There is quite a bit of war tourism in Vietnam: In Ho Chi Minh, the main spots we saw related to this were the Cu Chi Tunnels, museums (including the War Remnants Museums which we have yet to write about), and the Reunification Palace.
The Reunification Palace was just a few kilometer walk from our AirBNB (into the heart of District 1). The streets there can be a little crazy, but really, it wasn’t too difficult to manage. We set out just after noon and made our way towards the Palace. It is located at 135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street, in District 1.
You enter the grounds via a small entry building, where you purchase your tickets. The tickets cost 30,000 Dong each (~ $1.50). There was a short line when we visited. From there, you are free to wander the grounds and explore the expansive campus.
We made our way around the outside perimeter first, before venturing inside. The grounds were well kept. A large fountain graced the front and a few tanks (including the one that crashed the gate in 1975) were off to the side. We also found a nice patch of grass to practice some AcroYoga in, which we’ve been slacking on for years now. It felt great to do. Near the back end of the palace are some tennis courts and a few other sports courts.
From there, we proceeded in towards the palace itself.
The palace was originally built in 1873 and served as the governor’s residence from 1887 to 1945. During World War II, the palace changed hands from colonial France to Japan, and then back to France. In 1954, after years of fighting with the French, the Vietnamese managed to win independence, and became divided along the 17th parallel into North and South Vietnam. The South declared the palace, Independence Palace, and it served as the primary government building. In 1962, a North Vietnamese assassination attempt bombed the entire left wing of the palace, rendering it impossible to restore. So the current ruler of the time, Diem, ordered the whole palace demolished and commissioned a new building. The palace was built in 1963 and inaugurated in 1966. It served as the headquarters for the American campaign during the Vietnam War. On 8 April 1975, a communist spy managed to pilot a F-5 undetected and bombed the palace but caused no significant damage. The Palace fell on April 30, and signaled the end of the war. In November of 1975, negotiations between the North and South brought the two Vietnams together and the palace was renamed the Reunification Palace.
The palace is quite opulent, with 5 floors and a roof top, all of which can be visited. A large central staircase could get you up and down, as well as stairs at the end of each wing. Elevators also are placed throughout, but they are quite tiny and can only hold two or three people at most. There are many halls, adorned with gold, ivory, and all manner of luxurious materials. Each hall also served it’s own purpose and function.
A residential area was near the top with a nice grotto open to the sky to admire.
On the roof was an area originally designed as an area to meditate, but was eventually turned into a dance floor for partying. The entire palace was very open air, and felt quite welcoming.
On the bottom floor, you can check out the industrial kitchen that served the entire palace.
We managed to spend a good two hours checking out the grounds. If you want, you can take a tour with a guide. But we just elected to walk around by ourselves and read the placards. It’s certainly worth checking out if you’re in Ho Chi Minh, plus it’s located near a bunch of other great sites!
Soon after learning about this traditional art special to Vietnam- I put it on my must-do list for the country. We knew we would have multiple opportunities to catch a water puppet show so we put it off in Ho Ch Minh while we did other activities which could only be found there such as the War Remnants Museum, the Cu Chi Tunnels, and so on. Our first glimpse of a water puppet theater stage occurred there, though, in the Museum of Vietnamese History. There was a room with a stage and seating off to the side of one of the museum rooms where you could catch shows at certain times. This show, while on a smaller “stage” than the show we ended up seeing, is allegedly quite good! We might have gone except that it was starting as we arrived so we didn’t have much time to debate the extra little cost (we were on quite a budget at that time). There were other options in Ho Chi Minh as well, but ultimately we ended up going to the famous Thang Long Water Puppet Theater after making it to Hanoi.
One special thing about seeing the show there is that water puppetry actually originated in north Vietnam (specifically in the Red Delta River area in the north) back in the 11th century. Apparently this was a form of entertainment used by villagers when their rice fields were flooded. They were sometimes used to celebrate the end of the season (and possibly on other special occasions). In the old days, they would build pagodas in the rice fields which could hide the puppeteers who would stand in the (waist to chest deep) water controlling the puppets. The water hid the puppet controls and served as a stage. Back then, they would also often be dealing with cold water which could have leeches and water-borne diseases in order to put on these shows.
The Thang Long Water Puppet Theater was established in 1969 as a way to preserve tradition and increase tourism. The puppets they use are carved from wood and are controlled with bamboo rods and string. Scenes and skits performed in the show address aspects of daily life for rural farmers like fishing and farming, as well as performances relating to folklore, festivals, and more. Water puppet performers from this theater have toured 40 countries to put on shows as well. If you’d like to get a glimpse of what to expect, you can check out some videos on youtube.
Anyway, this was one of the first things we did our first time in Hanoi. Our last 10 days or so in HCM was spent away from District 1 (location of a lot of the touristy stuff) and was during the period of Tet so we had plenty of time to get work done and were able to go out and sight-see pretty immediately once we got to Hanoi. On our first day out we walked quite a bit but I believe it was the next day we chose to walk to the theater. It’s located near Hoan Kiem Lake and lots of other neat activities in the Old Quarter, but was quite a long walk from our Airbnb at the time.
When we got to the theater, they were sold out! Be aware that this could happen to you due to its popularity.
We did not find tickets available online at the time and it seems it may be fairly common for them to sell out early for the day and sometimes even the next day or two. So- we bought tickets for the next day, got some coffee (for Kyle) and tea (for me) and then wandered around the area proceeding to get quite lost, making our journey back hours longer.
The next day we were so exhausted we decided to just get a taxi down to the theater for our show time. The funny thing is that all of this could have been avoided because after our 10 days on Cat Ba we ended up staying at a place just around the corner from the theater! That’s how things go I guess! Fortunately, like everything else, transportation is pretty cheap there and our taxi ride only cost us about $2 and we walked the way back (pretty sure we got lost again).
Overall, we really enjoyed the show. I noticed from online reviews that it’s not everyone’s thing- but it was our’s! We weren’t entirely sure what to expect but here are some of the things we liked: 1. It was educational. I felt like I learned a little bit about the history of the area and even a little bit about current life for rural villagers in Vietnam. There were scenes of fishing, festival events, etc. 2. It was entertaining. The show even made me laugh out loud a couple times. 3. It was slightly interactive (like smoke for certain parts and dragons spraying out water- though not really at you per se). 4. The music. A traditional Vietnamese orchestra including a Dan bau, bamboo flutes, drums, and more plays as an accompaniment/accent to the show. There is also some Cheo (a type of opera) singing.
The only thing that sort of got in the way for us was that we couldn’t understand what the puppets were saying (their “voice actors” spoke in Vietnamese). We didn’t mind because we were in Vietnam, but do feel we might have missed a few things or could have learned more if it was in English or we knew Vietnamese. Still, with many parts the music, tone, and actions of the puppets helped communicate things to us.
Here is the info: Address: 57B Dinh Tien Hoang – Hanoi – Vietnam Cost: 100k dong (~$5) Times: I see varying things online so I would just check in person. Show times are mostly in the afternoon/evening, I believe, though. Website: www.thanglongwaterpuppet.org Other info: Shows last for one hour.
In the same way we reviewed ice cream bars in Korea and Malaysia, and soju and other alcoholic beverages in Korea, we also reviewed some of the new fruits we tried in Southeast Asia! Oh how I could go for some of these fruits now! Of course, I am a big fan of fruit but even Kyle who is not usually big on fruit found himself eating it often when we were in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, and (especially) Vietnam. Many of these were packed with nutrients, keeping us healthy while we worked and traveled.
