What comes to mind when you think of Vietnam (go on, close your eyes)? Is it the spice-infused markets, where the scent of sizzling skewers, fresh chargrilled fish and the occasional waft of a succulent Bun cha hang in the air? Maybe it’s the people, whose spirit and resilience never fail to inspire. Or perhaps it’s the scenery; where jaw-dropping valleys and ancient pagodas contrast with bottle-green bays and palm fringed islands. Oh yes, it’s a sensory overload. Here’s how to experience the best of Vietnam, with meaning…
Un pho-gettable food!
Good news for the gastronomes, because good grub lies right at the heart of Vietnamese culture. And nobody does cuisine quite like the Vietnamese. Whether it’s a fresh, herby street-side pho, a sweet ca phe da (iced coffee with condensed milk) or a French-colonial inspired banh mi roll, wherever your taste buds take you, you’re sure to find a hearty dish to tantalise (and surprise!) them.
If you want to eat like a local, nothing tops scooting through Saigon on the back of a vintage vespa, scoffing tasty street food as you go. Together with a guide, you’ll zip across the streets, weaving through a labyrinth of alleyways, in search of sizzling street vendors and local music hang-outs. It’s a great way to bump into local characters and sample authentic dishes. Just follow your nose!
Live like a local
For us, one of the best bits about visiting a new destination is slotting into the rhythm of daily life. And what better way to get to grips with Vietnam’s local culture and traditions than to get properly immersed in it!
When you jet off on your hols, it’s always handy to have a few phrases hidden up your sleeves. But how about upping your game and trying a Vietnamese language lesson straight from the horse’s mouth! Meet up with a local guide to learn the “survival kit” phrases over a tasty Vietnamese coffee, before setting out to see the sights and practice your newfound knowledge on the locals in Hanoi’s bustling Old Quarter. Just watch those surprised faces as you chew the fat with street vendors, have a go at haggling and order a bite to eat!
If you’re up for something a little more active, how about lending a hand with a local harvest? Far away from the hum of mopeds, you’ll peddle by bicycle into Hue’s sweeping countryside. Now it’s time to get stuck inwith the rice harvest, reel in some fish (if you’re lucky) and play ‘sous chef’ in the kitchen as you help prepare a fresh lunch using home-grown ingredients. Oh, you’ll soon get the gist of local life outside of the cities.
Wander the path less travelled
In the words of Fleetwood Mac, “you can go your own way!” And, for us, there’s nothing like veering off that well-worn tourist trail; feasting your eyes on epic views and having immersive experiences with local communities.
If this sounds like your bag, how about going remote on the road, in the highlands of Vietnam? Most travellers will only head to the ever-popular hill-station of Sapa, but like a nomadic Buzz Lightyear you’ll go to Sapa ‘and beyond;’ hiking through vibrant terraces, visiting sleepy villages and meeting traditional tribes. Neighbouring tourists will soon become tiny specs in the distance as you drive deeper into the valleys, staying amongst some of the most spectacular scenery in Northwest Vietnam.
Are you a sucker for a blimmin’ good view? Well, Lake Lak could be just the spot for you. Nestled in the Central Highlands, pretty Lake Lak is the perfect place to take a much-needed breather from the bustle of the cities. Take a trek to hidden waterfalls, paddle a kayak on the clear on the tranquil water, get your head down in an eco-tent on the edge of the lake and wake up to unbeatable views! Top it all off with a visit to a nearby village, for an insight into life by the lake.