Time to celebrate! Two straight years of working has finally earned me enough leave credits to go on a 21-day vacation (our annual vacation leave – one of the things I love about working where I do) last January. We had a choice of when we would go on this vacation, and since I was so excited (and so tired of working, to be honest, I badly needed a breather) to finally get to go on our AVL, my beau and I picked the earliest possible dates. I’ve missed being a complete bum, but not as much as I’ve missed traveling as a tourist, so hopping on a plane as a passenger was a no-brainer. We didn’t immediately realize that going in January would mean it would still be the peak of winter in Japan, where we initially wanted to go, though. So we picked somewhere closer to home… Vietnam. (And Indonesia, but I’ll save that for later).
S A I G O N
We spent two days in Saigon, where I had previously gone (ca. 2016) with my mom and aunts. There wasn’t much to see in Saigon (but to each his own, of course!), although it was interesting seeing how French influence (slash colonialism) is still apparent in this small Asian city. We pretty much just ate, slept, and ate some more. A passenger on a Saigon flight I flew recently actually asked me where to eat there, and luckily I had personally traveled there and was able to give an answer (we don’t have a layover there as crew). It was fun feeling like a travel guru instead of someone who merely serves food and drinks! Ask your flight attendants for tips when traveling!
Day one: We stayed at Triple E Hotel & Cuisine, where breakfast was A+. It was also dab smack in the middle of Saigon’s district one, just a few blocks from the Ben Thanh Market, as well as Pho 2000, where we had lunch and where my beau had (and loved) his first authentic pho. We had dinner at Cuc Gach Quan, a beautiful, homey restaurant that’s a little off of the city but well worth the visit, for something traditional and a little fancy. We checked out Maison Marou, where Vietnam’s most famous local chocolate is served and some of the chocolate-making is showed off. The next day: we walked around Nguyen Hue street, where we ate at L’usine, a favorite for the vibe and the curated goods for sale. We also spent some time at Partea, which we didn’t realize would entail us pretending to have a tea party, lol. I thought my boyfriend would appreciate it because he’s a tea drinker, but instead it made him question his masculinity, haha!
Our first two days were basically spent eating and recovering from our hectic work days by sleeping in. No regrets! I used to always be so up and about during travels, making sure my itinerary would be packed, but I have learned to appreciate the slower travel days as well, enjoying instead whatever we ended up doing. I also no longer have as much energy as I used to, if I’m being completely transparent, haha. #aging
After our culinary adventures in Saigon, we flew to Da Nang, the gateway to Hoi An. I’ve always wanted to go here and have always been allured by its charming lanterns and yellow walls, so I was ecstatic I finally got to!
All I packed and wore during this trip (and honestly, all I wear on a daily basis, lol) were my trusty Suelas sandals, if you’re ever curious about what’s on my feet here. I can always count on these babies for comfortable long walks, and I didn’t want to risk cutting my days short because I couldn’t walk anymore. Highly recommend them for traveling!
H O I A N
Our days somehow went by even slower in Hoi An, and I loved it. We literally didn’t do anything on our four days here apart from head to the ancient town every day. We did plan on going to the Mercure Village in Bana Hills, but the downpour was bad that day (rain always somehow manages to follow us on our travels, unfortunately) and visibility was bad up in the hills – the French village completely hid and was instead enveloped in fog. So, explore the ancient town, it was…
I suppose I expected to immerse in Vietnam’s culture here. Hoi An’s Ancient Town is, after all, a UNESCO world heritage site. I assumed that meant the culture has been preserved, and while it did somehow feel like it was, the crazy amount of tourists kind of hampered the experience a little. We went here daily for four days, and it never ran out of tourists. We thought it was only because our first day there was on a weekend—and because we arrived, by happenstance, on the day of their annual lantern festival; but it barely changed during the weekdays. I still adored exploring its packed streets, nonetheless.
One thing I did not adore: one rude local shopkeeper literally pushed me with a finger as we took this shot of me against the lanterns. So many people were taking photos with them, but I somehow got targeted. I understand being frustrated that your lanterns are merely being used as backdrops, but ugh, that does not give you the right to touch people. I was so mad I wanted to confront her (although what would be the point if she wouldn’t be able to understand me), but as always, I froze and instead just walked away (I wanted to look at the lanterns after taking the shot for a souvenir. No way in hell I am buying from that woman now, obviously).
I wasn’t exactly surprised by this encounter, because Vietnam is known for its rude locals. A plethora of tourists and blogs talk about this and even dissuade people from traveling here entirely. I thought twice about this trip too, not being sure I’d want to take my boyfriend somewhere with this reputation on his first trip out of the country. But we weren’t interested in much else, so we still went through with it.
We stayed at Hoi An Reverie Villas, about ten minutes from the ancient town, so going back and forth was easy. There aren’t as many options on hotels in Hoi An, since it is a small city, but I’d highly recommend Reverie for the service. The ladies here took good care of us and were literally always smiling (so, no, they’re not all rude). One of them even gave me a tight hug when she sent us off. I wish we had taken a photo with them!
We rented a motorbike to go to town on our first day. I later learned it was my boyfriend’s first time to drive one (cue shaking knees), but I wasn’t too worried, because he’s generally a good driver. He was worried when we opted to ride bicycles the next day, though. I really wanted to, so I insisted, but I will be the first to admit I’m not exactly a pro when it comes to biking and I tend to wiggle, haha. So when he saw me trying to find my balance, he got really mad at me and scolded me. I honestly couldn’t enjoy the ride as much, but I understand he was just being protective. We did have to bike alongside cars, so perhaps I should have taken what little of my biking skills somewhere safer. Sad to say, we just booked ourselves a Grab the next day.
Cars and motorbikes were banned inside the ancient town, so we had to park our bikes by the entrance and just walk around the town. This was me posing by that From Hoi An with love! sign I kept seeing on instagram. Unlike that lantern seller lady, the shopkeepers here were kind enough to take our photos for us and even encouraged us to walk to another branch of theirs where more tourists take photos. It’s a shop called Sunday in Hoi An, and their ceramics are lovely, for one! I wanted to take some home, but was worried they’d just break in cargo.
For eats: we had our first dinner at Mango Mango, which allowed us to watch the lantern festivities while eating. It’s quite expensive here, so wouldn’t necessarily recommend, unless you do want a nice view of the river. A more affordable and tastier choice would be the well-loved Morning Glory Restaurant. We didn’t have lunch during our days here since Reverie included a daily breakfast – that’s one way to save on your travels, if you ask me (I promise we didn’t starve naman, haha!). If you plan on going to Hoi An and want a more detailed food guide, this blog was a good read.
The lantern festival was, as you can see, very busy. We decided we wouldn’t take what felt like a tourist trap and ride a boat, but I changed my mind on our last day and thought it would be romantic and would make a nice memory. Our boat paddler kind of scammed us and shaved fifteen minutes off what we were promised, but we let it slide. It was nice, but it wasn’t exactly that Tangled moment…
That was Hoi An for us — slow, but beautiful. If you’re looking more to just relax and eat your heart out versus sightsee, visiting this cultural gem would be a great option. The food is relatively cheap and we absolutely loved the cuisine (especially the spring rolls!!!) so that in itself made it a worthwhile trip for us. Shopping is great, too – apart from the branded overruns in Saigon, Hoi An is a leather haven. I got myself a genuine leather crossbody for less than two thousand pesos. Such a bargain when you think about how much genuine leather products cost!
After six days in Vietnam, it was time to say cảm ơn, or thank you. We were off to Bali for another six days. But I’ll save that story for next time… x