Category Archives: Vietnam
I have to apologize in advance because I waited much too long to write this blog post (9months) and some of the details of this trip have gotten a little hazy. I will do my best on this post and try not to wait so long in the future!
Hanoi Day 1
We arrived in Hanoi in the afternoon and made our way to the La Beauté Hotel which is located right in the middle of the Old Qaurter in Hanoi. As soon as our taxi began driving the streets we knew we were in for a wake up call. We have lived in Asia over 2 years now and have traveled in Asia extensively; the driving in Hanoi is on a whole other level. Especially in the Old Quarter, which is incredibly busy with people and stores stacked on top of each other, I am not sure how we didn’t see even one accident. In fact, the driving is so insane that our hotel provided us with instructions on how to cross the street!
First on our agenda was general exploration and FOOD! We walked around the Old Quarter and did some souvenir shopping. We ate a Banh Mi, which is a Vietnamese sandwich with meat, spicy sauce and lots of fresh herbs, from a little street vendor. This was only the first of many Banh Mi’s we would have and it was absolutely delicious. The streets in the Old Quarter are winding and very skinny and they all start to look the same especially in the dwindling daylight. We took a tuk tuk ride through town before it got too dark. I thought it was one of the best ways to see the city!
From Left to Right: Directions provided by our hotel. Enjoying a Banh Mi on the streets of Hanoi. A flower vendor rides her bike down a Hanoi road.
Out hotel gave us a recommendation of a Pho restaurant nearby so we began navigating in that direction. The Pho was different than I imagined. I always really enjoy eating it in the states where you add the sweet sauce and the spicy sauce and then pile the bowl high with herbs and veggies from that special little goody plate they usually provide. In Hanoi there was no goody plate and only the spicy sauce was available. The soup was still very good but it didn’t have as much flavor as I was expecting or that I have had from Pho places in America. I am sure that like most things, the places that are open in the states have changed their flavors a bit to please the American palate.
A big boiling bowl of Pho and a tuk-tuk ride through the city.
Hanoi Day 2: Egg Coffee
Day 2 was our only full day in Hanoi. We began the morning with Vietnamese Egg Coffee. This was not even something on our foodie radar but was recommended to us by the hotel. We found our way to a small café that is well known for the egg coffee and ordered two. We had no idea what to expect and, frankly, we were a little afraid. Eggs and coffee totally go together but eggs IN coffee is another story. It turns out that egg coffee is the single most delicious drink I have ever tasted in my life. Look it up and then go try some! It is a layer of very strong coffee with whipped egg yolks on top. I have since heard some people describe it is “liquid tiramisu” and they aren’t too far off. I still have dreams about egg coffee to this day…
The one and only…Vietnamese Egg Coffee. Life will never be the same.
Hanoi Temple Of Literature
Neither of us are much into museums but the Temple of Literature in Hanoi came very highly recommended by many people as well as travel books. It was a major disappointment. The place was full of school children who must have been on a field trip, but more than that, it just wasn’t that interesting. We walked through in about 20 minutes, as there was not really much to see or read. I would not recommend it and I imagine there are more informative and better museums elsewhere in the city.
The Temple of Literature and about a million schoolchildren on a field trip
How To Get Scammed 101
The Temple had been about a 20 minute drive from the center of the city where our hotel was located. We hopped in a taxi to try to get back so we could explore around Hoan Kiem Lake. We showed the taxi driver the business card of our hotel with the address in Vietnamese. A map featuring the large lake that is a major focal point in Hanoi that any taxi driver would know was also offered up to him. This sly driver decided to take us in the complete opposite direction for about 30 minutes. By the time we realized what he was doing and got him to turn around the meter had far surpassed what it should have cost us to get back.
How To NOT Get Scammed 201
It was obvious this guy was trying to scam us. We literally had to drive back past the Temple before arriving at the lake. When we got out we paid the driver the amount that the ride should have been based on how much we paid to get to the temple in the morning. He was not a happy camper and started to throw a fit but once I stood my ground and yelled back a little he crankily got back in his car and left. There always has to be that one person that tries to get you.
Water Puppet Show
Once at the lake we purchased some tickets to a water puppet show, which is a must-see cultural event in Hanoi. The show was about an hour and it really is pretty interesting. The puppets are on very long sticks that are held under the water. Only the puppets are visible so it looks like they are moving on their own. This show had fire, dragons and splashing! There was also traditional music being played and sung throughout the acts! After the show we went back to the Old Quarter and ended the night with 25 cent Vietnamese microbrew called Bai Hoi!
Halong Bay is about a 3-hour drive from Hanoi and is a UNESCO world heritage site. It was definitely a must-see attraction for us and we were so excited for this experience. We had such a blast on our island hopping tour in Thailand and were hoping for a similar experience. (Check out more on the Thailand tour here). We scheduled an overnight tour through our hotel with Flamingo cruises. There are many horror stories from tourists about cheap cruise lines and strange budget experiences. To ensure that we would be on a legitimate cruise line, we paid a little more.
