Freshly arrived in Saigon 2 months ago, we already fell in love with this city! 🙂
First surprise : the traffic. As French, we usually do not see so many motobikes on the road. We were especially shocked by the fact that they don’t stop at every red light or overtake the bus at less than 20 centimeter.
After 40 min spent in the cooling and connected bus, I arrived in district 1, here I met my friend in a little hidden guesthouse. After he packed, we went by Uber (lucky us!) to our new house, that we found easily on Facebook. Finding a place to live it’s not a big deal as there is a big network of expats in the city.
On our way to go, we discovered this amazing city with all thoses little shops selling everything that can be sold, the typical architecture with the contrast of narrow houses and brand new big buildings, the basic restaurants filled with little tables and chairs, filled themselves with foods and beers, all of thoses motobikes that an entire family drives, holding sometimes a baby or a fridge.
Once at the house at 7am, the good smelling barbecue made by a vietnamese man for breakfast welcomed us!
After we met a french expat who is working here as landlord since 6 months. Thanks to him, we learnt many basic informations that we needed for living in this city: where to exhange money, how to behave (the hand shaking movement to say “no/I don’t know”), how to drive in this crazy traffic and the cost of life.
Finally on week-end, my roomate and I decided to go discovering our new place, it was time to drive inside that traffic jungle, find out where to buy food and home stuffs and having parties in the famous Bui Vien street. For food, there is nothing easier, street foods and little restaurants are here to provide you a range of dishes from basic rice with meat to famous vietnamese sandwich (Banh Mi Thit ) and the typical noodles soup (Pho). The good news: you can take away everything!
For driving, it might look difficult because of the impressive number of motobikes, but all actually drive in the same way : just adjusting your speed to the one in front of you and don’t give any care of the one behind you. After being aware of that rule, we are now enjoying the city much more than if we hadn’t learnt how to drive because motobike is just life here!
Last but not least, partying in Saigon. Night life is just crazy and fun: you can drink for cheap, the city has a lot of different kind of bars and people from everywhere in the world ! Most of the big parties are in Bui vien street but thanks to its diversity, you can just find your own spot and enjoy the night life!
Finally, if I have to resume my life in Saigon in one word, it could be FREEDOM
Tip : You are by yourself and don’t know what to do tonight ? Go to the TnR // 57 Do Quang Dau,District 1, Hô-Chi-Minh-Ville 700000Read more
Delightful for those interested in history and culture, Hue is the old capital from the Nguyen dynasty, a vibrant town with ruins and interesting architecture. Located close to Hoi An, it is the perfect stop if you are crossing Vietnam from south to north or the other way around.
The imperial citadel.
From 1802 to 1945, the Nguyen dynasty made Hue the national capital, as noticeable from the main attraction in town: the imperial citadel. Called Dai Nôi in Vietnamese, this is the old fortified city where the emperor and the royal family used to live.
Now partly in ruins due to the bombings and past wars, but there is a lot of infrastructures still standing. It is a beautiful and interesting site for those looking for culture and history.
You can visit different palaces (such as the Thai Hoa, or coronation hall), temples and galleries, understand better the life of the royal family and the city in general, or even just roam around and take photos of beautiful old architecture. The entry is 150.000 dong but it’s totally worth it, needless to say, the place is a Unesco World Heritage so it will certainly enrich your trip with a better cultural understanding of this country!
The traditional court music has been proposed to Unesco as well. Every two years there is a big festival celebrating Hue culture and music being a big part of it. Do research before coming since you may be lucky enough to be able to attend it 🙂
The guardian statues at the Tomb of Khai Dinh.
Don’t miss the complex of Tombs of the Emperors on the surroundings of the city, easily reachable by road but also by boat along the Perfume river. The guardian statues defending the emperor will welcome you and, inside the tombs, there are delightful decorations and intricate ceramics works. The admission for each tomb is 100.000 dong but it is better to buy the 360.000 dongs ticket which includes the entrance to the citadel and three tombs (valid for two days). And definitely the three you must go are the Tomb of Khai Dinh, the Tomb of Minh Mang and the Tomb of Tu Duc.
The architecture of the Tomb of Khai Dinh.
Besides that you can visit the beautiful Thien Mu Pagoda, or the Pagoda of the Celestial Lady, a symbol of the city. With its seven-storey architecture, it sits peacefully on the river bank of Perfume, the river that crosses the town. The river is also an icon of Hue – take full advantage of it and have a stroll along its promenade. Don’t forget to enjoy the street food!
