Vietnam 2017

My opinion is that for a romantic relationship between two people to work, there needs to be a Type A and a Type B. Night Owl showed me a scene from a stand up comedy once, where the gentleman explains that the Type B person is the one that goes through life singing “La-di-dah”, skipping and dropping things everywhere; meanwhile the Type A is hurrying along behind them, picking up the various items that have been dropped and muttering “this goes here, and that goes over here, and this comes over here.”

Could you imagine travelling with two Type Bs? Nothing would get planned! And two Type As? That’s a sure recipe for a break-up.

As I had planned our trip to Japan last year meticulously, I had requested that Night Owl take the reins for our Vietnam trip and set out our itineraries, make bookings, etc. But in the couple of months leading up to our visit it soon became clear that it wasn’t her area, and so in I jumped, organising our visas, cruises and hotel bookings. Once a Type A, always a Type A.

I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t know much at all about Vietnam before we went. I knew that the Vietnam War happened not too long ago, I’ve had pho and banh mi at quite a few good joints in Sydney, I knew that there was a wet season and a hot season, but other than that I knew next to nothing. Also neither of us knew a single word in Vietnamese, not even a “hello” or “thank you”, so it was going to be an interesting trip.

Arrival into Ho Chi Minh City

We had taken a weekday evening flight and arrived in Ho Chi Minh City past midnight. I nearly swooned from the dense humidity as soon as I stepped out of the airport, and we were immediately swamped with loud taxi drivers asking where we were going. Our plan was to stay in Ho Chi Minh for a few hours of sleep, before flying out in the late morning up north to Hanoi. Hotels are ridiculously cheap in Vietnam, so $40 for a double room seemed like a good alternative to sleeping at the airport.

Looking at the maps, our hotel (Morning Rooms Truong Son) was only a half hour or so walk from the airport so we ambitiously thought we could walk it, only to walk about half a kilometre from the airport and realise our way was blocked by the freeway, with no pedestrian access. Fail. Close to 1am now, we trudged with our bags in the sticky wet heat of the night back to the airport where we hailed a cab. There was more drama in finding the hotel among the swamp of airport hotels clustered together, and more drama with the hotel unable to find our reservation – so we were utterly relieved when we made it up to our air-conditioned room for a couple of hours of sleep in air-conditioned peace.

Arrival in Hanoi

Most hotels include breakfast, however ours didn’t but we weren’t too fussed as they offered a free airport shuttle! We went to the airport and found a random cafe beside the drop off area, and purchased two iced milk teas and two steamed buns. The iced milk tea was so sugary it jolted you awake, and the steamed buns were a pleasant revelation, pillowy soft and fluffy, filled with chicken mince, hard-boiled quail eggs, and a duck egg yolk. It was a good light breakfast while we waited for our connecting flight.

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We had arranged for airport pick-ups at all of our cities, as a friend recommended that it’s simply easier when you’re in a completely foreign country and you’re hot and disoriented. Our driver from Skyline Hotel was ready and waiting for us, and took us through the bustling lunch time Hanoi traffic through to the Old Quarter. Hanoi is full of little laneways and alleys, and it’s difficult not to get your streets mixed up. I can’t help but admire the beautiful architecture with its clear French influence – I only saw this later when we left – but out of Hoi An and Saigon, Hanoi retains the most of its European influence when it comes to architecture. I was disappointed that I didn’t know this, or I would have taken more photographs, as there is a beautiful contrast with the Asian atmosphere.

We were thrilled that the friendly concierge at our hotel spoke fluent English, and we sat down with tea on arrival as she talked us through a map of the area with their food recommendations, before showing us our very comfortable room.

It was past 2pm by this point, and we were looking to find somewhere to eat. I was interested in checking out the local special of Bun Cha, and our concierge recommended we walk over to Bun Cha Ta.

