HALONG BAY

We ended our Vietnam trip with 3 days aboard a boat, cruising through Halong Bay, surrounded by nothing but small islands.

It was very relaxing. Besides the day trip we took to the Mekong Delta, we had planned each day in Vietnam ourselves, so it was a change of pace to be on board a cruise where all of our activities had been organised by someone else. It was cool to be taken out of our food-focused comfort zone for a few days, especially after the gorge fest that was Hanoi.

On our first morning our boat was met by four women in small rowboats who picked us up and took us for a ride.

I tried to row but I sucked at it.

We were taken to a local fishing village where kids as young as 5 were tearing through the water in rowboats. 

These kids were so badass that the school had been flipped over and was out of use! They said it was because of storms but I reckon the girl in the pink sweater did it just to see if she could. So badass.

One afternoon the staff aboard the boat prepared a bbq for us on the beach. It was the best food we ate on the cruise – fresh seafood and meat cooked over charcoal.

I bought these sunnies at the market in Hoi An. They’re meant to be Ray Ban knock-offs but the logo says ROY & BON. Money well spent!

Clearly not content after the amazing lunch they’d cooked us, I got the staff to help me find clams in the sand. Then we cooked them over the charcoal and they were delicious!

We went kayaking each day. I dove off the front of the boat into the water a few times too. It was quite the OUTDOOR ADVENTURE™. And what OUTDOOR ADVENTURE™ is complete without a guided tour through some sweet caves?

 

Cool stalactites, brah. 

When we escaped the sweet caves, we were attacked on the beach by a gang of adorable puppies!

Aren’t puppies just the best way to end a cruise?

We headed back to Hanoi for one last night and went straight to Fanny for the best ice cream sundaes ever:

The next morning we boarded our planes for home. Boo hoo.

In conclusion: Vietnam is a fucking radical place to visit and is especially great to eat at. Somehow, after eating 5 meals a day for 2 weeks, I lost 3 kilos, so that makes Vietnam even more magical!

99% of the photos I used in these blog posts were taken by my girlfriend Bianca. She runs an awesome blog called Sandwichface and is the greatest person to travel with ever. Here’s me and her wearing sunglasses on a rowboat:

XX

HANOI PART 2

Even though 90% of the reason we had come to Vietnam was to eat mad shit, our stomachs were only so big. With so many amazing, unique foods on offer that we NEEDED to try every day, we were bound to overdo it at least once. And boy did we overdo it today.

The breakfast at our hotel is pretty decent – B fills up on eggs and I slurp down a bowl of pho ga before we head out for some morning beers. Hanoi specialises in bia hoi - fresh beer brewed every morning and poured out of kegs by thousands of beer vendors across the city for a couple of cents a glass. It’s delicious.

So was the bun cha we ate yesterday, maybe we should eat another bowl at a new place?

It wasn’t quite as good as the bowl we shared the day before but it was still pretty awesome!

We were north of the lake for reasons besides bun cha. We were looking for a pho spot that served up a darker, beefier broth. The place was called Pho Thin (13 Lo Duc Street).

Although this was easily the most run down place we ate at in Hanoi (not hatin, just statin!), the smell billowing out of the pots was wild, and the bowls of soup the staff were putting together at lightning speed looked incredible.

What set this pho apart from the rest of them was that the beef was stir fried before joining the soup in the bowl. It was such an intense, beefy taste. I think this was the best bowl of pho I’ve ever had.

SMAAAAAASHED!

I really shouldn’t have finished the bowl right to the bottom. I mean, I had to, a rule is a rule – but I’ll recount what I’d consumed so far this day, and keep in mind that it was barely midday!

- 1 bowl of pho ga

- 1 bowl of bun cha

- 1 bowl of pho

- 2 iced coffees

- 2 glasses of beer

I was done. Totally game overed. We walked back to our hotel, clutching our bellies. I collapsed on our bed and enjoyed 3 hours of food overload crazy dreams before B woke me up and informed me that it was time to eat again. Lucky me!

We visit this lady for some Bánh cuốn nóng, little rice dumplings with pork and mushrooms inside.

They were very nice, but most importantly they were small! Was this all we were gonna have to eat tonight? Was I going to get off this easily?

Oh no! It’s B’s biggest weakness! Banana fritter vendors! 

Surely that counts as dessert right? Something sweet to end the night on? Wrong again!