And indeed, Hue is quite famous for its food. There is a big difference between everyday food (that people commonly eat) and imperial food (that the royal family used to eat)! Some examples of popular local dishes are the tiny mussel rice (com hen) and bún bò Hue, a beef noodle soup that is specific of this city. Don’t forget to try also the grilled meat vermicelli (bun thit nuong) and the khoai cakes (banh khoai) which are fried rice cakes served with different things such as eggs and shrimps.
The colorful incense sellers decorate the city and its surroundings.
Hope this article made you curious about Hue, definitely one of the highest cultural spots in your journey.
Start your Vietnam trip from Ho Chi Minh and then go up the coast from there. You can visit Hue and Hoi An on your way to the north.
Check the options to reach Ho Chi Minh on Camboticket website, for instance from Phnom Penh is just a six hours trip!
Hoi An is a Unesco World Heritage city, with lot of cute Chinese-style shop houses telling the story of this once prosperous port town of the Champa empire. The old town makes a charming break from the typically Vietnamese roads, always crowded with traffic and noise. Here there are pleasant streets to walk around while enjoying the old architecture.
Typical front of an Assembly Hall.
Hoi An is an old city in Quang Nam province, with more than 2000 years of history. It was once crucial for trade during the Champa empire, the ancestor state of the ethnic group Cham. Nowadays their descendants are living between Cambodia and Vietnam.
It’s near the sea and well connected through the Thu Bon river, with a more cozy feeling than the nearby city of Danang. This is mainly due to its small pedestrian streets, very pleasant for a walk, especially in the evening, where the temperature is cooler and people lighten up many colorful Chinese lanterns – probably the main reason that contributes to the general charm from which this town is known.
During the day, renting a bicycle is a good option to explore the city and its surroundings!
To enjoy the old town you will have to pay an entrance ticket of 80.000 VND or 120.000 VND (respectively Vietnamese and foreigner prices).
It will give you access to five of the various attractions scattered on the streets of the old town. Some are old Chinese houses such as Quan Thang, Diep Dong Nguyen, Tan Ky, Phung Hung and Tran family chapel, others are beautiful (and sometimes very kitschy) assembly halls such as Quang Dong, Phuoc Kien, Trieu Chau and Hai Nam. There are also some museums, namely the museum of history and culture, the museum of folk culture, the museum of trade ceramics, and the museum of Sa Huynh culture. Check the map to see the addresses and choose the five attractions where you want to use your ticket.
Colors in the walls in the old town.
Probably the most famous feature of Hoi An is the Chinese-style shop houses’s aarchitecture, not really part of the local community anymore (which sold most of them to tourism businesses) but at least still a pretty picture of the old Chinese influence in this town. Being near the sea and having such a huge trade importance for the Champa empire, the city was exposed to many external influences. The major ones were from China, as you can notice from the typical Chinese architecture of the shops in the main roads, and people from Arabic countries, who slowly converted the Cham people from Hinduism to Islam. Nevertheless, the Muslim culture is hard to see here. Some places like Kampong Chhnang or Kampong Cham in Cambodia better to dig into their culture and lifestyle.
Nevertheless, the city has many influences. For instance in terms of spirituality which is an eclectic mix of Buddhism, worshiping of Chinese deities and animist practices. Japanese influences are also visible: don’t miss the photogenic Chua Cau, better known as Japanese Bridge.
The river that passes in Hoi An.
You can also cross the Thu Bon river and visit the islands of An Hoi and Cam Nam. Perfect for your evening strolls lighten up by the colorful lanterns spread along the river and nearby streets.
If you are interested in shopping, go beyond the somehow bland businesses of clothes or shoes and beware of people trying to advise you on where to go. They are certainly doing it for the commission they’ll receive afterwards!
Also the city is quite famous for its ability to produce clones of your clothes. Practice your bargaining skills and go to one of the countless tailors in town!
If you want to escape shopping, rent a bicycle and explore the surrounding villages. Many of them with interesting handicraft traditions and definitely more genuine products, like wood-carving, ceramic, skillful carpentry and bronze making. Check your map to find, for instance, Tra Que Vegetable village, Thanh Ha pottery village and Kim Bong carpentry village. Other places to visit are Bay Mau coconut forest, Cham island and the tombs of old Japanese traders.