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I’m surprised that Bun Cha hasn’t taken off more in Sydney – it’s delicious! Bun Cha is a clear consomme with lemongrass and fish sauce, into which grilled patties of pork mince are dunked. The soup is topped with slivers of green mango and you can add raw chopped garlic, soy, fish sauce, or as much fresh chopped chilli as you like. You’re given a big basket of freshly washed herbs and salad leaves, and a plate of cut rice vermicelli noodles to add to the soup. It’s hearty yet light, and perfect with a small plate of crispy spring rolls and a cold can of Hanoi beer.

And food is so cheap here! A bowl of bun cha and spring rolls = $5 Australian.

Tummies satisfied, we talk about going for a walk around the lake at the centre of the Old Quarter. It’s about now that a light drizzle starts, but neither of us mind as it cools the air down. Hanoi is already considerably cooler than Ho Chi Minh and so we look forward to exploring the area.

What a perilous walk! I learned more about crossing streets in Vietnam that day than ever before. There are few – if any – traffic lights, traffic goes in all directions, cars and bikes honk and beep constantly and people will keep driving at you even if you’re crossing the road at a pedestrian crossing. The key is to walk out onto the road purposefully and stare at the oncoming traffic as you move forward – never step back! Remember that the bikes can move a lot faster than you can, but they can’t swerve around you easily if you change your mind and step backwards. It’s entertaining to see the tourists hesitate and clump together in a terrified bundle only to get horns blasted at them enthusiastically, whereas a local chatting on their phone will meander across the road almost absent-mindedly. For me, it took a couple of hours for my Asian-genes to kick in and I began to cross the road with relative confidence, with Night Owl keeping pace in my shadow. At one stage I got so cocky I was tempted to try standing in the middle of the busy road with my arms outstretched while cars and motorbikes swerved around me, but I didn’t have travel insurance so I dismissed the idea.

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The people and traffic get a bit too much for us after a couple of hours, and we scramble to find a cafe to collect our thoughts for a couple of hours. I look around to find somewhere that’s between “doesn’t seem too much like a tourist-trap” but “not so local they don’t have an English menu”, to look across the road and see two girls in aprons frantically waving at us from a cafe doorway. Looks like we were crossing the road to join them!

They were waitresses from The Note Cafe, an adorable, steeply-constructed little cafe with almost every surface covered with post-it-notes written by all their visitors from all over the world and locals alike. Wi-fi is free and the code is located at the bottom of your receipt when they bring up your order.   Night Owl has a regular Vietnamese iced coffee while I curiously try the Vietnamese egg coffee – where strong black coffee is prepared with sugar, condensed milk, and egg yolks to make a deliciously rich concoction. It’s then topped with “egg creme”, made by beating and heating the yolks. Apparently this was invented when there was a milk shortage in Vietnam, and it’s certainly an amazing drink!

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It passes 5.00pm and we watch the post-work traffic merge onto the main road, and the street vendors with their domed straw hats carry their wares towards the lake in search of tourists. The street vendors sell everything from plain baguettes for banh mi to rain ponchos to freshly made doughnuts and cut pineapple, and can be very persistent if they see you point or look at their wares for an instant. As we are off the next day to Halong Bay, we decide to get an early dinner before heading back to the hotel.

Pho 10 was also recommended by our concierge, and when we observe its slightly abrupt service and larger proportion of locals to tourists we know it’s considered very good! The only variations between the bowls are the cuts of beef, and I go with the rare beef steak.

The soup is light, noodles and beef tender. The flavour of the soup wasn’t quite as complex as I have had in Marrickville before, but there’s plenty of chilli and pickled garlic at the side of the table to customise your bowl.

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Halong Bay

The next morning, we wake to a great breakfast downstairs in the hotel restaurant before going back to our room and packing what we needed for our two-day one-night cruise in Halong Bay. We had decided prior to the trip to book the hotel room for the evening we would be away, so that we could leave the bulk of our belongings in the safe and room.

