Photo of the day: Pho with Saigon beer @ Pho Quynh
I decided to do a reflection post for each country instead of waiting for the end of the trip due to the length of this trip. So here is my reflection on my adventures in Vietnam! Culture
I really love the culture of Vietnam. The people are very hardworking, waking up early and then working late into the evening. I did not see one panhandler on the street. Everyone tried their best to make a living, whether it’s selling little donuts, giving rides in cyclos or selling animal helium balloons.
It is also in Vietnam, where you have to walk into oncoming traffic like you just don’t care. No one will stop for you, only weave around you, so stop waiting and just walk, slowly and carefully.
Their food times are interesting. Early mornings are very busy then at night. Lunch time is always the most difficult time for us to find good food as a lot of places close early. It’s as if lunch isn’t a thing. People just have big breakfasts.
Another thing I love is their service. At the street stalls, there was never a line-up. You want to eat, you get a seat. Then you are presented with some piping hot noodles or rice after a few seconds of ordering it. The hotels here are also worth mentioning. They provide such superb service. I am not sure if it was because we stayed at more boutique hotels but they were super considerate and attentive to our needs. It’s definitely the best service I’ve received from the hospitality industry to date. Weather
This was the perfect time to come to Vietnam. The southern parts were warm but not suffocatingly hot. At night, I felt the need for a light long sleeve and long pants at times. In the central/northern parts of the country, it was very pleasant during the day in the 20’s and chilly at night requiring a light cardigan and jeans. We only had a couple days if light rain lasting 30 minutes maximum each time. This is compared to the huge flood in Hoi An, which occurred just one month prior. Language
Because this is a tonal language it is not very easy to learn. The good thing is once you grasp the basic pronunciation of the words, you can still try to sound out the words, perhaps with the wrong tone. Ordering food wasn’t a problem but when it came to asking for other things (a drink, extra condiments, the price on things) it wasn’t always straightforward. The areas we were in were touristy enough, though, that most people spoke some English.
Top food picks
Banh Xeo @ Banh Xeo 46A, HCMC
“Roasted chicken fried rice” @ Quan Pho Ngon – Com Rang Ga, Hanoi
Bun Bo Nam Bo @ 67 Hang Dieu, Hanoi
Avocado coconut smoothie @ Five Boy Number One, HCMC
Dinner at Morning Glory, Hoi An
Pho Tai Bo Vien @ Pho Quynh, HCMC – first meal in Vietnam
Hoan Kiem Lake at night, Hanoi
Lantern-filled streets of Hoi An at night
Nguyen Hue walkway, HCMC
View from Bitexco Tower, HCMC
Imperial City, Hue
First time speaking Vietnamese (minimally)
First time eating so much street food on one trip
First time taking a cooking class while travelling
First time sitting on little colourful stools on the side of the street while enjoy a great meal
First to eating Vietnamese food so many days in a row
First time taking a train in Asia
First time getting a Traditional Vietnamese massage
First time breaking my suitcase and needing to buy one in the middle of a trip
First time meeting my relatives in Vietnam!
To be honest, I did not think I will love Vietnam so much. It is not the most popular tourist destination compared to other Southeast Asia countries and my family kept telling me it is very underdeveloped, unsafe and there was nothing to see. Of course their opinion is based on what they experienced 30+ years ago because they haven’t been back since. Definitely, I’ve been warned by multiple locals about being cautious of my belongings and I did have some fears about the safety of crossing the street but the amazing food and culture is not something to be missed! If I were to come again I would love to spend more time in HCMC (I heard that’s where the best Bun Bo Hue actually is!) and Hanoi (perhaps not around Tet season so I can try all those places that were closed this time). Goodbye Vietnam! Till next time!
Photo of the day: View of Hoan Kiem Lake from i-Feel Coffee and Lounge
I can’t believe today will be our last day in Vietnam! We are both pretty sad about leaving and were craving some good Pho before we left. Unfortunately, our hotel ran out of Pho for breakfast so I just stuck to a breakfast sandwich instead.
Our tourist attraction for the day was the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. It was supposed to be the highest ranked museum in Hanoi per TripAdvisor, so it made my short list. I looked into the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and the Hoa Lo Prison as well but I don’t I can handle seeing the embalmed body of Mr. Ho Chi Minh or another graphic presentation of the POWs during the American war again (flashback: HCMC War Museum). The Museum of Ethnology is a museum showcasing the 50+ different ethnicities in Vietnam. The most interesting part of the museum is the “open-air” exhibit of the different types of houses built by these different ethnicities. It was pretty neat to see videos on how these houses were constructed by hand. It is located around 8km from the city centre so we needed to Uber there. We did a lot of walking and climbing into the stilt-houses (up “stairs” which probably does not meet North American safety standards) and worked up quite the appetite.
