♥️ Vietnam 2022
6th August – 3rd September 2022
We love Vietnam, I won’t bore you with how much, suffice it to say a lot. We would happily move there. We spent 3 weeks in Hoi An this time as we wanted to relax – yes I know, it may look as if we have hardly had a taxing few months in Bali but looking into setting up a business is stressful- nothing is ever as it seems or in any way shape or form straightforward. Anywho…our time in gorgeous Hoi An was sandwiched by a few days at either end in wonderful Saigon, Ho Chi Minh.
Here are some of the many things that we did, saw and enjoyed. This was our third visit to Vietnam and there were not many museums, natural or cultural sights that we visited this time. I’ve written about the places we have previously visited in other posts which you can find by searching Vietnam, should you so wish ☺️. I am sure there are many more places to experience, this trip was pure relaxation. My recommendations are in no particular order and I’ve tried to give prices and website links where appropriate and possible.
We found Vietnam bouncing back after the pandemic. HCM showed no noticeable signs of a slow down and while Hoi An was certainly less crowded than our previous visits, the number of visitors is growing each week and business seems to be beginning to boom once again.
Saigon is a steamy, bustling metropolis with narrow streets surrounding multi lane roads and little regard for traffic signals. Paradoxically, we have always felt safe there and crossing the road, while daunting at first, is a breeze if you follow these simple guidelines: obey the traffic lights that do exist and walk slowly but continuously across, no running!
While I did say they were in no order our number 1 recommendation is without doubt Bo Kho at 158 Nguyen Cong Tru St, district 1. A moveable cart is set into the lane entrance and tiny metal tables and plastic chairs form this wonderful street food eatery. They are closed on Sundays, open at 2pm until late on other days and currently cost 30,000 VND for a bowl of fragrant and delicious beef stew, served with fresh baguette or noodles – while both are delicious we prefer the baguette. We first discovered this absolute gem on a food tour way back in 2016 and return repeatedly every trip to HCM. It is in our top three favourite places to eat anywhere in the world and no joke we ate there every day it was open, some days we were tempted to eat there twice 🤪
While in HCM we discovered the star that is Sushi Wagao purely by chance. We had planned to try a new Bo kho place (as I mentioned our favourite is not open on Sundays) however the one we tracked down was also closed. On the way back to the hotel we had the good fortune to pass Sushi Wagao, which looked awesome and ended up offering some of the best sushi we have ever eaten at incredibly reasonable prices. We had an absolute feast of sashimi and sushi ending with ice cream mochi, all for around £30. We returned twice more and were equally impressed at both the quality and the value.
Banh Mi, without doubt the best banh mi in Saigon (and maybe anywhere in the world) is at Banh Mi Huynh Hoa it is a MAHOOSIVE sandwich filled with about 53 different meats, pickles and pate and is really delicious. Go early as it can have quite long lines. At 57,000VND a banh mi it costs almost double the price of a banh mi at most other places and it is worth every dong!
One of the wonderful things you should experience while in Vietnam is Che. Che is a cover all term for what most South East Asians know as sweet soup, usually some form of bean/jelly/seed/root, it can have coconut milk and many other components and is served over ice, shaved or cubed. It is totally delicious and refreshing and always an adventure and we love it. I am particularly fond of che hat sen – lotus seed che and gingko che, while JHubz prefers the mixed ones. Che will usually cost you about 20,000VND.
We nearly always book food tours when we travel and on our way back through HCM we enjoyed a motorbike food tour with Street Food Man. The 4 hours of the tour flew by and, despite being return visitors, all of the stops were new to us and we enjoyed several things that we had not tried before. That’s why we love a food tour, there are always new experiences to be had. Motorbike tours are also a great way to see parts of a city you may not otherwise and we have always felt safe riding with the guides – even though I can be a nervous passenger.
On a more relaxed note, JHubz enjoyed what he thinks may have been the best massages of his life while we were in Saigon (this is high praise as we love and have a lots of massages). We found Zen Spa on tripadvisor, it’s not the most luxurious looking spa and honestly could do with some tlc. It cost 320,000VND for an hour body massage and I had an hour foot massage that was pretty awesome and cost 280,000VND. JHubz does like a hard massage however he says they really knew what they were doing, as opposed to just rubbing aimlessly.
