The Blog:

This place is for you: To explore what your soul needs to hear today.

Thailand + Vietnam: Trip Recap #2 – More food, sights, and accommodations!

thailandrecap2

This is Part Two of a Two Part Recap on my Two month solo-trip to Thailand and Vietnam. Catch Part One here. 

Hi again! Okay so let’s see, I left off my last post telling you that I randomly decided to tack on a couple of extra weeks to my adventure and head to Vietnam.

Going into the trip, I didn’t expect to go anywhere other than Thailand for 6 weeks. I just wanted the ease of going to one country and actually getting to know it pretty well, instead of hopping around. Everywhere I turned, I met travels who had just been to x y or z, or were about to go to x y or z, and many of the conversations among us travelers was about various places to see and visit. I was halfway listening, because I had it in my mind that I wasn’t going to go anywhere, but I did notice that almost everyone kept saying that Vietnam was their favorite place they’ve been to.

After about 5 weeks in Thailand, I was starting to FINALLY look into flights home (remember, I had a one way ticket), and I just couldn’t quite pull the trigger. I called on my trusted brother and sister in law and went over my dilemma — part of me felt ready to come home, but part of me wanted to stay and go on Adventure #2. I discussed the pros and cons with them and they both just said “this is such an easy decision, Jamie. You don’t NEED to come home for another couple of weeks. You’re already out there and so close to these other places. Why not just keep going?” Yep, done.

I got so many butterflies in that moment. I knew next to nothing about Vietnam. When I booked my Thailand trip, I did a decent amount of research before-hand. I had mentally prepped for months that I was going. But with Vietnam, I barely did any research at all. I was going into it with no plan whatsoever, and hardly any knowledge. It was a new way of experiencing a country and travel. I was clearly getting really good at “letting go and just figuring it out”.

I quickly researched how to apply for a Visa online — saw that it would take about 2 days to get approved – and booked my travel out of Koh Tao to Hanoi, hoping that my Visa came on the day it was promised, or else I was screwed!

People either go North to South or South to North when traveling through the long, narrow country of Vietnam. While I was closer to the South since I was in Koh Tao, I decided to go North to South because there were better / more abundant flights back to NYC out of the South of Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City) than the North (Hanoi).

To get from Koh Tao to Hanoi:

  • I took a ferry + bus transfer from Koh Tao to Surat Thani
  • A flight from Surat Thani to Bangkok (on AirAsia) 1 hour
  • A flight from Bangkok to Hanoi (on AirAsia) 1.5 hours

HANOI, VIETNAM

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset
I arrived in Hanoi late at night, quickly dropped off my things at my hostel, and hit the pitch black streets for some food.

Woah. I don’t think I will ever forget this night. It was probably 10:30pm, I left my hostel and they said “take a map in case you get lost” and I was like “Oh I won’t get lost, I’m only going a couple minutes away to find some Pho (the only Vietnamese food I knew!).” HA.

I have a pretty good sense of direction, but after about 3 minutes, I was lost.

I felt like I was in a movie where I was in the middle of these chaotic, curvy, dizzying, bustling streets, my head was spinning, I had no idea where I was, and I felt like 10 people were trying to grab me to go in different directions all at once (locals are VERY pushy there). Every food sign was in Vietnamese. I didn’t know if the street food was safe. I knew nothing.

I was trying to take it all in – this raw, serious, cold (!), insane city. This was one of the only times when I felt a little nervous about my safety and what I was doing. I immediately thought “I can’t believe you didn’t research anything. This was a mistake, what are you getting yourself into.

Clueless and feeling so lost, I saw some Vietnamese guy pull out a tiny stool (they eat on these baby stools on the street), pat it twice to indicate for me to come sit on it, and I just decided to go. It was in front of this tiny little shop serving something in Vietnamese.

I went up to the cook and said “DO YOU HAVE PHO?” He chuckled, and goes “Pha? Beef?” (it’s actually pronounced PHA not PHO). I nodded, he nodded, so I sat.

So there I was, sitting on a tiny baby stool at a tiny table with a Vietnamese family on the street, watching the chaos around me, freezing my buns off. I was about to get some sort of soup with some sort of meat in it, off the street.  Nobody around me spoke a word of english. Great.  I was just praying I was in good hands and that this food was okay to eat.

I got the soup, and they gave me both chopsticks and a large spoon. I had no idea how to eat it, so I was signaling to the guy across from me for some help. We were “communicating” through motions and laughter, him trying to explain to me by demonstrating how to eat the Pho. He grabbed about 15 napkins and gave them to me, because it’s messy to eat, “showed” me to add chili sauce into the Pho for some kick, and showed me how to eat this giant bowl with both chopsticks and a spoon, simultaneously.

