Around the World: Vietnam

Halong Bay
We adore Vietnam. The vibrancy of the country delighted our senses and appealed to our love of adventure. The fresh and delicious food was even better than anticipated. It was bursting with flavor and seemingly very healthy. I will certainly be craving it from now on! The contagious smiles of the friendly people were a warm welcome in every location. Most Vietnamese were eager to greet us and offer to help, especially with our children. A number of times they even gave our kids candy or treats, not that we necessarily wanted our children to have these sweets, but we allowed it as it seemed to bring joy to those who were the gift givers. The stunning scenery of the country was a delight for the eyes. Even the bustling and chaotic streets of the cities were charming in their special way. It made us feel alive and excited for each and every day. Vietnam has easily become one of our favorite destinations and we would highly recommend it!


One Meter Home
Our first stop in Vietnam was Hanoi. We arrived after a long travel day and our worst travel experience to date. We were up early at 3:30am to fly from Borneo. Our flight was delayed and when we went to get a much needed coffee at the airport, they informed us that they had issues with water and were not able to make any. From there we made it to Kuala Lumpur just in time for our next flight to Hanoi. On the plane we sat next to women who leaned into our space with their bare feet while peering over our shoulders at almost everything we did. They invaded our personal space but at least did so with a smile. When we arrived to Hanoi, we experienced some issues with our Visa and then, to top it all off, our luggage didn’t make it. That said, it was still worth the journey!

In Hanoi stayed at the Essence Hotel in the old quarter. The Hotel Manager, Jack,  greeted us warmly upon our arrival. We were all extremely happy to check in and spread out in our room. We booked room 513, which is a family room and perfect for us as it had interconnecting room for the kids. We loved the style of the hotel, the food in their restaurant, and most importantly, the friendly and attentive service. It provides excellent value for money which is what makes us happy. The location is fantastic for experiencing the city as it is directly in the old quarter. The music in the area at night can be loud, especially at the weekend so be sure to bring earplugs. For those who prefer a quieter location and actual sidewalks to walk on, the Sofitel Metropole Hanoi is a better choice as it is located outside of the Old Quarter in a quieter and higher rent area. It is also a true luxury option.
The busy streets of Hanoi 
Food and drink are inexpensive in Vietnam. We loved the fresh flavors and couldn't get enough! It was a welcomed change from the heavier style of Indonesia and Malaysia. Some of my personal favorites were the Bun Cha (though I had a vegetarian version), Lemon grass Tofu, spring rolls and Pho in the morning. Many like the Banh Mi as well but I am not much for sandwiches.

Vietnam is one of the largest exporters of coffee in the world, second only to Brazil. The coffee is strong and given their history of not having much access to dairy, they learned to sweeten it with sugar and condensed milk. Another creation that came to be because of the lack of dairy was egg coffee. They basically beat egg yolks with sugar and condensed milk until it becomes frothy and then add coffee to it. It is worth a try and you will find them throughout the city. John, as the coffee connoisseur, researched places to go and took us to a place called Note. It was hectic, hot, and crowded as we stepped out of hotel and onto the streets. As a relatively relaxed traveler, even I was nervous walking the streets of the Hanoi old quarter with our kids. It was a good thing the coffee shop wasn’t too far and that our kids loved it. It had a great atmosphere. The coffees were delicious though very sweet!

We took the kids to Hoan Kiem lake and were surrounded with some local families asking to take photos with the kids. We found it best to keep moving. As we did so in the heat, we noticed that  many of the men would walk around with their shirts raised above their bellies. James soon lifted his own shirt and said he did it because the other men show their bellies so he wanted to as well. 

We took a quick walk around the Old Quarter and given the cheap prices, we let our kids each pick out a toy. We later learned that the streets in Hanoi's Old Quarter are mainly named for their product such as kitchen supplies, toys, jewelry, etc. Many of the street names start with the word "hang" which means shop. For example, Hang Bac translates to something like Silver Shop and on this street you can find jewellery. When shopping in this area, if there is no price listed on the item you wish to purchase, it is advised to bargain with a starting price of 50% less than first quoted to you. 

In the afternoon we hired a babysitter at the hotel and left our kids happy to play with their toys in the air conditioning. We had booked a three-hour scooter food tour. It was fantastic and we cannot recommend it highly enough! Our guides, Mango and Rosie, took us on the back of their scooters to a number of places to taste and experience the best of Vietnamese street food. At first we were nervous to hop on their scooters but it didn’t take long to feel comfortable and at ease. There seemed to be at least some method to the traffic madness. Though many Westerners are nervous about riding scooters, we would highly recommend. It is the true Vietnamese experience! Cars are incredibly expensive and only for the very rich whereas a scooter, as Mango told us, is about the price of an IPhone. 
On our tour we not only tasted delicious food, but we learned a lot about the culture and life in Hanoi as well. I think very much of the late Anthony Bourdain as I write this. We loved watching his episodes and were inspired to try foods that we wouldn’t otherwise as it is a fantastic way to connect with people. I ate in places I wouldn’t normally enter on my own but to do so was a window into Vietnamese culture. While eating, we had some interesting discussions with Mango. She said that the cooking classes in many of the restaurants were not only for foreigners but for locals as well. If you want to get married, you have to pass a marriage test in which she basically said that the woman has to cook for his parents. If they don’t like the food, she has to take classes and come back to try again. The man has to drink a lot of beer and rice wine with her parents and then they ask him many questions during the process.

