When asked to write a short ‘about the author’ paragraph, I often state that I contracted a ‘wicked case of wanderlust’, which I hope will NEVER be cured, while living in Germany as a high school senior. Although I don’t get to travel as much as I’d like at the moment, one of my favorite regions in the world to visit is Southeast Asia. My hubby loves the food in the region, so it’s never a problem convincing him to book a trip to the region. Me? I’m fascinated with the history. History geeks don’t always hide behind 800-page biographies of Peter the Great!
As I was recently asked to write an article with tips and tricks for traveling in Vietnam and Cambodia, I thought I’d repurpose the article for my blog. Today’s blog post concentrates on traveling in Vietnam. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask!
Getting into Vietnam. Dutch and American citizens will need a visa to enter the country. I recommend applying for a visa with an online service instead of heading to the embassy. Pay a small fee and pick your visa up at the airport upon arrival in Vietnam. You’ll need to pay an additional fee on location. Make sure you bring the exact fee in cash to pay this fee. You can purchase a single entry or multi-entry visa. The multi-entry visa is more expensive, but worth it if you want to travel over to Cambodia (and trust me – you DO want to travel to Cambodia).
We started our trip in Saigon. You can easily spend a week traveling around Saigon. If you’re short on time, however, these are the places you must hit:
- War Remnants Museum: This museum documents the horrors of the Vietnam War, which you will find referred to as the Resistance War against America. The materials will horrify you and possibly make a tear or two crawl down your face. The descriptions may also bristle your pride as the U.S. is repetitively described as the aggressor in the conflict. Ignore that. You’ll see a lot more anti-American propaganda in your trip, but the locals themselves don’t seem to harbor any negative feelings.
- Chinatown (aka Cholo): Spend a day walking around the various temples, pagodas, and street markets. There’s also a large covered market stuffed full of stalls selling everything you can imagine. It’s so crowded you may find yourself crawling over displays or turned around wondering where in the world the exit is!
- Jade Emperor Pagoda: A spectacular colorful Chinese pagoda dedicated to the Emperor of Jade, the supreme Taoist god.
- Notre Dame Cathedral: It’s worth a visit for the surrealistic feeling of listening to Catholic hymns in Vietnamese while sweating in your shorts and sandals.
- People’s Committee Building: The building itself is not open to the public, but as a former hotel it has an ornate façade and is one of the most prominent landmarks of the city.
If you have time, there’s plenty to see in Vietnam outside of Saigon as well.
- Hoi An: If you want to relax, beaches and quaint seaside villages are plentiful. Hue and Hoi An are popular. We headed for Hoi An – a quaint town with cobbled lanes and historical buildings. A great place to just walk around for a few hours or a day or two.
- Danang: We flew from Siem Reap to Danang before taking a taxi to Hoi An. We stayed the night in Danang as I contracted dysentery in Cambodia, but there isn’t much to do. If you find yourself in the city, however, the must visit location is the Danang Museum of Cham Sculpture. It houses 300 artifacts from the Cham culture: an indigenous people who formed an independent kingdom from the 2nd to 17th Centuries in Vietnam and Cambodia.
- Mỹ Sơn Sanctuary: This Hindu temple complex from the 4th through 14th Centuries is short drive from Hoi An and is a MUST SEE. The temple complex is in a valley surrounded by mountains. Unfortunately, much of the complex was destroyed by US carpet bombing during a single week during the Vietnam War. A visit to this site encompasses everything that is great about traveling: history, culture, and impressive nature.
A few tips for your visit:
- Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City? Don’t stress about using the proper name of Ho Chi Minh City. The residents use the name Saigon and won’t bat an eyelash if you do too.
- Getting around Saigon. Most of the must-see places are in Central Saigon and can be reached by walking. Taxis are also affordable, and we didn’t have any issues with scammers. Taxi drivers speak English for the most part.
- Hotels in Saigon range from cheap backpacker hostels to five-star luxury. Most backpacker hostels are located near the night-life. If you want a quiet stay, but are on a budget, you can find some medium-range hotels for a reasonable price in the center.
- If you end up with getting tummy issues, head to your local restaurant and tell them you’re not feeling well. They’ll make you up a rice dish that will help with the nausea.
Next week, I’ll travel to Cambodia. I know it’s now politically incorrect to say ‘travel bucket list’, but Cambodia should be on yours!