Tag Archives: Vietnam

Amazing street food (and restaurant) recommendations for Vietnam and Cambodia

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Tuna tartar at Mie Cafe, Siem Reap, Cambodia

One of the smartest things we did during our recent Vietnam trip was to start our adventure in Hanoi with a street food tour from Australian expat expert Mark Lowerson, of Street Eats Hanoi. streetfoodtourshanoi.blogspot.com. We spent a great morning with Mark visiting vendors we never would have found on our own, eating great food and learning about Vietnam’s food, culture and customs. It was a very helpful introduction to the country. Beyond that, Mark gave us recommendations for where to eat during our next stops in Vietnam and in Siem Reap, Cambodia — and we ate at several of them. Not a dud in the bunch. Sharing them below (I’ve put in red the ones we ate at.)

Here’s Mark’s social media:
Instagram: stickyinhanoi
In HANOI:
Bun cha (grilled pork) – at 34 Hang Than, slightly north of the old quarter just beyond the old water tower. Get there for an early-ish lunch, at 12 but they’ll still be serving at 2.30ish: http://stickyrice.typepad.com/my_weblog/2011/10/where-there-is-smoke-there-is-bun-cha.html
Pho Ga – 42 Quan Thanh St –  v good chicken pho, mornings and evenings, also just north of the old quarter, near the old water tower  – right near your hotel!
Pho Suong – Trung Yen Alley – beef noodle soup at the start of the alley – mornings and evenings 
Bun rieu (crab broth noodles) – 11 Hang Bac, 7am-2pm.
A great coffee shop where they do this amazing special, yoghurt coffee (and you can also buy beans/ground coffee) is called Cafe Duy Tri at 43 Pho Yen Phu – a tiny narrow building in West Lake District. They have a menu in English, too. Go in, order from the little yellow menu and then go sit upstairs somewhere – second or third floor. 
Egg Coffee at Cafe Định – 13 Dinh Tien Hoang St. through a little tiled passageway and up a set of dodgy steps to an iconic Hanoi coffee house 
You can buy really good coffee at Oriberry in Au Trieu St near St Joseph’s cathedral in the Old Quarter – in the street which runs along the right of the church.
SomeHanoiEveningOptions

Cha ca Thang Long – Hanoi’s grill your own fish dish

State Run Food Shop 37

Excellent French: La Badiane
Excellent pizza: Pizza 4Ps

Drinks with a view at The Summit, located at the Pan Pacific Hotel.

A cocktail bar – Unicorn Pub 2A, at 

The Pasteur Street Brewery at 1 Au Trieu behind the cathedral is a great Saigon outfit which just opened here…out on West Lake there is a great one called Turtle Tower, too – v nice setting on the water.Glass of wine: Tannin Wine Bar in Hàng Vai – great happy hour 4-7pm

In HUE, one VERY GOOD street food recommendation – go here: Bun thit nuong Huyen Anh (grilled pork with noodles and herbs – lunch only): Address: 52/1 Kim Long – a km or so out of town along the river – VERY worth the taxi ride! ❤

Bà Đỏ restaurant – 8 Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm St
Nu Eatery, 10 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai is great!!!! (reservation required – don’t be late!)

Com ga (chicken rice) Ba Buoi 22 Phan Chau Trinh

Banh beo (Hue style rice flour cake w/pork/prawn) opposite1 Hoang Van Thu

Banh Mi Khanh (Vietnamese sandwich)

115 Tran Cao Van
Ms Ly Restaurant22 Nguyen Hue (warning: can be crowded with long waits)
A tailor in Hoi An – tell them Mark and Tu sent you:
Sunny  – 9 Tran Phu St
In SIEM REAP:
If you’d like a similar experience in Siem Reap, our friends Lina and Steven run food tours there. All the info is here:

Our favorite restaurants in Siem Reap: Chanrea Dom Makara, Cuisine Wat Damnak (v special  –  must make a reservation – very difficult to get in at short notice!) and Mie Cafe.