The cruise line picked us up from our hotel early in the morning along with several other couples. The drive was long but the view through rice paddy fields and farms was unmatched. A small speedboat took us out to our large cruise ship. We got settled into our room, which was actually roomier than I imagined, and then went to lunch. Afterwards, we went to the upper deck to take in the sights. Unfortunately the entire day had been very rainy and the fog over the water was pretty thick. It was pretty cold and we had not packed for cool weather so we weren’t able to stay outside for too long.
From left to right: Our cruise ship with Flamingo Cruises. Checking out our room in the boat. It was a little bit chilly on the deck especially since we only had light summer jackets.
Kayaking and Spring Rolls
In the late afternoon we took a smaller boat to an area where we got into kayaks! There was an area full of little caves and rock formation that we paddled around. AJ and I saw some jellyfish in the water and were able to pick them up with our kayak paddles to take a better look at them. No jellyfish were harmed during this process. When we got back to the main boat we had to prepare for dinner. We were allowed to help roll the fresh spring rolls during a presentation by the crew! The food itself was just OK, nothing special. We did sit at a table with some very funny English businessmen that made the night very entertaining!
From Left to Right: Kayaking on the bay. Kayaking through the caves. A jellyfish we picked up with our paddle! The strange food on the boat.
In the evening, some women came by on tiny boats stocked with snacks and drinks and sold everyone on board snacks for exorbitant prices! They had this long stick with a bucket on it so they could collect money and “deliver” your food to the decks of the boat. Such inventive entrepreneurs!
Halong Bay Day 2 and the “Surprise”
We got an early start so we could take a short hike to a cave system called the “Surprise Caves”. It was packed with tourists, we had to wait in line to hike the hill and enter. The caves looked a little goofy lit up with multicolored lights. The view at the end of the cave system was stunning but I am not sure what the “surprise” was! Unfortunately the weather had not cleared in the morning when we were supposed to go swimming. We sat on the top deck to take in the views as we sailed back.
From left to right: Our cranky faces because the weather is bad again. The Surprise Caves. The gorgeous view from the cave system
Although the weather was not what we had wanted we still had a couple good foggy landscapes to take in. I wish it would have been warmer and that we would have been able to take in the swimming, views and sunrise/sunset like we had intended. We still got to have an incredible experience in an absolutely stunning UNESCO site. I hope I don’t sound ungrateful because we know how incredible it is for us to travel like we do!
We flew from Hanoi into Da Nang on a quick 1-hour flight on VietJet Air. Our hotel, the Cozy Hoi An Villas, sent a car to pick us up at the airport. It was about a 40 minute drive from Da Nang to Hoi An. We flew in at night so we went straight to bed in our cute little boutique hotel room.
A Walking Tour and Boat Ride in Hoi An
In the morning we ate breakfast at the hotel before setting out on a walk into town. We were very pleasantly surprised by the absolutely adorable town of Hoi An! The weather was also warm, which is what we had planned for and what we were hoping for. Seriously, it might be the cutest little town I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. Everything is built and maintained in French Revolutionary style and most people get around town by walking or bikes. The pace is much slower and more relaxed, especially after coming from the chaos of Hanoi. We toured a cute little temple in the center of town and ate some tasty street food. Hoi An is the king of awesome alleys and a true photographers paradise! We walked down many tiny streets and wandered the maze of alleys for most of the afternoon.
In the afternoon we at some incredible food and took a boat tour on the river that runs through town. The boat ride was a major highlight of our time in Hoi An because our boat captain was amazing! He spoke absolutely no English other than to tell us that his name was Ho Chi Minh. He had a very long wispy beard that he would stroke while giving a huge grin every time anyone tried to take his photo. We made sure to specifically choose him to be our captain, he was quite the character.
For dinner, we went to a highly recommended restaurant in town. Unfortunately it had a Vietnamese name that I cannot remember for the life of me. This was one of the best meals we had the entire trip and was traditional central Vietnamese food.
Hoi An Day 2
We decided to rent bikes from the hotel this morning! Yesterday we saw so many people exploring on bikes and it looks like a blast! Cute red bikes made us feel like we fit right in with the rest of the tourists. We rode back into the center of town and re-explored the alleyways by bike. We also walked through a market.
Biking Through Rice Paddies
In the afternoon we got directions from the front desk on how to ride to the rice paddies just outside of town. The map they gave us was absolutely terrible and we ended up riding back and forth lost for about 2 hours. I guess it was a great way to explore the outer reaches of the town but it was also a lot of work. After several hours of random riding around we stopped in the middle of town at a café to rehydrate. We were resigned to the fact that we would never find the rice paddies but once we got our blood sugar up we decided to give it one last try.
When we finally found the rice paddies we were greeted by a local farmer sitting atop a water buffalo on the side of the road. We stopped so I could take some photos and the farmer beckoned us over to get closer. They continued to invite us over and allowed us to pet, feed and even sit on their buffalo. They were so friendly and we shortly realized it was because they were going to ask us for money . It is always a little disappointing when you think someone is just being super nice and then you realize they want money. I did however appreciate the photos so we paid them a small tip. We kept riding a little further down then the rest of the tourist and got to see more water buffaloes, birds and a gorgeous little pond!
