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.

Kate from 30 Traveler was lucky enough to be invited to a Vietnamese wedding!  She described the kindness of the people she met in Vietnam here.

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.

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137 thoughts on “Ask Kate: Is Vietnam As Bad As Nomadic Matt Says?”

  1. Special the food are very good in Hcm city, good service and cheap if you know where to go , the beaches are so beautiful in the midle of Vn .The south of Vn is a Mekong river ,it become many branches everywhere you go , rice fams , coconut trees , tropical food , friendly people, but if you get over charge a little bit because you are special , forgeiners …if you know how to bargain most of things but not in restaurant and you get just the same price that local people does.if you see people they are laughing at you , it doesnt mean they think you are stupid or something, they just think you look so interesting to them , its so different from them .if you see motobike taxi follow to insist you for their service , its just because their job ,they do that to every body but you dont want , you just say No .its kind of everything different from America , so its interesting places to go , and get experience .

  2. Many thanks for this post, Kate. I really do appreciate that you have encouraged people to go and to see with their own eyes whether they like it or not. At the end, all is so subjective on the road 🙂
    Loads of happy journeys for you 🙂

  3. I have to agree with Matt. Being vietnamese myself, I have to admit that vietnamese people in general are somewhat rude and selfish, even the ones that live here in United States. I guess a lot of it has to do with them coming from a poor country, and lacking a proper eduction, so they sort of developed this “everyman for himself” personality where they have no concern for anyone else’s except for their own survival.

  4. I left the country after the war 40 years ago as a kid and want to visit the birthplace. Based on what i ‘m reading above it gives me the mix between good and bad. I think they would treat me worst than Caucasian. I’m weighing the decision whether should i go or not.

  5. Kate—You look a lot like Jane Fonda all wrapped up in that Commie flag. She once took a little jaunt to Vietnam and thought she knew all about the Vietnam War too. What happened, happened and you should be very happy that you live in America. Nothing is perfect.

      1. Holocaust!!!! So you are equating those of us who went to Vietnam with those involved in the holocaust. Why don’t you go to a Veterans Hospital or a Vietnam Veterans reunion and explain that?

  6. I totally agree with Kate that the scams in Vietnam happen more in the north. We were due to go on a day trip to Halong Bay however were told once we were on the boat and had the lunch that all of a sudden the weather was going to turn bad and the boat couldn’t go out. (Several other boats had already left). I’ll cut a long story short – we didn’t get to go, stayed in the port the whole day and then driven back to Hanoi where we were told we would not get a full refund, but less than a third of it back. You’re telling me that they weren’t able to predict the weather early that morning or even the day before? Such a scam. And the ‘tour guide’ (extremely rude girl) gave cash directly back to a Vietnamese man who was on our same bus, but not any of the westerners.

    It’s funny though, I read Matt’s blog about Vietnam after I had lived in Bangkok for 4 months and was getting ready to travel to Laos and Vietnam afterwards, and after my experiences in Thailand (with racism/not being accepted/being seen as dollar signs/ripped off etc) I was dreading Vietnam. However, I was shocked when it turned out to be the best part of the trip. Maybe it was because I was holidaying there rather than attempting to live there, but I found Vietnamese people waaaaaay friendlier than Thais (I must stress Thais in BKK and surrounding areas, not Thais in Chiang Mai and the islands, where most are very friendly)…even in Hanoi where it was so busy and the sun didn’t shine much.

    In my opinion the Vietnamese seem less ‘f***ed up’ than Thai people…ie not trying to whiten their faces, and are far more affectionate with their children, have more regard for their safety etc (almost all wear motorbike helmets whereas Thais are just stupid or have low regard for their lives and don’t use helmets, even for their children). Yes, the Vietnamese ladies would try to sell their chips etc to me at a higher price than the locals, but I just bargain with them and get a fairer price, and know that even though I’m paying more, I have far more earning power than them so I should just be grateful and give. It’s the attitude that counts, and they were being nice to me (whilst trying to get more money), and I prefer that! I understand Matt when he says he doesn’t like people being rude, because that’s when it just feels bad. And I hardly encountered any rude people in Vietnam, only in Bangkok!! I loved Thailand when I first arrived, thinking everyone was so nice and friendly, but trying to live there as a teacher, once you scratch the surface you see the people for what they truly are…or how they truly view farangs.

    Now having said all this, despite the lovely Vietnamese people I met, I will never return to Vietnam simply for….the motorbikes!! It’s madness. I don’t understand how people can live like that, constant noise and beeping, never feeling at ease walking on the street or crossing the road, I know they are used to it but wow, how anyone could move to there from a western country is beyond me, unless you’re a motorbike fan. I almost got run over on my last day; I know they always stop but it’s not worth the jangled nerves everyday, trying to cross even at pedestrian crossings! I could never truly relax on the holiday.