We walked past these little fellas and figured we better eat them too. All the banana fritter did was increase B’s appetite for deep fried goodness…

These little prawn cakes are fried until crispy. Then you wrap them in lettuce and dunk them in the sweet papaya dipping sauce. Very good. 

Minutes before I was set to explode, Bianca found the place she was looking for:

Bun Bo Nam Bo means ‘noodles from the south’. They serve up big bowls of awesomeness – beef, noodles, bean sprouts, papaya, lettuce, herbs, carrot, peanuts and shallots swimming in a sweet sauce.

As full as I am, this is crunchy and fresh enough to eat till it’s finished. “I probably shouldn’t have eaten all that” I think as we waddle to the nearest corner for a final bia hoi.

While we drink, a local man comes up to me, killing himself laughing. He wraps his hands around my left thigh and then wraps those same hands around his own waist. Although he cannot speak English, his message is clear: “Have another beer you fat, western asshole!” 

AND I DO.


HANOI PART 1

Almost 2 weeks into our Vietnam trip we found ourselves in Hanoi. We found ourselves there because we bought plane tickets. Plane tickets to Hanoi. 

Immediately Hanoi asserted itself as the best city in Vietnam. “Enjoy the excitement of Ho Chi Minh with the relaxed attitude of Hoi An!” it yelled. “Walk as many of my streets as you want and I dare your eyes not to pop out of their sockets as they marvel at my people’s clearly superior way of living!”.

Just one hour passes and we start wishing we had added another week to our trip just to hang out in Hanoi. We need to soak up as much of this amazing city as we can in the few days we have here. We also need lunch. Bun cha time!

Just around the corner from our hotel is Bun Cha Nem Cua Be Dac Kim. We set out in the afternoon on the hunt for pho, only to find that all the pho spots had shut early. So we stumbled into Bun Cha Nem Cua Be Dac Kim (67 Duong Thanh St) with little idea of what bun cha was other than a fun dish to say over and over as loudly as possible. 

We sit down and are quickly served a plate of rice noodles, some herbs, lettuce and two bowls filled with a sweet vinegary broth. One of these bowls has some green papaya chips floating on the surface while the other is swimming with charcoal grilled pork and pork patties.

After pretending that we knew what we were doing and trying to wrap the noodles, pork and herbs up in the lettuce and stuffing into our mouths, we notice the locals doing it the right way – you pick up some noodles with your chopsticks, dip them into the sweet broth, add some herbs and slurp some pork, herbs, noodles and broth at once. It’s amaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa etc.

We also order some fried crab spring rolls (nem cua be) which are as crunchy as they are crabby. They’re real good slurped up with the broth too.

2010 marks the 1000th year since Hanoi was established and the West Lake was all fancied up with balloons and drinking Bacardi like it was its birthday.

Every bench around the lake is taken by body of water enthusiasts, who sit amongst countless couples tying the knot and taking pictures.

There are at least 6 couples getting hitched in this photo!

All laked out, B and I head back to our hotel for a siesta before we embark on another nightly food pilgrimage. This time we’re going to chow down on a recent craze in Hanoi – a greasy combination of a kebab and a banh mi. Seriously!

The doner owner at Cafe Goethe (56-58 Nguyen Thai Hoc St) shaves some pork from his glistening pork pyramid and puts it on a Vietnamese roll with lettuce, tomato, mayo and pickled red cabbage. If it was a lot later and I was a lot drunker I would probably proclaim this as the greatest thing I’ve ever eaten, but sober at 7pm it tastes pretty great too. 

Around the corner we buy another banh mi kebab from a street cart that has no name but proudly displays its certificate in public health inspection out the front. Maybe its name is APPROVED?

By 8pm we’re two sandwiches deep, clearly it’s time to eat a massive bowl of pho. Hours of stressful “best pho in Hanoi” Google searches lead us to Pho Gua Truyen (46 Bat Dan).

There’s a line out the front which is crazy because apparently Vietnamese folks don’t queue for NOTHING. So naturally we’re excited about these noodles.

Huge hunks of aged beef hang next to the counter, dripping fat on to the floor. The aged beef is called chin but out of habit I order pho tai, which comes with rare beef. When our bowls are sat down in front of us I’m disappointed, but still pretty eager to get my slurp on.