We had actually already tried a couple of these (I’ll mention it) in the U.S., but there were others we hadn’t even heard of until we saw them! Not all of these fruits are native to Asia. Some, like dragonfruit and rambutan actually originate in regions in the Americas but they have all come to be common in parts of SE Asia. Because of the weather, many are available year-round. With the growth of supermarkets like Whole Foods, some are bound to be available in the U.S. more frequently now as well, though. Once we are back in San Jose we plan to return to the big Asian grocery stores there in hopes of finding some of them. Unfortunately, there is no way most (if any) of it will be as cheap as it was in Asia, but we’ll see!
For each fruit I’ll note the name we used and other names it may go by, where we tried it first, a little bit about our experience with it, our initial reviews, and variations we encountered. At the end I will also mention some fruits we didn’t get to try and our experiences with some other fruits across our travels.
Dragonfruit Also known as: pitaya/pitahaya We first tried it in: Saigon, Vietnam (District 1) Story: Due to our circumstances, Vietnam was a sort of last minute decision (I believe we bought tickets less than a week in advance) and we found ourselves a little preoccupied our last few days in Kuala Lumpur so we didn’t have time to do a lot of research on the country before we arrived in Ho Chi Minh. That actually made it even more fun! Really! We actually got to experience a little shock. Anyway, once we arrived in Ho Chi Minh, as per usual, we found ourselves to be hungry. We went wandering but all we found was people selling food in little stands on the street and we had trouble discerning what might be vegetarian (or really what any of the food was in general). Exhausted due to the day’s journey there, we returned to our place and Kyle went out looking for groceries. He returned with a bunch of fruit (including dragonfruit) he had bought in what he said had appeared to be someone’s living room to give us energy to figure things out. Dragonfruit was one of these fruits. We were both pretty excited about it because of how crazy it looked.
We actually weren’t wild about the taste at first, but over time it really grew on both of us. (We also prefer it refrigerated.) As Kyle says below, you expect it to have some crazy flavor because of the outside, but it is really a rather mild (yet refreshing) fruit. We ate tons of it throughout our time in SE Asia. Initial Reviews: Kyle: “Very visually appealing, but misleading because the flesh is actually a lot milder than you’d be led to believe. The flesh itself is kind of um.. sort of fibrous, but it has a nice crunch to it from the seeds which is kind of similar to a softer kiwi and the flavor is like a more mellowed out kiwi but with a little more sweetness than sourness.” Briana: “My initial reaction was that it definitely wasn’t bad. As I eat more I find that it is quite good. The flavor is mild, not strong (like Kyle said). There is a crisp crunch to it which sort of makes me think of a melon or even an apple but it is much softer. It is quite soft. There is a hint of sourness but it is not sour.” Variations: On Bali we also tried red dragonfruit and really enjoyed it. The taste is a little sweeter but watch out because it stains!
Rambutan Also known as: chôm chôm We first tried it in: Dallas, Texas. Story: I don’t think we reviewed it in Texas (where we found it at the store) but it had been a couple years by the time we tried it again in Vietnam so it felt fairly new again. This was also among the first fruits we tried in Ho Chi Minh. This was a favorite of Kyle’s. Reviews: Kyle: “Initially, I’d say that the rambutan looks like a red gum ball tree but honestly it tastes really sweet to me, very similar to a cherry. It has the texture of a cherry but the flavor of a coconut.” Briana: “The texture is really something different. When you take off the outer layer and eat it, it kind of reminds me of grape without the skin on it but a little bit chewier. It is juicy and sweet.”
Star Apple Also known as: milk fruit, cainito, vú sữa (milky breast in Vietnamese), estrella We first tried it in: Saigon, Vietnam (District 1) Story: Our first place in Ho Chi Minh was actually a studio to ourselves but the owner still sent a maid to bring us a nice fruit gift basket with a card for Tet (the Vietnamese New Year). This fruit, among others, was in the basket. Initial Reviews: Briana: “Soft, sugary. Reminds me a bit of an apple, sort of in between a baked apple and applesauce. I like the firmer part of it. It’s different.” Kyle: “It’s very sweet. It’s got a very light, kind of off texture. Tastes very sugary. Kind of tastes like its own thing.”
Papaya Also known as: papaw, pawpaw, tree melon We first tried it in: Orlando, Florida Story: We tried this together in Orlando and thought it tasted terrible. We wondered if it was over-ripe or just bad but I think we tried it again and also didn’t like it. It’s possible that we had it before this too but if we did we don’t remember. We tried it again in Ho Chi Minh because it was in our fruit basket. Reviews (from HCM): Briana: “Ohh ewghl. Not for me. It seriously reminds me of spaghetti with tomato sauce on it and it just doesn’t seem right for a fruit but that is definitely what it tastes like to me. I do like the aftertaste which is weird to say but it’s more fruit-like. It appears really good and refreshing so I keep wanting to give it more tries but I don’t like the taste, at least for a fruit.” Kyle: “Well it tastes better than I remember. It’s got a decent aftertaste but the initial taste is.. kind of weird. It’s almost got like a burnt flavor.”
Custard Apple Also known as: Sugar apple, Buddha’s head, many more We first tried it in: Saigon, Vietnam (District 1) Story: We don’t remember. Initial reviews:
1st try: Kyle: “Tough, but it doesn’t taste bad.” Briana: “Looks weird. First taste, not so good. I know it’s fruit but it makes me think of chicken. Maybe I will try another one when it’s ripe.”
2nd try: Kyle: “It’s definitely sweet. The seeds are certainly a pain in the ass to get out. It kind of reminds me of like what an avocado would be like if it tasted like a pineapple.” Briana: “It tastes better but I am still bothered by the flesh. I think it would be good for people who like chicken. It is also hard to eat because there are so many big seeds. It also sometimes feels like I can literally taste grains of sugar in it or something.”
Water Apple Also known as: Java apple, wax jambu We first tried it in: Saigon, Vietnam (District 1) Story: I was a bit more fond of these than Kyle and thought they made nice light snacks. Kyle eventually (in Hanoi) tried making it into a spicy fruit salad with mango, water apple and pepper which was good (but spicy). Initial Reviews: Briana: “There is a crispness like a regular apple. It also kind of reminds me a little bit of a potato. It is a little juicy, a little sweet. It’s different, but like many things. It’s good.” Kyle: “It’s honestly kind of tasteless. It’s definitely got that texture of a raw potato. Tastes like a very mild plum. It’s a very mild fruit. I could see this going well with a salsa.”
Jackfruit Also known as: jak We first tried it in: Saigon, Vietnam (Go Vap District) Story: Kyle went downstairs to clean a couple plates and make our lunch one day when he found the mother and uncle of our host laying down on the kitchen floor staring at the ceiling. They took the plates and handed him a plate of jackfruit. We thought it was nice of them and enjoyed the jackfruit, but we were even bigger fans of jackfruit chips. They were one of our favorite snack foods in our place in Hanoi that didn’t really have a kitchen (but we ate them throughout SE Asia). At one point my friend Jessica mentioned that she has seen people eat it in the states so it must be available in some areas there. I have seen it listed as a meat substitute some places as well. Initial Reviews: Kyle: “Got a nice solid texture and flesh. The flavor is kind of mild but what does it remind you of? It kind of has the taste of a slightly unripe mango but crunchier and more mild and slightly nutty. It’s also got a taste almost similar to banana-ish- it doesn’t taste like banana to me but there’s something like it.” Briana: “We had the jackfruit chips here first (a Vietnamese speciality) so were somewhat familiar with the taste. It also kind of reminds me of the milk teas I have been having down at a local cafe. It’s pretty good. I agree somewhat about the comparison to a mango. It almost has a somewhat artificial taste to it.”
