For the longest time, Thailand was the classic Southeast Asian destination. Its beautiful beaches, cheap accommodations, and amazing food secured the country on the top of most travelers’ lists for the region. But over the last few years, Vietnam has started to steal the Southeast Asia spotlight—offering less-crowded and cheaper options for tourists. Here are nine reasons why Vietnam is the new Thailand (a.k.a., the best place to go in Southeast Asia right now).
Vietnamese cuisine is known for its fusion of flavors from many cultures: Take, for instance, the ubiquitous banh mi sandwiches, served on French baguettes but with traditional Vietnamese fillings such as pork belly, pate, fried eggs, tofu, or fresh vegetables. The country’s vast Buddhist population benefits vegetarian travelers, who will be able to find fake meat (usually made with tofu or seitan) at most restaurants. There’s also the famous pho noodle soup, sticky rice, steamed buns, and fresh rolls … we could go on forever.
It’s 3 Destinations in 1
Vietnam stretches over 2,000 miles of coastline, and can feel like three different countries. Vietnam’s distinct regions (north, central, and south) can all have varied climates during the same time of year—for example, it could be snowing in the far north mountains, while the far south experiences temperatures close to 90 degrees. Each area has its own unique scenery as well, from the mountains and bays in North Vietnam to the farmlands of Central Vietnam and the deltas of South
We’re firm believers that you should always try to learn some key phrases in a foreign language before you visit a new, non-English-speaking country. But in case you’re intimidated by the tough-to-master, tonal Vietnamese, you can be comforted by the fact that many people in Vietnam speak English. In fact, English is now taught to all public school students starting in the third grade. Locals are happy to converse with you in English but a few simple words or phrases like “xin chao” (hello) and “cam on” (thank you) in Vietnamese will go a long way.
Everywhere we went on our trip to Vietnam we were greeted by friendly locals who were happy to help travelers without expecting anything in return. The hospitality you’ll find here is worth checking out. Unlike in many other tourist destinations, we found that sellers here really will take your first “no” as an answer—you can shop without high pressure or hassle.
It’s Pretty Cheap To Get There
We found round-trip flights from New York City to Ho Chi Minh City in the $700s throughout the rest of the year. Not bad for a destination that’s about 20 hours away. It’s even cheaper from the West Coast: Fares are currently at a low of $680 round-trip for many dates in 2015.
It’s Really Inexpensive When You’re There
We traveled to Vietnam which starts at $1,699. This included seven nights of luxury hotels, eight meals, entrance fees, all ground transportation, international and domestic flights, and the services of English-speaking tour guides. Needless to say, things are cheap in Vietnam. At the time of writing, one US dollar was worth 21,815 Vietnamese dong according to xe.com. Your money will go very far in Vietnam.
Multiple course meals with alcohol cost less than $10 per person, and you can stay at five-star hotels for under $70 a night. If you’re more of a budget traveler, you could easily do Vietnam on less than $20 a day. (A refreshing beer will cost you less than a dollar!)
If you’re a history buff, you should know that Vietnam doesn’t shy away from its past. The War Remnants Museum, the Hoa Lo Prison Museum, and the Cu Chi Tunnels tours all give a no-holds-barred look back to the Vietnam War. You will definitely get a different perspective on the war than you may have learned in school, with displays showing how the Vietnamese lived during this time.