Laurie Eats Sometimes-Vietnam edition

The food in Vietnam is pretty amazing! It’s fresh and delicious and the cool thing is that it can be found and prepared almost anywhere!

I’m a fan of Vietnamese food so I knew I would like eating during our Vietnam travels. I guess the only downside was that it was so hot and humid, we weren’t that hungry for much of the trip. But, fear not, we forced ourselves to eat…for research😀

Before we went to Vietnam, I would have said my favorite dish was BĂșn ChĂ  -a dish of grilled pork and noodles.

And, I did really enjoy this but my new favorites (which I’ve had before) are BĂ nh XĂšo and BĂ hn MĂŹ.

The bread for the Bahn Mi was especially delicious in northern Vietnam. It’s just everywhere-on the street and in every restaurant. Bread, pate, egg, herbs…Unbelievably good.

The Banh xeo was so addictive-I was craving it during our trip. It’s a delicious thin pancake filled with shrimp, a little pork, egg, bean sprouts, wrapped in rice paper, lettuce and dipped in a sauce. Mmm!

Of course, there is always the reliable and cheap bowl of pho. It’s a great breakfast food and it was especially common and good in northern Vietnam.

We had a variation with fried fish and it was incredible! This one was at Quan An Ngon, a restaurant that we went to during our Hanoi Kids Tour.

I love how the food is pretty simple-just lots of fresh herbs and greens. We took a cooking class through the Four Seasons Resort Hoi An, which, by the way, was one of the best places we’ve ever stayed!

We toured their garden, then took a van to town to shop at the old market. Then, we came back to the resort and whipped up four delicious dishes in their very impressive kitchen.

And the mangoes…mmm! We could not get enough! And now that we’ve been traveling through SE Asia, we are able to taste the difference between lots of different mangoes from different parts of Vietnam and Asia. Our favorites were the mangoes that we had in Cambodia followed by a specific variety that came from a northern province of Vietnam.

Here is a link to different mango varieties-just in case you are interested.

Speaking of Mango…

We had dinner one night at Mango Mango in Hoi An. It’s Vietnamese fusion with Latin twist. They had live music downstairs, an open kitchen upstairs and a friendly staff. (Also had lots of cool fans and a very clean bathroom!) The Spring rolls were incredible!

Of course, you can’t have food without having drinks…

Egg coffee is a Hanoi specialty. It’s strong Vietnamese coffee with whisked egg yolk on top. It was created in the 1940’s when milk was scarce in Vietnam.

FrosĂ©-where have you been all my life? Had my first one at The Bamboo Bar at Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi. (Yes, I know this isn’t a traditional Vietnamese drink but it was so good that it’s worth mentioning!)

I had coconut juice several times but this huge and ice cold coconut in Hoi An was my favorite. I had them cut it up when I was done so I could eat it! I was extremely hot and sweaty in this picture and the coconut was really cold so I’m happy here!

There is no shortage of delicious food in Vietnam. You will love it!

2 nights in Ho Chi Minh City

One night in Bangkok…no, no…it was 2 nights in Ho Chi Minh City! (We actually had 5 hours in Bangkok but the song has stayed with me for days!)

I liked Ho Chi Minh City a lot more than I thought I would. Yes, it was hot and very humid and yes, it’s a huge city (about 12 million people if you count surrounding areas) with tons of motorbikes everywhere but….

…it’s pretty clean, it’s modern and it surprisingly has a lot of green space to enjoy. We wished we had another couple of days to explore!

(By the way, that colorful striped flag is the Buddhist flag.)

In our short time in HCMC, we managed to see a few of the major attractions.

First up Ho Chi Minh Square. This is a must see on any visitor’s list. It’s located in District 1, which is the city center. It’s a nice walk because it’s located on the pedestrian street-Nguyen Hue Boulevard. (Which is lively at night with lights and fountains).

We continued our walk and headed towards the Saigon Opera House. It’s a beautiful French style building that was built in 1897.

The next stop was the Saigon Central Post Office. I’ve never been excited about going to the post office before but this one was pretty awesome!

Not only can you send a postcard but you get to see the beautiful yellow French building designed by Alfred Foulhoux and completed in 1891.

It has marble floors and a huge center arch. We really liked the antique wooden phone booths too. Pretty special.

After the post office, we went to Saigon Notre Dame Basilica. The official name is Cathedral Basilica of our Lady of the Immaculate Conception but that’s quite a mouthful!

It was built by French colonists in the late 1880s and all the materials were imported from France.

Note-it’s currently undergoing a large scale renovation until late 2019

The last part of our walking tour was Independence Palace or Reunification Palace. It is a significant stop because it was here, in 1975, that a tank from the North Vietnamese Army crashed through the gates and ended the Vietnam War.

This is also when the name changed from Saigon to Ho Chi Minh City. Both names are used frequently today.

