Ask Kate: Is Vietnam As Bad As Nomadic Matt Says?

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This week’s Ask Kate is a question that I get asked with surprising frequency.  Two years ago, Nomadic Matt wrote a post called Why I’ll Never Return to Vietnam.  It got quite a bit of outcry — many of his readers were in complete agreement; many more disagreed.  Here I try to help a reader deciding whether or not she should skip Vietnam on her Southeast Asia trip.

Hi Kate,

I leave London for 3 months solo backpacking around SE Asia (Singapore start with expat friends, then solo Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam) early Jan (I’ve not planned too much and having read your post about things you did right, I think I have the right attitude about flexibility and going with the flow).

What’s your take on Vietnam?  Having read nomadicmatt’s negative post about it I was wary. From a female perspective just wondered if you felt as violated as he did?!

Believe it or not, I get asked this question all the time.  That post of Matt’s freaked out a lot of people — particularly the female travelers who write to me.

Now, for the record, Matt is a friend of mine, and I’m not here to rip him a new one.  He just didn’t happen to like Vietnam — which is fine!

But considering how far that post of his has spread, I feel sad that people have skipped a wonderful, beautiful, delicious country just because one popular travel blogger didn’t like it.

The truth?

I love Vietnam.

Vietnam is a fantastic country and if you skipped it, you would be missing out on a lot.  The food, in my opinion, is the best in Southeast Asia.  The scenery is gorgeous, featuring everything from beaches to mountains to terraced rice paddies.  The cities are fun, diverse, and fascinating, and there are so many activities in Vietnam, from getting custom designer sneakers in Hoi An to sailing through Halong Bay or cruising Nha Trang to drinking snake blood in Hanoi.

That said, Vietnam can be difficult.  Scams are quite prevalent in Vietnam, though all of the scams I personally witnessed took place within Hanoi.  Most of the scamming is in the form of overcharging you or not giving you everything you paid for.

My personal advice?  Go to Vietnam — but keep your eyes open.  Give Vietnam a chance.  And if you really hate it, you can always leave!

What Women Say About Vietnam

To get more opinions, I reached out to my female blogger friends who have been to Vietnam.  Most of them had a complicated view of the country as a whole, alternatively enjoying and not enjoying it.

As I read piece after piece, common themes began to emerge.  Here they are:

The experience of traveling Vietnam, though difficult at times, is overall a net positive.

Steph from Twenty-Something Travel eloquently described how Vietnam was difficult to travel at times, but ultimately a wonderful, rewarding destination.

And for a different side of Vietnam, Lash from Lash World Tour visited the northwest highlands of Vietnam and its Hmong villages and found that even this ethnically different region of Vietnam was as beautiful and challenging as the rest.

Scams abound — primarily (though not exclusively) in the north.  But they’re not bad enough to write off the entire country.

Bethaney from Flashpacker Family had a very rough time in Vietnam the first time around — but on her second visit, she grew to love the country.  She also gives tips for Vietnam travelers.

While Lillie from Around the World L had a bad experience when she was groped by her motorbike driver out in the middle of nowhere, she shrugged it off as an isolated incident and loved the rest of the country.

The food is exceptional.  While the food of Southeast Asia gets almost universal acclaim, Vietnamese food is on another level.

Jodi from Legal Nomads just settled into Saigon for a three month stay.  She’s fascinated by Vietnam so far and in love with the food culture.

Also loving the food?  Expat Edna.  Here she lists the five best things she ate in Vietnam.

Getting to know the people of Vietnam is the single most rewarding thing you can do.

Aleah of Solitary Wanderer spent awhile in Saigon and enjoyed it thoroughly — it felt like home to her then, and still does now.  Her fondest memories are of the people she met.

Vietnam is an enormously important country to visit for its cultural and historical context.

According to Lillie from Around the World L, “My month in Vietnam was half wonderful and half super-stressful.  It’s important for people to visit Vietnam.  It’s a very influential country in world history on many, many levels, and remarkable in many ways.”  She explains why in this piece.

As for me, I think my post that sums up Vietnam best is Coming to Terms with the Vietnam War.  It was very difficult coming to Vietnam as an American and witness how my country destroyed so many lives in the name of a war that never should have happened.

So should you skip Vietnam?  

Only you can make that decision.  I hope that these pieces give you some alternative perspectives.  But believe me when I say that you would be missing a lot if you chose to skip the country altogether.