Good Morning, Vietnam [2017]

Guess who’s back, back again? After a day of recovery from a long 21 hour flight, I am ready to be back on the grind. I’ve already contacted ICC’s Career Services team about a posting that I’m super interested in, but I know that I will need to continue researching for other options as well. Any suggestions or leads that any of you have will be super appreciated! Please just comment below or private message me 🙂

Anyhow, the past week spent in Vietnam was wonderful. With the dollar being so strong in the country right now, I highly recommend making the trip if you have the opportunity to! Given our budget, for most of our meals, Phil and I aimed to eat as the locals do. And since we were fortunate enough to have our housing taken care of by a close friend, between the two of us, we spent about $450 total during the week – that’s about $30 per person per day! Please continue reading below for our day to day trip itinerary and food suggestions.

Day 1: 

In Vietnam, pho is typically enjoyed for breakfast, and our friend took us to the local favorite Phở Hòa Pasteur to jump start our day. The dish is comprised of pho, the rice noodles, in a broth topped with protein(s) of your choice and lots of fresh vegetables and herbs. Pictured below is the combination pho that quickly disappeared as I finished off the entire bowl – by myself. This day was also the day that I learned nothing in Vietnam is free. Not the plate of banh tieu (the fried bread) or even the packaged wet napkins that are brought before the meal begins without your asking. Oops.

 

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Following the meal, our friend took us around the city on foot for some sightseeing to all of the major buildings in Saigon. For those of you who may be wondering, Saigon and Ho Chi Minh are one and the same city! We went first to the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon.

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To the adjacent Saigon Central Post Office.

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Before making our way to and touring the inside of the Independence Palace.

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Of course I found my way to the kitchen!

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Next up was a stop for refreshment at the Ben Thanh Street Food Market.

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And then on to the actual Ben Thanh Market.

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The inside of which is an overwhelming color explosion that we were not ready to tackle that day.

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Followed by a trip to the People Committee Hall.

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And the nearby Opera House.

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At this point we were starving again despite the giant bowls of pho we each ate for breakfast! So we got a thap cam appetizer consisting of steamed rice flour cake with fresh ground shrimp on top, a shrimp and pork mix wrapped in tropical starch flour, and dehydrated shrimps wrapped in rice paper.

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Followed by bun thit nuong for our entree, which is a basically a rice noodle salad topped with grilled pork and dressed generously with fish sauce. By the way, fish sauce is life here in Vietnam! The cuisine wouldn’t be what it is without it.

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At this point, we were all pretty tired of walking, so went to the Bitexco Financial Tower, the tallest building in Saigon, to watch the sun set over the city.

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Pro tip: Instead of paying to get the view from the skydeck, go to the EON Heli Bar on the 52nd floor of the building for pretty much the same view and a drink!

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To wrap up our night, somewhere in District 2 on our way home, we smelled barbecue and saw a bunch of motorbikes crowded around one food stand. That was our cue to line up and see what was being served. Featured here is com tam, a dish that is translated in broken rice. For under $3, and topped off with a healthy splash of fish sauce, this place hands-down beats $5 halal in NYC. Yup, I said it! Side note: the side that looks like noodles is actually pig skin – and it’s DELICIOUS.

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Day 2:

No morning here in Vietnam would be complete without some Vietnamese Iced Coffee. The secret ingredient? Condensed milk. Look at those sexy layers! And what could be better than having it accompanied by a delicious banh mi sandwich for less than $1?

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The sandwich was so good and so cheap that I got another one to go with us on our journey!

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We spent most of the day on a guided tour of the Mekong River Delta, with a stop at the floating market for some fresh coconut juice. Yes, we might as well be walking around with the word TOURISTS stamped onto our foreheads. Ah well…

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That evening for dinner, we tried some banh xeo pancakes, which is made out of a rice batter and filled with veggies or pork that then gets wrapped with lettuce in rice paper!

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The pancakes were followed by bot chien, which is a fried rice flour cake dish. At this point, I’m thinking, it’s a good thing I love rice and rice product! Otherwise food options might be very limited here in Vietnam.