    But if motorbikes don’t bother you, then honestly, disregard Matt’s blog and go, because you could have an entirely different experience like I did. Maybe it’s because Vietnamese people have better English than Thais, but in Hanoi, Nha Trang and Saigon, a lot more Vietnamese locals were friendly to me and spoke to me a lot more than in BKK and outer suburbs where you are treated like an outsider. However, your own energy and attitude has a large effect on what you’re going to get back from other people, anywhere you are in the world – when I was feeling happy and light, I would get good responses and wouldn’t be ripped off (even in Thailand), whereas on days where I wasn’t in a great mood and giving off a bad vibe, I would encounter unfriendliness.

    On a final note, I loved Luang Prabang in Laos the most for friendliness and having less motorbikes! It’s very chilled there, and from what I’ve heard of Vientiane I’m glad I just went to LP. Word of advice though, if you are booking a ‘VIP bus’ from Pai or Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang, do not expect you will actually be on the VIP bus shown in the photo!! (at least not through Terminal Green travel agency) It turns out to be the local broken down bus, horrendous, big scam.

    1. Scott N. Romaniuk

      This is all very true. The level of anxiety I experience here daily is beyond the pale. I’m saving my money to leave the country. As a Westerner, I simply cannot tolerate the arbitrary rule system, cheating, noise, pollution, corruption, aggressive and hostile people, and traffic. It’s just not the place to live as a civilized human being. All travel experiences are worthwhile, however, I’m counting the days to leave this country and will certainly not return.

  7. This place was a terrible experience for me. We went because my father owns a LARGE amount of land (which comes to a shock)
    However, after a couple days, I realized how rude the locals were, despite my family having Vietnamese roots. Maybe it’s because we happened to have better technology and more money I suppose?

    The locals were mean, but I admit, the scenery was amazing (in some parts, lol). Plantations to mountains, you can get a really good scenic photograph!

    Shopping was “ok”, I suggest you spend your Dong (the currency) in some local stores other than tourist stores, for those stores cost about 3x more than local stores. However, it is TRUE that the store owners will rip you off, coming from a mother who was born and lived in Veitnam, and constantly visiting and seeing ppl get ripped off without knowing.

    If your going, all I can say is Good Luck!

  8. Scott N. Romaniuk

    The experience will vary depending on what you like/dislike and why you’re there. Some observations:
    (1) The people are hostile, aggressive, short-tempered, and immature.
    (2) I’ve always been cheated and overcharged.
    (3) The country is dirty and polluted.
    (4) They have *high* hopes without having their feet on the ground (This can make it difficult to work there)
    (5) Their English is awful.
    (6) Bad driving skills and no common sense.

    1. I understand perfectly that Vietnam is not an easy country to visit. But I disagree to your exaggeration to generalize the whole country. And for this (5) Their English is awful I find you childish. arrogant and have no respect to the host country. You came to a foreign land and you expect locals to speak impeccable English with you. You should stay home, learn to how to respect others, speak the whole truth with honesty before attempting to travel again.

  9. Chronic traveller

    Vietnam is actually WORSE than nomadic matt made it sound.

    I’ve been here three times and it is much worse off each time. Let’s start with the good;
    – the far north (sapa) and far south (mekong delta) are unique
    – the food is truly astounding
    – the country people are somewhat nice?

    I have yet to meet a current backpacker who doesn’t talk solely about how much they are getting ripped off, lied to, and physically threatened. With a few exceptions, most are just trying to get to another place so they can leave.

    There is not a thing in Vietnam that you can not find better in other Asian countries, (I would argue food). More or less the only people who loved vietnam either a) taught english there, b) it was the only country they visited or c) they travelled it, not backpacked.

    This sounds a little bitter – I know. But I’m still in country and have already been ripped off (or attempted to be ripped off) 6 times today and counting. And i’m not talking about overcharging a little bit, I am talking straight up demanding more money than an agreed upon price.

    If you read this, please do yourself a favour and SKIP VIETNAM.

    1. So, do you have yet to meet a current backpacker who doesn’t talk solely about how much they are getting ripped off, lied to, and physically threatened, or have there been a few exceptions? You’re contradicting yourself here, Chronic traveller.

  10. Hi Kate,

    As for me, Vietnam is a must-do destination in South East Asia. I am be captivated by its friendly locals, amazing secene, great food and diversity in culture.

    Just like other places in the world, the vendor is around and try to rip you off but it is just minortiy.

    If you skip VIetnam, you will be missing a lots.

    Let’s go to Vietnam and you will love it.

