Best Places to eat in Hoi An, Vietnam

Following on from my Top Things to do in Hoi An post, here is the promised best places to eat. This is my third post of my where to eat in Vietnam series, the first two being in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

I spent a wonderful week in Hoi An and finding the best local food on offer has to be one of my favourite activities while travelling. I certainly wasn't able to try everywhere and I don't claim to be a food expert. However, I did a lot of my own research as well as stumbled randomly across some of these fine gems while exploring.

Here are my top recommendations of some of the best local dishes that are a must-try (some are special to the region) that I thoroughly enjoyed if you are heading there yourself.

The Best Banh Mi

This famous Vietnamese baguette is an excellent option for lunch (I had one almost every day!). The sandwich is packed with a choice of fillings including meat, pate and greens.
The perfect Banh Mi should have slightly warmed and crunchy bread and fresh, flavourful fillings. I specifically looked up on Trip Advisor to see where I could find the best.

Pictured above, one of the best Banh Mi I've ever had was at French Bakery and Restaurant, located at An Bang Beach. I had the special pork with chilli jam which was incredibly tasty! For only 40,000 VND ($1.70 US) it was also a great price for the location.

One of the top-rated ones, I just had to try Phi Banh Mi and it did not disappoint.
I had a traditional pork and pate and it was one of the cheapest at 15,000 VND (US 0.66 c).
It was a slightly smaller size, perfect for a snack or light lunch but the flavours were all there.

I also heard that Banh Mi Phuong is 'the best place for Banh Mi in Vietnam,' however the long lines every time I walked past kind of put me off! Also, some of their reviews said it was way too overhyped and touristy now. Feel free to wait in line and check it out yourself though if you're game!

The Best Cao Lau

One of the most famous dishes, this noodle speciality has been eaten in the city since the 17th century. The hand-cut noodles are tossed with sliced pork, crunchy rice crackers, spices, big handfuls of fresh herbs and a small amount of super-tasty broth.

I tried this dish special to the region a few times and the best I had was at a hole-in-the-wall type of place called Com ga Ba Nga. They also specialise in chicken rice, which is what the name means. I was walking past and noticed the place packed with locals and a big sign saying 'Cao Lau' which drew me in. The service was definitely not the best and the floor wasn't the cleanest but the food was exceptional.

 The Best White Rose

Banh Bao Vac (White Rose) is a popular symbol of food in the ancient town and only found in Hoi An. These are special shrimp dumplings made from translucent white dough bunched up to look like a rose. It takes three years to learn how to master them and apparently, there is only one family in Hoi An that produces them and distributes them to all the local eateries.
So the answer to where is the best place to get them - anywhere! Because they are all the same and come from the same place.

The Best Places for Lunch/Dinner

My favourite restaurant in Hoi An was Morning Glory, where it was so good I ate there twice. It is very popular and busy in there, and that's because it has a great reputation and the food is always good.

I forgot to write down the names of what I ate specifically, but they have an extensive menu with so many options, full of local specialities. Here is what I ordered the two times pictured below:

It is very reasonably priced too for what you get. On our final night, my husband and I's order was: three large beers, one large bottle of water, 1 shared entree, 2 mains and 1 shared dessert. All of that came to a whopping 519,000 VND ($22 US) - not bad at all!

(Tip: Call or go in earlier and make a reservation to avoid waiting in a line).

Another restaurant I highly enjoyed was called Cafe 43. I had a delicious chicken and lemongrass curry and chilli chicken and pork fresh spring rolls.

They made their own fresh beer which was only 3000 VND a glass! (US 0.13 c). All up our two mains, entree, water and beers came to only 189,000 VND ($8 US) - incredible! The service too was excellent.

Another spot I would recommend for dinner or even an after-dinner snack is from the Night Markets across the central footbridge to An Hoi islet. Here you can find an abundance of street food carts selling Banh Mi, fresh fruit, chocolate pancakes etc.

One bite I particularly enjoyed was called Banh Trang Nuong, a Vietnamese style pizza, folded in two. It is made with grilled rice paper and lots of fun and delicious toppings.
For only 20,000 VND (US 0.88 c), it makes for a perfect budget meal or snack.

The Best Cooking Class

I normally love doing street food tours and did in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, however, I found the ones in Hoi An to be far too pricey. I instead invested in my first Vietnamese cooking class and researched the best place to do it.
It seems like every other restaurant is offering one, but I went for one that was one of the first original family cookery schools in Hoi An, Gion Cookery Class, who had an excellent reputation.

I had the best day learning how to make all my favourite things including fresh Vietnamese spring rolls with dipping sauce, Banh Xeo, chilli chicken and lemongrass stirfry and beef Pho.

With the included trip to a local market, full recipe book and a funny and easy-going teacher, it was one of my favourite things I did in Hoi An and the feast we got to enjoy at the end was incredible!
I highly recommend doing this cooking class and it is a great investment learning how to make all of these wonderful dishes yourself at home.

There we have my top favourite things to eat and where to get them in Hoi An. I'll throw in a couple more extras just for fun:

Best Places for Coffee: 11 Coffee and Mia Coffee, both do excellent traditional Vietnamese ice coffee.

Best Sports Bar: If there is a game you just can't bear to miss, head to 3 Dragons Sports Bar & Restaurant. We watched an All Blacks game here and the atmosphere was amazing! There is also a really nice riverside view for even if you don't want to watch the telly.

Best Party Bar: If you are a fan of Mr Bean (like me), then don't miss the Mr Bean Bar! Wildly and accurately themed, it's an amusing place to have a drink to say the least.

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Let me know if you are heading to the lovely Hoi An yourself or if you have any other favourite places of your own to add - I'd love to check them out next time!

Happy Travels,

Top Things to do in Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An is an incredibly charming town on Vietnam’s central coast, well-known for its greatly preserved Ancient Town, cut through with canals.

I absolutely loved spending a week there, exploring the beautiful ancient city that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I was lucky enough to be there during the lunar lantern festival where the old town shuts off electricity in the evenings, is closed to traffic and transforms into magical alleyways of colourful lanterns, flickering candles and lively gatherings.

Once a major port, the melting-pot history is reflected in its grand architecture, a mixture of eras and styles from wooden Chinese shophouses and temples to colourful French colonial buildings, ornate Vietnamese houses and the iconic Japanese Covered Bridge.

It is an atmospheric and delightful place to visit, with little traffic and pollution, a nearby stunning beach, delicious and fresh cuisine and so much to do. 

Here are my top recommendations for Hoi An, a place not to be missed on your next trip to Vietnam.

Wander the ancient streets

There's no better way to explore a new place than by walking the streets. Admire the ancient and contrasting architecture; shops, bars, restaurants and coffee houses are all a photographer's delight.

Walk across the ornate Japanese Covered Bridge, check out the Tan Ky ancient House, visit the local fresh food markets.

Japanese Covered Bridge

There is so much to see and it's all in a relatively compact area, so wear comfy walking shoes and take regular breaks and refresh on traditional Vietnamese ice coffee to beat the heat.

A local market

After doing the sights in town (temples, ancient houses, chapels, the covered bridge) head south over the central footbridge to An Hoi islet, where the riverfront is lined with bars offering ice-cold glasses of the daily-brewed refreshing lager called 'Bia Hoi.' They usually go for around 5000 VND (US 20 cents!) and it's a great place to people-watch.

Gioan Cooking Class

One of my favourite and most memorable experiences throughout my time in Vietnam was doing a Vietnamese cooking class at Gioan Cookery School.

Hoi An is known for its diverse and excellent food, and it can seem that every other restaurant is offering cooking classes, but Gioan was one of the first original family cookery schools in Hoi An and they have a great reputation.

Beginning with a trip to a local market, we learned all about and hand-picked our fresh ingredients to use for the day. We got to choose our favourite dishes to learn how to make which were: fresh Vietnamese spring rolls with dipping sauce, Banh Xeo (country savoury pancakes), chilli chicken and lemongrass stir fry and traditional beef Pho!

Busy making Pho!

It was such a fantastic experience from start to finish and our teacher was so funny and easy-going. I learned so much that day and can't wait to start using my new culinary skills at home. The feast we got to eat at the end of it with our freshly made food was phenomenal.

Banh Xeo

I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and very highly recommend it!

Have a beach day

The nearby An Bang Beach is only 5 kilometres away or a 15 minute leisurly drive (or cycle if you're keen!). The sand is soft, the water is lovely and refreshing to swim in and there are plenty of loungers with sun-umbrellas to relax on free of charge if you purchase a drink or two.

There are also plenty of cafes and restaurants in the area to choose from and I highly recommend going to a place called French Bakery and Restaurant.
They offer a range of options but their Banh Mi in particular was one of the best I've ever had. I had the special pork one with chilli jam and for 40,000 VND ($1.70 US), it's an incredible price as well.

Get a new wardrobe

I didn't do this myself, but I know Hoi An is very well-known for this. There are many budget tailors and it's the place to take home a complete wardrobe of new clothes and leather goods. 
Shoes can be made to order and many handicraft shops specialise in embroidered linen.

If you decide you want a new wardrobe, do your research before you go; some of the tailors are cheap and very good, some are expensive and not good value, and some are pretty poor. 
If you have a favourite item you wish to replicate, take it with you, or take pictures of the clothes you want made.
Word of mouth is usually a great source and I'm sure Trip Advisor would be able to steer you in the right direction with the best reviewed places.

Do a bicycle/boat/walking tour

There are many tours on offer to explore more of Hoi An how you please. From sunset boat cruises along the Thu Bon River, to walking street food tours in the Old Town to venturing further with a bicycle tour.

Many homestays and hotels offer bikes to guests, and joining the many cyclists on the roads provides an instant immersion into local life.
There are group tours you can join for an easy few hours with just 9 km of cycling along quiet lanes, lunch included, or a more demanding 50 km adventure. All take in traditional villages, handicrafts, fragrant rice paddies and rickety floating bridges.

Visit Marble Mountains 

Only a half an hour drive away are the Marble Mountains, a cluster of five marble and limestone hills, named after the elements metal, wood, water, fire and earth. 
I visited on my way down to Hoi An from Da Nang, as it is between the two cities.

