Vietnam is an incredibly natural and exotic location filled with both buzzing cities and relaxing beachside escapes, making it the perfect destination for a group vacay.
Here, our September cover girl Pia Muehlenbeck shares her guide to discovering all the best hidden treasures of the stunning Southeast Asian country.
What to expect:
Travelling to Vietnam offers up a bit of everything! From the busy streets of Ho Chi Minh to the breathtaking islands in Halong Bay, the contrast in the landscape and experience is incredible. If you’re curious about soaking up another culture, it’s the perfect place – a destination filled with adventure!
The mix of breathtaking natural beauty, intriguing history and a touch of beachside relaxation makes this unique locale a fantastic place to escape to. It’s quite a culture shock, I think, especially coming from Australia. You really have to be open-minded and appreciate the attitude of all the people there.
Vietnamese people are so happy, friendly and chilled out. Everyone lives quite naturally, which is amazing to see. We travelled to a house in the Mekong Delta and experienced traditional life – they were making all their own food from scratch. It’s an absolutely beautiful location, filled with floating markets and villages surrounded by rice paddies.
There is quite a lot of local industry and a lot is produced within the country rather than imported. They appreciate their own craft and the act of creating, which really comes through in their lifestyle as everyone has something they can contribute.
Drenched in culture and history, Vietnam is a country where you can see the effects and remnants of war. Despite the conflict ending more than 40 years ago, their culture is really built around it. You can see how it’s affected the local way of life. The Vietnamese people are so happy without demanding too much of life, which seems to come from their past hardships. Now they are becoming their own nation and a beautiful country that is ideal for tourists. They are so proud of their heritage and it’s just fascinating to immerse yourself within it.
We learnt so much when we saw the underground tunnels of Cu Chi in Ho Chi Minh City, part of a huge network of tunnels built for the war. There’s basically an entire city made up of tunnels underground, and during the war they were all living under there. It’s mind-blowing to think how they possibly did that as the tunnels are so tiny. We went through one tunnel that was so small you couldn’t even crawl, you had to slide.
Ho Chi Minh City is a real buzzing city lined with food stalls and filled with mopeds whizzing around everywhere. The controlled chaos is such a unique experience – quite mind-blowing when you come from Australia! We weren’t quite brave enough to go on a moped, but we learnt that the best way to cross the street is to cross slowly and make eye contact to indicate that they should drive past you, rather than trying to run across.
What to eat:
When visiting Ho Chi Minh City, there are tons of different alleys filled with such delicious street food. My top tip is to let your guard down, try everything you can and really get involved in the culture.
As I’m a vegetarian, I enjoyed a lot of spring rolls and rice paper rolls as well as delicious vegetarian fried rice.
I loved the fresh tropical fruits! They have such a vast array of different fruit you can get on the side of the street and it’s perfectly fresh, fresher than you’ll ever find in any supermarket at home. It’s literally coming straight from the farm or plantation to you without any processing. It’s actually an incredibly natural way to live and eat.
We also got to experience some local fishing – we got into the water and were given baskets to fish for dinner. Being a vegetarian I didn’t eat them, but it was interesting seeing how the Vietnamese find food from the land and create their local delicacies.
What to pack:
Vietnam is really casual so make sure you pack clothes that will allow you to go out and explore. It’s also quite conservative, so it’s a good idea to dress with respect. Loose and flowing clothing is perfect as it’s so hot and humid. Sunglasses and nice, breathable clothing is ideal. A traditional hat is a fantastic addition, too. It barely touches your head, so it won’t ruin your hair at all, plus the locals use it as a basket when they need – so versatile!
CONTIKI HOT SPOTS:
Ho Chi Minh City
Is a sensory overload! Stay in District 1, the central hub for access to some awesome city view sky bars and local market experiences.
Is a resort-style location with gorgeous beaches. The fresh fruit, beach umbrellas and coconuts made me so excited! Stay near the beach.
Is filled with beautiful islands and traditional junk boats. Embrace the local culture and stay on one of the boats to soak up the local way of life.
Make sure you head to Hanoi to explore the old quarter. Everything has been left exactly how it was 100 years ago!
Pia’s travel tip:
We went on a Contiki tour for our first time in Vietnam and found that travelling with new people was the most enjoyable part of the trip. It’s a unique experience compared to travelling on your own or with a partner. You make friends for life! You’re sharing an experience that’s so unique to all of you that you’ll always remember it. Plus you’ve got heaps of good photos together.
Vietnam is a great place to travel with a group, as it can be a little overwhelming trying to do it on your own. Even the simple things, like crossing the road, can be full on without having people with you. During our trip, we’d all do ‘sticky rice’, where we all huddled up together and crossed the street like a school of fish to stand a chance against the mopeds whizzing past. It’s just a really cool place to share with other people!
Read more about Pia's travels in our September edition, on sale now.