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For dessert, we stopped by a stand where you have the option of filling your own dessert bowl with any of the goodness below to create your che, which is a mix of pudding or sweet liquid with any of the following: tapioca, glutinous rice, sweet beans, seeds, nuts, vegetables, and fruit.

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Day 3:

Breakfast today of chao long, and it is not for the faint of heart – no pun attended. Chao long is a Vietnamese congee (I say congee because I’m Chinese, but I think the English equivalent is rice porridge?) dish that is chocked full of organ meats from the pig.

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After breakfast, we hopped into a car and made our way to Allezboo Beach Resort & Spa located in Phan Thiet where we will be staying for the next two days. Below is our gorgeous view of the South China Sea from our 3rd floor room.

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For lunch, we had cobia fish served 3 ways: In a sweet & sour soup, in a clay pot, and with lemongrass.

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Next we proceeded to explore the resort and beach. Apparently the area is famous for windsurfing!

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For dinner, we stopped by a local Mui Ne restaurant for various fish dishes accompanied by, of course, none other than Tiger beer! The night then went hazy as we played a few rounds of card games with small stakes and what felt like endless calls of “dzo!” with banana wine.

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Day 4:

This morning I woke up early to catch the sunrise with my best friend as well as try my hand at clam digging!

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Later on in the day, Phil and I went quad biking at the White Sand Dunes, which I highly recommend for thrill-seekers! Going down one particularly steep slope, my butt was no longer on the seat as I screamed and got sand in my mouth. Suggestion: do not scream.

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The Mui Ne area is beautiful, and if you go to any of the harbors, you will be blown away by the sheer number of colorful boats. Those little round things in the picture that look like bowls are boats too!

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In the area, there is a local restaurant that serves a menu almost exclusively consisting of rabbit dishes that our friend highly recommended and took us to. My first thought was that that cartoon rabbit on the sign looks a little too happy for a creature about to be eaten, but that thought was soon forgotten when our food came! We also ordered a rabbit curry dish, but I was too busy enjoying the food and new flavors that I forgot to take a picture.

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Day 5:

We spent our last day at the resort on the beach soaking up as much sun as we could while my friend got some work done. For lunch, I spent some time in the kitchen with the Vietnamese executive chef dabbling in a few classical French recipes for Allezboo’s coming new menu. The day flew by way too fast, and before we felt ready to go, we had to pack up and get in the car to head back to Saigon.

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That evening was also my friend’s last day with us before she headed out to Thailand the next morning, so we took a more chill approach to the evening by going to Go2, a corner bar, for some barbecue and people watching. Pictured below is string beans wrapped in bacon, dried squid in fish sauce, and grilled octopus with a dip made of salt, pepper, chili, and lemon juice.

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Before the evening ended, she “convinced” me to get onto a motorcycle for my first ride – a quick loop around the block – with the bar’s manager since he is claimed to be the safest driver in Vietnam… questionable, but I survived!

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Day 6:

Left to our own devices, Phil & I went to restaurant nearby the home for breakfast. We shared an appetizer of banh cuon thit nuong followed by our own bowls each of hue-styled noodles.

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As this was also our last full day in Vietnam, we did some souvenir shopping at Saigon Square where you can find cute gifts along with items that are “same, same, but different” (aka, fakes of real brands). At 1:00pm, we hopped onto a tour bus to head to the Cu Chi tunnels as a trip to Vietnam would not be complete without. Our tour guide was incredibly informative and showed us various traps and guerrilla warfare tactics that were used during the war before guiding us through one of the tunnel paths. But the highlight of the day for me was the chance at shooting an AK47. Please ignore my huge right bicep – it got disproportionately larger and stronger than my left one while I was cooking at the NoMad!

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Caught up in traffic, night had fallen by the time we got back to Saigon. But this did not deter hoards of locals from festivities and we still had to fight our way through crowds at a local street fair to get food! The best bite of the night goes to banh trang nuong, which is the Vietnamese take on pizza.

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And that is a quick summary of our trip! If you would like to know more or have any specific questions, feel free to reach out and I’ll do my best to respond 🙂

 

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