It is a well-known pilgrimage site with peaks, caves, tunnels and temples. There are Buddhist sanctuaries and even a special circular cave which leads to the summit where you can enjoy panoramic views.

Indulge in the local food

One of my favourite parts about travelling is trying the local cuisine. I have already written 'Best Places to Eat' for Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, and I will next write one for Hoi An too, as the food there was just as spectacular.

A few of the best local dishes that are a must-try and special to Hoi An and the central Vietnam region include:

Cao Lau - one of the most famous dishes, this noodle speciality has been eaten in the city since the 17th century. The hand-cut noodles are tossed with sliced pork, crunchy rice crackers, spices, big handfuls of fresh herbs and a small amount of super-tasty broth.

White Rose (Banh Bao Banh Vac) - A popular symbol of food in the ancient town, these are special shrimp dumplings made from translucent white dough bunched up to look like a rose. It takes three years to learn how to master them and apparently, there is only one family in Hoi An that produces them and distributes them to all the local eateries.

Mi Quam - a delicious bowl full of rice noodles, a choice of meat (chicken, pork, shrimp, quail egg etc.), fresh vegetables, a little broth and topped with peanuts, rice crackers or crunchy spring rolls.

Stay tuned for my next post where I will share my favourite places to eat including Banh Mi Phuong, Morning Glory, Phi Banh Mi and Cafe 43.

When to go: the central coast is at its driest and sunniest in May, June and July.
Be wary of the rainy season (September to November) as it can be prone to heavy downpours and bouts of flooding.

How to get there: getting around Vietnam is easy and there are many ways to get to Hoi An depending on your budget. Take a bus or train from any other major city to save money, or fly if you have less time and a bit more to spend. If you are only an hour or two away you can hire a driver to take you for around $100 USD and they will happily stop at any sights along the way.

Where to stay: there are many types of accomodation available to suit all budgets including guesthouses, hostels, AirBnbs, low-budget hotels to luxury hotels. Try and choose one close to the Old Town so you can easily walk or cycle there, or stay at the beach if you prefer a more relaxing style holiday. Most places offer multiple daily transfers to either the Old Town or the beach. If you can afford it, pick somewhere with a pool, as it's hot year-round!

Need to know: tourists need to purchase an entrance ticket to the Hoi An Ancient Town. It costs 120,000 VND ($5 USD). The tickets are valid for 10 days and you need to have it on you at all times. For more information visit the Hoi An Tourism site.

I hope you are inspired to visit Hoi An, a beautiful little city with so much to offer.
Let me know in the comments if you've been or are planning to in the near future!

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Happy Travels,

First Overwater Bungalow! The Resort of my Dreams in Vietnam

After two fantastic nights at Pilgrimage Village, I was next off to their sister resort in nearby Phu Loc which lies between Hue and Hoi An.
I spent four incredible nights at Vedana Lagoon Resort and Spa which was - I kid you not, the resort of my dreams.

It is nestled on the shore of a peaceful and serene lagoon, which is one of the largest in Southeast Asia. They have the very first overwater villas in Vietnam, which I felt so lucky and grateful to be able to experience.
The best part was my husband flew all the way from Australia to meet me for a two week holiday so we got to enjoy it together!

First Impressions

The complimentary shuttle ride from Pilgrimage Village was very convenient and quick; only a 45 minute drive away. Hopping out of the van I was instantly greeted and had my luggage taken for me as I walked up the steps into the large and modernly designed reception area.

From the moment I arrived at Vedana Lagoon, I could not wipe the smile off my face.
This place was absolutely stunning! The secluded location set in front of serene waters surrounded by mountains and tropical palm trees was eye-poppingly beautiful.
It was such a balmy place and had wonderful relaxing vibes.

I was warmly welcomed, shown to a nearby seat and presented with a tasty refreshing drink and cool towel.

The check in process was seamless and I was informed of all of the onsite facilities, daily activities and free shuttle bus times to Hue and a nearby popular beach.
I was then transported via a buggy and taken to my room - which turned out to be an amazing surprise.

The Room

I was so incredibly lucky to be upgraded to an Overwater Bungalow - I have always dreamed of staying in a room like this! Not only that but there is only one that has a glass-bottomed floor, and guess who got it? Me! I was very spoilt indeed.
Opening the door to my room I was instantly blown away, it was incredibly luxurious. I was given a tour and then left to marvel and enjoy.

I was so surprised by how large it was. The villa was 130 square metres with a very spacious bedroom and separate bathroom area.

The super king sized bed was a central feature of the room, raised on a modern wood stage. To the front of it was the amazing glass floor to see right through to the water below!
A mesmerising feature that I couldn't take my eyes off of.

To the left side of the bed was a comfortable built-in couch with colourful cushions.

In the left corner of the room set atop a small fireplace was an LCD television with satellite channels and a DVD player.

In the right corner was a wooden desk with complimentary bottled water and a fruit platter that was changed daily.

Behind the bed, on the left and right are two large wardrobes. In the left was a small fridge and mini bar that was well-equipped including a selection of international wines and spirits. There was also complimentary tea and coffee, a little pot and glassware.
The right wardrobe held a safe, soft silky robes and flip flops.

Through the right-hand door was the enormous bathroom which had an amazing deep bath set right in front of the window looking out over the lagoon.

The long counter had his and hers sinks with large mirrors and many good quality toiletries, there were even proper toothbrush holders!

Also in the bathroom was another large desk area set in front of a large mirror.
My husband always sleeps in so I enjoyed being able to come in there in the mornings and sit at the desk on my laptop to work.

Through a connecting door was a gorgeous separate outdoor bathroom area with a rain shower and toilet around the corner. The shampoo, conditioner and soap were amazing quality, I really enjoyed using them.

Probably the best part of the villa was the amazing view whether you looked left, right or straight ahead. Through the sliding doors leading out to the large balcony, was the best place to enjoy it from the table and chairs or comfortable round day bed.

Other features of the room included excellent Wifi and air conditioning, 24-hour room service, daily housekeeping, laundry service available, unlimited free bottled water and a nightly turndown service.

As well as the captivating and tranquil view, I especially loved how spacious, artfully decorated and cosy the room was. The bed was extremely comfortable and it was very quiet being so far from anyone else, so the sleep quality was excellent.

There are a range of other types of rooms available as well including Waterfront Deluxe, Pool Honeymoon Villa and Family Lagoon View.

Beyond the Room

Vedana Lagoon is a resort that has it all; so you don't ever have to leave if you don't want to.
There is an incredible infinity pool overlooking the lagoon that is enormous and ultra relaxing.

There are plenty of loungers and day beds around the pool to relax on under shady umbrellas.
One thing I did miss was a happy hour or drink specials. That is definitely something my husband and I usually take advantage of.

The Vedana Wellness & Spa is absolute perfection. Located in an overwater bungalow itself, you simply cannot beat the views or tranquility!

They aim to bring you "an experience of spa life which we define as LUSH. (Luxurious. Unpretentious. Sustainable. Healthy)".
They offer many treatments to indulge in such as lovers romantic packages (for two people), massages, body treatments including scrubs and wraps, facials, wellness, nail and hair care.

You certainly couldn't beat a pamper session with those views and ambient surroundings! The Jacuzzi, sauna and herbal steam room is also available for guests to enjoy before or after treatments.

Also near the spa they offer daily complimentary wellness activities including Yoga and Taichi in the mornings.
Closer to the entrance and reception area are plenty of other great activities to keep you busy if you choose. There are tennis, volleyball and badminton courts for a bit of sporty fun.

There is a gym with a view for guests to use with a variety of exercise machines and equipment.

For the young or young at heart there is a games room with a pool table and foozball games. There is also a baby room, movie room, a library, conference room, cooking classroom - Vedana Lagoon really has it all.

There are even kayaks to use at your leisure to enjoy the beautiful lagoon.

One of my favourite things about the resort was getting around by bicycle!
Each room comes with your own set of two and I loved cycling around the lagoon to breakfast in the mornings and the pool in the afternoons. I hadn't cycled for years so it was really fun for me. If you don't like to cycle you can easily call up and get a buggy straight to your door to take you around.

As well as having a complimentary daily shuttle bus to Hue and a beach they can easily book and organise tours and airport transfers. We personally used this and pre-booked a pickup for Gareth from Danang Airport to Vedana Lagoon and it was an excellent and convenient service.

They have wedding and honeymoon packages and can cater for onsite meetings and events.

There is of course also the lovely onsite Lantern House, Piano Bar and Horizon Restaurant where we ate at every night, this is also where breakfast is served daily.

The Food

A daily buffet breakfast is included in the room and had a very impressive selection of local and international choices. You could have eggs made to order, Pho noodle soup, there was a large range of hot and cold dishes, fresh pastries and bread, fruit, yogurt, cereals and juices.

The coffee was superb and you could choose from Vietnamese or American. Everything was very fresh, good quality and tasty, I very much enjoyed my breakfast every day! 

The Horizon Restaurant's menu was a good mixture of European, Vietnamese and local specialties.
We enjoyed trying many dishes and eating different things every night. The waiters were always helpful in recommending dishes if we weren't sure. Our favourite was a seafood and mixed meat hotpot that we shared and really enjoyed.

One of the days for lunch we ordered room service which was excellent. We loved the convenience and being able to eat and enjoy the beautiful view from our balcony.

There is an overwater platform where the resort can set up romantic sunset dinners for a special occasion. They offer delicious set menus and can arrange candles and live music which would be an unforgettable memory.

The Candle Bar lit up at night

The Details

Resort: Vedana Lagoon Resort and Spa

Location: Zone 1, Phu Loc Town, Phu Loc District, 8454

Reviews: 4.5/5 stars on Trip Advisor from 655 reviews and a 2017 Traveler's Choice Winner.

Price: Starts at $120 USD for a Waterfront Deluxe Room, depending on the season.

Final Thoughts

I absolutely loved my stay here and wished I didn't ever have to leave! It was such a magical experience staying in an overwater bungalow with some of the best views I've ever laid my eyes on. It truly looked like a painting.

The staff are incredibly warm, generous and friendly. Any minor request was taken care of straight away, the service was impeccable. Cycling around the resort you were happily greeted by everyone, even the lovely gardeners.

As it is quite a secluded resort this is a wonderful retreat to refresh, rejuvenate and relax.
It is the perfect place for couples, families and groups of friends for a special occasion or luxurious getaway.