If we had more time we definitely would have gone to the War Remnants Museum. I’ve heard nothing but great things about it. Another popular attraction, about 1 1/2 hours outside of town, are the Cu Chi Tunnels. Well, there’s always next time!

Next up…Dubai. And, coming soon-Laurie Eats Sometimes, Vietnam Edition.

Hue-Day Tripping

That’s right. I have a picture of Wayne and Garth from Wayne’s World here to remind you that Hue is actually pronounced like “way”-No way! (Look it up if you don’t get it)

Hue is a really special place! It’s located in central Vietnam-about 2 1/2 hours from Da Nang. It was the capital city of Vietnam and the seat of the Nguyen Dynasty emperors from 1802 until 1945.

We toured Hue as a full day trip from Hoi An and although it was a long, hot day, it was really worth the drive!

After we left the vibrant city of Da Nang, passing the famous “China Beach“, we were treated to lush mountains and spectacular coastline views. Our guide stopped and took us to a French built fort that was used as a bunker and is currently an archeological dig site. Pretty cool!

Hue was really beautiful. Our first stop was the Imperial City of Hue. A walled palace within a walled city and of course, it was pretty awesome and grand!

The city was seized in 1968, during the Vietnam War, and you can still see bullet holes in many places. About 10 buildings remain from the original 100+ structures. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993.

The Vietnamese government realizes what a great tourist attraction they have and are currently working to restore the buildings.

Our next stop was the Pagoda of the Celestial Lady. This historic 7 story temple is really pretty and it overlooks the Perfume River. I don’t think you can actually go in the pagoda at any time but it was very neat to see.

The site also houses the car that was driven by the monk, ThĂ­ch Quang Duc, who burned himself to death during a protest in Saigon in 1963.

The last stop of the day was the very impressive Tomb of Khai Dinh, who was the 12th emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty. The building was completed in 1931. The outside is a black concrete and the inside is tile and gold.

We really liked it- pretty buildings and a really awesome view. This flamboyant emperor really knew how to make a great Tomb!

We don’t always opt for tour guides but I really enjoyed having a driver and a tour guide for this trip to Hue. It was a long day so it was nice to be educated and entertained and not worry about getting from place to place. We booked our driver and guide through our hotel.

We also enjoyed the lack of crowds in all three locations. We started our day at 8am and arrived at the Imperial City at 11am. Also, May is the off season so less people.

Hue is worth a visit of at least a day! See it for yourself!

Next up…Ho Chi Minh City

Hoi An-City of lanterns

Hoi An, in Central Vietnam, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was once a very busy trading port. It is a beautiful city with a visit on your tour of Vietnam!

It’s filled with colorful lanterns, a bustling night market, lovely yellow buildings, tailor shops galore and a very picturesque bridge.

Unfortunately, like many other great places around the world, it’s also inundated with bus loads of day trippers.

Tip-avoid going between 2 or 3pm until around 7:30pm as it seems to be peak time for the crowds.

But, as long as you are prepared for the crowds and work around it, you will love it. It’s very pedestrian friendly too.

It also has an Old Market or Central Market that starts around 4am. We went through one morning as part of our cooking school tour and strolled though the food stalls, meat department, produce and seafood areas. It was bustling and busy! (the meat section was not for those with weak stomachs!)

There is so much to look at in Hoi An and great food to sample!

I loved that people actually bought the “banana clothes” that I saw for sale everywhere and then actually wore matching outfits around town! I was so amused!

By the way, Central Vietnam is also safe and does not have the petty crime that you have to be aware of in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City so get out your camera and snap away in this picturesque town!

Hectic Hanoi

I’m just a small town girl…

So I found the hustle and bustle of our 4 days in Hanoi (and the people riding scooters the sidewalks!) to be a bit overwhelming. Nevertheless, it was exciting and vibrant.

There was action all day and night and my brain was on stimulation overload!

Tip-Be very careful walking on the sidewalks (scooters!) and crossing the street. Yikes! Yellow lights apparently mean speed up and red lights mean nothing.

In Hanoi, you will see thousands of scooters, motorbikes, some cars, busses, trucks, bicycles and pedicabs. All going different directions at times.

And you will see people carrying everything on motorbikes-dogs, babies, families of 4 or 5, bags of rice, produce, metal pipes, baskets-you name it! (Makes me wonder why so many Americans need giant trucks, SUV’s and minivans for their small families.)

While in Hanoi, we stayed in a luxurious and peaceful oasis in the French quarter.

The Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel-a beautiful hotel, which opened in 1901 and is right next to the Hanoi Opera House.

The service was over the top amazing! I can’t rave enough about the excellent and attentive staff and luxury accommodations. Wow!

The pool area was my favorite way to spend every afternoon.

Sipping on a cold, pink Frose wasn’t bad either!