In SAIGON/HCM City:

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Grilled pork and clams at Quan Loan, HCM City

– Quan Loan – cooked to order local food, really delicious – Cnr Hai Ba Trung St and Ly Tu Trong St

– a couple of good local restaurants:
The Secret Garden – in a little lane at 158 Duong Pasteur – great home-style cooking in a very cool setting on the rooftop of an old apartment building. I love this place! ❤

Secret Cottage – through a bag/basket shop and upstairs at 12 Nguyen Thiep St

Also great cafe/shop called L’usine – 1st fl 151 Dong Khoi – but hidden in the back through a painting shop.

Great speakeasy bars:
Drinking and Healing – 25 Ho Tung Mau St
Snuffbox – 14 Tom That Dam St
And don’t forget the great craft beer place Pasteur St Brewing Company

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Cholon, Chinese restaurant, pagodas, facial, secret cottage – saigon

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Restaurant view

Playing some serious catch-up, blogging on the long slog plane trip home and trying to remember what we did in Vietnam two days ago before it all becomes a dream. We took two buses (which was an adventure – cost about 80 cents each) to Cholon, which is what’s left of Saigon’s Chinatown in District 5. First stop was the market, of course, which was overwhelming — so much commerce. People were refreshingly uninterested in selling to us, a nice change from the big tourist mark Ben Thánh, which we quickly dipped in and out of on our first day.

We wandered around the crowded streets and stumbled into another great meal, this one Chinese food ( we think, sliced char sui pork, bumbling tofu with sautéed ground pork that arrived in a very hot clay bowl, fresh off the fire at the entrance to the restaurant ) at  jam-packed Com Ga Dong Nguyen, which according to the waiters clothing and the menu has been around since 1943.

Sizzling tofu with spicy ground pork

Next stop two of several pagodas in the area (Phuoc An Hoi Quan; Thien Hau) and then the hunt for a functioning ATM. Vietnam is a cash society (unlike Scandinavia where we were last year), especially for purchases on the street. Upscale restaurants aren’t an issue. But we had trouble using Dirck’s ATM card in particular, which has a chip. That may be the issue. But sometimes the machine wasn’t in the right network or was out of cash.

I returned to my neighborhood spa for a facial and foot massage, technically, although I three women worked on my legs and arms and shoulders, as well, in a small dark room. Again, cheap…cost $14…and the women were so sweet. They insisted on taking photos with me including one where I had shocking red lips — thanks to an app called snow, I believe.

We made one final trip to District 1 and finally found another Hanoi Mark recommendation, The Secret Cottage, which we reached by walking through a long narrow basket/scarf shop and up two flights of scuffed up concrete steps. Suddenly we were in chic land, in a dining room with old plaster walls, cool wood furniture and contemporary art. The food was cool too – sort of groovy updates of traditional food like Bánh mi and Bun Thit. We finally got caught in a downpour but had our coats (which we’ve toted everywhere and rarely used. We got to talking with a guy from Utah as we waited out the rain under a shop awning. He is a supply chain developer who has been traveling more often to Vietnam rather than China, given the trade tariffs, working to switch manufacturing to VN.

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En route to Seoul

Bar at The Secret Cottage

Listening to a little K-pop (“RBB –Oh my god he’s a really bad boy, a really bad boy” And “sassy me” by Red Velvet, a girl band, are my fav so far) on our flight from Saigon to Seoul (when in Rome) and just discovered some decent smoked salmon among the otherwise unappealing breakfast fare from Korean Air. Also scored a travel toothpaste-size tube of gochujang (Korean hot pepper sauce) although I have a big tub of it at home. Good souvenir. And there’s French perfume, cologne and toothbrushes for the taking in the bathroom. I am reading a paper version of what used to be the international herald tribune, now the nyt, available free as we boarded. It’s very old school – broad and squat. (Note to self: check out the band The Foals; and new book about the Lakota.)

I may have witnessed Saigon asleep when I stepped onto our hotel balcony at 4:45 am but by 5:30 when our young handsome braided epaulet hotel helper (dressed in more casual sports gear so early in the morning) lugged our suitcases through the adjacent courtyard and narrow alley. The woman we saw washing raw chicken in a plastic tub was back at it. I could see a man in the more prosaic cement concrete building across from our French colonial manse in his bathroom. In our “grab” car (akin to uber) we passed people power walking in the park and doing group stretches/exercise routines at 5:45 am.