It is the most tranquil and peaceful place I have ever had the pleasure of staying at and I loved every minute of it. As someone who is attracted to water, Vedana Lagoon was a picture-perfect place that I can still hardly believe exists!

It was a real treat to stay there and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting central Vietnam, it is such a gem and one not to be missed!

Happy Travels,
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Disclaimer: One night was complimentary and the others discounted in exchange for an honest review. All opinions as always are my own.

A Taste of Rural Vietnam at Pilgrimage Village, Hue

I was so excited to return back to Vietnam, six months away was too long! This time I had the pleasure of exploring central Vietnam, beginning in Hue – the former seat of the Nguyen Dynasty emperors and the national capital from 1802–1945.

I stayed for two fantastic nights at Pilgrimage Village Boutique Resort & Spa, which was an amazing retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. Only a 15-minute drive away from the town centre, it is located in the quiet countryside in a rustic village setting, surrounded by lush tropical gardens.

First Impressions

Upon arrival, I was warmly greeted and had my bags taken for me. I was welcomed into the spacious open reception area that had a grand wood design with a hand-carved roof and large wooden beams. I was shown to one of the many comfortable seats and presented with a refreshing welcome drink and cool towel.
The check in process was smooth and I was briefed on the onsite facilities, daily activities and free shuttle bus times before being shown to my room.
The grounds were very large and lush with greenery, it had a very secluded feel about it.

The outside of my room

The Room

Located opposite the spa, I was lucky enough to be upgraded to a Honeymoon Suite which was an incredible room with everything you could wish for.
It was perfectly spacious and open with a grand king four-poster bed as the central feature, which was very comfortable.

In front of the bed was a sofa couch and coffee table with flowers and a fresh fruit platter that was changed daily – a very thoughtful and welcome touch!

In the left corner was a wooden desk, chair and bright lamp which was a great working station. On the desk were room service and spa menus, tour information and complimentary bottled water.

In the right-hand corner opposite the bed was an LCD television with premium channels set above a small fireplace.

To the very right of the bed and where you walk in was a wardrobe with bathrobes, slippers and large umbrellas. In the shelving was an electronic safe, a small refrigerator with a mini bar that was decently stocked, glassware, cups and complimentary coffee and tea.

The marble-style bathroom was also very large and had an impressive bath with a window view of the beautiful green scenery.

The shower had excellent pressure and for once the shampoo and conditioner were great quality, I really enjoyed using them. There was even a jar of complimentary rock salt to use for the bath.

The bathroom was well-equipped with fresh towels and kitted out with all the toiletries you could possibly need.

Through the sliding doors, outside was a large balcony with two rocking chairs, a table and sunbed. The view overlooked a large lotus pond below and it was a very peaceful and tranquil setting.

Other features of the room include good Wifi and air conditioning, room service, daily housekeeping, laundry service available and a nightly turndown where they put down the mosquito net for you.

The entire room was tastefully decorated with wooden furnishings and art and it had a very rustic countryside feel to it. I particularly loved the large mirrors and the blackout curtains.
With the curtains drawn, in the mornings there was no light at all so that along with the super comfortable bed made for fantastic sleep quality.
It was a very quiet and relaxing room and I enjoyed it very much.

Pilgrimage Village has 139 rooms in total and there are many types to choose from to suit a variety of needs. The Premium Deluxe rooms are newer and have a more classic modern style and there is a range of villas and bungalows to choose from including Family Deluxe, Honeymoon Pool Hut and probably my favourite – the Traditional Vietnamese Pool House!

The beautifully designed house comes complete with its own living room, plunge pool, private garden and outdoor dining area. Staying there would be absolute honeymoon or anniversary goals!

Beyond the Room

The large property is spread over five hectares and naturally, they offer a wide range of facilities and services including two premium pools.
The first is a picturesque aqua pool located close to the reception area. There is an attached children's pool and loungers dotted around under thatched-roof umbrellas.

The main pool is possibly the largest I had ever seen before! Located at the far end of the resort near The Valley Restaurant, this slope pool has a swim-up pool bar with daily drink specials and many loungers to relax on.

Happy Hour runs from 4:30 - 6:30 pm with 2 for 1 signature cocktails and beer. You can also order poolside snacks from their menu to enjoy.

The temperature of the pool was a little too warm for me, but it was still very pleasant to lounge poolside on the comfortable sunbeds while reading my book.
The surrounding area was beautifully decorated and tranquil, with a trickling waterfall and bird sculpture fountains around the pool. It was extremely relaxing.

The onsite Vedana Spa is highly impressive and offers many treatments to indulge in, inspired by nature to help nurture the mind, body and spirit.
They proudly use no chemicals or artificial ingredients in their spa treatments, taking great care to source only 100% natural ingredients. Where possible, they derive all of their spa products from their own herb garden or locally from sustainable sources fresh from the markets in the morning.

Services include deep-tissue massages, hot stone massages, Swedish and Thai massages.
A variety of treatment therapies are provided, including aromatherapy and reflexology.
The spa is also equipped with a sauna, a steam room and Turkish bath/hammam.

All of their treatments are pure in style and substance, offering the unique flavours of Hue, Vietnam.
You can go all out and fully pamper yourself with a manicure and pedicure, facial, a body wrap and scrub, they even offer hair care services.

Near the spa, there are daily complimentary wellness activities including morning Taichi and Yoga.

Also in the area is the well-equipped Fitness Center. There is a variety of exercise machines and equipment including bicycles, treadmills and free weights.

The resort has a convenient daily free shuttle bus to and from the city several times a day and to its sister resort in Phu Loc, Vedana Lagoon.
Many local tours and airport transfers can easily be arranged and there are bicyles for hire.
They have wedding and honeymoon packages and can cater for meetings and social gatherings.

There are no less than three lovely places situated around the resort to enjoy chilling with a nice drink, including the Candle Bar, Peanut Bar and Slope Lounge.

There are two large restaurants on site, Junrei Restaurant, which is one of Central Vietnam's largest traditional houses, crafted with authentic imperial columns and Valley Restaurant of a more modern art design, set next to a lily lake; this is also where breakfast is served daily.

The Food

A daily buffet breakfast is included with your room and has seriously one of the most impressive selections I have ever seen.
You can have eggs made to order how you like and there is a banh mi and waffle stand.

There are western and local hot dishes to choose from including traditional Hue pho soup. There are fresh pancakes, crepes, pastries and bread, cereal, yoghurt, fresh fruit, salads and juices, cheese and deli items.

There is something for every taste here, even the fussiest person would not go hungry.
I thoroughly enjoyed my breakfast both mornings.
One thing that could perhaps be improved on is the coffee service. It was always very busy and both mornings I had to ask for a coffee after about twenty minutes as it wasn't self-service and nobody had come by.

An excellent start to my day!

I ate in for both of the nights and on the first, I ordered room service, which was quite prompt. I wasn't particularly hungry so I just ordered an entree that was a local Hue dish, Banh Khoai. It is a Vietnamese crepe made of rice flour and fried until crispy, with pork meat, quail egg and shrimp to eat together with fresh lettuce leaves, herbs and a dipping sauce. It was so delicious I wished there was a second one!

On my second and final night, I dined at the Junrei Restaurant which was a very elegant place. They (as well as Valley Restaurant) offer both Vietnamese and international cuisine and the setting is very beautiful, in a large building with hand-crafted wooden architecture.
It was quite full of people so it is a very popular option. It did take a while to order and for the food to come out however it was certainly worth the wait and I enjoyed a beer in the meantime. After asking for a recommendation I ordered Bun Thit Nuong.

This is a popular cold Vietnamese rice noodle dish, topped with tasty grilled pork, fresh herbs such as basil and mint, a fresh garden salad, bean sprouts and deep-fried spring rolls. You pour the fish sauce over the noodles, mix all together and enjoy!
It was a great big size and very delicious, the flavours were so fresh and wonderful.
It was a tad on the expensive side for Vietnam however, that with the cheapest Huda beer came to $16 AUD.
It was a very delicious meal though and the convenience of dining on site is worth it.

The Details

Hotel: Pilgrimage Village Boutique Resort & Spa

Location: 130 Minh Mang Road, Hue, Vietnam

Reviews: 4.5/5 stars on Trip Advisor from 1956 Reviews.

Price: Starts at $90 USD a night for a Deluxe Double Room, depending on the season.

Final Thoughts

I thoroughly enjoyed my stay here, it was a much-needed retreat. Being surrounded in a peaceful, lush green environment and experiencing a taste of rural Vietnam in a luxury-style setting was so blissful. The resort seamlessly embodied both traditional Vietnamese influences infused with classic modern style.

The location is great if you want to stay somewhere more secluded and quiet, away from the traffic noise and the hustle of everyday life. The airport is only 15 kilometres away and the city centre 4 kilometres away, or fifteen minutes drive and the free daily shuttle buses make going to and from there a breeze.

Even though there were clearly many people at the resort, judging by the pool and restaurants always being fulll, it really didn't seem like it as it's such an enormous place with plenty of space for all.

The generous staff are exceptionally friendly, the most I have ever encountered before. Everyone would all smile and say Xin Chào to each other as well as every time us guests walked past.
Miwa from Japan, in particular, was the loveliest woman I think I have ever met in my life. She made sure everything was perfect about my stay and offered any assistance for future travels which was so kind, she is such a beautiful soul.

My room was fantastic and very comfortable and the facilities around the resort are 5-star. With the two excellent pools, great spa, multiple restaurants and bars, Pilgrimage Village is the ideal place for a relaxing vacation and would be a top choice for every type of traveller, from solo travellers like me to couples looking for a romantic getaway, friends and big family groups.
I highly recommend this resort and would absolutely stay again next time I'm in Hue!

Happy Travels,

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Disclaimer: One night was complimentary and the second night discounted in exchange for an honest review. All opinions as always are my own.

Best Places To Eat: Hanoi, Vietnam

Oh, how I miss delightfully fresh and flavoursome Vietnamese cuisine from its homeland.
I don't have to wait too long to have it again, as I have recently booked returning in July at the end of my Southeast Asian adventure. This time, I will have the pleasure of visiting Danang and Hoi An -  I can't wait!

