Visiting Vietnam 15 Years Later

Vietnam is an exciting country in terms of economic development and food

Most meaningful experience: I visited Vietnam again in November, 2015 – more than 10 years after my last trip. Seeing the economic growth and the potential for more excited me. Spending time with new and old friends. Sleeping in a village for a night while biking around Mekong Delta. The fast Wi-Fi was everywhere – we were so impressed.

  • Spend a few days exploring the rural villages of the Mekong Delta on a bicycle tour.
  • Visit Hoi An to sample Vietnam’s best banh mi, great cooking classes, and purchase high-quality tailored clothes.
  • Go to Halong Bay for a relaxing boat cruise
  • Visit outside of the main tourist destinations – if you have time, which I didn’t.

It had been almost a decade since I’d been to Vietnam when I’d visited Saigon, the Mekong Delta and Nha Trang. I went with my good buddy Alex. I remember that everyone thought we were military guys because of our shaved heads, cargo pants, and buff arms. Our visit had coincided with the Tet New Year celebrations and I remember hanging out eating street food and drinking beer out of Ziploc bags. I was excited to return and explore more of this fascinating country, beginning in the northern hub of Hanoi.

As we made our way from the airport to our hotel in Hanoi, it was immediately apparent that Vietnam was exploding with prosperity. We were staying in the heart of the Old Town, which was a maze of shops, hotels and bars where people spilled onto the pavement. Our first meal was at a famous eatery that dishes up steaming bowls of pho and crab meat rolls – the quintessential taste of Vietnam.

From Hanoi we headed to Halong Bay for a couple of days cruising on an old junk boat, surrounded by jungle-clad limestone islands. We ate, swam (at one point I swam two kilometers between junks) and relaxed onboard, soaking up the views across the beautiful bay.

We then flew down to Saigon for an exciting three-day bike tour through the Mekong Delta with the team from Vietnam Bike Tours. In the simmering heat we rode between villages and local craft shops while experiencing the hum of local life – we even saw a wedding! At night we stayed in homestays, which gave us an insight into the local lifestyle and a taste of authentic Vietnamese home cooking.

After our final night in a Can Tho hotel, we returned to the bustling city of Saigon, which has been officially renamed Ho Chi Minh City. It’s advanced significantly over the years, with plenty of coming-of-age affluent youngsters who have a taste for the nightlife. I reminisced about my previous visit and drinking beer out of a bag as I wandered by the central roundabout that now hosts Intercontinental and Sheraton hotels.

We met up with an old friend, Chi Ha, who took us to one of her favorite local restaurants, Cục Gạch Quán (www.cucgachquan.com.vn/en), which is situated in a charming colonial French house and offers a taste of times gone by. It was a stark contrast to the modern bars we visited afterwards where dance music blared, with our night of drinking finishing with some of the best pho I’ve ever tasted. I can find it for you if you email me :).

From Saigon I headed up the coast to the city of Hoi An, which has developed a thriving tourism industry thanks to its canal-lined Ancient Town. It’s undeniably quaint, with charming bridges and tourist-oriented boutiques, as well as excellent food such as the famous Madam Khanh – Banh Mi Queen store. It’s also the place to get a tailor-made suit!

I rented a bike to explore the area, riding around 20 kilometers through the sprawling surrounds of Hoi An. The oceanfront between the airport and the city is lined with high-rise hotels and resorts, and while much of it is still under development, I couldn’t help thinking that in 10 years time it would look like Miami.

From Hoi An it’s just a short hop north to Hue, which served as the seat of Nguyen Dynasty emperors and is dotted with old temples, pagodas and royal tombs as part of the UNESCO-listed Hue Imperial City. While exploring the city, I passed an old military remnants museum where planes, tanks and artillery stood as a reminder of the “American War”. When I returned to Saigon before flying out, I visited the War Remnants Museum and it brought tears to my eyes. Why does America make the decisions it does?

But with more than four decades since the war ended, Vietnam is now an exciting place to be and is ripe for business investment. Some economists predict its GDP will grow by 50% in a matter of only five years, largely due to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. With a hard working, reliable and educated technical workforce, a lot can happen if the communist government lets it.

But there seems to be an underlying skepticism from the locals as to whether this will deliver on its promises and many seem to be pinning their hopes on tourism instead. With great beaches, incredible food and a burgeoning adventure activity scene, I can understand why and Vietnam is definitely somewhere I want to spend more time on my next trip.

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