We got to the airport in 15 minutes, much quicker than when we arrived in HCM cityapparently we just missed the crazy rush hour.

The check in line moved slowly, with so many people checking so much luggage – big plastic tubs, huge cardboard boxes (some wrapped with cellophane and packing tape on site…not a welcoming sound at 6:30 am), giant hard suitcases., headed for destinations including Texas, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

We decided the Korean female flight attendants have the loveliest garb, including a crisp teal colored bow tie that is so starched stiff that the end sticks up beside the left ear and a pretty large stiff teal bow in their tidy hair bun.

Sad to leave Vietnam but it’s been a great trip. Thoroughly enjoyed the people, sights, food (!!), lodging, nonstop (almost) street energy and action. The extreme heat and humidity was challenging but it hardly rained, despite dire forecasts. Last night as we walked in district 1 after yet another superb dinner at a hidden hip restaurant (the secret cottage, found after walking thru a narrow basket shop and up some shabby concrete steps, which we have learned is always a sign of good food ahead) the sky finally dumped sheets of water on us all. The motorbike drivers calmly opened up their seats, pulled out rain gear, put it on and resumed zooming wherever the heck they are going.

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Markets, Massage bliss, pancakes, Cuc Guan Quan – Saigon

My massage ladies

We learned our lesson yesterday and today took taxis frequently, given the heat and distances and price ($4-8 a ride). On a Sunday morning, we wandered around two more local markets where we seemed to be the only westerners, which is the way we like it. (The morning market at 287 Nguyen Dinh Chieu; Cho Tan Dinh market, 1 Nguyen Huu Cau St.)

It is astonishing to see how much commerce and activity there is here. On a Sunday, no less. Never seems to stop, except for a few holidays. Leo, our Vespa guide in Hoi An, works 28 days a month. With a few holidays. And despite taxes, people don’t get much help paying for kids education or health care, apparently.

I asked our taxi driver where everyone is going on their motorbikes, on a Sunday, no less, and he said with a laugh “I don’t know!” (Once we let him know that we were not Trump fans, he shared our disdain. He talked about how Trump went to Hanoi, in and out. Obama came to Saigon and explored, eating at various restaurants.)

After the markets, we went to an outdoor Vietnamese pancake restaurant (46 Dinh Cong Trang) down a little street near the famous Barbie-pink Catholic Church that our hotel owner Mr. Ha suggested. The Vietnamese pancakes look like a huge, lighter, crispier omelet, folded over and packed inside with sprouts and shrimp, served hot off the charcoal fire, with lettuce for wrapping and dipping sauce. We also had fantastic hot off the griddle fried soft shell crab. With a beer and water, it cost $14.

We wandered through a nearby park and sat on a park bench watching two groups of teenagers, boys and girls, practicing dance routines. They were pretty good. Not sure if this was exercise or practice for a performance. this music was sort of Vietnamese hip hop but at our hotel in Siem Reap, the playlist included our favorites like Regina Spector and an Afro pop song I have on my playlist.

Back to L’Usine for a refreshing coffee slush and then to a few shops nearby on Dong Khoi Street, where we bought more gifts – embroidered purses, t-shirts, a $5 silk tie for Dirck (how is that even possible?) and bracelets made from water buffalo horns. Things are crazy cheap. I’ve bought enough gifts for several holidays and birthdays.

Back at Ma Maison, our host arranged for me to have what turned out to be the best massage I’ve ever had. I had two women working on me for an hour, pretty much covered all the body parts except the private ones. Even were massaging my ears. Cost $12. I gave a tip although I gather it’s not expected. They seemed surprised.

