A Love Letter to Vietnam

Vietnam, there’s more to you than meets the eye.

You were a last minute, ‘sure why not visit’ addition to a trip that I planned with great excitement for Thailand.

In the end, you were the one who stole the show.

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It was love at first sight my first night in Hanoi. Your charm snaked its way into heart, and as I explored back streets and beaches over the course of a month, I couldn’t deny how hard I was falling for you.

I call you my favourite country in Southeast Asia, a title you earned but not without fierce competition from Indonesia, Laos and Malaysia.

You’re 331,210 square kilometers brimming with over 96 million people. When people ask me, What’s so great about Vietnam?, I smirk and reply, How much time do you have?

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Cosy up, and pour yourself one of those ridiculously sweet coconut coffees you love so much-

I love the dreamy yellow buildings, and colonial streets with twinkling lanterns strung overhead in Hoi An.

I love banh mi for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the queues that snake around corners for the city’s best.

I love jumpsuits that fit on the first try, and the proud smile of a tailor who knows she’s done her job well.

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I love the French colonial architecture, a nod to your tumultuous past, but stunning nonetheless against the modernity of each city.

I love how flames rise from the sidewalk, almost a bid to out-do the vendor next to you in greater fire hazard.

I love how street vendors squak orders to each other, hastily collecting money from patrons, and demanding you sit down in preparation for a feast.

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I love that you taught me what actual flavour is, how complex a dish can be- spicy, minty- salty, sweet and savoury all at the same time- from layering bits of herbs.

I love the tiny plastic chairs, the lower the better, and  sitting perched in them, drinking bia hoi and watching the world go by.

I love knowing the first questions your people will ask me before they say a word- Are you married? Why are you alone? What an incredible reminder of the privilege of being born an American with the means to travel.

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I love that coffee is life. Full stop.

And, I love that when French colonists first introduced coffee, you said, thanks, we’ll make this better with coconut, egg and condensed milk.

I love and admire your resilience. What atrocious war crimes my nation and others have committed against you. And, how much you’ve moved on, it’s inspiring beyond words.

I love squatting low to the ground, slurping noodles or taking those greedy first few bites of banh xeo, what glory.

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I love the omnipresent buzz of motorbikes and constant horn honking- everywhere else seems too quiet by comparison.

I love that you’ve turned a national dish, pho, into the weird, yet wonderful boozy noodle-inspired cocktail I never knew I needed.

I love how chaos reigns supreme, and your refusal for any kind of order or process.

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I love how welcoming and kind your people are, how quick they are to share or to help, even when they haven’t got much themselves.

I love the horrendous blasting of music and announcements from bikes patrolling the streets.

I love your white sand, glorious beaches and lush mountains.

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I love the total lack of pedestrian crossings, how it’s almost a sport to cross a busy street. What a simple accomplishment to take joy in.

I love your 24-hour flower markets, alive with barter banter and the smell of tropical flowers waiting for their new home.

I love the tiny fishing villages of Ha Long Bay, and how excited children get to watch you cruise past.

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I love the emerald rice terraces of Sa Pa, carved long ago by ethnic minorities.

I love how polarising you are, and how little you care. You don’t exist to please, and if people are uncomfortable, well- there’s always the more developed Thailand. 

I love whizzing through the city grid, whipping around corners on the back of a motorbike, dodging traffic like it’s a level in the latest video game.

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I love the sweet relief of sugarcane juice, the secret to cooling down on one of your humid, unbearably hot days.

I love how you stack more on a bike than one could ever imagine possible- crates balanced delicately, zipping through narrow streets, proving to the doubters that it’s always possible to do more.

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But most of all, I love that you’re the kind of place that awakens your senses and pulls you in from all angles. 

Vietnam, you’re the place in SE Asia I never knew I needed to visit so badly.

I’m painstakingly awaiting my return.

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Have you been to Vietnam? If not, what are you waiting for? 

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading.
Most of the content on this blog is written with the intent of serving others- tips for trip planning, city guides or inspiration to visit new destinations.
Posts like this are a chance for me to express how I feel about a place or experience in a way I wouldn’t normally share here.

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