Fields on the surrounding of the city (the wheat for the white roses must come from somewhere!)
And, of course, don’t forget to try some of the local delicacies! For example the Hoi An-style chicken rice (locally known as Com Ga), the quang noodles, white rose (special shrimp dumplings to dip in an unique sauce, called banh bao vac by the locals) and the Cao Lau. This is the signature dish of the city, with pork and yellow noodles, crispy croutons and vegetables. The main secret? The water used in the dish must come from one of ancient wells in town.
One last note, before going to Hoi An check the lunar calendar. Every 14th and 15th motorbikes can not enter in the old town, and they organize a full moon festival on 14th night, including many cultural activities and folk games where local people celebrate the old prosperity of the city. Try to plan your trip for that time of the month!
A random tree with small Chinese lanterns.
There are many reasons to go visit the charming old town of Hoi An. An evening strolls near the canals and the colorful Chinese lanterns are images that will always stay in your memory.
Have a look on Camboticket website for tickets to Ho Chi Minh, a great place to start your Vietnamese trip. From there you can then make your way up along the coast to Hoi An!Read more
With ancient culture and many centuries of history, costumes, rituals, traditions and spiritual practices in Vietnam are extremely rich and complex. The main religion is a branch of Buddhism called Mahayana, with many influences from Chinese culture, including Taoism and Confucianism. Besides that, there is still a strong presence of ancient folk traditions. So with a melting pot as complex and rich as this, there is definitely a lot to explore in terms of culture and religion in Vietnam!
As much arms as Vietnam has influences in its religion and culture.
While Buddhism came from India (it started around 2500 years ago with Prince Siddhartha, but only came to Vietnam in the second century BC), Confucianism and Taoism arrived in the country with Chinese immigrants, when Vietnam was a colony of China (111 BC to 938 AD).
They were all mixed in Buddhism that became the official religion during the Ly dynasty of 1010 to 1214. Confucianism brought the social order and hierarchies, the notion of loyalty and morality. In fact it is focusing a lot on obligations to others such as family, society and authorities.
In the opposite spectrum, Taoism is all about freedom from conventions and following the effortless flux of nature. It’s about the harmony between everything, simplicity and the ability to be patient and let things following their natural course. Morals are replaced by the belief that everything has a positive and a negative side, light and darkness, male and female energies. Remember that yin and yang symbol that is nowadays so cliché in stickers, t-shirts or tattoos? 🙂
Incense burning in a temple in Hanoi.
The co-existence of these three religions is called ‘tam giáo’, or the three teachings. Buddhism is the organized religion that most people in Vietnam identify with (the majority identify themselves with the folk religions but we will cover this later!). One of the particularities of Vietnamese Buddhists compared to other Asian countries Buddhism is the love for Quan Am, a female bodhisattva (a kind of saint in Buddhism, someone who dedicates his or her life to uplift the life of others). She was famous for her compassion and you will notice many statues in her honor, some of them quite huge! Another venerable figure is Thich Nhat Hanh. This Vietnamese monk brought Buddhist culture in western countries and wrote many books, making his philosophy very popular and spreading Buddha’s message of peace and love.
Monks are people too!
Other small religions that co-exist in the country are:
Last but not least, Vietnam still has very present its old folk traditions. This is the spiritual practice majority of population identify with, often mixing it with the organized religion. Besides a Buddhist temple, every village has a community house, ‘dinh’, where elders meet and spirits rest. Mediums or astrologers fill the markets, and people often consult them before taking decisions in their lives. This is still not recognized as a state religion and faced great repression under the communist governments. However, this type of animism still thrives in the imagination of Vietnamese people. They believe more in spirits (for instance the thần) than in the gods of the organized religions.
Small shrine with offerings to the spirits.
In a reportage for National Geographic, a Vietnamese man summarized quite well the spiritual practice of the country: “Most Vietnamese, the best educated and the illiterate alike, believe exactly what the emperors believed. They believe in the morality propounded by Confucius. They are in awe of vague Buddhism. Above all, they bow to the spirits. To the spirits of their ancestors and to many others, to the spirit of great men, to the spirits of the sky and the fields, of the trees and of the animals, to the spirits good and evil and changeable in between.”
Hope this article helped you clarify a bit the complex and rich culture and religion in Vietnam. Go explore the many temples, shrines, pagodas to learn more about what Vietnamese people believe!