Dinner was at Cuc Gach Quan, one of Saigon’s finest (Mr. Ha was impressed that I’d reserved a table there), in a relatively quiet and high-rent bit of District 3. It’s in a beautiful old home that the architect owner has transformed into a culinary oasis. You walk through an opening in a wall into a lush courtyard garden and into a country rustic building with contemporary art, old wood, an interior atrium with a tiled pond with a few koi swimming around. There are little dining areas on various levels and you have to bend your head to walk through the opening into some of them (one poor waiter forget to do this.) The food is based on the country fare of the architect owner’s grandmother. Standouts were homemade tofu sauteed in a chili and lemongrass sauce served with shreds of something (onion?) on top and fish stewed in a heavy clay pot. It was so moist and flavorful, a rare treat with fish. We tried the traditional sour soup but it was a bit too strange. Sorry to report that we have not eaten Pho during our trip, despite ample opportunity (our hotels serve it for breakfast). We just find it too hot and humid to have soup. (Vietnamese disagree.)

One thing that has struck me is that we’ve seen a lot of Asian 20- and 30-somethings at the more expensive, more cutting edge cuisine restaurants…lots of young foodies. Last night, I watched two 20-something Asian guys eat at Cuc Gach Quan and spend much of the meal looking at their respective cell phones. Cell phone use is ubiquitous — we’ve seen monks on their cell phones, motorbike riders, a rural villager with water buffalo and cell phone, an elderly woman on the bus. They also start their conversation with “hello.”

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Ma Maison, L’usine, the (not so) Secret Garden, War Remnants Museum, Quan Loan — Saturday in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)

Our walk thru District 3 on a Saturday morning

Dirck reports that we walked 20,000 steps today. Add to that 90 degree heat/humidity that the weather report accurately described as “feels like 100.” We attempted to walk from our sweet little French hotel Ma Maison (in somewhat out of the way District 3 but a real neighborhood!) to the tourist hub of District 1 and managed to get lost and over-walked. We ended up in a cab and my T-shirt dress was so drenched with sweat that I bought an $8 saffron-colored gauzy top (that I later realized made me look like an overfed female monk) at the famous but chaotic Ben Thánh market. soon that was drenched too. (Dirck does not perspire.)

Walk up these steps

We saw bits of chic Saigon, tourist Saigon and real life Saigon today, a great mix. As promised there are an astonishing number of motorbikes in the streets, some with up to four people, sometimes mom, dad and little kids, sometimes grandma, mom and kids. There aren’t many stoplights in our neighborhood (and no one seems to honor the crosswalks) so you just have to walk in front of two way moving traffic slowly but confidently with your arm somewhat extended.

And up more

For food well worth the walk

Fortunately we got some practice in Hanoi, which seems tame compared to here. Here we also often have to walk on the side of the street because the sidewalk is filled with people eating, drinking or displaying wares, plus parked motorbikes. In District 1, navigating the traffic is a little easier — there are stoplights and wider sidewalks.

 

Our Hanoi street food guide Mark came thru again with fantastic dining recommendations, just in time. We were sitting in a very cool cafe called L’Usine, when his email arrived with suggestions including L’Usine (which I got from a NYT 36 hours story.)

We’ve learned that some of the coolest places tend to be hidden. You have to walk through a worn alley and up several flights of worn steps, sometimes past what appears to be someone’s home and suddenly you enter chic land and the restaurant, cafe, brewpub or boutique is packed, mostly with well-heeled Asians (hard for me to tell where from) but also some western tourists. That was the case with The Secret Garden, on an open air fourth floor terrace festively decorated, with views of nearby skyscrapers. We heard a rooster crow and realized there was a caged rooster among the many wood tables. The food was amazing. We shared stir fried beef salad on shredded morning glory (a type of green) and little discs of deep fried sticky rice topped with bits of shrimp and pork and crunchy bits of fried battered (I think).

Tonight we went to a completely different place, Quan Loan, a tiny street food outfit with a guy cooking pork and beef skewers on a little grill and groups of men dining at low tables in plastic chairs, drinking a lot of beer. The chunks of grilled pork served with a salty sauce were to die for. We also had some clams in lemongrass broth, served with a chili sweetish dipping sauce and lots of fresh herbs, was refreshingly light and delicate. Oh and we went to groovy Pasteur Street Brewery and had ice cold craft beer, sitting with lots of younger folks.

