Last of the Mekong Delta countries on my list (I don't fuck with Myanmar) but a favorite of many. I toured through the South up to the central highlands and back. Winter is not ideal for the North, and I did not regret my decision to skip Hanoi in the least, which I will explain later.
I came to Vietnam with low expectations because 1. What could possibly top Cambodia? and 2. The large volume of cautions for scams and thieves in Vietnam. The warnings were noticeably more severe than either Laos, Cambodia, or Thailand. I'm happy to say that I had a phenomenal time in Vietnam, felt reasonably safe, and the trip cost much less than I thought.
I will talk specifically of Ho Chi Minh City, Da Lat, Da Nang, and Hoi An in separate posts, and what I did there after a few gross generalizations of the country overall.
Lives up to their reputation. Hands down the best country for cuisine. And I'll tell you a little about pho:
First off- yes, they do pronounce it “fuh”. Hanoi invented it, but Saigon perfected it- The battle between the two Phos is not like the war between Chicago pizza and New York pizza. It's more like Chicago pizza and California Pizza Kitchen. Pho is damn good, vying for 1st place with Japanese Ramen as the king of noodle soups. But it's not worth going to Vietnam for, you can find great pho on either coast of the US. As my first host, An told me, “There is so much more to Saigon than pho and banh mi. I've lived here my whole life and I haven't even tried everything yet.”
You would be surprised how easy it is to get tired of banh mi (which was far superior to any Vietnamese sandwich I've had in NY). And you'll be glad for it too, once you discover other dishes. The food explores so many flavor profiles, and it's hard to imagine that the zenith of taste could be anything other than Vietnamese food. In regards to BBQ and seafood- why is Korea known for either at all? Vietnam is so objectively superior that it warrants genocide. The fact that Korean and not Vietnamese BBQ is known in the US just such a backwards, baffling stain of ignorance.
There were some big hits and misses on the wikitravel, and I'll get to specific joints in the city posts.
Best meal I had was street shellfish in HCMC, pictured above. Runner up would be Sate at a Chinese place in district 7 (Chinatown).
Best banh mi? Toss up between Lien Hoa in Da Lat which has average ratings on Tripadvisor and isn't even listed on Wikitravel, and My Phuong on Hoi An. The former is lighter, allowing you to experience it several times. The second is the heaviest banh mi you'll ever find, and also made an appearance on No Reservations. My Phuong was probably better (didn't try it with a fried egg), but this thing will knock you on your ass. I'd probably just eaten too much Lien Hoa but after two rounds with My Phuong I didn't touch banh mi again.
My Phuong Banh Mi
Regional Specialties, or Which City for Which Food
Pho, Com Tam (Broken Rice)- “It's true that Saigon has the best com tam, but com tam is not the best food in Saigon.” I never ended up trying it, description wasn't that appealing to be honest.
White Rose, but it sucks compared to Dim Sum shrimp dumplings
Com Ga (Chicken Rice)- The Com Ga in Hoi An is highly lauded, so I asked a local for a recommendation, tried it and wasn't impressed.
Hoi An Com Ga:
Danang Com Ga:
The Com Ga I had in Danang was crisp and flavorful. I was ready to eat it a second time right after. Hoi An Com Ga is bland and boring.