March 31, 2014

“Describe Vietnam in one word” says my husband.  We are sitting in Hanoi’s steamy airport during a layover from the island of Phu Quoc to the ancient port of Hoi An. “Ngon,” I reply – the Vietnamese word meaning delicious.  Being a foodie, I get my traveling rocks off through finding the best street food stands, local markets, and nerdy cooking classes.  “And you?” I ask. Edson mimics the sound of a scooter’s horn, “beep! beep!”  His reply is no surprise, as the preferred mode of transportation in Vietnam is a scooter speeding through the streets of Vietnam, ignoring street signs, lights, and any oncoming traffic (foot or motorized). This all fitting the bill for his need for speed and fast-paced risk-taking.

Summing up this amazing country in one word is impossible, even with my limited knowledge as a three-week tourist, I can see that.   Vietnam is an amazing country with warm, casual and kind people, gorgeous landscapes, and fresh, delicious food.  Being colonized for a lot of its history, China and France left their marks on the cuisine and architecture.  With over 3,400 kilometers of coastline, Vietnam also provides the perfect balance of lazy beach days and intense, culturally-rich cities.  We visited 5 cities: Saigon(HCMC), Phu Quoc Island, Hoi An, Dalat, and Mui Ne. Read on to find out where we stayed, what we ate, and some highlights.


We loved Liberty Central Hotel ($125/night – fantastic breakfast buffet included). It was conveniently located and had helpful, friendly customer service. The modern rooms were clean, comfortable, and were a good size.  Being located in District 1 gives you plenty of options for sightseeing and different levels of travel:  you are next to an amazing street market where you can eat like a local on small metal stools while slurping delicious noodles and/or you can shop Burberry or Versace on your way up to the Rex Hotel’s rooftop bar. Most tours offer complimentary pick ups from your hotel if you are staying in District 1. (www.LibertyCentralHotel.com).


The Ben Thanh market right next to the hotel had incredible food.  At the very Northwest corner of the food market is the best Bo Hue Bue- delicate rice dumplings, finished with fresh herbs and a sweet-spicy sauce. Market Tips:  Eat only at stands that are packed with locals.  This method has never steered us wrong. If you are shopping, always haggle.  It is not only accepted, but expected.
Pho 2000: delicious soups in a hurried cafe setting.  Be ready to share your table.  We were seated next to a lovely woman traveling from the Philippines.  Be open and always ready to learn something about the rest of the world, yourself, and others.


**TOP PICK* Vietnam Vespa Street Food Tour:  I will never forget this night as long as I live.  Two vespas picked us up at our hotel and whisked us through the streets of Saigon.  The street view of the city is incredible — we were immersed in the energy of organized chaos, and I can’t imagine a better way to see the city than on the back of a Vespa.  In addition to beautiful views, the food stops were fantastic. Enjoy the grilled mussels with cilantro and peanuts, fried crab legs, clams in a lemongrass broth, and crispy and airy pancakes rolled in fresh herbs, sauce and lettuces. (www.VietnamVespaAdventures.com).


Sophie is a beautiful English woman who passionately explores Vietnam’s history through art.  She has an insider’s access to some amazing art museums that aren’t so public.  She is also full of great recommendations. (www.SophiesArtTour.com)


Set outside of the city with beach-like hippie atmosphere, this bar features a structure made from recycled shipping containers that encourages you to “express yourself.”  At 34 and sober- it kinda made me feel old, but also nostalgic for my free-spirited 20’s.  Just go. (facebook.com/cargobar).