Luong Thu Huong talks to several foreign visitors about their experiences in Viet Nam to find out what they loved about the country, and what they found annoying.
Andrew J. Sennett (lecturer at Hong Kong Shue Yan University);
The friend I travelled with lived in south Viet Nam last year and heard about motorbiking in the northern province of Ha Giang, so we decided to go.
We had a ten-day trip to Viet Nam. The first few days we stayed in Ha Noi with a friend and then at hotels in Ha Giang
Even though it is a mountainous area, we were very pleased with the services there. The local people welcomed us very hospitably. It was a great experience to eat lunch with the Dao ethnic people at the top of a hill.
I think we were the first white people they had ever eaten with and it was very authentic. The only thing that I was unsatisfied with was the bus that we took back from Ha Giang. It was seven hours late getting back to Ha Noi and we were just stuck in the bus the whole time.
Our trip was really exciting. I most liked the spectacular natural beauty in the mountains near Quan Ba District, and the food and cheap beer in Ha Noi was fun too! I think it is better to keep Ha Giang as a hidden gem of Viet Nam instead of advertising it so that its natural beauty will be best preserved. I would love to go back again soon to the north and also to visit south Viet Nam.
Lewis Kerwin (lecturer at Mae Fah Luang University, from the US)
I came to Viet Nam by accident. I had a long weekend and wanted to go somewhere interesting.
There was a cheap flight to Ha Noi so I decided to pack my bag and go. During my fiveday trip to the country, I stayed in a hostel, and was mostly satisfied with it, although they tried to sell me trip packages more than I would have liked.
My favourite part of Viet Nam was the toughness of the city and the people. Everyone was very honest about the good and bad, which I found very refreshing. People weren't afraid to say what they thought.
There was also this strong feeling of community and entrepreneurship. The city is also beautiful, especially the Temple of Literature and the Sword Lake.
There is nothing I want to complain about. People aren't extremely friendly and will try to rip off tourists but that's all understandable given what Viet Nam's been through. I learned to bargain hard and ignore street vendors and smile even when people weren't smiling back and I had a really great time there.
My last night in Ha Noi might be the most memorable one. I was walking around the city after leaving a pub crawl. I was just about to go back into my hostel and sleep when a white guy on the corner asked me if I was lost. I wasn't, but we got to talking and he turned out to be a local. He introduced me to a Vietnamese hostel owner and the three of us sat and drank beer and smoked cigarettes and watched the neighbourhood.
Ha Noi was secretly nocturnal! Behind a metal shutter was a fully functioning restaurant.
A car would stop, a group of young Hanoians would hop out and give a complex knock on the metal shutter. Then the shutter would slide open just enough to let them in, giving me a glimpse of steaming bowls of pho on tiny tables. Then it would shut and the street would be quiet again.
Old men, college girls, families came and went. Down the street a similarly hidden shop sold us more beer and smokes.
A young child, the restaurant matron's son, came running out to play with a soccer ball, which was really a faintly round piece of industrial plastic that looked like it had been knocked off a large vehicle. He started yelling. Mom came out, spanked him and brought him back in.
Objectively Ha Noi's sooty streets might seem less inhabitable than the inside of an oiltanker ship. But that night showed me that the city had more life in it than any other I'd visited.
I like Viet Nam just the way it is, and hope to come back soon, but I'm going to medical school for the next four years in America so it probably won't be for a while.
Sam Duncan (traveller from England)
I have been travelling for a couple of years now, both in Australia and Cambodia, and have met a number of people who had previously traveled here. Almost every person that I met gave Viet Nam a glowing review and recommended that I visit, even just for a short time.
I also studied the Viet Nam War briefly in college, so I was interested to learn a little more about the history of the country firsthand. In addition to this, I have a number of friends, both from home and whom I have met during my travels, who are either traveling or currently residing in Viet Nam, so a number of potential reunions also convinced me to visit the country.
I was in the country for around eight days. During my stay in HCM City, I chose Saigon Backpackers as my base; however, after a long journey from Cambodia, I opted for a private en-suite room instead of a standard dorm room. I was extremely satisfied with the service provided. They helped me with airport transfers as well as booking various tours.
During my time in Ha Noi, I opted to stay again at a backpackers hostel: Hanoi Central Backpackers. Again, I was more than happy with the service provided, including good quality advice and information on the local area, as well as a complementary breakfast and free beer from 8pm until 9pm. In addition to this, they offer a variety of tours.
In general, I found my trip to Viet Nam a very interesting experience. The things that impressed me were the general friendliness of locals, comparable to my experience in Cambodia, as well as their accommodating nature and willingness to tolerate the multitude of foreigners who struggle to converse with them. In addition, the natural beauty of Ha Long Bay more than justifies its UNESCO classification and was a real highlight of my trip. My foundest memories of the country are the unwavering enthusiasm of each and every tour guide that I have come across, the comical ritual of the local bia hoi establishments moving tables and chairs in and out of the shop to appease the passing police and the ability of the millions of moto drivers to avoid one another and pass through seemingly impossible gaps.
There is only one thing I recommend to the Viet Nam tourism industry. Currently, the Viet Nam visa is overpriced in comparison to Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, its neighbours on the 'Western' South East Asia backpackers route. Anyway, I feel like I have seen of Viet Nam what I intended.
Diane Witherspoon (American jazz singer)
This is the second time I have visited Ha Noi. I came back because I did not get enough time to explore this great city and wanted to have another visit. Last year I visited many historical places in Ha Noi, such as the prison, aka the "Hanoi Hilton", which impressed me most of all, man's inhumanity toward man greatly offends my spirit; therefore I will never forget what I saw there. On a bright note, I got a chance to see Ha Long Bay; it is fantastic! I know there are many more places, such as Ho Chi Minh City, that I would love to see this time if possible.
I have a better feeling for this second trip, because I do not have the imagined pre-conception of what it might be like for an American in Viet Nam. I have learned to cross the street without fear; that is quite an accomplishment! Furthermore, you can't do much better than staying at the Sofitel Metropole Hotel; so what's not to like? Also, the old-world charm of a country/city with so much history and natural beauty is amazing to me.
From an American's point of view, I would say: promote that the war is long over and we can now live together peacefully and with love towards each other.
This is what I found wonderful, and it put me at ease and in a happy, secure place while here. I feel so welcomed and loved by the people. I think it's because I love the people back! During my performance this time (which is from May 1 to July 30), I will bring the audience in Ha Noi some of the same all-time classic jazz standards as last time, but I have also added several new pieces to my repertoire.