Cultural Notes and Observations: Vietnam

  • Lots of motorbikes
  • Grab Car is popular in large cities
  • Straw cone hats
  • People like keeping pet birds in cages
  • Vietnam has a beautiful highway connecting Hanoi to the port to travel to Cat Bah Island. I believe it was a toll highway so I only saw several large trucks and no motorbikes.
  • Hanoi reminds me of a small European City with its narrow streets and old buildings
  • Miniature poodles are the pet dog of choice in Hanoi
  • Cat Ba Town feels tacky but the surroundings are spectacular
  • People drive on the right side of the road
  • Not as many people speak English
  • People less willing to help you if they don’t speak English
  • Dogs are eaten
  • Beautiful rich countryside filled with rice fields
  • Laughing gas is sold in many bars
  • Fertile land – currently in the month of May they are harvesting rice
  • I cannot access my blog website

Food I’ve tried:

  • Bánh mì – vietnamese sandwiches
  • Bun Cha – pork
  • Fried spring rolls
  • Fresh spring rolls
  • Pho
  • Cha ca La Vong – Grilled Fish
  • Banh Xeo – sizzling pancake
  • Banh Mi Op-La Du thu – two fried eggs with meat and baguette
  • Bubble tea
  • Yogurt with jelly in it
  • Fresh Beer
  • Choco pie
  • Goat
  • Hibiscus tea with passion fruit ice cream
  • Egg coffee – hot and cold
  • Matcha ice cream
  • Cao Lau – doughy flat noodles mixed with croutons, bean sprouts, and greens with pork
  • Mi Quang
  • Vietnamese coffee with yogurt
  • Popcorn milkshake
  • Vietnamese coffee with coconut
  • White rose
  • Papaya salad
  • Sweet and sour fish soup

June 15, 2017 – The Cu Chi Tunnels

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Grace and I decided that the easiest and most cost effect way to see the Cu Chi Tunnels was do book the “Cu Chi Tunnels Half Day” tour with The Sinh Tourist, a large reputable tour company in Vietnam. We arrived at the Cu Chi tunnels (Ben Dinh) around 9:30 am and proceeded to an underground hut to watch a short film and presentation about the Cu Chi tunnels. Afterwards, we went to see the tunnels in person. According to the site’s pamphlet, the “Cu Chi tunnels are one of the most famous historical vestiges of Bietnam’s national liberation war. The network consists of over 200 km of tunnels is connected in a cobweb-like fashion. With determination and endurance, the tunnels were dug with rudimentary tools, then camouflaged the openings so well that nobody could find them.” The Ben Dinh Tunnel was the base of Cu Chi District Party Committee during the resistance to the Americans. It was also the place for dining, living, meeting, as well as a unique battle deployment location to fight for national salvation.

We got to enter a tunnel and go through about 20 meters of it. It was so tiny I had to hunch my back very far forward.  Afterwards, we taste-tested steamed tapioca root which was the staple food in Cu Chi during the war. It is extremely bland and tasteless. Overall, I’m glad I went to the Cu Chi Tunnels. However, I found the tour extremely rushed and felt the guide did not provide enough information.

June 14, 2017 – The Fito Museum and the War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City

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Myself Trying to Convice Grace to Purchase Traditional Vietnamese Medicine at the Pharmacy Exhibit in the Fito Museum

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The FITO Museum, is a museum of traditional Vietnamese medicine that costs 120,000 VND o$7 CAD to enter. It may not sound that interesting, but it is very unique. The architecture and detail of the building itself is equally as fascinating as exhibits themselves. The museum is home to 18 exhibition rooms including a short documentary film about the history of Vietnam’s traditional medicine.

According to the museum’s brochure: “Nearly 3,000 items are relevant to traditional Vietnamese medicine dating back to the Stone Age. Implements used to prepare traditional medicine included knives, grinders, mortars and pestles, pots, and jars. As early as the 2nd century BC Vietnamese have used hundreds of plant species for medicinal plants. Statistics from the Vietnam Ministry of Health show that 1,800 medicinal plant species have been found in Vietnam.”

Overall, I really enjoyed the museum and definitely recommend it!

