Dreaming of a wonderful holiday to some parts of Asia? Travelers often think of checking in quaint cafes, encountering busy traffic, seeing more motorbikes, visiting temples, eating noodles or rice or all that kind of Asian stuff, etc. Apparently, it will be a trip filled with all typical Asian culture to be featured. But will there be any significant difference between these countries? What makes a single country stand out of the crowd and differentiate from all other Asian similarities? If you the travelers think of going to Vietnam, don’t forget to plan to do the five really hands-on below. So that your authentic travel Vietnam memory will be filled with unique impression and unforgettable experiences.
Being on the back of a bike and getting lost in the crazily weaved traffic
Known as the popular mean of transport for locals, motorbikes will be seen everywhere, from big cities to remote villages. It’s convenient really, matching the flexible stereotype of the Vietnamese in their life and their incredibly dynamic work. Motorbike taxi – Xe om in Vietnam can obviously be a job for some people. Xe om is usually found parking nearby a market, street intersection, office areas, college, etc. It is simply a little sign “Xe om” waiting for the customers. The price is not structured by hours but mostly by the distance you are going to make. In some cases, it can be negotiable before you decide to go.
For example, if you would like a ride from West lake to Hoan Kiem lake, the very focal point of Hanoi, the reasonable price is approximately 60,000 VND (US$ 3) for a distance of about 6 kilometers. The recent Grab app has offered grab-bike taxi service with a more competitive price. However, the language might be a barrier as you need to call the guy who received your order.
If you have a local Vietnamese friend that would be great. It is the best option to try this experience as most Vietnamese have their own motorbike. Let’s take a deep breath and experience that, especially in Hanoi and Saigon where the traffic is more challenging. If you want to get that authentic Hanoi travel experience, search for some Vespa tour agents or contact a local tour operator to arrange. A Vespa guy will come up, takes you around his hometown like a city tour. All you need to do is to relax but hold his waist firm and watch the magical chaos of traffic. It’s pretty sure that you will have a lot of fun to tell your friends about your travel to Vietnam.
Sitting on the low plastic chair at the street sidewalk to enjoy the yummy street foods
Life in Vietnam makes a good and diverse exposure from the streets where all kind of activities happen. You will gain a lot of new findings and learn for yourself by walking street after streets and observing the daily life of locals. The bonus part of these Hanoi walking tours will bring you with a lot of chances to taste and to enjoy the foods along the streets. Absolutely, if you are a foodie fan, Vietnam is one of the best metropolitan areas for your street food adventure.
When having authentic travel to Vietnam, many travelers confessed that they loved the food tasted right in the street better than the ones served in a restaurant. Believe or not but it is true for me. I’d love to enjoy it right after the foods left the frying pan or the charcoal and hand to you. Let’s act like a local whether you are traveling in Hanoi, Saigon, Cantho, Haiphong or Hoi An. Find the recommended places and just sit down the low plastic chair of the street food vendors. The crowded it is, the better as that’s how we rate a good street restaurant. Watch the locals the way they order the foods then get the mouth-watering food for you.
There are hundreds of street-side family restaurants locating in the central areas of every big city. Let alone other hundreds dotting around other parts of the city and making it so convenient for local diners. Now you know why the giant Mac Donald failed to come to Vietnam years before.
Practicing Tai Chi by the sunrise in magnificent Halong Bay
Words fail to describe the beauty of Halong Bay, a famous Natural World Heritage dotted with around 2000 limestone islands and rock formation. It’s often said that traveling to Vietnam without Halong Bay is just like you haven’t been to the country yet. So Halong Bay cruise tours are always on the offer of every travel company.
A tour to Halong Bay is always with several options; 2D-1N cruise, 3D-2N cruise or simply a day trip from Hanoi. To name a few famed cruise operators, you might do a search for Indochina Junk, Paradise Cruise or Orchid Cruise. Only with overnight cruise option, you can have the once-in-a-lifetime experience of practicing the Tai Chi by the sunrise in the middle of this legendary bay. Imagine a peaceful early morning, you wake up with the singing of the birds from the nearby rock islands. Open the window of your cabin, look out and question yourself – “am I in paradise, is it real?”. As the natural setting is so impressive with emerald water and splendid rock formation. Trust me, you can smell the floral and flowers fragrance from the nearest mountain, the fresh air and a wonderful feeling to be in the middle of the Bay.