  11. I have been to Vietnam three times and each time I come here I always get ripped off. I traveled to many parts of the world, lived in China for a year and in Thailand for two years. The first time I came to Vietnam was twenty years ago. I was a student backpacking through the country. To this day I still remember the incident with a cyclo driver just like it happened. To make the long story short, the driver demanded that I pay him US$40 for a ride that we agreed on for $6 before. When I refused he yelled and screamed and threatened to kill me. A big crowd of people gathered around to watch while this was happening in the middle of the street. I remained very calmwd and did not yell back. I told him I didn’t have the money with me and if he wanted he would have to go back to the hotel with me. He refused and kept demanding. After awhile he realized that I wasn’t scared of his threats so he said “you give me $30.” I said I only have $10. His demand came down to $20 and I threw $10 bill at him and walked away. Back at the hotel the staff told me that recently one of the guests punched a cyclo driver in the face and got into a lot of trouble with the police for it. What bothered most about the incident was not just the money aspect, but the fact that I liked the driver as a person. We made small talks. He told me about his family and I shared something personal about myself. We even shared a meal together, my treat. At the end I was going to give him $10 anyway because I felt sorry for him and his family. After this incident I became very paranoided if someone is nice to me and don’t trust people easily as I did before.

    I came to Vietnam again the second time for a business trip 10 Yeats later. I needed to buy an airplane ticket to Dien Bien Phu, a city in Vietnam. I asked him where I could buy tickets. Back then Vietnamese Airlines didn’t have online tickets yet and prices are fixed. They didnt fluctuate like today’s He said he will take care of it for me. He bought the tickets, but I later found out that it was $20 cheaper from the ticket office. I didn’t confront him since I already paid him. There was nothing I could do.

    I am in Vietnam now for a vacation. I am here because I had a business trip in Laos, which by the way has the most compassionate and genuine people I have ever met. My friend wanted to visit Vietnam so I thought I’d give it another try and travel with him for two weeks.

    It has been 20 years since I visited Vietnam for the first time. Back then I was a student on a shoestring budget. This time it was different. I am working and can afford to travel better. I flew from Hanoi to Hue then to Ho Chi Minh City instead of taking a bus or train. I am staying at four-five star hotels instead of the budgeted hotel. Of course I see a big difference in the way I have been treated. I’m not scared of getting ripped off as much since these establishments are higher end. If I do get ripped off it’s only a few dollars and I try to let it go.

    This time I was ripped off in Hue. Our student friend, who is a local Vietnamese took us to a small restaurant for some noodles. We ordered three bowls of noodle soup, plus drinks. The menu price listed the noodles at 35,000 Dong. When we got the bill, the owner charged us 60,000 Dong instead. All of us were shocked including our Vietnamese friend. He asked her why and she said because she gave UA more chicken in the soup. Did we ask for more chicken? No. Were there more chicken in the soup? Probably not.

    Our student friend confronted the owner, but she wouldn’t give in. We already ate the food and it was only a few dollars so we paid up. Nevertheless, it left a bad taste in our mouths and ruins the evening for us.

    I will probably not return to Vietnam again unless I have a good reason. It can become very stressful when dealing with the local people.

  12. Hi Kate,

    Thanks for this read – I found both your post, and the comments section to be equally informative. I am currently ~4 months away from departing on my own SEA backpacking trip, starting out in northern Vietnam. It will my first backpacking trip and my first trip anywhere overseas, so I am of course excited, but also with some nerves.

    There definitely seem to be two main opinions on Vietnam from a Western point of view. I won’t lie and say that reading other bloggers’ tales of scams, rip offs and general negativity didn’t make me nervous – it did. But I also think knowing what other people have experienced is calming knowledge to have in a way. Some of the best/most insightful comments were from a people who had been scammed or ripped off, but still said they loved the country and recommended visiting despite their negative experiences. These were the people that also had the most useful advice to share on dealing with being scammed or ripped off, or how to best avoid it happening altogether.

    So definitely doing my Vietnam research with a little anxiousness involved – but definitely going to check it out and form my own opinion. Looking forward to what I hear is some amazing cuisine (Bun Cha…) and a truly beautiful country.


  13. Great article. I am a hanoi student and i am very honor to say thanks you for the good comment for my VietNam. I will share u some experience to avoid scamming (HaNoi Only) :
    *1 choose good taxi band such as Phu Dong (84-4) 62 666 666) , Ba Sao (84-4 32 32 32 32)
    *2 ignore peddler ( you can threat them that u will call police )
    *3 where helmet when u ride a motorcycle
    *4 cyclo (1 hour around = 100.000 VND ~ 2.5 USD)
    *5 Try some street food : Fresh Beer (8.000-10.000 VND/cup)
    Nem Chua ( sour spring roll) 5.000VND
    if you have any question about Hanoi you can contact me ( free) : +84963736322 .My name is Cong.

