Why I Don’t Like Vietnam (And Why I Might Go Back Anyway)

I first went to Vietnam in 2018 for 10 days and visited Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Ho Chi Minh City, and the Mekong Delta.

Then I went in 2023 and in 30 days visited almost every place of interest in the country. I went to HCMC, Da Lat, Nha Trang, Da Nang, Hoi An, Hue, Ninh Binh, Sapa, Ha Giang, and Hanoi among others.

I returned yet again in 2024 to visit new places, repeat some from previous trips, and give some less popular ones a try too.

Simon in Hoi An in front of a sign for Tet, the Vietnamese new year
In Hoi An for Tet 2024

I think a combined 70 days of traveling in the Land of the Blue Dragon gives me some authority when I say I don’t like Vietnam.

Here’s why and what makes me consider traveling there again anyway.

Why I don’t like Vietnam

My English teacher once told me to never use the phrase “in my opinion” as anything I say is, by default, “my opinion”.

And yet, here I am, emphasizing that everything you are about to read about Vietnam is my own opinion.

Locals are unwelcoming, even rude

I am careful not to stereotype entire nations. Not all Vietnamese people are rude – I’ve had some pleasant and heartwarming interactions.

But in an overwhelming majority of cases, I have felt unwelcome.

My impression of the average Vietnamese is that they are closed, cold, and unwilling to interact with foreigners.

Paradoxically, it’s much worse in the hospitality, tourism and service sectors.

I’ve been ignored, shouted at, laughed at, pushed, and pulled on different occasions.

Ms Anh's sign that says "no pressure, no pushing, no b/s price, looking is free"
Think about why Ms Anh could put this sign up in the first place! Ms Anh is in the minority!

One time I asked a bus company employee where to buy a ticket and she demonstratively opened her phone pretending to talk to someone, walking away and completely ignoring me.

Another time I got forcibly shooed out of a store when I said that the price was too high (it was).

I have smiled and gotten frowns. I’ve said please and thank you (in both English and Vietnamese) and gotten mumbling and grumpiness. I have been shouted at for not understanding what they say. I guess that one’s on me for not knowing Vietnamese.

A sign in Vietnam that reads "No accept foreigners. No same language. When there is a problem will not solve."
If your attitude is to not deal with anyone speaking a different language, can this be called hospitality at all?

On the point of language. Google Translate is a lifesaver in Vietnam but even then, I’ve had numerous experiences where employees refuse to interact with me because of the language barrier. I’ve never had this happen to me in Indonesia, Laos, or Timor Leste for example.

Even the ones that aren’t outright rude, I wouldn’t call exactly friendly or willing to help either. I feel as if they are suspicious of me (or foreigners in general) by virtue of being such.

This is all based on my personal experience from traveling in Vietnam as a tourist/backpacker, i.e. most of my interactions have been with commercial intent. Other travelers share similar and even worse experiences and feelings:

The list goes on. There’s something to my claim that the hospitality sector in Vietnam is not hospitable at all, it’s not just me.

As for the other side of the coin, Stickman Bangkok provides a needed balance in perspectives.

Queueing isn’t a thing

I am not British and although I’ve spent 5 years queuing religiously on the Albion, I am not neurotic about it.

And yet, I find it ridiculous that I can stand a meter behind the person in front of me on the 2-man queue I’ve just formed and get aggressively elbowed by a man, cutting my “Western import” (aka The Queue) and showing no remorse.

This is not a single occasion.

Not queueing – I am willing to understand. Mosh-pit-style urgency to get to the front – I cannot.

And yes, in theory, game theory can explain it. But seriously?

Scams lurk everywhere

I pride myself on being a street-smart traveler. I rarely get scammed. I am prepared, informed, vigilant, and rarely naive.

But in Vietnam just avoiding the scams and having my eyes peeled all the time is incredibly exhausting due to the sheer number of them and how widespread they are.

Bag Fees

There should be no “bag fees” and locals don’t pay any. It’s only foreigners that are ever asked for such. I used to think it was normal, oh silly me. It’s a scam, of course, it’s just a matter of the amount.

Had I been asked to pay 100.000 VND (4$), it’d’ve been alarm bells in my head. But 15k – seems plausible.

Nah – there are no bag fees, it’s a scam.

Tourist prices for everything


Not just in markets, where bargaining is expected (although not always appreciated, as if you’re somehow expected to be happy paying 4x the real fair price).

I’ve overpaid for food, bus tickets, motorcycle rentals, tours, etc.

