Looking back on my trip to Southeast Asia, Vietnam was my favorite country to visit. I saw many interesting things there and ate many delicious food, but ultimately it was the people that I met that made the trip.
Walking around Vietnam, I noticed a stark difference between the attitude of the Vietnamese people and the Thais. Unlike the Thais, the Vietnamese are not all smiles when you first meet them. They don’t greet you right away when you walk into their stores, and they don’t wave hello to you on the street for no reason. Their cut and dry attitudes might seem brusque or cold at times, but mostly they are just reserved or focused on getting their jobs done. They reminded me of New Yorkers. You want something? Here’s the price, you pay, you get out. No time for chit chat, and I kind of preferred that after being hawked at everywhere I went in Thailand.
Don’t let this fool you though, because the Vietnamese are not mean. On the contrary some of the most caring people I met in Southeast Asia were in Vietnam. In Hanoi for example, my hostel owner asked me how I was doing everyday and offered me a free ride to the train station. In Hoi An, the spa owner offered me icy cold water just for walking in, and genuinely asked me about my life and told me about her daughter. On my way to the beach when I almost melted on my bike, an elderly woman helped me park my bike and told me to sit down for soda. In Ho Chi Minh City, I met the friendliest group of students who gave me free tours around their city. In the noodle shop and everywhere I went, people pointed to my wallet to tell me to be careful. It sounds kind of silly but I felt like people were really looking after me there.
It wasn’t just the locals. The other visitors that I met in Vietnam were also the ones I connected with the most. They were much more interested in exploring the country, trying the food, hiking the mountains than the tourists in Thailand who were more concerned with partying and drinking. And to think I almost didn’t go to Vietnam because people told me their friends didn’t have a good time there. Lesson learned? Take any stories that start with”My friends went to…” with a grain of salt.
Some of my favorite memories of Vietnam were tasting my first bowl of pho in Hanoi sitting on the side of the street on a little plastic stool. It was delicious and it was $2USD.
Spending 16 hours on a train with a family from New Zealand from Hanoi to Hoi An, and staying up all night staring at the moon outside my window, and then waking up to a view of a beach with white sand and water blue as the sky. Also getting a visit from an adorable little girl who played peekaboo with me the whole day.
Exploring the sleepy town of Hoi An with some new friends and going to the same spot for breakfast three times in a row where the owner always wore a shirt with colorful elephants and shorts.
Getting lost while biking in Hoi An and finding the most gorgeous view of the sunset.
Spending a night on a cruise boat at Halong Bay admiring the scenic views of the bay.
Drinking the world’s cheapest beer on a street called Bia street with a new friend.
Going to the bahn mi sandwich shop in Hoi An where Anthony Bourdain declared had the best bahn mi ever. (It was good.)
Walking the streets of Hoi An at night with a new friend and admiring all of the lanterns on the street.
Gabbing icy cold drinks at night and tasting this delicious noodle called cau lau.
Grabbing drinks with the five girls in my hostel room from three different continents in Ho Chi Minh City whom I hit it off with right away. And accidentally wishing a Canadian woman happy Independence day on July 4th, in which she responded, “I don’t care.”
But on top of all that, my ultimate favorite memory in Vietnam would be meeting the most humble group of students in Ho Chi Minh City, who gave me free tours of their city in exchange to practice their English. They called themselves the “Talking With The Tourist” guides, and they showed me their favorite spots to eat around town and their favorite spots to teach tourists the history of Vietnam.They shared with me what it was like to grow up in Vietnam and what some of their biggest concerns were with their country, and how despite them they’re learning to do their best they can by educating themselves. They were truly an inspiring bunch, and I’m so thankful for them for showing me Vietnam from a local’s eyes and proving that good, genuine hospitality can be found anywhere in the world.