On Travel: Vietnam – What I Loved and Didn’t Love

I’ve been back from Vietnam for about 2 weeks now.  I have to admit it’s been tough being back – to the cold, the snow, back to working 9-5, not traveling …

Today I want to share a little about my overall experience in Vietnam.  What I loved, things I wished I had done and things that perhaps I wasn’t overly fond of.

If you’ve been following along with my blog and my journey through Vietnam, you’ll quickly remember how much I love this country.  Every one should get to Vietnam given the chance, it truly is spectacular (well I think so anyway) … I’m envious of my daughter for making this country her home.

As with any other country, Vietnam has a glowing list of fantabulous things to see and do, its natural beauty, its history, culture, kind and giving people whom I met and made my experience in Vietnam one for the record books.  But, it also has things that need to be improved upon and aren’t so glamorous, I’ll highlight some of those things in this blog.

I encourage you to go back and read my last few blog posts if you haven’t, just to catch up on the amazingness of Vietnam prior to reading this post.


🎶 Let’s Talk About Food Baby 🎶

The food 😋 was one of the absolute best parts of Vietnam, so many yummy choices, which vary from region to region.  For example, some of the foods I loved in the north (Ha Noi) weren’t necessarily available in the south (HCMC).  But, it’s great to be able to experience each region’s specialty dishes.

Eating street food in Vietnam is a rite of passage for every visitor, and I’m all about throwing myself into the local culture so I was prepared to give most foods a go. In every doorway, on every street corner, and down every alley, food is being prepared literally on the street.  Many a time I pulled up a tiny plastic stool to a tiny plastic table and ate.

Traditional Vietnamese cooking is greatly admired for its fresh ingredients, complementary textures, and reliance on LOTS fresh herbs and vegetables. Vietnamese cuisine is considered one of the healthiest cuisines in the world and always combines fragrance, taste, and colour.

Below are just SOME of the foods I ate over my month long visit.


👍🏻  Fan Faves:

(1) Bún chả  –  served with grilled fatty pork (chả) over a plate of white rice noodle (bún) and herbs with a side dish of dipping sauce.  I ate this twice while in Vietnam.  Definitely worth trying guys! It was super good!

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Bunch in Ha Noi (not yet assembled)

(2) Bún Rieu – LOVED this, I first tried this in Ha Noi –  it was incredible.  See below for the types of Bún Rieu I wasn’t so fond of.  Freshwater crab flavours this soup which is made with rice vermicelli and topped with pounded crabmeat and deep-fried tofu.  Chilies, lime and fresh herbs add the finishing touches.

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Bún Rieu in Da Nang

(3) Bánh khọt – if you love crispy savoury pancakes, you’re going to love Vietnamese bánh khọt – it’s usually provided with lettuce, tons of herbs and dipping sauce – really good. Equally as yummy in the pancake department is bánh xèo.

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Bánh khọt, a specialty of Vũng Tàu

(4) Bun Bo Nam Bo – could be the best street food in Ha Noi – the broth at the bottom of the deep bowl is made of fish sauce, sugar, lemon and chilli and has deliciously light sweet and sour undertones. The sauce is topped with marinated beef, vegetables, noodles, onion crisps and crushed nuts.

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Ate this yummy dish in Ha Noi

5) Cơm tấm – broken rice and pork chop – very basic meal – but reliable, inexpensive and yummy.  Usually served with pickled veggies and a side soup for about 20K – about $1.15 CDN.

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A staple for me in Saigon

I could GO ON … I had sooooooo …. many amazing meals whist in Vietnam, but, I’ll limit it to my top 5 —- Honorable Mention to rau muong xao you- morning glory with garlic.

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👎🏻 Not So Fussy On:

(1) Chicken Feet – I just didn’t enjoy them at all – no meat on them.  They were crispy, like chicken wings, but with NO meat. Imagine just eating chicken skin on bone – that’s what I can best compare it to.  I didn’t hate them, but I could definitely do without them.  Don’t quite get the appeal.  Is it your thing?

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(2) Bún riêu with congealed pig’s blood – bún riêu is a truly sensational Vietnamese street food — if you forgo the blood cubes.  I realized that in different areas of Vietnam – there are differing varieties of bún riêu.  For example I DID NOT like the bún riêu in HCMC at all, I liked the one in Da Nang and loved the one in Ha Noi – all a little bit unique with their own regional touches.  But , the main thing I realized is that I did not like it at all with the congealed pig’s blood. So, now I know to always order my bún riêu “không huyết” — with no congealed pig’s blood.

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The bún riêu in HCMC that I was not fond of

(3) Mixed Rice Paper in a Bag – this wasn’t a salad – I’ve heard of Rice Paper Salad – this was more like a seasoned rice paper snack in a bag – which was essentially rice paper strips as well as chilli powder and other seasoning.  I had seen it on many vlogs and YouTube videos on Vietnamese street food, and I was disappointed.  It was hard, the texture was weird and only got soft after you chewed it for a bit – I guess I would liken it to chewing rice paper 😂.

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Did not enjoy the rice paper snack while in Cần Thơ at the Night Market

(4) Rượu rắn – Cobra Snake Wine – an alcoholic beverage produced by infusing whole snakes in rice wine or grain alcohol. The snakes, preferably venomous ones, are not usually preserved for their meat but to have their “essence” and snake venom dissolved in the liquor. The snake venom poses no threat to the drinker. It is denatured by the ethanol – its proteins are unfolded and therefore inactive and would be denatured by stomach acid anyway.  It was good just to say I’ve tried it, but I just couldn’t imagine sipping on this  – it tasted more like tequila than wine to me (and I loathe tequila).

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Tried rượu rắn during our trip to the Mekong Delta

(5) Sweet Snails with Lemongrass – oc huong hap xa – not a dish I was particularly fond of.  They say half the fun is extracting the hot cooked snails from their shells (who actually says that?) – I did not find it fun nor tasty.  I’ve had snails here in Canada  – but we cook them with lots of garlic and butter and out of the shell.  Even here, I don’t LOVE them, but I liked them less in Vietnam.  They were chewy in texture – especially the head and had little to no taste.  It was decent enough to try, but I won’t order them – thankfully, I was offered one by a girl I met who ordered an entire plate – she loves them 🤢

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Tried these at Bến Thành Market in Saigon

Things I Really Enjoyed/Liked:

PLACES TO VISIT

I can’t pick just 2 places I loved to visit — I really enjoyed every place I chose to visit for different reasons.  Some were for beauty, some for historical importance or significance, and others for simple relaxation.  There wasn’t a moment that I didn’t enjoy being in Vietnam.  The sights, the sounds, the culture, the people and the food ♥️.

For things to do I would suggest the following as they were my top places, but truly, I loved every place I went, so you can’t go wrong:

  • Hoi An – all of the silk lanterns at night were gorgeous and the ancient town is a fabulous place to visit.   See my blog on Hoi An here for more details on things to do  and see.
  • Cu Chi Tunnels – outside of HCMC – you’ll learn about its important role in the Vietnam War, the daily struggles of its inhabitants, as well as the ingenious strategies and weapons that were used. Click my blog here for more about the tunnels.
  • The War Remnants Museum – HCMC – sad and heart breaking at times, but I would 10000% going to this while you’re in Saigon – it really gives you pause for thought
  • Ha Long Bay and Ha Long City – WOW!  Spectacular views, scenic, breathtaking – I only did a day trip – but next time I go I’d like to do an overnight trip and sleep on the ship.  Click here to see more about my trip to Ha Long Bay and Ha Long City.
  • Mekong Delta – this is what I think of when I think of Vietnam – this trip was priced right 550K for 2 days, 1 night – hotel breakfast and lunch included as well as English speaking guide and A/C Bus, for more click my blog here.

COST OF LIVING

As a foreigner, the cost of living is ridiculously low for us.  The exchange rate when I was there was $1.00 CND Dollar to 17,000 VDN.

Most basic every day things are super inexpensive for us as Westerners.

Here are some approximates:

Beer was between 11K and 20K on average, depending where you purchased and the type of beer – Larue was usually the cheapest (and luckily my favourite common beer), and then 333, Saigon and Tiger.  My absolute fave was Tiger Crystal in a bottle (I could def use one of those now).

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Most street foods ranged between 10K and 70K – bánh mì was always on the low end at about 10-20K as was cơm tấm at about 15-20K

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1.5L of water was approx 10-20K, again depending on where you purchase it.