Asian Guava Also known as: not sure (Note: the stuff below the dragonfruit is guava. We can’t find a pic of our own of the outside but here is a link to someone else’s pick.) We first tried it in: Hanoi, Vietnam (we think) Story: We picked up one when we first arrived in Hanoi and ate it before it had ripened. It seems that the fruit is always a little hard but it smells and tastes nice. Later, in Weligama, Sri Lanka we tried a guava smoothie, yum! I actually did get paranoid about the seeds for a little bit when I read something about them and appendicitis, though. Initial Reviews: Briana: First try- “Hard and the seeds are hard but good taste. Difficult to bite.”
After ripened (different guava)- “Very good. Strong smell. Would make a great juice. Seeds are just a slight annoyance.” Kyle: “Very pungent aroma that actually reminds me of durian but without the acrid overtones. The taste is very sweet, kind of creamy, very unique to itself and the flesh reminds me of a moderately ripe pear though there are many very hard seeds that can’t be easily chewed but are easily eaten.”
Passion Fruit Also known as: maracuya We first tried it in: Hanoi, Vietnam or Siem Reap, Cambodia Story: Our first taste of passionfruit was in a drink our host Dai made for us in Ho Chi Minh. We can’t remember if we first tried the fruit itself in Hanoi or Cambodia (I didn’t note it by the review) but this was another fruit that, while we liked it at first, our fondness for the taste grew even more over time. In Galle, Sri Lanka (not SE Asia) I tried passionfruit ice cream which was delicious as well. Initial Reviews: Briana: I first had this in a smoothie. I really like it. It’s tart, sour, and sweet. There’s crunchy little black seeds. A little bit slimy, but good. Makes a good juice or smoothie, but it’s also good alone. Kyle: The skin is far more difficult to cut through than you would expect, but once through, a very vibrant and sweet aroma disperses. The interior doesn’t look very appealing, it almost looks rotten, but the slimy appearance is fine because the taste is very good. Tart and sweet with a nice crunch from the seeds. Variations: Bali decided to be different again. At first when we got passion fruit here I thought it had gone bad because the coloring was very different inside. I was hesitant to eat it at first but it turns out it was just a different kind of passionfruit. I would describe the taste as similar but a little more mild/less tart (still tasty). We also tried a slightly different looking one in Sri Lanka.
Longan Also known as: not sure We first tried it in: Siem Reap, Cambodia Story: We just found them at the grocery store and tried them. Initial Reviews: Briana: Less sweet than other fruits. It’s nice that the seed doesn’t stick to the flesh like rambutan. Texture is similar to rambutan, gel-like. Not a strong taste. Kyle: Tastes like a slightly less sweet rambutan. The flesh is thinner than rambutan and has a much larger, but easier to eat around pit.
Snake Fruit Also known as: salak We first tried it in: Siem Reap, Cambodia Story: Same as above. Initial Reviews: Kyle: Very sharp, sour taste. There is a slight caramel after-taste. Kind of a citrus taste. The flesh is decent, though the inner-skin is weird. Very big pit inside. Briana: Soft, sweet, kind of citrusy. There is a skin on the outside that I don’t like, the texture of the flesh is a little weird, but I like the taste.
Mangosteen Also known as: the “Queen of fruit” We first tried it in: Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Story: The elusive mangosteen! We expressed to our friend in Kuala Lumpur that we weren’t fond of the durian smell and he told us that everyone loves mangosteen and we should try it and so we (Kyle in particular) were on the lookout for this fruit for a long time before we finally found it. Part of the reason we had trouble finding it was because Mangosteen has a distinct season. It was May when we finally laid eyes on it. I obviously wasn’t in a mood to review fruit when I first tried it as you see my review is a bit simple but this fruit is yummy! I prefer the parts of the fruit that can come out of the shell properly (so good) than to eat around the seeds, though. We were able to find it in Bali (also Indonesia) as well. Initial Reviews: Kyle: “It’s very sweet. The flesh reminds me of a very ripe peach. Its taste kind of reminds me of a cross between a rambutan and an orange but without the citrusy bit to it.” Briana: “Sweet, tart, soft texture, pretty good.”
Pepino Also known as: sweet cucumber We first tried it in: Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Story: While we were in Yogyakarta proper, we saw it at the store one day and decided to give it a try! We don’t remember seeing it elsewhere. Reviews: Kyle: “Tastes very familiar. It kind of reminds me of a cucumber, but something else as well. Like
cucumber and melon basically. Oh wow, the seeds are sour. It’s a light and cucumber-y kind of fruit. Very refreshing. It’s got the texture of watermelon rind. This could probably be a good replacement for anything that requires cucumber.” Briana: “Immediately reminds me of a cucumber. I agree with Kyle’s cucumber melon combo. Smells and tastes fresh. Could be the new big lotion scent.”
Here are some of the fruits we didn’t try that are available in this region: Durian We did have durian ice cream and we saw durian all over the place but it was so acrid we couldn’t bring ourselves to try the actual fruit. We do regret that in a way but, well, have you ever smelt durian? It’s banned in many public places in Asia. Soursop
We bought this fruit in Yogyakarta but it never ripened. Instead, it just began molding. We were pretty disappointed because it’s supposed to be really good. Pomelo We actually tried this in San Jose but we saw it in Asia but don’t remember trying it again. It’s good, though. Wood apple We asked our host in Sri Lanka about this because wood apple juice was common in the stores there but he said that you don’t really eat it. We tried the juice and it was fine. Pulasan This fruit looks very similar to the rambutan. There is a small chance we could have eaten it thinking it was rambutan but we don’t think so.
There are also a number of fruits that are allegedly available in this region that we didn’t eat because we weren’t as aware of/weren’t looking for and/or don’t remember seeing (or some other reason) including: yangmei, breadfruit, longsat, noni, and sapodilla.