This is my second Vietnamese food post, with my first one focusing on Ho Chi Minh City.
It was about time to write up my favourite particular cuisines and where to get them from the capital city, Hanoi. Here are my top recommendations that I thoroughly enjoyed if you're heading there yourself:

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Hanoi Street Food Tour

Again I will begin with an excellent street food tour, which was, as usual, one of the highlights of our time there. Being total foodies my husband and I love nothing more than being introduced to the best local cuisines, so on our first night we booked the highly rated Hanoi Street Food Tour. It is currently the number one tour in Hanoi on Trip Advisor.

We booked the walking tour which was only $20 USD each, an amazing price for what we got. In a small group, we were taken by our friendly and knowledgeable guide through the old quarter, bustling markets and hidden alleyways and tried a huge variety of top-notch Hanoi specialities.

We tried Bun Cha (grilled pork and noodles), Nom Bo (dried beef salad), Banh Cuon (rice-paper filled 'pancakes') which we got to each have a go at trying to flip as they were being made, Banh Tieu (fried savoury doughnuts), Kem Xoi - my favourite! (sticky rice ice cream), Banh Mi (Baguette), Ca Phe Trung (egg coffee) and to cap it all off we finished with some Vietnamese rice wine.

In true local Hanoi-style, we sat at tiny tables and chairs on the street, at the backs of cafes or up flights and flights of stairs at family restaurants. We were so very full and satisfied afterwards! I highly recommended this tour, even if you're only in town for a short time.
As well as the food, it's a great way to be introduced to the city and the guides are more than happy to answer any questions or recommend places.

The best Banh Mi

This famous Vietnamese baguette sandwich is packed with a choice of fillings including a selection of meats, paté and greens. The perfect Banh Mi should have slightly warmed and crunchy bread and fresh and flavourful fillings.
Recommended by several sources (including our food tour guide), was Banh Mi 25.

As you can see in the above photo, you can get a delicious Pate Banh Mi for only 15,000 VND, (.80 cents AUD!) it's unbelievable. There was a long line when we arrived but it moved quickly. Next to the ordering booth which is outside on the street, they have a full cafe area where you can sit to eat.
It was a very tasty and filling lunch, which we washed down with a Hanoi beer.

The best Bun Cha

A Hanoi speciality, you can find Bun Cha at food stalls and street kitchens across the city.
We tried Ban Cha several times as it's such an amazing feast and a budget one at around 60K VND each ($3.50 AUD).
You are served a selection of several dishes, including charcoal barbequed meat patties, crispy spring rolls, noodle broth, assorted foliage, dipping sauce and fresh chilis.
Although it is typically good everywhere you find it (much like Pho), our favourite place had to be Bun Cha Huong Lien, and that may or may not have been because even the former President Barack Obama had been there!

The best Pho

Okay, I don't actually have a best place to eat Pho in Hanoi. As mentioned in my Ho Chi Minh City post, I ate Pho literally every morning (as it is commonly served for breakfast) at the hotels in which we were staying in. But I couldn't have a Vietnamese food post and not mention Pho!
It's Vietnam's national dish, consisting of a light chicken or beef broth flavoured with ginger and coriander, with flat rice noodles, spring onions and slices of beef, pork or chicken. Every bowl of Pho was delicious and full of flavour, no matter where it was from - so I don't think you'll go wrong wherever you get it from.

The best place for dinner

Our favourite place we went to for dinner in Hanoi was an absolute gem that we would have gladly gone back to again and again. Countryside was recommended to us by the lovely staff at our hotel. We later saw (as they should) that they have excellent Trip Advisor reviews.
The food, service and prices all made for a delightful dining experience. They also offer cooking classes which I wish I had of had the time for!
My husband and I ordered a few dishes to share including fresh spring rolls, Vietnamese savoury pancakes and a pork meatball vermicelli soup. Everything was perfection and we ate to our heart's content.

We even ordered a rare dessert even though we were full - the mango crepes and all of this including four beers cost a total sum of 360K VND ($20 AUD). They got a very good tip from us!

The best Cu Lao

In Vietnam, a hot pot is called Lau or Cu Lao. A hot pot is common throughout East Asia, which is a simmering metal pot of stock at the centre of the table. While the hot pot is simmering, you add the ingredients and it is cooked at the table.
Typical hot pot dishes can include thinly sliced meat, leafy vegetables, mushrooms, wontons, egg dumplings, tofu and seafood and it is very warming and delicious.

We had a delightful Cu Lao at Little Hanoi which is in the Bia Hoi Corner. You can sit on the street at tiny tables with the locals and enjoy the busy and bustling atmosphere of bars and people walking by.
We ordered a beef and chicken hot pot which cost 200K VND ($11 AUD) and it was so good but so much food we couldn't eat it all!

The best lunch/snack

One of our favourite places we frequented almost daily was the French bakery Anh Hoa. The French Influence is still strong in Vietnam today after a century of past French rule. 
At Anh Hoa, they barely spoke a word of English but the bakery goods, including fresh croissants, pain au chocolat, filled sandwiches, cakes and coffee were all divine. Just point and pay and you're all good to go!

The best coffee

I saved my favourite for last - Egg Coffee, or Ca Phe Trung, originating in Hanoi is a delicious Vietnamese drink traditionally prepared with egg yolks, sugar, condensed milk and Robusta coffee.
There is an interesting history of how this seemingly odd coffee drink was created. Due to there being a shortage of fresh milk in Vietnam during the French War, most Vietnamese would line the bottom of the cup with condensed milk and pour the coffee on top, and that's exactly how Vietnamese coffee is served today. But lacking milk, Nguyen Giang whisked in an egg as a substitute.

He founded Café Giang and that is where you can find the best Ca Phe Trung in Hanoi, where it originated from. It is so unbelievably delicious, like a liquid tiramisu. I loved having it as either a late-afternoon pick-me-up or as a dessert.
I must say though, I had egg coffee at a variety of places, and although Cafe Giang was the very best - they were all delicious!

There we have my top recommended places to eat and foods to try in Hanoi. I can't wait to write my next Vietnamese post on Hoi An, coming in July! Do you have any other places to add to this list or recommendations for me in Hoi An? I'd love to read them!

I also made a short video of the highlights of Hanoi from my time there if you're interested - it unsurprisingly showcases a lot of the food!

Happy Travels,

Best Places To Eat: Ho Chi Minh City

I spent a wonderful two weeks in Vietnam in December, and as always I learned as much as I could and very much enjoyed the delights of the local cuisine. Vietnamese pride their food on being fresh, healthy and bursting with flavour.
I am in no way an expert just from my short stay there, but I have some great recommendations for gems that I did find.

Here in part one of this mini food series, I share specific places for where to eat in Ho Chi Minh City and include a selection of my favourite Vietnamese food that are absolute must-tries. Part Two will share more dishes and recommendations for Hanoi.

Saigon Street Eats

I'll start by highly recommending an excellent street food tour my husband and I did on our first night: Saigon Street Eats. We discovered it from its excellent reviews on Trip Advisor as we love to do food tours when we first arrive in a new place, to scope out and be introduced to the very best food the city has to offer! We did the Street Food 101 tour, and they also have a Pho Trail and a Seafood Trail if that tickles your fancy.

We were picked up by friendly guides from our hotel on the back of motorbikes and joined a small group in the well-known food area District 3. The entire evening was jam-packed with so many delicious dishes - we were so full after over three hours of nonstop eating.

We started with Banh Xeo (Vietnamese pancakes) which was one of my absolute favourites. These enormous, cheap and filling savoury pancakes are filled with shrimp, pork, bean sprouts and egg, which is fried and wrapped in rice paper. You are also given a plate of fresh greens which you wrap a piece in and then dunk into a spicy sauce.
It's so fresh and the flavours are amazing.

Next up we tried Com Tam (broken rice), which is a street-stand favourite. Recipes vary, but you can often find it served with barbecued pork or beef and a fried egg. It was the most delicious rice I've ever tried and the succulent meat accompanying it was divine.

Also on the street food tour, we tried frog legs (tasted like chicken), barbecued duck, hot pots and a selection of Vietnamese desserts.
Everything was fantastic and we picked up some great information such as where to get the best Banh Mi in the city (shared below!).
At $45 USD per person, it is of course, pricier than you could find eating on the streets yourself, but you are paying for a local-guided tour, awesome food, drinks at every stop, transportation and you get a wonderful insight into the local food - it's really worth it.

The best Banh Mi

This delectable baguette sandwich is packed with a choice of fillings including paté and greens and it's so good it has been imitated all over the world. The perfect Banh Mi should have slightly warmed and crunchy bread, and fresh and flavourful fillings.

As mentioned we were recommended this place by our food tour guide and I am not kidding you - I tried a lot of Banh Mi over our two weeks in Vietnam and Banh Mi Huyn Hoa was the king of the kings.
We knew it would be good even before we tried it, as there was a long line of locals waiting outside. For 33K VND (less than $2 AUD) it was the best dang sandwich period!

The best Pho

Vietnam’s national dish and the country’s great staple is Pho (pronounced “fur”).
A light and flavourful noodle soup, it is eaten at any time of the day, but most commonly at breakfast. A basic bowl of Pho consists of a light beef or chicken broth flavoured with ginger and coriander, with flat rice noodles, spring onions and slivers of chicken, pork or beef.

I ate Pho for breakfast every morning as it was served at all of the hotels we were staying at, so I didn't actively search for a 'best place' to eat it.

For the times that I did have it outside of the hotel, I went to Big Bowl, a popular Pho chain. You can customise your soup exactly how you like and it's very reasonably priced. Even at an airport, I had a Pho, a bottle of water and a coke all for 100K VND ($5 AUD).
Every single bowl I had no matter where it was from was delicious - so I'm pretty sure you won't go wrong wherever you go!

The best place for dinner

An absolute must if you can - go to Cyclo Resto for their incredible five-course set menu.
It is honestly one of the best foodie experiences I've ever had in my life.
We again found it by their excellent Trip Advisor reviews and it was conveniently only a ten-minute walk away from where we were staying.
The restaurant aims to give you a real experience of a Vietnamese family meal. The service was perfect, each of the five courses were like they were sent from heaven and the price for all of it was gob-smacking.
It cost us a grand total of $16 AUD for two people including a beer and water each... needless to say we gave them a very good tip at the end because we could not believe we just had one of the best meals of our lives for so little.

