As promised, our countdown of “Weird and Wonderful things to do in Vietnam” continues. While some of these might take you a bit outside of your comfort zone, the following recommendations are a recipe for adventure that will leave you with memories for a lifetime!
8) Taking an old motorbike through the Vietnamese countryside
Vietnam has over 37 million registered motorbikes and only 2 million cars so if you want to experience the roads the way the locals do you are going to have to take the plunge and get on one yourself. Of course, if you’re not an experienced motorbike driver than this is probably not the best place to learn so you might want to consider getting an experienced local to take you around. The good ones can get you out in to the countryside and show you a slice of rural Vietnam.
7) Try egg coffee in Hanoi
Since the days of French Indochina, Vietnam has had a culture of coffee but “egg coffee” is surely a Vietnamese creation. Although its title may not be tempting, I’ve yet to meet someone who has enjoyed the taste. The fluffy concoction has a slightly – but not sickeningly – sweet taste with a lovely coffee aftertaste. So next time you’re in Hanoi, pop in to the Giang Cafe and give it a try.
6) Enjoy a view of the stars late at night on Whale Island
While it certainly doesn’t have to be Whale Island, heading to one of Vietnam’s many island is a great way to ensure a relaxing and romantic experience. When contrasted to the maddening traffic of Saigon or Hanoi, you’ll hardly be able to believe that you are in the same country when you arrive at a traffic free island like Whale Island (a few short hours from Nha Trang). Apart from the great food and nice scuba diving, the night time sky here is vivid and vast.
5) Use the communal tobacco pipe at a streetside vendor in Hanoi (even if you don’t smoke… especially if you don’t smoke!)
I don’t smoke and I would be the last one to promote such a vice but, since you are unlikely to have access to a Vietnamese water pipe back home, there’s probably not too much risk of getting addicted. Throughout Vietnam but especially in Hanoi, you will see street side vendors at little plastic tables selling things like chewing gum and soft drinks but the majority of these also have a communal tobacco water pipe where locals can stop by and buy tiny packets of tobacco to smoke at the vendor’s table. It’s strong stuff and smoking kills so try it at your own risk but if you are into experiencing all sides of Vietnam then this is one more to add to your list.
4) Hop on a local ferry in the Mekong Delta even if you don’t know where it’s going
This may sound like a horrendously bad idea but don’t worry, as long as you remember where the ferry drops you off you can always catch it back in the opposite direction. Almost all the small ferries in the Mekong Delta run continuously and serve more as bridges than as transportation to a different part of the Delta. The Mekong Delta has always been one of my favorite parts of Vietnam and getting away from the tourist path here is one of the most rewarding travel experiences to be had.
3) Go to karaoke
Karaoke isn’t usually associated with Vietnam but it is a massive past time and many Vietnamese take great – and deserved – pride in their singing voices. If you’re a few drinks in and trying to decide where to go to next, how about taking the plunge and trying out a karaoke box. The machines are loaded with as many English songs as Vietnamese and you can drink and sing till your hearts content.
2) Bath in a river after a long hike in Mai Chau
Vietnam’s cities are packed with culture, cuisine and buzzing life but Vietnam’s countryside is one of the greenest and most beautiful that you will see anywhere in the world. The rice paddies and jungles and wooden huts can take you on a time trip to the world of the past (minus the odd motorbike and the antennas attached to the stilted houses so that everyone can gather around to cheer on their favorite European football teams). Walking or trekking through the hill tribe areas is a magical experience and coming to your destination at the end of the day feels extra rewarding when you can bath in a river and then sit down with a beer just as the sun starts setting.
1) Grill your own meat at one of Saigon’s many BBQs
There is so much incredible food in Vietnam that it can be hard to know where to go. And it’s tempting to just keep going back to similar style restaurants because all of the menus are so varied that you never need to worry about running out of new options. But if you are looking for a completely different experience, trying sitting down to personal BBQ at one of the many establishments in Ho Chi Minh City. My personal favorite is the Bo Tung Xeo BBQ and beer garden. Oi troi oi!