Grab taxis are super cheap compared to Canada – I think the sitting rate just to enter a taxi is now up to $3.80 where I live – in Vietnam that could literally be my whole trip (by Grab).  Taxi’s are more expensive and not always reliable for pricing.

Fresh fruit was always well priced – I picked up pineapple for 10K, jackfruit and a 1/4 watermelon both for 50K.  There are fruit cart ladies on each street corner, sometimes more than one.

Ice coffee was anywhere between 10-25K (depending where you went – chain coffee houses are more expensive).

Even hotels – my most expensive hotel on the trip was $17.00 CDN – and it was a very nice hotel.

Some days, I was living off less than $20.00 CDN and that included my hotel rate!

Below are some of the every day items that we would buy back home and their associated VDN price — remember $1.00 CND is 17K VDN!


Things I Wish Were Different:

HONKING

What I could have done without perhaps is all of the HONKING! They honk at and for everything.  Unlike us back in North American – we honk when we are trying to relay something important or semi important “hey, you’re crossing over into my lane”, “Come on man, the light is green!” or even “I’m at your house, let’s go.”

But in Vietnam they honk to signal EVERYTHING …  I’m here watch out, I’m behind you, move over, get out of my way, I said get out of my way 😜, I’m not stopping, go already, I’m turning … 

Honking is so loud and so regular in the country that people just seem to accept it, I’d be scared, in fact, of asking them not to honk … somewhere along the way, it has become habitual and a major cause of noise pollution. It can really get on your nerves when drivers keep pressing on their horns for no apparent reason.

I was fairly decent at blocking it out most days, however, the one day I was about to scream out “please, for the love of God, stop effin honking” … I mediated when I got back to the hotel and the moment passed 😂


LACK OF RULES OF THE ROAD

In certain parts of Vietnam there weren’t any traffic lights or signs – it just seemed like a free for all – some type of organized chaos that I wasn’t privy to – but somehow works, I don’t know how but it does!

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Crazy traffic in Saigon as we were heading home on our motorcycle

I’ve literally seen people drive on sidewalks rather than waiting in congestion.

The Vietnamese don’t often obey the traffic lights or signs when there are any – they seem more like suggestions than an actual legal traffic requirement.

Traffic moves in all possible directions, no matter if it’s a sidewalk, a pedestrian street, an alley obviously too narrow for a motorbike – I’ve also seen on many occasions traffic flowing in the WRONG direction – YEP – coming at you when it’s clearly a one way street!

Pedestrians:  Forget all the standard rules of crossing the street, the Vietnamese don’t seem to have the culture of respecting pedestrians. Pedestrian cross walks are rare and if they do exist, they are ignored. Crossing the street for a pedestrian is like a game of chicken each time! You learn to have faith. You start to walk and hope that the motorcycles and cars that run in both directions will avoid you. I became a pro at it very quickly – I look, I go and I watch – they will usually manoeuvre around me.

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Also, they park on the sidewalks (which is customary there).  So walking can be a pain from time to time as you’re constantly switching from road to sidewalk, back to road etc …


LITTERING

When I first arrived in Vietnam, I was struck by its beauty.  However, as I started exploring I came across a lot of litter on the ground in Ha Noi.  I thought it was initially just Ha Noi but as I explored I noticed that even in remote regions, I always came across large areas that were inexplicably strewn with trash. The litter consisted mostly of plastic bags, plastic bottles, beer cans, leftover food containers/items and plain old garbage. I didn’t get it!  The trash wasn’t piled up, awaiting collection at the side of the road; it was spread around, over large areas and in natural beauty areas such as river beds, beaches etc. Thousands of locations all over the country are now utterly ruined by trash. It’s sad, disappointing and infuriating.

These are just SOME of the pics I took – I only started taking photos of this my last few days in the country. I could have taken dozens more.

Very few people bothered to clean up after themselves – I would see people open items and then just toss the wrappers on the sidewalk. I was told by my tour guide to just put my litter in the gutter while I was in HCMC (which I absolutely did not) and a local once brought it to my attention that I had “garbage” in my back pocket – I put the wrappers there because I could not bring myself to just toss them on the ground – it just goes against everything we’re taught here in Canada and most certainly for me as an environmentalist.

I can’t even recall seeing trash bins, if there were any, they certainly weren’t prominent enough to stand out, given I was carrying my personal trash with me.  If they were more available, would people even use them?  Click here to read an article by Forbes Magazine on Vietnam’s littering epidemic.

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Taken on a river bed in the Mekong Delta
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I took this as I randomly walked down a street in Vung Tau

Things I’d Still Like to Do

  • Head to Sapa to discover the spectacular scenery of the Tonkinese Alps where Montagnard hill tribes have lived for centuries.
  • Ninh Binh is a good base for exploring quintessentially Vietnamese limestone
  • Ha Giang is a beautiful destination located in the Northwest Highlands. scenery.
  • Ban Gioc Waterfall – the most famous place in Cao Bang province, the landscape is dominated by limestone hills.
  • I hear you can opt to skip out on Halong Bay (which is touristy) and head over to Bai Tu Long instead. Located North East of Halong Bay, this area can stretch up to 100 km to the Chinese border.
  • Co To is an island located in the middle of the sea in Quang Ninh Province, a beautiful island with fine white sand and blue water
  • Nam Du is one of the islands in the Nam Du archipelagoes. It’s about 60 km from the mainland. Nam Du is beautiful, pristine and peaceful with beaches.
  • Kon Tum province of the Central Highlands has a border crossing with Laos and Cambodia, also known as the Indochina Fork.

These are just some of the MANY MANY places I’d still like to visit in Vietnam – I chose most of these places specifically because they were less touristy and would allow me to truly explore the country and all that it has to offer.


Conclusion

Overall, while Vietnam has its quirks that it’s still trying to iron out, I still very much like the country.  I’ve had nothing but positive experiences there.  I’ve heard others have mixed reviews and others nothing but negatives.  I suppose part of it can be attributed to the way you prepare for your trip and how you’ve set your expectations … and the way you choose to look at the experience.  True,  you may get scammed – then try not to put yourself in a situation where you may be – book only with reputable companies, ones that come recommended to you by others.  You may get pick pocketed – well, that can happen any where in the world, not just Vietnam.  Yes, they will try to overcharge you on items – they’re trying to make a living – do you how much they make and live on? What’s an extra 50 cents or a dollar to me in the grand scheme of things?

It’s not a country without its share of faults, but it is an emerging country trying to change its past global footprint. They are now posting anti-littering signs and I hear that police are trying to enforce non littering (that I have yet to see).

Some ex-pats and locals who are passionate about the cause gather groups and clean beaches, neighbourhoods and streets.

Certain restaurants are now committed to recycling – when I saw this at one café in Saigon, I wanted to hug the owner.

At an ex-pat green market I attended (in D2 Saigon) they were focussing on the sale of reusable items – such as water bottles (it’s not common there to use reusable water bottles as we do in most other places in the world).  They also focussed on eliminating the need for single use masks by creating cloth ones.  There were also reusable cloth coffee holders for your motorcycle.  I know this is probably hard to understand to us, but, because everyone travels by motorbike, they actually sell you your coffee and put it in a plastic bag or plastic cup carrier (single use) so people can hook it onto their bikes when they drive – more plastic waste.  EVERYTHING comes in a plastic bag.  They looked shocked when I would tell them “no bag” cause I had my Herschel knapsack with me.

Think of what changes could be made IF every person, used a reusable bag, had a cloth mask, used a reusable cloth coffee carrier and water bottle!

On Travel: Mekong Delta, Vietnam 🇻🇳

tạm biệt Việt Nam

Today, I left Vietnam.  The country I have come to love over the last 3.5 weeks  It’s a mix of emotions having to go back to Canada.  I’ll miss it there, I’ll miss exploring, the food,  the culture, the adventuring and of course, my eldest daughter.  

On the other hand, I’m anxious to get back to my own bed and not having to live out of a suitcase and of course seeing Ellie (my dog), my family and friends.  But, I’m not looking forward to the weather – which I hear was absolutely atrocious while I was away – massive snow storms, blizzards, wind storms and freezing rain. 

As I say farewell to Vietnam and shortly say HELLO to Guangzhou, China for an 18 hour layover.  Let me take you back to the last couple of days of my vacation as Cassandra and I explored the Mekong Delta.