Aaron wanted to check out a cool co-working space the other side of West Lake, so we were off on another Uber trip. Unfortunately, they were closed for the holidays. Luckily, there was another nice cafe/bakery nearby called Joma Bakery Cafe which had quite a nice ambience to do some work (lots of light, nice soft music), so in we went. We both didn’t really feel like salads or sandwiches so we decided it was a cake and coffee for lunch kind of day. I had my favourite carrot cake and Aaron had the banana cake. Both were not bad! Aaron had his Americano and I had one last Iced Coffee with condensed milk in Vietnam.
It was almost sunset, so we took a walk along the West Lake. It was a very nice area with many modern service apartments and it was great for people watching. There were people at street stalls drinking beer and eating snacks, people walking their dogs, fishing, dating, meditating and exercising. We even came across a temple (Phu Tay Ho) with rows of incense vendors and fortune-tellers outside of it. There is a Chinese saying that “If you enter someone’s house, you must acknowledge them. If you enter a temple, you must pray to the gods.” So that is what I did. I made my rounds to pay my respects and made a small donation and then we were on our way again. It seems that it will take our Uber a while to get to us, so we decided to make use of the exercise equipment at the park. Some did not work the muscles too much, and were good for elderly to just move their joints, while others used your own body weight and did provided some resistance training. It appears our Uber driver has given up and turned around. That is always a bad sign and makes me feel that I am stranded since I am somewhere that Ubers do not drive to. We tried walking out to the main road to see if that would help. It was not the most pleasant walk as I was speed walking trying to avoid the bats flying around the side of the lake. I was taught that bat bites equal rabies until proven otherwise and I had elected not to get my rabies shot!
We eventually made it to the main road and summoned a Uber, which actually did come after 15 minutes or so. It was nice to finally go home, to a familiar place, without bats. We dropped off our stuff and then headed out, in hopes of getting some good Pho during our last night here in Hanoi. We walked to Pho 10, which was always full of patrons sitting on little stools outside. Not tonight. We were confronted with the closed gate sign again. Defeated, we continued walking down the block and reached another noodle place which seems busy. We sat down and ordered 1 Bun Cha for Aaron and 1 Pho Bo Ga for me. The pork was quite tasty from the Bun Cha but the quantity was small compared to at Bun Cha Huong Lien. My Pho was pretty good, but was missing the extra chillies on the side, like when we were in HCMC. Sanitation is also not a priority here as the server just handed us the leftover veggies from the patron next to us we left. We decided to pass on raw veggies tonight.
We then walked for the last time to the Hoan Kiem Lake in hopes of catching the Water Puppet Show at the Thang Long Water Puppet theatre. We heard mixed reviews of it, saying it is a tourist trap and that there were no translations and people not knowing what was going on. But we thought it was a cultural experience worth a visit. I actually quite enjoyed it, more so than any museums I’ve visited here. It was a good 50 minutes of traditional live music, good use of pyrotechnics, amazing puppetry techniques and comedic story lines mixed with mythical creatures. Not a bad way to spend 100,000 VDN (~$6 CAD). We thought we would end our night watching over the lake at i-Feel Cafe and Lounge, whose entrance was hidden in some clothing store. It was nice to enjoy one more avocado smoothie. I was pleasantly surprised that they added coconut milk to it! It still could not compare to Five Boys though. So that was how we spent our last day in Vietnam! Next up: Thailand!
Photo of the day: “Roasted chicken” @ Quan Pho Ngon – Com Rang Ga. Photo credits: Aaron.
We are definitely feeling the effects of being here during the Tet holidays today. We made sure to ask the front desk about which attractions are still open over the next few days, so we can plan accordingly. After having a simple breakfast at the hotel, we were off!