Why would I be disappointed? This pho is the real deal, super flavoursome, great noodles and a generous helping of tender meat.

The sriracha chili sauce sits in buckets on the table. Maybe it was made at the restaurant? It’s thinner than what you get in the bottles and a little feistier too.

Out of respect, I finished that bowl of pho to the bottom. It’s important that you do that when pho is good. And this bowl was great, but as we walked back to our hotel I couldn’t stop thinking about how good the pho chin with the aged beef would’ve been. For the next four nights I slept uneasily, pondering over what could have been.

BUT FOUR DAYS LATER WE RETURNED TO PHO GIA TRUYEN AND I PROUDLY ORDERED THE PHO CHIN…

…AND IT WAS SPECTACULAR. SPECTACULARLY SPECTACULAR.

So of course I smashed my bowl with much respect. But in a rare feat of being able to eat as much as her fat boyfriend, Bianca respectfully finished her bowl of noodles too! The pho chin was that good!!

RESPECT.

GET AT ME DOG

bow wow wow yippie yo yippie yay

VIETNAM BOMB

I had to do one while I was there… apologies to the chinese tourists in Hoi An. Photo taken by Bianca Khalil.

HOI AN 2

At night in Hoi An, the tide rises and the river extends itself up the streets. Some of the buildings in town are used to having their whole first floor completely filled with water during the wet season!

B and I head to the other side of the river in search of a snack that makes no sense to me: banh dap, a sticky rice cake stuck between two crunchy rice cakes, served with a shellfish dipping sauce. “How the hell does that work?” I would think every time B reminded me of this snack we had to add to the long list of mad shit we needed to eat in Vietnam. “Is it like a sandwich?”

“No it is not like a sandwich at all, good sir” I think to myself as I snap the above photograph. Banh dap is a big sticky glob of rice batter, squashed between two thin, toasted rice cakes. It’s tasty as fuck and the dipping sauce rules too. It’s hardly big enough to be our lunch though, maybe we should go back to that amazing banh mi spot we had those life changing sandwiches at yesterday. Yes let’s do that!

OK LOOK AT THAT! Amazing right?! Now look at the pic of the banh mi we had yesterday – this one is bigger and better! You can check out what Bianca had to say about it here. She breaks down all the ingredients we think were stuffed into the baguette: Processed pork, roast pork belly, fried egg, pate, onion, cucumber, tomato, lettuce, mint, coriander, soy sauce and 3 kinds of home made sauce.

We took a video of the awesome sandwich being constructed which I’ll put up soon, it’s so awesome to watch! In the meantime hopefully these photos will satisfy our banh mi lust (yes that is a thing now).

Since heading back to the banh mi stand ended up being so goddamn awesome we decided to pay another visit to the lady who sold us that killer bowl of cao lầu. She was happy to see us again!

The day before we ate our bowl of soup while the vendor next to us bugged us to buy banh xeo from her stand. We bought one of her little fried pancakes today and I’m glad we did!

Banh Xeo is different here to what it was like in Ho Chi Minh City. Here the pancake is much smaller and you roll it in rice paper before you dip it in sauce! It is as crunchy as it is delicious, although I definitely prefer the banh xeo we had in Ho Chi Minh. This one is a great little taste to have before a big bowl of yesterday’s great memories is plopped in front of us.

Is it as good as it was the day before? Of course, maybe even better! Will I be able to have another bowl of these beautiful noodles again before I kick the bucket? I hope so!

Thanks for the good vibes, Hoi An. Thanks for the fresh beer. Thanks for the cheap suits and shirts. Thanks for letting me laugh at the young locals desperately forcing flyers for the one nightclub in town into my hands every day. Thanks for wetting my shoes during high tide. Thanks for that fucking sandwich! And for the two fucking sandwiches I had after that! Thanks for those noodles too, can you please send us a few bottles of your magic water so we can make them here? Thanks.

HOI AN

A week into our trip we fly into the pretty city of Hoi An. The brightly painted, old style architecture and small streets made it feel like a Vietnam themed Disney park. We marveled at the town’s beauty for a few hours and soon enough our tummies were rumbling again. It was time to eat one of the main reasons we came to Vietnam.

I have obsessed over this youtube video since the day I saw it. I have eaten banh mi’s on the reg for years and easily rattle off my favourite spots to eat them in Sydney but when I saw that video I lost it. I had never seen a banh mi that looked anywhere near that delicious! I had to have it, and on this glorious day Bianca and I got to have it!

