Archive For The “Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam)” Category

A Girl’s Gotta Eat: All The Things I Ate in Vietnam

A Girl’s Gotta Eat: All The Things I Ate in Vietnam

Pairs Well With…Vietnam + Sippin’ + Slurpin’ + Pickin’ + Chop Stickin’

Month 2: Vietnam.  I’ll start by saying there was no bull penis soup this month, thank you very much. On the soup front, I stuck to one of my favorites, pho.  You can’t go wrong.  Sure, there were some left of center items on menus and street carts, but then again, when isn’t there?  You’ll be happy to know that it only took me three days in Cambodia to eat grasshoppers, so there’s that.  (In case you are curious, they taste like bacon of all things.)

But let me tell you what didn’t taste like bacon: last month’s critters.  Every month when we arrive in a new country, we do a thing called “Never Try, Never Know,” a food challenge where we try odd “delicacies” of the country – until we decide to tap out.  It’s like a gross adrenaline rush.  Whatever.

What did the Vietnam food challenge consist of you ask?  Well, here.  Let me show you what we ate – and how I reacted to all these weird creatures:

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Phase 2 is what I considered (after the fact) to be the best of the worst…

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…and the third time isn’t always a charm…

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But, wait!  Someone said fried snail are better.  Yeah, everything is usually better fried.  Or is it?!

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Now, I did try rounds four (dove: tasted like chicken) and five (frog: also tasted like chicken..ish.)  I also highly considered becoming a vegetarian upon leaving the event that evening.

In all seriousness, Vietnam offered me some of the best dishes I’d ever had, most of which I couldn’t pronounce off a menu even with three attempts.  (This is when the smile and point method proves highly effective.)  Thanks to the endless amount of noodles I ate, none of which I regret in the least, I am highly turned off by carbs.  Sort of.  Okay, not really.  This month, it’s back on track.

Here were some of the best meals I ate in Vietnam:

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As the month went on, you should have seen me with my chopsticks.  Nailed it!  Also, by the good graces of fate, I served as the bride-to-be at a mock tea engagement ceremony where we learned about the behind the scenes workings (ahem, negotiations) of marriage and exchanges of gifts from one family to another.  The best part?  The green bean tea engagement cakes.

Vietnamese Engagement Party

What I’m most excited to share with you is this month’s A Girl’s Gotta Eat Guide to Vietnam. Within this guide, you’ll find my favorite flight snacks, goods from my supermarket sweeps and recipes to unique meals to make at home or with friends.  Don’t be shy.  Missed last month’s A Girl’s Gotta Eat Guide to Malaysia?  No worries!  Here you go.  I’ve got you covered.

For more cricket eating and country jumping, catch me on Instagram, where big moves are being made daily.  More to come from Cambodia!

Vietnam’s 15 Best Things To See & Do

Vietnam’s 15 Best Things To See & Do

Pairs Well With…Exploring + City Jumping + New Adventures

My month in Vietnam flew by.  Gone.  Poof.  Done.  While I continue to travel the globe, my days pass by quickly and effortlessly as I’m consumed by the wonders and sites of the world.  Next thing you know, another month down.  See ya Vietnam.  (The eagle has since landed in Cambodia.)

Over the course of these four weeks, I had the pleasure of engaging in sensational activities and adventures both in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), my hub for the month, as well as other Vietnam cities. Below is a list of my fifteen favorite finds to check out as you move about the Vietnam.

HA LONG BAY

  1. Book a seaplane excursion with Hai Au Aviation.  Planning a trip to Ha Long Bay? Make your trip quick and seamless with a 45-minute scenic flight.  Take in the astonishing views and jade green waters of the bay while enjoying the comfort of a quiet flight with a top notch flight crew.  It doesn’t get much better than this!

2. Cruise Ha Long Bay with Ha Binh Cruises.  Get a closer look at local living and exceptional sites including the Ba Hang fishing villages, Thien Cung Cave, Fighting Cock Islet and Titov Island to name a few.  Ha Binh Cruises offers many options to fit the duration of your visit, everything from a half day adventure to three-night stay cruises.  Their staff is exceptionally delightful and accommodating.

