Known for its extraordinary beauty, charming people, and delicious food, Vietnam remains a favorite destination among travel enthusiasts. Previously, I mentioned that I invited some of our staff members to share their travel experiences on our blog in order to give our readers a snapshot of some of the most fascinating places around the world. Today Liz Hutchins, one of our reservations agents, shares her account of her trip to Vietnam:
“After months of preparation for my trip to Vietnam, I knew to expect certain things when I got there: lots of motor bikes, terrific food, and sights that I have come to know from countless movies and TV shows. What I didn’t expect was that I’d immediately fall in love with this beautiful country.
As soon as I landed, I was overwhelmed by the seemingly endless swarms of motorbikes, crowds, and food. People were either bustling about or sitting down to enjoy a delicious meal. Food stands selling Pho (a dish made of broth, rice noodles, a few herbs, and meat), broken rice, and Banh Mi sandwiches were everywhere, and I couldn’t wait to try them all!
I first tried Vietnamese food around 12 years ago, and ever since, I have been obsessed. When I had my first crispy spring roll all those years ago, who would have thought someday I would be making them in a cooking class on the Mekong Delta? Vietnam is a foodie’s paradise, and every day is an adventure!
Our tour guide, Thi, was very kind to take me to his favorite spot in Ho Chi Minh for Ca Phe Sur Da, a strong coffee with sweetened condensed milk and ice. Already a fan of this popular drink, I was used to spending $3-4 for it at home. Here, with a complimentary glass of iced tea and a cold washcloth, it only cost about 50 cents. I knew my trip was off to a great start.
I learned that the Vietnamese take great pride in their food, culture, and appearance. There are no fast food chains, which I preferred since I was thrilled to try the local food, and you can get a quick healthy meal for less than a dollar.
Fresh ingredients can be found at almost every corner in Vietnam — even meat and seafood is sold outdoors — and the food is changed out so frequently that it doesn’t have time to spoil. I was shocked at first to see a plump, fresh pork belly on a table at an outside market — but it actually looked better than any pork belly I’ve seen in a U.S. supermarket!
Whether I was riding on the back of a Vespa in Ho Chi Minh, or riding a bike along the banks of the Mekong Delta, every child we passed would wave and shout a greeting to us as we passed, and we would wave back and smile. Most of the children we met during the trip also wanted to practice their English, and we were happy to exchange a few words with them. These encounters reminded me that kindness and being friendly is universal and goes a long way all over the world. And for travelers who make even the smallest effort to learn the language, the reward is great. We were welcomed by generous hosts and loving caretakers everywhere we went.
I loved learning about the fruits and vegetables that we don’t have at home in the U.S., such as a special herb called fish mint that actually tasted fishy but looked like a basil leaf, and a vegetable called morning glory that was sold in two-foot-long pieces, like giant string beans, and is then shredded into curly cues for use in salads. It has a great crunch, and a very distinct and different flavor.
The last stop on our tour, and my favorite, was Halong Bay. We had a chance to relax and enjoy being surrounded by water and Limestone Mountains — a stark contrast to the bustle of hundreds of motor bikes we had already experienced throughout the country. Here, I had the chance to reflect on my amazing Vietnam adventure. As I sat on the sun deck of our boat, gazing upon one of nature’s most impressive sights, I felt amazing. I’ve always wanted to visit far away, exotic places and here I was experiencing one of the most beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Travel really does broaden the mind, and I feel that while I learned about Vietnam, I also learned more about myself. I feel very fortunate that I was able to visit such a beautiful and complex country, and I’ll have to go back to visit my new friends.”
Keep your eyes on the blog because we’ll be sharing more of Liz’s adventure, as well as photos from her journey in the coming weeks. Much thanks to Liz for sharing!