Within the first 12 hours of being in the country of Vietnam, I quickly realized my curiosity and love for all things local merged perfectly with my secret and torrid love affair with beer. So I decided to create a series where I would try the local beer of the city/region I was in, and snap a photo in that moment to keep the memory of where I was, how I was feeling, and what I was doing. Needless to say the making of this blog post was intoxicatingly fun…
Hanoi: Day 1
"You like to go fast?"
I could hardly understand him... but somehow through the thick humidity, his toothy smile, and my faith in his ability to pedal... I said yes. And while my rickshaw was the absolute definition of rickety, I sat back and took in the unobstructed view of the incredibly beautiful city of Hanoi.
It was day one of ten of my travels from northern to southern Vietnam and I sat there like a wide eyed child taking in everything from the charm of the old French quarter to the unexpected tranquil lake in the middle of the bustling city.
After many stops, I kept seeing boutiques I wanted to shop in, (how could I pass... they were all so fascinating) I saw my driver/biker happily smiling, perched on my “carriage” ready to take me back to my hotel. As I was walking back to the street, I saw a vendor selling local beer, and thought... why not?
So I bought my new friend and I a Bia Ha Noi, we cracked them (although I realize now it was probably not the SAFEST gift to give someone with my life in their hands, and feet! haha) and with one last ride, took in all that this destination had to offer. During my ride back, I giggled, held up my beer, took a photo, and started my journey.
Ha Long Bay: Day 3
My eyes slowly opened as the dim sunlight seeped through the curtains warming my quaint little cabin. The quiet murmur of creaking wood against the water was the only sound for miles in any direction. With disheveled hair and peaking curiosity, I slowly tiptoed out of my room. As my feet touched the wood floor just outside my cabin door, I stepped to the railing, took a deep breath, and slowly observed the beauty and stillness around me.
Ha Long Bay looked like a scene out of the Pirates of the Caribbean. I honestly couldn’t help but imagine a black pirate ship suddenly appearing from behind any of the large limestone islands skirted with fog. As we slowly weaved through the natural maze, I sat on the upper deck of the house boat with my legs crossed wondering how in the world I could possibly take this all in.
Soon enough it was time for lunch and the crew had prepared a wonderful meal of fresh shrimp, vegetable spring rolls, pho, and salad. Suddenly remembering my quest, I went to the bar, yes my house boat had a bar, and asked if they happened to have a beer local to the area… and in true Vietnamese style, they did! I stepped out of the dining area, onto the bow, and snapped my photo.
Hue: Day 5
My stomach was rumbling as I waited, standing in the rain to get onto the vintage (and not in a chic way) Hyundai bus transfer. It was 7:15pm and we were headed to a local families house in the countryside for a farm fresh dinner. I peered out the window, rain trickling through my vision as I stared at life on the streets of Hue. A women huddled over a small pile of trash burning on the sidewalk, two children running in and out of their parents leather shop, a family of four piled onto a bike, all in ponchos, defying the weather on what had to be their only mode of transportation.
We pulled up to the quiet farm house, followed our local guide around the back, and took off our rainy shoes. The house was warm, bright, and bustling. The walls were a crackled teal, the smell of roasted pork and steamed white rice made my mouth water and sent a pang of hunger through my body. Three different sets of wedding photos, all with beautiful young brides, hung on the walls like plaques of accomplishment. The sound of the soccer game, muffled through an old tv set with rabbit ear antennas, all created the perfect feeling of home.
As we sat at the dining table with (part of) the family, they began telling us about their four lovely daughters. In Vietnam, a family with girls is seen as prosperous and valuable due to the traditions and customs of marriage. They explained that when a couple wants to get married, there is an evaluation of the bride. How young and vibrant is she? What kind of job does she have? What is the value that she will bring to her future husband? Once that is all taken into consideration, the parents of the bride give their demands to the groom-to-be in order to take their daughters hand in marriage.
For example, one daughter from the family we were dining with was the ripe age of 22, college educated, and an english teacher in a privileged school. The family asked for roughly $1,000 USD, one roasted suckling pig, pounds of tea, rice, and candies, as well as other small local delicacies… all for their daughters hand in marriage. Pretty sweet deal don’t you think? I suddenly understood why the walls were covered with the photos of their daughters weddings, it really was an accomplishment and one of the families proudest moments.
I was so enthralled by this cultural phenomenon, I hardly noticed the local beer placed in front of my plate. And as the appetizers were starting to being served, we raised our cans and cheers (một hai ba cổ vũ) to the accomplishments of their growing family, and again I snapped my photo.
Hoi An: Day 7
I had heard and seen the horror stories on the overnight train. Travelers speaking of waist-high water, flooded shops and restaurants, and tourist trapped in their hotels. It was supposed to be dry season in Vietnam, and yet the beautiful city of Hoi An was somehow flooded by constant torrential downpour.
