Once you’ve traveled to several different countries, especially those within the same region, they start to blend together. For example, when I traveled throughout Southeast Asia, it seemed every country had the same temples and statues. This is why every country I go, I’ve tried to find 5 unique places or things that make that country stand out from the rest. This list is solely based on my experience and may not cover certain well-known traditions or tourist sites.
Cu Chi Tunnels-Up until the Iraq War, the United States military had a history of winning wars quickly and decisively. However, the notable exception was the Vietnam War from 1955-1975. While the United States technically didn’t lose the war, it failed in it’s mission to prevent the Communist Northern Vietnamese forces from taking control of the country. A big part of the Northern Vietnamese strategy was guerilla warfare in which they blended in with the local population and moved through tunnels. The Cu Chi tunnels outside the former south Vietnamese Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) serve as a reminder of the Northern Vietnamese success. As a American, it was interesting seeing the perspective of the other side in this devastating war. While there are exhibits that feature captured American tanks and personal items from US Prisoners of War (POWs), the guides themselves were also respectful and informative. Just as the USS Missouri at Pearl Harbor (where the Japanese surrendered in WW2) is a part of American history, so are the Cu Chi Tunnels in Vietnam for the Vietnamese.
Crossing the Street-Remember that game Frogger? If you don’t, it was an old PlayStation game where the player controlled a frog and had to get him across the street while vehicles were coming at various speeds. If you ever want to experience what it’s like to be Frogger, then go to either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. There are about 7.4 million motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh city alone and not one of them has time to stop to let you cross the street. While it maybe intimidating, if you want to get anywhere by walking, you will eventually need to learn to cross the street while hundreds of motorbikes are coming at you. However, as long as you don’t stop, there is a 99% chance that you won’t get hit as the Vietnamese have become extremely adept at weaving around pedestrians.
Vietnamese Trains-Given the length of the country, there are only two ways to get from the south of the country (Ho Chi Minh City) to the north (Hanoi) in a reasonable amount of time. You either fly or take the train. Unfortunately, I opted for the latter and it was not a good experience. If you have been to Vietnam and never ridden a Vietnamese train, then you are a smarter person than I am. Even the rooms in the first-class sleeper cars are the size of a broom closet. Did I mention that you are also crammed inside with 3 strangers? If you’re lucky, they might even change the bed sheets before you get on. Unlike Japan and South Korea, where bullet trains can get you across the country in 3-4 hours, Vietnamese trains can take anywhere between 10-16 hours to cross the country which prolongs the misery.
Ha Long Bay-Dubbed a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ha Long Bay is a popular travel destination about 170 kms east of Hanoi. It provides a picturesque view as hundreds of isles sit atop lime green waters. While much of the water is not swimmable, there are many ports throughout the area that offer everything from party cruises to multiday excursion cruises. In addition, many of the islands are open for exploration.
Nha Trang-This was actually my favorite place to visit while in Vietnam. Located on the coast in the middle of the country, Nha Trang is like Miami without all the flash and noise of South Beach. Nha Trang is a modern city that has several beaches and numerous high-rise condos. It is also very cheap if your bank account consists of Euro or US Dollars. I was able to relax at one of the 5-star beach clubs for several hours for about $4 USD which was used to buy my breakfast.