Tag Archives: vietnam

Same, same…but different

That’s a saying that I heard repeatedly in Vietnam. It’s mostly a good thing, I think. Sometimes it means you’re not getting what you wanted (the wrong hotel room, maybe), but more often I took it to mean, “it’s all good.” People assumed that I was Vietnamese, and would either speak to me in Vietnamese, or ask me where I was from. USA was not the answer they were looking for, so I just started saying I was Chinese. The response? “Same same!”

We wrapped up our Vietnam adventure by returning to Ho Chi Minh City for some last minute shopping and relaxation.

We were within walking distance of the Hotel de Ville, which houses the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee. No visitors allowed, but the outside is beautiful. A remnant of French colonial times.


The Municipal Theater is in the same neighborhood.


One of DH’s quirky pastimes while traveling is looking for a BIG cup of coffee. He was thwarted in Paris (2003, pre-Starbucks); the closest he got was a bigger cup but the same amount of coffee. In HCMC, we found a Starbuck’s lookalike, Trung Nguyen Coffee. Definitely not a Starbucks experience, though. We were seated, menus distributed, cool green tea served. And then we ordered. DH ordered a drip coffee, and it was definitely a drip! Same same, but different. BTW, that’s an avocado shake/smoothie the College Guy is trying; it’s very popular in Vietnam.


The next day, we wandered into another Starbuck’s lookalike, Gloria Jean’s Coffees (turns out this is an Australian company), and it was a familiar feeling. Order at the counter, pick up at the counter. Big cup of coffee available, as well as fruit smoothies and my beloved iced latte. Same same, and same. Except the cute little chocolate croissant. Perfect size, just big enough, 18,000 VND (about one dollar, US).


Prescription glasses are ridiculously inexpensive in Vietnam, so I took the opportunity to have some sunglasses made. This can be done in a day. I don’t wear my glasses that often during the day so I couldn’t justify the expense of having this done at home, but at 600,000 VND (about $34), it was a bargain. College Guy also got new glasses. Then we decided to get sunglasses for the Teen, but his glasses were back at the hotel. No problem. We put him on a motorbike cab with a card for the hotel, and a card for the optical shop. After he left, we wondered if we would ever see him again. While we waited, we consoled ourselves with a traditional coconut treat from a street cart. Drink the juice, and then scoop out the young coconut flesh. Delicious!


DH bought hot coffee from a nearby shop. This is how it’s packaged for takeaway service. Same, same? Completely different!


The Teen did return, and we all ordered our glasses, to be picked up the next day.


We wrapped up our stay with massages. We were going to do the $11 hour massage, but after a bit of discussion, opted for 75 minute shiatsu massages for $20. Best. Massage. Ever. Perfect pre-flight relaxation.



And yes, this will return to being a knitting blog, soon…

Travelogue: 24 hours in Nha Trang

After two nights in Hoi An, we flew on to Nha Trang, a beach town on the south-central coast. Our plane was delayed, and the hotel lost our reservation. (Actually, I think the manager saw more profit in selling our rooms to a tour group.) Grumpy! Susan had arranged for us to have an afternoon motorbike tour, but we were getting a late start. There wasn’t much preparatory discussion.

After a quick lunch, we traveled 20 km out of town by motorbike to Ba Ho, a beautiful area with three waterfalls. We passed banana farms and rice paddies on the way. But I wasn’t expecting a hike. My Keens and some insect repellent would have been very welcome.




Who’s wearing the wrong shoes?


But our drivers had arranged for some guides to meet us there (love that entrepreneurial ingenuity), and these women helped (dragged) me over the rocks, pointing out the best hand and foot placements. The kids were amused by what they dubbed my “involuntary parkour.”


We cut our hike short and skipped the other two waterfalls, but still ran into a little traffic on the way back into town.

Our next stop was the Long Son Pagoda. It’s 152 steps up to this statue of Buddha.



College Guy became part of a game of hide and seek.


Long Son Pagoda is home to two enormous Buddha statues. The second is this reclining Buddha.



On the way back down from the Buddhas, we passed a monk silently descending the steps, head bowed. I thought he was in prayer. When we passed him, we saw that he was texting on a cell phone!

Night was falling, so we didn’t get to see the Cham Towers. Maybe next time. The next morning we spent an hour on the beach.


Do you like my hat? (channeling P. D. Eastman)


Part of the fun at the beach is the never-ending parade of vendors. I bought two silk paintings from this gentleman. We had a good time bargaining over price.


Then it was time to head for the airport to return to Ho Chi Minh City. (Yes, we spent less than 24 hours in Nha Trang.) We bought banh mi (Vietnamese sandwiches) from the street vendor across from the hotel. This woman was sewing next to the banh mi cart.


I hoped that the face I found in my sandwich didn’t bode ill for me eating street food!


To market, to market…

Well, I already had a “jiggety-jig” post, so I couldn’t resist the title!

One of the tastiest and most enjoyable things we did in Vietnam was a cooking class in Hoi An. We took a half-day class at the Red Bridge Cooking School. The class began with a tour of the central market in Hoi An.

Produce is sold on the outside of the market.



The small purple fruit is mangosteen. These have white fruit shaped like tangerine inside and are very sweet. The red spiky ones are rambutan, which are like lychee, but we didn’t try them on this trip. The big green ones are pomelo, which our guide says is good for weight loss. And the bright pink ones are dragonfruit. Inside, they’re white with small black seeds.