Other fruits from our travels that we have anything to say about (but did not review): Mango
Oh, mangos! We had many different types of mango in Asia. We enjoyed eating them fresh, in smoothies (love those <$1 Vietnamese smoothies) and in cooking. In Kuala Lumpur and Siem Reap I tried mango sticky rice (so good). In Thailand, Kyle started making mango salads. In Indonesia Kyle figured out a method for eating them that many people reading this may already be familiar with but it was exciting for us as it made it a little less messy (see above). We were eating mangos in just about every country until we got to Europe where they got a little more expensive and/or less available. Coconut
Kyle loves coconuts and I didn’t hear the end of it while we were in Asia. I like shaved coconut but I’m not as big on coconut water/drinking out of the coconut. I no longer remember just how many we had but we had quite a few across Asia, including the golden coconut in Sri Lanka. Star Fruit
We enjoy this in the states when we can find it and the same was true in Asia. Lychee
In Petaling Jaya (Kuala Lumpur) we had a lychee juice which meant water with lychees and sugar in it. We also bought lychee drinks from the store in Vietnam. We never did find it to try it on its own though. Kiwi
I’ve always been a fan of kiwi but don’t often get it. In Korea we could sometimes get lots of kiwis for a good deal. That was nice. They aren’t bad here in Budapest, either. Pomegranate
This was the other fruit which we sometimes found good deals on in Korea (and somewhere else). We took advantage of it when we saw them because we both really like them and they are more rare and expensive elsewhere. Bananas
In Vietnam Kyle finally found a banana he liked! We fried up lots of little green bananas as snacks while in Hanoi and Bangkok. In addition to dried jackfruit, I also enjoyed dried bananas as a snack in Vietnam and Cambodia. When we couldn’t find regular bananas I’d always be a little upset though because I like them as a nice filling snack as well. Lime
We didn’t really see lemons much abroad but we did see limes (which were sometimes called lemons). We like to put lime in our drinks and Kyle will sometimes cook with them. In Vietnam and Thailand we had kaffir limes. Berries
Serbia had great deals on frozen berries, especially raspberries and blackberries. The deals on frozen berries in Budapest aren’t bad either. Here I have bought boxes of frozen berries (albeit not large boxes) a couple times (blackberries, strawberries, cranberries) for around $2. In Serbia I had my fair share on oatmeal and in crepes we made. We did not really have any strawberries in Asia because wow can they get expensive! I’m talking $20-$100 for a regular package in the SE Asia countries we visited. I have to wonder who can afford them. They must be for special occasions for the rich or something. I think we did find an alright deal in Korea a couple times, though. Apples
I do enjoy my granny smiths (others too, but those are my go-to). Across the world, if possible, I like to eat at least one a day. They have been available pretty much everywhere but the quality is not always good. Many places I can only find apples covered in bruises, with wormholes, etc. Cherries
We talked about our experiences with cherries in Bcharre in other posts but we also had cherries in Cyprus because there were good deals the first few weeks. Watermelon
Aside from coconut, this is one of Kyle’s favorites. In Sri Lanka our hosts would often serve us watermelon with our morning tea. I have to note that there was variation in taste from the north to south, though. We also ate it in Cyprus when Kyle’s parents bought a large one at a stand on the side of the road. Grapes
Grapes grew above our hot tub in Cyprus which was pretty neat! We ate some of them and also bought some at the store. Jujubes
We almost forgot all about these! We picked up some dried jujubes early on in Korea as a snack food and would eat them anytime either one of us thought we might not be feeling our best because they are supposed to be really good for you. The taste was not bad but there is a seed in the middle.
Across our travels (some in Europe) at some (or multiple) points in time, we also found: pineapples, oranges, melon, plums, and apricots. There is a chance I’ve forgotten something but I think I’ve covered a lot of fruit! Technically avocado, tomato, cucumber are also fruits and we found those as well. Obviously we weren’t able to find all of these fruits in one place at one time. Each place has a little something different to offer. It’s been a great culinary adventure and we are grateful for this healthy part of it.
Ho Chi Minh played a large part in making modern Vietnam what it is today. As such, you’ll see him pretty much everywhere you go in Vietnam. He’s on every piece of money, has a city named after him, and numerous other little spots in honor of his name. In Hanoi, you can find his Mausoleum and a museum dedicated to him.
While in Hanoi the first time, we made a trip into the old quarter and paid a brief visit to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Ho Chi Minh is considered a national hero, having led Vietnam to independence against the French and for establishing the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. After his death in 1969, work was put forward to construct a memorial to him. Work broke ground in 1973 and was completed in 1975.
The mausoleum, which sits at the center of Ba Dinh Square in Hanoi, was rated the sixth most ugly building in the world by CNN in 2012 – but I believe this is a rather harsh statement to make. The structure is 70 feet tall,135 feet wide, and made of gray granite, inspired by Lenin’s Mausoleum in Moscow. The plaza in front is divided into 240 squares. Surrounding the structure is a garden holding 250 different species of plant and flower. The banner beside the structure says “Nuoc Cong Hoa Xa Hoi Chu Nghia Viet Nam muon Nam” – “State of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam forever”.
We did not get to go into the mausoleum itself, because it was late in the day and you can only visit during the morning hours. But generally, you can see the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh in the central hall of the mausoleum. There are strict rules however: be sure to cover legs, not have your hands in your pockets or arms crossed. No talking, walk in two lines. You also cannot eat, drink smoke, or take photography of any kind. They’re quite serious about paying respect to HCM in Vietnam.
The mausoleum is certainly a somber and imposing visit, but if you’re in the old quarter, definitely check it out. It’s hard to miss the big open space.
The hours are:8-11am Tue-Thu, Sat & Sun Dec-Sep, last entry 10.15am (closed 4 Sep-4 Nov).
After touring the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and it’s grounds, we stumbled across the Ho Chi Minh Museum by accident. They are located in roughly the same vicinity. But it was late in the day, and we weren’t really convinced on it either, so we didn’t go and decided we might come back another day.
During one of our last days in Hanoi, upon our return from Cat Ba, we decided to go see the museum since it was (kinda) within walking distance. The building sets the stage for what is to come, a large concrete building – imposing in the Soviet style and pretty much devoid of soul. Hello communism!
Although everything online states that the entrance fee is 30,000 dong, it is really 80,000 dong per person (~$4). So right out of the starting gate, it left us with a bit of a bad taste in the mouth. When you enter, you start by walking up a rather grand staircase and begin the tour on the second floor. It begins with a rather dull, though informative exhibition on the development of the Vietnamese Communist party from it’s conception to present-day.
You then enter another exhibition regarding Ho Chi Minh and his early life as well as who he became. The exhibit is purely a highlight reel, and takes liberties with his life where things are vague. Apparently, he was awesome guy, and was the greatest thing that ever happened to Vietnam. Totally not propagandist at all. Still, it was more interesting to learn about the guy, he certainly had an impact on the country and instigated many programs and did build a national unity.
Climbing up the next layer of stairs, you enter into an atrium with a grand statue of Ho Chi Minh. This room is probably the most inspired of the museum, and feels designed to show you that HCM is the big guy in country if you somehow missed it. Proceeding on into the remaining exhibition room, you do a complete walk around the entire floor. The floor is far more artistic and showcases the struggles of the Vietnamese people, while of course tying it back Ho Chi Minh. Some of the displays seem nonsensical, while others such as the clock showing time of death feel contrived. A few other displays just feel a bit pointless such as random journal writings from HCM.
The museum as a whole is constantly trying to present this auspice of grandeur around the man. To most outsiders, it can come across as coarse and grating – it gets old after the 50th iteration of “westerners are bad, Ho Chi Minh said so”. It also left us a bit angry, seeing how overt the communist propaganda is within the country. The people are held back so much by their government, and the museum is a testament to it.
We finished the museum within about an hour and half. You take an elevator from the top floor down to the ground floor and are released into the gift shop. Our feelings as a whole – way over priced, not particularly interesting nor astounding. I’d say to not place it at the top of your activities list. However, with all that being said, it was enlightening in the sense that you got to see the living propaganda and how pervasive it is within Vietnamese life – and you do learn a fair bit about Ho Chi Minh (if you assume it’s true…).
If you want to go, the address is Chùa Một Cột, Đội Cấn, Ba Đình, Hà Nội, Vietnam. Keep in mind that photography is strictly prohibited (although no one bothered us when we took a few pics) and that saying disparaging things about the Communist Party or Ho Chi Minh is illegal and can possibly get you into some trouble – so keep your voices low or wait till you’re out of earshot before voicing your “opinions”.