Fighting Cock Islet

HANOI

3. Haul it to Hanoi.  Okay, just kidding.  Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is a speedy two-hour flight from HCMC.  Once you’ve arrived, you’ll find a plethora of sites you’ll want to visit including the Temple of Literature, Hỏa Lò Prison, St. Joseph’s Cathedral, and the Quán Thánh Temple.  Or, fuel up your morning with a Vietnamese coffee (they are the best) and take a stroll around beautiful Hoàn Kiếm Lake to people watch. There is a lot of activity surrounding the lake.  Don’t expect a dull atmosphere here.  Make sure to book your stay in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, which boasts unique French colonial architecture, foodie gems and the best night markets city.

Hoàn Kiếm Lake

The streets of Hanoi

4. Peek at the Trấn Quốc Pagoda.  This pagoda, in particular, was one of my favorite sites in Hanoi. So much so that it deserved a standalone call out.  Trấn Quốc was built between 544-548 and is the oldest Buddist temple in all of Vietnam.  The Pagoda sits next to West Lake and serves as a tranquil backdrop, especially during sunrise and sunset.

HOI AN

5. Customize your clothes.  Looking for something that’s totally you and fits just right?  Hoi An is well known for its skillful tailors and seamstresses who can replicate clothing from a picture and have your garment ready within 24-48 hours.  The average cost per garment generally ranges from $50-$100 but is oh so worth it.  Clothes couture anyone?  (Better yet…ladies, these hot studs are up for grabs!)

Fruit suit anyone?!

The man, the legend.

Mr. Fly Guy himself

HO CHI MINH CITY

6. Love local music.  Experience the sounds of the city in local theaters and music venues.  This one, in particular, Phuong Bao Music, is an enchanting experience for all to enjoy.

7. See Ho Chi Minh City Hall.  Built from 1902-1908 and most picturesque at night, this historic landmark is one of the best pieces of architecture the city offers.  In front of the hall, you’ll see a statue of Ho Chi Minh himself, founder of the Indochinese Communist Party in 1930 and the League for the Independence of Vietnam.

8. Walk the War Remnants Museum.  This museum is not for the faint of heart and does contain lots of graphic images and content, but is an important part of the past.  It contains exhibits relating to the Vietnam War and the first Indochina War involving the French colonialists. Expect to reflect, feel and ride the waves of emotion as you move through the destruction of modern warfare.  

9. Bargain in the Ben Thanh Market.  Located in District 1, this market is one of the earliest surviving structures in HCMC.  Bob and weave the endless aisles of colorful products including jewelry, food, fabric, crafts and souvenirs.  Don’t be fooled by any fixed price signs.  They are a key indicator of a good negotiation waiting to take place.

10. Sign, seal and deliver at Saigon Central Post Office.  Still fully operating today, this 19th century Gothic, Renaissance and French influence constructed post office is a destination for both tourists and locals alike.  Buy, write and send postcards right on site.  Want to write a letter in Vietnamese? Visit Mr. Duong Van Ngo, the 85-year-old gentleman sitting near a sign reading “Information and Writing Assistance.”  Mr. Ngo, the last letter writer in HCMC, has worked at the post office since the age of 17 as a public letter-writer, translating across a handful of different languages and closing a communication gap.  (If you do visit Vietnam, take the time to have a brief conversation with Mr. Ngo. I did and found him, and our conversation, to be quite entertaining. Well worth your time.)

11. Eat at Pizza 4P’s.  Generally, I wouldn’t have included something as common as “eat pizza” in my list of best things about Vietnam.  But…this pizza place unexpectedly rocked my world.  With homemade cheese, fresh ingredients and handmade woodfire grills, you can’t go wrong.  And did I mention cheese plates?! You know that one love that you can’t get out of your mind?  Yep.  This is was mine for Vietnam.  Visit.  Love. Repeat.

They even do half/half pizzas!

12. Revisit the skyline on a rooftop. Everything looks different when you’re looking at it from a different angle. That also includes skylines.  Grab a cocktail and enjoy the evening sunset as you take in the colorful city lights from up above.

Photo Credit: Jay Harrison

 

VIETNAM COUNTRYSIDE

13. Day Trip to Mekong Delta.  West of HCMC you’ll find the Mekong Delta, also known as the “rice bowl of Vietnam.”  Mekong Delta is the heart of the rice producing region of the country and is booming with floating markets and other excursions to partake in such as boat cruising through canals, catching catfish and listening to local music.

Photo Credit: Jay Harrison

Photo Credit: Jay Harrison

We’ve got a keeper!