Aaron grabbed a coffee and got some work done at La Place Cafe, while I went to get my nails done. Based on my online research, Orchid Spa is the best nails salon in town. I was very disappointed to see the sign outside its storefront saying “closed for the Tet holidays”. So, I went to join Aaron at La Place and enjoyed a refreshing glass ofjasmine calamasi iced tea, while doing some more research. Apparently, there was another nails place nearby, which was quite popular, so off I went again, on a mission to get pretty nails. It was a quaint shop in an alley with a room full of customers getting their nails done, so I knew I was in the right place. There was a language barrier but I managed to get across I wanted a pedicure. After ~40minutes of soaking, snipping, polishing and even a free foot massage (which actually really hurt at times), my mission was accomplished! Pretty good for ~ $5 CAD.
Feeling happy about how my nails looked with sandals now, it was time to satisfy my hunger. We wanted to go check out the Vietnamese Women’s Museum, and I found a good Bun Bo Hue place nearby. Unfortunately, we saw the dreaded closed storefront again. Disappointed, we started frantically doing searches on our phones. I decided to just open up Google mMps and click on nearby restaurants and found one with a picture of a huge chicken leg on a bed of fried rice. It did not even exist on Foursquare but we wanted to check it out anyway. As soon as we turned the corner, we saw a very busy food stall with plates of roasted chicken legs in front of a flaming wok. In front of this open kitchen was a sidewalk full of people sitting on colourful plastic stools enjoying plates of fried rice with roasted chicken. We were both immediately sold and ran across the street towards this amazing sight. One thing I love about the service in Vietnam is, there may appear to be no seating, but they will almost definitely create seating for you. We quickly sat down and ordered 2 plates of their special “roasted chicken” with fried rice. Aaron also ordered some soy milk to go with his meal. He really enjoyed this and thought it was the “real stuff” since he he can taste the bits of soy bean in it. But we must get back to the main dish! Similar to when we had Com Ga in Hoi An, we started with some soup, full of flavour and herbs. Then came the chicken rice. It was an amazing sight. A huge roasted chicken leg on top of a bed of tasty rice. The chicken leg was already delicious, but you also have that option to dip it in an interesting “salsa” they’ve prepared. In the “salsa”, was likely tomatoes, lots of spices and perhaps chicken sauce? We were both super excited about our random food find and talked about how this is better than any museums or attractions we can visit.
We inhaled our meals and headed down the block to the Women’s Museum. Interestingly, Aaron was the one who really wanted to check out this museum. It is one of the higher rated attractions of Hanoi, so I agreed. Plus, I told myself that I should probably do at least one touristy thing a day. As a non-museum fan, there were some interesting bits in there, especially about wedding rituals and also child birth traditions. The building itself was very modern and nicely laid out.
It was time to get ready for our next appointment. You guessed it. Another spa date! We noticed we haven’t really tried a traditional Vietnamese massage yet, so we booked one at the #1 ranked spa in Hanoi based on TripAdvisor – Hanoi Ciel Spa. It definitely did not fail to impress, as it was the most professional and luxurious spa we’ve been to in Vietnam. It was a little tricky to find as we had to walk through a narrow alley full of vendors, while trying to file single file with motorbikes, but we got there. The service was amazing and the massage itself was very good. The difference between the Vietnamese massage and the usual Swedish massages I get is the fact that they incorporated a lot of point pressure as well as punching and deep kneading. At one point, I thought I would get a huge bruise from the massage. One thing I will miss about the spas here, is the “foot ritual” they perform prior to the massage. There was also a foot soak of some sort in hot, herbal water, which is nice to clean off my dirty feet before they smudge all the dirt from it to the rest of my body. The extra touch I got from this spa was the fact they also did a mini foot massage as well. 2 free foot massages in one day! Overall, I was very satisfied with my experience here. The only thing which was awkward was that they asked me to complete a TripAdvisor review immediately in front of them after the massage. Otherwise, it was perfect! Also, I would suggest making a reservation beforehand, given we saw a gentleman coming in requesting a foot massage and was turned away. They were also closing for the Tet holiday starting tomorrow so I was so glad we managed to squeeze this in before they closed
We were in a post-massage daze so we decided to go home and rest for a bit. I decided to complete a bunch of reviews on TripAdvisor that I promised to do for various establishments.
Aaron has been wanting to try the local draught beer (Bia Hoi) since we got to Vietnam, so we decided tonight was the night. I read that they started at 5pm, then would sold out before the end of the evening, so we decided to go for a pre-dinner drink. We walked to the “Bia Hoi Corner”, where a lot of tourists hang out to enjoy cheap beer. It was quite the sight with many people sitting on little plastic stools, just enjoying some beer with friends. Traditionally, this was an activity for males to bond with their buddies but now, some women go as well. Unfortunately, after asking a few of the vendors for Bia Hoi, we found out they were all out, so we just sat down anyway and enjoyed some Hanoi beer with a side of deep fried chicken cartilage, as traditionally, you should always have some deep fried snacks with your Bia Hoi. Then let the people watching begin! There was an interesting point of the night when the police came and the owners frantically started stacking up the unused stools and pushed them to the side. I guess they were not supposed to take up so much of the road.
