When Dan and I booked a trip to Vietnam to visit our best friends Megan and Alex who were traveling around SouthEast Asia, it seemed cool enough. Literally, that’s it. I never had a strong desire to go there but it was interesting and we really wanted to visit our friends. End of story and flights purchased! I never thought it would surprise me in the best ways, remind me why I love the world and exploring it so much, become one of my favorite countries and slip easily into my top 5 (which by the way, the other four are countries I’ve all spent at least 2 months in).
Yes, I’m sure the experience of being there with my husband and two best friends who I hadn’t seen in 4 months (and also haven’t spent much time with in the past year since we were traveling) had something to do with my warm feelings and extreme fondness of Vietnam. However, when I think back to our time there, I realize even further how magnificent it was in terms of people, culture, history, cuisine, affordability, accessibility and all those aspects that really make a country amazing. I simply had that feeling while we were there. Something I’ve only felt about a place a few times in my life. We were only able to visit 3 cities – Ho Chi Minh, Can Tho and the Mekong Delta and the island of Phu Quoc. I left wanting to return and this is where the love story begins.
The gushing over Vietnam is not going to stop so if you’re feeling uncomfortable about my public display of affection, I’m sorry and you probably shouldn’t read on.
I first knew I was attracted to Vietnam when I took my first bites of food.
There was a little vegan restaurant down the street from our Airbnb in HCMC where Al and I split my first Hot Pot. The broth even being vegetarian was so flavorful. The mushrooms were incredible and the noodles made it perfection.
From here, Vietnam and I shared dozens of delicious meals together. I easily ate at least one (maybe even two) Banh Mis per day. Each Banh Mi vendor was always very nice to make it with egg instead of meat.
Here is Al, somewhat successfully ordering our egg Banh Mis.
Probably the most unique Banh Mi vendor which was delivered to us by boat at the Cai Rang Floating Market in the Mekong Delta.
I ate various other flavorful vegetarian hot noodle soup dishes.
My meal during visit 3 of the vegan restaurant in HCMC.
Mi Quang is a typical Vietnamese noodle soup that is usually eaten for breakfast. I ordered it at another vegetarian restaurant in HCMC on our last night.
I also really enjoyed trying some of the local candy made of rice and mung bean (although it wasn’t really my favorite) in the Mekong Delta.
And of course, street food. Being a vegetarian, Al, Meg and I were able to indulge in fresh fruits, corn (on the cob or made with butter and salt), spring rolls, and even freshly squeezed juice.
The only mango lady for me.
Lastly, I ate noodles. A LOT of noodles. And they were incredible.
Stuffing our faces at the Carole Resort in Phu Quoc after a strenuous day of motorbiking.
As I began noticing my attraction for Vietnam, I realized I needed to test out a few other characteristics to see if it could lead anywhere serious. When I travel, I love a decent beer, wine, or even signature cocktail. Although the alcohol selection in Vietnam consists of Tiger Beer which has 3% alcohol, a wine called Dalat that isn’t anything to write home about, and Rhum that is super cheap but we all drank one bottle and weren’t even drunk, it was hilarious. I loved learning this along the way and figuring out why we were able to drink so much! So, Vietnam has a sense of humor.
Kinh Beer is locally brewed on Phu Quoc. We even visited the brewery at Phu Quoc Countryside. This beer was actually pretty delicious and look how cool the bottles are!
My feelings began to grow stronger and stronger for Vietnam with every single person we met. Every single Airbnb host and hotel attendant was so nice and helpful. People we met on the street such as a local college student named Dave or kids by the Ho Chi Minh statue in Can Tho were so interested in us and wanted to practice their English. Every vendor or cashier wouldn’t accept me giving them extra money (they always gave me change). I never once felt ripped off (do not listen to Nomadic Matt), always felt safe, and was consistently treated with kindness. No one ever gave me a hard time for not knowing Vietnamese and we got along just fine with hand signals. After everything this country has been through in their recent history, I learned how resilient the people are and how they aren’t letting the past stand in their way. The people were truly inspiring.
Learning about Vietnam’s past at the War Remnants Museum.
Seeing them in their element, in the present, at the Cai Rang Floating Market.
And taking pictures with their future. AKA girls who take way too many selfies.
By this point in the trip, I would consider myself in a relationship with Vietnam. I’m genuinely happy, not thinking about home, my eyes aren’t wandering to other countries to travel to and I’m completely enjoying my present situation. Vietnam really knew how to seal the deal with me when it presented its amazing iced coffee. The coffee is always really small, filled with ice but the flavor is incredible. Thank you condensed milk! There is no more direct way to my heart than amazing coffee.
Iced Coffee from a boat vendor at the Cai Rang market in the Mekong Delta.
My favorite iced coffee of the entire trip (see on table next to Megan). We had been riding motorbikes and saw a little sign that said local beach. We clambered down here and found this paradise with only a local family and two other travelers. And of course, they served us iced coffee and free fruit.
My relationship with Vietnam started to become serious after I’d witnessed the sheer beauty of the country. It was difficult to choose which photos I thought would encapsulate this feeling the strongest so I decided to include the ones that really did it for me.
Who wouldn’t fall in love with something after seeing this?
Gorgeous, green rice paddies.
I mean… love at first sight worthy.
The first thing I noticed about Vietnam when we got into our Uber in Ho Chi Minh City was the chaos of the motorbike traffic. I had read about this, heard about it from Megan and Al but really needed to see it myself. It took awhile to get used to but it was one of those things that I really grow to love as our time passed there. I then knew Vietnam was extremely special and I wasn’t ready to let it go the moment I became comfortable riding my own motorbike on Phu Quoc.
The first day we rented motorbikes I was slightly nervous for about the first 10 minutes. Then as I was zipping by beautiful landscapes and we ended up at our first beach, I felt like I was at home. The sense of freedom and independence it gave me is something I will never forget. We continued to hop to different spots and beaches on our bikes exploring the island and even headed into the Phu Quoc National Park on our final day. Seeing Dan and our two best friends with their little bobbleheads in front of me on their bikes was a major highlight for me.
Our final sunset on the last night in Vietnam is when I concluded that my relationship with Vietnam would be one for life. We found a beach that was recommended to us from our tour operator, Jerry, the day before. We were the only people on that beach, there was a bar behind us, and the sunset was one of the best that I will ever see in my life. Not only to mention that the beach was incredible. The water was clear, calm and warm. It was one of those sunsets that begins one way and completely transforms the entire sky. As it was deepening, there was a little boat that kept moving back and forth along the horizon.
Where else in the world can you see something like this?
And that is where the love story continues. I loved so many other things about Vietnam but these were really the standout features for me. After spending our final night in a five star hotel (the Rex Hotel) in downtown Saigon for only $120 a night, I knew my adventure in this country wouldn’t be over. Dan and I left feeling unsatisfied, like we had barely scratched the surface of this incredible land. We promised to return someday and to explore more of the center and north. So for now, our love story is on hold but I do see a promising future.