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?”

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  2. Hi Kate
    I am Vietnamese for sure. I had read Matt’s negative opinions about Vietnam, but i think that maybe that opinions was true and Matt had not good experience in Vietnam. But I am really sure that very few people didnt have good time in Vietnam. Like you, My friends from different countries who came here to work or travel, they fell in love with my country so much. Why do I say that? Because they love the friendly of each Vietnemese, they love the way people are free to eat some tasty food and drink in the street. Sometimes, just crazy traffic makes them want to challenge themselves to ride a motorbike. Especially, do you know “Phuot” ? the trend of Vietnam youth is travel by motorbike. They will go any places they want , a high hills or a far village of ethical people. I am into ” Phuot” too.My bf , John had have a amazing motorbike tour with me, we went around almost provinces in the north of Vietnam like HA giang, Lao cai, Sapa, Quang ninh.. Just so amazing. I think you had such a great time in vietnam, Kate. I hope to read more and more post about Vietnam. Thank you so much for loving my country so much and I and mu country love u so.

    1. Thank you, Sam! I had such a good time motorbiking around Mui Ne that I’d love to go back and motorbike more. I haven’t been to the northwest yet — that would be an interesting trip!

  3. I am a Vietnamese. I accidentally read your post. Great post! Thank for your post. Vietnam is a fantastic country with beautiful and friendly people.

  4. Im currently in Vietnam for the second time. The first time i began as a solo backpacker and then i met my boyfriend… now we’re back.

    You can, and will be scammed in vietnam. We were scammed the second day here, even though we knew what to expect!

    You’ll also find people to be very kind, very helpful and friendly. If you take time with locals they will offer you the world, and wont take no for an answer 😉

    Theres good and bad everywhere but if you asked me how i feel about vietnam as a whole? Hands down love it. Love the food. Love the culture. Love the people. Dont love the guy who charged me $20 for two tiny coconuts (i was too tired to do the math in my head) but hey, he is not ‘everyone’.

    The vast majority of ‘everyones’ are good people trying to make it in a day to day economy who would give you the shirt off their backs if you needed it.

  5. I can’t believe that so many people have negative experiences when visiting Vietnam. When my boyfriend and I visited 2 years ago, we didn’t experience anything like this! Nothing but friendly people, delicious food, and beautiful scenery. Can’t wait to be back!

  6. Thank you for this post. This is what I have been wanting to say after that post of Matt, because Vietnam is not as bad as he said in the post. True is that the traffic is hectic, there is overtourism which annoys the hell out of everyone but the people, the landscape and the food are just great. I enjoyed my time in the country and wish to return soon.

  7. Im amazed you said Vietnamese food is the best in Se Asia, did you not eat in Thailand.

    We have been in Vietnam a month and its got to be the most bland food Ive every eaten! People say how tasty it is but its bland and the Pho is like dishwater!! A lot of the other dishes so deep fried they are dripping in oil.

    I am absolutely amazed people say its better than Thailand. WE are leaving Vietnam as soon as we can to go back to Thailand. Is the food in the US that bad where vietnamese is considered tasty?

    Are you being paid to say how good it is as I think you need to include more of the negatived to potential visitors.

    1. Am I being paid to say Vietnamese food is good? No, honey, I’m not. ? I wish I were. Talk about an easy income stream.

      Different strokes for different folks. You like Thai more. I like Vietnamese more. Nothing wrong with that, but I think you are one of very few people with the opinion that pho tastes like dishwater. Perhaps you have an undiagnosed cilantro sensitivity. A surprising amount of people do.

  8. “The food, in my opinion, is the best in Southeast Asia”
    Unless you don’t eat pork. Vietnam is a beautiful country, but sadly the people are very closed and often not friendly and EVERYTHING has pork in it. After 3 weeks I was happy to leave.

  9. I simply love Vietnam! Came here a year and a half ago with the idea of traveling around the country for 30 days. Currently living in Da Nang and can’t get enough of the country. I simply love Vietnam, its people and vibrant culture. Also, the food and coffee is something you have to try while there.

    I’ve got scammed (or taken advantage of) a few times, but just minor things. Whenever I had a problem with my bike or anything else, people were always more than happy to give a hand and help.

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