If you need a bus from Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh, where you can start exploring visiting the “Vietnamese Notre Dame” or the main Caodaism temple nearby in Tây Ninh, check Camboticket website for the best tickets options!Read more
There are many conflicting opinions about Vietnam. Some talk about its magnitude and variety of adventures, others say it has already been spoiled by mass tourism. Of course everything is personal, depending on your journey, the type of traveler you are, the places you go and the people you meet. Nevertheless, there any many reasons to pack your bag and go explore Vietnam!
Rice fields in Sapa
1. Breathtaking Landscapes
Being natural or manmade, such as rice fields, Vietnam is filled with beautiful landscapes where you can immerse yourself in contemplation. Also during rainy season, when everything becomes brighter, you will be able to observe tones of green that you never saw before. You can find everything from mountains and valleys in Sapa or Dalat, to deserts in Binh Thuan, from paradise islands with pristine beaches such as Phu Quoc and Con Dao, to the awe-inspiring atmosphere of the mighty Mekong river. Take some time to get out of the main cities and go explore the wonders of this country.
Some random street market with strange food.
2. Colorful markets and delicious food
If there’s a country where your palate will be challenged and enriched, that country is Vietnam. With such an impressive food tradition, you will have so many things to try you’ll wish to just quit your life back home and stay here! The best strategy is to run away from tourist-focused restaurants and the repetition of just eating pho or spring rolls. Meet some local person, and go explore with your new friend the street food since s/he will certainly know the best and more genuine places. And don’t forget to eat some banh cuon, bun cha or some banh xeo for us 🙂
A street shop selling incense sticks.
3. A trip to your senses
Vietnam is magical when it comes to what it can offer to your senses! From the colors around you to the intricate smells that fuse freshly made food and incense.. Focus on the present moment and learn to pay attention to your feelings. For sure you will have a hell of a ride exploring Vietnam!
Which one will you choose, traditional sugar cane juice or some canned soft drink?
4. Mix of old and new
This country is an interesting mixture of old and new, traditions and culture living side by side, with an unstoppable urge of progress and survival. Communism and capitalism holding hands, for bad and for good. This is a country filled with contradictions and opposite polarities merged together. Some interesting cities where you can see this marriage are Hue and Hoi An. They are quite close to each others and filled with ancient history and architecture.
Never too much.
5. Street life and local routines
As any other Southeast Asian country, Vietnam has a dynamic lifestyle emerging from its streets, with a busyness and a desire to strive that is difficult to find elsewhere. From the tireless workers carrying everything in their motorbikes with a balance that provoke envy to many circus artists, to the welcome of the new day with the morning exercises around lakes or public parks. Without forgetting the countless tiny plastic benches placed on the sidewalks in the evening, where people drink draft beer with friends, an iconic image of this country. In Vietnam life happens on the street and not inside the houses. And, of course, the best options to see this energy are the two biggest cities: Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh.
An apprentice for monk.
6. Welcoming people
Last but not least, we cannot forget the people. Get out the tourist spots, where people who earn their living with tourists (many of them already fed up with disrespectful young backpackers with too much alcohol in their bodies!) can be less empathetic and smiley. You will find the core of Asian culture: smiles and open arms, willingness to welcome you, show you the culture and make you try the food. Embrace and connect, people are always the most memorable part of your travels.
Hope we gave you some reasons to visit and explore Vietnam! 🙂
Take your ticket to Ho Chi Min, a great place to start your Vietnamese journey, on Camboticket website. Here you ca find the best options!Read more
We have to confess, after living some time in Southeast Asia, it is difficult not to developed a soft spot for the Mekong river. Its opaque brown waters, flowing through the mist, its riverbanks filled with dense jungle… You may remember iconic movies such as Apocalypse Now, and the journey into the heart of Indochine looking for Captain Kurtz!
Moreover, being such a long river crossing so many countries, there are countless places to visit, cultures to discover, experiences to have.
This is kind of a homage to the Mekong, its power and influence on the lives of millions of people in Asia.
Mekong while passing on Isaan province, on northeast of Thailand.
A Thai fisherman that lived and worked all his life on the Mekong.
The art of fishing!
It flows through six different countries, for more than 4350 kms. Starting in China, it goes through Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and ends up in a delta in Vietnam. It has the world’s largest freshwater fisheries and, with 800 different native species, the richest biodiversity in the world following the Amazon river.