Another very cool thing about the hotel was the historical tour that is given exclusively to hotel guests each evening. The tour concludes with a few minutes in a bomb shelter, built during the Vietnam War, and only discovered during a hotel renovation 6 years ago. Don’t let the grins fool you. The tour was very moving for all of us.

We spent a fantastic (also very hot!) morning with Kim and Cookie, our tour guides from Hanoi Kids. This tour group, private tours guided by college students, is fantastic. I highly recommend them. Look them up on TripAdvisor-all the glowing recommendations are well earned!

They took us to the Temple of Literature . This is where Vietnam’s first National university, the Imperial Academy is held. It was built in 1070 and is dedicated to Confucius.

We also went to Hoa Lo Prison, which was quite interesting. In Vietnam, what Americans call the Vietnam War, is referred to as the “American War”, by the way.

We found the Vietnamese people to be very friendly. The attitude of the younger generation seems that maybe they don’t care about the American War and it’s just history. The older generations haven’t forgotten but seem to have forgiven.

You will find propaganda at the museum and you might not like it. You will just have to visit and form your own opinion! I prefer to try to keep my blog positive!

Kim and Cookie gave us some insight about women on scooters in Hanoi.

According to our guides, women prefer scooters over motorbikes because they don’t have any gears and the scooters have a place to stow purses etc.

Also, they don’t just wear masks for pollution, but rather to cover up and not get too much sun. Many women are completely covered head to toe. They are referred to as “bike ninjas”.

Many women ride sidesaddle. Very impressive!

Keeping the sun off your skin is something we started coming across in Singapore. Funny because I just want to be nice and tan!

We even saw many places selling whitening sunscreen.

Another excursion we took while in Hanoi was to the Museum of Ethnology. It focuses on 54 officially recognized ethnic groups within Vietnam. It preserves cultural heritage and has very cool outdoor replicas of homes as well as lovely gardens and a water puppet theater.

You can read more about water puppet theater and how it’s unique to Vietnam and dates back centuries. We even got to try it.

There is a night market in the Old Quarter every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to go because Friday was our last night in Hanoi and there was a massive thunderstorm complete with pouring rain and some minor power outages. Got to save something for next time, I guess!

Next up…Hoi An and it’s lovely lanterns and a day trip to Hue

Vietnam-Cruising Halong Bay

Cruising the world famous UNESCO site of Halong Bay is pretty darn amazing!

Some people only dream of going there but we were lucky enough to actually visit and spend 2 nights cruising the bay! We even had perfect weather!

We aren’t really “Cruise” people so I wasn’t sure what to expect with a two night cruise. We did extensive research on a luxury 3 day/2 night cruise and were narrowed down our choices to Indochina Dragon Legend (but they never got back to our multiple inquiries) and Paradise Cruises. So we booked with Paradise.

One of the reasons we chose this cruise and itinerary was because we were supposed to be able to stay on the boat the second day and not transfer to a smaller “day boat” as many other two night cruises did.

Unfortunately, we got an email about a week before our cruise that our itinerary changed and we would be on a “day boat” from 8:45 am until 2:30pm after all. That soured my experience.

Even though the food on the boat was really outstanding and the service was over the top amazing, I felt like we just didn’t get what we were promised.

Nevertheless, cruising Halong Bay was an experience that we will treasure for years to come and it really was beautiful. We even had a fabulous sunset!

There was no shortage of activities that we could choose from.

We enjoyed the kayaking in the bay and I was pleasantly surprised that there was very minimal trash. I was really expecting to see more.

Another activity was a trip to Surprise Cave. I guess the “Surprise” was that the cave was so huge (and not crowded) and maybe another “surprise” was the penis shaped rock formation that was illuminated by a red light?! Hum.

We had fun at the cooking demonstration on the boat. Fried spring rolls one night and fresh rolls the second night. We even learned a few pointers!

The only place we encountered crowds (we cruised early May, which is the low season) was on Ti Top Island. We chose to climb the 400 steps to a pagoda and an amazing view.

Swimming was the other activity choice here but we didn’t go beyond putting our feet in the water. It just wasn’t “swimming clean”.

Our favorite excursion was on the second day. We went to see one of the two remaining floating fishing villages left in Halong Bay.

Apparently, just a very small percentage of people who visit Halong Bay make it as far as the village we visited.

I was surprised to learn that the Vietnamese government has relocated all but two villages to the mainland. There is a promise of a better life and free education for the children. It seems they are being kicked out in an effort to clean up the bay for tourism.

It was a very thought provoking visit.

What a magnificent spot in the world. I’m glad our family got to experience it together!

Notes: Alisa cruises offers “responsible cruising” and twice monthly “Halong green and clean” cruises. AuCo Luxury cruises has a “Fight for a Healthy Ocean Campaign”.

Like I said, I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of trash we saw because I was expecting to see quite a bit. I hope it continues to improve for the sake of future generations!