I was happy to find that Hanoi is a place where it’s pretty easy to be a vegetarian (or even vegan- relatively). I could almost always find something vegetarian to eat at a given restaurant and there were a number of exclusively vegetarian/vegan restaurants as well. One, or rather, at least two, of these was Loving Hut.
While I didn’t know about Loving Hut for a long time (but have been a vegetarian for a long time), if you are vegan or vegetarian and have lived in a major city, you probably know about it as it’s one of the few vegan chains out there. I first found out about it when I was in college. I would regularly feed the homeless with a group (though a couple times it was just me) starting my freshman year and the local Loving Hut would regularly donate food for the feedings. Thus it would usually be a stop on the way to downtown. While waiting, I would occasionally watch their (what I thought was) strange television programming. I thought it was just some Asian religion which they used as the basis for their beliefs. This, in fact, was true. I have since discovered that the founder of Loving Hut, Ching Hai, developed her own sort of spiritual method (the ‘Quan Yin method’) and has her own tv channel which plays in many Loving Huts. Anyway, despite the television programming featuring the founder, I’m not sure I even realized that it wasn’t just a local restaurant until several years later when I saw one in another state. Since traveling, we have found out that Loving Huts are all over the world (there are something like 138 locations) and the founder, Ching Hai is actually from Vietnam.
We went to two locations in Hanoi. The first place we planned into our itinerary on one of our first outings in Hanoi. We did not yet realize how veg-friendly the city was and wanted to ensure that I would not go hungry as we were planning to do a lot of walking that day. The second we just stumbled upon.
Loving Hut 1: 192 Quán Thánh, Ba Đình, Hà Nội, Vietnam
On our first stay in Hanoi we were staying a bit farther up/away from many of the more touristy activities. One day early on we were walking down this direction to see Chùa Trấn Quốc and to buy tickets to the Water Puppet Theater. We almost missed the restaurant as it was a little off to the side. Not surprisingly, the relatively small (it maybe had 6-9 small tables) restaurant primarily contained other westerners. Vietnamese will sometimes be vegetarian for religious reasons but it did not seem to be very common.
A board to the right showed various famous vegan people and the extensive menu contained many dishes with fake meat ranging from chicken and beef to tuna and shrimp. There were vegan versions of many local Vietnamese dishes. I personally tend to not be much of a fan of the fake meats seeing as I have absolutely no taste or interest for real meat but there were plenty of other options too. I don’t remember the name of the dishesbut I think we both ordered normal vegan-ified Vietnamese dishes and they were good. Our meals together cost 65,000VND (~$2.91).
Loving Hut 2: Loving Hut, 33 Bà Triệu, Hàng Bài, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Not only was this the nicest Loving Hut I’ve ever been in, but it was probably the nicest restaurant in which Kyle and I have dined, ever! After finishing up at the Vietnamese Women’s Museum, we were hungry. All we had to do was walk down the street, though and we saw a Loving Hut sign. Yay!
As we walked towards it, we could not discern the location of the restaurant, though. It looked like there was just a Loving Hut grocery store, something which I didn’t even realize existed. We were a little disappointed as we wanted to eat right then but then I saw another sign which said restaurant. I asked a guard who was standing outside and he said “Yes, right this way,” or something along those lines and escorted us into an elevator. ‘Uh-oh!’, we thought, both in the elevator and as we stepped out. I’m pretty sure the restaurant had only been open a couple months (if even) when we visited (March 2016). The waiters were wearing tuxedos and the decor was elegant. I would have taken more pictures (which don’t really do it justice) but we were pretty much being watched the whole time so I tried to be discreet. We were worried we might not be able to afford anything but we couldn’t really turn around now as there was a guard/escort at the elevator and it would have been rather embarrassing.
They presented us with the menu and we were reminded that, while this was a very nice restaurant, we were still in Vietnam. Prices for many items were a little high for our very tight budget at the time, but it was all extremely reasonable (even cheap) considering the great quality of the place, service, and food. We ordered a single green tea to share in case water was not complementary (as we have found is the case in most restaurants in Asia). I think we may have received water, though. Because we were quite hungry, we also ordered an appetizer to share. We both opted for meals which were at the lower price-end of their dishes, with me getting the fried eggplant and Kyle ordering bun chau him chay.
Each time the waiter brought a dish, another waiter would stand there along side, lifting up the special platter covering thing (or that’s how I remember it) basically and serving us. I think they might have even had on gloves. I remember being just a little uncomfortable from feeling under-dressed (though they did not treat us in this manner) and because I did not know any further etiquette I might ought to have been practicing there but the food was well-presented and delicious.
Our meal at this fancy vegan restaurant which included one appetizer, one drink, and two meals came out to 205,000VND (~$9.19) We were given a discount due to International Women’s Day (though it was not technically on the day- but that was great!) which reduced the price to 185,000VND and we ended up paying 200,000VND. Tipping is not typical in Vietnam but with the discount and quality, we had to do so. I think we thought about giving more but did not have appropriate bills to do so. Plus, we were still on a budget. We had decided to call this a sort ofanniversary meal even though it was a little early.
They provided us with a coupon for a future visit and we did think about returning but did not have a ton of time left in the city and it was not super close to us so we did not end up making it back. I would still highly recommend the place, though and if you don’t go to the cafe at the Vietnamese Women’s museum, it’s a good option for a place to get food afterwards.
From what I can tell online, there may be at least one more Loving Hut in Hanoi as well (looks like: Loving Hut Nguon Coi Restaurant, 3 Ngách 10, Ngõ 121, Phố Chùa Láng, Quận Đống Đa, Hà Nội, Vietnam) but I cannot verify anything about it as we did not visit this location.
If you are looking for more delicious vegan/vegetarian food in Hanoi, also check out: Bo de Quan
For good vegan/vegetarian food on Cat Ba island (just a few hours from Hanoi), check out: Buddha Belly
And finally, for a nice vegetarian restaurant in Ho Chi Minh, take a look at: Hum Vegetarian
According to a Vietnam tourism site, the Vietnamese Women’s Museum is “one of Hanoi’s most overlooked museums and is also one of its best.” I have to agree. The museum was originally established in 1987, but has undergone a number of renovations since that time and had existed in its current state since 2010. It’s run by the Vietnamese Women’s Union and its purpose is to provide knowledge on the history and culture of Vietnamese women, including their role in the country’s past, present, and future. The union as a whole also seeks to promote gender equality.
When you arrive, there is a large open courtyard. To the left is the ticketing office, further up to the left is a special temporary display area/large room for the museum, and to the right is motorbike parking and a cafe/restaurant. Straight ahead is the main part of the museum. Pictured below: view of courtyard from somewhere inside the museum.
During the time we visited (March 2016), the first building on the left focused on women’s role in disaster relief and was pretty interesting! I think the exhibit may have been temporary but I’m glad we got to see it. The area provides information on recent natural disasters in Vietnam and how disasters affect men and women differently.
One board told us that (according to a study by the London School of Economics), as a result of inequality, women and children are 14 times more likely to be injured or killed during a disaster. It provided examples such as the 2010 Pakistan floods (seventy percent of the 18 million affected were women and children). The study found that disasters have greater long-term impact on the health, learning, and livelihood of women. In a recent cyclone in Myanmar, over half of those killed were women and almost all women lost their primary income source. The large room also provided examples of how they manage with what they have, such as making lamps out of beverage cans.