This seller also had grubs (silkworm?). You can eat them raw, but our guide said these had been out too long (several hours), so you should cook them before eating them. There are also cookware and clothing stalls on the outside of the market. I bought a conical hat, because my hat from home was too HOT. (A familiar refrain.) These hats are very lightweight, and cool. And you can use them as a fan, too.

Inside the market, everything is pretty tightly packed together. Here are eggs: chicken, duck, quail, fresh, preserved…


You know this fowl is fresh!


And these ducks are destined to be dinner. They’re still quacking, here.


Boats pull up at the dock with fresh fish.




After the tour of the market, we boarded a boat for a 25 minute trip down the river to the cooking school.


All the boats have eyes!


We saw lots of fishing nets like these. And lots of ducks on the islands. Ping, where are you?


The cooking school and the bridge for which it’s named.


We toured the herb garden, and then began class. Our instructor had a Aussie accent on top of his Vietnamese one.

We made rice paper (like you wrap on salad rolls), salad rolls, Hoi An pancakes (with shrimp and scallions). And of course, we got to eat all of these things. We also made garnishes: cucumber fans, and tomato roses.


Our final dish was eggplant in clay pot.


We ate the eggplant with rice for lunch in the restaurant, and it was fabulous.


Travelogue: Hoi An

The next day in Vietnam, we were off to Hoi An for two days. It’s a short hop on Vietnam Airlines to Danang, and then a 40 minute cab ride to Hoi An. Hoi An is HOT! And lovely. This town was Vietnam’s most important trading post from the 16th to the 18th centuries. There are a lot of interesting buildings here in the old historic quarter; you can see the Chinese and Japanese influence. The city was protected from destruction by both sides during the American War.

Here’s the entrance to the Cantonese Assembly Hall (my people!)


The Gate at the Hall


Cantonese Assembly Hall


Japanese Bridge


I’m not sure what this building is; we just stumbled upon it


Lantern Shop in Old Quarter


Besides the historic atmosphere, Hoi An is known for its tailor shops. You can have suits made in a day here. They can copy things you bring, or you can figure it out from samples or catalogs. DH and both boys had suits made for $55 US. DH’s suit looks just like the ones he buys here. The Teen didn’t really need a suit, but we agreed that he needed this:


I had a cheongsam (Chinese dress) made for $28. I could never buy one off the rack because they never fit correctly. This one does, perfectly. (sorry, no picture; I was so hot and sticky that I couldn’t think to take one)

It was here in Hoi An that I had to buy flip-flops; my Keen sandals and Dansko slides were too hot.


Heat does funny things to you. First I became a fan of the fan, then a fan of the flip-flop. The next day I’d become a fan of the conical hat, because the hat I brought with me was also too HOT.

What else does one do in Hoi An? Cooking class! But that’s another post…

Every story has a beginning…

…and our trip to Vietnam is no different. It was sparked by a post on friend Susan’s blog, inviting friends to come visit during her three month stay there. I mentioned it to DH, and he thought I was nuts. Then he reconsidered, and I thought *he* was nuts. Then there were Vietnam guide books for Mother’s Day. The rest is history. It would take some creative calendar juggling to make it work for the whole family, but that’s par for the course around here.

Since we’d be flying through Tokyo, I thought it might be fun to hang out there for a few days on the way back. The Teen is studying Japanese in school, and what better way for him to get an earful than to be immersed in it? That part of the trip would just be the two of us, as DH and College Guy had to get back to work and school.

We flew 16 hours to get to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon, airport code is still SGN). I got a lot of Ishbel knitting done on that trip! Arriving at 11 p.m., we were treated to a taxi ride where we were amazed by the way traffic works there. The motorbike is the predominant vehicle in HCMC, and there don’t appear to be many rules of the road. Usually the right side of the road, but sometimes the left side. A big vehicle can do whatever it wants. The motorbikes part around it, like schools of fish. The same is true for pedestrians: step off the curb, move slowly, keep a steady pace, and the motorbikes will flow around you. Don’t make any sudden changes!

It’s amazing what can be carried on a motorbike. Entire families. Baskets of produce or chickens. Building materials. Office supplies. Mattresses! And people. It’s easy to hire a motorbike driver to take you where you want to go.


Sunday morning found us bright and early at the Sinh Cafe. (I love the irony of that.) Sinh Cafe is a travel agency that books tours. We went on a bus tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels, where the Viet Cong used to live under ground during the American War (that’s what it’s called there). History is definitely written by the victors, and the US was not on that side. We passed banana and rubber tree plantations on the way.

Here’s a demonstration of how small the tunnel entrances could be.


Now you see him:


And now,


You don’t!


We had the opportunity to crawl through some of the tunnels. DH and College Guy did; The Teen and I were too claustrophobic.


Of course, there’s always a souvenir shop. The Teen bought a hat, and we looked at this snake wine.


We spent the afternoon touring Ho Chi Minh City via chauffeured motorbike. We saw the War Remnants Museum, Reunification Palace, Notre Dame Cathedral.


There was some music going on at the entrance to the cathedral.


The afternoon ended with hair washes for me & the boys. A hair wash involves shampoo, scalp massage, and facial massage, for about 30 minutes. It costs about 30,000 Vietnamese Dong, which is less than $2 US. Very relaxing, and cooling too. Perfect after a hot tropical day. The guys were skeptical at first, but once the cool water started, they were fans! Me, too. Couldn’t talk DH into it, though.