We were picked up from reception by our tour guide from Rosa Cruise, and joined four other couples in the van for the two hour drive to Halong Bay. All ships pick up passengers from a small terminal in little boats, before transporting them to the larger ships anchored in deeper water before proceeding into the picturesque bay.

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Meals and activities are all included in the cruise, and we make a visit to the Bay’s pearl farm to learn about how the pearls are grown and harvested, before some kayaking around a section of the Bay as the sun begins to set. Then it’s back on board for cocktails! We’re invited to take a dusk dip, but upon peering into the water I’m horrified to see lots of jellyfish swimming around and decide to pass. We see more jellies after dinner as we’re trying out our hand at squid fishing, but my squid fishing proves fruitless and I head to bed to ready myself for an early-morning tai chi lesson by the ship captain on the top deck.

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Leaving Halong Bay and last night in Hanoi

On our last day in Halong Bay, we spend most of the morning visiting the limestone caves before doing more sunbathing on the boat. Downstairs, the crew also host a cooking lesson on how to make cooked Vietnamese spring rolls. As we’re sunbathing up top it’s amusing to see the various sized boats that glide past us as they begin to make their way back to port, particularly the white and gold monstrosity below. Unless you’re planning on doing a week-long cruise across open water, I don’t see the point of those huge ships.

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A spot of lunch and we check out before being shuttled back for the two hours to Hanoi. Night Owl and I are both relaxed from the fresh air of Halong Bay, and it’s disorienting to be thrown back into the chaos of Hanoi, even though it is for only one more night. We head back for another dinner at Bun Cha Ta, once again having some bun cha and spring rolls with beer, but finishing off with a black coffee for Night Owl and a chocolate egg cream dessert for me.

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Down to Hoi An

My first thought when we touched down at Danang Airport was how clear the sky was. In hindsight, we were so blessed with the weather while we were there, as two weeks after we left a typhoon went through the city and the poor people had to be evacuated. APEC is also currently taking place in Danang. Hoi An is a little way away from Danang, about a 30-45 min hour drive, and it’s a little cultural oasis away from reality. Sure it’s a little touristy, but we were staying in a four and a half star hotel so both of us were looking forward to some pampering. We left our things at River Suites before heading out to the river to the Old Town for a wander.

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It’s hot and sunny, and seemed a bit ghost-town-ish. Little did we know at this point that Hoi An is a place that only truly comes alive at night. You will need to buy a ticket to access the Old Town area, as while it’s for access to the tourist sights – there’s a few antique houses, the Japanese Bridge, etc – they do randomly check for tickets if you’re just wandering through to look at the shops. Hoi An is fabulous for picking up souvenirs and aside from the gimmicky tourist trinkets they specialise in hand-made goods: silk scarves, leather bags and shoes, tailored clothes and suits, and lanterns. While we picked up quite a few things on our last night, Night Owl kept staring covetously at the leather duffel bags; however we hadn’t booked any check-in luggage and leather bags are heavy! We got lucky in Saigon – but I’ll save that for later on.

I remember reading about Cargo Club on the Lonely Planet website, so we decide to have some lunch to get a break from the bright sun. Both of us have vermicelli salad bowls, Night Owl one with pork mince, mine with crispy pork belly – both served with a light nuoc cham sauce.

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It was at this point that I also got ridiculously hooked on iced Vietnamese black coffee. It was like nothing I’ve ever tasted – refreshing, fortifying, chocolate-y and smooth. It mind-boggled me as I’m a person that rarely drinks coffee (I crash terribly), and when I do I like it frothy and milky. It was like an iced coffee/stout/cola combination, as crazy as that sounds.