Other scams

  • A vendor gives you their pole with produce, takes a picture, and then makes a big hassle about you not paying for it even though you never wanted a picture in the first place.
  • The old switcheroo between 500.000 and 20.000 VND banknotes. They are both blueish. Usually done by taxi drivers who then play dumb and claim you’re the one trying to scam them.
  • Switcheroo number two: you look and pick a nice leather bag/purse/wallet which then gets replaced by a fake plastic one while packing.
  • Reservation non-existent: you’ve made one online, turn up at the hotel, and are told they don’t have it and there are only more expensive rooms available.
  • A couple of other scams here too.

Motorcycles are a bit too crazy

Motorcycle chaos in Vietnam
This doesn’t look that chaotic but it’s the only picture I have

When an Indonesian goes to Vietnam and says traffic is crazy, you truly know that it is.

Last time I went to Vietnam, my Indonesian girlfriend claimed it could not even compare with Indonesia. And if you’ve been to Bali, Jakarta, or Yogyakarta, you know.

I agree. I am used to heavy, hectic traffic even, but Vietnamese drivers go above and beyond to make streets hell.

A t-shirt sold in Vietnam that shows a traffic light and says that you can go at any light. Traffic is one of the reasons I didn't like Vietnam
Is that really something to be proud of?

Honking, dangerous overtaking, shortcutting turns, crossing at a red light, speeding, driving on sidewalks, brushing up their cargo against pedestrians, etc.

No, it’s not a cute part of Vietnamese culture – it’s the chaotic behavior of people who don’t care about others.

The ‘tourist trail’ is way too touristy

I’ve been to most of the popular tourist destinations in Vietnam. Think of a famous place in Vietnam. Unless it’s Phu Quoc or Phong Nha, I’ve probably been there.

The whole south-north axis is so overly touristy that in some places you may feel like you’re in a movie set rather than an actual foreign country.

Not in a good way – in the sense that it’s a bit fake, lacking authenticity, made for tourists, and with few opportunities for genuine encounters with locals or exploration beyond what’s offered in packaged tours.

The bad kind of overtourism.

Off-the-beaten-path is dreary and mundane

“If you don’t like the tourist trail, go to X!”

Okay. I did. I am not impressed. There’s little interesting and exciting to do or see that’s not already on the map.

I went to Kon Tum recently. A place dubbed the Sapa of the South but without the tourists. Holy mangoes, was it boring!

Dull landscapes, interactions with local minority groups plausible really only with a tour guide (and then, I’d argue, quite fake), and after the first Community House and beautiful Church – not much more to see or do.

Kon Tum Community House
Kon Tum Community House. Yeah, it’s pretty cool the first time you see it but that’s pretty much it

Ha Giang was off-the-beaten-track 20 years ago. Now everybody raves about it and it’s put on the must-see list with Ha Long Bay and the like. Vietnam is not what people 20 years ago experienced and to some extent, I’m also part of the problem.

Basically, if it’s not popular, there’s a reason for it. And if it is popular, it’s way too popular.

Vietnamese cities are boring and monotonous

You can blindfold me and put me in the center of any city in Vietnam and I wouldn’t be able to tell which one I am in.

Except for the Old Quarter in Hanoi and a few landmark locations in Saigon and Da Nang, Vietnamese cities are identical.

It has to do with central planning, socialist standardization, and the whole “let’s all be equal” shenanigans. I bet the same architecture and construction companies are used everywhere.

Seriously though, EVERY government building in Vietnam is painted in pink and beige with a sign/label/name/motivational slogan in yellow against red. Urgh…

City Hall Saigon in beige and red.
Notice the colors. All government/mayoral/district, etc buildings in Vietnam are these 2 colors.

I am sick of Buddhist temples and pagodas

This one is purely personal. I admire pagodas in all the good ways. Really, I do. They are pretty to look at, some even awe-inspiring. I marvel every time I see one.

But very often a pagoda is the main attraction a place has. I guess that’s my real issue with the temples.

A buddhist pagoda in Vietnam
I mean, it’s pretty, but how many of these can you realistically see before you get sick of them?

I’ve just seen so many I now don’t visit them purposefully anymore. It’s a case of “seen one, seen ’em all” and I’ve seen 100+, so I say “No more!”.

But if I happen to pass by one, it will still capture my eyes for a few seconds.

Why I may consider going back

All the reasons above… I don’t think they are changing anytime soon. Locals’ attitudes towards foreigners are developed over decades. Architecture and overtourism – probably not in the next century.

I’m unlikely to change my stance on the issues that I hate about Vietnam. But I can see its good sides and look for reasons to return.

Changing, varied landscapes

View from Ma Pi Leng Pass towards Song Nho Que River
Ma Pi Leng pass on the Ha Giang Loop

Vietnam is a loooong country. Long countries, unlike wide countries, have a variety of changing landscapes due to geography.

