Backpacking Vietnam

Lokesh Kannan
5 min readApr 19, 2021

Was backpacking through Vietnam for 3 days in early 2020 (before the Pandemic) and some observations along the way,

Pretty Women:

One of the main things that you notice immediately in Vietnam is the presence of women everywhere. Drivers, shopkeepers, laborers — all women. Most shops are run by women and even in an isolated expressway many miles off the grid, the toll booth personnel issuing tickets are women. They are extremely hardworking (not that other women are not) and very hard to haggle with if you want to purchase anything from them.

Of all women, I found this one (in picture above) the most daring. This place is a peak in the Mua caves of Ninh Binh, very steep and difficult to reach and after much effort I was there. I climbed a large rock very carefully to only see this daring women sitting cooly, undaunted by the valley below, one small slip and you will never see her again.

Its hard to imagine how she managed to climb this rock in that dress holding a fan and that large hat. Her husband was taking pictures of her from below and I waved my hands and signaled her to pose for a picture, as the view from where I sat was perfect. She smiled and cooperated instantly. She is definitely one of the coolest women I have ever met. I ended up sharing the picture with her husband who was equally understanding. If being stoic was a religion, she is definitely god.

Outrageous food :

Lets not pretend. If you love food then you should never lie about the taste of food. Being a South Indian is a great problem here. We are much used to semi liquids like Sambhar, kurma, kolambu or rasam that compliment rice that rice on a plate without sambhar is simply empty.

If you are traveling to Vietnam, be prepared for some outrageous food options. Squids are very common. Vegetarian food is a rarity.

On the brighter side of things. There are certain delicacies that can be enjoyed only there. The famous Vietnamese Egg coffee is a beauty in its own making and available all time at the Giang Cafe in Hanoi.

The Ban Mi is a regular sub that is made with pork or beef and the Ban Mi 25 shop is where you go to have the perfect Ban Mi.

(Below) Loads of poor breads captured and transported to their concentration camps — Ban Mi 25 shops!

Pho is a another popular food that people eat in the morning. It tastes like a Chinese cousin of our parupu saadham, (dal rice) except that its non vegetarian food.

Don’t worry, the fruit bowl is the best option to play it safe.

Nature all the way :

There is no question, Vietnam is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Book a flight ticket, take a camera and go rock your Instagram feeds.

(Photos attached — Not a good photographer > portrait mode on)

(I was in Hanoi, Ha long bay and Ninh Binh). There are other historic places like Ho Chin Minh city.

Outlook on Indians :

Vietnamese have a good tolerance for Indians. They just don’t like our innate tendency to bargain when we go shopping. Indian currency is not adored while the US dollar is widely accepted in most shops and I recommend taking as much money as you can. The price tags are in dollars most of the time. Most shops have fantastic art work and you can get some good deals on apparels and shoes.

The lesson :

Viets are very resilient and hard working. They are deeply influenced by China. The export value of Vietnam in 2017 was 220 Billion USD (its then import value 204 Billion USD). They are the 26th largest exporter country the world (according to Wiki) but ranked 21st by the observatory of economic complexity. With a population of just 100 million people, they are good to do.

For a country claiming to be a socialist oriented market economy, their produce value and export relations are well balanced with other countries and we can be sure that Vietnam will steadily grow in the upcoming years (provided they don’t mimic China or Russia)

Conclusion :

Vietnam is a wonderful place. All of us have our personal favorites in Asia like Bali, Indonesia, Thailand etc but there is much to explore. The whole point of making this post is to encourage more people to travel to Vietnam and I hope some people do.

I stayed in a hostel in Hanoi and in its wall, someone had left this message. It translates to

“To stay in the same place is to live but to travel is to exist”

Go explore!