Southern Vietnam: Nha Trang and Saigon

We arrived in Nha Trang on an overnight train from Hoi An, jumped in a cab and took off towards the beach. We went to work finding a place to stay for the next three nights and found ourselves at a guesthouse with an ocean view (over several other buildings and a park) on one of the main streets.IMG_1256 (1024x768)We fell into a routine for the next few days. We’d wake up and walk one block down the street to enjoy a glass of Vietnamese iced coffee. We’d literally sit on tiny stools next to the gutter on the side of the road at the makeshift cafe.IMG_1247 (1024x768)This was the strongest and tastiest coffee we’ve had in Vietnam and was served by the happiest woman ever – a great combination and the perfect way to start the day each morning. We’d drink our coffee and unlimited ice tea (all for 50 cents) while we waited for our bahn mi sandwiches from the adjoining food stall.IMG_1248 (1024x768)The sandwiches, also 50 cents each, were ‘chay’ or vegetarian sandwiches. They were filled with three types of soy meat, chili sauce and tons of different types of veggies. Even though they were meatless, the boys both loved them. Three days and about five sandwiches later, I decided they weren’t my favorite.IMG_1249 (1024x768) IMG_1251 (1024x768)After our brunch of coffee and sandwiches, we’d head to the beach. The beach in Nha Trang gets a bad rap from other travelers but I’m not sure why. It’s clean and only one block from the downtown area. A beach is a beach and we had no complaints visiting it each day.IMG_1218 (1024x768) IMG_1241 (1024x768) IMG_1244 (1024x768)After beach time, we’d head back to the room to relax, shower and go out to dinner. One day we walked down the beach to a brewery/restaurant on the water where Andy treated us to their local beer and pizza. Other than a long walk through the city for train tickets and Andy buying new “Billabong” board shorts for a mere $7, we didn’t feel the need to do much else in Nha Trang aside from eat and go to the beach.

It was finally time to head to our last destination in Vietnam -Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon. The overnight trains were set to arrive in HCMC at 4 AM which was way too early for us so we decided to take a morning train that arrived in the late afternoon. Except for one or two other backpackers, we were the only foreigners in our train car. The seats were pretty comfy and we settled in for our seven hour journey to the big city.???????? ????????We arrived in HCMC and walked through the chaotic streets to find a place to stay for the next three nights. We bargained for a hotel room and went out to grab dinner at a pho restaurant we passed only one block away. This was one of the best beef noodle soups we’ve had. They bring out a plate of fresh herbs and chilis so you can doctor your soup up to your preferred level of spice and flavor (Chris’ version pictured below). We eat pho almost every day for at least one meal in Vietnam and it never gets old. It’s so good!????????Just down the block lies an incredibly lively street where we perched up on tiny stools with bia hoi for the night.  Both sides of the street are lined with bars, stalls and restaurants and every seat is facing the street. The street provides the best source of entertainment: people watching. We drank glasses and glasses of fresh bia hoi while getting to know the locals and expats and staring at the craziness happening around us. Street hawkers, motorbikes, lady boys, smells from the food stalls (good and bad) and police drive-bys… it all happens at once as you sip your beer and take it all in. The experience is very similar to Hanoi but the streets can accommodate more activity and in our opinion, are a bit wilder (and cleaner). Saigon is crazy and awesome. The photos we have are lame in comparison to the actual experience.???????? DSC00074 (1024x768) DSC00077 (1024x768)We headed home for bed and to call Bunny, Chris and Andy’s grandma, to wish her a very happy birthday (Happy Birthday Bunny)! Talking to the Buns gave the boys a second wind as she encouraged them to go out for more beer. They went back to the street stall we had just left and made friends with the owner, an 82 year old Vietnamese woman who spoke no English and ran that bustling beer stall like clockwork.DSC00078 (768x1024)The next morning, we went on an adventure to find the Lunch Lady who was spotlighted on Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. The now famous Lunch Lady typically makes one type of soup or dish each day which she serves until it runs out, usually around 1 or 2pm.DSC00008 (1024x768)We sat down in the back of a street alley and ordered three mystery dishes. At the time, we had no idea what we were served but we later used Google to find out that it was a bowl of ‘bun thit nuong,’ which translates to ‘grilled meat on noodles.’ Turns out, it’s a popular Vietnamese cold vermicelli noodle dish topped with grilled pork, fresh herbs, vegetables and fried minced pork rolls.DSC00013 (1024x768)The accompanying fresh spring rolls were probably the best I’ve had (apart from the ones we made ourselves in Hoi An). DSC00012 (1024x768)I was a bit disappointed that we didn’t get to try one of her ultra-famous soups, but it was still really good. Chris loved it. Plus, the trip was worth meeting the Lunch Lady and seeing her happy face. Look at that smile!DSC00021 (1024x768)From there we walked to the War Remnants Museum, where we learned about the Vietnam War from the perspective of the Vietnamese. Most of the exhibits were comprised of graphic photos taken during the war (which we’ll spare you), the aftermath of chemical warfare on its people, artillery and weapons used and old remnants of the war from prison camps and soldiers. Museums like that can put a damper on your day but we felt like we should have a look while we were there and admission only costs us 75 cents.DSC00023 (1024x768) DSC00028 (1024x768) DSC00048We spent our last day on a tour of the Mekong Delta. After much debate, we decided on a boat tour around four different islands. We took a bus straight south to the Mekong Delta and hopped on a boat to our first island where we visited a small village that produced coconut candy. We watched the demonstration on how it’s made (no machinery and no gloves) before tasting a few of the sweets for ourselves. ???????? ????????Afterwards, we hopped onto an awkward horse drawn carriage which pranced us down the street, turned around and brought us right back. It was just weird.????????We got back on our boat which took us to the next island for lunch. After lunch was free time to relax so we took some bikes and rode around the island for a bit.????????The next stop was a honey farm on a different island. We saw the beehives, tasted the honey and drank tea made with bee pollen. We broke into small groups for a canoe ride down the waterways. Being rowed down the Mekong waterways through the dense foliage of the island was definitely the best part of the day.???????? ???????? ???????? ????????We stopped in a village to taste the local fruits and drink some more tea while the villagers played music and sang for us. After a long day, it was finally time for us to head back into the city.???????? ????????In retrospect, we probably shouldn’t have gone on the Mekong Delta island tour because it left a lot to be desired. I think I was expecting to see more life on the delta…floating villages, colorful boats, fisherman casting nets, etc. If I could do it again, I would have reworked our itinerary to stay a night or two in the Mekong Delta so we could explore it on our own. Oh well, the eight hour tour which included our lunch only cost $8 so I guess we can’t really complain!

We spent our last night with Andy in Ho Chi Minh City before we had to part ways. Chris and I left on a bus to Cambodia in the early morning and Andy had to catch his (multiple) flights back to the States just a few hours later. We had such a good time with Andy in Vietnam – he’s just so easy going and the perfect travel companion. The night before we parted ways, he left us his goodies from the States, bought Chris two new t-shirts and surprised us with cold beers as a parting gift. We miss you Andy – so glad we were able to spend these past three weeks with you in such an amazing country!????????


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