I eventually found my way back to my hostel, so happy to be home, warm and safe, and I crashed.

So yeah, Vietnam is a crazy place. It’s raw, and real, and not nearly as developed and Westernized as Thailand. I learned to love this SO much, but that first night was a shock to my system. Going from a warm, chill island in Thailand filled with Westerners, I had some adjusting to do!

Here’s a 15 second video to show you a bit about what it’s like. 

I spent the next few days having a lot of fun in Hanoi, but it also took a lot out of me. It can be a very “harsh” city from what I experienced. It’s completely and utterly fascinating and intriguing, but it’s also nuts. Crossing the street can get you killed (hundreds of motorbikes with no traffic laws whatsoever), it’s cold (at least when I went), and it’s ultra stimulating. An absolute MUST visit, but I would just spend a few days there.

Things I did in Hanoi:

  • Ate SO much street food, all the time
  • Wandered around a lot, and drank TONs of Vietnamese coffee! This is “egg coffee” – a must try.

IMG_5471

  • Went to the Women’s Museum. Loved this!
  • Hired someone to take me on a motorbike tour around the major sites. Visited the Hoa Lo Prison (really upsetting but interesting), a couple of Pagodas, the Temple of Literature, and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (<– you see his actual body).
  • Walked around the gorgeous, famous lake a lot. Go here in the evening as the sun is setting and you’ll see lots of locals doing Tai Chi on the water. Also, it’s common for students to hang out here and ask to talk to you to improve their English. It’s fun to sit with them and chat.

Things I didn’t have time for but will do when I go back:

  • Explore other neighborhoods outside of the main Old District

Restaurants / Bars I liked:

  • Vietnam is known for their street food – eat lots of it! Each shop you go to is typically known for one or two dishes and they only serve those one or two things. Find a list of the main street food in Hanoi (usually hostels and hotels have this) and just start checking them off your list 🙂 You will sit at tiny tables and chairs on the sidewalk with the locals and enjoy incredible food

IMG_5484

Ashley and I

  • I did a lot of research about the best Banh Mi — ate it here, it was delish!

  • Someone recommend Pho here, so I went there. It was good but I didn’t love Pho in general.
  • One of the best things I ate was called Pho Xao — noodles, beef, and greens. Find it on the street.

  • When you’re sick of street food, try this restaurant and if you call ahead, ask for the “hot pot”. Its not on the menu, it’s a special order, and my tour guide gave me the hookup. It’s a TON of food and absolutely incredible. A true local experience!

IMG_5502

  • I also went here for an upscale, civilized meal one night because my body was craving something fresher, healthier and lighter. I ate SO many veggies that night, and delicious fish. I LOVED this restaurant, plus it is in a beautiful environment.
  • I read about this old school ice cream shop in a warehouse. All the local kids go. It’s a fun experience and awesome ice cream!

IMG_5445

  • I couldn’t tell you what bars I went to, I wasn’t paying attention 🙂 but there is definitely a major nightlife in Hanoi. Have fun!!

Getting around and other notes:

  • Walk or use taxis to go longer distances. There are also tuk-tuk sorta things. Most tourists do not ride motorbikes here because it is just far too crazy and unsafe.
  • I first stayed at this hostel, and then upgraded to a quieter environment here. Would definitely recommend the 2nd place. First place was fine for a hostel. Very social.
  • Definitely stay in the “Old Quarter”
  • You can definitely get ripped off or scammed here, so just have your wits about you and your purse / phone close to your body. Don’t give your phone to people to take pics or leave it out.

HALONG BAY, VIETNAM

There are two common day trips from Hanoi – Halong Bay and Sapa. I didn’t make it to Sapa but I heard awesome things. I would love to do this someday. I chose to go to Halong Bay — a bay on the coast with thousands of rock formations that have turned into islands. You go on these junk boat cruises for either 1 or 2 nights and tour around the bay. If it’s nice weather, you go swimming, go to beaches, etc. Each cruise is a bit different in terms of what they do and see within the bay, and there are tons of cruise companies.

A friend of a friend hooked me up with their friend who is a tour guide, and I ended up just going with his tour. I didn’t have the energy to research at that time, so I just went along with it.

Our tour was 2 days / 1 night. I got picked up in the morning in a private van and we drove about 3.5 hours out to the coast. We then boarded our cruise and were off! Our boat was really nice and my room was beautiful. I was so surprised at how they turned these junk boats into something so nice.