Though I don’t remember hearing about them on the news, there were two Typhoons in 2013 which were pretty devastating for the people of Central Vietnam. Additionally, in January of this year (2016), Northern Vietnam experienced a record breaking cold-wave which killed thousands of livestock and crops. It also impacted forest there. Obviously climate change is mentioned as a likely culprit.
As of late, there has been funded training for women to learn to deal with such disasters. Many Vietnamese don’t know how to swim and the training provides/provided them assistance in learning how to swim, administer first aid, and more. It left many of the women feeling more confident and the education appears to have been very helpful. One woman was quoted as having told others in a certain area to change their crops from rice to lotus which more than quadrupled their profits.
At the time we visited (March 2016) they had another interesting temporary exhibition as well: a Comic and Cartoon contest.
This one was just outside of the main museum building. The theme was “Gender Equality: Picture it!” and the contest was organized jointly by Belgium and the UN Women Viet Nam and was originally launched November 25 2015 (International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women) with the 40 winners displayed March 1-10, 2016. It was a really neat display and while I would like to post all/most of the comics, I will just limit it to a few.
The sign which provided the information on the contest also contained some facts about gender (in)equality in Vietnam. Over half of ever-married Vietnamese women experience some form of violence from their partner in their life, but only one percent of these cases lead to a conviction. Nearly ninety percent of women have experienced public harassment in public places. Of course, unfortunately, these numbers are not terribly far off from the rest of the world. In fact, according to this article, 100 percent of women in France say they are harassed using public transportation alone. You can find more on street harassment statistics here, and, if you would like to compare, you can also check out the 2010 CDC report on Intimate Partner Violence in the US which reports on violence experienced by both men and women.
The poster also mentioned that a significant sex ratio imbalance in Vietnam (favoring males) has presented itself in recent years which is problematic and is likely responsible for more human trafficking and forced marriages. One in ten girls in Vietnam experiences child marriage. There has also been a recent decline in the political representation of women in Vietnam. One problem in Vietnam is the very deep-seated corruption at every level. We have some issues in the US with corruption, but it is not quite like Vietnam. There is also a growing problem with alcoholism in Vietnam which tends to be associated with abuse. You can see this featured in some of the displays.
Now to the main building! The main building of the museum is five stories tall and needless to say, we ended up spending quite a bit more time there than we originally anticipated. Honestly, we could have spent even more time examining the exhibits better if not for us getting so tired and hungry and my toe hurting.
There are three primary themes/galleries: Women in History, Women in Family, and Women’s Fashion. I wasn’t really aware of this going in and didn’t think that all of the exhibits were tied strongly to one of these categories, but we also saw a couple of other exhibits which may have been temporary as well. The categories are also divided further (such as by time period). All exhibits provide text in Vietnamese, French, and English. Through exploring the museum, we learned about women in Vietnam and their roles over time. We learned about family life in Vietnam, including interesting aspects of marriage, childbirth, surnames, customs and traditions, and more over time and among different ethnic groups.
For example, the Viet, Yao, Bru-Van Keiru, Ma, Hoa, and a few other populations are patrilineal meaning men are more important and privileged. There are also some matrilineal societies, though, including the Ede, Jarai, Churu, and Raglai, among others. Among these groups the wife’s name is taken, girls inherit wealth (with the youngest girl being the “most privileged”), and the oldest woman in a family has a “decisive role in family affairs.” Girls are preferred as children.
In the past, families were sometimes polygamous, but now monogamy is the norm. One board on marriage (hon nhan) reads: “Wife and husband are as inseparable as a pair of chopsticks.” Marriage used to be arranged, but today people have more freedom in choosing a partner. When it comes time for marriage, there are a number of rituals which sometime includes consulting fortune tellers in order to determine the best days for their engagement and wedding rituals. The Viets look for the “most auspicious timing” for a wedding date. The couple get married in the groom’s house and then live there afterwards. Among one ethnic group (the Sinhmun) the couples would have a first ceremony and then stay with the bride’s family and have a second ceremony eight or nine years later over at the groom’s family (pretty different)! Among the Taoi, people were required to file their top 6 teeth prior to getting married. We also learned about gift-giving and other customs. Don’t worry, there is plenty more to read about if you go there.
In addition to their familial roles, we learned about women’s role in work and war. We had learned some about the significant role of Vietnamese women in war efforts from our visits to the Cu Chi Tunnels, the War Remnants Museum (still need to write about this one) and the Hanoi Hilton/Hoa Lo Prison but learned a little more here as well.
In one area we found a tool the women used to grind rice and flour. We struggled with it a bit. These two older American men who we think may have been veterans (also possibly a couple) encouraged me when I was struggling with it. They asked where we were from and seemed disappointed when we said Florida. They were from the northeast. We wished we had engaged them more but were just a bit shocked/excited to find someone else from the US (as almost everyone else we had heard/encountered at this point seemed to be French with a few Brits, Australians, and other Europeans mixed in).
The fashion section was quite large (an entire floor). We saw jewelry and clothing, both special and regular wear, from different ethnic groups and different time periods. We enjoyed looking at all of it and learning the purpose of the clothing.
The top floor was closed when we visited and I’m not sure what was inside (if anything), but other exhibits we saw were on topics such as music and religion.
One area displayed information on mother goddess worship (the oldest religion in Vietnam). One board read: “In the mother Goddess worship, women are the centre of the universe, looking after all four regions: heaven, earth, water and mountains and forests. Unlike other religious beliefs, worshippers find their expected desires and happiness right here in their current life. By following the Mother Goddess, their spiritual needs are satisfied.”
There were a few areas throughout which also contained films/videos to watch (worth watching).
In the gift shop we bought one of our first souvenirs while traveling (a cat picture)! They also have old propaganda posters and things of that nature if you’re interested. We didn’t try out the cafe because I didn’t see any vegetarian food but as we were starving from staying much longer than we anticipated, we did look for a place to eat after we were done and what do you know, we found a Loving hut (a vegan restaurant with locations worldwide) right across the street from the museum. Surprisingly, it was a new and an interesting experience which should be its own post, though (or at least combined with the other Loving Hut we visited in Hanoi).
Visit and you will learn not only about the women of Vietnam, but about Vietnamese culture and history as a whole.
During our time in Vietnam, we traveled through Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, and Cat Ba. We got to try a pretty wide array of the local cuisine, and while the list of indigenous foods is far more extensive than what we got to try, we found that we did get a nice sample of the cuisine.
Pho (Bo, Ga, Thit)
Probably one of the most famous of Vietnamese dishes, this is a noodle soup consisting of a thin yet flavorful, clear beef broth, noodles, meat, and herbs. It comes in several different styles: Pho Bo (beef), Pho Ga (chicken), Pho Thit (pork) and you can even find it with seafood and duck. There are many more varieties within those sets: such as Bo Vien (meatballs) and different cuts of meat. There are subtle, yet distinct differences between northern and southern style pho – the north is simpler (due to a poorer history) in it’s make. The south tends to have spicier pho, and offer a much larger offering of various herbs and spices to load into the bowl as well as including bean sprouts and lime.
Bun Bo Nam Bo (Ga)
This dish I found in Hanoi from a place advertising itself as Pho Ga. But what came out was Bun Ga Nam Ga (chicken). Bun Bo Nam Bo (Beef) is delicious and reminiscent of Pho, but without the broth. instead, marinated meat is served atop white rice noodles with herbs and peanuts. A small amount of sauce similar to a spicy sweet and sour is found at the bottom to mix it all with. My dish also came with a side of broth.
