A QUICK GUIDE TO THE VIETNAM I FELL IN LOVE WITH

Oh Vietnam!

Where should one even begin to describe this beautiful country? Between all the places I’ve been so far Vietnam is definitely my favorite. What’s not to like about it?! The beautiful green rice paddies, the kind, warm, happy people, the delicious food, the scenic busy city streets…

Everything around is a picture perfect image that slowly wraps around your heart and never lets it go again!

I’ll post my Vietnam Journal soon where i get more philosophical about it, for now here’s a quick guide to the Vietnam I fell in love with!

[*Keep in mind that during these trips I’m working most the time shooting for QFB so i don’t really get to be a tourist].

HANOI

Hanoi is the Capital of Vietnam. I stayed mainly in the old quarter, which is the busiest and most vibrant part of town, and i loved it! I strongly suggest to just walk around the neighborhood, people watch and get completely lost (my favorite way to visit cities  ).

You can find good food anywhere, literally, even the not so amazing looking places make amazing food, and that’s all over the country in general not just in Hanoi.

The streets are intimidating rivers of scooters and sometimes could take a while to find the balls to cross! TIP just go for it! slowly sneak your way into traffic, don’t even look and most likely you won’t get hit! and NEVER, EVER make eye contact with the drivers, they’ll get confused and probably you will get hit!

I think 3 days are enough to visit Hanoi, not that there isn’t much to see or do but I think there ore other locations that deserve more time.

MUST SEE:

-Old quarter , and make sure not to miss the Train Street (around the corner of Tong Duy Tan and Dien bien Phu str)

-Hoàn Kiếm Lake

 

HALONG BAY

This place is pure Magic! I was there for only a day and a half but that didn’t stop me from living some unforgettable moments, like cruising around The little islands in the dark night on a tiny old boat, surrounded by darkness and silence, no words can’t

describe the beauty of that instant, daunting beyond imaginable! I stayed in a gorgeous beach resort in Catba island but got there very late at night and had to leave at 8am the following morning so unfortunately I didn’t get to enjoy that but the boat ride back to the mainland totally made up for it, the scene was breathtaking, timeless and straight out a LOST episode! I highly recommend to take a visit here and stay a few days!

TIP:  If you are going to Catba Island and don’t care for a 4 hours boat tour there is a Ferry you can take a few hundreds meters passed the tour-boats harbor that only takes 30 minutes to get there (and it’s much cheaper!)

 

SA PA

Sapa is one of the most beautiful and suggestive places I’ve ever seen. Old villages lost in time surrounded by stunning green rice terrace mountains; women dressed in colorful picturesque handmade clothes; wild pigs, buffalos and chickens walk with you in the streets; thick waves of white mists appear and enwraps you out of nowhere… this place has it all! I think it’s worth spending at least 4 or 5 days around here, there’s plenty to do and see: trekking, exploring the different villages, visit the markets and spend time with the locals learning about their culture.  SIDENOTE the women will harass the shit out of you trying to sell you things but no matter how annoyed you might get, don’t treat them like an asshole! Keep in mind that most of them can’t write or read, they survive off selling souvenirs to tourists and every day they walk hours through
those mountains to get from their villages to the main one just to make the money they need to live. Be kind to them, they weren’t born with the same privileges we have!)

TIPS: 1)If you don’t care much for comfort and privacy i strongly suggest to try Homestay with the local women, they’ll bring you to their homes in one of the near by villages, feed you and tell you stories, you’ll get to see how they live and what their life is about and it will most likely change you for the best! 2)It’s colder than the rest of the country up here so bring some warmer clothes (or buy an incredibly cheap jacket once you get there! they are everywhere!)

HÔI AN

Hoi An is a quiet, peaceful ancient town in the middle part of Vietnam. Located by the water and sorrounded by rice paddies, you can find beauty all around it. This area wasn’t particularly affected by the war devastation so most the beautiful old buildings still stand untouched, the ancient architecture and the vibrant colors will leave you in awe!

The vibe is very relaxed, and although the town itself is one of the most touristy place I’ve ever seen it still manages to maintain its authenticity and nothing feels fake about it. Oh, and  my favorite thing of all about Hôi An is that women run the show…fuck yeah!

 

MUST SEE:

-Ancient town, the oldest part of town(duh!) with all the pretty buildings. Even if everything is either a restaurant or some sort of souvenirs shop it’s totally worth spending some time walking around the streets, everything around is beautiful: colorful lanterns hanging everywhere, old temples and courtyards, charming old boats by the river bank, all perfect images you’ll never forget! Stop by the Central Market and eat some fresh delicious food, there are also lots of cooking classes available for tourists (I can’t cook at all and I’m not really a tourist so I stayed away from it but I heard lots of good things about it).