When we weren’t eating, we did do some sight seeing. The most dramatic was the War Remnants Museum, which recounts what we call “the Vietnam War” from the Vietnamese perspective. needless to say, the U.S. does not come off well and that was an interesting experience in of itself to see our country painted as the bad guy, sadly with good reason (although none of the brutality of the VC was mentioned.) For the first time, I felt like today’s Germans must feel, regarding their past.

On the first floor we had a choice of an exhibit on war atrocities or on agent orange. We went to it all. There was also a moving exhibit about the many war photographers killed on assignment, with examples of their work, and an interesting temporary exhibit on the anti-war efforts of U.S. Soldiers, which I had forgotten about. The portrayal of the soldiers was a mixed bag – there are scenes from My Lai and another atrocity that later Senator/presidential candidate John Kerry was involved with (that I don’t remember hearing about) but also some poignant shots of young soldiers in awful circumstances, many drafted to fight and some who later resisted. I still find it amazing that the Vietnamese are so welcoming to American tourists although I get the economic reasons for this.

Our hotel, Ma Maison, has only a few rooms and is in an elegant old French colonial building completely hidden from the main street and surrounded by much more ordinary buildings. The cab dropped us off in front of a little alley (off of a larger alley or “hem” that looks like a street) lined with the occasional humble house or bodega that  opened into a small courtyard, bordered by a motorcycle shop, a modern tower block and a few single story houses. As is often the case with the places we stay here, you step in off the teaming streets and you are in a world apart, a rarefied world, in this case with a Provencal armoire, plush mattress, a wrought iron balcony, heavy curtains, water bottles hidden in shiny gold cloth sacks and even the toothpaste in a little cloth sack. The young boys who work here are dressed in old-fashioned bellhop shirts, with braided epaulets (they like a Broadway costume) and the manager is an older man who takes his job very seriously and sat us down with several maps to explain the lay of the land and doted over us at breakfast in the sweet little courtyard where we ate under pink bougainvillea.

Tonight, after a taxi back to our neighborhood, I got a smoothie (made with some unfamiliar white fruit that looked a bit like a lychee) from the busy shop on our  Hem (alley) corner and we sat with locals, enjoying the night and watching the motorbikes buzz by. Almost felt like a night at Snookies, our neighborhood ice cream shop in DSM. But very different too.

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More shopping, heat, Miss Ly Restaurant, DaNang Airport, Cambodia AngkorAir — Hoi An

Photos courtesy of Vespa Adventures, which arrived a day after our great ride

We are in the huge gleaming ultra modern DaNang Airport waiting to board a Cambodia Angkor Air flight to Siem Reap. Yet again, we encountered no bag fees – we checked two bags and are carrying on our spare roll up bag that we broke out today (yes, we are buying lots of gifts.)

Our last day in Hoi An, we wandered around in the heat and humidity (reminds us of Kyoto but no one uses cloth washcloths to mop up, except what appears to be the occasional female Japanese tourist), popping into shops, admiring the scenery, watching many couples do their glamor shots. Near one elegantly dressed couple, we got to talking with a handsome young American who was a friend of the couple. He explained that they all are college kids in San Francisco/Berkeley and the couple is getting married here. The groom is American Vietnamese, the bride is from Hoi An… The young guy showed us other glamor photos the couple has taken. (He also said somewhat nervously that he has been told he is the best man in the wedding.)

We had coffee at Cafe Công, where cute young people are dressed in Green Khaki military/viet Cong inspired gear. Strange that young Vietnamese are now serving fancy coffees to American tourists instead of serving in the military (and fighting with or against Americans.)

Lunch was at Miss Ly, staffed by many young attractive women in pink blouses. We had two Hoi An specialties that we tried earlier at the Central MarketWhite Rose dumplings and Cau Lau and another that was also delicious, almost like a crisp tortilla but a wonton, topped with a Marinated mixture of delicately cut vegetables , shrimp and chicken.