We finish our lunch but we want to linger around the area a bit longer, so we check out Cocobox, another recommendation by Lonely Planet for their cold-pressed juices, coffee and local cider. There’s a few branches of the venue dotted around the Old Quarter. Night Owl goes for another black coffee – hot this time, and I’m intrigued by the local cider, selecting the ginger. I’m immediately apprehensive when I see it arrive in an enormous bottle, but do you know the best part of a holiday where you have no itinerary? You have no where to be. We spent the best part of the afternoon sipping our drinks and watching the street go by, the backpackers consulting their maps and dropping in for fresh juices, the rickshaw drivers dozing in the sun before rousing themselves as the sun set.

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We meander back to the hotel which is a short walk just on the other side of the bridge, check in and make ourselves comfortable as the evening begins to set in. We have a prime view of the river and of the Town as the tour buses begin to drive in and the shops light their lanterns for the evening ahead.

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Get ready to be approached by all sorts of people as you walk into the Old Town. Now it’s nighttime, you have waiters trying to put menus in your hands, ladies recommending you come in for a massage, older women telling you to go for a boat ride up the river where you can place lit paper lanterns into the water. A common activity we noticed were for couples to dress up in old-style Vietnamese garb and have a gaggle of photographers follow them around the Old Town, taking photos of them in boats, alleys, and strolling beneath the lanterns, complete with a light crew on the side. We saw at least one couple every evening we stayed in Hoi An doing this!

With Cargo Club being a good pick, I decided to go to dinner to another one of Lonely Planet’s recommendations – Nu Eatery. It’s near the Japanese Bridge and down a small alley, and when we finally found it we were told it would be about a half hour wait for a table. We were happy to wait, but then a middle-aged lady told us that she had a reservation that was about to be called, and that we were welcome to join her. Turns out that she was from Canberra, and when we were seated we found ourselves surrounded by tables full of other Australians and Kiwis! The more the merrier, and the more dishes we were able to try. It was fusion food and so a little too expensive for what it was, but each dish was beautifully fresh and flavoursome. I particularly enjoyed the grilled pineapple and watermelon salad, as well as the pomelo seafood salad. It was interesting to chat to someone new about their experiences in Hoi An so far, and learn what we could about where we should go over the next couple of days.

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Our meal finished up around 8.30pm, and we bid adieu to our new friend to find one more stop before we turned in for the evening. We found a bar that offered shisha, and they excitedly seated us at a prime spot of overlooking the street thoroughfare. I don’t encourage the smoking of shisas as I am a non-smoker myself, but it is something nice to do once a year or so while on holidays. We settled back with our shisha and a beer – and can I just say, Saigon Beer is so average compared to Hanoi Beer 😦

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An Bang Beach

On our first day we had booked with the hotel concierge their free drop off service to An Bang Beach – one of the biggest beaches from Hoi An now that Cua Dai Beach has been too severely affected by erosion. We were delighted to discover that not only did the hotel drop us off for free, but that they had a connection to one of the restaurants on the beach – Sea Village Restaurant. This meant that on arrival, we were taken through the back bushes from the main road onto the beach, and to the restaurant’s deck chairs reserved for us – situated in prime real estate on An Bang Beach. Such service! There’s plenty of deck chairs around An Bang Beach but they belong to the restaurants they are situated out front of. They are usually free, on the proviso that you buy a couple of things to eat and/or drink.

An umbrella was put up for us, and when I discarded my thongs on the sand in front of my chair, the attendant came over and chattered in Vietnamese, picking up my sandals and placing them carefully behind the back of my chair off the sand as he gestured to the waves. It was quickly clear that the water was quite rough and choppy, and at times would sweep all the way up and swirl around the bottom of my deck chair – I could see why Vietnamese beaches are eroding so quickly.

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We relax and enjoy the sun for a couple of hours, however it’s too windy to enjoy sunbathing properly so we meander through the chairs up to the restaurant to peruse their food menu in anticipation of an early lunch before our drop off back to the hotel. The menu isn’t laid out in an appealing manner nor are the dishes described incredibly well. Not wanting anything too heavy  (got to watch my beach body ha) I choose grilled prawns with a banana flower salad, Night Owl a pork omelette, and iced coffees.