IMG_5565

IMG_5561 IMG_5509

All meals are included and we were served so much food throughout the two days. It was a fun sampling of different Vietnamese dishes. We explored caves, went to a pearl / oyster farm, kayaked through a fishermans village, did Tai Chi on the roof deck at 6am, and just hung out. It was incredibly relaxing and also so nice to not have cell service / wifi. It was cold, so we kept bundled, and didn’t swim, but it was still really nice.

After heading to Halong Bay for two days, I had one last night in Hanoi, and then I hopped on a flight down to Hoi An for some warmth!

Hoi An, Vietnam

I had heard amazing things about Hoi An — that it’s beautiful (it’s an old river town), that it’s way more civilized, and people general love it there.

I liked Hoi An, but I also found it to be super touristy and very very catered to tourists. At that current time in my trip, I was looking for a more “real” experience, so it wasn’t my favorite stop, but I still enjoyed relaxing there.

At this point, I also hit a wall physically – I was SO exhausted. I wanted to partake in various tours and activities in and around Hoi An (apparently the surrounding areas where the locals live are beautiful and worth riding bikes through, etc.), but I just couldn’t do it. I basically hung out, slept a lot, went to really good dinners, met up with some friends I had met in Hanoi, and walked around.

Hoi An is also famous for getting clothes made. There are tons and tons and tons of tailor shops lining the streets and you can go in there and get just about anything that you want made to order, for cheap. For guys, it’s really common to get suits and dress shirts, and a lot of girls get anything from dresses, to coats, to shoes, to skirts, etc.

I pursued this one day but got SO overwhelmed by all the decisions, that I decided not to do it. Plus, you have to hang out in Hoi An for a few days in order to have time for the clothes to be made plus all the fittings, and I didn’t want to feel bound to be there for any reason if I wanted to leave.

I stayed at my favorite accommodation in Hoi An: Cozy Villas. This place was like a dream come true. Growing up in a hospitality family, I always see things with a bit of a critical eye, but I couldn’t even find one thing to critique about this place if I tried. They were so wonderful. I met one Vietnamese girl who was interning at the hotel and every morning, she’d come over to me at breakfast and practice her English with me. We’d talk about everything under the sun and it was one of my favorite parts about Hoi An — connecting to these locals and seeing how badly they just want to learn and share and grow.

IMG_5709

 

What I did in Hoi An:

  • walked around the main town
  • strolled through the night market
  • ate a lot of good food!
  • attempted to get clothes made by the tailors
  • perused the many, many art galleries. I was so close to buying art here!

Things I missed but will do when I go back:

  • I heard a lot of people doing various tours in the area around the main downtown area. Bike tours, photography tours, food tours. I had signed up for a bike tour but cancelled because I was so tired, but next time I’d really like to see the surrounding villages.
  • There is a beach in Hoi An that I heard is decent, but I didn’t make it there

Restaurants / Bars I liked:

  • I ate here twice. SO good!! A hole in the wall that I researched 🙂 Get the pork buns!!
  • Someone recommended this place, Mango Mango, which was delicious, one of the “nicest” restaurants I ate in all trip (but totally reasonable). I ate at a bar  / window seat upstairs overlooking the downtown area — amazing people watching!

Getting around and other notes:

  • To get to Hoi An, fly to Denang airport. Then, take about a 1/2 hour car ride to get to Hoi An.
  • Walk everywhere, take a tuk-tuk, or ride bicycles. Most hotels here have free bikes for you to rent because it’s a very biker friendly village (in fact downtown doesn’t allow cars — it’s only walking / biking).

Ho Chi Minh City / Saigon , Vietnam

After a few days in Hoi An, I got on another flight down to Ho Chi Minh City, which used to be called Saigon. All of the locals call it Saigon, FYI, but you can go with either.

I really loved Saigon. I thought it was such a cool, metropolitan city, and I could see myself spending a lot of time there at some point. I felt like there was so much to explore!

IMG_1366 IMG_1368

I did a lot during my few days in Saigon and met a lot of people — it was such a fun way to (almost) end my trip.

What I did in Saigon:

  • Went to the War Remnants Museum — this is a MUST in my opinion. One of the things that stuck out to me the most of my entire trip. VERY real and disturbing, but good to go see.
  • Ben Than Market
  • Walked through the park and sat with a group of students who wanted to learn English. I loved this! 🙂
  • Went out a few nights in the Backpackers District (go to “Bui Vien” street). You’ve got to check out this road. It’s absolutely nuts!
  • Explored a few rooftop bars which are very popular there – this is one I went to, I forget the other, but just ask around.
  • Walked and walked and walked and walked — I went through touristy areas and areas where it appeared that they had never even laid eyes on a tourist. It was so cool to find all these varying pockets of the city.