MEKONG DELTA

The Mekong Delta is a water world that moves to the rhythms of the mighty Mekong, where boats, houses and markets float upon the innumerable rivers, canals and streams that criss-cross the landscape. Life in the Mekong Delta revolves much around the river, and many of the villages are often accessible by rivers and canals rather than by road.

The Mekong River itself starts in the Himalayas and passes through China, Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia before reaching Vietnam, which partly explains why the waters are so murky. More than half of Vietnam’s rice and fish comes from the delta region.

Day One:

Firstly, we booked our tour of the Mekong Delta via Khải Hoàn Travel in HCMC. With many options available, we booked a 2 day, 1 night excursion which included stops in Mỹ Tho, Bến Tre, Cần Thơ and Cái Răng. The entire trip cost 550K (only $31.00 CDN).

We departed at 7:45 AM to pick up the rest of the folks on our tour and left HCMC at approximately 8:15 AM for Mỹ Tho on our air conditioned bus.  Over the 2 hour ride, we passed rice fields before eventually arriving at our pre-determined rest stop/tourist trap 😆.

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From there we departed for Vĩnh Tràng Pagoda, Vietnam’s gorgeous Buddhist gardens. A happy place with Buddhas, beautifully maintained gardens and fruit trees.  Originally built in 1850 it has survived colonial wars, neglect and tropical storms.  It’s located approximately 3 km from the centre of Mỹ Tho city.

The Vĩnh Tràng pagoda features three enormous Buddha statues.

  • The standing Buddha represents Amitabha Buddha, who symbolizes ultimate bliss and compassion.
  • The Laughing Buddha symbolizes happiness and good luck and has become a deity for good fortune around the world.
  • The reclining Buddha represents Gautama Buddha before he enters parinirvana, the death of one who has attained nirvana during his lifetime and has been released from the painful cycle of samsara, or rebirth.

Our bus eventually stopped at the pier where we boarded a wooden boat to cruise the Mekong River in order to further discover the 4 islands:  Tortoise, Dragon, Phoenix and Unicorn.  

We were afforded the opportunity to visit a honey farm and try different honey and pollen products.  We were served a very sweet honey tea (which I and others found to be a bit too sweet) and given that it was 34 degrees out, the hot tea would have been better served cold.  I purchased lip balm (for those who know me I’m a lip chap addict (lol) – I bargained for 2 at 80K ($4.58 CDN) – she was selling then for 50K each, I didn’t want to bargain down too much, it is their way of making a living and the price was decent as far as I was concerned.  I’d have paid way more back home and these are all natural.  

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Hot sweet tea, candied ginger and banana (not sure what the little round balls were)

We had the chance to visit a coconut workshop, to see how they make the coconut candy from beginning to the end.  How they first break apart the coconut, then mulch it up, and watch it go through the rest of the process until it ends up with the lady at the other side- who puts in into molds, adds rice paper (which is edible), cuts it up,  and passes it onto the few who manually (and very fast I might add) wrap it and package it for selling.  We were given the chance to taste test each of the different flavours of candy which were also for purchase – we didn’t buy any, but it was good!  

Forget eating the worm after downing your tequila, we drank Cobra Snake Wine! Cassandra and I tried something I never thought in a million years we’d ever try or get the chance to try.  Actually, I didn’t even know it was a thing — Snake Wine (rượu rắn), yes, that’s right folks — wine made with a real venomous cobra.  It’s an alcoholic beverage produced by infusing whole snakes in rice wine or grain alcohol. The snake venom poses no threat to the drinker. It is denatured by the ethanol—its proteins are unfolded and therefore inactive.  It did NOT taste like wine – it tasted like Tequila in my opinion – I cannot see any pleasure in sipping on this on a nice night in.

As an FYI – dating back centuries, snake and scorpion wines are known as a natural medicine used to treat different health problems such as back pain, rheumatism, lumbago and other health conditions.

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Shot of Snake Wine
Not the best shot, it was a video – but you get the idea

Coming to Turtle Island, we were provided the opportunity to taste fresh fruits, and listen to traditional folk Vietnamese music. The fruit included: papaya, dragon fruit, Vietnamese apple and longan.

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The most amazing part of the trip followed – we cruised along a small canal on a traditional wooden boat with two rowers at the front and back.  This was exactly what I was thinking when I thought Mekong – traditional way of life and transportation and the  traditional conical hats (nón lá). 

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We had a Vietnamese lunch on the island (honestly, I’m sorry I don’t remember which island) – it was basically cơm tấm.  This meal was included with our booking. We then had a little free time to explore the island – which was a semi amusement area with kids playing in play areas, balloon balls on the water, an alligator pen (they’re also on the menu, sooo put 2 and 2 together).  

After lunch we departed for the 3 hour bus ride to Cần Thơ which is the fourth largest city in Vietnam, and the largest city in the Mekong Delta.  It is noted for its floating market, rice paper-making village, and picturesque rural canals. It has population of 1,520,000 as of June 2018 and is located on the south bank of the Hau River, a tributary of the Mekong River.

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Bus ride to Cần Thơ

Our booking included an overnight stay at a 2* hotel.  We stayed at An Hotel.  I have to say this was more than a 2* as far as I’m concerned.  Looking at the cost for the standard room – 350K – that means the rest of our trip – 200K – was for bus, guide, lunch, samples of food and the experience – well worth it to me.  Some of the folks on our tour paid about $25.00 CDN more than we did for basically the same tour (except they had a 3* hotel and were given a fish and rice wraps at lunch).  

Once we checked in and freshened up – we went down to the Night Market in search of some dinner.  We were both exhausted from our day of travel and getting up at 6:30 AM.  The market included shopping, but, we immediately bypassed all of that and headed for the food stalls. 

Eager to find some tasty street food, we made our way around and came across bánh tráng nướng – which they call Vietnamese pizza.  The line up for this stall was bumpin’ so we knew it had to be the place to eat – and boy was it! Cassandra always wanted to try this dish so we ordered 1 each — we both loved it so much that we ordered another one, at a stall further up the way.  They were ONLY 10K each $0.57 CDN!  What they are is dried small shrimps, saute/chili paste, quail egg/chicken egg, spring onion, fried ground pork on rice paper, cooked over an open flame – I still cannot stop drooling when thinking about it.  I  may have to make these at home one night for dinner.

I also tried another dish I had seen on vlogs – rice paper bag salad (also 10K) – it wasn’t what I expected and to be quite honest, I wasn’t too fond if it.  It tasted like tough rice paper in spices. Now I know and can happily cross that one off my list of foods to try.  I also wanted to try bắp xào, a popular street food snack in Vietnam (corn) – but I was too full from the bánh tráng nướng to even consider tying it … next time for sure. 

Cassandra also had an order of fresh spring rolls – 2 for 10K and  I grabbed my fave Nước Mía – freshly pressed sugarcane juice – for 20K – these prices are outrageously cheap aren’t they?

With full bellies, we ordered a Grab car and headed back the hotel – our next day’s adventure started bright and early at 6:00 A.M.

Breakfast was included in our fee – it was basic and consisted of 2 eggs, a French baguette and a mini banana – as well as juice, water and coffee (boo – they had no milk – fresh or condensed – just sugar – and I need milk in my coffee).  Two people woke up feeling unwell – likely from something they ate the night prior.  One did not continue on the trip and he and his GF opted to stay behind in Cần Thơ and other other girl (and her friend) got off at the next stop to stay behind.  I honestly felt for both of them – I had a bout of food poisoning about the 3rd-4th day in Ha Noi.  It is not a good feeling, especially if you’re on a traveling tour and have no immediate washroom access.

We cruised along the small picturesque tributaries and trolled by the Cái Răng Floating Market – I found this amazing.  This is the biggest floating market in the Mekong Delta, Cái Răng is just 6 km from Cần Thơ.  People actually LIVE and SELL on the river. This is a wholesale market, so look at what’s tied to the long pole above the boat to figure out what they’re selling to smaller traders.

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We took in the scenery and the daily living of the local people.  We also toured a rice paper factory and witnessed how they make rice noodles – another very interesting process.  I should mention that this process as well as the process of making coconut candy is all done by hand – this is not an automated process – they are hands on with the entire process.  With our free time Cassandra and I made our way down to the village open market – which offered a variety of fresh fruit, fish, meat, eel and cafés.  We grabbed an entire pineapple for 10K, a pancake like yummy goodness for 5K and an ice coffee with mild 10K — are you catching that?  We got all of that for a mere 25K — $1.41 CDN.