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We were surprised when our food arrived as it looked picturesque. Without us saying anything, the waitress who put down the food gestured to another waitress, who came over and in broken English showed us how the omelette was to be eaten – the pieces wrapped into malleable rice paper with fresh herbs and salad, before being dipped in the accompanying sauce. She indicated that for my salad, I was to scoop the banana flower salad and prawns into the prawn crackers and eat it.

I love how without any prompting from us they came over to proudly show us how to enjoy their food. It was one of the freshest and best meals we had the whole trip.

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The clouds start to roll in so we’re grateful that we booked an early pick up from the beach. Back at our cleaned room, we relax and unwind for a little while but head out soon as we’re still a little peckish – fresh ocean air will do that to you.

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We wander around the Old Town and decide to try Morning Glory, which also runs cooking classes. Upon opening the menu, I learn that the owner actually owns quite a few of the different restaurants around Old Town. We both order simple small dishes of rice paper rolls – mine pre-made with crispy pork and fresh prawns, Night Owl freshly grilled pork skewers – with Larue Beer, which is a lot better tasting than Saigon Beer! We sit back and watch as the lanterns come on outside and the tourists start to come in for the Saturday evening.

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Hoi An becomes quite a surprising party town when the sun sets, with party songs thumping out from all the restaurants and happy hour signs going up everywhere. Night Owl says it reminds her nostalgically of Thailand.

We had headed back to our hotel to relax (again!) before wandering out for a late dinner, consulting a list of restaurants I had compiled prior to our visit from online recommendations and friends alike. Night Owl had a work colleague who has been to Vietnam a few times, and one of the key places she recommended for the local special of chicken rice (or Com Ga) – was Long’s Chicken Rice. It took a little while to find and is down a slightly dark small road, but when you find it you’re essentially in someone’s backyard which has been converted into quite a large outdoor eating area.

We both get what everyone else is getting – the Chicken Rice, of course! And two Larue Beers. The Chicken Rice is not dissimilar to Hainan Chicken – rice cooked in chicken broth, topped with pieces of tender shredded chicken, chicken livers and shallots. To this you stir in julienned green mango and carrot, and devour while you sip on a small bowl of tasty chicken stock. It’s comfort food at its best.

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Last day in Hoi An

The previous day while waiting for our ride to take us to An Bang Beach, we had been lingering in reception and leafing through their book of local attractions and tours. When I saw a snorkelling tour around Cham Island, I pointed this out to Night Owl and she eagerly agreed. It was all organised by the hotel by us, and we set out for a half day tour which included transportation to the docks, a speedboat to the local fishing village and tour, speedboat to the snorkelling site, and a lunch at Cham Island. I didn’t get many photos as we were on the move and/or swimming during the day, but it was a reasonably good tour for the price we paid.

A word of warning though, the water is quite choppy and rough out there, and even the competent swimmers in our group wanted life jackets to snorkel with.

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Once we’re back in Hoi An, we head to our spa session booked through the hotel (a whole body exfoliation, massage and facial). Spa sessions are ridiculously cheap and good value. We spend the remainder of our evening shopping for souvenirs, enjoying the atmosphere of the lively Old Town, and had another dinner at Cargo Club.

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Back to Ho Chi Minh

We’re sad the next day to leave Hoi An and a little apprehensive to see what Ho Chi Minh has in store for us. At Night Owl’s request we’ve booked a hostel for our time there as she wants to do the bar crawl and meet new people thing. We’re staying at Long Hostel in District 1, one of the liveliest parts of town, and once we’ve put our things down we immediately head out for lunch, scouting out a bowl of pho at Pho Quynh. I find the soup incredibly soothing and flavoursome, and it gives us enough energy for a hot afternoon of walking around to familiarise ourself with the area.