Every dish was lovingly prepared and was an explosion of flavour. Below are each of the courses:

Course #1: Prawn crispy spring rolls which had the most impressive presentation!

Course #2: A clear green melon soup with shrimp which was incredibly hydrating, it was like drinking an elixir of life.

Course #3: Stir fried green beans and pork with a black bean flavour. They were perfectly sauteed and crunchy.

Courses #4 and #5 came out together as the mains - a delicious fish clay pot and a fragrant lemongrass chicken curry, served with steamed rice.

As a surprise at the end, we were presented with an Egg Coffee which I had heard so much about but knew it was a speciality in Hanoi. I was very excited to try it and it exceeded my expectations - it tasted like a liquid tiramisu! It was the perfect way to finish the most delightful evening.

Cyclo Resto gets an 11/10 from me, even if it's not close to where you are staying I would go out of your way for this one! They also do cooking classes which I would have loved to do if I had the time.

The best place for lunch

There were two great spots we found that I would recommend for lunch. The first being a popular food court Cocochin. They have a variety of Asian food stalls where you can choose from literally a hundred dishes, so there's something for everyone.
The food court is in a central location (not far from the statue of Ho Chi Minh), it is clean and very well priced.

I ordered a BBQ pork wonton soup and it was the perfect lunch. The price of both of our dishes and a drink each cost 55,000K VND ($3 AUD!).

The second top spot for lunch (or even a snack) is a delightful French bakery Tous les Joures. They can be found all over the city and have amazing fresh pastries, sandwiches and coffee. The store we frequented was located inside the shopping mall Vincom Center (also close to Ho Chi Minh's statue).

The best coffee

Vietnamese love their coffee and you can find a coffee shop on practically every corner.
I had a decent coffee practically everywhere I went, but one place I kept going back to was the giant chain Highlands. They make great coffee, both hot and cold, have free wifi, serve food and refreshing fruity beverages which are perfect to beat the heat.

(I would however not recommend the Banh Mi here, which we found to be a tad dry and tasteless)

The best dessert

Last but not least, I thought I should mention a dessert. To be fair, we didn't try many as we were usually too full, but we did try some amazing sweet dessert rice. You can find it all over the city in street carts and there is a selection of different types and flavours. We got a mixture of everything to share and really enjoyed it. A bunch of salt was added on top which made it almost taste like popcorn - so yum!

There we have my top recommended places to eat some very delicious Vietnamese food in Ho Chi Minh City. Stay tuned for my next food post for Hanoi coming early next week.
Do you have any other places you would add to this list? Let me know in the comments - I'd love to read them.

Happy Travels,
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Halong Bay | Bhaya Cruise Review

Halong Bay was a place I had always dreamed of going to. I had very high expectations- heck I was there for my honeymoon! And you know what- it totally lived up to and exceeded them all.

It was without a doubt the most incredible place I've ever been to.
The surroundings of the UNSECO World Heritage Site were so ancient, magnificent and beautiful- I couldn't take my eyes away from the towering limestone islands topped with rainforests.
Sailing through the tranquil emerald waters was surreal, it was so incredibly peaceful, which was just what we needed.

If you're wanting to do Halong Bay- you want to do it right. There are so many options out there so it can be very difficult to narrow them down and make the best decision for which company to go with.
My now husband and I did hours and hours of research going through all the top rated cruises on Trip advisor and comparing them all.
We decided to go with Bhaya Classic Cruises on their Legend Halong Private charter vessel and we are so so thankful and happy we did because our trip was truly unforgettable.

We chose the three day, two night cruise and the whole experience from start to finish was amazing, I couldn't recommend them more if you are wanting a more personal and exclusive tour.
Most other cruises you can choose from are packed with people. These are for the young and budget travellers and fair enough if you want to go there and are on a tight budget.
For us- Vietnam was our honeymoon trip and after first visiting Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, which was amazing but very hectic and busy- Halong Bay was our relaxing and chill time to ourselves that we wanted to spend in an incredible place.

How to get there

There is an optional shuttle transfer from Hanoi which we opted in for which was $50 US for two people. We were picked up early morning in a luxury van which was very comfortable- there was even wifi!
It took almost 4 hours to drive to Halong Bay with a 20-minute rest-stop break in the middle with facilities. You get taken straight to the Bhaya office where you meet the crew so it's a very easy process.

The boat

Legend Halong are a private cruise tour, so there were only two other couples on board with us- one from Florida and one from Singapore.
Our deluxe cabin rooms were very authentic and comfortable, with air conditioning, a large en-suite and our own private balcony to view the amazing surroundings.
Aside from our rooms, there was a dining area with tables where we ate our meals and couches to relax on. I loved that it was decorated for Christmas and New Year since we were there mid-December.
Upstairs was a large open-top sundeck where you could relax on loungers, bean bags, couches or at a table. This was where Gareth and I spent a lot of time enjoying the scenic view with a beer in hand, especially at sunset.

The view from our own cabin balcony

The activities

The first afternoon we spent on a traditional bamboo boat ride around Dark and Bright Lagoon. We could choose to kayak if we wished but four of the six of us chose the bamboo ride. The local boat owner took us around through many beautiful caves and bays.
There were no sounds other than the splashing of the paddle on water. It was so pleasant and tranquil and incredible seeing the limestone islands right up close.

Aboard the bamboo boat

Late afternoon before anchoring for the night we visited a Pearl Farm where we learnt all about pearls and how they were grown there. I never knew how they were made before so I found it very interesting.
Gareth even bought me a pair of beautiful black pearl earrings from the store (as they were a very good price) to match my black pearl necklace I got in the Cook Islands.

Approaching the Pearl Farm

In the evenings we had free time to spend as we pleased but there is optional squid fishing which we were keen to try. We all gave it a go with bamboo rods but unfortunately it wasn't squid season, however we did catch a couple of small fish.

On the second day in the morning, we had the option to wake up early for a Tai-Chi lesson on the sundeck.
I had never done Tai-Chi before, nor anything like it- but I thought this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience it surrounded by such incredible scenery.
It was very relaxing and to be honest a really nice way to start the day! I was glad I got up early to do it as it was pretty special.

After breakfast we visited Bo Hon Island to see 'Surprise Grotto.' It was a small hike to the top of the island where we had incredible views over the bay (see header picture) and we could enter inside to the large and protected caves.
It was absolutely stunning inside and we really enjoyed walking around and seeing all the different formations which were accentuated with colourful lights.

After lunch in the afternoon we visited Ti Top Island which has the highest point you can view over Halong Bay. We could choose to hike to the top- which was a huge mission, but so worth it for the stunning views. My legs were absolute jelly after that but I was thankful for the exercise with all the delicious food we had been eating.
Afterwards we could swim at the beach there if we wished.

The six guests at the top!

After we had recovered from the hike we spent the rest of the afternoon kayaking through the area Ho Ba Ham. We kayaked through caves and even pulled up onto a small beach where we could visit a temple. (Unfortunately I didn't have a waterproof camera so there were no photos of this).

Those were the main activities we took part in and it was great being active and getting out and about in Halong Bay. The whole itinerary was very enjoyable and a perfect mixture of adventure and relaxation time.
All of these activities are optional and there are also spa services on board if you choose.

The food

All meals are included and we ate like kings the entire time- there was so much food. There were about five courses for both lunch and dinner (three for breakfast!) and every day was different. A fusion of Vietnamese, it was all incredible.
Every dish was lovingly prepared and very tasty. They have their own chef on board so it's made fresh daily.
There is complimentary tea and coffee whenever you please and chilled water and drinks to purchase, as well as a very nice wine selection.
There is a happy hour every evening at 5 pm with two for one drinks. We happily sat at the bar for hours in the evenings with the other guests and shared wine and stories.

On the second evening there was a cooking demonstration of traditional cuisine and fruit carving which we could take part it. We learned how to make Vietnamese spring rolls with a dipping sauce which is one of my favourites so I was thrilled about that!

Oysters for appetisers!

Fantastic crew

The friendly crew really made the trip extra special. Every single member of staff was so genuine and warm- you were always greeted with a smile.
Cuong and Manh especially went over and beyond in their service, they were so kind, helpful and always keen for a chat about the history of Halong Bay.
We were very impressed by the crew and how welcome we felt.

All of us and the crew
Loved their motto- Yes We Smile


If you're a big water drinker like me then bring a couple of 1.5 litres of water with you.
There is no fridge in your room but it's handy to have and to brush your teeth with.
There is of course water to purchase on board but they only have small bottles so I always had to grab four bottles at a time.

One thing I wish I had (but sadly don't own yet) is a GoPro or waterproof camera. It would have been perfect for swimming and kayaking and getting more incredible shots.

It says there is free wifi- but it didn't work for us. However, I'm actually really glad of this.
It was so nice to really switch off for a few days and be in the moment. So my final tip is for you to do that too. No TV, no internet. Just you and the epic surroundings. It's pure bliss.

The Details:

Cruise: Bhaya Legend Cruise

Location: No. 08, 09, 10, Tuan Chau International Port, Halong, Quang Ninh, Vietnam.

Reviews: Certificate of Excellence on Trip Advisor; 5/5 stars from 257 reviews.

Price: Prices vary depending on the season but start at $224 US for 3 days, 2 nights.

Our boat

Final Thoughts

Halong Bay was truly the most epic few days of my life- I didn't want it to end when it did!
It has inspired me to venture out and see more of the incredible sites this world has to offer.
The Bhaya Legend Cruise was a little more expensive than other boats you can find- but they aren't private and to be honest it is worth every single penny for the fantastic service you receive.
Everything from the immaculate rooms, delicious food, itinerary and activities make this cruise so enjoyable and special.
If you're wanting to book a cruise in Halong Bay then I give my full recommendations to Bhaya. Our honeymoon was exactly what I had dreamed of and I couldn't thank them enough for our incredible time.

Here are a few more photos from our wonderful trip below.

If you haven't yet been to Halong Bay I hope I have inspired you to visit! We loved our time in Vietnam and we can't wait to return again. Have you been or are wanting to go?
Let me know in the comments below.

Happy Travels,
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This post is not sponsored- this is my honest opinion and recommendation.