IMG_1380

  • Sat in cafes on the sidewalk and drank SO much Vietnamese coffee!
  • Went out with some locals who a friend of a friend introduced to me. These were super posh Vietnamese models and artists. Was so fun to get to go out with them and see what people my age do who live in Vietnam!

What I didn’t get to do but will do when I go back:

  • Not sure, I would just spend a lot more time here 🙂

Bars / Restaurants I liked:

  • You have to eat at least one night on Bui Vien street (link above) and just watch the scene.
  • Rooftop bars are fun (see above).
  • Our local friend took us to this pizza place. OMG. This rivals NYC upscale pizza. After not really eating cheese or dairy for 2 months, we scarfed this down!!
  • On my very last night of my trip, I came back to Saigon before I flew out, and a friend and I treated ourselves since it was our last night. We went here, and it was delicious. Super duper westernized, and more expensive, but a beautiful ambiance and really good food (and really good cocktails!). It’s about 25 minutes out of the main area, on the river, but I think worth the trek.

Getting around and other notes:

  • Walking and taxis are your best bet here. The streets, again, are insane. You’ll want to take videos of the motorbike action so you can attempt to explain to your friends back home just how insane it is.
  • I’m sure there are other forms of public transportation, but I wasn’t there long enough to really get to know it.
  • Again, its a big city, keep your stuff close to you, have your wits about you, be aware.

MEKONG DELTA, VIETNAM

While I was in Saigon, I took a day trip tour to the Mekong Delta, an area SW of Saigon that is made up of hundreds (thousands?) of river canals, all intertwining in a maze. Within these canals there are floating markets, temples, homes, factories, and a whole little “water world” economy. It was one of the coolest things I have ever seen in my life. Not to mention, the land around the canals is so incredible lush and abundant – there is something new growing on every tree!

IMG_1693

I would highly recommend making it to the Mekong Delta and doing a tour. We visited a brick factory, a coconut candy “factory” (these factories are tiny, just like someone’s backyard), took a bike ride through this little hidden village, ate a snack in the back of a home that made door mats, rode around the canals with fisherman, had a humongous lunch at some restaurant we randomly appeared at, etc. It was just incredible.

IMG_5768

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset
IMG_1578

IMG_1567

 

PHU QUOC ISLAND, VIETNAM

For the final 5 days of my trip, I flew to an island to just completely relax and unwind before coming home. I knew I didn’t want to come home exhausted, plus I wanted some time to process my trip before throwing myself back into day to day life back home. After doing a bunch of research, I ended up booking a beautiful bungalow at Daisy Resort.

Guys, this was another one of those places that just blew me away. They are rated #1 on Trip Advisor for a reason. I LOVED my time here. Everything from the staff, to the actual accommodations, to the other travelers I met, it was just bliss.

I did a whole lot of nothing during those 5 days. I ate good food, relaxed by the pool for countless hours, hung out in my bungalow, chatted with the other people around, went to the beach one day, watched the sunset out by the pool each night, went night swimming (and day swimming of course), got massages, and just completely soaked in my last few days.

IMG_5799

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

COMING HOME…

And finally, I packed my things, flew back to Saigon, spent the last night of my trip hanging out with a friend in Saigon, and then got up the next morning and made the long long journey home to New York (connected in Hong Kong).

It’s been a month since I got home, and I am only now starting to be able to put into words what this trip meant to me. It was absolutely one of the best things I have ever done in my life and I consider it a precious gift I gave to myself. The experience changed me in deep ways that I am now only starting to see, and I’m curious to continue to see the effects of it in the coming months. My perspective was blown open in so many ways, and so was my heart – my love for life and for people has never felt so strong.

If you are thinking of doing a trip like this, but you have questions, please feel free to reach out to me. I am so passionate about helping others pursue their own adventures and follow their hearts. I’d love to chat with you, so do not hesitate to get in touch.

Wishing you lots and lots of fun, heart-bursting-open adventures in your life and the courage to go after those little dreams nudging you from within.

All my love,

Jamie

IMG_5959

 

Jamie

Like this post? Get my weekly(ish) articles & tips straight to your inbox.

!
!
Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.

SHARE THIS POST

Jamie-Mendell-Sq

This place is for you: To explore what your soul needs to hear today.

I mainly write about Inner CriticSelf-CareFollowing Your IntuitionLife + Evolving, and the occasional Recipe. Enjoy!