  14. Hello kate. You might get this a lot but i simply love ur blog. Before coming to vietnam, i was very worried that my stay here is going to be boring and scary… I am from Brunei and your blog is like a travel bible to me. Although im a guy, but seeing a woman who travels alone and enjoying monumental moments is really exciting. I am currently doing my Community outreach program in one of the unis here in hanoi. Thank you for giving me ideas to try new things – especially the snake blood. I cannot wait!

    Aside from that, thank you for making me interested in blogging (eventhough my viewers not much) but thats a start.


  15. It’s old but new to me:
    In September of 2010, Kepnes published the piece on his website. That same month, he sold his piece to the web aggregators at Lonely Planet’s website.

    Lonely Planet’s press liaison could not provide an explanation as to why the company, which sells a popular guide about how and where to travel in Vietnam, chose to run a piece advising people against traveling here. Instead, she sought to distinguish him from the company.

    “Matt Kepnes is not a Lonely Planet author, rather a member of our blog community who own their own views,” she wrote.

    When the Huffington Post picked up Kepnes’ rant and published it again, on January 30, it was already two years old and full of grammatical errors.

    So they decided to spice it up.

    In the revised edition (now a whopping 1,055 words) Kepnes added an anecdote about how his friend Sean humiliated a beggar on a bicycle.

    “When [the beggar] came to my friends, they asked the Vietnamese woman if she could afford such a nice bike, why couldn’t she afford food? “˜That’s my sister’s bike,’ the woman said. Sean looked at her and said “˜Then she can pay for your food.'”

    The Huffington Post’s cynical bid to score web traffic paid off in a hideous comments war.

    For his own part, Kepnes declined to explain why he waited three years to write down his thoughts and feelings about Vietnam. He declined to be interviewed or respond to a list of written questions. He’s busy, at the moment, finishing another book about the world.

    The Boston-born MBA once dreamed, as a child, of one day becoming Indiana Jones.

    Instead, he became an authority on cheapness.

    Kepnes is at his best when writing about how to scam an airline out of frequent flier miles. Most of his work focuses on promoting the worst brand of travel: a westerner’s guide to a four-month frat party in Asia attended by 20-somethings hunting for cheap package tours, drink and late-night Indian food.

    The rest are the thoughts of a self-proclaimed Dave Matthews Band super fan who spends his off hours streaming episodes of True Blood on his laptop from exotic locales.

    Kepnes has managed to turn his brand of pituitary writing into a lucrative career””one that’s brought him $7,000-8,000 a month according to an interview with the New York Times.

  16. Here is a fact you should consider. Many American’s travel to Vietnam. I loved the culture, food and topographical terrain, however there was a war going on when I was there. I have no intension of ever returning. The food in 3rd world countries are an adventure. You never are quite sure the process or handling methods. The water supply in many cities has minimal quality standards like Mexico. Shopping is another opportunity to have your money parted from your wallet. The flag being held up in your shopping photo Kate is one very similar we took off our compound gate during the Tet Offensive in 1968.

    You may think this in non-sense forgive and forget but equally I love the oriental culture. However, talk to someone that was in a Japanese POW camp. They may have a different spin. I have donated my Vietnam war items to our local Vietnamese Center. I still think they have a long way to go before I would go back. Human rights are not one of their top priorities. Ignoring facts do not make them less factual.

  17. Him thanks for your share, i also read the Normaddict blog , yes, he is just right and i have nothing to complaint about what he described that’is the reality that you can experience, if you are unlucky, in Vietnam and quite a few backpackers had lived it , sorry for that, but in Vietnam, there are also kind and bad people as any where in this wolrd , a few people live by tourism and don’t have enough the honesty that our people have since thousand years and they are polluting the tourism atmosphere, hope one day, they are conciuous about it before it too late

  18. A brilliant response Kate! It’s true that scams are prevalent in Vietnam, but I personally found the situation much worse in Cambodia especially as children are used to exploit tourists too. The reality is that in poorer countries such as Vietnam, which are much less developed than places like Thailand, scams will happen but you really just need to have your wits about you and be aware.

    Vietnamese cuisine, culture, history and its magnificent scenery definitely outweighs any negative aspects of the country. Most cities in the world, even those that we consider glamorous such as London or Paris, have their darker sides too just in a different way.

    I definitely agree that you shouldn’t let one travel bloggers bad experience of a place cloud your vision and stop you from going somewhere – if anything, it should make people WANT to go so that they can go, explore and make their mind up for themselves!!

