VIET NAM – Complete Travel Guide

(Updated October 2018)

Sadly, sometimes I cannot cherish a place enough – because there are some negative points that have a too strong impact or I’m not ready for the place or I simply need something different the moment I’m there. And it’s only afterward that I reminisce and realize how cool it actually was.
Viet Nam is a place like this.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Viet Nam - Vietnam

Before I went there, I’ve heard from so many people how great it was and that it was even much nicer than Thailand, so I really looked forward going there, yet I was quite disappointed. Maybe my expectations were so high because of all the tales.

Anyway, now that I think back, it is quite cool. It’s probably due to its political past that it is so very different from the other South East Asian countries, and maybe that’s confusing at first, but there are so many good things there, it’s absolutely worth it and I think, I’ll be back somewhen soon.

Everybody has heard that there was a Vietnam War – sadly mainly because the US got involved.
But the conflict did not start with the intrusion of the US troops.

I am no historian, but I’d like to give you a brief historic précis. This is by no means a detailed, pinpoint documentation of Viet Nam’s history – it’s a strongly simplified overview. I just quote the ‘big points’, which is hard enough since there were so many twists and turns and much was connected to events far away. Mind you, even the exact date of the beginning of war cannot be determined since it depends on which conflict or event you consider (and it’s not 196   – that’s when the US got involved, but that’s not when the war in Viet Nam started). For further, deeper insight, please consult relevant literature.

The first Vietnamese state was established in 968. At that time the region was historically and culturally built like every other Asian and Chinese culture.
The first Europeans came about 1500 – and, like in Central and South America – they were Catholic missionaries, mainly Jesuits and Franciscans. And the story went as nicely as in Central and South America or any other region where these good people thought they had to implement their idea of civilization.

Sadly, they found supporters who profited from their system everywhere, in Viet Nam, too.
Towards the end of the 18th-century emperor Gia Long asked the French for stronger support, and once there, they extended their influence on Cambodia, too. Under the French protection, the country developed just like Latin American countries under the Spanish – there were few land barons and a vast majority of poor people.

A lesson that every oppressor has to learn eventually: You can exploit people only so long.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Viet Nam - Vietnam - Ho Chi Minh City HCMC Notre Dame
Catholic Notre Dame Cathedral in at one time Buddhist Viet Nam.
In Viet Nam, the first uprisings began around 1900. At that time also Vietnamese students came back from Europe where they had experienced national movements and heard of this new thing – communism.

One of them was Ho Chi Minh who came back to Viet Nam in 1941 and founded the Viet Minh, a group consisting of i. a. freedom fighters and communists. By that time – during WWII – Viet Nam was, like many Asian countries, attacked by Japan, an ally of Nazi-Germany and its collaborator Vichy France.
And at this point, history added an afterwit: Fighting the fascist forces and their allies, the – nota bene – United States of America supported the communist Viet Minh lead by Ho Chi Minh! (And since this worked out so well, they repeatedly supported fighting groups who eventually turned around and – literally – beat them with their own weapons).

In 1945, Viet Nam became the first independent state of South East Asia – founded according to the United States Declaration of Independence and the French Revolution.

By that time the country got divided into the China-oriented North and the Catholic South, forced by the French. That they were tending North, finally lead to the Indochina war that the Vietnamese guerilla won in 1954.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Viet Nam - Vietnam -
Commemorating tiles on Quan Thanh in Hanoi.

Following the Geneva conference in 1954, the Viet Minh settled in the North of today’s Viet Nam behind the 17th degree of latitude. The South was ruled emperor Bảo Đại under Western influence. All of Indochina, Laos, and Cambodia received their state independence.
For July 1956, free elections were agreed throughout Vietnam, monitored by representatives of the NATO, the Warsaw Pact, and India. But Bảo Đại’s successor, Ngô Đình Diệm, finally denied these elections, and the conflicts between North and South Vietnam ultimately resulted in the second Indochina, better known as the Vietnam War.

Picture from the Hoa Lo Prison Hanoi
A picture at the Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi: Everybody has his own perspective of the war. I’m not sure whether the souvenirs made the American war prisoners’ memories much nicer…

In fear of the strengthening of communism in the region, in 1964 the USA again entered the conflict, this time against Ho Chi Minh. In 1973 the US withdrew its troops, but supported the South Vietnamese by supplying them with weapons.

Ho Chi Minh pictures
Take your pick: Ho Chi Minh in all ages and stages
 (at a gift shop next to the Ho Chi Minh museum in Hanoi) 

The war officially ended in 1975, and Viet Nam was reunited in 1976.

I think it’s important to look at the ‘big picture’, to have an idea what was going on earlier, and that it was not that the ‘red hordes’ took over willy-nilly, but that they intended to free the country from its colonialists and oppressors. Their idea was to end despotism, injustice, and exploitation.
This was often the underlying idea – but sadly it often continued and ended in another kind of despotism and injustice.

However, my personal observation and opinion are that in ‘developing countries’ the socialist idea and politics did good – free education, free healthcare, equal rights for women etc. But of course on a long-term the result is not convincing, no matter how many cheesy slogans they write on the walls.

For us Europeans having lived with the iron curtain for decades and having witnessed how complicated it was to let bygones be bygones resp. to cope with the past, it’s amazing how the people of Vietnam get over the past, embraces the changes.

Communist propaganda and a Buddhist Temple
Obviously, there is enough space for different kinds of faith.

Actually, this difference in dealing with Socialism in comparison with European countries isn’t that new. The Vietnamese way seems to be less doctrinal and obstinate. Already the fact that Buddhist monks joined the Socialist fight against Colonial France and later the American troops shows the different approach. In Europe, every form of religion was banned by the Socialist government (according to Marx’ saying “Religion is the opium of the people”). Well, in the Far East they obviously find their own way to deal with opium.