One of the many things Saigon is great for is nabbing a bargain, including Northface bags and you can pick up an absolute steal in Ben Thanh Market or the surrounding streets. Be prepared to barter, have a price in mind and stick to your guns, with a smile. We nabbed an Overhaul and a Surge for around 650k VND a piece.
Travelling in Vietnam
We are big fans of the trains in Vietnam and highly recommend using them over flying if you have the time. You get to see some amazing countryside on your journey. It takes about 15 hours to Da Nang from HCM and another 17 or so on to Hanoi. There are several different classes of sleeper train in Vietnam, the tourist one – which we’ve never travelled on and at the time of our booking was still not running again post covid but will likely start again soon. Our trains were the SE4 and SE3 which are soft sleeper local trains but in fairly good nick and we have found mostly clean when you start from Hanoi or HCM. If you join the train midway be prepared to clean your carriage! We are pretty hardy travellers and if you have a sensitive disposition I would suggest only using the tourist trains not the local ones. As the bathroom situation after 15 hours can be… well I’ll leave that to your imagination. There are western style loos though, alongside the hole in the floor variety.
We booked all of the 4 berths in our carriage, which having travelled on the train in Asia is for us a necessity. You could end up with someone great, although you could end up with a smoker who hawks and spits for 15 hours, so yup, we bite the bullet and book all 4! We also bring sheets, pillowcases and a light blanket. They do provide you with these, but they do not wash them between travellers – we learned this the hard and gross way. If you are short on space a tshirt makes a great pillowcase, a sarong or scarf a passable sheet and a towel a good blanket.
One thing to note is that the time listed on your ticket is when the train departs – naturally but when you arrive at the station the time on the board will show the time it arrives rather than the time it departs. We almost missed our train as there was another train that arrived at the time our train left and we were waiting for that one while our train was boarding and about to leave, oopsy. Thankfully we realised our cock up and made it onto our train.
I use Vietnam Impressive to book the trains as they are not expensive and are very very helpful -they also arrange tours but since our first trip in 2016 we have always booked direct.
The beaches in nearby An Bang are gorgeous, much nicer than the ones in Da Nang, we did not go to them – as we have been staying on a beach island and were not craving the beach however they are beautiful and you should visit them if that is your thing 😊
We stayed at the Lantana Riverside which was a little way from the Old Town but beautifully located on the riverside meaning you could walk or cycle along the towpath into town. The hotel is one of the best laid out we’ve come across, I always gripe that hotels do not have enough usable surface space in the room. This one had plenty with beautiful tiled floors and a spacious bathroom and excellent noise cancelling double glazing that kept out the wailing of our karaoke loving neighbours across the river ☺️ The pool was wonderful for cooling off and every staff member was an absolute superstar going above and beyond. We borrowed bicycles and cycled to and from town every day which was beautiful and great exercise. We also had massages at the hotel which were superb and very reasonably priced.
Places/Things to eat
If you try only one dish (although you could try many) it should really be Cao Lau in the food market in Hoi An old town. There are dozens of food stalls selling the same thing, pick one you like the look of, sit down and enjoy! At 30,000VND a bowl it’s a cheap, delicious and filling meal. The noodles are made with water from the local well and not sold anywhere else in Vietnam. They are twice dried leaving them unlike any others with a wonderful chewy texture. Served with thin slices of pork, beansprouts and fresh herbs and the most wonderful jus. We enjoyed Cao lau for lunch almost every day!
We spent quite a lot of time relaxing at Thon Da Am, a coffee shop/restaurant down one of the lanes in the Old Town who served absolutely delicious vegan food. We have become addicted to matcha while travelling and their matcha latte is exceptional. We also loved their mango, their papaya and their mixed salads, their banana bread, thin biscuits, pumpkin soup and everything else we tried there. They have a less waste eco friendly ethos that is admirable.