  19. We’ve just spent 4 weeks travelling from Saigon up to Nha Trang. We will travel the north I feb when it warms up a bit.
    So far I must say as a whole we are quite disappointed. Scamming at times was a daily occurrence and the food has been the greatest disappointment of all. Although costing 10 times as much, our Vietnamese restaurant in zurich is far better than 90% we’ve tried here.
    Saigon was the best place for food and Dalat was the best place for people and scenery.
    The beaches are simply shit I’m afraid but we are really looking forward to be flying out to Thailand tomorrow.
    There were some super friendly people along the way but the constant harassing, shit service and the Russian invasion of Nha Trang and Mui Ne will not see us returning to the south. As I said though we, or at least I, am looking forward to the trek from Ha Noi to Hoi An and back.

  20. I just went to Hanoi 12-18-14 for a long weekend and I thought it was fantastic. The people were extremely nice, the city is absolutely beautiful, a lot of tree lined streets and cafes. I am American and I had reservations but it seems to me the average age of the city is very young and aren’t old enough to hold a grudge, I could be wrong but that’s the way it felt to me. I did get taken for a few $ by the bicycle taxi guy but whatever, was a $10 lesson. So I have been to a lot of countries all over the world and I find generally peoples reaction to me is a mirror of me. I would go again in a minute

  21. I am in my 60s now and have travelled in Vietnam twice in recent years as a solo woman traveller. I loved the place and apart from Ho Chi Minh city I have felt very safe. My word of warning when using cabs is to write down the taxi number before you get into the cab, I have been ripped off twice by Vinasun taxi drivers in Ho Chi Minh,

    I adore travelling off the beaten path, especially in the Mekong.

    Other advice? Dont hit Sapa is January… it is freezing!

  22. First day here in hcmc and got charged $20 for a taxi journey – it was a meter and in dong. It was only a 7 minute walk. So first impressions aren’t great!!! 🙁 id understand a few dollars but we’ve been ripped off

  23. Hello Kate,

    My name is Binh and I’m from Vietnam.

    Thank you so much for this blog Kate! I’ve read Matt’s blog post about how he hated Vietnam and that made me feel sad.

    But thank god there you were. You pointed out the things that other people might miss. Hello Matt, I guess 2 years have passed but I still like to say something. What I think mainly:

    1. Toughs thing make you grow: scams, raised price, rubbish everywhere, public urination.
    2. Enjoy the good things: cultures difference, cheap but tasty foods, **cute girls**, nice sights.

    I hope Matt will try it again.

    Cheers on behalf of Vinators,

  24. I’m in Vietnam now and I love it. Definitely do not let one’s opinion affect your perception of Vietnam. I recently wrote a post about the beautiful scenery in Northern Vietnam (Halong, Sapa, Mai Chau, Trang An, Ba Be, Ban Gioc) – check it out if you want some tips while traveling.

  25. Vietnam is great! Most place are save enough, even the bigger cities. Never felt unsafe there. Though i witnessed some robberies by motorbike guys in HCM. But Laos and Cambodia seem a lot safer.

  26. It’s not that Vietnam sucks. It’s that HANOI sucks. Saigon is awesome. I also lived in Thailand and, contrary to the popular opinion, I liked the people in Saigon more than in all of Thailand. They were more genuine and worldly curious. A totally different vibe. Now Hanoi is just crap. It’s too close to China & not authentic in my opinion. After having traveled all over Southeast Asia, SOUTHERN Vietnam is still my favorite place. Now it’s onto Nepal & India..

  27. I have to agree with Matt. Spent a week in Vietnam, primarily in Saigon and I hated it. Seemed so devoid of culture. Got a lot of bad vibes in most areas. Most people were not nice. Crap food (ate at over 20 different places so it wasn’t a one off) Cu Chi tunnels were crap. Very ugly place. That said, I didn’t go north and judging by the photos, the north is a lot more pretty.

  28. Hi Kate!

    Wonderful, fair response!

    I have been traveling throughout SE Asia by myself for the month of October and am actually enjoying Vietnam right now.

    I do have to say, I completely agree with Alicia’s comment and so far have had the absolute WORST experience in Cambodia. Everything that NomadicMatt wrote about regarding Vietnam was my experience in Cambodia and I would NEVER return… Which just illustrates it could really happen in a lot of places. I definitely agree with you and think that everyone should decide on their own and just be aware because scams are EVERYWHERE (not just in Vietnam).

  29. I started out in Hanoi and headed to Ha Long Bay for New Year’s. Headed down the coast to Da Nang, Ninh Binh, Hoi An, etc. LOVED my entire two weeks of backpacking, loved the food and never felt like anyone was our to scam me. Viet Nam was my 41st country and I can’t wait to go back!