Our hotel arranged a taxi that turned out to be a big flashy van with six seats and lots of fake gold (we decided it was the Trump van) and intense AC and we drove 45 minutes to DeNang which looks a bit like Miami or Palm Springs with huge palatial resorts in various stages of completion. Our driver also pointed out some old airplane hangers that he mentioned were part of a former US Military Base. “USA number one country,” he said to us without any apparent malice. We think this is the base Dirck’s brother likely was flown to as a young soldier.

Yesterday’s coffee roaster visit in the countryside

Passion Fruit at the Central Market

Seafood at Central Market

Lots of pork here.

My sad attempt at a glamour pose

 

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Vespa ride into the countryside, Massage, Nu Eatery – Hoi An

I would say this was among the best spent $89 (per person) on this trip: a five hour Vespa Adventures tour of the rural countryside outside Hoi An on the back of a spiffy Vespa driven by a young Vietnamese guide named “Leo.” Dirck’s driver was a young guy named Nine. Not only was it fun to join the crowd of motorbikes zipping through town and into the countryside. We didn’t worry about having to navigate on our own and Leo took us to some wonderful out of the way spots we never would have found — and patiently answered any question we wanted to ask a Vietnamese person. (We even talked about contraception which Leo credited with reducing family size after the year 2000 when the government launched a pr campaign about birth control and the need to have two babies tops.)

We visited a lovely 400-year-old ancestral home overlooking a walled in water garden with pink lotus blossoms. Next stop a spot at the edge of the river where men were making large wooden fishing boats using old methods (presumably) including fire to bend the flat wooden boards to make hull. Zipping past more bright green rice paddies and little villages with simple concrete structures, bright flowers and little scruffy dogs on roam (sadly we hit one little one that suddenly ran out in front of us) we ended up inside a modern house, apparently built for a family whose house by the river was destroyed by a flood. Behind a screen blocking the sun we found two women sitting on the floor making a beautiful floor mat using an old fashioned loom. After that we went to a more rudimentary farmhouse and into a dark room with a cauldron over a fire and learned how to make rice cakes the size of a dinner plate, dipping white batter with black and white seeds onto a griddle of sorts, using a tool to smooth it out and another tool akin to a rolling pin to roll it up. You roll it onto a flat screen to dry in the sun. We also sat down and ate a cracker. From there we went to a n open air coffee roaster where we drank cafe sua under a thatched room next to a guy plinking away on his lap top. Then we returned to Cafe Zoom, on the edge of the city/countryside for a huge and delicious lunch. Five hours flew by.

This afternoon I had a one hour massage and 1/2 hour facial at a little spa the hotel guy recommended. $30 total. And tonight after stopping for a swim at our resort pool, we ended up back at the Shamrock Pub, people watching at sunset and chatting with some Aussies. We had perhaps our most creative meal at Nu Eatery, a little hole in the wall that reminded me of the East village (NYC) restaurant Prune. The small place was packed with young foodies from the US, France, England and Asia. We had a killer version of bao (steamed bun) stuffed with a chunk of succulent pork, a pickle and a yellow sauce; a noodle dish with Spicy pork ragu (which seemed almost Italian) and a Bahn Minh that was more like a pulled pork sandwich on a brioche bun with melted cheese (the first melted cheese we’ve seen here.) Now we are savoring our last night in Hoi An, sitting on our ancient second floor wooden balcony, watching the crowd thin out. Tomorrow they will be out in force again.

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Vinh Hung Heritage, Co Mai – a whole different Hoi An

As expected, staying at the 200-year-old Vinh Hung Heritage Hotel in the middle of the Ancient Town is a strange experience and completely different than our sweet little Halo Homestay.

It is literally the difference between light and dark. Halo is all white marble, concrete, tile, walls and lots of sunlight. Vinh Hung is all dark wood floors,paneling, walls, carved armoire and other heavy furniture. There are only six rooms here and it is the only place you can stay overnight right in the Ancient Town. This is an old spice merchants house, with a small two-story central courtyard, very creaky floors, doors that stick and old Asian pottery. There is AC though but a drip. So we have turned it off and hope the street noise won’t be bothersome. The cost is different too $77 a night rather than $18 but we also don’t have to ride bikes into town. We are here.