One man jam band

EVERYWHERE FAVORITES

14. Eat Pho.  Actually, eat everything.  Vietnamese food is amazing, especially pho.  Other traditional Vietnamese favorites of mine included: Banh Mi (baguette sandwich), Gỏi cuốn (fresh spring rolls), Cà Phê Dá (iced coffee), Bánh Xèo (hearty stuffed pancake) and Bun Cha (grilled and marinated meat in a rich broth with noodles).  And then, of course, there’s the out of the comfort zone stuff.  When in doubt, don’t ask, just eat.  Looking for authentic Vietnamese recipes to make at home?  Check out this month’s A Girl’s Gotta Eat Guide to Vietnam!

Needs no introduction

My favorite!

Bun Cha

THIS is why you don’t ask what you’re eating before hand. More to come in the Vietnam edition of “A Girl’s Gotta Eat.”

15. Uncover the city Uber Moto style.  I will admit, it took me almost two weeks to brave the bikes. Once I did, it was fantastic.  Talk about a $0.50 thrill ride, not to mention being able to zip from one end of town to the other in half the time of a car ride.

Tonight we ride

Well, that’s a month two wrap!  Almost.  Keep your eyes peeled for the upcoming second edition of “A Girl’s Gotta Eat” with all the best food finds from Vietnam.

Oh, The Places You’ll Phở

Oh, The Places You’ll Phở

Pairs Well With…Chopsticks + Culture in a Bowl + Breakfast + Lunch + Dinner

You. Yeah, you. The one thinking “Doesn’t she know that phở is pronounced FA (not FO)?”  Well, yes, yes I do.  But let’s be honest, the annunciation as FO lends itself to many more jokes.  So, for the sake of humoring myself, bear with me and my witty phở jokes throughout this post and I swear to it that the payoff will be a phởnominal recipe you won’t regret spending time on.

Now, for many of you, it’s still winterish where you are, and there is snow on the ground.  You’re looking for those last indoor activities to pass time until spring arrives.  Keep your eye on the prize. You’re almost there.  Stay warm through the remainder of winter by phởmiliarizing yourself with this bowl of noodle goodness.

As many of you have seen from my pictures and Instagram stories, I’ve become slightly obsessed with phở since moving to Vietnam.  For those of you unfamiliar with this phởfilling dish, let me get you up to speed.  Phở is a Vietnamese broth soup with rice noodles (called bánh phở) and meat, usually chicken or beef.  This soup is eaten in Vietnam anytime of day, including breakfast.  (Soup for breakfast is still a slightly odd concept for me to get my head around.) Phở is a healthy dish low in fat, calories and carbs.  It’s also amped up in the spices and flavor department.

As I moved about the city tasting various bowls of soup, I talked to restaurant owners, a few chefs and a handful of locals about the process of making a good phở.  Based on what I was told, I combed the interwebs to find an authentic Vietnamese recipe that fit the description of the insights shared with me – and I found a great one.

Before I give you the goods, I’ll take this as my chance to educate you on the elements that make the perfect phở:

  • A savory, flavorful broth
  • Perfectly cooked noodles
  • Good cuts of meat
  • Flavorful seasonings at just the right amounts

Making phở is a labor of love.  There are shortcuts to make this soup, but the key to success is in your base, the broth.  I know you’re thinking, “Ugh. This is going to take phởever!!!”  Be patient. Stay phởcused.  You’ll have a great time phở ‘sho!

Here we go…it’ll be pretty phởking amazing!

INGREDIENTS:

THE BROTH

2 medium yellow onions (about 1 pound total)
4-inch piece ginger (about 4 ounces)
5-6 pounds beef soup bones (marrow and knuckle bones)
5-star anise (40-star points total)
6 whole cloves
3-inch cinnamon stick
1 pound piece of beef chuck, rump, brisket or cross rib roast, cut into 2-by-4-inch pieces (weight after trimming).
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
4 tablespoons fish sauce
1 ounce (1-inch chunk) yellow rock sugar (duong phen; see Note)

THE BOWLS
1 1/2-2 pounds small (1/8-inch wide) dried or fresh banh pho noodles (rice noodles)
1/2 pound raw eye of round, sirloin, London broil or tri-tip steak, thinly sliced across the grain (1/16 inch thick; freeze for 15 minutes to make it easier to slice)
1 medium yellow onion, sliced paper-thin, left to soak for 30 minutes in a bowl of cold water
3 or 4 scallions, green part only, cut into thin rings
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
Ground black pepper