I found a good fried Cha Ca (fried fish) place, so off we went to get some dinner. On the way there, I saw a mother carrying her daughter over a gutter, possibly trying to get her to defecate? I was not sure. I just saw the baby girl was bottomless and the mother was mumbling some soothing words to her. One more time, we were faced with the discouraging “closed for the Tet holiday” sign. We settled on a restaurant called Bia Hoi Ha Noi. Contrary to their name, they did not have any Bia Hoi. They had a very large menu with a bunch of random dishes – which is always a bad sign. The place was busy and full of locals so it couldn’t be that bad right? The owner was staring at us and the menu and started pointed at the most expensive dishes on the menu. We did not take her advice and just ordered some morning glory with a beef noodle bowl. Of course, we ordered some more Hanoi beer because apparently, that’s what you do here. The table next to us of a few men, had a whole crate of Saigon beers to go through! The food here was ok. The morning glory was a little over cooked and the noodle had some weird bitter-tasting vegetable in it. The noodle itself was like instant noodles. I was quite disappointed but reminded myself that I cannot always expect to have amazing food finds like the one we had this afternoon. We headed home and decided to start making a dent on the tropical fruits that are provided to us daily by the hotel, which we never had the chance to eat yet. We had the mango and it was sweet but also had an interesting salty flavour to it.
Today was the 28th day of December according to the lunar calendar. This is the day to doing some spring cleaning to wash away the bad luck from the previous year and we saw a lot of that today with vendors cleaning out their stores. It also marks the beginning of when a lot of businesses will take some time off for the year. It was nice to see that these hardworking folks are actually taking some time off to spend with their families. I guess the next couple of days will be quiet for us as the city slows down.
Photo of the day: Our finished Bun Bo Nam Bo @ Apron Up Cooking Class. Photo credit: Aaron.
Started the day off with a nice jog around the lake. It was nice to be out earlier in the day. The streets are a lot more lively with the locals enjoying their breakfasts at street stalls and doing stretches and dancing some morning rumba by the lake. I wanted a simple breakfast sandwich today but the hotel staff convinced me to “eat a large breakfast to start off the day with energy”. Aaron ordered a Pho Bo and it tasted really good so ordered a bowl of that too (on top of my sandwich!) Their fruit juices are also great and not too sweet.
We already had activities planned for this afternoon/evening so we decided to take it easy this morning and to check out the French Quarter of Hanoi. The architecture definitely gives a European vibe, most notably The Opera House. We hung out at Cong Cafe – a local franchise and got some work done. Unfortunately there was someone consistently smoking cigarettes so it wasn’t the most pleasant experience.
Aaron had been wanting to try the fried donuts that are sold on the streets here. It’s at almost every street corner. A lady was very adamant in getting us to try one so she ended up getting our business. There were two of them working together. When it came to paying, one started being really interested in chatting with me while the other one starting preying on innocent-looking Aaron. As I was wondering why she is so talkative suddenly I overheard the other lady asking Aaron for 150,000 VND (~$9 CAD) for a few small donuts. I immediately turned around and said “WHAT? TOO MUCH!!!” Then they laughed and said “No! 50,000! (~$3), which is definitely still a rip off but Aaron was happy to “contribute to the local economy”.
I meant to eat a huge breakfast so I don’t need lunch but that never works. For lunch, we decided to eat at the restaurant Anthony Bourdain took the former President Obama, Bun Cha Huong Lien. It wasn’t as packed as we thought it would be given the fame but they did have a few floors. We were asked to go upstairs where there are posters of Mr. Obama everywhere. There was even a “Combo Obama”, which we were one beer away from getting. We decided to each just get a Bun Cha (their BBQ pork in fish sauce dipping sauce along with a side of dry vermicelli and a big side of vegetables). The pork was very flavourful, but a little on the charred side for my taste. The dipping sauce was sour and sweet with little bits of char. It wasn’t my cup of tea and I think it would prefer it dry. Overall tasty noodle dish, if I had to choose between this or Bun Thit Nuong though, I would choose the Bun Thit Nuong. We also saw other people getting the seafood roll and decided we should get one too. It was very crunchy with a very nice seafood taste. Definitely would recommend! I saw some people dipping it in the dipping sauce, which is again weird to me since it’ll be soggy.