We pressed on to visit a homestead ecofarm (ecofarms aim to increase agricultural sustainability & farmers’ resilience to climate change) where we visited their personal catfish farm, durian and dragon fruit plantation/orchards and livestock. 

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To round out our trip, we disembarked the boat in Cái Vồn where we set off for our 5 hour trek back to Saigon (there was one stop at the 2.5 hour mark).  

Once back in HCMC we relaxed for a bit and then went out for dinner to our favourite restaurant in Cassandra’s neighbourhood (I have to ask her to get the name because I would def recommend it) – we get the same thing to eat each time (except for the time we accidentally ordered chicken feet 🤣) — morning glory, chicken wings and Singapore Noodles. 

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This order was from our very first visit to the restaurant

Then it was time to hit the hay – we were both totally zonked.  She had to teach in the morning and I had to get up and pack for my departure.  

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Flying to Guangzhou, China For My Layover

I’m on my flight to Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport (China) as I write this blog.  I have an 18 hour layover there. 

I’ve done some research online prior to my departure and saw that China offers citizens of certain qualifying countries 72 -144 hour entry Visas.  And, through China Southern Airlines – I read that I can be eligible for a free overnight hotel and free Guangzhou tour in the morning prior to my departure back to Toronto. 

So, I’ll ask when we land and hopefully that is the case.  I’d really not prefer to have to spend that time in the airport.  I’d rather sleep in a cozy bed and do a bit of sightseeing prior to my 15 hour flight back home. 

I’ll keep you posted on how that turns out in my next blog … 

NOTE: I wrote this on my flight to China, but the wifi was horrible at my hotel so I wasn’t able to post it.  I had to wait til I got back to Canada and had some time to adjust to the jet lag.

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T xo

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Stilted houses on the river

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On Travel: Vung Tau and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

 

lời chào hỏi!

I’m into my third week traveling through Vietnam.  It has been such an experience – one that I am so glad I decided to undertake – I’ve learned so much about myself during this trip.

I’ve learned to push myself outside of my comfort zone by:

1) traveling solo for the first time in my life:  I knew I would be alright, I wasn’t at all apprehensive about the solo travel.  In fact, once there I kind of relished it.  I could do what I wanted, when I wanted, at my own pace without having to worry about someone else’s schedule or if they’d like the things I had planned.  But, this was a first for me – I had never traveled solo.  Up until a couple of years ago, I wouldn’t even eat dinner at a restaurant by myself.

2) meeting and getting to know new people as I travel:  this was the best part.  I purposely chose to stay in a hostel when I arrived in Ha Noi, not to save $ but rather to meet new people, new friends who’d been traveling – to get to hear of there adventures – to go out and about with them and explore the city.

I’ve enjoyed my time with the new travel friends I’ve made, but, I also very much enjoying my me time, solitude.  This leg of the trip, I get to spend with my eldest daughter, whose been living here since last August 💛

This week we’re in Vũng Tàu and Hồ Chí Minh City …..

Vũng Tàu

My daughter and I wanted a beach getaway – so the morning after I landed in HCMC, we hopped on a two hour bus ride from HCMC to Vũng Tàu – which cost 100,000 VND ($5.63 CDN) each, one way.  From the bus station we walked and checked into our hotel – which I booked via Booking.com (via Ebates.com to earn reward dollars – gotta be smart with the savings folks!).  

Vũng Tàu is the largest city and former capital of Bà Rịa–Vũng Tàu Province.

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Bãi Sau Vũng Tàu – Back Beach

We spent the afternoon at Back Beach.  This busy swimming beach offers a long strip of sand for sunbathing & sandcastle making or digging holes to burry your friends.  The South China Sea was warm – it made for the perfect beach day. Lots of people playing in the sand and water. Nice walkways to get around. There are plenty of chairs and inner tubes for rent.

Some minor trash noted on the beach, but I did notice ladies cleaning up the beach while we were there.

Sea Memory Hotel

Located in Front Beach district, Sea Memory Hotel offers free parking and only  comprises of 12 rooms. We booked a standard room at $17 CDN per night.  The room came with climate control, flat-screen TV (it did have English channels).  Every room is fitted with a bath, a shower and toiletries. They also offer scooter rentals at 100,00 VDN for a whole day ($5.70 CDN).

The staff were courteous and helpful.  They offer “slippers” when you arrive (they are actually flip flops) – you don’t wear your shoes into the hotel or lobby (you leave them at the front door). The bar is stacked for a fee – not certain of the pricing – but we paid 10,000 VDN ($0.56 CDN) for a small bottle of water – but only paid 9,000 ($0.51) at VinMart for 1.5L.

There is a short walk to the beach.  But, for the $17.00 CDN price tag it was well worth it. Plus, I don’t mind walking – I need to get my 10,000 FitBit steps in lol.

Vũng Tàu Lighthouse 

We decided to rent a scooter from our hotel for 1/2 day for the mere cost of 50,000 VDN – about $2.85 CDN.  Cassandra has been driving in Vietnam for the last few months, so I opted to let her drive – the traffic and every day driving here is nuts to say the least.

We made our way from the hotel to Vũng Tàu Lighthouse which is perched at the top of the Nui Nho Mountain, the French-built Vũng Tàu Lighthouse is still operational and gives visitors a 360-degree vista of the city and sea.  The views were beautiful!

Vũng Tàu Lighthouse is considered the oldest among 79 lighthouses in Vietnam. France built this site in 1862 to signal and instruct ships to cross. Great place for photo ops and to take in the city scapes.

Christ the King of Vũng Tàu

After spending time at the Vũng Tàu Lighthouse, we made our way to the Statue of Jesus, standing on Mount Nhỏ.  The Vietnam Catholic Association built the statue in 1974, it was completed in 1993.

There are a total of 811 exhausting steps to get to the top of the statue.  Which for me, is difficult enough, add in 33º stifling heat and humidity – I embarrassingly have to admit that I had to stop on a few occasions for rest and water breaks!

The statue is 105 ft high, standing on a 13 ft platform, for a 118 ft  total monument height with two outstretched arms spanning 60 ft. There is a 133-step staircase inside the statue – which we did not climb as we were not wearing the appropriate clothing (we had knees and shoulders which were not covered).

Pineapple Beach Bar

At the recommendation of my daughter, who had previously been with some friends – we ate dinner at Pineapple Beach Bar – she claimed the sunsets were to die for. Although we missed the “sun setting” we did catch the sun set – and it was magnificent as you can see by the photos!

The menu is short, but quality.  I had the falafel burger on a charcoal bun and Cassandra had the pulled pork burger, we both also enjoyed a rum and coke for 40,000 (about $2.30 CDN).


Hồ Chí Minh City (Sài Gòn)

I had some initial misgivings about HCMC – that it was going to be too big (population of 8.4 million, 13 million in the metropolitan area), too many people and too much chaos …. and I was right, it’s all of those things and more.

As big and populated as is it, I didn’t find it as overwhelming as I thought I would.  It’s technically bigger than Toronto, but does not feel as large or congested even with 8 million motorbikes. Maybe, it’s the ‘feel’ of the city?  It’s not stuffy or pretentious.  Although there’s a lot of traffic, yet you seem to be able to manoeuvre around the city a lot faster (I could get from District 1 to Tân Phú district way quicker than I could make the same jaunt in Tdot). Maybe it’s also that the people here aren’t preoccupied with themselves, or which meeting they need to get to next or maintaining some high level status quo?  I don’t exactly know what it is, but, I was pleasantly surprised.

It is also really good to reconnect with my daughter, whom I haven’t seen since last August when she moved to HCMC to teach English.  She would be my personal guide to all things Hồ Chí Minh (she even planned us/me an itinerary for the days she works and doesn’t work).

Ok let’s get started on HCMC and some of the key things I did here — I’ve been a busy visitor.

Củ Chi Tunnels

The tunnels of Củ Chi are an immense network of connecting tunnels located in the Củ Chi District and are part of a much larger network of tunnels that underlie much of the country. The Củ Chi tunnels were the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War. The tunnels were used by Viet Cong soldiers as hiding spots during combat, as well as serving as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters. The tunnel systems were of great importance to the Viet Cong in their resistance to American forces, and helped to counter the growing American military effort.

The 121 km long complex of tunnels at Củ Chi has been preserved by the government of Vietnam, and turned into a war memorial park with two different tunnel display sites at Ben Dinh and Ben Duoc.

