You can thumb through the glossy brochures, but nothing beats a first person account to get a feel for what a destination is really like. Not an online review, because they’re usually underpinned by some emotional grudge, but an honest report from a regular traveller who’s had their boots on the ground. Like this one from Graham Lazenby, recalling his trip to Vietnam in 2016.

How did you picture the place before visiting?
I knew quite a bit about it from my army colleagues. I never went myself during the war, but they told me quite a bit. I knew what to expect. Basically, an Asian country that’s rebuilding and where tourism is on the increase.

What were your first impressions after landing?
It looked like chaos on the roads with the millions of scooters. I wondered how on earth they manage to get through a day without having a crash. After we dumped the suitcases, we went for a walk downtown and the people were nice. It was all reasonably priced. First impressions were good.

Was there something on the itinerary you were most looking forward to?
Yes, Ha Long Bay. That was the first couple of days, cruising up around there. I love the water and I really wanted to see the lifestyle of the boat people and local traders. There was a really interesting pearl farm there too. Very interesting indeed. You get to swim in the waters of the bay, it was great.

Any other cultural highlights?
We went to Hanoi jail and that was very informative. A real highlight. Another was the rickshaw ride, where they take you around the old quarters. They take you down all the old alleyways and you get slightly off the tourist route. They stop anytime you like to take photographs. It’s a really good ride.

They seem more relaxed than the western world. Most don’t have two cents to rub together, but they’d give you anything and do anything for you.

How was the food?
The food was superb. Most lunches were five or six courses, only little ones, but it was absolutely wonderful. On the tour, there was a cooking class as well, where they taught us to make spring rolls. You actually make a whole bunch and then tuck into them, so that was good.

What are the people like?
Really nice. Especially in the hotels, they couldn’t do enough for you, but even on the streets they welcome you. They make it feel like they really want to serve you and it’s not just a job. The people were lovely.

Did anything surprise you?
The traffic in the cities and the pace of life, I suppose. Another thing was how everyone in the family over there has to do something to earn an income. How industrious they are really stuck in my mind. They also seem more relaxed than the western world. Most of them don’t have two cents to rub together, but they’d give you anything and do anything for you. In a nutshell, it’s a far less stressful atmosphere over there.

What will be your lasting memory?
The smiles on the faces of the people. They really welcome Australians with open arms.

What would you say to someone who’s thinking of going to Vietnam?
Tell me when you’re going and I’ll carry your suitcase! I went by myself last year, but I loved it so much that I’m going back with my wife next year.

Has Gra’s experience got you fired up to see Vietnam for yourself? Check out this ridiculously well-priced tour from TripADeal.

Image: Love you Ha Long time! Boats huddle around the iconic limestone cliffs in Ha Long Bay.