What started as a quick Facetime call back when Ben was deployed, somehow ended with a flight booked to Vietnam. A few months later we were on a marathon journey to Asia and I am not complaining one bit.
With the past year filled with mostly stints of us living apart this little springtime trip to Vietnam could not have come at a better time.
We had vague expectations for our trip, and Vietnam completely blew us away. From the cultural attraction and food to all the sites and movement of the city, it was incredible. We were long overdue for a shock to the senses, a time to explore, and a time to enjoy.
After a 32 hour journey, we arrived jetlagged in Hanoi and ventured on in search of the Vietnamese coffee we had heard so much about. Stepping out from our AirBnb, we were quickly introduced to the rules of the road in Hanoi, or the lack thereof. The organized chaos is a key to navigating Hanoi’s tangle of streets. The flood of motorbikes waits for no one. I found the Frogger method to be quite an effective way to cross the street. (Thankfully, I won this game of Frogger) Needless to say, we survived unscathed and got the rhythm down eventually but will probably never take a “walk” sign for granted again.
We have traveled quite a bit in our day and even experienced a bit of jetlag before– but NOTHING LIKE THIS. Ben was doing pretty good, despite the yawns in between sentences, but I was utterly out of it and kept telling Ben I thought I was going to pass out. It was bizarre. But we did find this gem of a coffee shop and finally got our hands around a cup of the famous Vietnamese coffee. It was strong, thick, and you could almost feel it instantly do the trick as you sipped it. We sat upstairs and took in the hustle and bustle of the streets below. Or rather, we were waiting until it was a remote “acceptable” time to each lunch. I was genuinely ready for lunch, or dinner at around 7:00 am.
Our Airbnb host was such a hero and gave us a great list of his favorite spots around the city. We experienced our first real Vietnamese pho at lunch and goodness it was divine. We spent the afternoon zigging and zagging through the streets, grabbing another cup of coffee, accidentally taking a small nap, and then convincing ourselves to venture back out for dinner.
Dinner was incredible. It was another spot on our host’s list and it was trickier to find (which I almost took as a rule of thumb– the harder the place to find, the better the food.)
Feeling a bit more refreshed the next morning we set off to explore more of the map. Something I always love noting when traveling is how the city wakes up– is it quiet and still or is it hustling and bustling? Is it filled with markets and vendors or businesspeople briskly walking to work? It’s all so interesting to me. What was the real winner in Vietnam is the sheer volume of tai chi occurring in the mornings. IT WAS INCREDIBLE. I think at one point I told Ben I would easily do those 32 hours of traveling just to witness the morning tai chi and dances and hop back on a plane. There is just tons of hilarious dancing and weird movements going on in every direction and I could not play it cool. I mean in one corner you have a man doing this weird arm movement and the next are 500 women all doing synchronized dancing. And then you have a group of people scratching each others’ backs in a circle and it was just so wonderful and hilarious.
We found a great little breakfast spot to sip on some coffee before making our way to the Temple of Literature.
We hit the JACKPOT of days to visit this place because there was what looked to be an elementary school or kindergarten graduation with hundreds of precious children. It was almost too much for me to bear. They had their little caps and gowns on and several were holding balloons. The Temple of Literature is the oldest university in Hanoi dating back to 1070 which was pretty incredible — and really cool to see this generation of students graduating! LOOK HOW CUTE THEY ARE ^^
We spent the rest of the evening at an Art Gallery, a few more coffee shops, and even had Bun Cha at the same restaurant Obama visited when he was there! Friday morning we departed our Airbnb and had another display of the world’s best morning activities! We grabbed a quick coffee and met at the hostel for the bus to take us to Halong Bay.
What could have been a less than ideal situation turned into one of the best two days (the hotel accidentally only put us down for one person and then informed us we would have a roomate–not cool, which then led to them feeling bad, upgrading us to one of the nicest cruises, and therefore giving us the experience of a lifetime). As soon as we hopped on the boat I was in awe. We were greeted by the kindest staff and sat down for lunch while we cruised into the bay. Once we got the menu I assumed it was the standard– you know, pick a starter, a main, and a dessert. Ben and I were chatting about what we were going to order when they start bringing dish, after dish, after dish. Jokes on us– it was literally a 12 course meal. So incredible.
We spent the day cruising along the bay, sipping on gin and tonics, taking a dip in the bay, and ended with a sunset cruise before dinner.
The views were insane. I don’t think words, or photos could ever do it justice. As far as the eye can see are these limestone formations darting up from the water. The peacefulness was almost tangible especially coming from the utter chaos and noise of the city.
I love him. I love him. I love him.^^
There’s Ben swimming away! As we cruised along it was wild to see the small fishing villages along the bay and insane to think that people have lived their entire lives there!
Talk about one heck of a sunset. It was stunning. We finished the evening with a wonderful million course dinner after sunset and lucked out at a table filled with Brits which was my absolute favorite.