Hanoi Travel Diary & Vietnam Reflection

Hanoi, a little summary

Hanoi was a different experience to Ho Chi Minh City. Whether I liked it more or not- I couldn't quite tell, nor put my finger on exactly how the two differed so much.
I think because we were staying in the very centre of town in Hanoi the people were just so condensed into such a small space.
I enjoyed that experience to a degree- witnessing the busy hectic lifestyle, the street markets where people are literally sitting on the sidewalk chopping fish and meat. It was fascinating and I enjoy learning about and seeing such different cultures and lifestyles.

The people are such hard workers. It's hard not to notice that they work all day from the early hours of the morning right up until 11 pm at night.
The many food vendors made a good advantage of the tourists a lot more than in HCMC. There was always someone trying to sell to you and being rather pushy- especially the fried doughnut sellers. I even had a lady randomly place her wooden carry pole (which was painfully heavy- wow they are strong!) on my shoulder and placed her cone hat on my head for a photo for money (of which we politely refused).
Another observation was that the locals literally throw all of their rubbish onto the ground and sweep it into the gutter. A bin truck does come around to collect it in the evenings, but that still didn't really get rid of it all, or the smell.
The large amount of traffic in the small streets mean that scooters ride on the footpaths and also park there- often blocking the whole sidewalk so you have to share the road with the rest of the zooming vehicles. Crossing the road and trying not to get run over was a bit of a nightmare at times. I did witness a van munch a scooter with a person still on it- and that didn't help my nerves!
All of the exhaust from the scooters as well meant that there was quite a bit of air pollution and after walking around for the day you just felt very dirty and grimy. It's no wonder the majority of locals wear masks over their mouths. (This is quite like Bangkok, although you can still see the sky in Hanoi!).

I suppose Hanoi was more 'in my face' because of that, with the traffic, the pushy people and it was a tad more touristy.
It was still a wonderful city and I enjoyed it very much, especially the history of it. I really admired the centuries-old architecture of the historic Old Quarter and the French colonial influence which was also evident in the beautiful buildings, the French bakeries and language. We found the majority of locals to be very friendly, the street food was abundant and delicious, egg coffee was everywhere (my fave!) and the mirror-like green Koan Kiem Lake with the ancient Ngoc Son Temple in central Hanoi was a tranquil place in the middle of its chaotic surroundings.
Overall it was very much a typical bustling South-East Asian city, and the energy at night especially was enigmatic.

This is the second part of three in my Vietnam Travel Diary series. Here is the first one from Ho Chi Minh City if you missed it.
I spent four nights in Hanoi, with two nights in between in Halong Bay- which is why there is a gap between days in the middle.
Here is what I got up to in the capital city of Vietnam:

Day Six - Saturday 10 December

After a two hour flight with Jetstar from HCMC to Hanoi, we got a shuttle van from the airport to our hotel. It cost 200k VND for both of us ($12 AUD) and it took about 40 minutes.
One thing I noticed on the drive there looking out of the window was the dramatic change in clothing- it was Winter up here! It was still around 24 degrees though- so I certainly still found it warm enough to wear shorts or a dress. The locals on scooters however were bundled up in jackets and thick coats!
We stayed at a small hotel called Lele and Frog for the first two nights and it was a very basic and cheap hotel with everything we needed. It cost about $50 AUD a night and included breakfast and wifi.
The room was well made up and clean and my favourite part was the balcony overlooking the street below (of which we immediately purchased a beer to enjoy it with).

The bathroom was rather tiny and as we found out later the street noise at night was horrendous, but it was in a really good location- so you win some, you lose some.
After our 3 pm beers we ventured out to explore Hanoi and planned to stay out until our booked Walking Food Tour which was at 7:30 pm.
Our first stop was a delicious French bakery right around the corner from our hotel. We had a fresh croissant pick-me-up each (just as good as Paris) and browsed through many shops on the way towards the lake.

We became short-term regulars at the bakery

We passed St Joseph's Cathedral which was very magnificent

We walked around the tranquil lake and came to the centre square of the Old Quarter. The roads around as we found out are blocked off on the weekends (brilliant idea) so that people can walk freely and peacefully around the lake.
We had a beer-stop rest at an upstairs bar overlooking the busy streets below which was very fascinating. Afterwards, we ventured through the bustling market streets, just browsing and people-watching really.

Typical whole family on a scooter

After a big walk at about 6 pm we came across a busy corner which we later found out was called 'beer corner,' which had locals eating and drinking beer outside on tiny tables and chairs.
We found a more quiet spot and joined them. The old lady that served us didn't speak English but she was very friendly and even kept telling pushy sellers to shoo away from us!

After a few Tigers, it was time to meet up for the Hanoi Street Food Tour. There were only two other people with us, one from Canada and one from America. 
I don't remember the names of any of the food- but there was a lot of it and they were all delicious! There was a noodle soup, fresh jerky, spring rolls, different kinds of fried savoury 'doughnuts'.
We were taken to many local spots and sat outside on the street tables as well as in shops.
My favourite was the 'pancake' stop, which was more like a rice paper dumpling to me- but we each got to watch the professional and then try to cook it and roll it off the pan ourselves- which was a lot harder than it looked!

The delicious pancakes
Okay, my actual favourite was the dessert- which was Vietnamese ice cream and coconut rice pudding, with coconut shavings on top. It was heavenly! It was almost as good as my ultimate favourite- the Thai mango sticky rice.

Feeling very full there was still one more stop which we ventured through the weekend market and very busy streets to get to (it was a Saturday night so the streets were packed).
We had Bahn Mi and egg coffee, which I had tried before but more than happy to have again!
It was a fantastic food tour- a whole three hours of eating and the guide was very friendly. 
Highly recommended if you're in Hanoi! It cost 20 USD each.
Rather tired after a big day of walking and eating, we ventured back to the hotel (via a cool yellow lantern-lined street) and went straight to bed.

Day Seven - Sunday 11 December

After a rather noisy sleep and a delightful pho for breakfast, we went out for another big exploration. We saw the temple in the middle of the lake and found a beautiful big park with heaps of parents and their children playing as it was a Sunday.

Morning fruit vendors

Gorgeous colonial French architecture

The park with many big displays and locals enjoying the weekend

Gareth with the temple in the middle of the lake behind him

The surrounding streets blocked off was so nice!
We had an iced coffee break at Highlands and browsed through many shops. At about 2 pm we sought out Bahn Mi 25 for lunch which was recommended to us as an excellent place for the traditional Vietnamese baguettes.
There was a bit of a wait as it was a very popular place, but it was nice to sit down and we enjoyed a cold beer while we waited.
We got one each with everything on it- sausage, pate and veg and it was really delicious and the bread was crunchy. Still not as good as the one I had in HCMC- but probably second.

After our late lunch we went back to our hotel for a bit of a rest for an hour or two. Then Gareth was on a mission to get business pants and shirts tailored for him. The second shop we tried was the one and he was measured up and we chose the materials.
Across the road was a Chinese dumpling restaurant so we went there for dinner and got a set menu to share which was pretty good and again so much food, we couldn't eat it all!
The night markets were only on in the weekends so we wanted to check them out. It was very very crowded and huge- we walked through miles and miles of stalls. They had some okay stuff, but I wasn't really interested in anything. I'm sort of over buying useless things I don't need. I did, however want one souvenir from Hanoi so I decided to buy a black Vietnam T-shirt which only cost $3 AUD.
It was another day full of walking (23k steps according to my Fitbit!) so we were again rather exhausted and went back to the hotel to pack our suitcases for an early start tomorrow.

Busy weekend market

Days Eight and Nine - 12-13 December

(Two wonderful nights spent in Halong Bay: post coming soon!)

Day Ten - Wednesday 14 December

We arrived from Halong Bay to our next Hanoi accommodation in the afternoon. We were staying at Golden Sun Suites Hotel and because it was our final two nights in Vietnam, we decided to splash out a bit more than our previous Hanoi hotel (it was still only $95 AUD a night for their best room).
After welcome drinks and fruit we were taken to the 'Honeymoon Suite' and it was made up spectacularly! The biggest surprise was the complimentary bottle of wine and freshly baked cake waiting for us in our room! (Hotel review on the blog coming soon).

Very refreshing

A very nice surprise!

The view from our window
One thing that really surprised me was how dramatically the weather had changed after just two days away- Winter had come! I finally had to wear pants and a sweatshirt that had been hiding at the bottom of my suitcase.
We went out for a late afternoon exploration and ended up coming across and visiting the Hoa Lo Prison. It was first used by the French colonialists for political prisoners and then later by North Vietnam for the U.S Prisoners of War. It was very interesting indeed and we spent a good hour in there going through the old rooms and cells and learning its history.

We sat outside a nice little cafe near St Joseph's cathedral and had a delicious egg coffee (great pick-me-up!) and enjoyed a beer before heading to the tailors to pick up Gareth's two shirts and trousers.
All were very well made and for a very good price. They were called Bambou Silk if you're interested in getting a suit, clothes or dress made.

We asked our hotel for a good local dinner restaurant and they recommended Countryside which wasn't too far away. We had an incredible meal there and I will definitely be mentioning them in my Hanoi: Top Places to Eat blog post also coming soon.
We ordered a savoury Vietnamese stuffed pancake, fresh summer rolls and a meatball soup. All were delicious and it was such a feast! On such a food buzz we even ordered dessert- mango crepes.
All of this including two beers and water came to less than $20 AUD... we gave them a good tip! Tired from our Halong trip we pretty much just went back to the hotel to sleep.

Day Eleven - Thursday 15 December

It was our final day in Hanoi and sadly it was raining. We took a taxi to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum where his embalmed body is preserved in a glass sarcophagus protected by his military honour guard.
We certainly weren't allowed to take photos (we'd probably be hanged!) or even have our hands in our pockets. It was weird seeing his dead body... but it was something Gareth wanted to see. Apparently we have to go see Lenin in Moscow next (if I get to go to Russia then sure!).

The Mausoleum
We walked through the Ho Chi Minh Presidential Palace Historical Site where he used to live. The palace and grounds were grand and we got to see his old cars and into some preserved rooms he used. There were many Vietnamese taking selfies with everything.
It shut for the lunch hour at 12 pm so we had a pho and coffee nearby before walking to the Military History Museum which opened at 1 pm. Thankfully the rain had stopped by then.