I also wanted to look into taking some Zumba classes since we’re in a big city again and I didn’t get to go in HCMC due to my illness. Unfortunately the gyms are mostly closed for the Tet holiday. Weird story while I was walking along looking for gyms. There was a strange man who just walked up to me and grabbed my glasses off my face! I immediately took it back from him and said “What was that?!?” Then he casually walked away. That was really strange. I’ve super careful with hanging on to my purse but didn’t know I had to hang on to my glasses as well!
It was time to head back to our hotel to be picked up for our cooking class we signed up for! It was an easy sign-up process. We found the most popular cooking class on TripAdvisor (Apron Up) and just sent them an email. They were very quick to respond and their pricing is reasonable ($32 USD per person). We also emailed another cooking class ran by a local restaurant who also had good reviews but I found out they have significantly inflated their price over the years to almost double usual rate so I decided against that one. Our instructor, Phoenix, met up with us at the hotel and then walked with us to a nearby local market. On the way there she showed us different local fruits and snacks. She also does a walking food tour as her other job so we benefited from her expertise in that area as well. We (mostly she) picked out some key ingredients needed for our meal tonight and then we headed to the kitchen! It was a small kitchen tucked in the back of an alley. It looked clean and cozy. Supposedly it can hold 12 people but we were lucky to be the only ones to sign up for the class this afternoon so we ended up having a private class! Phoenix was patient in showing us how to marinade the meat for the Bun Bo Nam Bo, cut the vegetables for the papaya salad, roll the spring rolls and Banh Gio’s and prepare the egg mixture for the egg coffee and the sauces for all the dishes. It was a fun-filled 3 hour of culinary joy and great cultural experience as well since our instructor was so chatty! It was a very hands-on class and it felt great at the end of the night when we got to eat the feast that we have helped to prepare. This was such an awesome way to spend the afternoon/evening and I am excited for our next cooking class!
Photo of the day: Half and half burrata prosciutto pizza with the Milano salami and Da Lat chorizo pizza @ Pizza 4P’s
We slept in today and almost missed the hotel breakfast. They were super nice about it and did not rush us at all. I just had a simple breakfast with some toast, yogurt and boiled eggs. They thought I didn’t order enough and also gave me a lemon crepe to try as well as a plate of fresh fruits.
Onwards to our tourist attraction of the day: The Temple of Literature. This worshipping site was destroyed by the war and later restored. It also housed the first university of Vietnam back in 1076. It was a nice place to look at nice courtyards and architecture and to learn a little about the history of temple. The temple was mainly dedicated to Confucius and there is a huge statue of Confucius along with his principal disciples In the main building of the temple. Another interesting part of the temple was the stone stelae on stone tortoises, which was used to record the successful candidates of the state exams. Aaron asked if I wanted my name to be mounted on a stone on a tortoise and I thought that would be pretty neat.
We were getting hungry so we decided to get some lunch at the “Cheesecake Factory of Vietnam”. The restaurant was called Quan An Ngon. The menu was huge with all sorts of Vietnamese dishes. Around the restaurant were different stations for each type of food. Apparently, the point of the restaurant was to bring all the street food vendors together under one roof. We decided to have a bit of a seafood feast with the coconut juice shrimp and grilled mackerel, along with some morning glory (my new favourite vegetable) and rice. Aaron also pointed at a picture and we ordered that too but the service here was spotty and we had to ask for the rice and also this mysterious starter that we didn’t get until the end of the meal. The shrimp was amazing. They were huge and when dipped in the warm coconut juice and lime/salt mixture, it brought out the fresh taste of the shrimp even more. Our server even came by to help us carefully peel the shrimp for us! The grilled mackerel was good but a little on the salty side for me. Our mysterious starter eventually came after some prompting. We found out it was Banh Goi, kind of like a Vietnamese samosa, filled with vermicelli, pork and mushrooms. It was very good.
We, then, headed over to Highland Coffee by the lake to catch up on some work, while watching the lake scenary turn from day to night.