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We head out in the evening to Whiskey and Wares, walking through the party district with wide-eyes. It’s a small and cosy bar, specialising in whiskey – surprise, surprise – but also with non-whiskey cocktails and tipples, and lots of beers on tap. We have a Whiskey Sour and an Old Fashioned. Neither are mind-blowingly good but have used a decent amount of whiskey, and after having beer for the last few days it’s a refreshing change.

I look at the beers and note that some are from Pasteur Brewing Company, one of the places on my list to visit, so we decide it’s only appropriate to have a preview first. Pasteur is known for taking local ingredients such as fruit and coffee and incorporating them into their beers to create unique flavours. There’s a Passionfruit IPA and a Jasmine Pale Ale, both of which are refreshing and light.

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Because of the humid climate, the alcohol affects me faster than usual and I’m wilting fast. Night Owl drags me down the street back to our hostel – not too sober herself – and declares that we’ll have dinner at a random place she finds (Neither of us can remember the name), but it seemed clean, air-conditioned and English-friendly from the outside.

I suspect this place is my downfall for later in the trip, as I order wrap-your-own rice paper rolls and I’m brought thick rice paper and a bowl of water. Everywhere else we have gone on our trip so far used malleable rice paper unlike what we sell in Australia. So not thinking in my right mind, I soaked the paper in the bowl of water and proceeded to wrap the rolls – forgetting entirely that I didn’t want to touch the tap water here…

The tummy bug took a day or two to set in – which is why you don’t see many photos for my last day in Saigon.

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My last productive day in Saigon and XO Food Tours

While our hostel did provide breakfast, neither of us were in a particularly sociable mood the next morning so decided to go out in search of Banh Mi, as neither of us had had one during our trip so far. It was a good choice, as down in the common area we walked past one of the worst kinds of travellers: the Australian Bogan. A lot of “yeaahhhh mate you totally need to check out this place, it’s fully sick yep – ya know what I mean yeah?” type of slang. We were glad to slip on our shoes and traipse on down the street a couple of blocks to Bui Thi Xuan, who doled out banh mi to locals driving by on motorbikes to pick up a quick breakfast. I ordered two pork banh mi and two fresh fruit juices, before we walked to the local park to devour our breakfast.

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It’s wrapped in a paper sheet advertisement for the sandwich shop. Open it up and it’s stuffed with pickled daikon, julienned carrot and cucumber, and deliciously tender sliced roast pork with a generous slather of pate. The baguette itself is heaven – crumbs shattering everywhere on the first bite, pillow soft on the inside. The bread and the pate made that sandwich the best banh mi I’ve had. Two banh mi with two juices came to the banging bargain price of $5.

I’m not brave enough to weather the already scorching heat at mid-morning, so we catch an Uber over to the War Remnants Museum. Ubers are insanely cheap, and you can even get Uber moto! Obviously it’s for one person only, but if you’re out on the street you can spot them with their blue Uber helmets. There’s a fair bit of competition between cab companies in Vietnam and a bit of ripping off of tourists, so Uber is a safe bet as you get an approximation of the price before you go. You also don’t need to struggle with the language barrier in telling them where you need to go.

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We spend a few hours at the War Remnants Museum and the two of us are very quiet and suitably a little shocked when we emerge. Both of us agree that we need a drink, so I direct us over to Pasteur Street Brewing Company for an early lunch, which is just under a 20 min walk towards the trendy part of town. Go down a lane and up the stairs, into the bar and brewery.

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We order a tasting board, selecting beers that are dragonfruit, tropical, pineapple and mango flavoured, a coffee stout and a lemon hefeweizen. There’s a good selection of bar food as well, ranging from Sloppy Joes to a Cured Salmon Plate to Crudites with a bacon jam. It’s a relaxing and nice way to while away the afternoon.

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It’s shortly after 3pm when we finish up; both of us have been careful not to eat too much, because that night we were booked in with XO Food Tours – a food tour group that took tourists out on motor scooters for five hours of sightseeing, food and more. We  met our two drivers outside of our hostel at 5pm – two Vietnamese girls dressed in traditional garb who talked us through the precautions to take when riding shotgun, then onto the bikes we went!

