Vietnam remains in the shadow of nearby Thailand, which receives more than double the number of international visitors. Since I love an underdog and dislike other tourists, it’s perhaps no surprise that I have a stronger affinity for Vietnam. Its capital, Hanoi, has preserved the rich character of its historic center, and the coastline has abundant scenic drama that can be enjoyed from world-class resorts. Delicious Vietnamese cuisine is less well known to Americans than Thai, yet it better suits palates unaccustomed to fiery spiciness. And then there are the people. More than one acquaintance asked me whether Vietnam was a welcoming destination for Americans, considering that the war is within living memory. In my interactions, the Vietnamese people could hardly be friendlier or more gracious. Traveling there is a great pleasure in all respects.
Certain popular destinations in Vietnam suffered from overtourism in the years prior to the pandemic, partly due to an influx of tourists from the country’s northern neighbor, China. During our most recent visit, however, the Chinese government had significantly restricted the movements of its citizens. For Americans, now is an ideal time to explore Vietnam, while crowds are still reduced and the dollar is strong.
One of my favorite cities in Asia, Hanoi has recently sprouted modern office and apartment towers, but its fundamental spirit is entirely intact. The Old Quarter on the north side of Hoan Kiem Lake has been tidied a bit, but many of the colonial-era buildings filling the neighborhood retain their crumbling charm. Locals and visitors alike crowd sidewalks, crouching on little stools while munching some of the world’s best street food, and motor scooters crowd the streets, skillfully weaving around pedestrians and one another.