  30. I came across Matt’s blog a few years ago when preparing for my presentation about the blogging scene in Vietnam at Malaysia Tourism Bloggers Conference. I was quite shocked by the title of his blog actually, not because I am a Vietnamese, but because I am also a travel writer (though I’m kinda a lazy amateur one). I specifically hate it when writers don’t understand how their negative *personal* opinions could affect so many people. I mean as we travel, goods and bads happen. And going to the entirely negative direction and even worse shouting it loud in a public place just to satisfy your own ego seem not a fair thing to do. I just think bloggers in general and famous bloggers like him in particular should be more responsible than that. But of course, again, just my *personal* opinion.

    But thank you so much Kate for your kind words on my country! I’m glad that you enjoyed it 🙂

  31. Great article Kate. I think Vietnam is a hidden gem. The country is beautiful and has so much to offer. Check out @visitvietnam on Instagram, there are so many places to see and things to do.


    It’s amazing how one bad experience can set it off and create a chain of misinformed opinion.

    Having lived in Vietnam for 2 years, it is full of scamming and opportunists but there is so, so, so much good here too.

    It’s about opening your eyes and being open to things. It’s easy to just close yourself off. To say an entire country is terrible to visit is painting with very broad strokes too…



  33. Spent a month in Vietnam and loved it. Found the people friendly & helpful. So much of travel involved mirrors: what comes back to you is what you are sending out. Be kind. Trust your intuition. Listen to specific travel warnings like around Nha Trang night clubs after midnight & pickpockets. Enjoy yourself.

  34. Great article Kate,

    Have been to Vietnam for several times! It sure is a great country to travel in. Like in all big cities crime is rising unfortunately!

  35. I’m a big fan of Matt’s blog and was a bit disheartened to read his post. I was looking for a travel blog related to Vietnam and found your post in the google results.

    This is one reason why I’m a big fan of re-visiting places when the opportunity arises. You’ll have different experiences over the years. I love Vietnam and take others whenever I get the chance to show them what a lovely country it is.

  36. I’m currently in Vietnam, I’ve been here a little over two weeks. My experience has been almost entirely positive. I think most of it depends on YOUR attitude. Sure, I’ve been scammed a couple times mostly by taxi drivers in hanoi. For me the people have been very kind, sincere and helpful. Maybe living in China for a year has helped me here. In China no one speaks English so I have to learn the language. I feel like a lot of foreigners in southeast Asia look for places that cater to westerners. If this is how you travel of course you’ll have a bad experience. Now in Vietnam I don’t even think to seek places that are trying to cater to me. These places charge more, service sucks and the food is changed for us. The language barrier doesn’t matter. Walk around if something looks good, eat it. If you see a restaurant full of smiling locals, go in! I’ll guarantee you the food is great. These people have no mind to scam you. You’ll also learn some vietnamese along the way. I’ve learned enough vietnamese in my two weeks that I know when I’m being charged more than the locals. I can tell you that it’s happened maybe twice, and to the tune of a whole 75 cents. If you’re genuine, friendly, smile a lot and willing to laugh at yourself you’ll have a great time. Don’t come here expecting vietnam to cater to you. Come here and cater to vietnam. I’ve made more than a dozen local friends in Vietnam, got invited to someone’s home for dinner and even invited to spend a weekend in the mountains with a group of young vietnamese people. We split the cost, and I’m not sure but I think they made me pay less.

    1. That’s ridiculous, most people come here with a positive attitude otherwise they wouldn’t be visiting in the first place.

      I have been robbed, cheated, scammed, even physically held and extorted for money in this country. I can only respect a culture if it’s people show respect for me. It’s unfortunate because most Vietnamese are very kind and hospitable but there’s only so much patience I can have with the liars, cheaters and thieves whom seem to be tolerated by the rest of the populace.

  37. Vietnam is in my blood, been coming for 23 years (14trips) and am reasonably fluent with the language.I can call myself an amateur historian of sorts in regard to the wars here having read many hundreds of books.

    I can perfectly understand the sentiment expressed in the most negative comments here,I’ve had some shockers in all those trips here vowing to never return after some of them.On the flip side I’ve also experienced the best of times here.

    There is definitely a fair level of xenophobia/racism here with the men being the worst offenders.Every country has its petulant,immature and pig ignorant types but many of the men here take it to a whole new level.Lots of them have hang-ups about western men that can be related to their perception of relative genitalia inequality.

    Your experience in this regard and others will depend on who you are in terms of gender and age.I believe women travelers will will experience less of these negative attitudes.