The directions on this blog post lead us to the entrance of Hoi An’s market. We order the ‘Banh Mi Deluxe’, a crunchy, spicy, porky affair – complete with a fried egg on top! It is AMAZING, beyond anything any rival banh mi has ever dared to offer me in my life so far.

Merciful heavens this sandwich was perfect. We had to fight all urges to have another (we had one the next day instead!) because in the market around us we could see and smell a crazy dish that you can only get in Hoi An.

Cao lầu is a bowl of noodles made with water gathered from a well just outside of town. The noodles are thick, brown and can be seen drying in the sun all over the market.

They serve the noodles with roast pork, pork cracklings, greens and an amazing sweet and spicy soup. Holy balls does this dish taste good. Of all the dishes we ate in Vietnam that I wish I could recreate at home, this one is at the very top. The soup is so sweet and bold and the noodles are perfect for slurping. The chili paste we’re given to mix in to the noodles is awesome and fresh too. Of course we had to come back here for lunch again before we left!

That night we had dinner with our pals Sunshine and Andee who were visiting from Melbourne. They took us to Morning Glory, a restaurant they’d eaten at least once every day for the whole week they’d been in Hoi An!

After staying in ridiculously big resorts in Ho Chi Minh City and Nha Trang, it was nice to rest our heads in one of the sweet little villas at the Southern Hoi An Hotel while we were in Hoi An.

NHA TRANG

B and I headed north up Vietnam and stayed 3 nights in Nha Trang. Nha Trang is a beach town on the verge of blowing up as a major tourist spot. Looking to the left and right of our hotel you could see another 3 resorts being built on each side. Along the main road was nothing but beach.

If you head south in town you’ll get some wack Gold Coast vibes, all the restaurants and bars are super trashy backpacker joints and there are more tourists than locals. Tourists that enjoy drinking at a spot called Booze Cruise, a bar with a boat on top of it serving NON STOP MIDORI ILLUSION SHAKERS (we didn’t go in but this shithole probably served that).

Up to the north of town was a different story, lots of cool lunch spots serving local fare and a massive market serving BAGS FULL O’ CHICKEN:

The beach was mad windy and the surt too rough so we spent most of our time swanning about in the awesome infinity pool at the resort.

And drinking ICE CREAM FLOATS!

Who would’ve thought vodka and ice cream would go together so well? Scientists, that’s who.

The weather was meant to be real wack for the whole time we were there but was just a little overcast and overall pretty warm. We had dinner on the beach one evening and that was one of the best meals of the whole trip. In Sydney if you’re hungry at the beach but don’t wanna walk to get food, the best you’re gonna get is a Calippo or something. In Nha Trang ladies bring you lobsters!

This awesome lady grilled us up a sea feast that was the freshest we’d ever had. 

Grilled scallops in tamarind sauce.

Lobsters, prawns and some big ass snails.

Crabs!

It was a good feast!

While the street food culture in Nha Trang was nothing compared to Ho Chi Minh (and later in our trip we would learn that it was even less compared to Hanoi!), we still found some mad shit. Or should I say, MAD FRITS?! (no I should not).

That little bag of awesome contains a banana fritter and some sweet potato chips. The vendor took one of those little Vietnamese bananas (which taste way nicer than oz bananas, they’re super fruity tasting), smooshed it, dipped it in batter and sesame seeds and deep fried it. Soooooo gooooood.

The sweet potato chips were rad too, sweet potatoes in Vietnam are sweeter and yellower, and deep fried is definitely the best way to eat them.

We had another sea feast in Nha Trang in some restaurant with a windmill out the front. The food was good but clearly not good enough for me to remember the name of the place.

Overall Nha Trang was cool, I was thankful we visited during the off season for tourists because it can totally see this place being the worst ever. When we were there though it was a warm, lazy little beach town. A good spot to relax but not essential to visit when you come to Vietnam!

HO CHI MINH CITY 3

We begin our last day in Ho Chi Minh City with a fantastic bowl of pho tai from Pho Hoa (260C Pasteur Street, Ho Chi Minh City).

I have a pretty important rule when it comes to pho: if it’s really good, you have to show that pho some goddamn respect and finish the whole thing, no matter how full you are. It’s a rule that keeps me in size 34 jeans each year. 

