By the end of semester, everyone is starting to look a bit tired and bedraggled. Your lecturers are irritable, your mates are unshaven and your housemates have really started to let things slide in the dishes department. It’s time to get away from it all; see the world for real, instead of in the pages of a history book, and to eat some darn good food while you’re at it. Vietnam is the perfect place to spend your break without having to save a fortune to get there. Here are 8 reasons we reckon you should check it out.
1. It’s cheap
Like, we’re talking around 25c a beer. You could scrounge between the couch cushions or raid the “parking meter fund” in your centre console and have enough spending money for two happy hour sessions. From your street-side stool in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, a simple lunch of stir-fried noodles with beef or a bowl of pho will set you back around $1.50. While a plate of BBQ pork ribs is slightly more extravagant at $2.00. Are you starting to get the drift? Money is not going to be an issue here.
2. It’s cheerful
By the end of semester one, people are already starting to look tired and irritated. So just wait until you see their faces after the final exam for the year. It ain’t pretty. Why not surround yourself with a bunch of smiling, happy Vietnamese locals who want nothing more than to shake your hand, engage in a bit of banter and haggle over the price of a paperback. Whether you’re wandering around the Benh Thanh markets of Ho Chi Minh or riding the overnight sleeper train to Nha Trang the cheerfulness is contagious. Take a little home with you; it’s better than a souvenir key ring.
3. The beaches
What better way to clear your head after all those exams than sinking your toes into some white sand and sipping daiquiris under a colourful beach umbrella. Nha Trang appears to have been designed by a daydreaming uni student, with its laidback feel and awesome nightlife. If you’ve been chained to your desk for too long, try your hand at some water sports in Mui Ne. The waves, the wind and the dunes all make for some action-packed days out. If peace and quiet you seek, Phu Quoc delivers in spades. Situated just off the western coast, this is definitely the prettiest beach in Vietnam and just a short flight from Ho Chi Minh.
4. Update your wardrobe
Heading back home to a summer semester or taking a break from your studies in winter? Hoi An is the perfect place to stock up on some new duds, with over a thousand tailors ready and waiting to help you out. This is one of the most beautiful towns in Vietnam, UNESCO World Heritage Site that blends elegant colonial France with quaint Oriental charm. On almost every street you will find tailors with their ready-to-wear pieces on display and colourful swatches of fabric covering the walls. Most can have a dress, shirt or trousers prepared within 24 hours, but in order to get a higher quality piece of clothing you’re best to set aside a few days for research and fittings. It can be super overwhelming, so do your homework before you arrive (it’s way more fun than actual homework, trust us).
5. Redecorate your walls
Are your dorm walls looking a bit bare? Sick of seeing your housemate’s poster of Scarface every time you enter the lounge? Hanoi is bursting with galleries, and with a bit of haggling you can pick up some original art at a fraction of the cost of back home. You can also find some beautiful pieces at the night markets and have them framed at home. Many artists in Hanoi’s Old Quarter sell copies of famous artworks that they’ve cleverly reproduced. Lacquerware is a bright and really gorgeous type of art that’s very popular in Hanoi, along with stunning photography, fine needlework art or portraiture. Prices vary, so have a budget in mind before you arrive. Research some galleries or simply stroll along Nguyen Thai Hoc until something takes your fancy.
6. Eat like a king
A fancy night out on a uni budget can sometimes mean ordering the main instead of the entrée; or getting an extra plate of dumplings to share instead of sacrificing food for beer. Not in Vietnam. Here, the seafood is fresh and cheap; the vegetables are never soggy and the noodles most certainly do not come in a plastic pot. In fact, some of the best food can be found right on the street. Hanoi is home to some of the country’s best street food vendors, so choose one that looks popular with locals and order a bun cha (minced pork in lettuce cups with chilli, bean sprouts, herbs and rice noodles). The beach town of Nha Trang is loaded with cook-to-order seafood restaurants, where you can choose your catch-of-the-day from a big tank and tuck in for less than a tenner.
7. History comes alive
Instead of reading about it in a textbook, you can actually hear stories about the past from living, breathing Vietnamese locals. A great opportunity to chat is while you are on an overnight stay with a local family in the Mekong Delta. Alternatively, take some time to visit the many museums that run guided intros to Vietnam’s ancient history, right up to the disasters of the 20th century. Here’s your must-see list: the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh, the Museum of Vietnamese History, the Ho Chi Minh Museum and the Fine Arts Museum.
8. The morning commute
Swap your car for a bike and get from A to B with some of the world’s most beautiful scenery as a backdrop. Cycling is a cheap and easy way to get around Vietnam, particularly in rural areas. You’ll clear your head, block out some of the noise from the big city’s, forget about all the stuff that’s waiting for you back at home and see more of the country than you would on foot. Dodge kids and cats while riding through the streets of Hoi An; cycle through the fields of Hue and see temples, bunkers, pagodas and tombs or follow parts of the Reunification Highway as you ride along the coast of Nha Trang.
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