Tonight we also splurged on a fancy dinner at Co Mai but we are talking $47 for a five course tasting menu and two drinks, vs. about $8-$10 that we have been spending for street food. For lunch, we shared a crowded table at Beo Bahn, a tiny place recommended by Hanoi foodie Mark for com gai, a simple rice and shredded chicken dish.

We decided to go to Co Mai because I was curious about how a French chef would reinterpret Vietnamese food. The restaurant is also in one of the 200-year-old structures here and we sat on the second floor with the dark wood window open so we could see all the action below at a street market.

Caramelized prawns

The food went from simple (“ocean soup” that looked, tasted and smelled like the ocean – light, salty, watery, a little murky, with small pieces of seafood, veg, and maybe seaweed) to complex (a little bowl of passion fruit cake with a small scoop of curry sorbet, one of three such concoctions on our dessert plate. The server brought over what looked like a cinnamon stick the size of my forearm and grated flecks of it onto on little bowls).

Yes, he’s looking at his cellphone

In the morning we road our rickety Homestay bikes to the countryside and beach, this time choosing narrow concrete paths between the rice paddies and fish farms, encountering the occasional water buffalo or farmer. The scenes are an old/new world mashup – a farmer in a traditional pointed hat, squatting in the shade beside a water buffalo and talking on his cell phone; small villages with high rises in the distance near cui dai beach.

View from a boat of the ancient town

My parents went to Thailand back in the day, which we’ve heard has now become almost too tourist friendly. Now younger generations go to Vietnam, which has me wondering how Vietnam will change/has changed. We are searching for authenticity and in the process, destroying it…maybe. Truth be told, there are way too many tourists here. Trying to cross one of the main pedestrian bridges here brought up unpleasant memories of a similar experience in Prague. The crowd was so thick it was very uncomfortable.But I see why the tourists are here. Like Venice, it is exotic and otherworldly and so vibrant. Our Homestay family opened their business about 3-4 years ago and is seeing fewer customers because there is more competition- new homestays and hotels everywhere. But then people here seem to be competing everywhere – the street vendors, restaurants, shop keepers, spas, coffee shops, tour operators. This is the first communist country I have visited and that’s easy to forget with raw capitalism everywhere.

The weather has been very hot and humid. My clothes were drenched with sweat after our bike ride. But It suddenly got slightly cooler last night. Around 3 pm, we cooled off in the pool of a nearby resort on the river that is a sister hotel to ours and chugged along the river for a free sunlight cruise – two perks of this strange old place. Today I plan to take advantage of another perk – a free 30 minute foot massage. Dirck will pass.

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Markets, French quarter, foot massage, Morning Glory – Hoi An

We knew this moment would come but it came unexpectedly, while sitting at our favorite place for a cold drink — Cafe Mia. We started talking about how well Vietnam seems to be doing under communism and what a waste the Lives lost in the war was. Dirck started crying. And then I did. We talked about his brother Gregg, killed in combat here at age 19 and by all accounts a great kid from Kansas.

We moved on. It is very easy to fritter away hours here, wandering down atmospheric old streets lined with mustard-colored, dark wood and ceramic disc roofs. We are sitting on the second floor balcony of one of the most famous, the 200 year old Vinh Hung  Heritage Hotel, looking down on the world passing by at 8:45 pm. Shops still open, people still sauntering, speaking all kinds of languages, some young couples wearing matching outfits (which appears to be a thing) and men taking glamour shots of their spouse/girlfriend in various sultry poses.

This morning, the street was a little quieter, which is apparently prime time for couples to pose for photos, often in elegant outfits. We made it through the night without too much noise. Our room is very dark but well air conditioned and a good mattress. I am pretty sure I felt a mouse (hoping it was a mouse) scurry down the wood hall leading to this balcony. Oh well, kind of like home.

We shopped in the French quarter which seems to have the nicest shops, but still reasonable prices. I bought too leather satchels for $40 (combined), a silk lantern, a very cute outfit for Linus, pillow cases with mod photos of Asian women. We stopped in the Central market, sitting at one of the many stalls with a nice guy from Singapore (who travels annually to a small town in Wisconsin that make packaging equipment that he sells in Asia. We ate two more famous dishes, Cam Lau (noodles in a broth with bbq pork and rice croutons. And rose dumplings – almost like Asian ravioli but much lighter.

