New visas will encourage the best travel

August 9, 2023 | 07:27 pm PT
Darren Barnard Teacher
It's less than one week now until the new 90-day tourists visas and 45-day exemptions will be available to a wide array of international visitors.

Despite the lack of clarity surrounding the new visas, once they are initiated it will encourage much greater travel possibilities within Vietnam.

"Going slowly was the best way of being reminded that there is a relationship between Here and There, and that travel narrative was the story of There and Back."

Those are the words of the great American novelist and travel writer, Paul Theroux, who illustrates the one piece of advice that is often repeated by a wealth of travelers: the heart of travel should be to slow down, appreciate and immerse yourself in your surroundings.

The opportunity to connect with a community and travel in a way that is more environmentally friendly as you decrease your speed helps you reap other benefits along the way. Although mass tourism has advantages such as convenience and practicality, those who'll travel across Vietnam for a longer period will have the chance to encounter wonderful NGOs and other more sustainable examples of ecotourism, away from resorts and similar infrastructure that may not be as focused on the long-term effects on the environment.

There are countless examples of when a trip ends too soon or it feels rushed, whereas it's rare when we travel that we feel like we spent too long somewhere. Vietnam's new visa policy will encourage this type of travel and create memories that will feel more unique compared to the usual path.

Often the days when we don't have a strict, packed itinerary are the ones which encourage spontaneity and moments or conversations that wouldn't usually take place. As interesting as popular tourist attractions such as Ba Na Hills and Cu Chi Tunnels are, frequently the lasting impressions of a trip will be the acts of kindness or unexpected meetings that take you by surprise.

I recall running out of gas whilst driving alongside the paddy fields in a remote area of central Vietnam and within a few minutes, a stranger had noticed me pushing my motorbike along. Before I knew it, I was invited to have tea with his family and persuaded to have a haircut next door, whilst they filled up my bike with a jerry can. This experience certainly wouldn't be found in a Lonely Planet guide, but it is the memory I cherish most from that trip.

Francais (R) from France and his friend explore stop on Ma Pi Leng Pass in Ha Giang in northern Vietnam during a motorbike trip. Photo by VnExpress/Xuan Phuong

Francais (R) from France and his friend explore stop on Ma Pi Leng Pass in Ha Giang in northern Vietnam during a motorbike trip. Photo by VnExpress/Xuan Phuong

For years, travelers in Vietnam would often have to pick between places like either Sa Pa or Ha Giang in the north or not have time to see many beaches beyond Hoi An and Nha Trang along the coast in their 15-day or 30-day trip, whereas the upcoming longer visas will offer the opportunity to see more of Vietnam and appreciate it at a slower pace.

Destinations in the mountainous north such as Mu Cang Chai, Cao Bang or Lang Son, which would often get overlooked in a two week or month-long trip, will significantly benefit from the tourism boost, as backpackers will have enough time to include these sights in their itinerary.

Similarly, tourists who crave palm trees and the sounds of the ocean will have more time to enjoy places such as Mui Ne and Quy Nhon, which likely wouldn't have been included when visiting the country for just 15 or 30 days previously.

Some of these destinations may take a while to adapt, especially after such a steep decline in visitors during the pandemic, but ultimately, the travelers and the locals will benefit from this extended period of travel.

*Darren Barnard is an English teacher living in Hanoi.

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