Today’s topic of discussion is my recent trip to South East Asia. My brother, Felix, and I traveled for all of May and June, 3 weeks of which were spent in SEA. While we were there we also got to see the fabulous Marta, who will also have a blog post about her time in SEA at some future time!
Alright, time to get to the good stuff!
So for some background, I usually book flights to wherever is cheapest and figure out my itinerary from there, check out this post for more info. This time, however, Felix and I knew where we wanted to go and had a limited amount of time to do it so we splurged for more expensive flights. Our itinerary for the SEA took us to:
- Hanoi, Vietnam
- Hoi An, Vietnam
- Bangkok, Thailand
- Penang, Malaysia
- Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
To be honest, overall I wasn’t the biggest fan of SEA. First of all, it was way too hot for me. I’m not someone who tolerates the heat well and as someone who is also prone to eczema being sweaty all the time did no favors for my skin. Beyond that, I’m also someone who gets pretty overwhelmed by things like lacking personal space, so, culturally SEA was difficult for me. That being said, it’s probably worth it to go just for the food.
We started our trip by travelling for 30 hours from Boston to Vietnam on American Airlines. I forgot to call and let them know I needed a vegetarian meal in advance (oops) but the flight attendants were super nice and accommodating about it. When left on May 4th and arrived May 5th near midnight. That night we stayed in a hotel near airport. The next day we we moved closer to the city to a hostel called Old Quarter View Hanoi Hostel. Personally, I was not a fan of this hostel. We were in a 6 bed dorm that was so small two of the bunks touched each other. The lockers weren’t big enough for a lot of peoples’ suitcases so they left them in the 3 feet of room we had at the end of the bunk beds, which means there was almost no space to move around. In addition, we ended up on the second floor above the common area which was often loud until 3am (even though quiet hours were supposed to start at midnight) and in the mornings music was blasting at 6am. One of the girls in our room was so distraught about the terrible quality of sleep she was getting she had a meltdown.
There were two main things we did while in Hanoi, first we ate a ton of delicious food and second, we went to Halong Bay. Felix was in charge of booking the Halong Bay tour and he went with Halong Bay Cruise Hunters, which is basically a travel agent. It ended up seeming really sketchy and scam-y but in the end it was actually totally legitimate and we had a great time. We decided to splurge and do the 2 day 1 night trip, and it was great. The food on the boat was amazing, the rooms were great, and the activities were pretty fun! We went kayaking, hiked through a cave, and enjoyed the beautiful sunset. We also met an Australian couple who lived in Hong Kong and ended up spending a lot of time with them. They even taught us a card game called Shit Head which Felix and I probably played 1000000 times during our trip. Here are some of the pictures from Halong Bay:
Once we got back from Halong Bay, the main thing we did was eat food. The highlight of our time in Hanoi was definitely the food tour we went on. We went with Hanoi Street Food Tour, and it was super easy, you just show up at their store front 15 minutes before the tour and pay. I’m vegetarian and they were extremely accommodating, getting me something without meat at every stop. Our tour guide, Moon, was super helpful with explaining what we were eating, as well as writing down everywhere we went. She even wrote me a little note that said I was vegetarian in Vietnamese so I could go to random restaurants and still find food to eat.
Other than that, we really enjoyed the following restaurants:
- Bun Cha Ta Hanoi: Can’t recommend this place enough! The best way to describe what they serve is broth, served with noodles and spring rolls, as well as broth toppings (herbs, chili peppers, etc), on the side. Then you add all those delicious items to the broth and eat it! If I could find this anywhere remotely close to where I live I would pay insane amounts of money for it.
- Little Vietnam: this is a restaurant our tour guide, Moon, recommended because it has a lot of vegetarian options. I don’t even remember what I got, but my brother got the tofu with macaroni pasta and it was so delicious. Sounds really strange, but it had a delicious sauce and vegetables and did not disappoint.
- Banh Mi 25: This was probably our most frequently visited restaurant while in Hanoi. Here, you would order at a little stall on one side of the street and then sit in a little cafe on the other side. They served exclusively Bahn Mis, which are a Vietnamese sandwich generally consisting of: mayonnaise, cilantro, cucumber, carrots, a filling, all served on a Vietnamese style baguette (made from a mix of rice and wheat flours). We loved this place because it was tasty, cheap, and had a variety of omnivore and vegetarian options.
- The last place we frequented is called “Local Dessert Place” on Google Maps. It is, as its name suggests, a dessert place. Here you can get a wide variety of Vietnamese desserts, but our favorite was the mango sticky rice and the coconut ice cream.
One last note on Hanoi, we went to the Hanoi Police Museum, and we highly recommend it if you want to see some nice government propaganda about the wonderful police force!
Hoi An, Vietnam
The main thing we did in Hoi An, a town outside of Da Nang in central Vietnam, was rent scooters and scoot around town. Perhaps not the safest choice, we had a ridiculous amount of fun and thankfully nothing went wrong!
Other than whipping around on our mopeds, we also spent time eating and hanging out at the beach. The beaches in that area have been seriously affected by hurricanes and beach erosion, so it’s often hard to find areas that aren’t super crowded. Fear not, though, we were able to find a place to go to the beach in peace. On Google Maps it’s called the Hidden Beach Restaurant. It’s a beach front restaurant that has free parking and allows you to use beach chairs for free if you buy a drink (for like a dollar or two).
The food here was not quite as wonderful as it was in Hanoi, but it was still very good. Once again, we did a food tour called Hoi An Food Tour. Once again, they were very accommodating of me being vegetarian and it was a great experience. Half the tour was spent going to restaurants, and the other half was spent in a local’s kitchen making and eating Vietnamese food.
The other places we went to eat were:
- Minh Hien Vegetarian Restaurant: this place had pretty tasty vegetarian food, but was on the “expensive” side for Vietnam (it’s all relative). We only went here once but did enjoy what we got.
- Fade Street Cafe: this place had awesome coffees and teas and was a great place to chill out. We went here most days to play cards and take it easy.
- Mr. Son Restaurant: we sort of randomly ended up here, and had mixed feelings about it. My meal was very bland but my brother’s was absolutely delicious. I think it’s safe to order the foods people rave about in their reviews but not worth going out of your way for.
- Madam Khanh – The Banh Mi Queen: if you remember nothing else from this post, remember that you NEED to go here. This place is famous for their Banh Mis and for good reason! We went here everyday, if not twice a day, and we even took them to go to the airport at 10am. There was a vegetarian Bahn Mi and a bunch of omnivore ones too. Also, they had mango smoothies that were to die for.
- Mộc Hương Coffee: This is right next door to Madam Khanh and most days we would come here to drink a tea or a coffee while playing cards. The lady who runs/owns the place was one of the nicest people we encountered and I encourage you to visit.
The final thing we did in Hoi An was get Felix a custom made suit. We went to Vanda Tailors and they were great. Felix got a sweet suit and three custom made shirts, with shipping to the US, for under $250 US dollars. Hoi An is known for their custom tailored suits, and that is part of the reason we went to Hoi An. Also, the suit was made in 48 hours, so it’s possible even if you’re there for just a few days!
Here are some of the pictures from Hoi An:
Anyways, in an effort to not have the world’s longest blog post, I’ll be splitting my summer adventures into about four blog posts. Tune back in every other Wednesday!