To combat these guerrilla tactics, U.S. forces trained Korean/Chinese soldiers (because they were smaller in stature) known as “tunnel rats” to navigate the tunnels in order to detect booby traps and enemy troop presence.

In heavily bombed areas (a lot of craters are still visible from the intense bombing), people spent much of their life underground, and the Cu Chi tunnels grew to house entire underground villages, with living quarters, kitchens, ordnance factories, hospitals, surgical wards and bomb shelters.

What I found interesting is that our guide shared with us some of the ingenious ideas they came up with.  For example, they created specially designed sandals, with the same specifications at the front and back so that the enemy had no idea in which direction they were walking (in the wet season when the ground was muddy).  They also created ventilation hatches in the design of rocks so they were not visible to the enemy and when the US troops used dogs in an attempt to locate them – they used American clothing in the vents to simulate a “friendliness” scent to the dogs and they would pass them by.  They also designed ventilation in the form of rocks for their kitchen and so they were located – and cooked at 3-4 AM so that they smoke coming from the vent would blend in with the mist and not be visible to the enemy.

(I don’t have as many photos, I took more videos)

The Hồ Chí Minh City Post Office

The Central Post Office in Hồ Chí Minh is a beautifully preserved remnant of French colonial times and perhaps the grandest post office in all of Southeast Asia.

This was a quick visit, for a few photo ops, visit the inside of the post office and mail a postcard back home.

Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon

Following the French conquest of Cochinchina and Saigon, the Roman Catholic Church established a community and religious services for French colonialists, who initially named it Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Saïgon, the cathedral was constructed between 1863 and 1880.

Also a quick visit and conveniently located directly across from the post office.

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War Remnants Museum

I love museums, I try to go to as many museums as I can, especially ones on history.  The War Remnants Museum was probably one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen – there were times I teared up and other times I gasped.   The museum contains exhibits relating to the Vietnam War and the first Indochina War involving the French colonialists.

Exhibits include graphic photography accompanied by a short text covering the effects of Agent Orange and other chemical defoliant sprays, the use of napalm and phosphorus bombs, as well as war other atrocities.

I won’t go on about this attraction – although I do believe that everyone should see it if they are able.  The pictures speak for themselves.

*caution – some photos contain graphic nature*

Bến Thành Market

Bến Thành Market is located in Hồ Chí Minh’s District 1 and is a great place to buy local handicrafts, branded goods, art and other souvenirs. You’ll find eating stalls inside the market where you can get a taste Vietnamese cuisine or simply cool off with a cold drink when the bargaining becomes a bit too much. The market is BIG and can be difficult to navigate.

I found the market to be a bit overwhelming at times, being pulled in all different directions – each stall owner asking to visit “their” shop — “bag for you madame?”, “come look in my stall Miss?”.  And, if you are interested in something – you need to be a keen negotiator or you will definitely overpay.  I was looking at this one bag – we started off at 900,000 VDN and by the time I left her stall she was down to 350,000 VDN (I didn’t end up buying the bag).

I went to have some lunch and cool down with a drink – all at once I had 4 food stall operators surrounding me vying for me to sit that their booth.  Thankfully, a brother and sister combo from Los Angeles saw the commotion and saved me 😂 – they are Vietnamese and were home visiting family in Huế before heading back to L.A. They helped me order my bún riêu and fresh lemon drink and we chatted for a bit.  They even extended an offer to try sweet snail with lemongrass – being someone who likes to try new things – I did.  Not what I expected – more chewy.  I’ve had escargot back home but it usually comes smothered in garlic and cheese.  These were just cooked (steamed) in the shell as is, and served.  You had to use a mini fork to dig them out.

I enjoyed my bún riêu – which I have to say is much different than in the North, which I prefer.  This one was filled with some chunks of tenderly stewed pork, blood jelly as well as some type of snails or shell fish. It wasn’t bad, just not as good as the one I had Da Nang or especially the one I loved in Ha Noi 😋.

The World of Heineken

Being a beer enthusiast I had to experience the World of Heineken tour where you have the opportunity to understand the beer brewing process, learn how to pour that “perfect” glass of Heineken (which I did not lol – see photo).

You may be wondering … Heineken is big in Vietnam?   Yep, sure is, they love Heineken – and they have a large brewing operation here. Apart from the brewery in District 12, Heineken Vietnam Brewery has 100% ownership of breweries in Da Nang, Quang Nam, Tien Giang and Vung Tau. And, currently, Heineken Vietnam Brewery has a broad and impressive portfolio of beers which includes Heineken, Tiger, Tiger Crystal, Desperados, Biere Larue, Biere Larue Export, BGI and Bivina.

The tour atop the Bitexco Financial Tower (58th through 60th floors), also includes an additional 2 free pints, water and a bowl of chips in addition to playing interactive games (I chose to play DJ for the whole floor). I enjoyed my two pints, served at the highest bar in Vietnam and enjoyed the beautiful view of Ho Chi Minh City while I chatted with another solo traveler, Marc from Shanghai, China.

At the end of your experience, you also receive a keepsake bottle of Heineken with your name on it.  Well worth the 250,000 VDN!

My last day in Hồ Chí Minh City

Obama Bún Chả – Cassandra and I went down to District 1 for lunch.  She wanted to try out Obama Bún Chả.  Decked out in all things Obama and Bourdain – their claim to fame, right?  Wrong,  we were disappointed to find out that the one we ate at was a double of the original one in Ha Noi – I mean it makes sense – bún chả is more of a Ha Noi (Northern) thing.

What is bún chả?  It’s a Vietnamese dish which contains grilled pork in a sour slightly spicy soup, rice noodles, and LOTS of herbs and vegetables and originated in Ha Noi.  I’ve had it in Ha Noi — but we wanted to try this cute little gimmicky place – I mean both Obama and Bourdain cant be wrong!  

We ordered the exact meal that President Obama and Anthony Bourdain chose – Bún Chả & Nem Vuông Cua Biển.  Not gonna lie – it was one of the best things I’ve eaten this whole trip! Definite recommend in either Ha Noi or HCMC.  Cost 95K ($5.35 CDN).

Flea Market – Green Edition – we then mozied on over to District 2 (where the majority of ex pats reside) to a Flea Market – Green Edition (I accidentally referred to it as a Bohemian Yard Sale lol).  Entry was 20K ($1.15 CND) and included either a beer, water, tea or coffee.   It’s actually a cute idea – all geared toward GREEN initiatives – which I love because I’m an environmentalist.  Those selling their wares included homemade soaps, perfumes and lip balms as well as reusable bamboo straws, cups and utensils (I loved these and the colours were cute).  There was also a clothing swap – GREAT idea – bring clothes and swap for other clothing OR buy 7 items for 100K ($5.65 CDN) – Cassandra  purchased 2 items and I added a shirt on that tab – so 3 items … the best part — she can go on their online store and pick up 4 other items for FREE.  They had the same premise for books as well.  We picked up our FREE Saigon Red and sat down to watch people temp the rock climbing wall or skateboard – great way to spend a few hours.

Rice Field – Homecooked Vietnamese Cuisine – located in the heart of Saigon, decorated with traditional Vietnamese style & split into 2 parts – cozy indoors with A/C & a countryside touch with rice field on its rooftop where you can enjoy the view of Bitexco – iconic building of Saigon. The menu is very extensive with a variety of foods from the North to the South of Vietnam.  It has 4.5* on Trip Advisor and I can see why – the food and wait staff were excellent.  We chose the grilled pork and the bánh xèo – at first glance, you might think that these are omelettes.  But, there’s actually no egg in the batter for these pancakes. Rather, it’s turmeric that gives the batter its characteristic yellow hue.  The best part is the sauce (which at times I feel I could just drink as is) – nuoc cham is a classic fish sauce-based dipping sauce that creates a beautiful balance between sour, sweet, and salty.

This is my last full day in HCMC – tomorrow Cassandra and I leave for a 2 day, 1 night trip to the Mekong Delta — then, I have to fly back to Canada ….. BUT, I’m having soooo much fun here 😞.

Just a random tidbit, that I find hilarious. When you travel to countries where language is a barrier, you typically use a translation app on your phone to help along the way — we use Google Translate. We had eaten at this restaurant 2 night prior and the food was DELICIOUS!  So we decided to go back a second time.  That time we had the seasoned chicken wings – they were great – this time we thought, let’s try the chicken legs instead – they’ll have more meat – using the Google Translate app – it said “chicken leg” – PERFECT!