It’s baffling to see the traditional, naive, right in your face propaganda at every corner – including the inevitable red flags, pentagrams and hammer and sickle. And right next to it people living their hyper-capitalistic reality selling you everything.

Colonial building, communist propaganda and a skyscraper in HCMC
A family picture of Viet Nam’s different eras: Colonialism, Communism, and Capitalism.

The Socialist Republic of Viet Nam has a population of more than 90 million people living on a  329.560 sq km (about 127,000 sq miles) terrain. While the South and North are low, flat deltas, the central highlands and the far North towards China are hilly or even mountainous. While the South is tropically hot and humid, the North is noticeably cool and rainy. In Viet Nam you pay with Dong (VND) – that you can convert e. g. on XE.

This is just the general introduction to the country. In the following nine chapters (links below) you’ll get extended information on each place I’ve been.

This is the route I’ve travelled….

…and these are the places I’ve visited – with extended information to each of them:

If you choose to pin this post, please use one of these pictures:

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31 Replies to “VIET NAM – Complete Travel Guide”

  1. Glad to hear you enjoyed Vietnam. I am thinking about visiting next year.
    What were some of your favorite places?

  2. Yes, Anisa, I enjoyed it a lot – easy to travel even as a female solo traveller. I've described all the places that I've seen in individual chapters so it will be easy for you to chose – hard to say what was the nicest, actually it was in the mix. If you don't have too much time, I'd skip Mui Ne, it's a dump. I travelled from South up North by bus and plane and did then fly back from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. Further questions? Write me! Anyway, happy travels, Renata

  3. Nice, good to see that you enjoyed it in Vietnam. I may go there during my trip to Asia, which is not so soon. Thanks for some extra info for planing

  4. Wow what a great escapade, I'd always wanted to go to Vietnam, the food are just awesome, almost all are my favorites. hope you did enjoy your stay.

  5. I enjoyed Viet Nam a lot – it feels 'closer to life' than for instance Thailand which is rather like an Asian dream land.

  6. I appreciate that you have shared honest feedback and after loking back you have appreciated this location more for how people are despite the historical issues they faced . I liked this details shared alongwith the map . I also want to visit it some day because of the natural beauty in this destination .

  7. It's cool to hear other perspectives of places I've visited. Very keen insights on the communist-capitalist influences in Vietnam. Good read!

  8. Taryn and Mary – thank you, I'm glad you appreciate a little more serious writing besides beaches, temples and foods. Encourages me to keep on doing it this way 💖💖💖

  9. We were in Vietnam 4 years ago and absolutely loved it. Even though we didn't get to visit a few places, we would love to go back. The food is fantastic there!

  10. Lovely post that throws light on the city's culture from a different perspective. Nice pictures and very helpful tips. Thanks for sharing1 🙂

  11. I visited a few years ago, and absolutely loved it. Vietnam's has had such a long and tragic history, but it's an incredible place to visit. I'd love to return to see Hue and Napa.

    1. Yes, I didn't have time to go to Sapa either. Since it's in the north, the region I liked best, chances are that I'll go back and visit.

  12. My dad currently lives in Vietnam and I've yet to visit its other places. It reminds me of Manila, but more cultured and you see things in different perspectives. I have such an appreciation for Asian countries. Happy you got to explore! 🙂

  13. This is a great review of the Vietnamese history. I just recently traveled there and i loved. I would like to suggest though that if this is a complete travel guide, i would love to see any practical tips like getting there, getting around, places to stay, how are the people, atms, weather. etc. Great post though.

    1. Thanx so much for your suggestion – but you find most of these info a) in the individual chapters on the destinations I visited and most of all b) in the last chapter called RATING – there are all the means of transportation, accommodations, etc. I think you've just read the general introduction to my guide?!

  14. As with most of Asia, Vietnam has a rich and diverse history. On my last Asian trip I missed this country along with its history. I appreciate your description here, it has given me some understanding of it's development & culture.

  15. Thanks for going into Vietnam's history – I didn't know some of this! I visited Vietnam earlier this year and I was the same as you – I didn't like it as much as I expected, perhaps because it had been over-hyped. But, on reflection, it was a fascinating and diverse country that I'd love to return to.

    1. Yes, overhyped it is: Everybody told me it was much nicer than Thailand. Besides the fact that I don't like to compare places I'd disagree: It strongly depends on where you going in general, i.e. which beaches in Thailand etc., and on personal encounters, i.e. who you meet, how you personally feel physically and mentally etc. All this combined creates an experience that you cannot compare.
      But I've heard all this 'aaaah, Viet Naaaam' – overhyped. And yes, I would visit again, too; at least the North. I loved Hanoi and I'd like to visit Sapa.

  16. Thanks for sharing this complete travel guide! Very informative and will be useful when I visit!

  17. Loved reading this amazing travel guide to one of our favorite countries! And feel like planning another trip. There is just so much to explore in Vietnam.

    1. That's one of the great things of being a travel blogger: I relived the whole trip….and felt like planning another one right away 😉 Thanx for your comment – and happy travels!

    1. I've heard that it had changed rapidly over the past years. It's getting more westernized; pity….
      Thanx for your comment, Kylee, and happy travels 😀

  18. Nice post with eye-catching images. Very much excited to visit there. Attractions in Vietnam are plentiful, ranging from stunning natural landscapes, untouched islets and quaint villages to war museums, colonial structures, and ancient citadels. Attracting millions of visitors all year long, its colonial heritage also means that many hotels feature a unique blend of French and Asian influences while its cuisine is highly regarded as one of the best in the world. With so many things to see and do in Vietnam, plan your travel itinerary with a company to see the attractions.

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