Our first stop was an open street noodle bar not far from where we got our banh mi that morning. We waited for the rest of our tour to arrive, about eight other people – most of whom also hailed from Australia, the other drivers, and our guide. We would have three food stops over the evening, with a few other stops in between to digest and sight see. Once we were told the program for the evening, we were introduced to our first dish of the evening: Bun Bo Hue.

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It’s a broth of beef and pork with lemongrass, topped with thinly sliced beef and sliced sausage. Condiments to add on the side are bean sprouts, shredded banana flower, and morning glory, with as much garlic, fish sauce, or chilli paste as you like. The main difference between this and pho is not only the soup (a combination of two meats rather than just one), but also the shape of the noodles – thin and round rather than flat. The thin and round noodles don’t absorb liquid as quickly as the flat noodles; meaning you can eat a little more slowly without fear of your soup disappearing!

We are taken around Districts 5 and 6 to the Chinatown area, the area where the Cantonese first arrived in Saigon via the rivers. There’s temples and markets aplenty, including a large wet market which is open from 3pm to 5am, allowing those who work during the day to buy fresh produce in the evenings. We saw fish and frogs flapping about in their baskets as we zipped past on our scooters.

Our second food stop was a grill and charcoal outdoor restaurant, a common social activity enjoyed among all generations. We sit down and the XO girls proceed to cook up a feast for us, with thin slices of lamb and beef marinated in tofu, fish sauce and other things, as well as prawns. They bring out a variety of aromatics and small appetizers to enjoy with the meats, including a leaf that tasted quite fishy in flavour.

Lamb intestines and testicles are a popular meat for barbecuing in Vietnam, but we were thankful when they said they would be cooking us lamb breast.

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They also brought out frog, barbecued with the skin off and skin on. I’ve had it before several years ago – get a leg and it tastes like a fish-scented chicken. I prefer it with the skin off; I’ve never been a fan of fish with the skin on anyway.

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Afterwards, we drive onto the freeway and onto bridges over the Saigon River. We drive past a side of the river where multiple chairs and umbrellas are set up among the trees – we are told later that this is where young couples go for some “romantic time”, as Vietnamese families are all crammed so tightly into their apartments it’s hard to get some time to yourselves.

We stop off in District 7, which is full of high rises, and it’s pointed out that there are no power lines in the area. It’s a recently developed part of Vietnam which was done by a Taiwanese architect (I recognised the style of some of the architecture), and the area is nicknamed by the locals as “rich, richer, and richest” due to the large number of wealthy expats that live in the area, the American fast food stores, and cosmetic surgery clinics. It’s quieter and the traffic is more orderly, with large green parks. We’re quizzed on how much we think a one bedroom apartment is to rent, and our guide’s eyebrows go up when we throw out figures like $500 to $900 a month US. We are told the average rent is as low as $300US a month, but with the average Vietnamese person’s wage ranging about $250US, essentially the only people that can afford to live in the area are expats.

Back onto our bikes, we drive through District 4 – what used to be known as the “mafia” district, where previously tourists would occasionally have their bags snatched by pickpockets driving by on scooters. The Vietnamese Government have since made efforts to reduce the incidents of crime, somehow attempting to assimilate people of different districts into District 4.

I don’t remember where our last stop is, but soon after we sit down at the seafood restaurant we are offered to try Balut – a duck embryo. I declare that I will need a beer, and tentatively agree to the delight of my driver, who says she eats one almost every day. It arrives in a little dish with a tamarind sauce and crushed peanuts.

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I can’t look at it, so my driver spoons me a bit of the yolk – it tastes like a hard boiled egg yolk, so I’m fine with it. Then she gives me a spoon of the white – or the duck embryo – and I get something crunchy and feathery and immediately my mind says NO and I reach for my beer! At least I gave it a go.

