Vietnam - Do they hate Western Tourists?

Before this trip, I hadn't personally set foot in China or Vietnam, but somehow in the West we are made to believe that Vietnam and China are not very developed, not very welcoming places for travelers from the West and that they don't "value humanity" and such things. 

For about 10 days, my plan was to visit Hoh Chi Minh (HCM), then fly north to the coast at Danang. Continue from there to Halong to see the famous cliffs in the ocean. From there with a car to Hanoi.

So I wondered if it was really so unwelcoming for people from the West to travel in that area of the world and maybe Vietnamese people even dislike people from the West (because of the American War).

Is it difficult to travel in Vietnam? 

I had these thoughts, wondering how tough it'd be to get around in Vietnam as a Western foreigner - especially after the Americans bombed the country for no reason a couple dozen years ago and affecting it until now. I don't know for Americans, but as a Non-American, to summarize, it was very easy and it's not complicated at all - even though most of the people don't speak English. They are extremely well organized, friendly, perfectly on time, efficient and quick. Now, some people in the West might think just because Vietnam doesn't do things the way we do in the West, they're living in the dark ages. But the opposite is the case.

Vietnam is not lagging behind, not at all and I think they are among the most welcoming people in the world. In fact, they're leading the charge in so many ways, putting the West to shame. That's right, Vietnam's blazing trails while the West is stuck in the mud in many ways.


I came by plane from Brunei and landed in Ho Chi Minh City (HCM) in just 1.5 hours. The view from the plane.

Getting a local SIM card was surprisingly straightforward within 1 minute - no fuss, no passport needed, just payment, and there is connectivity. It worked fine, keeping me connected for the next 11 days.

The transportation system in HCM impressed me. The Vietnamese Uber (Grab app) did its job well, offering affordable rides. Thirty minutes for 5 USD? Not bad. Stepping out, the city defied my expectations, feeling modern and clean, almost like Singapore or Hong Kong.

The Opera House. Small and not so impressive - for such a huge city.

Around the opera house it was more interesting. 

Near the People's Committee of Ho Chi Minh City. Although I didn't have the opportunity to explore the interior. A big building in the middle of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and in front of it there is a big park.

Walking around noting the grand buildings and wide streets. As late afternoon fell in, the city lit up with neon signs, and the streets were bustling with cafes and restaurants. It reminded me of Toronto and it's Asian influence.

Found a massive coffeehouse. Each level had its unique theme. It smelled of freshly brewed coffee and catered to all tastes. Sipping my cappuccino, I observed the main street in HCM. HCM markets and streets were lively, the city has surprises around every corner.

Day 2 - The War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City

Early morning, I ventured to the War Remnants Museum, a site that beckoned with historical weight. It was established in 1975 and is one of the most visited museums in Vietnam.

The throngs of tourists surprised me - evidence of the museum’s significance. Yet, upon entering, the museum's modest size quickly became apparent. In the open courtyard, an assortment of military hardware - tanks, helicopters, and planes - stood in neat rows as in a military parade.

Inside the main building are three floors. The walls spoke volumes of the atrocities committed during the war, primarily by the Americans.

The museum had its drawbacks. The stifling heat hung in the air, and the museum relied solely on oscillating fans for cooling.

Sweaty tourists everywhere, not exactly the ideal museum experience. Disappointment settled in—a mix of emotions stirred by history and discomfort.

The stark depiction of prisoner camps left a lasting impression. Walking through the recreated cells, their realism was both impressive and disturbing. The curators had taken great care in preserving these artifacts, underscoring their significance.

Went to the Independence Palace, the place where the US Helicopters landed for emergency escape, to bring out diplomats at the end of the war.

I followed Google Maps and it brought me to the complete other side of the complex at an exit, 1.2km from the main entrance and so did not have enough time to visit more than the outside and the streets around.

One of the best view in HCM is at the Saigon River at the waterfront from the rooftop, both, at night and day.

Day 3 - Unveiling the Cu Chi Tunnels

There are two Cu Chi Tunnel sites. One that is built for large masses of tourists and the other a bit further away, where the real tunnels were used back then. I wanted to go to the real tunnels.

Self-drive to the tunnel?

Initially, I contemplated taking a taxi to the Cu Chi Tunnels, imagining a peaceful two-hour ride through the landscape of Vietnam and without the prattle of fellow tourists.

But practicality won out, and I opted for a guided tour. It had its perks: no language barriers, navigation issues, expert commentary, and efficient logistics. At just under 30 USD, it seemed a steal compared to the taxi option, which would have set me back at least 80 USD without the guided insights.

There are always the annoying co-tourists

As expected, the minibus was a mixed bag of tourists. Ten passengers on board, most enjoying the ride in blessed silence. But of course, leave it to a couple of Americans to turn up the volume. Their chatter pierced the air, reaching decibels that could rival passing traffic. It was a mystery how three individuals could annoy the entire tour. Two back-to-back 1.5-hour journeys - uninterrupted chatter. Perhaps they were still unaware of the history their ancestors had caused.

Interesting Tunnels

The tunnels themselves were fascinating. Amidst the jungle backdrop, relics of yesteryears dotted the landscape: old tanks, helicopters, and planes. Lined-up bombs and guns served as reminders. Our guide ushered us to the tunnel entrances, each with its own character. 

Visitors were encouraged to descend into the depths, and so most did.