It should be mentioned here that the Vietnamese often have names that are very difficult for us Westerners to pronounce and so they often work under a name such as Mango, Rosie, Harry or Tom as examples. 

Mango asked us where we were going after our tour and we told her about the charity we would be visiting called Blue Dragon. She said she was inspired and wanted to help. She took us to a stationary store that she said would give us the best pricing. She then offered to drive us to the charity as her way to help. 
We arrived at Blue Dragon and were greeted warmly. To protect the safety of the children, we were not allowed to interact with them or to take pictures, which I respect. Instead we met with one of the Directors and had a tour of the facility. It was inspiring to hear of how they are on the streets every night in search of vulnerable kids. Often is it former street kids that are conducting the search, as they know what to look for. The organization supports vulnerable children in Hanoi and other parts of Vietnam.
Kem Trang Tien
Later that evening we took a taxi to a local popular ice cream spot. Our ice cream cones cost less than a dollar. As it is incredibly hot in Hanoi, it was a welcomed treat.

The following morning we were picked up in a small luxury van and driven to Halong bay for an overnight boat cruise. The journey was about 3.5 hours but the van was comfortable and we had a stop for snacks.
We had booked interconnecting rooms on our boat cruise that worked very well for our family. I would recommend this tour for children over 2 years of age, as Julia was a bit young. Many of the options are for one or two nights. We were on the one night, two-day option, which was enough for us. During the cruise we visited a beach and toured a cave. The scenery was stunning and we would certainly recommend it to others visiting Vietnam.
On the drive back to Hanoi from Halong Bay we stopped at a water puppet show. I was really hesitant about it but the kids loved it..of course! James practically yelled out, “That was cool!” at the end. Both he and Julia were thoroughly entertained. 
Fisherman in Halong Bay
On the car ride back to Hanoi James asked, “What is personal space mommy?” To which I replied, “James, personal space is something that Mommy and Daddy don’t get enough of right now.” The two others traveling in the car with us laughed. After over 60 days of travel together, we could use a bit more space. It has been important to find the time to unwind and reflect in solitude. 

As for language, we have attempted to learn and to say at least the basics of hello, thank you and goodbye in each country we visit. If you fail at saying it correctly, which I almost always do as I am terrible at language, it still seems to go a long way in pleasing the locals. It breaks barriers and shows an effort. English is common throughout the world and so if you go the extra mile to at least try, it seems to create a level of respect.

Arriving back in Hanoi John and I enjoyed another massage at the hotel and ventured out in the streets around 9pm. On the weekends it is pedestrian only in Old Quarter in the evening and everyone comes out to party, to eat, to shop and to dance. As Mango had told us, it is common for the Vietnamese to eat in the streets. As their homes are small and often hot, they prefer to eat outside. We noticed that there was a mix of restaurants, stalls and families cooking and eating outside that night. It was hectic and it was fun.  

We were sad to leave Hanoi but ready for the next adventure. It was a relief to discover a children’s play area on the second floor of the Hanoi airport while we waited for our flight to Da Nang. There was a decent place to get some Vietnamese coffee next to it and also a Burger King.

We had arranged for airport pick up through the hotel in Hoi An. It was great to have though we did notice that at baggage claim there were many options for transport that could be booked upon arrival. On the way back we arranged a private transfer company who took us in a large vehicle for a very good price.
Anantara Hoi An
We stayed at the Anantara Hoi An which has a fantastic location on the river in the ancient town. It was perfect for exploring and our river view room was very well laid out for our family of four. It is easily one of the best options for a stay in the scenic old town. However, if you prefer the larger luxury resorts, you can choose to stay around Da Nang as they have numerous options such as the Four Seasons Nam Hai, Intercontinental Danang Sun, Pullman and Hyatt Regency to name a few. The transfer to Hoi An is about 30 minutes to an hour depending on the location. The feel of your stay would be entirely different so it depends on what you want out of your stay and what your style is. Given that we were traveling to a beach resort next, we loved staying in the town as the hotel was a short walk to all of the stores and restaurants. We were also very happy to find some friendly women in town who offered to do our laundry for an incredible price. After traveling for as long as we have, finding ways to get laundry done has been key.
One morning we hired a driver to take us to My Son Sanctuary. Services are inexpensive in Vietnam and we were able to arrange for a private car and driver for a great price. We were lucky in that it was a bit overcast and cool the day of our visit. My Son involves walking so come prepared. It is a bit like Cambodia’s Siem Reap but much smaller in scale. I enjoyed visiting the site but also the 45-minute drive to and from Hoi An so I could look out and see the many rice fields and interesting houses and storefronts along the way.
In the afternoon we took a taxi from the hotel to visit a charity that Anantara supports called the Kianh Foundation. You can use something similar to Uber called Grab to arrange for a taxi but we opted to take one of the taxis waiting outside the hotel. Upon arrival at the Kianh Foundation's day center, we met the Founder, Jackie, and were given a tour of the facilities. Jackie had a very inspirational story of traveling the world and being convinced to tour an orphanage with her friend. She hadn’t wanted to go at first but her friend convinced her. What she came across, in particular with the disabled children, forever changed her. She ended up coming back to Vietnam to work in the orphanage and eventually starting a day school for them. She said she would have never pictured herself where she is today. I can’t say enough about how inspiring and touching it is to come across people such as Jackie. People who see a need, feel inspired, and do something about it. Her career and interests were not with children but yet she found herself where she is today because she felt she could help. I was honored to have met her and I will remember her story always.

