1. TAKE SOME MOTORBIKE LESSONS…
Why not?! I signed up for a class with Ride with Me Saigon and loved it! Find an instructor who will take you somewhere quiet (so not dropping you in the middle of the city) and patiently get you driving.
2. SO YOU CAN EXPLORE VIETNAM’S MAJOR LOOPS AND HIGHWAYS!
Vietnam is covered in some seriously scenic place best seen via motorbike. The two most famous are Ha Giang Loop super far north and Hai Van pass between Da Nang and Hue. But beyond that there are just so many! When you’re not in the major cities, you’ll find yourself just wanting a motorbike to get around. I never *got* why a lot of people liked motorcycles, but once I started driving I could see why. There’s just something so freeing about it that you don’t get in a car.
3. CAFE HOP LIKE YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT
Guys, the Vietnamese cafe scene might actually have Korea beat! I know, I’m shocked. There’s just so much coffee in this country, I wouldn’t be shocked if someone came out with a statistic that people purchased more iced coffees than water bottles here.
On one level, you’ve got your ca phe sua dua stands where you can just walk up and get your iced coffee to go complete with a little carrier bag. Then you’ve got the more local places that are wide open and lots of people are just chilling and smoking from the low chairs and tables. Milano Coffee is basically a chain of this. Then you’ve got your wonderfully trendy cafes that just make my heart sing. I promise I’m working on some blog posts to give you specific recommendations (for now they live on my Instagram highlights!).
I know I drank way too much coffee here because my eye started twitching at different times and when I Googled why, I was told it could be from caffeine and a lack of sleep!
4. LEARN MORE ABOUT VIETNAM’S VARIOUS ETHNIC MINORITIES AND RELIGIONS
This recommendation may seem a bit odd as 85% of Vietnam is Vietnamese and 74% is atheist, but the country has a really interesting history with ethnic minorities and various religions! When it comes to ethnic minority tribes, you’ll find many of them in the mountains especially Mu Cang Chai, Sa Pa, and the Central Highlands. If you go trekking, the main thing to do is to meet with some tribes and learn more about their culture within Vietnam.
Religion-wise, Vietnam feels like temple central! Seriously, in Cho Lon, Saigon’s Chinatown, alone, you could spend all day visiting each Buddhist temple. There is also a small presence of Catholicism around the country, so you’ll still find some beautiful Indochine cathedrals and churches.
The coolest thing I learned about though, was Caodaism. It’s a religion wholly unique to Vietnam and its version of the Vatican is in Tay Ninh. Once you see its temple style once, you’ll recognize it when you see it throughout the country.
5. EXPLORE CHAMPA RUINS
Once upon a time, central and south Vietnam were part of the Champa Kingdom. As in from the 100s AD to 1832! Today what’s left of their rule are the Chams, now an ethnic minority mainly in Cambodia and Vietnam, and some incredible archeological ruins. The most famous is Mỹ Sơn near Hoi An, but you can find small ones throughout Vietnam like in Phan Thiet, Nha Trang, Binh Dinh, and more. Plus quite a few museums house some Champa artifacts like both the Fine Arts museums in Hanoi and Saigon!
6. LOOK FOR THE REMAINING FRENCH INFLUENCES IN VIETNAMESE CULTURE
French had control over Vietnam through the 1800s and early 1900s, and their presence is still felt throughout in the form of architecture and design. It’s kind of funny. I found Vietnam still loved the aesthetics of French colonial rule even though it’s, you know, related to French colonial rule.
You’ll see a lot of places use Indochine designs, and much of the French buildings are still standing and in use. Kind of like the people decided, “We don’t want your oppressive colonialism, but you guys did have good style, so we’ll keep that.”
7. PLAN TO HIKE OR TREK AT LEAST ONCE
Even if you’re not a hiker, you’ve got to go at least once in Vietnam. The mountains are just too beautiful! The best places to do this are up in the ricefields of Sa Pa or Mu Cang Chai or the caves of Phong Nha. Of course, there are also various mountains you can do, but many of them have cable cars too, like Nui Ba Den (Black Virgin) and Fansipan.
8. GET TO KNOW VIETNAM’S COAST
If you look at a map of Vietnam, you’ll notice it has a lot of coastline. Ha Long Bay is the most famous area to visit and Da Nang is the best coastal city, but really there are a ton of towns and islands I hadn’t even heard of before I visited. Con Dao has my heart forever, and while I haven’t been to Phu Quoc yet, many of my friends love the resorts there (not so much the trash issue). For the Saigonese, Mui Ne and Phan Thiet are incredibly popular. I also loved Quy Nhon, especially staying at the Anantara there, and I have friends who stayed further south at Zannier Hotels Bãi San Hô and loved it too.