Climate, flora, and fauna also change. Beaches to Highlands, deltas to bays, karst to red rocks.

You may be hot in your swimsuit in Mui Ne one day, hop on a flight to the North, and in the evening be cold in your winter jacket in Sapa.

Vietnam has it all.

Red Sand dunes in Mui Ne, Vietnam
The Red Sand Dunes in Mui Ne

Motorcycle routes

Vietnam developed my love for riding a motorbike. Ha Giang Loop was awesome, especially if you don’t do it in a tour group and go off-track too.

Hai Van Pass was also quite cool, although short.

Simon on a scooter

My next trip to Vietnam will see me buy a motorcycle in Saigon and drive it to Hanoi going through all the beautiful roads and scenery.

Awesome coffee

I love coffee. Vietnam loves coffee. Vietnam and I get along when it comes to coffee.

A coffee sign in Saigon
Can you argue with that coffee sign in Saigon (apart from the COFFLE typo)?

Enough has been said and written about Vietnam being the second-largest producer of coffee in the world and its coffee culture.

I just love the fact that I can get good coffee pretty much anywhere.

If anyone’s asking, cà phê muối (the one with salted cream on top) is my favorite.

Cafe muoi
Cafe muoi!

Delicious, healthy food

Some people can’t take the cilantro/coriander that’s put in everything. I was like that initially, but then I grew to love it. Now I can’t have a Bánh mì without cilantro inside.

Unlike Indonesian food, which is predominantly fried, Vietnam’s cuisine is quite fresh and healthy. There are always greens on the side, soup additionally served with non-liquid meals and various ingredients in every meal. And it’s mostly scrumptious!

Eating Vietnamese food

So very cheap

Vietnam is one of the cheapest countries in the world.

  • I stayed in a 35.000 VND / 1.33$ per night hostel in Da Lat.
  • I ate a 6.000 VND / 0.24$ Bánh mì with meat and egg in Da Nang.
  • I had a 30.000 VND / 1.2$ noodles bowl with 7 different ingredients.
  • I used the public buses in Hanoi and Saigon for 8000 VND / 0.33$ or less per journey.
  • I drank Bia Hoi (fresh beer) with Hanoian locals at 5.000 VND / 0.2$ per bottle.
  • I traveled 700 km in a sleeper bus for 250.000 VND / 10$
  • I had a coffee with milk for 7.000 VND / 0.28$

And even though prices in tourist places, city centers, and around popular landmarks are usually higher than that, they are still very cheap. That’s unless you get scammed of course.

Learn more about the practical aspects of money in Vietnam here.

Tourism is organized well

Tourists have it easy in Vietnam.

No struggling to find reliable information about buses and trains. No figuring out the logistics of traveling. Just ask in your accommodation and they will sort out EVERYTHING for you.

Bus tickets including pick up and drop off, tours and private transfers, or just up-to-date information – in Vietnam traveling is easy.

This still bothers me a little bit – I enjoy having to figure out stuff. It puts me out of my comfort zone and always results in more memorable experiences.

But I also like the convenience that Vietnam brings.

Sleeper buses (mostly)

Simon lying in a sleeper bus in Vietnam

My love for sleeper buses somewhat overlaps with the previous point about the ease of traveling in Vietnam.

Sleeper buses have become synonymous with the 1.500 km long country (as the crow flies, it’s a fair bit longer on the roads).

Even for short journeys, the notorious Phương Trang or Futa Bus lines (among many others) allow you to lie back and relax.

Futa buses sign
FUTA are the best buses in Vietnam

Now, I say that from the perspective of a 1.75 m (5’9″) tall guy who actually fits in the seat. Any longer than that (or if you get one of the shorter seats buses) and you will have to keep your legs folded for the entire journey.

Also, sleeping in the sleeper buses is a hit or miss. I’ve had pleasant slumbers or horrible nights of cold (due to unstoppable frigid AC), noise (due to inconsiderate passengers, attendants, or drivers), or nausea (due to bad roads and subpar driving).

I still love them though.


  1. Paul gauthier says:

    Hello !
    Thank for your interesting article ! I do agree with some aspects but the good aspect are to good to give me the feel to be back again !
    Really interested to got the adress of the beer bar in hanoi ! For this price is worth a visit 😉

    1. Thanks Paul!

      Do give Vietnam a try if you haven’t – it’s a marvelous introduction to Southeast Asia. And if you’re going again, just learn from experience – yours, mine, others’…then you can find Vietnam’s charm hidden in the small alleys with loud karaokeing locals and clandestinely brewed bia hoi.
      As to the beer bar in Hanoi, read the previous sentence again 😉

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