Matching silk outfits for Mom and Daughter
Hoi An’s Ancient Town is very charming. We hired a babysitter from the hotel to watch our kids so we could have a date night. It cost us about $10 an hour and was worth every penny! There is so much to see, shop for and taste. The streets are busy with tourists, motorbikes and activity. It was incredibly freeing to walk around without worrying so much about the safety of the kids. We found our perfect date night combo of foot massages, dinner and a stroll. We would buy a beer or cider at a local mart for about a dollar and take it for our foot massage. An hour massage would cost about 6 USD. We would then have a delicious dinner followed by wandering the streets and looking around the shops. There are seemingly endless options for custom clothing and picking up a tailored suit or dress seems commonplace for tourists. It is for good reason as the prices are cheap. I bought the most adorable silk dress for Julia and a robe for myself.

One of our favorite restaurants in Hoi An is called Streets. It is an organization that helps to train disadvantaged youth for the hospitality industry. The food and service was outstanding and it serves as a model for social enterprise. Our other favorite restaurant is called Miss Ly Cafe. It is small, crowded and well worth the wait. Go for the amazing fried wontons. Finally, make sure to stop by Hill Station for a craft beer or glass of wine and Boulevard for a Gelato.

The lanterns in the streets of Hoi An are beautiful and create a wonderful scene. At night you can wander past the Japanese bridge, take a boat ride and purchase a floating lantern flower to place in the river. The town is lit up at night and the twinkling lights are beautiful. We loved our time in Hoi An and hope to return one day.

Nha Trang
From Hoi An we took yet another flight and traveled to Nha Trang. We experienced yet another delayed flight but the flight time was short and we made it okay.

Upon arrival in Nha Trang we were picked up in a luxury van for transfer to the Six Senses Ninh Van Bay. The car ride took about an hour and was followed by a 20-minute boat ride across the bay. The van was extremely comfortable.
Our Dreamy Beach Villa
The Six Senses Resort in Ninh Van Bay is secluded, peaceful and serene. We checked into Beach villa 31 and loved it. It was very comfortable for our family and we were smitten with the top floor's open-air style which has a bit of a tree house feel to it. The villa's private pool and beach access was ideal for our kids. The resort provided us with beach toys and we were all happy.

I cannot say we experienced much culture during our stay but to be honest, we needed some rest. The Vietnamese food that we had at the resort was expensive and not nearly as good as we found on the streets in Hanoi or Hoi An. However, you come here to relax and to experience peaceful, beautiful rest. It is a great way to start or end your travels in Vietnam.
We were tired from our explorations and extended travel schedule and so we appreciated what the resort offers. The kids club came in handy as it gave us a few hours in the morning to be on our own. The spa and gym were a welcome treat as well.

Fun at the Kids Club
We loved the bicycles and the custom name tags. What a nice touch! Life was easy riding around the resort on these bikes. Julia over and over would ask to go for a bike ride.

We had a truly wonderful experience in Vietnam and hope to return one day soon!

Our Favorite Dishes:

Bun Cha- noodles with spring rolls for Sarah and Pork for John. Famous in Hanoi.

Pho- often enjoyed in the morning. 

Egg Coffee and Vietnamese coffee

Mien Xao Bo- Beef Glass noodle.

Cao Lau- Famous in Hoi An. You can order a vegetarian version.

Helpful words/phrases: 

Hello - xin chào
Thanks - cảm ơn (cam uon)
So expansive - Đắt quá

Travel Tips:

      1. Make sure you have a visa sorted before arriving in Vietnam. 
      2. Vietnam is inexpensive. If you have shopping to do, it is a good place to do so.
      3. Food is excellent so a food tour or cooking class is a must.
      4. When shopping, if the price is not listed, you should offer less than they tell you. Start at 50% and work to agreement.
      5. Arrange to have some alone time. It is important to be able to take in all that you experience and to rest some.
      6. When booking your vacation to Vietnam, don't forgot to reach out to us at Purposeful Wanderings so that you can receive special treatment and added VIP amenities such as breakfast included, spa credits and upgrades.

The Spa at Six Senses Ninh Van Bay


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