A country such as Laos, with its untouched nature in so many places, is a great introduction to the river, with many little villages in smaller rivers connecting to the Mekong. There you can observe the traditional lifestyle of people living there for generations and generations, mainly fishing or rice farming with the irrigation water also coming from the river. And in the South of Laos, in a place that is famously called Si Phan Don or 4000 Thousand Islands, you will be able to find really relaxing places to spend some days on a cheap bungalow, reading a book, visiting incredible waterfalls such as Khone Phapheng waterfall, engaging yourself in water sports or simply swimming and watching beautiful sunrises.
Public park on the side of Mekong, in Vientiane, the Laotian capital.
Sunset on South Laos.
A market on the riverbank of the Mekong, in Laos.
In Thailand you can find the river in the north, near Laos border. The main province the river crosses is Isaan, a very beautiful and not very touristy area. It is a rural area, focused on agriculture, with genuine and honest people, little villages, happy lifestyle and a lot of smiles in the faces you will see on the streets. One of the main attractions is Chiang Khan, probably the cutest village in the world! Mainly a couple of streets where cars aren’t allowed, filled on both sides with pretty wooden houses and little coffeeshops. Also do not forget a very relaxing promenade along the Mekong with ridiculously beautiful sunsets on the Laotian side.
Other man fishing on the Mekong during sunset.
Rice fields with irrigation from the Mekong river.
After these two countries the river continues to Cambodia, where interacts closely with the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, one of the most varied ecosystems in the world. Tonlé Sap lake is a biosphere reserve with an ecological status from UNESCO! Three million people live around its banks and depend on it for livelihood: the lake provides more than half of the fish consumed in the entire country. It is also a crucial breeding site for a lot of the species that cross the Mekong river.
Besides the houses on stilts around the lake, a vibrant community lives literally on it, on floating villages. Fishermen catch fishes with cone-shaped nets from their floating houses. This represents such a strong part on the national culture that even the currency is called riel, after a common small carp they usually catch and eat.
The difference in the water level between rainy and dry season on Tonlé Sap lake in Cambodia.
And not only its people but also a diverse ecosystem lives on the lake’s basin. Over 300 species of fresh water fishes, reptiles, 100 varieties of water birds and around 200 plants, all depending on the natural cycles of rising and falling waters. A good news is that it is very close to Siem Reap! If you are visiting Angkor Wat, it’s really worth it to spend a couple of days here. You can choose for instance Kampong Khleang, one of the most interesting floating villages in the lake.
A Cambodian local who works in boat tours with tourists.
Besides the functional part of it, this lake and the Mekong are interdependent. In fact, during rainy season, it’s the river’s water that fills the lake to a volume up to 80 km3. On the other side, during dry season, the water flows from the lake on the Mekong, bringing Tonlé Sap close to one km3. There is a difference of 10 meters in the water level between the two seasons!
It’s so important for the culture that there is an old Khmer saying, associating the changes in the water level to the impermanent and interdependent character of everything. “When the water rises, the fish eats the ant; when the water recedes the ant eats the fish.”
The Mekong delta on south Vietnam.
Continuing to the south of Cambodia, passing by Phnom Penh, the river finally arrives to its last country, with its delta in the south of Vietnam. In the delta, a vast triangular plain of 55.000 km2, live 18 million people, supported by the river for fish and rice cultivation. The delta is the most productive region in the entire country: 2.6 million for agriculture and rice yield representing around 55% of the national production, besides around 58% of the fishery output. Along with the fishing boats, the scenery is composed by floating houses focused on aquaculture (representing 2/3 of Vietnamese fisheries), crucial for the local population.
And, of course, its natural beauty makes this area one of the most visited of the country by tourists. The town of Bên Tre, with canals and boat tours along the delta’s farms, is one of the most beautiful places in Vietnam.
The beautiful canals on the riverbank of the Mekong, in Bên Tre, Vietnam.
It’s definetely worth it to take some months and follow the Mekong river along the Southeast Asian countries it crosses. You will be definetely inspired by natural beauty, culture and intense relationship between the locals and its rhythm.
Check Camboticket website for cheap tickets to many of this places! Like Paksé and 4000 Islands in Laos, Siem Reap, Phnom Penh or Kratie in Cambodia and Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam.Read more