    I go an entire trip here without ever speaking to another westerner mixing only with the locals,it’s always a roller coaster ride of good and bad days.A few days ago a fella used my shirt as a hanky while I was swimming and evidently had a cold discharging both barrels.He had watched me undress and hang my shirt.I too found it amusing once I’d calmed down.

    Dishonesty in Vietnam society is part of every day life,I just have to work my way through it.
    I sometimes wonder though how much the communist system is responsible for the dysfunctional nature of Vietnamese society.

    Reading many of the comments here reminds me of what is said of the turmoil of the American war,
    That there were many different truths,all contradicting each other.

    Have to say also the women make this country bearable

    I still love the place

  38. Great article Kate.
    As a Vietnamese heavily influenced by American culture from a young age and after a long period of alienation from Vietnam culture and society, I must say there are truth in most of what Matt said.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love this country. The culture is rich, the scenery beautiful, and the food simply amazing.

    What most people don’t see is that compared to other countries in the region, Vietnam has yet to developed adequate tourism infrastructure, and so if you compare Vietnam to Thailand or Cambodia in term of tourist experience, what you get in Vietnam is pretty close to what locals get on a day to day basis, hence the culture shock (whereas in Thailand or Cambodia or China, the experience is somewhat cushioned by well-developed tourism).

    A few years back I couldn’t wait to get out of Vietnam. I was sick of rude people, of blatant disrespect, and of uncalled-for ridicule for being different. But after 3 years in Singapore, I couldn’t wait to rediscover Vietnam when I returned in 2010.

    Yes, I am pretty much as local as the next guy. And yes, people do attempt to scam me quite regularly – and have succeeded in several occasions. It’s not that most people are scummy and try to get you. Some are. The rest are just too miserable and beaten down by the system they feel like they have to try and earn a little bit more for their livelihood every time an opportunity presents itself.

    With that said, the food is great – there is so much more to it than Pho and Spring rolls, the culture is rich – traditional art and craft, folklores, legends, temples, pagoda and whatnot, and the scenery is breathtaking – give backpacking the Ho Chi Minh trail a try if you have time and resources to spare.

    Here’s my advice should you choose to brave this nutty yet lovable country: Do your researches well, soak up on tips and facts, keep your eyes open, always negotiate and agree on price beforehand, and stay wary of friendly strangers who approached you in moments of need. I mean a friendly conversation never hurt, but once they start offering you deals… keep eye contact and slowly back away until you’re out of sight.

    A socially and culturally outcasted Vietnamese

  39. I think your response is fair and valid…it’s so curious to me that so many bloggers have had negative or mixed experience but everyone I know in real life has loved it. Fingers crossed my u[coming trip will be a pleasant experience!

  40. Vietnam is a nightmare. I finally made it out of that dreadful country after my year in “Hellnoi.” A filthy place with awful cusiene to match. Once you get to know the locals you begin to understand their unhappiness. People who visit never see this side. In addition, the animal cruelty was sickening. Traveling anywhere takes forever due to the gross overpopulation in the cities. I could go on, but what’s the use?

  41. Hi, i really loved Vietnam and still think that it’s one of the funnest placest to backpack. It’s also the country where i met the most people. Really need to go back sometime but too many places to go to!!
    I didntt think there was too much scamming if you are careful and know what to expect.

    i am also trying to start my own blog. I would appreciate any feedback i can get, its just starting out…

    please take a peek!!

  42. I’ve only travelled around Northern Vietnam. I had a turn from/to Hanoi and I really loved it.
    The rare times when some people tried to ask a higher price were for the local busses. I even was kicked out from a bus in the middle of the mountains because I didn’t want to be scammed. The guy thought I would agree to pay but I took my luggage and leave the bus. As always when something bad happens, there are more people ready to leave an awesome souvenir and three guys took me in their brand new air con jeep to the next city, we beeped the bus when we passed it, they prepared a dinner especially for me and one of the guys let me his flat for the night!
    Same for the restaurants. I could never order as I was always invited by the other customers to share their meal.
    And what to say about the lovely minorities in the whole North…

  43. Just returned from Vietnam and as an experience it was great, but I far preferred Thailand and Malaysia.

    Hanoi and Halong were my standouts, just the sheer craziness of Hanoi, the Bai Hoi’s, and the beauty of Halong and the rural areas. HCMC was a bit of a disappointment, like a third rate Kuala Lumpa. I found the food reasonable enough but bland compared to Thai. However in the cities there is a huge choice of cuisines. The food in Hanoi though was much better and more traditional street food than HCMC.

    I found the ordinary Vietnamese astonishingly kind, generous and friendly, but a lot of the people who come into contact with tourists do see the pound signs, no doubt. Then again I can say the same thing about London and it’s my blinking country! There isn’t the charm to the tourist industry that you get in Thailand and Malaya, but it’s important to put things into perspective. This is a country that was starved of investment for 25 years, and the people don’t earn much. Ironically, as I say it seems to be the normal people who are most excited and keen to meet you.