The sun is about rising up, lighting its early rays across the awesome karst formation of Halong Bay. The mild breeze from the air and the surround setting is just like the old Chinese paintings. All that make your Tai Chi session at the cruise’s sun-deck so tempting and promising a memorable experience. The Tai Chi trainer will make a quick instructive briefing and start his demo so everyone can join and follow. It’s so quiet then, no sound but just the breeze, the slow movement of attendants along with the instructor, the breath in & out. Just amazing!!
Don’t forget your camera or your picture phone. You might want to capture this moment, to record this stunning time, to make a nice picture of you doing Tai Chi in your travel to Vietnam. Change the avatar of your Facebook then, you will have more than enough “like” and “love” or “wow” icons.
Watching the hustle morning of a wholesale floating market in Mekong river
The floating markets in Vietnam is different from orderly organized ones in Thailand that operate daily during the daytime. The Cai Rang or Phong Dien market in Mekong river shows its uniqueness and nowhere in the world. Those wholesale markets are trading points for Mekong farmers. Traders who come and deal with the big volume of products. Each of the big boats turns out as a big floating truck fully loaded with the agricultural products. At the boat front, a big bamboo pole will be hung with a few product samples like papayas, melons, oranges, durians, etc. With the aim that their product to be easily spotted out from many other navigating boats in the same area.
Not only with buyers and sellers, there will be some boats selling coffee, breakfast to serve those early bird traders. And there’s no better way than making the market time visit happen before a day really starts. To see the best of these markets, you better make it in between 5.30 – 6.30 am. The most suggested one is Cai Rang, located 25 minutes boat ride from Ninh Kieu boat quay in Can Tho city. You can easily deal and arrange for the boat trip with some guys who own boats, better do it the afternoon before. They are mostly found by the quay and to offer the use their service with around 450,000 – 500,000 VND. Another option is to have your arrangement through a local operator or a travel company to secure the boat trip if you are not confident in dealing directly with a strange local.
It’s more than just a market. It is a great show in the early morning, very live and fascinating.
Dining the traditional meal in a local hosted family – a must-try in your travel to Vietnam
There is no better way to understand a culture if you are not interacting with it. When you travel to Vietnam, apart from what you have read from home, there are always questions in mind for what you have seen on the streets, on your way to travel.
The questions might be like I don’t see many elderly people in streets, where are they now? Why there are a lot of men sitting in the street, what are they looking for? Or simply a question that I myself hardly find the right answer to you is why there are women wearing their sleeping pajamas and going to shopping or banks? These are the good questions of the nature of travel is to see and to learn the differences, mostly in history and culture aspect. Would you like to hear the answers from all different angles, by different ages and in an open but warmly discussion? You can’t find a better way doing it than checking in a typical family in Vietnam. It is where three generations can still be found under the same roof.
A dinner is like the best time for the family gathering as when everyone comes back from a working, schooling day. It’s not a rule but there is always the rough preparation from the elderly, the grandparents; then the parents to really cook and the kids to prepare the dining table. Everyone just sits down and talks about their day, reviewing the family stories, and talking about the days ahead or something like this.
Being a guest in a locally hosted meal, you will learn a lot through all their stories. Hear from their explanations for your questions, explore their home, see their antiques if any, get to know the family history and how they live. For foodie lovers, you will love to have cooking recipes from the family and some tips how to make the food better in a local way. I’m sure it’s such a nice chance to learn the real local life, to learn from those sharing and to socialize with members of your host family.
This is not a popular service but some travel agency in Vietnam have their own network of hosted families. It can be in Mekong, Dalat, Saigon, Hoian or Hanoi. Let check up with the travel operator if they can arrange for you. It is advisable to bring a bottle of wine or some postcards, T- shirts of your hometown as gift if you are able to make this opportunity possible. It’s worth planning a tour of Vietnam itinerary 2 weeks, and it will fill your memory of a true Vietnam forever.
Tim Lee – Travel Specialist