“Vietnam is one of my top ten favorite countries because I have so many special memories there,” American travel journalist Katie Lockhart told Tuoi Tre News in a recent email interview.
“While staying in the country in 2020, my partner and I developed a fantastic community of friends and got to really experience Vietnamese culture,” she continued.
“It was a beautiful time that my partner and I talk about often.”
Calling herself a “full-time” traveler, Katie Lockhart said her wanderlust, work, and stomach have taken her to 50 countries and all seven continents.
Over the past few years, she’s written travel and food articles for The New York Times, National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, Harper’s Bazaar, Thrillist and more.
Lockhart and her partner first met in Hanoi in 2014.
“We always planned to return and spend more time exploring different regions,” she said.
For their second trip to Vietnam, the two landed in Ho Chi Minh City in mid-January last year.
They originally only planned to stay for three months, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to extend their stay to over a year.
However, the not-so-minor change in itinerary turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
The extra time allowed Lockhart to visit nearly every corner of Vietnam they otherwise might not have had time to visit, such as Da Lat and Ninh Binh.
|Katie Lockhart is seen in a photo she provided Tuoi Tre News.|
Lockhart’s favorite places
When asked about her favorite places in Vietnam, the 29-year-old traveler was quick to share her list.
“My favorite city for food is Hanoi. I absolutely love the food there,” she said, mentioning her love of bun cha (white rice noodles served with grilled pork and meatballs) and coconut coffee.
Bun cha and coconut coffee were once featured in a story Lockhart wrote for CNN in May 2020 where she talked about life in Hanoi after a period of social distancing imposed to curb COVID-19.
Earlier, she also celebrated the coffee culture in Vietnam in a post on her Instagram account @findyourhappyplate in March.
“In Vietnam, you start your day with a coconut coffee,” she wrote to a photo capturing a glass of coconut coffee in Hoi An.
“I don't even drink coffee but I love trying the different combinations in Vietnamese coffee shops from egg coffee to coconut.”
|A photo show a street vendor selling flowers on a bicycle captured in Hanoi by Katie Lockhart.|
But when food isn’t involved, Lockhart’s top destination in Vietnam is Mu Cang Chai District in the mountainous northern province of Yen Bai.
“Driving around the villages, I felt like I stepped back in time, and the rice terraces were like nothing I’d seen before,” she recalled.
In a story published by Scott’s Cheap Flights in October of this year, Lockhart praised Mu Cang Chai’s rice terraces as possibly “the most spectacular in the world” thanks to their sheer size and natural beauty which evokes “a ‘wow’ at every corner.”
|The rice terraces in Mu Cang Chai are seen in a photo captured by Katie Lockhart.|
During Lockhart’s 14-month stay in Vietnam, she dubbed Hoi An as her ‘pandemic home.’
“We stayed there for most of our time in Vietnam and found a great community of friends to celebrate holidays with and spend time with, so some of our best experiences were there,” she said.
“While [the lockdowns were] very difficult for locals, it felt like a once-in-a-lifetime experience to ride my bike around a completely empty ancient time and experience what it would have been like before overtourism.
“I love all the quaint coffee shops and riverfront restaurants in Hoi An, I cannot wait to go back.”
|The central city of Hoi An is seen in a photo taken by Katie Lockhart.|
“Best countries for Americans to live abroad”
In February of this year, Thrillist Travel published a story featuring ‘the 14 best countries for Americans who want to live abroad.” Lockhart’s contribution to the story was a glowing review of Vietnam.
“Vietnam has one of the fastest-growing economies in Southeast Asia, with a rising middle-class, low crime rates, and a way, way low cost of living,” she wrote.
In her portion of the article, Lockhart wrote that Americans can live in Vietnam for nearly half the price of home, as a “spacious one-bedrooms in lively, culture-rich cities like Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi cost less than $700, while a mouth-watering bowl of pho is just $2.”
During her recent 14 months in Vietnam, Katie Lockhart experienced from street food stalls to luxury restaurants, average homestays as well as luxury resorts due to her work.
She said Vietnam has luxury beach destinations and high-end city properties as well as plenty of budget-friendly options, too.
“I think Vietnam has a great mix of both,” she said. “There is something for every type of travelers.”
“The best thing to do would be to remove visa requirements,” Lockhart answered about what Vietnam should do to increase its branding on the world travel map.
“The ease and affordability of getting a visa is a major factor for people when they travel, so having a free visa on arrival would most certainly boost tourist numbers,” she said.