Thursday, September 29, 2011

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: Ice cream Meltdown (Video)

I think we've all had one of those days.  You're cranky, don't feel well and things just aren't going your way.  You try to ignore it and then some small inconsequential annoyance pushes you over the edge.

Well that was me on Day 54 of our "Big Trip."  I wanted ice cream and a chain restaurant Lotteria (akin to McDonald's) had a large display showing a variety of delicious ice cream you could order.  But, they didn't actually have any ice cream!  That was it -- inconsequential annoyance that led to my meltdown and my desire to "go home" where I could eat all the ice cream I wanted.

This happened to me occasionally in Korea.  I was having a bad day and suddenly some small cultural difference irked me greatly and suddenly I wanted to "go home."  It passes and I'm very happy to be where I am.  Although I'm still in the mood for some ice cream!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Lunch Lady: Serving Soup in Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon, Vietnam

We first saw the Lunch Lady on TV.  My husband and I love the Travel Channel's show "Anthony Bourdain:  No Reservations."  He visited the Lunch Lady for her famous soup during a stop in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).  Everyday she makes something different depending on what looks good at the market.  She serves the locals until she runs out of soup.  Street food doesn't get any better than this!

So, of course when we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) we wanted to see the Lunch Lady and try her soup.  We hopped on a motorbike taxi and were on our way.  When we spotted her shady street food corner, she looked up at us and flashed a big smile.  She knew we were there for her.

In a few minutes we had bowls of  hot soup and fresh spring rolls.  I don't know the name of our soup, but I do know it was the best I've tasted in Vietnam.  We were there before noon, and shortly afterward every table and chair was taken.  She's popular and deserves to be.  The food is delicious and fresh and incredibly cheap.

Cost of Lunch:  2 bowls of soup + 4 fresh spring rolls + 2 sodas = 90,000 Vietnamese Dong ($4.50)

Watch my video for directions on how to get to the lunch lady.  You can also access a helpful map here.  My thanks to the "Gastronomer" -- this blog helped up to find the Lunch Lady on our trip.  So go ahead and add the Lunch Lady to your travel itinerary and enjoy the soup!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: Motorbikes are a Must!

Motorbikes will forever remind me of Vietnam.  In no other country are the two-wheeled transport more ubiquitous.   They are every where, clogging up the small streets of Hanoi and roaring through the big boulevards of Ho Chi Minh City.  The traffic is so dense and the lack of traffic rules so rampant that just crossing the street seems like an Olympic exercise in timing and agility.  At first you follow the locals, a bit timid.  Eventually you gain enough confidence that you decide it’s time to ride a bike yourself.

It’s a good decision – do it!  Riding a motorbike in Vietnam is a thrill.   Take a motorbike taxi, a motorbike tour, or simply ride around aimlessly exploring unseen corners of local cities and the countryside.   There’s a feeling of freedom and joy that will accompany your ride and certainly you’ll want to do it again.  I know I did…I still do!

Travel Tip:   Renting a motorbike in Vietnam is easy.  There are many local travel agencies that can help you.  Some hotels also offer rentals.  For a full 24 hour day, expect to pay between $5-$10, plus gas.   Some rental companies include insurance, others do not.  Make sure you’re provided with a helmet and wear it.  It’s also a good idea to get a bike lock from the rental agency.  In Vietnam, you drive on the right and I would suggest avoiding driving at night before you’re experienced on the roads.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Nha Trang, Vietnam: Beach Review

Nha Trang wasn’t on our original Vietnam itinerary, but along the way we got the desire to relax at the beach.    In Vietnam, a few places come to mind when you think “beach” – Mui Ne, Phu Quoc, and Nha Trang.   We’d just heard a dismal review of Mui Ne from fellow travelers and Phu Quoc is an island, making it a bit more difficult/expensive to get to.  So, that settled it…we would go to Nha Trang.

We’d been told Nha Trang’s municipal beach was not just the best in Vietnam, but one of the best in the world.  We spent 2 nights here and we didn’t do much but sit on the beach and eat good food.

So, what did we think of the beach? Watch my video for a full review.

Travel Tip #1:  You can find cheap, nice accommodation in Nha Trang.  We stayed at the Ruby Hotel in a private/ensuite room for $11 total per night for two people.  The room was large and clean and it was only a 5 minute walk to the beach.  We booked through Hostelworld.

Travel Tip #2:  Travel at night.  We arrived in Nha Trang by night bus from Hoi An.  Arriving at 6am, we had a full day to relax.   Departing, we took a 10pm train to Ho Chi Minh City.  Again, we had a full day to enjoy the beach.  Our hotel was even kind enough to let us use a room to shower and change before our travels.  This made our stay in Nha Trang feel longer and more relaxed.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Hoi An, Vietnam: Beach Travel Review

Arriving in Hoi An, the beach was an after thought.  We were there to see the historic core of the city, which is quite charming and we even splurged on some tailored clothes.  However, we soon learned just how close the beach was, so we decided to check it out.  We rented bicycles and thoroughly enjoyed our short ride to the coast.  You may not come to Hoi An for the beaches, but you may stay because of them!  What a delightful surprise -- these beaches are pristine and uncrowded.

There are two popular beach options just outside the city center.  Learn about them in my video.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Hue, Vietnam: Café on Thu Wheels Motorbike Tour

Thank goodness for travel reviews.  That’s how we found out about Café on Thu Wheels.  We checked out Trip Advisor’s top attractions in Hue and Café on Thu Wheels was at the top of the list.  We trusted the high praise and decided to book a tour ourselves.  We were not disappointed.

Café on Thu Wheels offers a 5 hour city tour that includes stops at The Citadel, Thien Mu Pagoda, The Mausoleum of Tu Duc, and former French bunkers hidden in the woods.  You begin by travelling through rice paddies in the countryside and along quiet back roads and narrow trails.  Toward the end of the tour, you work your way back into the city.  You cover a lot of ground and the entire time you’re on the back of a motorbike.  Your guide is also your driver.  It’s a wonderful way to see Hue and I highly recommend it.

For a full review and directions to Café on Thu Wheels, watch my video.