Bun Bo Hue
Yet another soup, this time hailing from the Hue region in northern Vietnam. At first appearance, it will bear striking resemblance to southern style Pho – lots of herbs, spicy, and served with a slice of lime. But the real difference here comes from the broth and choice of meat. This is a pork based soup, and as such you’ll find pork loin, and pork knuckle in the bowl, though they often will include a few slices of beef as well. The big kicker here though, is the pork blood added to the soup that gives a very strong and greasy flavor. The taste is very good, but I found that afterwards I would always have a bloody aftertaste which I felt the need to rid my mouth of. Some will elect to skip the blood, but more often than not, it’s included.
This dish hails from Hanoi, but has spread far and wide among the country with regional variants. The dish is grilled pork meat, noodles, and herbs. It is served with dipping sauce on the side. In the south, particularly around Saigon, you’ll find it all mixed together in a soup similar to Bun Bo Hue. However, the cuts of meat are always grilled, and always fatty. In contrast to many other dishes you’ll find in Vietnam, it is not spicy at all – I found it rather sweet and savory.
Next to Pho, this dish is also very famous the world-over. French baguettes became a norm in Vietnam during France’s extended colonial occupation of the country. While the French inevitably left, the food influence stayed and so the Banh Mi developed. A mini-baguette is stuffed with a variety of meat (typically sliced pork), pickled vegetables, and cilantro then given a once over with chili sauce. It makes for a great sandwich and you can find vendors pedaling them in every city and town on street corners – many cafes will also offer them. Since they’re made on the spot, it’s also easy to get a custom Banh Mi to your taste, so vegetarians will be pleased to find it easy to get one to their tastes.
Thien Nuoc Mam
I had no idea what I was ordering when I got this, but what came out was quite recognizable. Fried chicken wings. These aren’t your standard buffalo wings, but they are very similar. First chargrilled, then given a quick fry, they come out quite juicy, but with a slight crunch. The sauce I had was light, and very reminiscent of a BBQ sauce. It came served on top of sautéed vegetables and cucumbers.
Mi Xao Gion
I was so hungry I forgot to take a picture of the food while it was actually on the plate, but I did get a picture of the menu which has a pretty accurate representation of it.
Another simple, yet delicious noodle dish. Lo Mien noodles are fried to a crisp and then topped with sautéed vegetables, and various cuts of meat, swimming in a mushroom gravy. The gravy softens the crispy noodles, but still leaves a noticeable crunch. The meat can vary by the place, but mine came with fish balls, beef shank, beef liver, pork loin, and octopus.
Suon Xao Chua Not
My phone ran out of battery so I couldn’t take a picture, however you can refer to the menu picture above for the Mi Xao Gion.
This dish reminds me of Chinese food. It’s sweet and sour pork ribs. Sometimes it may be served over rice, other times noodles – but the core stays the same. Meaty and fatty pork ribs are pan fried then glazed with sweet and sour sauce and sautéed vegetables. Mine was served over fried rice and it was quite good. My only issue was attempting to eat the giant hunks of meat and ver much not-sticky rice with chopsticks.
These are stuffed steam buns. At first glance, they look rather plain and even unappealing. They’re a dull-white dough, with a quirky little twist on top. But inside they’re stuff with one or two hard-boiled quail eggs and sausage. The bun itself is moist and chewy with a mildly sweet taste, while the sausage has a pungent spice that compliments the eggs nicely.
This light soup hails from Hanoi, and has a distinct taste all its own. While it uses the same noodles as Bun Bo Hue, that is where the similarities end. This is considered a finicky dish, as it’s preparation is very exact: 6 month old chicken having laid eggs for only 1 week; evenly cut herbs of cilantro, green onion, and onion all laid underneath the noodles; scrambled eggs fried crispy then cut into noodles. Tofu and mushroom are added to the top. The bowl is then filled with a light chicken broth and topped further with scallions, red onions, cilantro, Vietnamese Coriander, shallots, thai chili, shrimp paste, and ca cuong (beetle juice). The dish is very good, and makes for a decent departure from pho.
Vietnamese Fried Fish
While in Cat Ba, I tried out a little bit of seafood. One of the first things I got was fried fish. The fish on Cat Ba is quite good (though I have no idea what kind it is). The method of cooking is pretty simple, the whole fish is tossed in a pan and fried in butter and garlic. Eating off the bone is easier than I would have thought, and the skin turns into a nice crisp with a delicious flavor all its own.
Another dish I got on Cat Ba, the squid salad was not exactly what I was expecting – not that that was bad. It came as a little bit of vermicelli noodle, pickled carrot, and cooked (but cool) squid, on top of fried rice puffs. The dish was lighter than I was hoping for, but was delicious nonetheless.
Bun Nem Chay
This is a vegetarian dish that we got a from a Buddhist restaurant serving only vegetarian dishes. It’s rice noodles served atop a mixed salad of herbs and cucumber, and topped with vegetarian fried spring rolls. The spring rolls have a nice spice to them of cinnamon, clove, and anise, filled with mushroom. A light sweet and sour sauce compliments the noodles and salad along with a topping of peanuts. It’s a light, refreshing, and filling meal. Great for a hot day when you might want something cooler than hot soup.
Bun Rieu Chay
This is a vegetarian styled dish based on meat rice vermicelli soup. This did not have meat, instead having fried tofu. This version is very different from the original, but does its best to keep with the inspiration. This soup has a tomato broth, and is filled with various vegetables and tofu. The non-vegetarian version contains crab and pig-blood. Regardless of the variety you try, it is very nutrient rich.
Bun Chuoi Dau
Yet another vegetarian dish we got – this was also a soup. This dish is a heavy, clear broth, filled with vegetables, noodles, and fried tofu. One of the highlights to this dish I found was the green banana. I’m not typically a banana fan (I actually hate them with a vengeance), but I found the green bananas to be a great addition, taking the place a potato normally would in a french style stew. This dish is very hearty, with a mildly sweet taste to it. I found myself ordering this multiple times.
Nem Ran (Chay)
These Vietnamese style spring rolls. Longer and thinner than the typical Chinese style spring rolls we’re used to, they are stuffed with pork, glass noodles, and vegetables and then deep fried to a golden crisp. Vegetarian (chay) versions skip the pork and will instead use tofu or mushroom as a filler. We got these while at a wonderful vegan restaurant in Cat Ba.
Pineapple Fried Rice
Briana got this while at Hum Vegetarian in Ho Chi Minh. Because of this, it was vegetarian (obviously). The key to this dish, which seems pretty ordinary and can be found pretty much everywhere is that it is served inside a hallowed out pineapple. Tiny bits of pineapple and peanuts are fried up alongside the rice (and meat if you choose that option) to create a sweet yet savory dish.
If you are vegetarian, or even if you’re not, you should try to make it to Bo de Quan if you visit Hanoi. It is a fairly new restaurant, only around since 2014 and in its current location since 2015, but I think it will be around for a while. If you would like to learn more about the origins of the place, I highly recommend this article which I was pretty excited to find because we had wondered about it.
Onto our discovery of the restaurant: Our first night in Hanoi we faced a number of problems. Not too surprising seeing as 1) we decided to go there only the night prior and 2) it’s Vietnam. Anyway, while I was waiting for a person that lived in the house (not even the host- she was down in HCM) to come and go into his locked room to fix the internet router, Kyle decided to scope out our food options.