The palace which was roped off to visitors

Typical street!
The museum was again more Gareth's thing but it was interesting enough. There was an ancient flag tower, destroyed enemy bombers and plenty of aircraft and tanks to view.

We walked the couple of kilometres back towards our hotel and stopped late afternoon for a bit of a random feast. 'Bun cha' restaurants are very common which have set menus. They usually consist of a grilled pork plate, deep fried spring rolls and noodle soup but we asked to just have a plate of spring rolls as more of a snack. They didn't really speak English so we got two of the three and one each!
So we just had to sit there and try and eat as much as we could. It was a little annoying but we got over it quickly as it tasted too good to really care! We ate less than half of it but it only cost $3.50 AUD each... so who's to complain about that?

Really delicious!
We had a bit of a rest back in our room and then bundled up to head out again as it was getting quite cold. We were planning on just having a few bevvys in the beer corner as we were still very full, but on the way we spotted a bar called Obama's Restaurant which even had a photo of him with a beer! I found this extremely hilarious and such a winning name that we stopped for a couple of Tigers there first.

Next we walked only about 20 metres and came across some people standing outside an old temple trying to sell last minute tickets to a show.
It was for traditional music and we looked at each other and spontaneously said yes.
It was a very unique but blissful hour of a beautiful blend of female vocals and traditional instruments. It was very captivating and I'm glad we went because I just love different cultural experiences.
The government and the group of artists are trying to revive the art of 'Ca Tru' which is the ancient genre of chamber music. We weren't allowed to take photos during the performance but afterwards we were invited to take pictures with the performers so of course I hopped up!

It was about 8:30 pm by then so we decided it was time for dinner. We found the beer corner and chose a place called 'Little Hanoi' and ordered a big mixed hotpot which came with three plates to put in the broth. One with the meat, one with noodles and one with a heap of herbs and vegetables. It was a-maz-ing and a brilliant way to end our time in Vietnam. The huge dinner plus at least four beers only totalled 200k VND ($12 AUD). We ate, we drank, we were merry.

Day Twelve - Friday 16 December

After a final pho for breakfast (sniff) we checked out and headed to the airport.
Upon leaving, the staff- who were always amazingly friendly and brilliant, asked us to fill out a review card for our stay. I filled it out giving them all the best marks and added in the comment section that I'll be mentioning them on my travel blog. I handed it back to them and was almost to the taxi when they rushed out and exclaimed "Are you a travel blogger?" I said yes and I think four members of staff lined up saying "Thank you, thank you" and to wave us off.
I have never before told anyone I was a travel blogger (because I'm still pretty new) but that reaction was unexpected! I think every little bit of help they can get means a lot to them, so I am more than happy to write about them.
From Hanoi we flew back to Ho Chi Minh City, then to Singapore, on to Brisbane, then the Gold Coast.

Vietnam, a reflection

It was an amazing trip. Very exhausting, but amazing. It was good to have walked so much to counter all of the eating (and beer drinking). We saw a lot, we learnt a lot. We both left wishing we didn't have to, and that next time we should spend at least six months here travelling the whole country.
The impact coming home was more than I've felt ever before. It just got me thinking a lot.
Being able to drink fresh water from the taps, having a nice hot shower at home, sleeping in my comfy bed in my big house where I have so many things. I looked around at all of my products, makeup, so many clothes and shoes I have to continually give them away.
I picture the people on the streets, working so hard just so their families can eat. They have nothing in comparison. Sitting on the dirty hard ground or carrying heavy loads or serving 'rich' tourists like us. What do they think of us? Do they envy or despise us? Are they happy? What do they think when they are scrubbing our feet and giving us pedicures? What do they go home to? All of these questions came in a wave as I arrived in my house.
I've been to Indonesia and Thailand before and of course they are also poor countries and we are rich to them, but I came away with the feeling that they are actually genuinely happy. I didn't feel that with the Vietnamese. I know the war is still very fresh and the effects of it are obvious still today.
I have the feeling I would feel the same way if I went to places in Africa or India for example.
I guess I just really felt the unfairness of it all. I heard a lot of the people's stories from their own mouths and their own hardships, as well as seeing it blatantly with my own eyes.
That is just a small reflection. In truth, I can't wait to go back. I would love to visit Hoi An, the mountains in the very North, the Mekong Delta in the South.
But I would really love to visit Thailand again more. It's been five years since I went there- and that was my first real big eye-opening trip and introduction to foreign travel. I loved that trip so so much and I really wish to go back to see if my mindset of the country has changed at all, and maybe to just see it again and reflect on how much I have grown as a person since then. Definite goals for sure.
I have rambled quite enough for one blog post! I promise to make my third one about Halong Bay- a lot shorter!

Thank you so much if you have gotten this far and are still reading- kudos to you!
Hope to see you in my next post,

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Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam Travel Diary

I recently returned from an incredible two weeks in Vietnam and this is the first of my travel diaries. Here is my second one from Hanoi which includes thoughts and reflections from my time in Vietnam, and Halong Bay will be coming very soon.
My travel diaries share a basic overview of what I did each day including particular highlights, prices and any good tips I discovered, as well as my favourite photos from the day! Here is Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon), as that was the first stop:

Ho Chi Minh City is in the south of Vietnam

Day One - Monday 5 December

After a 3 am wake up call, a one hour drive to Brisbane, an 8-hour flight to Singapore, a 2-hour layover and another 2-hour flight to Ho Chi Minh City- we finally arrived in Vietnam's largest city. It was around 7 pm local time I believe (which was 10 pm our time).
We had pre-approved visas which took about half an hour to get processed before we were allowed through customs, mostly due to the line of people.
You can apply for the visa online, then once it's approved, print out the official document you get emailed to be stamped when you arrive. It costs $25 USD per person for a single entry visa which lasts for a month, which you pay upon arrival. It was a simple enough process.
We had arranged a transfer to our accommodation which was the Edenstar Hotel.
My first impressions of the city driving from the airport was that it was very modern, the streets were lined with technology billboards and lights decorated for Christmas.
Shop windows and restaurants had great displays and decorations. I was really surprised by that- because Vietnam is one of the least religious countries in the world (not that you have to be religious to be into Christmas).

HCMC (Ho Chi Minh City for short) is similar to Bangkok- in that there is crazy traffic and a million scooters zipping in every direction, usually with whole families on them!
Something I've never seen before which was the absolute highlight of my day was two people on a scooter- and in the middle of them was a dog! Such a funny sight! I wish I had my camera ready for a photo.

We checked into our hotel which was lovely, it even had a grand foyer with an enormous Christmas tree in the middle. I'll be doing a hotel review of them in the near future, so stay tuned for that!

Love the towel decos!
As we were quite tired and it was getting late we basically went straight out for a little exploration of the street we were staying on in search of food.
Our street was not in a touristy area so all of the food options were local- which was just what we wanted! We settled on a popular looking place filled with locals drinking beer and eating seafood.
Vietnam is one of the highest beer consuming countries per capita in the world- and it's incredibly cheap, from 50 cents in local convenience stores to $1-$3 in bars, depending on how up-market the place is (we were in heaven!).
We weren't overly hungry so we shared two plates of deep fried spring rolls and deep fried prawns (really good) which we washed down with a couple of Tiger beers each.

Delish dinner
We went back to the hotel after that and checked out the rooftop pool bar area which had a great view over the city. We had a nice cocktail each before retiring to bed.

Beautiful view from the rooftop
The pool!

Day Two - Tuesday 6 December

After an excellent breakfast of pho (Vietnamese noodle soup; their traditional breakfast) and plenty of coffee- of which the Vietnamese have aced, we ventured out for the day at 9 am. It was a typical hot day of about 33 degrees.
We crossed some crazy roads which although I got used to after two weeks- it was still nerve racking each time. Traffic doesn't stop in Vietnam. Not even at pedestrian crossings.
This is how you cross a road in Vietnam: you walk very slowly and keep going - and the scooters and cars go around you! Rather terrifying indeed. At least I had a human shield with me (my husband).
You're not even safe on footpaths as scooters use that just as regularly as roads- and they also park there too, often blocking the whole path and making you walk back on to the crazy road! (I found this was worse in Hanoi).
Anyway-- we ventured across roads, through beautiful parks, I saw a smoking nun and a guy carrying a tray of doughnuts on his head!

Dragons in the park!
We came across the magnificent Notre Dam Cathedral. It was impressive from the outside, but I found the inside not so special. I guess I've just been to so many amazing cathedrals that I'm pretty much a snob now!

In front of the cathedral
Across the road was the Central Post Office

We found a nifty shop that sold some pretty cool souvenirs and we both did a bit of shopping in there for presents. I even bought myself some cool Lord of the Rings cloth posters.
The next stop was the Ho Chi Minh Revolution Museum which cost 15,000 VND (Vietnamese Dong) each (about 90 cents). There were helicopters, a tank and cannon outside of the building. There was a lot of historical and war artifacts and information, but it wasn't so much my thing (it was Gareth's).
We then sought out a lunch place and came across a local food court that had so many food choices it was very hard to choose! I ended up going for a BBQ pork and wonton noodle soup and it was really good. Both of our lunches including drinks came to only $10!

We checked out the Saigon River, then the famous Ben Thanh Markets, but we didn't spend long in there. We had pretty much been walking for 5 hours straight and had sore feet so we made our way back to the hotel in the afternoon for some pool time and a refreshing beer.

Walking around town
The markets with every kind of stall inside

That evening we had booked a street food tour Saigon Street Eats on the back of scooters!
We were picked up at 5:30 pm and it was a full 3.5 hours of non-stop eating.
We were taken to District 3 (the city centre is District 1) and tried many local dishes that were all delicious.
We found the tour through Trip Advisor as it had such good reviews and it was everything we could have imagined. We had fresh Vietnamese pancakes, learned about Bahn Mi, had 'broken rice' with pork, tried frogs legs (tastes like chicken!), had a BBQ chicken and a big steam boat. Then were the desserts! We were so so full at the end and the guides were so friendly and informative about all sorts of Vietnamese facts.
It cost $55 each- which is expensive for Vietnam I suppose- but for us tourists for what we got it's an incredibly great deal as it includes transfers and beer and water at every stop. (I've been on food tours in Paris which cost more like $150 and you don't get as much).
I especially enjoyed the scooter ride home (less traffic and on the way there it was raining) and I was grinning from ear to ear. It was a brilliant night and a fantastic way to be properly introduced to the Vietnamese cuisine.