This is what we actually ordered ….

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Soooooo …. would you have eaten the chicken feet? LOL

 

On Travel: Da Nang and Hoi An, Vietnam

Xin chào!  

I hope all is WELL with all of you —- I’m continuing my travels through Vietnam this week – in Đà Nẵng and the ancient city of Hội An.

I am more than pleased with my trip to Vietnam to date.  It’s truly a beautiful country, steeped in a long difficult history and a strong resilience – through 4 separate Chinese dominations, a French domination (French Indochina), the Vietnam War and the re-unification of the North and South.

I’ve found the Vietnamese people who I’ve encountered to be kind and pleasant.  That’s not to say that I have not encountered the odd taxi driver trying to take advantage of the foreigner by offering me “foreigner” pricing.  One taxi driver wanted me to pay 150,000 to go airport when I know it should have cost way less (thanks to a nice guy who helped me on the bus – Instagram @Minhtraaa). I opted for a Grab car, it only cost me 85,000 VDN.  As a Westerner, I’ve found that Grab is the winner – it’s like Uber/Lyft back home – your price is fixed and you know your total cost in advance. 

Other than that experience when I got off the bus from Ha Long City on my way to Ha Noi airport – the rest of my experience has been a lot to write home about.

Ok …. let’s  move on to this week’s adventure …

Đà Nẵng

Đà Nẵng was the city I was MOST excited to visit — for me it holds the best of BOTH worlds — sea and mountains – it is ringed by mountains on one side and the South China Sea on the other. Most of the research I did before coming to Vietnam was on Đà Nẵng as well as its ex-pat community.  But, first and foremost, I wanted to explore the city, the culture and see the things I spent so much time researching with MY own two eyes – to make MY own memories. 

Đà Nẵng is the fifth largest city in Vietnam after Ho Chi Minh City, Ha Noi, Haiphong and Can Tho in terms of urbanization and economy. It’s one of Vietnam’s principal port cities. Located in the south-central region of the country, at the mouth of the Han River.

These are some of the things I found interesting while I was in Đà Nẵng …. 

The Marble Mountains – Ngũ Hành Sơn

The Marble Mountains is a cluster of five marble and limestone hills located in Ngũ Hành Sơn District.  They literally just jet out in the middle of the city!

Regardless of it being jam-packed with tourists, it would be hard for anyone to find any place beside Marble Mountains which contains both religious diversity and magnificent scenery.

There are five separate mountains in the cluster, named after the five basic elements:  Kim Son (Mt. Metal), Moc Son (Mt. Plant), Thuy Son (Mt. Water), Hoa Son (Mt. Fire), and Tho Son (Mt. Soil).

I visited Mt Water.  I spent the better part of 3 hours here, I could have stayed longer – but it was stifling hot. I wish I had known that for my 40,000 VDN entry fee (about $2.30 CDN), I could have spent the WHOLE day there – I would have brought my book and just read in one of the quiet areas – it would have been a charming retreat.  

Be aware that you must climb many stairs …. like a trooper, I opted to walk up the stairs – but, I really wanted to take the elevator – which you can for an additional 15,000 VDN.  I was wearing flip flops and I found it manageable.  People opting for running shoes also had no problem.  The women wearing high heels struggled 🤦🏻‍♀️.

Mt. Water is famous for its amazing system of pagodas and shrines either on the ground or inside the caves.  There are 156 stone steps (built in 1630) set into the spine of the mountain. At the top is where you’ll find the 400-year-old sacred pagoda, Tam Thai Pagoda.  It  was built in the 17th century, but has been renovated many times.

Richico Apartments And Hotel

While in Đà Nẵng I chose to stay at the Richico Apartments and Hotel.  This location was perfect — the property is 550 feet from My Khe Beach and close to mostly everything I wanted to see.  The room was nice, clean and modern.  If offered free wifi, TV, A/C, a fridge and free bottled water.

The best part however …. the rooftop pool, offers 2 completely different sights of Đà Nẵng – sea and mountains on one side and city scape on the other.

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Sea scape side

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City scape side

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This hotel cost me 163,224 VND per night = about $9.35 per night CDN and breakfast is included in the room rate.  Great location and excellent pricing!  I would recommend this  place – especially for the price point and the location.  

My rating: 🧡🧡🧡🧡 (4/5)

My Khe Beach

My Khe Beach is famous for its blue sky, smooth white sand, clear & warm water year round and beautiful areas surrounded by coconut trees. Everything around you is peaceful, natural, relaxing …. those reasons and more are why Forbes Magazine selected My Khe beach as “one of the most attractive beaches on the planet”.  

I loved it, being in the heart of a major city, it wasn’t at all crowded – I had ample of beach space to choose to set down my towel and create a space for myself for the day.   You can rent a chair for 40,000 VDN, but I opted to save money and just lay down a towel, as I would have at the beach back home.  Most places offer drinks/beer for purchase.  I paid 15,000 VDN for a Larue bia and settled in for a few hours of peace and quiet, reading and a little bit of heaven (don’t forget to wear your sunscreen!).

Dragon Bridge

I decided to talk up to the Dragon Bridge one evening.  This 1,864-foot-long bridge has a steel dragon that breathes fire every Saturday and Sunday evening or during the country’s major festivals.

To celebrate the 38th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, authorities in the port city of Da Nang have opened the world’s largest dragon bridge. It has six lanes for traffic.    I mean it beats any of the bridges we have back home in Ontario (CANADA) so this fire breathing bridge is pretty cool.  I had missed it on the Sunday by 1 hour (because my flight was delayed).  

Lady Buddha @ Chùa Linh Ứng Pogoda

I met up with one of the girls I met while in Ha Noi.  We grabbed lunch and decided to take a Grab car over to Lady Buddha.  Being the tallest Buddha statue in Vietnam, Lady Buddha is located at Chùa Linh Ứng Pogoda on Son Tra Peninsula in Da Nang which is only 9 km away from My Khe beach and my hotel.  Lady Buddha is 67 m and the lotus diameter is 35 m.

Admission is free – Grab car cost Kim and I 130,000 VDN (about $7.40 CDN) – it’s less expensive to take a Grab bike, but they don’t accept two passengers.


Hội An

I took a Grab car to Hội An.  Old Town Hội An, the city’s historic district, is recognized as an exceptionally well-preserved example of a Southeast Asian trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th century, its buildings and street plan reflecting a blend of indigenous and foreign influences. Prominent in the city’s old town, is its covered “Japanese Bridge,” dating to the 16th-17th century.

Two great things about Hội An’s Ancient Town are that it is small enough to get around in on foot and the traffic is nowhere near as heavy as in bigger cities (but it’s still very much tourist driven). Some of the streets only allow bike and motorbike traffic and some are pedestrian only.

You will notice Hội An lanterns best at night. Silk lanterns are everywhere. Locals say they hang them in front of their homes to bring health, happiness and good luck.  They really were breathtaking.  Hội An has a monthly lantern festival, this month it’s on February 18, 2019 – I am missing it.  But, I cannot imagine how much different it would be – Hội An is filled with colourful silk lanterns every night.  

Lantern Making Class

At the suggestion of some friends I met during my travel (thank you Miek and Kim), I joined a lantern making class with The Lantern Lady.

She offered two options:

1) she provides the bamboo that forms the base of your frame or

2) you build your lantern from scratch, including making the bamboo frame

I opted for #1.  Once completed, my lantern was easy to fold and put in my luggage. I’m not a fan of souvenirs – this is the ONLY thing I’m taking back to Canada with me because it’s my own hand-made souvenir home from my visit to Hội An.  

This is a must do experience in my books. 

Sac Xanh Homestay

While in Hội An I stayed at the Sac Xanh Homestay for 2 nights at a cost of VND 512,000 – $29.22 CDN.  I stayed in a Double Room, which included free (SPOTTY) WiFi.  To be quite honest, I wasn’t super pleased with this accommodation.  For $15.00 CDN per night I would have expected a bit more.  I know $15.00 doesn’t sound like a lot of $, but here it’s a decent chunk.  My room was a bit moldy and damp feeling.  The A/C didn’t get super cold (or maybe just as cold as I like it to be).  However, I suppose it may have been a fair representation of a Vietnamese “home” stay.  The homestay couple were polite.  The food for breakfast was good – they also offered tea and coffee and free drinkable water.  They seemed to struggle a bit with communication (English), but we managed.  The homestay does offer free bikes for use so you can bike to old town, around the neighbourhood or other sightseeing.  They were kind enough to assist me in securing a better deal to Da Nang Airport – Grab was 347,000 – I paid 250,000.