What he discovered while he was out wandering (among other things) was Bo De Quan. At the time (February 2016) the restaurant was not yet on Googlemaps (or at least on in the correct location), but now you can find it on maps, Happy Cow, and TripAdvisor (though the picture does not look right so it’s possible it’s a different place).It was a little less than a kilometer away from our Airbnb and we ended up trying it out the next day.
It was SO GOOD, arguably some of the best food we have tried while traveling.
All of the options are vegan or vegetarian. Meals were around 40-45k dong ($1.80-$2). We ended up with a schedule which involved eating here for lunch and cooking our own dinner. While it may be a tiny bit farther away from some of the more touristy things, it is a cheaper option than many of the other exclusively vegetarian restaurants in Hanoi.
The soups were perfect for the cool weather. They were also really filling. Here are some of the dishes we tried. Hopefully I’m matching them up/identifying them correctly:
Bun Rieu Chay / bún riêu chay
While researching this one, it looks like it is supposed to be Vegetarian Mock Crab Soup (though I am not sure what is supposed to be imitating crab). I looked up a recipe and it should contain tomatoes, various vegetables and spices, tofu, and cassava. Some recipes include other things like apples and pears but these were not in this soup. We think it is possible it contained cassava but think they put banana in our’s instead (surprisingly good). Everything else seemed to match up.
Bun Chuoi Dau / bún ốc chuối đậu
This one translates as “Banana Bean Noodle Soup.” Now, Kyle does not normally like bananas but the bananas in these soups were different from the bananas we normally have back home and he really enjoyed both soups. In addition to the bananas and noodles, this soup contained potatoes, tofu, and mushrooms. When it’s not made to be vegetarian, it also contains snails and ham. Vietnam knows how to do soups!
Bun nem / Bún nem: Translates as “Crisp parcels with vermicelli salad. Basically salad/lettuce, noodles, and spring rolls.
Hu Tieu XaoNoodles, vegetables, nuts- basically a stir fry
We primarily stuck to the soups so we did not end up trying the other dishes, but I will try to identify them for you. Banh Xeo Chay / bánh xèo chay- vegetarian pancakes- looks more like an omelet,com chay- not sure- various vegetables/tofu I think, nem chay – vegetable/spring rolls, bahn goi chay / bánh gối nhân chay- translates as “Vegetarian Cake’s Pillow” and may have vegetables, beans, peas, etc., and pho cuon- we think vegetable rolls. You can find a little more info in the article I linked to at the beginning.
Because vegetarianism isn’t much of a concept in Vietnam for the most part, most all of the other people we saw at Bo De Quan were foreigners. While I really think more Vietnamese need to try out vegetarianism, being around some foreigners was kind of nice for us. Despite there being a large and active online expat community in Ho Chi Minh, we rarely ran into other foreigners except in the most touristy areas. In Hanoi, we found the complete opposite. I guess instead of spending all of their time online, the foreigners in Hanoi are out doing things.
It seemed like many of them had established social groups. There was a group of women (British, Australian, and either American or Canadian) around our age or a little older whom we saw a couple times. At least a couple of them were English teachers, while others seemed to be doing different things- visiting, studying, working online. We heard one say she was just fired from a Yoga Studio because she had been teaching Zumba with an expired certificate and someone had told on her to the Zumba board or whatever (I don’t remember or know exactly how it all works).
We saw other groups of people as well. I think if we stayed there for a while, we would probably end up developing a social group of our own. I pictured it. We had a conversation over lunch one day with a British man who had moved to the city and was working as a consultant for local businesses there. We talked about how Vietnam is really growing and has a lot of potential. We also talked about the American politics and Australian politics.
The owner and her family were really nice too. One day (maybe on our third or fourth day eating there), the mother of the owner gave us some melon as we were leaving. It was primarily her who we interacted/dealt with on our visits.
Here is some of the info so you can make it there:
Address: 164 Au Co, Tay Ho District, Hanoi, Vietnam Hours: We aren’t exactly sure, but we think it was something like 10am-8pm Other: It’s cash only. Bring your dong.
I am sad to report that the cat cafe in Hanoi- Ailu Cat Cafe, also known as Ailu Cathouse Club, is the worst cat cafe we have been to so far (mostly due to the state and treatment of the cats there).
We made our way here at the end of a long day of walking around Hanoi doing various other activities (including the Temple of Literature and the Vietnamese Women’s Museum). Hanoi is really a lovely city to walk around, especially during the time we visited (February/March).
There are stairs leading up to the cafe in front of what I think might have been a restaurant. We made our way up and did the standard take off our shoes and pay the entrance fee. This cat cafe had the cheapest fee of any cat cafe so far at 35,000VND/person (at least in March 2016, it’s possible it will be raised). This comes out to about $3.15 for both of us.
The whole thing was rather strange because the person running the place at the time did not even offer us a menu or ask if we would like to order something to drink/eat. Usually cat cafes (at least at the ones we visited in Asia) like to try to sell their food as it’s a way they make money. The guy actually looked a little unhappy that we came at all. Not in an annoyed way, but maybe more in the ‘they are going to see how badly this cafe is run’ sort of way. I’m not sure.
There were quite a few kittens but we did not get to spend time with any of them because a group of young girls (also the only other people at the cafe) was hogging them all.
We made our way to the back and settled in some bean bags. Here are some of the troubling things I found:
1. Some of the cats seemed ill.
2. Several of the cats needed to be groomed and/or cleaned (such as cleaning around their eyes, brushing their fur, etc.)
3. I think at least a couple of the cats were not fixed! One of them seemed to be in heat.
4. Some of the cats had mental issues (possibly as a result of their treatment.) Some were very strange about things like eye contact (believe me, it was strange- I have spent time with plenty of cats and not encountered something quite like this) and others were extremely moody.
5. The owners/workers abused the cats. One time I saw a cat crawling up a toy having fun and the man working there kept putting it down for no reason. It seemed very mean. I also saw him hit a cat that was fighting.
6. On that note: the fighting. Now, you might think a little rough play is inevitable when you put that many cats together, but we did not notice any at any of the other cat cafes (or it was very light). We saw several cats fighting during the hour we were there. If you have seen the television show My Cat from Hell, which we actually did see on the tv in Vietnamese in Hanoi, you may know that there are certain things you can do to create an environment which will help with this kind of thing.
7. Cats in cages. We saw two cats in the back in cages. I don’t know why they were there but one of them kept crying. I understand that at some cat cafes they may move a problem cat/fighting cat to another room, but they need to have access to food, water, and a littler box at all times!
8. At one point I saw a cat on the balcony walking on the ledge! That is a little scary!
It is not really a surprise from Vietnam as the country isn’t known for caring about animals (quite the opposite), but we had had a good experience at ICHI Cat Cafe down in Ho Chi Minh so we thought it might be okay.
Now, despite their instability, most of the cats were very sweet and it was nice to hang out with them. One white fluffy one crawled up to Kyle at one point, kneaded him, purred, and finally settled and went to sleep in his lap. We felt really bad when we left and the cat had to leave his lap.
All of the cats who would accept attention really seemed happy to receive pets.
There were also two cats that were very sweet to watch because they were always rubbing each other, giving each other baths, etc.
I can’t exactly recommend the place but at the same time I worry that they would give them even less care or something if they don’t get enough visitors so if you happen to be in the area, that is your call. I really hope they work to improve things.