your perspective! I agree with all of that – we could tell there was a huge contrast between what it looked like in the nice part of town vs how most of the locals actually live. Vietnamese “Communism” might be the best form of capitalism ever, as there are several multi-billionaires making a fortune with those big conglomerates in Vietnam (much of it due to corruption – probably a lot of wealthy bureaucrats as well!!).

      We didn’t make it to those other beautiful places in Vietnam just due to our later travel schedule and desire to take things slow. Next time perhaps! 🙂

  6. My daughter studied in southern Vietnam for a semester in college. She liked the friendly people and the food – maybe she knew where to get the best food. She also liked the scenery in the rural areas. It is amazing how things have changed there since the end of the war.

    1. People were friendly in general. I imagine if we spent several months there we would find the good places. Elsewhere in SE Asia we didn’t have as many problems finding good food.

  7. I love Vietnamese food and I expect to be wowed when we visit Hanoi later this year.
    From my experience in the US, Vietnamese food is a bit less bold than Thai food, but it’s still really good. It’s just different. Although, the quality of the ingredient is probably better in Thailand and USA.
    I really hope I don’t get too disappointed because I love Vietnamese food in the US.
    We’ll book some free tours so they can show us the right place to eat.

    1. I hope the food is good for you! I tried a lot of random places and didn’t have great success even when following the old reliable travel rules (visit a busy place full of locals). Google reviews were somewhat helpful, as the places with 4+ stars seemed to be decent. Though that’s not helpful if you want to try street food or market stalls. Our best food in Vietnam was from a place our airbnb host recommended and from the grocery store food court!

  8. I love your re-cap. I cook Vietnamese food at home (my Mom was a chef) so I know a thing or two about Vietnamese food. In Vietnam (or any where really), you’d need to go to the right place (costs more) if you want the best food.

    Even here in the Southern California(highest population of Vietnamese outside of Vietnam), it’s very hard for me to find great Vietnamese food….especially outside of “Little Saigon” area. For me, Vietnamese restaurants that caters to the masses are either terrible or OK at most. Food from the streets (where locals go to) and food courts are not very good because they can

    Every time I visited Vietnam, I always avoid cheap street food on the side of the road or food courts. I try to pick restaurants that are popular with rich locals. Cheap places can’t afford to use high quality ingredients. Trust me, next time you are in Vietnam, please go to the better restaurants, does not have to be the most expensive but don’t go to the cheapest ones.

    1. That’s what I’m slowly learning – got to pay more to get decent food! But then it makes me wonder “why not stay in the US and get good Vietnamese food at the same price here as in the good restaurants in Vietnam?”. Plenty of Vietnamese all over Raleigh (and many other medium to large cities) to make the good food, and our family cooks it too (the SE Asian side 🙂 ).

      What was surprising to me is how the street food wasn’t really that great. After watching and reading all this stuff on Vietnam street food I was expecting to be blown away. Instead, it was just okay. Not bad, but not something that makes me want to fly 24 hours back to Vietnam (at least not just for the food!).

  9. To answer your questions…wondering thoughts…We (Vietnamese overseas) don’t see it as the “American War”. Whenever we talk about “they” or “the enemy”, we will always see the Vietnamese government as the Viet Cong. And you are smart not to trust them by not saying anything bad about them while you were still in the country. The War Remnants Museum is a total bullshit! Excuse my French. 🙂

    I was only a young kid when we escaped Vietnam but I will forever see them as the Viet Cong who talk over “my sorta” country. It’s kinda weird, when I visited Vietnam, I love that I can speak and understand the locals and see them as “my people” but I feel America is my home and my country.

  10. TIL dragonfruit trees are just as alien looking as the fruit themselves.

    I have had dragonfruit before, but never actually seen the trees they grow on.

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