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Visiting Vietnam

All we hear about growing up in the United States is the Vietnam War, where our fathers fought. My father did, and I sat in front of the black and white screen of our t.v. watching Walter Cronkite every night waiting for him to mention my dad. He never did, thankfully. 

Visiting Small island shrine in Nha Trang Bay with road traffic crossing a bridge and fishing boats moored behind.
The bay of Nha Trang.

And so, when I started hearing what a wonderful place to visit Vietnam was, I had to go. Call it morbid fascination, but I couldn’t wait. Of course entering any communist country is a little unnerving; at least before you get there. 

It’s the preconceptions and the unknown that gets you. Once you get your visa stamped and are through customs, you look around and you begin to realize what a friendly people and what a beautiful country it is. Vietnam is a great Asian destination to visit with so much to do and see with frenetic cities, stunning countryside and rice paddies, and beautiful beaches.

Turtle stellas at the temple of literature in Hanoi.
Temple of Literature

We didn’t follow a set Vietnam itinerary, so we started our Vietnam travel in Hanoi and worked our way south. We hit a number of the big places to visit on the way, Hue, Hoi an, Nha Trang, and of course Ho Chi Minh City (still popularly known as Saigon). 

We traveled by public transportation and since everything was usually in a rather concentrated area, we walked. We took the train from Hanoi to Danang, and then it was a short taxi to Hue. The train had spectacular views. I’ve heard of many people taking the overnight trains as well, but we didn’t quite go that far.

Men play Go in a Hanoi park.
Woman crosses the road carrying a load balanced on baskets.
Vietnamese woman with traditional straw hat sorts beans in a basket.

Places to Visit in Vietnam


Hanoi – A very provincial city, looking like some old European capital with a certain flair, Hanoi was the perfect place to begin our Vietnam holiday. We did the usual stuff: water puppets, Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, temples and markets. All good.

Dragon head on the prow of a riverboat in Hue.


A wet city, Hue it rained the whole time we were there. The hotel had loads of mold in some of the rooms and at first we feared we would have to find another hotel, but finally the concierge found us a suitable room and we were mollified.

Hue is a host to many important sights in Vietnam, a series of which combines to make the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Complex of Hue Monuments. We visited the many areas and found that although the architecture was extraordinary and could have been quite majestic in their day, that at this time they were rather dilapidated. 

I’m hoping that being named a World Heritage Site and the continuing tourism that accompanies that prestige, that the powers that be will not only maintain the site, but do some much-needed repairs.

Carved stone in a Hue temple.
My Son
Overgrown relief carving on a temple wall in Hue.

Excursion to My Son from Hue

My Son is another UNESCO World Heritage Site, located up the famous Perfume River. The only way to get there is to take a day tour, but these are plentiful.The day we went was one of the drier of the few we were in the Hue area, so it was quite satisfying walking around the temple complex. Everything was very overgrown, and very green.

Covered bridge with ornate dragon sculptures.
Japanese Covered Bridge

Hoi An

Hoi an, yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site, was much cheerier than anything in Hue. Of course the major draw to this quaint town is the abundance of cheap tailoring.  Everywhere you walked, there were tailor shops promising to make you a suit, coat, or any other type of clothing that you desired. 

Street traffic in a backroad of Hoi An with colorful yellow buildings.

And yes, it would be done when you pull out of town. “We’ll have it to your hotel before you leave”…and they did. What fun to have clothes made for you. Hoi An is a town where a lot of backpackers head and then hang out for awhile and there were plenty of good little hang-outs, all kinds of restaurants and bars.

Additional Reading: The Best Hoi An Hotels

Round basket fishing boats on the shore near Nha Trang.
Vietnamese women wait for buyers at the floating fish market near Nha Trang.
Vietnamese woman rows our small basket boat.

Nha Trang

A resort town, Nha Trang is not someplace I would often head to, but the draw here was the little island where you can take a round boat made out of bamboo fronds to a fishing island. We never did find out what the island was called, but it was quaint and riding in the boats was a lot of fun.

The massive white Buddha at the Long Son Pagoda.

We also visited Long Son Pagoda with its gargantuan white Buddha. It was also a home for orphans who would try to peddle their artwork to you. The best part of this was running into a young man who was coddling his prize cock. Boy, was he proud of that bird.

Dozens of motorcycles crowd onto a river ferry in Ho Chi Minh city.

Ho Chi Minh

Our final stop was Ho Chi Minh City, which after the countryside and the charm of Hanoi just seemed like a money-grubbing metropolis. I’m sure there is plenty to see here other than the Continental Hotel made famous by the journalists during the war. 

We dove into the coffee shop out of a torrential rain. One thing we learned, going to Vietnam in December, is that I feel for those poor souls who had to trudge through the Mekong during those downpours.

Vietnamese temple garden with pond, lion statues, and colorfully painted walls.


To sum up our experience, this mysterious country, fraught with a sordid history that involves my own country, I loved it. Even though the sites were run-down and crossing the street was slightly hazardous, the food was delicious and the people were wonderful. I would go back in a heartbeat!

If you are interested, here is some further reading more about Vietnam travel and other parts of Asia!

Have you been to Vietnam? Any tips?

Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.

Pin Vietnam for later!
Visiting Vietnam.

Jim Vail

Wednesday 28th of December 2016

We did not get out into Ha Long Bay on our trip. We like to save something to go back for!


Friday 16th of December 2016

I absolutely cannot wait to visit Vietnam. It's been at the top of my travel list for a while and I'm hoping to go within the next year or so. I hear the street food is amazing; what did you think about it?

Jim Vail

Wednesday 28th of December 2016

The street food is amazing, definitely enjoy it!

Rhonda Albom

Saturday 3rd of December 2016

I have not yet been to Vietnam but I have heard wonderful things. I would like to do all of Southeast Asia including Myanmar.

Corinne Vail

Saturday 3rd of December 2016

Rhonda, I've not been to Myanmar either. I need to get there!


Friday 2nd of December 2016

I haven't been to Vietnam but my daughter went 2 years ago and proclaims it her very favorite country in all the world. She was there during Tet - the Vietnamese New Year - which made it extra special. She toured the cities, kayaked Ha Long Bay and cycled through the countryside. But her absolute favorite was Hoi An which she calls the city of Lanterns. In fact, she loved it so much she almost moved there. I'm sold - and have moved it to my top 10 places I want to visit.

Corinne Vail

Saturday 3rd of December 2016

Jill, It's a great country to visit for sure. We loved Hoi An and Nha Trang the most!