It was an experience - pitch-black and claustrophobic and humid. Crawling through the narrow passages, I marveled at the ingenuity of those who had once navigated this subterranean maze.

Climbing through the tunnels

The initial tunnels were a snug 3 meters, but soon we stumbled upon larger ones, stretching up to 30 meters. Yet, the real challenge wasn't the tight spaces; it was enduring the ceaseless chatter of our American cohorts. Their sluggish slow-motion pace held us back. The shorter tunnels were manageable, but the longer ones could easily induce panic, the sheer volume of visitors closing in on you.

Emerging from the tunnels, I pondered the resilience of those who lived and fought here. The Cu Chi Tunnels really stood as a monument to human adaptability and survival.

The museum unveiled more - a display of weapons used during the Vietnam War.

From heavy machine guns to assault rifles. Curious, I stepped up to test them. The issue? Ammunition came at a price: 2.50 USD per shot, with a minimum purchase of 10 rounds per weapon and so I stepped back.

Day 4 - Going North to Danang

I had a morning flight bound for Danang. The transfer from the airport - a quick 30-minute drive - felt like entering a different realm.

Surprisingly chilly, Danang greeted me with a relatively cold 20 degrees Celsius. Raindrops tapped on the window, and at the coast, it became even colder.

The Grab ride dropped me off to the hotel, sitting right on the shoreline. The view was decent. Rugged cliffs, blue water, swaying palms - a typical coastal scene. Such a nice view.

But the evening had its charms too. The Dragon Bridge, now that's something, came to life. A giant metal dragon on the bridge spewed fire into the sky. People gathered around, faces lit up by the spectacle.

Day 5 - Visiting Hoi An

Embarked on a 30-minute taxi ride from Danang, and there I was, in the village of Hoi An. Rain pouring down over the cobblestone streets.

As I walked around, the old buildings really stood out. They looked weathered but had this history to them that it’s not possible to ignore.

Those narrow alleys seemed to go on forever, and by the river, there were boats bobbing up and down, but it wasn't exactly a scene out of a postcard.

The ancient architecture was nice. Old houses stood side by side in the narrow. And there, along the riverbank, boats swayed.

The rain definitely put a bit of a damper on things. And the river was more like a rushing torrent than a calm reflection of the past. However, it was still nice to spend half a day here.

After four hours, I made my way back, catching a shuttle to Danang.

Day 6 - Marble Mountains

Just a short 15-minute drive from Danang lies the Marble Mountains, a cluster of limestone. The good thing is that it's not necessary to climb up. They carved a modern elevator into the mountain.

These mountains aren't just geological formations; they're revered as a spiritual destination. Hidden Buddhist temples nestled within the rocks.

Inside those mountains, there are caves and in there lots of altars.

Flight to Hai Phong near Halong

In the afternoon I had a flight to Hai Phong, which is 30 minutes from Halong Bay. A taxi waited at the airport to bring me to Halong Bay. Halong City relatively is small but the main place when visiting Halong Bay as all the boats depart from the harbor.

The view from a rooftop over the small city of Hai Phong.

Day 7 - Halong Bay

Got picked up at 7 a.m. and driven to the harbor. Boarded a junk boat with two decks, one with tables for dining and a sun deck for views of the hills in Halong.

It takes about 1 hour to reach the vicinity of the first hills.

The weather definitely cooperated. In the rain, it would have been quite dreary here. But as it was, great views, quite unique.

The journey goes through the various bays and hills to the first cave. The cave was huge, even though there were many tourists inside, it was very spectacular to see. All the limestone formations and stalactites on the tour.

Afterward, we went rowing through a cave into a bay. The ride lasted 20 minutes, then back to the big boat.

From there, we continued to Ti Top Mountain. The largest accessible, or climbable mountain in Halong Bay during day trips. The view is also very spectacular here.

Day 8 -  From Halong to Hanoi

A reliable minibus chauffeured me from the captivating Halong Bay to the busy heart of Hanoi. The journey lasted nearly 3 hours, meandering through verdant landscapes and traditional towns.

 In Hanoi's Old Quarter, history whispered through narrow alleyways.

I ventured into the renowned Train Street, where trains thundered by inches from residential homes.

The War Prison, a solemn relic of the past, stood as a testament to Vietnam's endurance.

By the tranquil lake.

The labyrinthine streets of Old Hanoi.

Day 9 - Discovering Hanoi's Gems

The day commenced at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. It's their homage to the former leader. The marble edifice contrasted with the bustling streets nearby. 

Nearby, the Citadel, a living testament to Vietnam's storied past.

Nowadays people use it mainly as photosubjects.

Victory Vietnam War Museum 

Went visiting the history at the Victory Museum and the B52 Museum. Each artifact bore witness to the struggle for independence. 

I was sincerely interested in the war museum. They stacked relics and showed impressive pieces from the war.

Very interesting museum, explaining many details.

The B52 museum.

In the afternoon at the serene park surrounding the JW Marriott Hotel, tranquility prevailed amidst the urban hustle.

Day 10 -  Goodbye to Vietnam, Hello Laos

A taxi whisked me to Hanoi Airport, a swift 45-minute journey. The fare - mere 10 dollars - felt like a steal for transporting all the memories.

Will I go back to Vietnam, maybe yes, it definitely is now one of my favorite places in Asia.

But boarding now the flight to Luang Prabang, Laos.

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