The stay was to include:

  • Minibar •  NONE
  • Safety Deposit Box • NONE
  • Air conditioning • WORKED OK BUT DIDN’T GET REALLY COLD
  • Balcony • WOULDN’T REALLY CALL IT A BALCONY PER SE
  • Bathrobe • NONE
  • Desk • MORE LIKE A PLASTIC TABLE AND CHAIR
  • Seating Area • AT THE TABLE?
  • Free toiletries • NOTHING PROVIDED OTHER THAN A TOOTHBRUSH
  • Fan • NONE
  • Private bathroom • PROVIDED 
  • Slippers • NONE
  • Flat-screen TV/Cable Channels • A SMALL 20″ TV WAS PROVIDED, I DID NOT TURN IT ON
  • Bath or Shower • SHOWER
  • View • OF THE SIDE OF THE OTHER HOUSE
  • Mosquito net • PROVIDED
  • Towels/Sheets (extra fee) • OHHH EXTRA FEE TO USE A TOWEL! FOR $15.00/NIGHT I WOULD HAVE EXPECTED FREE TOWELS TO USE
  • Wardrobe or closet • PROVIDED

My review of this one, is just ok — 🧡 🧡 (2.5/5)

Chùa Long Tuyền Buddhist Temple

I really enjoyed Chùa Long Tuyền, a Buddhist temple located just around the corner from my homestay. It’s a bit off the beaten track and away from the Old Town… which I didn’t mind at all – this meant it was totally empty.

Honestly, I wouldn’t have found this temple nor the rice paddies had my Grab driver decided to take the usual way back to my homestay after the old quarter.  Instead he took me the back way through the less busy roads and I came across this temple – which I went back to the next morning with the free bikes offered by my homestay.

Rice Paddies

Aside from taking in ancient town, another thing I loved to do in Hoi An was take the scenic route around town on my bike to see the city’s lush, green, rice fields. The locals probably thought I was crazy for stopping every few meters to take pics.  But, this is so new to me and we certainly do not have rice fields back in Canada 🇨🇦.

Next Stop … 

I’m currently at the airport waiting to board my flight to Ho Chi Minh City (flight is delayed an hour).  I’m excited to see my daughter (I haven’t seen her since she moved here 6 months ago) I’m not sure how I’m gonna handle Vietnam’s largest city … with a population of 8.4 million (13 million in the metropolitan area) as I thought Ha Noi was crazy at 7.58 million.

I hear I am missing miserable weather back home … 2 major snow storms, a freezing rain storm and temperatures still down in the minuses —- awwww zut lol

Keep posted for next week’s blog when I cover HCMC, Vung Tau and The Mekong Delta.

Comment below, if you’d like to know more about the places I’ve been so far or if you have any questions or comments 🙂

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You say I dream too big.  I say you think too small.  

On Travel: chúc mừng năm mới from Vietnam!

I’d been planning this trip for months -> months of research, watching YouTube vlogs, booking hotels, finding places to sightsee- which cities to visit?  What to see while I was there? Did I want to start in the North and travel South or vice versa?

I decided to fly into Ha Noi and travel South to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC).  The reason for this was purely financial.  It was cheaper for me to fly into Hanoi than it was Ho Chi Minh – that was the deciding factor for me.  That, and my daughter isn’t even in the country – she’s adventuring in nearby Cambodia.  I don’t meet up with her until I get to Saigon.

My final travel itinerary is as follows:

Canada ▶️ China (4 hour layover) ▶️ Ha Noi ▶️ Ha Long Bay ▶️ Ha Long City ▶️ Da Nang ▶️ Hoi An ▶️ HCMC ▶️ Vung Tau ▶️ HCMC ▶️ Mekong Delta ▶️ HCMC ▶️ China (18 hour layover) ▶️ Canada


Are you ready to live vicariously through me as I make my way through Vietnam over the next 4 weeks? 🇻🇳 

I commenced my journey in the capitol city of Hanoi … I’m going to write this blog more journal style – I’m doing so much and I’m finding I’m not having enough time to put pen to paper (or more like fingers to keyboard).

Ha Noi

After what felt like an eternity, I landed in the capital city of Ha Noi 23 hours after leaving Pearson  International Airport in Toronto – flight was delayed – we had to de-ice 😂 – remember I’m from Canada and it’s cold as crap there right now (or it was when I left – hang on lemme check – right now where I live it’s -6 degrees Celsius and where I used to live it’s ….. -26 degrees Celsius).

I flew China Southern Airlines to Guangzhou, China and then onto Ha Noi after a 3.5 hour layover – that flight was only 2h5mins.  From Noi Bai International Airport, I took advantage of the airport shuttle pick up and headed on over to my hostel, I WAS EXHAUSTED!  The airport shuttle was $18 USD – but well worth  it to me after such a long travel and I didn’t have to worry about hailing a taxi (hmmmm afterthought – I should have maybe considered a Grab, it would have been less expensive  but I wouldn’t have had a personal greeter with a sign waiting for me 😊).  

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I booked a bed for 4 nights at the Little Charm Hanoi Hostel. A 4 bed Female Dormitory Room was ONLY VND 1,119,800 or CAD $64.00! For 4 nights! (there are much less expensive hostels to stay in for $4-5 per night, but, I wanted mid-range and all girls, 4 bed so it’s a bit more expensive).  I needed to stay an extra night because my trip to Ha Long Bay was changed by a day – and was transferred into a 6 bed women’s dorm with no problem, staff here are quite accommodating and friendly. Free breakfast and WiFi access were included in the price.

I REALLY liked this hostel – it has an excellent rating on Booking.com (which I booked via Ebates to earn free Ebates cash back rewards).  It’s set a 2-minute walk from Old City Gate in Hồ Hoàn Kiếm district.  It offers a really nice accommodation. It also features an indoor swimming pool, and a bar (there is a FREE happy hour daily, but again due to Tết – they served tea – not quite the same lol).  All units are fitted with personal lockers, and a personal reading light – good for blogging late a night (I admit I did not do that – I was typically asleep by 8 PM lol). Guests have access to the shared bathroom, equipped with a shower and free toiletries.  A continental breakfast is available each morning at the property.  I’d definitely recommend staying here if you’re into hostels – this was top notch and didn’t feel like a hostel at all.

My review ✅✅✅✅.5 — I’m only rating it a 4.5 because both times I had anything to eat (other than breakfast) off the hotel menu – it wasn’t all the great (and yes, I ordered Vietnamese food lol).

chúc mừng năm mới 2019

I arrived just in time for Chinese New Year – after a nap, my roommates and I went down to Hồ Hoàn Kiếm Lake to celebrate the lunar new year – the year of the PIG – and take in the fireworks display with a few 333 for 13K ($0.73 CDN).  It seems like everyone was out to enjoy the night – and according to this article they were!

A little about the Tết Holiday for those of you who may not be as familiar with it – it’s the most important celebration in Vietnamese culture. The word is a shortened form of Tết Nguyên Đán (節元旦), meaning “Feast of the First Morning of the First Day”. Tết celebrates the arrival of spring based on the Vietnamese calendar.

Many Vietnamese prepare for Tết by cooking special holiday food and cleaning the house. Many customs are practiced during Tết, but the ones that were obvious to me as a foreigner were ancestor worship, wishing New Year’s greetings and burning Joss paper (fake money) in the streets. The practice of burning spirit or ghost money is quite deep-rooted in Asian culture – in (very) short – the paper money is believed to be deposited in an afterlife bank of sorts, from which the deceased spirits can make withdrawals.

At Tết, every house is usually decorated by peach blossoms – but I understand this blossom is only in the northern part of Vietnam

Due to Tết  a lot of things that I wanted to do were closed.  

My travel tip is this:  if you want to experience the Lunar New Year come for Tết.  

IF NOT, avoid Tết.  A lot of the things you will want to do will be closed and everything has a Tết surcharge – you end up paying up to 30% more in some cases.  

