Southeast Asia is one of the most dynamic regions in the world. Thanks to its plethora of different people, cultures and landscapes, the region tops the to-visit lists of many travelers these days. But while you should make time for the beaches of Thailand, the temples of Cambodia, the natural wonders of Myanmar, and the mountains of Laos, make Vietnam your first stop in Southeast Asia.
Here are five reasons to visit Vietnam.
1. Vietnam has everything.
From bustling urban centers to rustic mountain villages, from cheap-and-cheerful local haunts to luxe five-star resorts, options abound in Vietnam. For R&R, head for the shores of Phu Quoc or Con Dao, the country’s best island destinations, or live it up on the mainland in Nha Trang, beach capital of Vietnam. Tap into local culture on the central coast, where a centuries-old trading port, the relics of an imperial dynasty, and Vietnam’s most up-and-coming urban hotspot bring together the best of the country’s past, present and future. When you’re ready for Vietnam’s high-octane city life, pay a visit to Hanoi, the thousand-year-old capital, or head down to the fast and furious urban jungle of its freewheeling southern cousin, Ho Chi Minh City.
Off the tourist trail, some of Vietnam’s most impressive landscapes await in more remote corners of the country. Invest in a motorbike and blaze your own trail on the Northwest Loop or trek into the subterranean chambers of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, home to the world’s largest cave. From the lush rice terraces of the northwest all the way to the flooded forests of the Mekong Delta, this little country is full of adventures.
2. You can travel on a shoestring and still make the most out of your trip.
As one of the most affordable destinations in all of Asia (check out the data on Price of Travel, a budget traveler resource website), your money goes a long way in Vietnam. Even in major cities, budget backpackers can get by on less than US$20 a day and still manage to make the most of their trip. Being frugal doesn’t mean you have to deny yourself: with a fast-growing tourism industry comes greater competition, meaning that a shoestring budget can still include quality accommodation and plenty of sightseeing when done right. By knowing exactly when to splurge and when to save, you can make the most of your Vietnam trip without breaking the bank.
3. Vietnamese culture is one-of-a-kind.
Where Cambodia has Angkor Wat and Thailand boasts a Royal Palace beyond compare, Vietnam’s main attraction is its culture. It may not be a country of grand monuments or jaw-dropping sights, but life in Vietnam is unlike anywhere else. Whether you’re taking a white-knuckle motorbike ride through downtown HCMC, befriending the locals at a Hanoian bia hoi or tucking in to a world-class meal from a street-side vendor anywhere in Vietnam, daily life in Vietnam is full of excitement.
The country’s energy is infectious, emanating from its vibrant cities as well as the larger-than-life landscapes in the furthest reaches of the country. Back up these everyday scenes with a cultural history full of epic heroes like Tran Hung Dao, Ly Thai To, and the famous Trung sisters, and you’ll find there’s much more to discover by chatting up a local than sticking to the tourist trail.
4. Travel in Vietnam is getting easier.
As tourism booms across Southeast Asia, the Vietnamese government has stepped up its efforts to attract more foreign visitors. In addition to a host of visa exemptions for short-term visitors, tourism authorities plan to cut tourist visa fees in half by the end of November. Vietnam’s National Administration of Tourism is beginning to actively promote the destination abroad as part of a bid to entice foreign travelers to visit the country.
Beyond Vietnamese tourism efforts, the country’s development seems to have hit hyper speed in the last couple years, with scores of new infrastructure projects cropping up to save time and make cross-country travel both safer and more efficient. It may not be the sexiest selling point of a trip to Vietnam, but improved road conditions, upgraded train ticketing and the country’s fast-growing aviation industry all go a long way to helping travelers spend more time exploring the country and less time stuck in transit.
5. Now is the perfect time.
Vietnam has long been a fascinating destination, but now more than ever the country seems to be hitting its stride. While heavily-toured Thailand and ultra-modern Singapore offer comfort, and wild—but sometimes dangerous—adventure awaits in less-developed nations like Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, Vietnam stands right in the middle. With just the right balance of modern convenience and traditional culture, Vietnam makes for a fascinating juxtaposition of old and new that has yet to be discovered by the masses.