This afternoon we returned to our “resort” and I got my free 30 minute foot massage, my first ever foot massage. heavenly. The spa was next to another pool we didn’t see yesterday. Smaller, cooler water, more secluded and we had it all to ourselves. Great way to cool off and end the day. Next stop the Shamrock Pub, a popular cafe along the river, with live music by a guy singing (well) all my favorite songs from the 70s and beyond, from Cat Stevens to U2. Great people watching, lit lanterns along the riverfront and on boats gliding along the water. We have gotten used to the crowds and are better st dealing with them and avoiding them. next time, I’d stay in the French quarter, perhaps.

Dinner tonight at Morning Glory was superb. The place was packed for good reason. They do great takes on popular street food and other local dishes. Our favorite was pork stuffed squid. Unreal.

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Biking to An Bang beach, Tan Thánh Beach/salt Pub, Street food, Precious Heritage Museum, Mia coffee (for craft beer), leather, Halo Homestay— Hoi An

We took advantage of our Homestay’s out-of-the-crazy ancient city location and its free bikes to ride about 20 minutes to An Bang Beach. I forgot this is a beach town. We were quickly out of the city and riding past rice patties with the occasional water buffalo 🐃 lolling around. The beach is gorgeous — soft tan sand and crashing waves of muddy brown water. More trash in spots than we like but we kept walking along the water and found ourselves right in front of a place I’d read about in the excellent March 2019 NYTimes 36 Hours on Hoi An that has served us so well! The salt pub looks more like a tropical paradise with lounge chairs on the sand and thatched roofs. We got fantastic drinks (coffee sua for dirck, passion. Fruit/ pineapple juice for me and later a smoothie with several fruits including passion fruit.

That’s me, watching in admiration and learning from the two girls how to eat whatever we were eating

We had a nice where-have -you-been chat with a well traveled Kent, Australia couple who were lounging in the sun next to us. They also mentioned there was torrential rain in a Hoi An for the 3 days before we arrived so we got lucky. It seems to rain once a day briefly and intensely. By the time we have gotten our raincoats out and on, it stops and we are even hotter. We got about waist deep in the crashing waves (the water is almost too warm) but I didn’t want to get my eat wet, which is on the mend thx to my antibiotics regimen.

This afternoon we peddled into Hoi An and found one of the fantastic street vendors our Hanoi food guide Mark recommended. Mark knows his stuff and it has been such a treat to know which of the many street food vendors are best. We sat on plastic stools at a very busy street food stand and had superb Banh beocombination of shrimp dumplings, meat and who knows what else. We have at least 4 other famous street foods to try. Crazy!

 We were the only westerners and people, especially two young girls, were very kind — showing us how to eat with a wood utensil that was a cross between a knife and a chopstick and which sauce to dip which food in. That was lunch at about 3 pm (about $4).

Ethnic garb made from tree bark

We wandered to the less crowded and classier part of the ancient town, at the eastern end to visit Precious Heritage Museum, a remarkable place and effort by a French photographer who has made it his life’s work to photograph people from Vietnam’s many ethnic minorities and collect an authentic costume from each, which are on display. The photos are for sale, with proceeds going to the museum and some of the people photographed. Amazing.

We wandered into a leather shop next door and each left with a hand made $20 leather belt (from water buffalo hide). I was tempted to buy a purse or shoes. Next to the leather shop is MIa coffee, in a two story French colonial building that looked like something out of New Orleans. I later learned we were in the French Quarter. We had beer (not coffee) since they also have craft brews and fries with rosemary and salt. That was our late dinner.

We walked our bikes through the throngs of tourists at 7:30 pm in the ancient town on a Saturday night and then rode the rest of the way, feeling more confident than last night. Love this town. It’s been fun staying at Halo Homestay. Very well run and spanking clean and interesting to catch glimpses of family life and a real neighborhood, where we hear the occasional rooster.

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