The popular Banh Mi place in Hoi An is Banh Mi Phuong but honestly we found them a bit bland aka tasteless and preferred Madame Khanh’s which are blooming delicious.
The set menu at Bale Well Restaurant is also a must, for lunch or dinner but make sure you arrive hungry. The set menu consists of banh xeo pancakes, barbecued pork and chicken skewers, a mountain of herbs and fried spring rolls, all of which you wrap in rice paper and dip into their signature sauce. They will show you how to make them and then leave you to it. I can’t remember how much the set menu was but think it was about 100,000VND per person and really great value for money.
In the street you will see sellers with signs for Mango cakes, no idea why they are called this as they are actually peanut and local sugar in glutinous rice cakes. At 10,000VND a go these are a yummy streetside snack and cheap enough to try one if you are unsure if you will love them – you will. But make sure you eat them the day you buy them, for some reason they are super gross the next day.
On the way to and from town we noticed a new restaurant had opened, Hoi An Steakhouse we were craving steak so stopped in to enjoy a meal. I had my first glass of wine in Asia, a really excellent Italian negroamaro and a fabulous surf and turf, the steak was perfectly rare and cut like butter and we enjoyed the meal overlooking out over the river. It was however very much London UK prices and as good as it was, it was hard to justify the price for a return visit.
A new experience for us and now one we are firm fans of, was the discovery of Bing Su, a Korean shaved ice dessert we discovered at Hoian Som and bing su. We do seem to be fans of anything shaved ice, cendol in Singapore and Thailand, Che in Vietnam and now Bing Su. Their matcha bing su was a religious experience and we went back many times for this tasty and refreshing treat during our stay. They also made fresh candy floss which JHubz says was the best cotton candy he has ever had.
Things to buy/do
Hoi An is beautiful, from the ancient town and its car free streets to the rolling rice fields and multiple surrounding islands. I always think of it as Vietnam Light and the perfect entry into Vietnam for those nervous about travelling.
It is a tourist centric town, easily navigable by foot, bicycle or outside the Ancient town by cab or shuttle. The Hoi An Shuttle bus offers an affordable, eco friendly and stylish mode of transport in and around Hoi An. The streets within the old town are lined with beautiful old houses containing shops, cafes and restaurants and the streets come alive at night with lantern boats lining the river that divides the Ancient town in two. The old town is highly wanderable (so a word) day or night and despite staying in Hoi An for 3 weeks we were discovering new things every day.
To note Hoi An floods significantly almost every year and it is best to check before travelling there from September to November to see what the rainy season has been like. We were there in the early rainy season and with the exception of the first 2 days which were very wet, the majority of our days were beautifully hot and clear, with the occasional magnificent thunderstorm at night.
Hoi An is definitely the place to get some clothes made or your favourite garment copied, with excellent tailors, abundant fabric choices and if you are a good negotiator bargains to be had. After escaping the clutches of one of the pushier sellers we came across Future tailor who have excellent reviews and is fronted by the lovely sisters Quyen and Ha. We ended up having multiple shirts, dresses, trousers and tops made over the course of our stay. We paid between 300k and 450k VND for dresses, style and fabric depending and 300k a shirt. Highly recommend!
We even had a bunch of lovely hats made by the hat maker at 70 Hải Thượng Lãn Ông, Cẩm Sơn, Hội An. He charged us 80,000VND to make hats that we supplied the fabric for. We bought the fabric at the fabric market for between 50,000 and 140,000VND a metre. The more expensive one was a thick silk and very awesome mushroom print.
While there we went on an interesting food tour with an excellent guide and discovered some new places and tasted the best white rose dumplings so far : Hoi An Street Food Trail– 626 Hai Ba Trung st, Hoi An it was mid priced for food tours in Hoi An at 900,000 VND per person.
Angiee Adventures, Hidden Gems of Hoi An walking tour 900kVND pp this was a really really great tour. We ate but it was so much more than just a food tour. We saw how cao lau noodles are made and how beansprouts are grown, which was fascinating and we enjoyed lots of other tasty stops. I’d definitely recommend this one over any other.