Hồ Hoàn Kiếm Lake 

According to the legend, in early 1428, Emperor Lê Lợi was boating on the lake when a Golden Turtle God (Kim Qui) surfaced and asked for his magic sword, Heaven’s Will. Lợi concluded that Kim Qui had come to reclaim the sword that its master, a local God, the Dragon King (Long Vương) had given Lợi some time earlier, during his revolt against Ming China. Later, the Emperor gave the sword back to the turtle after he finished fighting off the Chinese. Emperor Lợi renamed the lake to commemorate this event, from its former name Luc Thuy meaning “Green Water”. The Turtle Tower (Tháp Rùa) standing on a small island near the centre of lake is linked to the legend. The first name of Hoàn Kiếm lake is Tả Vọng, when the King hadn’t given the Magical Sword back to the Golden Turtle God (Cụ Rùa).Since it was New Year’s Day – the Vietnamese were all dressed up in their finest and were out and about taking photos.  They were praying at temple and bringing in the new year with family.Being in the heart of the French Quarter and being Tết it was super busy at the Lake while I was there – the line to get into the Temple of the Jade Mountain (Ngoc Son Temple) was looooonnggggg, understandably – they wanted to pay homage, respect and pray.

 

Ha Noi Street Train 

Afterward, we went up to see the Ha Noi Street Train – I saw this on YouTube as I was planning for the trip, so mentioned it to the group – they’d never heard of it, so they were game!Hidden amidst the hectic, narrow streets of the Ha Noi Old Quarter lies a funky little area, where motorbikes are no longer the biggest danger to locals stepping outside of their front door. They’re replaced by high speed trains, hurling through the residential street, mere feet away from peoples everyday lives – their dishes and laundry drying by the tracks.  This is the street train.  It comes through twice per day around 3:10 PM and 7:10 PM – and it does NOT slow down.I was pretty excited for this to be honest. I couldn’t believe that this was a tourist attraction – in Canada they’d never make cafés and restaurants encouraging people to crowd in a cramped space to witness a train hurling thought a narrow lane with houses bordering each side lol – but that’s what I love about traveling – you get to see different things – but hey, let’s all be smart about it …

 

Thăng Long Water Puppet Theatre

Our group next decided to go to a water puppet show. It wasn’t on my list of things to do, I’m not an artsy person per se, but, I’m not one to say no to something new and I could use a little Vietnamese culture. Traditional legends and historical tales are among the enchanting puppet plays performed at this popular theatre.We paid 200,000 VDN (about $11.45 CDN) – those were top of the line seats – they had no more cheepos left …. but, we had some of the best seats in the house (2nd row). It lasted about an hour and to be honest, it was better than I expected. I wouldn’t have done it if I were solo so I’m glad I stuck with the group and went.   The puppeteers were amazing!

Hỏa Lò Prison

I have a thing with visiting prisons, they have such history.  I’ve been to two others – Kingston Penitentiary (Kingston Ontario Canada) and Eastern State Penintentiry in Philadelphia.

Time to make it a triple – I walked up to Hỏa Lò Prison – it was a prison used by the French colonists in French Indochina for political prisoners, and later by North Vietnam for U.S. prisoners of war (POW) during the Vietnam War. During this later period it was known to American POWs as the Hanoi Hilton. The prison was demolished during the 1990s, although the gatehouse remains as a museum. Most of the prison was demolished in the mid-1990s and the site now contains two high-rise buildings.  I found this museum very interested and would definitely recommend it — but, I like museums and I like prison museums 🤷🏻‍♀️

Hồ Chí Minh Mausoleum 

The Hồ Chí Minh Mausoleum (Lăng Chủ tịch Hồ Chí Minh) is a mausoleum which serves as the resting place of Vietnamese Revolutionary leader Ho Chi MinhIt’s located in the centre of Ba Dinh Square, where Hồ, President of the Communist Party of Vietnam from 1951 until his death in 1969, read the Declaration of Independence on 2 September 1945, establishing the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

Again with it being Tết – the museum itself was closed, but, we did walk around the gardens.

Note:  shoulders and knees NEED to be covered for entry.

Egg Coffee

I really wanted to try egg coffee, not just any egg coffee – the ORIGINAL egg coffee.  I had seen it while researching and it look sooooo yummy!

Giang Café was founded by Mr. Nguyen Giang in 1946, when he was working as a bartender for the famous five-star Sofitel Legend Metropole Ha Noi Hotel. Although the café has been relocated twice, its egg coffee recipe is almost the same as in its early days, with its chief ingredients being chicken egg yolk, Vietnamese coffee powder, sweetened condensed milk, butter and cheese.

The coffee is brewed in a small cup with a filter before the addition of a well-whisked mixture of the yolk and other ingredients. The cup is placed in a bowl of hot water to keep its temperature.

Mr. Nguyen developed the recipe in days when milk was scarce in Vietnam. He used egg yolks to replace milk.

Again, since it was Tết, the cafe was CLOSED!  So, I didn’t get to cross off “original egg coffee at Giang Cafe” off my list ❌. I did, however, try egg coffee in Ha Noi – my second time at the Ha Noi Street Train.

It tasted nothing as I expected.  It tasted much sweeter and thicker, the best way I can describe it would be caramelized marshmallow.  Once you mix it all together to get the coffee taste – spectacular!


Hạ Long Bay

… 🎵 Hey Hey What Can I Say 🎵 (a little Led Zeppelin reference there) … about Hạ Long Bay – it beautiful and stunning, I was in awe about the caves — but touristy, super touristy.

Hạ Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and popular travel destination. The name Hạ Long means “descending dragon” – we learned all about this from our tour guide Noi on the 4 hour dive there – there is a shorter way – by expressway – but then you’d miss the tourist trap stop shop lol. Most travel companies do take the express route back to Ha Noi however.

The bay consists of a dense cluster of some 1,600 limestone monolithic islands each topped with thick jungle vegetation, rising spectacularly from the ocean. Several of the islands are hollow, with enormous caves – those are stunning and spectacular.  Unfortunately, the pics won’t do them justice.


Hạ Long City

I decided not to take my tour bus back to Ha Noi and opted to stay in Hạ Long City for the night. So they let me off at the corner of the expressway before they turned to go left and directed me toward taxis. I should have called a Grab – negotiating a taxi is a bit frustrating with them wanting to charge you more and the language barrier. I  was able to negotiate a good price with the cab driver and off we went to my hotel.

The population in 2013 was 227,000.  This is more my size of city.  As much as I enjoyed Ha Noi, it was a bit to hectic for me and other than the river – no real water nearby.  I loved that Hạ Long has the beautiful limestone islands/mountains views, but it also has beautiful beaches and French Colonial neighbourhoods mixed amongst the traditional Vietnamese neighbourhoods.  To me, Hạ Long is underrated, I saw online that most people mentioned having nothing to do there other than scaling Poem Mountain, I guess that depends on what you’re looking for.  I loved it – I was only there for a day/night, but I loved the vibe and would have stayed longer.

While there I stayed at Lea House Hạ Long, I strongly recommend this place if you plan on staying in Hạ Long.  The hosts Hahn and her husband were super amazing to me during my stay with them.  I sat and chatted with them and their daughter, Lea – they all speak Vietnamese, English and French.  They even helped me out with catching a bus back to Ha Noi and dropped me off at the station. They arranged for me to go back to Ha Noi with their father who was heading back – he spoke no English – but asked the bus driver to drop me off at the stop closest to the airport.   Very kind and gracious.

Lea House Ha Long features free WiFi and rooms with air conditioning. Super cute rooms, aptly named. I also had a little terrace on which to enjoy my coffee. The property is situated in the Hon Gai district. All units come with a flat-screen TV with cable channels, a coffee machine, a shower, free toiletries and a wardrobe. Every room includes a private bathroom with a hair dryer, while certain rooms come with a balcony.

☑️☑️☑️☑️☑️ —- everything was top notch, clean, modern, friendly hosts, great location

So folks, that wraps up my 1st week here in Vietnam, it has been A BLAST.  Especially for my first time traveling solo. I’m really enjoying the sights and sounds of Vietnam (although there is A LOT of honking, like a lot!), whilst meeting new friends along the way. Conversely, I’m also really enjoying my ME time.

I have to remind myself that sometimes it’s ok to do ‘nothing’ because I’m on holidays, so if I want to read a book and not sightsee – that’s ok too (Sorry, I was reiterating that to myself lol).

NEXT STOP …. Da Nang and the ancient town of Hoi An … catch up with you in a week!

Comment below if you’ve been to any of these places, what were your thoughts?  Where should I go while in Da Nang?  Any good recommendations for places to eat in Hoi An?