In the afternoon, Grace, Alexus, and I went to the War Remnants Museum which is 15,000 VND or 85 cents CAD. Forerly named the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes, the War Remnants Museum conveys the brutal effects of the Vietnam War and the first Indochina War on the Vietnamese people. The museum is a must-visit for anyone travelling to Ho Chi Minh City. It is extremely educational. I found the exhibit “Agent Orange Effects” particularly unsettling. I never knew the effect of this chemical could be so detrimental for generations.

In the evening the three of us went to “The Café Apartment”, an entire apartment dedicated to cafes on Ho Chi Min’s Nguyen Hue Walking Street. If you love coffee and exciting drinks, this is definitely a place to check out!

June 13, 2017 – Crazy Canyoning with Highland Sport Travel: “Don’t be Lazy, Let’s go Crazy!”

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“Don’t be Lazy, Let’s go Crazy!”

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I booked my canyoning excursion through my hostel for about $45 USD. Subsequently, I looked up the company online and discovered that Highland Sport Travel was rated #1 on TripAdvisor. That made me feel much more comfortable after learning that three British tourists had died last year while doing the same kind of tour.

We started by learning some basic knot tying and rappelling techniques at the Base Camp near Datanla waterfall. Then we headed off towards the river. In total we repelled down three rocks – including one where we landed in a waterfall which was awesome! Additionally, we also jumped off some cliffs into the river water and went down a small natural waterfall head first on our backs. It was definitely an adrenaline filled day and our group of eight participants were all gung-ho. Luckily, our guides were excellent and excelled in teaching the repelling procedures. Everyone completed all of the routes and had a lot of fun.

June 11, 2017 – Waterfalls and Weasels

8 limb pose

Striking an Eight-Angle Pose at the Pongour Waterfall

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The three of us rented motorbikes and hit the road. The 28 km drive to Elephant Falls was beautiful! The windy road with greenery on each side reminded me of the Sea to Sky Highway in Vancouver a little bit.

The falls was nice and you could get fairly close to the bottom where all the mist sprays you. The rock climb to the lookout point is a little dangerous. The route consists of a small railing secured into the already existing rock.

Next, we ran into a café and weasel coffee plantation called Me Linh Coffee Garden and decided to stop and try the weasel coffee. We ordered and then found a spot on the raised terrace overlooking the gorgeous view. The coffee came and we waited for it to filter and drip into the bottom of our cups before having a taste and mixing it with condensed milk. Weasel coffee has a distinctly full and tart aftertaste, but is otherwise quite tasty! Upon finishing our cups, my friends and I walked among the coffee plants below the café and visited a few of the weasels. Regrettably, they didn’t seem like they were in the best condition.

Further down the road, lies Pongour Waterfall which is stunning. The water cascades down many different rock levels and there are hardly any tourists in sight. I actually met two people there that I had previously met in Vancouver! What are the chances of that? The world is really quite small.

On our way back to Da Lat, we tried to make it in time to ride the Cable Car on Robin Hill, however Grace got lost and Alexus and I got there pretty late too. So we ended up watching kite flyers down by the lake and grabbing some more coffee.

In the evening, we sung the night away in a karaoke room. It was well overdue and loads of fun! Heaps of 90s songs were involved!

June 10, 2017 – The Crazy House in Da Lat

crazy house

Alexus, Myself, and Grace at the Crazy House!

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Upon arriving in Da Lat, you immediately fall in love with the place. Nestled in the mountains, it has a cooler temperatures, unique coffee shops, lots of outdoor recreation activities, and fertile land for growing an assortment of foods such as strawberries, avocadoes, and coffee.

Grace, Alexus and I ventured towards the “Crazy House”, but soon found ourselves in a splendid café named “Maybe Blue Coffee”. The drinks were a little on the sweet side for me, but I loved the atmosphere.

The Hang Nga Crazy House is an actual guesthouse that opened its doors in 1990 and still continues to be in progress. It’s like walking into a surrealism art-piece to the level Gaudí’s architecture or Dalhi’s art.. It is comprised of several buildings connected by narrow bridges and spiral staircases. Some small sections are still under construction. I greatly enjoyed it and would definitely go back. Additionally, I recommend going the hour before it closes, to avoid the crowds.