Rehann is a French photographer and long time Hoi An resident. He has photographed someone from all of the 54 tribes in Vietnam and has an art Gallery and shop in Vietnam showcasing his stunning portraits and traditional dress of Vietnamese people, it is really fascinating way to spend an hour or so and there is no pressure to buy.
I am mentioning Memories of Hoi An show as a cautionary tale, but of course we are all different and maybe you will love it. The show is billed as the most magnificent in the world, high praise that it in no way lived up to. We stumped for the VIP tickets at 1,100,000 VND per person. The show is set on Memories Land, an entire island devoted to the show and accommodation, there are streets full of shops however none are currently open due to the lack of tourists following the pandemic. The stage was the undoubted star of the show, impressive in its size and light up flooring, full size boats and house fronts. We found the show itself severely lacking, stunning scenes of dozens of Vietnamese women in white traditional áo dais and light up hats repeating the same manoeuvres ad nauseum. Having been lucky enough to see Cirque on several occasions it simply did not compare.
Cycling in and around Hoi An is remarkably safe, the traffic flows in a water like way we could do with in the west!
One day we cycled to the Tra Que Vegetable village through the paths that criss cross the rice fields, a really beautiful journey and lovely tranquil destination. On the way we stopped by the side of the road and saw a chap with a water buffalo beckoning us over. The canny chap charges you for sitting on and having pictures with the water buffalo, which of course JHubz did. JHubz gave him 200,000 VND and he charmed another 200,000 out of JHubz. I’m sure you could easily have paid WAY less, but he made us laugh so much we did not mind.
We also cycled to the pottery village about 20 minutes away, it was a super sunny day and it was a beautiful cycle almost the entire way along the river or on back roads. Sadly the pottery village was not so interesting with everyone selling the same things (which is something we come across a lot) and lots of pressure to buy buy buy.
As we did not find anything we liked we came back and looked at pottery in the shops in old Hoi An who have a lot of lovely Vietnamese pottery. We hate the bargaining as it really is not our forte but JHubz keeps reminding me, set your price in mind, smile and go for it. Also everyone sells the same stuff so if you don’t like the price move on, as long as the price you want to pay is reasonable someone will sell to you at that price. We wanted 3 bowls and the lowest one store would accept was 900kVND, which is a silly silly price for the bowls we wanted, the next store started at 500k and accepted 350k! which is still probably way more than we should have paid but we were happy to pay that price and the seller was happy to accept.
We had a complete adventure one day and followed Hidden Hoian’s self guided cycle route of navigating between bridges on Google Maps Cau Cua Dai – Cau Truong Giang – Cau Duy Thanh – Cầu Duy Phước – Cau Cam Kim around Hoi An. After a mile or so of flat our journey continued with a quite frankly overwhelming marathon cycle up the most ridiculously high bridge, thank goodness it had a wide pavement and was at the beginning! By the time we reached the top I was a panting mess but the view was spectacular over the beaches at An Bang. We rode the brakes all the way down the other side! Travel insurance or not we’ve no interest in seeing the inside of any hospitals 😆
We stopped at My House Café along the route for a matcha latte, it’s a beautiful place overlooking a fish farm and a lovely respite from the sun. Then we headed off across many tiny islands and over some more bridges on little lanes and bigger empty ones, getting lots of smiles along the way, through some lovely countryside, passing dozens of tarpaulins filled with rice drying in the sun on the road. The final bridge back into Hoi An was truly terrifying, metal sheets, a narrow width and speeding mopeds made for deafening noise, thankfully we were soon over, back on solid quiet ground and back in Hoi An.
When we returned I google mapped the route and realised we had cycled over 30km that day (including a side trip to the milliners) I am not sure I would have done that had I known it was so far but it was a lovely day, just maybe go in the early afternoon as opposed to full sun that we cycled in, doh!
We thoroughly enjoyed every one of our 28 days in Vietnam this year. The temperature was mid 30s and super humid for most of our trip which is pretty ideal for us.
Vietnam is an immense and beautiful country and we have only scratched the surface on this and our previous trips and definitely plan to return again in the future Xx