-Countryside and rice paddies, One of the best things you can do in Hôi An is to rent a bike and go explore the countryside. I did it on my 3rd day there and it was an incredible experience. The landscape is beyond beautiful, you’ll find yourself pedaling on little dirt roads running along rice fields brimming with birds, buffalos, oxen and men & women working (earlier in the morning is the best time to go), ancient temples and cemeteries will pop up out of nowhere, it’s impossible not to stop and take pictures! So so worth it, it was one of the most suggestive bike rides of my life (and renting a bike is like $1 a day!)

-The Riverside (Thu Bon River) if you walked by it while exploring the ancient town during the day make sure to come back at night: all the lanterns are lit up and the (very insistent but cute) candle ladies are out doing their magic!

ANYTHING! Seriously the food in this country is so damn good and dirt cheap!

Eating in Vietnam is an experience on its own: You sit out in the streets, on tiny low plastic stools, there’s always  a roll of toilet paper to use as napkins on the table, you hear food sizzling. people chatting and and motorbikes strolling by…aahh i loved every minute of it!

The people are very passionate about their food and you can definitely taste that! I loved everything I had and I am in serious withdrawal now that I’m back in NYC [we have lots of good Vietnamese restaurants here but the ingredient are just not the same].

BAHN MI

French baguette filled with goodness (pathe, meats, cucomber, cilantro,daikon, carrots, mayonnaise)

Some places have a vegeterian option

RESTAURANT RECCOMANDATION: Bahn Mi Phuong in Hôi An, order #9, it’s fucking amazing! ( and it’s in an episode of Anthony Boudain’s No reservations btw, the guy is a God for me and definitely my power animal!)

PHO :

Noodle soup made of broth, herbs, bean sprouts, rice noodles and meat(raw beef is my go to choice) served with lime, red chilly and mixed greens. The noodles are called bánh phở.

They get it right in any place, anywhere at any time, i think it’s impossible to get bad Pho in all of Vietnam!

BÁNH XÉO

Savory fried flour pancake filled with shrimp, bean sprouts, onions and served with mixed greens, fish sauce and rice paper. you brake the pancake in chuncks, grab the rice paper and stuff it with that and the greens, make a little roll and dip it in the fish sauce… sooo good!

 

DRIP COFFE AND COCONUT COFFE

Coarsely ground Vietnamese-grown dark roast coffee put in a small french drip and slowly dripping on a layer of thick condensed milk. A signature thing! I’m not a fan of strong coffee but i gave it a go anyway and i started liking it by the end of the trip [ just FYI, it takes a while before you actually get to drink your coffee!] .

TO TRY If you are in Hanoi stop by  Cong Caphe and try their coconut coffee, delicious is an understatment!

You’ll be doing a lot of walking and you’ll move around by plane, boat, buses and trains so big heavy suitcases are definitely not going to make your trip easier!

WARDROBE TIPS: It really depends on what season you’ll go. I went in January and it was warm in Hanoi and Hoi An but chilly in Halong Bay and cold in Sapa. Pack some summer clothes, some layers and a warm jacket if you’re planning on going to the mountains. Don’t forget some good walking shoes and boots (you might find yourself walking in the mud, in the jungle, mountains and rice fields) GIRLS: if you aren’t asian most likely your hair will be a pain in the ass to manage anywhere in SEA, bring tons of anti frizz products and such. Don’t even think about packing heels you won’t need them

SUGGESTED READINGS: The quite American by Graham Green & The Art of Travel by Alain De Botton (for the more philosophical of you!)

The currency used in Vietnam is theVietnamese dong

1.00 USD=22,288.00 VND

Everything is really, really, REALLY cheap! You can eat amazing meals for $5 a day,  sleep in nice hotel rooms for $12, catch flights within South east Asia at around $50. You can haggle anywhere if you are good at it, but everything is so cheap already that it almost feels like stealing!

It makes me wanna cry to be back in NYC and spending in a few days what I would spend in a whole month in Vietnam!

 

FOOD: Beyond Amazing!

PEOPLE: Everyone is really really kind.

SAFETY: I felt completely safe throughout the whole trip.

LIFE COST: So damn cheap!

EASY TO GET AROUND: for moving within the towns  walking, biking or cabs are the way to go(cabs are very cheap). To move long distances you can catch really cheap flights or buses are pretty convenient (i used a lot of night buses to save time). You’ll end up taking boats as well, they’re great [if you don’t get sea sick and end up feeling like crap for hours like me ; ) ]

ADVENTURES: There is so much to do! Trekking in the mountains, cooking classes , biking around the countryside through rise paddies, exploring the towns, shopping, visiting museum, meditating in the temples…you name it!

Vietnam is a beautiful country filled with beautiful smiling people. I left a piece of my heart in Vietnam and hopefully one day I’ll go back to find it again!