Our cozy little cabin room! The next morning we woke up with the sun and relaxed as we continued to cruise around. We were even treated to some morning tai chi which again, fulfilled all my hopes and dreams. I strategically placed myself in the back row because I do not trust myself to keep a straight face during these events. ;)
Obviously, we needed more food– so a brunch it was before we headed to take a look at a nearby cave and beach!
I now understand how one can consume pho at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
After our dream Halong Bay cruise came to an end we hopped back on the bus to head back to Hanoi. Should you ever find yourself in Vietnam– 100% do a cruise along the bay. It is the most peaceful, beautiful, and wonderful few days.
Back in Hanoi, we realized we again hit the jackpot because it was the night of the night market! I have no idea how the logistics work but they shut down a ton of the main roads. No more million motorbikes. Families and friends fill the streets and there is tons of music, vendors, and events. I think my favorite part was that they replaced all of the motorbikes with small motorized cars and tanks (yes.. tanks) for the little kids to drive around in. It was hilarious and the best form of entertainment. I managed to take zero pictures but goodness it was a treat to experience the night market in full swing. We even sat down for Vietnamese barbeque that night. Let me set the scene for you. You pretty much sit in a child-sized chair at a child-sized table and they bring you meats you to cook over your little grill. It was actually a really cool experience and fun to be shoulder to shoulder with everyone else enjoying the night as well.
After wandering up and down the market we finally made our way back to the Airbnb to get some sleep before our early morning flight down to Ho Chi Minh City. It was honestly the perfect ending to our time in Hanoi. When we first landed here we loved the city, but each day we fell more and more in love with the charm and character. Each day you are able to look past the initial facade of the buildings and see that there is a whole world in between the streets. There are alleys and winding staircases that lead to homes and incredible coffee shops. The city is so vibrant and chaotic, yet still had the most beautiful simplicity to it. Hanoi quickly steals your heart.
After an early flight, we landed in Ho Chi Minh City and made ourselves at home in our Airbnb. Then it was off to explore.
Our first day was a whole lot of walking to knock off a ton of places on our lists. We went in and out of shops and up and down the streets. What I found so interesting in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh is that rather than the street having a normal name– you’ll often find them called Shoe Street (where they only sell shoes), or Antique Street (antique shop after antique shop), or even Sunglass Street (you guessed it– they sold sunglasses). I found it to be an interesting business plan, but none the less incredibly fascinating to explore.
We visited Ben Thanh market and had an afternoon coffee to carry us over until dinner.
We had dinner at Secret Garden and it was one of my favorite meals! The restaurant really was secret– you walk down a very average looking alley, up six or seven flights of stairs, past a few family’s homes, and then finally you find yourself on the rooftop. The food was traditional Vietnamese and beyond incredible.
The next few days we spent a lot of time getting Ben’s suit made, which was an experience in and of itself. It was incredible to see how they could get his exact measurements and make the suit with the fabric we picked out all in a matter of three days.
More chaos, more motorbikes. Me just living my best life in Vietnam^
We were able to find a lot of hidden gems in the city from vintage clothing stores to the most beautiful home good store where we purchased quite the amount of souvenirs for our home. We even lucked out with a few hidden coffee shops to rest our feet and get an afternoon jolt of energy. I think one of my favorite Ho Chi Minh restaurant experiences was when we found a restaurant in a back alley. Tucked in to a nook behind a maze of narrow alleys, every day around noon students and workers gather at the “lunch ladies” around Saigon. This was the closest approximation of a Vietnamese Thanksgiving dinner I can imagine. You approach a table full of meat or vegetable dishes and just point until your plate is filled and wash it down with an unidentified beverage that slightly resembles green tea. Did we know what we pointed to? Nope. Was it delicious? Yep.
Another favorite moment was happy hour on the rooftop. Many of the rooftop bars in the Saigon hotels are the dressed up watering holes journalists and expats used to frequent during the war and still have great views of the city to watch the sun sink.
Ho Chi Minh was definitely more westernized than Hanoi but still had this incredible charm and character about it. After learning that in Saigon the real heart of the city was in between the streets and up and down the staircases, we were on a mission to find the hidden gems in this city. A few days into our stay here and we fell into a rhythm. The days felt easy and exciting. The food was honestly some of the best I have had in my life. The people were kind and welcoming. The city was a beautiful chaos.
Vietnam was easily one of my favorite trips Ben and I have ever been on and that is an incredibly bold statement. It was a trip of a lifetime and I am just so thankful that Ben and I got to share it together. It was the perfect space for stepping outside of our comfort zone, to truly rest, and to learn more about such a beautiful culture.
Goodness I am so thankful Ben and I get to experience these things together and that six months ago he agreed to book this trip on a whim with me.
Vietnam was an absolute dream and now every fiber of my being is dying to get back to Asia.