A wanderer and a backpacker at heart, I love exploring the road less traveled. Vietnam, one of South East Asia’s less commercialized but wildly fascinating countries, made for the perfect backpacking adventure.
Vietnam, here I come!
Vietnam is every backpacker’s dream. Thanks to the country’s undulating history and unique natural topography, there’s so much to see and experience.
If you want to get a dose of modern Vietnam in all its vivid and vitality, you must visit Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnam’s largest city (formerly known as Saigon) is the real life version of the fast and furious. Bikes whiz across its busy streets, while the sidewalks are filled with stalls and food carts. The city is always on the move, much like my beloved Bombay! Read:10 Awesome Things To Do In South Mumbai
A local flavour
District One, located in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City, attracts hordes of backpackers from all over the world thanks to its countless accommodation options at reasonable prices. For a true flavour of Saigon, I ditched the guided tours and simply wandered around the district (as the old adage goes, you haven’t really been in a city until you’ve been lost in it!) The maze-like lanes, cramped with homes, tiny eateries and wall paintings, are a delight to explore. Space is so limited in this area that locals park their motorbikes inside their living rooms.
To get a true flavour of Vietnamese cuisine, I had my meals at nondescript food stalls along the streets, chatting with stall owner over the famous Vietnamese pho (a traditional noodle soup). Wash it down with a glass of bai hoi (freshly brewed local beer) available on most street corners. Read: 6 Spectacular Restaurants Every Food Lover Must Visit
Must see, must do!
The Reunification Palace (Independence Palace) is a must visit for those fascinated by history. Formerly home to the President of South Vietnam, the Vietnamese War officially ended in 1975 when a North Vietnamese tank crashed through its gates. The nearby War Remnants Museum is dedicated to the Vietnam War.
Another must-visit is the Ben Thanh Market, crammed with hundreds of tiny stalls. You will find everything here, from little-known local fruits to branded knockoffs. The War Surplus Market is an interesting stopover, selling American military paraphernalia such as combat gear and Marine Zippo lighters. These supposedly date back to the Vietnam War but are of dubious authenticity.
The highlight of my time in Ho Chi Minh City was my visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels, the location of several military encounters during the Vietnam War. This intricate underground tunnel system—almost like an underground city—was created by the Viet Cong (South Vietnamese fighters). Visitors may crawl through the intricate tunnels, but most (including yours truly) give up halfway. My guide was a former US marine, whose colourful narrations were an absolute delight.
Excitingly enough, at the Cu Chi Shooting Range, visitors have the option of wielding a variety of weapons (pistol, hand grenade, even an AK-47!). Take a shot and pay by the bullet! Read: 9 Insanely Thrilling Bucket List Experiences – Do You Dare?
There’s more to Vietnam than just Ho Chi Minh City—starting from the capital of Hanoi, with its beautiful French architecture to the floating villages on the Mekong Delta. The Ha Long Bay with its breath-taking topography is often considered one of the natural wonders of the world. The ruins of My Son are a UNESCO world heritage site, while the beautiful island of Phu Quoc has the most idyllic beaches. Read: A Dummy’s Guide to South East Asia’s Most Iconic Beaches
This piece was originally published in the Times World Travel magazine – Nov ’14 issue.