I haven’t written in a while. I haven’t read other blogs in a while. I haven’t uploaded photos in a while. And perhaps, most devastatingly, I haven’t been on Foodgawker in weeks – it’s too depressing to look at when you know you can’t cook or bake any of the images you’re drooling over. It’s partly the lack of reliable Internet, and partly the lack of inspiration. You see here’s the thing: travelling doesn’t always entail butterflies and roses, great times and great places. Sometimes you end up in a city with so much chaos and motorbike mayhem that your best option is to spend the afternoon jumping between rooftop bars and drinking beer with an Aussie. Yes I did that. Sometimes you’re better off to rent a bike, hit the road and just ride away from it all. I did that too. Because the other thing with travelling is that when you don’t like where you are or what you’re doing, you can just change it; pack it up, move on, pack it up, leave it behind. Sometimes you just have to find the good in the bad, the highs in the lows and the smiles in the frustrations. There’s always something to smile about. Amidst Vietnam’s early let downs and honking horn too-much-city scenes, here’s where the greatness was:
1) Halong Bay – Once you get through the tourist traps, throngs of relentless vendors trying to sell you overpriced package of Oreos, and streams of Vietnamese on their weekend getaway, this place truly is beautiful.
2) Louisiane Brewery – In hot weather, beer is my alcoholic drink of choice. And when it’s made just down the street from your hotel at a microbrewery on the beach, how can you not splurge for the pleasure. I tried both their dark lager and passion fruit beer, and walked away more than satisfied. This place is certainly a win.
3) Cheap Beer- Here in Vietnam, if you do it right, you can get draught beer from bars and restaurants for 18 cents. Bottles at the convenience store on the counter are closer to 50. It’s expensive when it’s a dollar. Works for me!
4) Vietnamese Coffee – Brewed slowly in individual cups, by passing hot water through a mini coffee sieve, the rich, dark, bold goodness of Vietnamese coffee is something Like I’ve never had before. With hints of hazelnut and vanilla, and so incredibly smooth, some days, this and the fruit smoothies on every corner are the best things about Vietnam. I’d come back for coffee any day!
5) New Beats – The life of a backpacker is fairly predictable: Get on an overnight bus to a new city; arrive at some ungodly hour of the morning and find a hostel to stay in; spend the next couple of days exploring the city the local food and culture and indulging in a few beers and coffee; get on the bus and go to a new city; repeat again and again. You get pretty used to this life, but all that time on buses, in between, in transit and waiting around requires more than a few hours plugged into headphones. Here’s the newest music along for the ride:
6) Fresh Spring Rolls – After cheap beer and coffee, nothing screams Vietnam like Pho and fresh spring rolls. In the beginning, I was buying them, but now, after an outstandingly successful cooking class, i just make my own! I casually carry around a package of rice paper sheets, make a stop at the local market and more than once have turned the nightstand of my hotel room into a spring roll making station. Best deal ever!
7) Books for Backpackers – When I’m not deep in Lonely Planet’s “Southeast Asia on a Shoestring”, I’ve spent my time powering through some good reads:
Alex Cross, Run – James Patterson
The Timekeeper – Mitch Albom
Three Cups of Tea – Greg Mortenson and Dave Oliver Renin
Love Does – Bob Goff
8) Hoi An – And then there was this gorgeous city, not anything like the rest. Situated along the river, this place is sometimes known as Lantern City, because at night, all the restaurants and streets are lined with lanterns that are all aglow. Truly gorgeous. The city itself is packed with character and ambience, more than a few good restaurants and too many beauty rooftop bars to count. And despite the continuous heat, finally running on quieter streets along the river made it totally worth it to stay an extra night.