Click here to get the full cooking instructions.  But before you leave, don’t forget to leave your email so we can stay in touch over the next year.  I’ve got many months of exciting adventures ahead, including a quick visit to Australia next week before moving to Cambodia for the month of April.
Motorbikes & Dongs: Vietnam’s Sensory Overload

Motorbikes & Dongs: Vietnam’s Sensory Overload

Pairs Well With…Motorbikes + Dongs + Sensory Overload

Motorbikes.  Dongs.  Pho.  Those three things, all plentiful throughout the city, are what I first noticed upon my arrival to Vietnam.  (Imagine, if you will, the number of dong jokes that are exchanged within our group each day.) Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon), month 2 stop of Remote Year, is a beautiful city with a French colonial and cool street-style vibe.

Just when I thought I was getting the “hang” of Asia, enter Vietnam.  Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is not only wild, it’s a freakin’ sensory overload.  Granted, I was here all of a day before I took off on a work assignment to Hanoi and Halong Bay, but still.  My head has been spinning trying to take it all in. That first day had me like whoa!

When we left Malaysia, sure, of course, I knew Vietnam would be different.  They don’t front about getting into their country.  I mean, you need a visa to enter, and you’ve already overstayed your welcome minutes after your 30-day allowance in the country.  You can’t go home, but you can’t stay here.

So in case you’re wondering what my whereabouts this month look like…

WHERE I KICK IT: District 3

I live in a complex called Saigon Mansion.  Now, I’ve always wanted to live in a big, dreamy house like a mansion.  In fact, I’ve been channeling that shit for years.  It appears that I haven’t been clear enough in my intentions about what kind of mansion I would like, as well as its location or whether its permanent, but for now, this will to do.

Bedroom

Living Room

Kitchen

 

WHERE I’M WORKIN’ IT: District 1

This month’s office space is a little bit different and more untraditional that where we worked in Kuala Lumpur.  It’s cute – and it’s got a pool!

Poolside office anyone?

Easy, breezy cafe seating

 

THE HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM SCOOP:

  • Population: 8 million
  • Currency: Dongs ($1 US Dollar = 22,600 Vietnamese Dong = Dong jokes)
  • Language: Vietnamese (my sign language is not cuttin’ it here)
  • Key Landmarks & Attractions: 
    • War Remnants Museum – Contains exhibits relating to the Vietnam War and the first Indochina War involving the French colonialists.
    • Independence Palace – Home and workplace of the President of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. It was the site of the end of the Vietnam War during the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, when a North Vietnamese Army tank crashed through its gates.
    • Thein Hau Temple – One of the oldest, largest and most beautiful temples of about 30 Chinese pagodas in HCMC.
    • Ben Thanh Market – The market is one of the earliest surviving structures in Saigon and an important symbol of Ho Chi Minh City, popular with tourists seeking local handicrafts, textiles, souvenirs, as well as local cuisine.
    • Traditional Medicine Museum – A private museums in Vietnam which are devoted to the Traditional Vietnamese Medicine & Pharmacy.
    • Cu Chi Tunnels – An immense network of connecting underground tunnels located in the Cu Chi district of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam, 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.  (I will visit the tunnels later this week.)

 

FIRST WEEK OBSERVATIONS:

  • The way people drive here, I’m not sure that there are any licensing or age restrictions to operating a motor vehicle.  I’m pretty sure an eight year old on a motor scooter almost took me out the other day.  But I haven’t seen any accidents which is impressive.
  • Dong is the only recognizable word in most conversations I have.
  • The only thing the Vietnamese culture dislikes more than Americans are pedestrians.  Cars, motorbikes, anything other than your walking self has the right away – always.  Good luck and may you live to see tomorrow.
  • I am a minority in this country and at times have felt watched or judged by my appearance. Layer on a sometimes severe communication barrier and you can find yourself in high levels of stress and frustration, leading to feeling deflated.
  • I am doing things in Vietnam I wouldn’t normally be doing and am having experiences grounded in Vietnamese culture.  I mean…when was the last time you saw me catch a catfish with my bare hands?!

 Want to see how it’s done?  Watch and learn!

 

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