In the evening, the three of us checked out Maze Bar (Also known as “100 Roofs Café” and “The Escape Bar”). It feels like you are almost back in the Hang Nga Crazy House. The architecture is so wild that you are inevitably going to get lost inside due to the numerous levels, crawlspaces, and dark corners.

 

June 9, 2017 – Leaving Hoi An

lantern

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After collecting all the goods and gifts I’d purchased, I wrapped them up and sent them to Canada using Dai Nam Postal Service. I tried finding their office in Hoi An, but ended up finding B’LAN Homestay instead which also offered their services. The Dai Nam postal Service was very professional and had great reviews online. So far, I have been able to track my shipment which should arrive in Canada in 3-4 months (faster options are also provided).

In the afternoon, Grace, Alexus and I strolled through the Ancient Town to see the last of the sights we’d wanted to see including the Japanese Bridge and several assembly halls. The three of us also had our last coconut coffee from our favourite café before boarding our 14 hour bus to Dalat. Thankfully, sleeper buses in Vietnam are quite comfortable compared to other South East Asian countries.

June 8, 2017 – Cooking Traditional Vietnamese Food and Hoi An’s Lantern Festival

make a wish

Making a Wish at Hoi An’s Lantern Festival

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The three of us signed-up for a three hour cooking class with “Mama Home Cooking Class”. From the booking office, we took a taxi to a local woman’s home about 5 minutes away. The woman introduced herself as “Mama No” and did a great job instructing our cooking class. It was a lovely experience and it felt very authentic and laid back. I was surprised that we were the only ones in the class so we had a private lesson for only $19 USD.

We made papaya salad, fried spring rolls, fried chicken wings, and a sweet and sour fish soup. Everything was fresh and delicious! We couldn’t even finish it all. The only thing the tour doesn’t include is a ride back to the booking office, but they ended up driving me anyways.

In the evening, Grace and I went to Hoi An’s famous Lantern Festival which is a monthly occasion. All of the street lights are turned off in the Ancient Town and beautiful paper lanterns illuminate the area.  We purchased overpriced paper lanterns, made our wishes, and then released them into the river. It was quite a sight to see and was very beautiful.

June 7, 2017 – My Son Sanctuary (A UNESCO World Heritage Centre)

my son

The Hindu Temples of My Son Sanctuary

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Grace, Alexus, and I rented motorbikes and took off towards My Son Sanctuary. The drive was gorgeous and I particularly enjoyed the countryside views! My Son Sanctuary is comprised of Hindu temples that were constructed from the 4th to the 13th century CE and was added to the UNESCO world cultural heritage list in December 1999. The entrance fee was a little on the expensive side: 150,000 VND ($9 CAD). But we did get to take an golf cart buggy to the site from the main entrance which was fun. Unfortunately, there is not much left of My Son due to the Vietnam War. There are ginormous bomb craters sprinkled around some of the temples. Overall, I found My Son underwhelming, but I’m glad I went. It was very quiet and peaceful. We could hear lots of birds and the surrounding landscape is magnificent.

According to the ticket I received upon entering, “My Son Valley is an important complex of Hindu temple-towers which is a symbol of Champa art and continuously developed from the 4th century to the 13th century. The ancient Champa people were raised to be “The masters of art in building brick”. The bricks were smoothed and aid closely and securely without mortar. My Son’s value is also reflected in the art of lively and finely detailed sculptures and carvings on brick.”

On the drive back the three of us got caught in a heavy downpour for two hours. I was glad I had my poncho with me!

June 6, 2017 – Exploring Hoi An with Grace and Alexus

hoi an

Walking the Streets of Hoi An’s Ancient Town

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Hoi An’s Ancient Town is filled with picturesque roads lined with lanterns and bicycles.

Hoi An is famous for its custom clothing and custom leather merchandise. As a result, we shopped till we dropped! I ordered a suit, a purse, a blazer and a pair of boots! I noticed that the market is cheaper for custom merchandise. However, the shop keepers are pushier and try to entice you into their store from the street. All the booths are essentially family run and each one is a very small operation.

We also stopped at Passion Fruit Coffee to get some Vietnamese Ice Coffee with yogurt! It was quite tasty. I also ordered White Rose, a famous Hoi An dish for dinner.