It was time to get some dinner! We decided to change it up and get some pizza! I know. I’m ready for the haters. Why am I eating pizza in Vietnam, you might ask? My taste buds actually need some new excitation, from all the Vietnamese food we’ve been eating. This pizza restaurant, Pizza 4P’s, owned by a Japanese owner has amazing ratings on Foursquare. We needed to try it. They have many interesting pizza choices, including some Japanese inspired toppings such a miso and okonomiyaki. The setting and service was very upscale, probably the most upscale we’ve had since the beginning of our trip. We started with the shrimp, avocado and bean salad and then tried the half and half option of their burrata prosciutto pizza with the Milano salami and Da Lat chorizo pizza. Aaron had a glass of a Chilian Cabernet, which was a really smooth, sweet red wine choice that I really enjoyed. The salad was very tasty, with the lemon dressing and somehow tasted very Vietnamese. It must have been the basil they used. I guess cannot truly get away from the Vietnamese tastes! The pizza was a thin-crust pizza with a huge ball of burrata in the centre. (We already ordered the smaller cheese size.) Our server helped us cut it up into quarters and laid it flat on each slice of pizza. First bite of the cheese was amazing. It was mild, soft cheese and worked very well with the prosciutto. Then there was the salami and chorizo side, which was super tasty as well. I still preferred the burrata side more though. On further reading, we discovered that the cheese was made in a cheese factory in Da Lat, with 2 Japanese cheese makers involved, one of whom studied cheese making in France. Interesting! I am so glad we decided to come here. My taste buds got their necessary excitation.
Aaron wasn’t quite full, so we decided to get some dessert at Wanna Waffle. It was a cute waffle place hidden inside a Circle K convenience store. Aaron chose the classic waffle with Nutella, chocolate sauce and coconut ice cream. The coconut ice cream was legit! You can really taste the real coconut flakes in there. This was much better quality than the other ice cream we’ve had in Vietnam so far. With our bellies satisfied, we headed home. The hotel provided some free Da Lat wine for us to try, after hearing that our anniversary was coming up. The taste was different, perhaps because it was made from mulberries. Nonetheless, it was nice to end the night with a glass of wine while blogging.
Photo of the day: BBQ skewers @ night market in Hanoi. Photo credits: Aaron.
We took it easy this morning and enjoyed a nice breakfast at the hotel before packing up to go to our next destination: Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. I actually felt like something simple, such as eggs and toast but decided to fill up on a more substantial meal in fear of not having my next real meal until we reach Hanoi (flashback: trip from Hoi An to Hue). I ordered the pork soup to start and then the fried noodles with chicken as my main. Of course they also gave us a platter of fresh fruits to finish the meal. The soup was flavourful but a little on the salty side for me. It was full of little cubes of potatoes, carrots and pork. The fried noodles, was made with really nice-textured noodles and was loaded with bean sprouts, carrots, green onions, a few chicken slices as well as a perfect sunny-side up egg on top.
Then off we went to the airport, which was actually quite far away. Our hotel helped us organize a private car and the driver was super friendly and was telling us how he was driving some people this morning who were partying too hard last night and still had drinks in their hands when they were in his car. So funny.
Our overall impression of Hue is that it is still an older, smaller city and a lot of the restaurants/cafe were not listed on Foursquare or tripadvisor. You really need to do some digging yourself to find good eats here. This is probably a good place for history lovers and sightseeing fanatics to join a tour and check our the various mausoleums, pagodas and other sights surrounding Hue, but Hue itself is not vibrant enough to entice me.
We had around an hour until our flight, so we managed to sit down at a cafe/restaurant (Lucky Cafe) to get some work done and some food as well. I had some Vietnamese green tea with some beef congee and Aaron had some “Royal tea Hue style” with some fried rice. I enjoyed my green tea and it went well with the super flavourful beef congee. Compared to Chinese-style congees, the Vietnamese congees I’ve had is not bland at all. It is like they made congee, then mixed it with Pho broth. Especially with the tasty little pieces of beef, it did remind me of a congee version of Pho. Aaron felt the fried rice was not bad and found that their rice is more sticky than usual.
It was an uneventful and quick 1 hour flight to Hanoi, which made me really glad we flew instead of enduring 16 hour+ of train ride. I read that there were a lot of taxi scams at the Hanoi airport, where drivers will drive you to “copycat” hotels with similar names to the ones you booked or tell you that your hotel is closed and bring you to another one so they can get commission. As a result, I pre-arranged transportation through the hotel. It took some time for our driver to find us, requiring me to call the hotel but all worked out in the end. Again, the airport is quite a ways away from the central part of the town. We are staying at the “Old Quarter”, close to where a lot of the attractions are. My first impression of the Hanoi, is that it reminded me of the Chinatown in Vancouver with the old buildings and many Asian store fronts, along with the more narrow streets. Of course the traffic is a lot more congested here compared to Vancouver.
