FOR the longest time, Thailand was the classic Southeast Asian destination. Its beautiful beaches, cheap accommodations, and amazing food secured the country on the top of most travellers’ lists for the region.
But over the last few years, Vietnam has started to steal the Southeast Asia spotlight — offering less-crowded and cheaper options for tourists. SmarterTravel have found nine reasons why Vietnam is the new Thailand (aka, the best place to go in Southeast Asia right now).
Vietnamese cuisine is known for its fusion of flavours from many cultures: Take, for instance, the ubiquitous banh mi sandwiches, served on French baguettes but with traditional Vietnamese fillings such as pork belly, pate, fried eggs, tofu, or fresh vegetables.
The country’s vast Buddhist population benefits vegetarian travellers, who will be able to find fake meat (usually made with tofu or seitan) at most restaurants. There’s also the famous pho noodle soup, sticky rice, steamed buns, and fresh rolls … we could go on forever.
You can’t beat a Pho noodle soup.Source:Getty Images
It’s three Destinations in one
Vietnam stretches over 3,000 kilometres of coastline, and can feel like three different countries. Vietnam’s distinct regions (north, central, and south) can all have varied climates during the same time of year — for example, it could be snowing in the far north mountains, while the far south experiences temperatures close to 30 degrees.
Each area has its own unique scenery as well, from the mountains and bays in North Vietnam to the farmlands of Central Vietnam and the deltas of South Vietnam.
We’re firm believers that you should always try to learn some key phrases in a foreign language before you visit a new, non-English-speaking country. But in case you’re intimidated by the tough-to-master, tonal Vietnamese, you can be comforted by the fact that many people in Vietnam speak English.
In fact, English is now taught to all public school students starting in the third grade. Locals are happy to converse with you in English but a few simple words or phrases like “xin chao” (hello) and “cam on” (thank you) in Vietnamese will go a long way.
The Vietnamese people are beautiful and friendly.Source:Getty Images
Everywhere we went on our trip to Vietnam we were greeted by friendly locals who were happy to help travellers without expecting anything in return. The hospitality you’ll find here is worth checking out.
Unlike in many other tourist destinations, we found that sellers here really will take your first “no” as an answer — you can shop without high pressure or hassle.
It’s Pretty Cheap To Get There
You can score round-trip flights from Sydney to Ho Chi Minh City from around $550. Not bad for a 10 hour flight. It’s even cheaper should you be flying from Darwin or Perth.
It’s Really Inexpensive When You’re There
Needless to say, things are cheap in Vietnam. At the time of writing, one Aussie dollar was worth 16,870 Vietnamese dong according to xe.com. Your money will go very far in Vietnam.
Multiple course meals with alcohol cost less than $10 per person, and you can stay at five-star hotels for under $70 a night. If you’re more of a budget traveller, you could easily do Vietnam on less than $20 a day. (A refreshing beer will cost you less than a dollar!)
Bicycles are still a common form of transport out of the cities.Source:Getty Images
If you’re a history buff, you should know that Vietnam doesn’t shy away from its past. The War Remnants Museum, the Hoa Lo Prison Museum, and the Cu Chi Tunnels tours all give a no-holds-barred look back to the Vietnam War.
You will definitely get a different perspective on the war than you may have learned in school, with displays showing how the Vietnamese lived during this time.
Vietnam has eight UNESCO World Heritage sites, including natural beauties like Ha Long Bay or Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, or more cultural areas such as Ho An Ancient Town and My Son Sanctuary.
If you visit during shoulder season, many of these hot spots will be almost devoid of tourists. Vietnam has so many cool places to see and some have gone undiscovered — like Son Doong Cave, which is the world’s biggest cave, yet wasn’t explored until 2012.
Vietnam is a wildly diverse country. When you travel from the north to the south, you’ll feel like you’re crossing international borders every time you travel a few hours.
In fact, Vietnam is the most culturally diverse country in Southeast Asia — it’s home to over 50 different ethnic groups, each of whom speak their own language.