The pho tai at Pho Hoa is a great way to start the day. The broth is a little sweet, not salty, and they are generous with the slices of raw beef. I showed the bowl of pho some respect and smashed it.

Phull of pho, we walk back to our hotel and pass a cage full of puppies.

As I pat them I hope they are puppies with a future as pets, not as main course somewhere that evening. We haven’t seen dogs on the menu yet and I hope it stays that way!

Dogs don’t feature on the menu at Quan An Ngon (what a segue!) but it features pretty much every other popular Vietnamese street food, cooked by street eat chefs who line the walls of this massive restaurant. It’s an easy way to eat as many specialties as possible without venturing through the city looking for every specific food cart. It’s also a good way to kill a few hours before our flight in the afternoon, so Bianca and I begin a mini degustation with matched drinks!

First up: bbq’d cuttlefish! With beer!

Next were these snails with pork and lemongrass (Ốc nhồi lá gừng). The snails were diced, combined with minced pork and glass noodles, stuffed back into the shell with the lemongrass stem and steamed. You pull on the lemongrass and the little snaily parcel pops out! These were enjoyed with beer.

I don’t remember the name of this porky dumpling thing but I do remember that we ate it with some beer on the side.

Bò Nướng Lá Lốt - beef wrapped in betel leaves and grilled. You wrap these meaty little parcels in the rice paper with some noodles and greens rolled in there too. Also you eat them while drinking beer.

Pigs ear spring roll! I think we mixed it up at this point and had a soda and fresh lime.

Finally we knocked it up a notch with this bad boy:

Filet mignon with fried egg, french fries and baguette with dipping sauce!

Since I was with none other than THE SANDWICHFACE, she quickly started stuffing these ingredients in the baguette and boom! Cholesterol roll!

We crammed the french inspired heart attack down into our already full stomachs and bid farewell to Ho Chi Minh City, grateful for it’s accommodation for the last 4 days. 

4 days was not enough time to scrape the top of the manic barrel that is Ho Chi Minh City. I can’t stress enough how big the city felt. Bigger than LA, New York, Tokyo. Weird right? And it was getting bigger – every street was in a constant state of construction, day and night. People didn’t seem to sleep! Maybe it was the iced coffee they sell on every corner keeping them up. Make sure you drink a gallon of that brown gold too, on ice with condensed milk. The vendors pour it from empty pepsi bottles. The dodgier the coffee looks the better it is, and we wouldn’t see the proper roadside stuff anywhere besides Ho Chi Minh City! Drink as much as you can!

THE MEKONG DELTA

We booked a tour of the Mekong river through Buffalo tours. We were picked up at 8am and we began the 3 hour drive to the river, where we were greeted by the worst rain we’d seen so far on our trip.

The rain only lasted 10 minutes or so. We boarded a boat and started to cruise, passing the floating market.

You can tell what each boat is selling by looking at the object stuck to the top of the bamboo poles that stick up like a mast. If there’s a pineapple on the pole, they’re selling pineapples, and so on. Apparently the faces on the front of the boats are there to scare off crocodiles.

During our voyage we make a few stops, first is at a factory where they process rice to make candy, wine and tonnes of other shit made of rice. We ate a bunch of it, and then tucked into some rice wine with snake in it.

Back on the boat we continue down the river, making stops at a local brick kiln and an old French imperial mansion. The stops are nice enough and the scenery along the river is beautiful.

We were given a plate of local fruit:

The fresh dragonfruit, longans, rambutans and banana merely whet our appetites before we stop at Le Longanier, a restaurant, for lunch. The food is ok but the service is great. The highlight of our lunch is this massive deep fried ‘elephant ear fish’, a fish exclusive (imagine Fatman Scoop yelling that) to the Mekong:

The fish gets torn up, its chewy flesh wrapped in rice paper with herbs and eaten by our crew.

After lunch we board our minibus and return to Ho Chi Minh City. Before we are taken to our hotel, we stop at a factory where they make lacquer. Seriously. It was the most boring point of the tour, but the 3 New Zealanders in our group stick around and buy some of the lacquered goods so I guess they got something out of the stop.

Overall I’d say the tour is worth the money and time – I don’t know if there is a better way to see as much of the river as we did. Tin, our tour guide, was very funny and made the experience all the better.

I’m gonna end this post the same way it began, with piggies!