    However that’s all just my opinion, and opinions are subjective by nature.

    1. One trick when hassled by touts was to speak an alternate European language to them – Russian was hugely effective! However as I’m built like a brick lavatory compared to the average Vietnamese, that may assist.

      1. I’m from the states and respond in Spanish to locals calling out to me. Seems to work well enough. HCMC is not for me, but I’m not a city person. The war remnant museum and the Saigon Opera House, 3d art museum, temples, drinking beer on a patio and watching scoot along while reading were all great. Solid food thanks to Foursquare and proper fares thanks to Uber. Traveling to beaches in southern Vietnam for about 10 usd with good accommodations for 30 usd in a few days. I wandered pretty far out there today and got some odd looks but smiles as well. The younger kids seem upbeat but the older generations have a different view and understandably so. Too much pollution good God. I’m not a smoker but my lungs were killing me after about 12 km of walking. I can’t do tonal languages, but I learned enough to be respectful. I’m doing this solo as a tall white dude with a beard and in good form. Some areas can get overwhelming (for me at least) but most restaurants charged me less than the menu price on every occassion. If you stick out people will say something to you it’s inevitable. I was wandering with some dudes from Norway and they had similar experiences. Be as polite as you can and get out if you’re uncomfortable. I can see where Matt and Kate are both coming from though. A lot more to explore though.



  44. I think Vietnam is an indispensable part of a whole Asia experince just like China. Both counties can get difficult at times but I think offers authentic experinces in manners that most other usual suspects in the area don’t. Vietnam is full of history – there are reasons why it can get more challenging and I think it just adds to its charm.

  45. To those who sais all Vietnameses love this place. I was born and raised in this country. I can sum up my experience in one sentence “I hate it”.

  46. I am planning a trip to Vietnam in February and want to visit a tiny city near the Laos border called Dak Mil. Has anybody been there? I cant seem to find any information and I really need to know what the transportation would be. Any information would be appreciated!

  47. Hi everyone,

    I am a vietnamese-american currently living in washington state for a long time. As a vietnamese, I have to admit that there’re many bad and nasty people in my native country who do scams not only to foreigners but also to locals as well. I feel sorry for western tourists who got scammed during their trips in vietnam. For those who plan to visit vietnam in the future, make sure you take advices and warnings from other travelers and learn possible scams thoroughly before you visit vietnam.

    Now, let’s turn the table around and talk about how asians in general perceive about americans or other westerners. I remember I made one month trip to Europe right after graduation from my university a long time ago. Not a single country in Europe I found were there genuinely warm and friendly people. I either encountered rude outright people or two-faced people. That’s how it goes in europe. Many hotels in Italy even refuse to serve asian guests, turning asians away by simply saying no vacancy in their hotels. The french people in Paris are among the world’s rudest people,not only according to my opinion but also to so many americans and british travelers. There’re plenty of scams, petty crimes, and beggars around the Paris region. Putting human aspects aside, I did enjoy sight-seeing and local cuisines throughout europe, and I never regret about the trip.

    Now, what’s about americans? I have mixed feelings about americans. Some are genuinely warm and friendly; some are at best two-faced and superficial; some are cold and outright rude. I have encountered strong prejudice everywhere in the US. Only on the west coast, americans there are generally more receptive and open toward asians. What’s about New Yorkers? Are they warm and friendly. The answer is not really at all. New Yorkers in general are pretty well known in the US for their rudeness and ignorance. What I see is that in general westerners regard asians as competitors and opponents rather than their friends or neighbors.

    As you see, asians in general suffer strong prejudice in the western world. It’s ironic that some western tourists complain about less than warm and friendly local reception in vietnam or in other asian countries. These western tourists are so demanding! Another subject I wan to talk about is Thailand, which americans tend to favor more than vietnam. A warning to american women who plan traveling solo in Thailand: in thailand, the rate of rape and murder is much higher than the rate in vietnam, Yet, thailand often boasts about their country as a land of smiles. It’s dangerous that you never know when the two-faced Thais stab you in the back or rape you if you aren’t prepared.

    My final advice is that americans or westerners should visit vietnam once to experience my native country for themselves. If you don’t like the people, you may enjoy other good aspects of vietnam like sceneries, foods, etc. If you don’t like anything about vietnam, then don’t bother to come back again because vietnam is simply not a place for you to go. On the other hand, if you like the country, you’re more than welcome to visit vietnam again. Good luck and best wishes to those who plan visiting vietnam in the future.

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