Again, we were greeted like royalty at the hotel with welcome drinks and snacks. They were very patient with going through the map of the surrounding areas, recommendations for good foods and festivities to check out tonight and reminding us to be cautious of our belongings since it is near Tet (the Vietnamese New Year) and the streets will be crowded.
We weren’t hungry yet, so we decided to take a walk around the Hoan Kiem Lake. It was so gorgeous with beautiful lights and a nice park. The best part was that the roads were closed off during the weekend so we didn’t have to worry about avoiding motorbikes and was able to truly enjoy our walk. It was nice to see young street dancers performing, locals selling street food, children playing on little electric carts, and buskers, asking for money “to continue their trip around the world”. You can also see that new year decorations are starting to be put up throughout the city, with bright reds and yellows everywhere.
After working up our appetite from that nice walk, we decided to try one of the hotel recommendations for “local food”. We went to Bun Bo Nam Bo Hang Dieu. As soon as I saw the assembly line of vermicelli bowls, I knew we were at the right place. They only had one main dish on their menu – Bun Bo Nam Bo (beef noodle salad) – always a good sign. We ordered 2 along with 2 of their local beers and waited 1 second before they brought over the warm bowls of vermicelli. Our friendly table mate saw that we were new to this and reminded us to mix well before eating. It was a flavourful party in my mouth. I had a good bite of cooked bean sprouts, crunchy peanuts, marinated beef, carrots, papaya, other vegetables, all with the vermicelli covered in this amazing fish sauce. It is apparently a southern Vietnamese dish but I guess we missed it while we were in HCMC. This was definitely one of my favourite meals in Vietnam and is making me fall in love with Hanoi, if the beautiful night stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake didn’t do it already. Oh yeah, and did I tell you our entire meal was only ~$10 CDN?
We were told that there was a weekend night market going on, so we had to check it out. It was not difficult to find as we saw the closed off streets on our way to the hotel from the airport. By this time of night, it was full of people as well. There were stalls and stalls of merchandise ranging from accessories, clothes, shoes, bags, and of course street food. It is definitely a lot more comprehensive than what you would find at a Vancouver or Ottawa night market. Popular items on the street food menu include BBQ skewers, home-made popsicles and random Korean-style snacks, such as spicy rice cakes and kimbaps (as well as deep fried kimbaps!). We decided to try some of their spicy flavoured roasted peanuts (delicious, so we got a small jar) as well as the BBQ skewers. The skewers we got was apparently chicken and it was good. The meal was very-well marinated and the quality of meat was good. It was perfectly cooked and the texture was amazing. The going price here is a little more than something we would get in KK, Malaysia but Aaron couldn’t have enough, so we ended up getting more at another stall. And that ends our eventual first night in Hanoi! It felt nice to finally be in a big city again with a lot more food options to explore!
This morning we were on a mission – to find good Bun Bo Hue. After doing some research, we found out Quan Cam was the place to be. Apparently they are only open for breakfast and only until their broth runs out, so we had no time to waste. We decided to skip the hotel breakfast and walked over diligently at 8am. Luckily, it was close to our hotel and quite easy to find. As soon as I sat down, I ordered: “Hai (2) Bun Bo Hue!”. Then we anticipated. We patiently waited while they brought us over some chills, then some veggies, then finally it came. It was beautiful. The colour was vibrant, as I expected. There was variety of toppings, including pork blood, meatballs and a huge piece of ribs. I took a sip of the soup and was finally satisfied. This is the flavour I’ve been looking for. The rich, spicy taste of the Bun Bo Hue broth, which I’m used to. The meatball was another burst of flavours and apparently the filling was crab and pork meat. And then there was a most amazing piece of meat – the rib. I took bites and bites of tasty meat off the bone. My craving is satisfied, finally! We paid our 80,000 VND (~$4 CDN) and walked away with smiles on our faces.
It was time for a celebratory coffee. We found a very nice cafe called The One and ordered 2 iced Vietnamese coffee. It was strong and sweet, as we expected and we just chilled there for a while, before heading off for some sightseeing.