"Banh Xeo" - the Vietnamese pancake stop 
Riding on a scooter in Saigon- check!

Day Three - Wednesday 7 December

We slept in! We got over 10 hours sleep which felt amazing, as boy travelling takes it out of you! After breakfast we walked to the War Remnants Museum, which was only about 15 minutes away. It's also known as the museum of Chinese and American aggression and war crimes and it's the most popular museum in HCMC.
Outside the grounds were littered with giant US Army planes, helicopters and tanks.

Inside the museum... was another story. There were three levels which told the stories and history of Vietnam, from the first Indochina War involving the French colonialists to the most recent Vietnam War.
It was very graphic and horrifying.
I won't go into detail. But I was very shocked. They have a very tragic past which scarily wasn't that long ago at all- and the effects are still very evident today.

The German support posters for Vietnam "Solidarity with Vietnam"
The museum shut from 12 pm - 1 pm (as most places do for lunch), so we had a light lunch next door from Highlands Coffee- a very popular coffee shop you can find on nearly every corner. I had an iced coffee and my first Bahn Mi (Vietnamese baguette) which was good- but could have done with more filling, it was a tad dry.

Trying Bahn Mi!

After that we rushed back to the hotel as we had an afternoon tour booked and pick up was at 1 pm. We were going to the famous Cu Chi tunnels- which is an elaborate network of underground tunnels. It was about an hour and a half drive away.
The communist guerrillas known as the Viet Cong dug tens of thousands of miles underground and used them as hideouts, living quarters and supply routes during the Vietnam War.
We were shown around different sites, hidey holes, all of the different booby traps they used and even got to go through a part of the tunnel ourselves. The tour cost $35 each.

Showing us how they hid in the ground
Gareth struggling through the tiny tunnels as he's 6 ft tall!
It took 2.5 hours to drive back because the traffic was so bad. It was really frustrating as the site is only 70 kms away! Eventually we got back at 7 pm.
Gareth had looked up on Trip Advisor the top restaurants in HCMC and found #5 was only a five minute walk away. I was keen!
It was called Cyclo Restro and it was a 5-course set menu dinner (I will also be doing a 'Best Places To Eat' post for here and Hanoi and will go into more detail).
We started with deep fried prawns with a dipping sauce (delightful) and this decorative swan just made my heart melt! I already loved the place!

Next was a refreshing melon soup which was a delicious broth with melon that tasted like cucumber- it was so hydrating I felt like I was drinking an elixir.
Then we had stir-fry green beans with a bit of beef, a lemongrass-y chicken curry dish and a fish and claypot vegetable dish with rice. It was all simply stunning- I highly recommend this place for everyone visiting HCMC!
We were so so full and satisfied and I loved how fresh, tasty and healthy everything was.
We finished off with 'Egg Coffee' which I had heard about and was so excited to try.
It's one of the best things I've had in my life! Over a flame candle burner, it's coffee prepared with an egg on top so it has turned into a custard- you mix it together and it tastes like a liquid tiramisu- heaven!

That whole feast to our surprise only cost us $16 total- which included two beers!
We couldn't believe it. We gave them a very good tip because that was honestly one of the best food experiences I've ever had.

A quick snap on the way home from dinner (we had some sweet rice from there the next night!)

Day Four - Thursday 8 December

Today was an early start at 6:30 am as we had a full day tour booked to Long Tan- a famed ANZAC battle site.
The Battle of Long Tan was an amazing piece of history of 100 Australian soldiers holding off 2000 Viet Cong and defeating them in 1966. (Gareth my husband is in the military so of course he had to do this tour!).
Our guide was a lovely lady of about 50 years old and was very talkative- which was fine as it was a long drive! We learned a lot about her and her sad life story, as are most people's at that age growing up through the war, starving.
She in particular avoided being forced to marry at age 16 and instead travelled to HCMC to study and worked very hard jobs 18 hours a day to afford it. Her parents lost all of their land in the war and the government still to this day owns all of the land- so they were left with nothing. They are now retired with no pension so our guide has to support them as well as her own children. And she doesn't earn much even though she is very well educated. It's a hard life.

We were taken to the Long Phuoc Tunnels- similar to Cu Chi, the site of the former ANZAC military campgrounds, payed respects to the Long Tan Cross Memorial and were shown the battle sites.
Gareth really enjoyed the tour and that's the main thing! Afterwards was an included lunch which was quite a feast. They keep feeding us so much here! It was nearly a two hour ride home but we arrived back by 3 pm which was nice- we avoided the heavy traffic.
Guess what else I saw just before we had lunch-- a fluffy Pomeranian dog riding a scooter!! Okay not like that, but it was standing where the ladies feet were like it was on a skateboard and it looked so happy with its tongue wagging out and everything- again my camera was not ready!

Just a cool building I saw on the way to the tunnels!
A jack fruit tree!
Just chilling with some goats, the usual
Some great advertising there!
The memorial
The lunch spot was cool! Our guide on the right
What a feast! They gave us chips too ha #Westerners
We spent the rest of the afternoon chilling and enjoying a few drinks at the rooftop bar.
We decided to have a bit of a night out that night and had heard about a popular drinking street.
We first stopped to fuel up at a recommended Bahn Mi place from our street food tour guide the other night called 'Huynh Hoa'. It was just the next street over from our hotel and we knew it was good as soon as we saw a long line of locals lining up down the street for it!
We got one each with everything on it- which was less than $2. Cheap dinner! It was SO good. It was the best sandwich I had in Vietnam, I tried many other places after that- nothing compared!

Footpath lined with parked scooters
The best Bahn Mi!
So happy about it!

After our sandwich we spent the rest of the evening on the 'party street' which was called 'Pham Ngu Lao' which is basically a long road of bars and clubs and tourist souvenir shops.
It's not really Gareth and I's thing- but we do enjoy a drink so we thought we should at least check it out. We mostly just sat outside the bars enjoying a beer and people watching. Although a lot of people do come up to you trying to sell things.
We also browsed a few shops and I bought a cool bracelet (I collect one from each country I go to) and a cool Star Wars Yoda singlet.
We finished up at 'The View' which was part of a hotel that had a rooftop bar. I just guessed by the name that there would be a nice view and I was right!
On the way back to our hotel at about midnight we stopped at the sweet sticky rice cart we had seen the other night and tried a bit of everything. He put salt over it too so it was sweet and salty- so yum!

Busy party road
Dessert rice

Day Five - Friday 9 December

Today was our last full day and we didn't really have any plans except to walk around some more and try do a bit of shopping. We walked to Vincom Shopping Centre as it was said to be the best mall, but we didn't really find anything in there. There was however a great food court and we couldn't help going into a delicious looking French Bakery (just in case you didn't know- there is still a huge French influence in Vietnam as they were ruled by them for 100 years). We each got a custard pastry which was amazeballs.

Walking towards the mall, a typical street with vendors
So many goodies to choose from!

When then said hi to Uncle Ho (this is what the Vietnamese affectionately call their great past leader Ho Chi Minh- who now the city is named after). There is a big bronze statue of him in a court placed in front of the City Hall.
A group of young school girls approached us and asked if they could ask us some questions to help practice their English. They were so cute! We were more than happy to, especially as I had to do that last year too as an activity in my German class and only speak to the locals in German.

Sporting my new Yoda top hehe
We then ventured back towards the hotel via the Ben Thanh Markets again and had a proper look through, but we didn't get anything as in my opinion it's just mostly full of cheap and low quality things. But if you're looking for cheap souvenirs or presents then I would recommend it for that.
As it was a very hot day we had a nice swim in the pool and chilled for the rest of the afternoon.
We had heard of a great cocktail rooftop bar called SkyBar which has amazing views so we headed there at 5 pm to watch the sunset but for some reason it was shut until 6:30 pm which we were a bit disappointed about.
But it turned out to be a good thing as a big storm was rolling in and we noticed the sky was getting very dark quickly! So we walked as fast as we could to the Sky Deck as a backup- which is the tallest building in HCMC. To go up to the observatory deck it costs $10 per person or if you're just going to the bar or restaurant then it is free- but the drinks are rather expensive up there.

Gorgeous views!

It was worth it in my opinion for the view and also to get out of the rain which started hammering down just after we arrived! We spent about an hour and a half up there but the rain wasn't ceasing.
We ended up buying an umbrella to walk to our dinner spot which wasn't too far away.
Gareth wanted to go to the Hard Rock Cafe as he felt like a burger and I was more than happy to spend our last night there, as I've been to a few around the world.

It was very nice and the food was good and huge portions. There was a really talented live Vietnamese rock band playing there as well.

Haha the guy on the right

We had a couple more drinks and then walked all the way back to the hotel- we were more than happy to as we were SO full! It was about a half an hour walk and my legs were so sore by the time we got there- we had walked so much that day- over 23,000 steps.
We packed our suitcases ready for our flight tomorrow and fell into bed!

Day six - Saturday 10 December

It was an early start and we had one last pho for breakfast before checking out.

Great way to start the day!
Building I saw on the way to the airport

The airport was about a 20 minute drive away and it cost 130k VND for both of us ($8 AUD).
We checked our bags, had a coffee from Highlands and got a Bahn Mi from the airport to take on the plane with us for lunch, as it was a two hour flight.
We flew right to the top of the country to Vietnam's capital city Hanoi. And that brings us to the end of my Ho Chi Minh City adventures!

Wow so this turned out to be a lot longer and more detailed than I had intended- hope you don't mind!
I had a really great time there and felt 5 nights went so fast and it was definitely not enough!
It is such a large city that we barely scratched the surface, and I would have loved to do another day trip to the Mekong Delta as well- home to the floating markets. 
Definitely next time- Gareth and I can't wait to return to Vietnam and we are hoping we can do it properly- at least for a couple of months travelling the whole country.

Coming next will be my Hanoi and then Halong Bay Travel Diaries, so stay tuned for the next parts in my Vietnamese adventure.

Thank you so much for reading and I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

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