Dinner and A Mysterious Darkness
For dinner, we went to an adorable café right on the river where we could sit outside. There were tons of people out around town and it looked like they were setting up for some sort of festival or concert. We had a fantastic meal full of passion fruit, which is prolific in Vietnam! We had it every chance we got and would have happily overdosed if that were a thing. Afterwards we walked into town to get one last Banh Mi at this great street food stand we had found the day before! We were leaving the next morning and needed a Banh Mi fix to get us through the next flight.
On the way back we noticed people with lanterns and restaurants and hotels were turning out their lights. We had to walk and ride our bikes back to our hotel in almost complete darkness, which was a little intimidating. There was a big concert on the south side of the river with tons of people wandering the streets. When we returned to our hotel the lights were out there too so we asked the front desk what was going on. It turns out that the whole town was celebrating “Earth Hour” so they had turned all their lights off for 1 hour in recognition of global warming and the Earths health. Everyone headed out into the streets during this hour to listen to music and presentations about the Earth. How cool!
Hoi An was my absolute favorite part of our trip to Vietnam. We had the best food of the trip here and the weather was much improved from Halong Bay (read about that here). The cute style of the buildings and the alleys were just the cherry on top!
A quick 90-minute flight from Da Nang landed us in Can Tho, southern Vietnam. We made the trip specifically to see the Cai Raing floating market that is about a 30-40 minute boat ride from Can Tho.
A Slow Day In Can Tho
The actual town of Can Tho is very small and pretty uneventful. A lot of tourists make the trip from Ho Chi Minh City on a bus as a full day trip but the market is best early in the morning so we decided to stay in town. We had a hard time keeping ourselves occupied for the half day we had to fill after we landing and checking in. There is a food street along the river but the options were limited. We got some lunch and walked up and down the river before deciding to relax in the hotel.
In the evening, we heard rumors of a street food area so we went to check it out. It was only a small street with maybe 15 food stands. We were pleasantly surprised to find some excellent and unique stuff! There were some great drinks and a very interesting Vietnamese “taco” that was very good! We got a ton of food and brought it back to the hotel for an early night.
A Brief History Of The Market
We woke up and left the hotel at around 5:30am. We went to the river and found a small boat that we could take by ourselves and negotiated a price. The ride to Cai Raing floating market was about 30-40 minutes but the view was amazing. We were able to watch the sunrise over the river and see the houses on the banks. Everyone was doing their morning routines. The floating market was much smaller than we thought. It is considered one of the largest floating markets still remaining in Vietnam but it is getting smaller and smaller every day. In fact, the floating market is mostly maintained for tourist purposes. It is still used by local farmers like it used to be in the old days but it was not nearly as big and busy as the pictures I had seen from years ago.
Cai Raing Floating Market
Once we got into the actual market area another boat floated up to us and sold us some coffee right off the boat! They grabbed onto our boat during the transaction and then pushed off when we were done. We also had breakfast on the boat and it was fantastic! One of the best meals we had the entire trip! AJ and I got 2 different things, mine was a noodle dish and AJ’s was a soup. It is actually not as hard as you might think to eat on a tiny boat and there were several other boats tied to the food boat, just floating and eating.
The majority of the boats were filled with different fruits and vegetables. They had a long pole that stuck straight up in the air and held one of the fruits they were selling. This way, you could easily float through and see what each boat was selling and get what you need! It was an awesome and incredibly unique place! Unfortunately, when I got home, my memory card that I shot all my floating market photos on was corrupted. Despite all my best efforts, I was unable to recover them. I was devastated since the floating market was one of the main things I planned specifically to photograph. Now the saying “you had to be there to see it” is really true!
Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) aka Saigon
After a small breakfast at the hotel we had the front desk schedule our tickets for a bus to Ho Chi Minh City. The ride was a long 4 hours! We stopped at a rest stop half way through and got a couple snacks but we were both starving by the time we arrived. The First Hotel in Saigon was very nice and let us check-in a little early. I purposefully chose a hotel near the airport since we only had 1.5 days to spend in the city. It made sense but there wasn’t much directly around our hotel. We didn’t have very much time so we got dinner close to the hotel and swam in the hotel pool while planning our next day.
We weren’t particularly interested in visiting Saigon but it was the airport that made the most sense to fly out of. Because of that, we didn’t make any specific plans for how to spend our one full day in the city. The tourist map that the hotel give us had a 1 day city tour walking path so we decided to give that a try. We started the day at a market followed by an art museum) and an antique street. In the center of town we saw the opera house and some beautiful government buildings. At this point we had been walking nearly all day so we stopped at a 23rd floor restaurant and had some drinks on the rooftop! We got a great view of the city and an even better view of the city traffic from above. Watching the crazy driving from up high was hilarious.
A Good Ambiance To End A Great Trip
We continued resting at Turtle Lake, which is a common hang out spot in the middle of the city. We passed a nice restaurant on our way back home and stopped for a lovely dinner. The restaurant had outdoor seating with great ambiance. It was a great little place to reflect on our vacation and all the experiences we had! Vietnam was a beautiful country and a little more rustic than some of the other places we had been. We are so grateful to have been able to discover another country together!