We decided to explore the Imperial City today. As soon as we reached outside the gates, we were harassed continuously by the cyclo drivers, who promised to “take [us] around”, “1 hour!”. No matter, how many times we said “no, thank you,” they persisted. We finally made it in one piece inside the Imperial City. It was so much nicer inside. There were a few groups of tourists but it wasn’t too crowded. Everyone just quietly took pictures, walked around, read the descriptions or attentively listened to their guides. The architecture was definitely nice and grand. The writing were all in Chinese and the costumes looked Chinese as well. I felt like I was teleported back to Ancient China, except this was modern day Vietnam. The last emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty did not lose power until 1945. The weather was perfect today. It was around low 20’s C with only brief periods of light rain. There was quite a lot to see and a lot of walking to do, so I can’t imagine doing this in full summer heat. After around 3 hours of exploring, we decided it was time for some food. We walked outside to the area around the Imperial City and found that most restaurants and cafes were closed, probably because it was already around 2pm. We found a cute cafe called Blueberry, which had quite a nice ambience. There was another group of young adults just hanging out in there. The cafe music was, interestingly, Korean pop music. We were hoping they would have some sort of food here but they mostly had drinks and maybe a couple of desserts. Aaron ordered the coconut coffee and I had the taro milk tea. They were both overly-sweetened and my taro was very artificial and really did not have the taste of taro at all.
Seeing it was a 40+ minute walk home, our plan was then to just grab a taxi home and find a place to eat closer to our hotel. Interestingly, the area around the citadel was not very touristy and we did not really see any taxi’s. On our way home, we found a restaurant, which looked pretty busy, so we decided to sit down. It looks like they are having some family dinner all set up on the table, but they just moved it aside for us to sit down. There was a table full of meats and vegetables and I actually wanted to ask if we can just join them in what they’re eating. We decided to keep it simple and ordered some shrimp rice rolls along with some stir-fried “spinach”. Because we sat inside, where the employees usually hang out, it became on open kitchen, so it was pretty nice seeing them cook. The rice rolls were simple, with just some shrimp and green beans inside of it. It was on the sour side and was not my cup of the tea. Aaron really liked the peanut sauce though. The vegetables were delicious! It didn’t taste like spinach at all actually. It reminded me more of morning glory, then I finally realized it was actually morning glory. I guess they call it spinach here, since it’s also known as “water spinach”. Having replenished our energy, we were ready to walk the other half of the way home. We did quite well today as we have surpassed 15km of walking – a record so far, on this trip! It’s been an active day and my stomach was starting to act up, so I decided to stay in to get some rest/blogging done. Aaron went to check out another local coffee shop.
For dinner, we decided to try some Vietnamese-vegetarian food. There was one with good ratings on Foursquare called Lien Hoa, which apparently “had workers not really speaking English with the place full of locals”, so off we went! I guess other tourists have found out about this place because there were some locals but also some tourists as well. The “English menu” was obviously just put into Google Translate for translation because a lot of it did not make sense. We decided to order using the pages with pictures only. The picture with mixed rice platter looked good, so I got one, then we got some more morning glory, this time with mushrooms, as well as some fried jackfruit and fried “Nem”. My mom previously told me that Nem is a fermented meat, so I am guessing this was actually fake meat. First, we were given some steamed rice with fermented beancurd and chillies as our condiments. Then came the main dishes. We waited and waited for the rice platter but it never arrived. Apparently, Com Dia only means steamed rice, not the rice platter that was displayed in the pictures. That was ok because we had more than enough food in front of us by the time we found out. It was so nice to finally have some white rice. It’s been a while and the Chinese in me was screaming for a meal with just some side dishes to eat with my rice. This was perfect. The fried jackfruit was interesting. The jackfruit was cut so thinly that I couldn’t really taste it anymore. It was a nice, sweet treat though. The fried Nem was also very interesting. The outside part reminded us of the wrapper that Nina’s Cafe used for the Cha Gio the other day. Super crispy and airy. I can hardly taste the filling inside given this overwhelming outer casing. It was a good fried treat. The morning glory was again delicious. I ended up just mostly eating that with my rice.
Walking around, we noticed a lot of people just having family dinners and not as many people out on the street at the street stalls. There was even a family having some Banh Chung (sticky rice) cooking ceremony. We found out it was December 23rd on the lunar calendar. This was Kitchen God Day, where people will give offerings to the Kitchen God to send away the old year and to welcome a new year. I read up on the mythical origins of the Kitchen God and it was really something – full of love, regrets and suicides. You can take a read here. It was definitely not the bedtime story I was hoping for but I ended up dozing off anyway.