Other than the Balut, we’re treated to a variety of seafood dishes, including clam soup, scallops, crab and more. For dessert, they bring out young coconuts where they scoop out massive spoonfuls of coconut jelly – made by setting the water with agar agar, then once that’s set, mixing agar with coconut milk and pouring it over to form a second layer. It’s a refreshing way to end the food tour.

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We’re driven back to our hostel and we bid our drivers adieu before we turn in.

Last Day in Ho Chi Minh

I felt fine early in the morning and we went by the markets just outside the hostel to get a couple of photographs.

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We went to grab a quick banh mi for breakfast before hitting up the Ben Thanh Market for souvenirs and coffee, and I purchased a beautiful “Mont Blanc” duffel bag in the most supple leather for a wonderful $80 AUD. I don’t bargain too hard as while I do have Asian genes in me, I’m conscious that good products deserve to be paid for. The vendors got a little confused when they saw me, some asking where I was from, and when I responded “Sydney, Australia”, they cocked their heads in confusion and said: “But you look Vietnamese?” Obviously the new tan I was rocking aided in my bargaining skills.

It was about this point that I started to feel faint from the heat of the market, and we retreated back to our hostel where I dozed and was sick for the remainder of the day. I was lucky to have Night Owl there to keep me company and get me whatever I needed. What it was from still remains a mystery, but I was thankful I managed to make my flight later that evening back to Sydney. I was lucky I only got sick at the very end of my trip, so at least I have many fond memories of the earlier part of our visit! I hope to visit Vietnam sometime again in the next couple of years with this pretty one.

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Accomodation and Experiences

Morning Rooms Truong Son
Inside Luxury Apt, 50/3 Truong Son, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam

Skyline Hotel, Hoi An
16 Ngõ Trung Yên Hàng Bạc Hoàn Kiếm Hàng Bạc Hoàn Kiếm Hà Nội Vietnam
+84 439321888
http://www.skylinehotel.vn/

Rosa Cruise, Halong Bay
http://rosacruise.com

River Suites, Hoi An
4 Nguyễn Du, Cẩm Phô, Tp. Hội An, Quảng Nam, Vietnam
+84 235 3924 999
http://riversuiteshoian.com

Long Hostel, Ho Chi Minh
373 Phạm Ngũ Lão, Dist.1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
+84 838360184

XO Tours
https://xotours.vn

Food

HANOI

Bun Cha Ta
21 Nguyễn Hữu Huân, Lý Thái Tổ, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
+84 96 684 83 89

The Note Cafe
64 Lương Văn Can, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
+84 24 3938 0468

Pho 10
10 Lý Quốc Sư, Hàng Trống, Hà Nội, Vietnam
+84 124 722 5586

HOI AN

Cargo Club
107-109 Nguyễn Thái Học, Minh An, Tp. Hội An, Quảng Nam, Vietnam
+84 97 766 88 95

Cocobox
94 Lê Lợi, Minh An, Tp. Hội An, Quảng Nam, Vietnam
+84 235 3862 000

Nu Eatery
10A Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai, Cẩm Phô, Hội An, Quảng Nam, Vietnam
+84 129 519 0190

Morning Glory
106 Nguyễn Thái Học, Minh An, Tp. Hội An, Quảng Nam, Vietnam
+84 235 2241 555

Long Chicken Rice
Minh An, Hội An, Quang Nam Province, Vietnam
+84 97 890 60 52

HO CHI MINH

Pho Quynh
323 Phạm Ngũ Lão, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
+84 28 3836 8515

Whiskey and Wares
196 Đường Đề Thám, Cầu Ông Lãnh, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
+84 163 279 4179

Pasteur Brewing Company
144 Pasteur, Bến Nghé, Hồ Chí Minh, Bến Nghé Quận 1 Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
+84 838239562

Bui Thi Xuan
122E Bùi Thị Xuân, Phạm Ngũ Lão, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
+84 838843997

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