I was taking a bus transfer from Hue to Hoi An and discussed our options with the small group I was with. Life had to go on and cities must be explored. Once we arrived into the city, the driver turned down a small street and brought the bus to a sudden stop. He exchanged words with our local guide, phone calls were made, and the next thing I knew, I was being escorted off the bus into water up to my knees to board a makeshift wooden boat. I looked around in disbelief, it honestly felt like it was one big prank.
I had seen so many incredible photos of Hoi An and can honestly say it was the city I was most looking forward to on my trip. It had somehow turned into a Vietnamese Venice, seemingly overnight. I don’t know if you’ve fully grasped this, but we just CASUALLY got on a boat instead of DRIVING because everything was flooded?! How was this infrastructure even possible?? It was beyond mind-blowing.
So there I was, casually punting through the streets of Hoi An. I watched through a plastic tarp as shop owners rung our their merchandise, and tourists without boats and long faces walked deeper into the murky water. We were en route to our hotel with a whole boat of our luggage trailing right behind us.
That night we went out (by boat) across town to where the driver insisted a part of the city, not plagued with flooding, existed. After a walk through a small flooded alley, the water (as promised) started to lower… until we were eventually on dry land. I could’ve kissed the street. My group went to a celebratory dinner, where I ordered the local beer, stood out on the only dry street in the place, and snapped my photo.
Mekong Delta: Day 9
When I used to think of Vietnam (before visiting), certain visuals came to mind. Most of which honestly derived from Forrest Gump and my history lessons about the Vietnam War. I visualized swamps, jungles, and people wearing those pointy/round hats manning rice fields in the misty morning. My favorite playlist while there consisted of Creedence Clearwater’s greatest hits on repeat, and my day exploring the Mekong River Delta was the epitome of everything I had previously imagined.
Naturally, the day started with a boat ride. I honestly felt like I was on the Jungle Cruise ride at Disneyland. Only slightly more eerie, and without the underpaid and overconfident comedian at the front of the boat with a mic. My wooden boat quietly wove through the veins of the river right through the heart of the jungle. The boat pulled into a small dock and we began trekking through thick greenery into the stiflingly sticky air. I tightroped across logs and peered through the trees, shuttering at the thought of all the bloodshed and violence that took place in this very area, just 50 years prior. And while I know the whole country of Vietnam was affected by the war, this area in particular felt the most haunted and surreal to me.
I loved being active while being surrounded by so much nature, but my mind couldn’t help but drift to dark corners thinking about the lives lost, and the tragedy that was the Vietnam War. Thankfully, my mindset was subtly restored once we reached a quaint coconut candy factory where we got to watch locals slice, shave, boil, cool, cut, and wrap these incredibly delicious coconut candies in a variety of flavors. After a bit of shopping and snacking in their open air store, we continued on our journey.
Tuk tuks were waiting for our group on the outskirts of the jungle, and with the application of the sexiest of bike helmets, we rode on a windy path to a tropical fruit tasting. After sampling tons of fruit, including local jackfruit (which literally tasted like Juicyfruit gum) and learning to love a spicy, cayenne-ish salt on my grapefruit, we were on our way to the next destination.
After a good cruise around we arrived at a makeshift restaurant, in the middle of the jungle, where a local family was preparing a full four-course meal for our group. I of course order the local beer and haphazardly down it due to my inability to cope with the heat.
After stuffing my face with fresh fish, pineapple and pork spring rolls, curried chicken, and fried rice… I asked for another local beer, and parked my butt in one of the hammocks hanging out over the edge of the house. I lazily held out my hand with the beer and snapped my photo against the jungle that was their backyard.
Ho Chi Minh City: Day 10
In the blink of an eye, I found myself in southern Vietnam in the chaotic city of Ho Chi Minh, wondering how the heck I managed to do so much in such a short amount of time. I had eaten more Pho then the law allowed, fallen in love with the tailors who made me custom clothing in under a day, and had seen and experienced the real and raw sides of a country still somehow caught between the east and the west.
By the time I got to HCMC, I was exhausted yet completely fulfilled. I had learned so much about the culture and traditions, cuisines and customs. I spent my last days hopping on and off motorcycles (using Uber Moto, I honestly went across town to a craft market for legitimately 50 cents.) and exploring everything from the high-rise views to the war museums. However, in an act of pure nostalgia I took one last rickshaw ride around the city. We stopped at temples, crossed far too many busy intersections, went to the motorbike, flower, and food markets, dined with the locals, and began heading back to the hotel.
In true (full-circle) form, I asked my driver to kindly pull over to the equivalent of a NYC bodega. I grabbed us both a Siagon Special, cheered my new friend, and took on the unobstructed views of one of the craziest cities in the world. Laughing (and spilling) with every bump, I shakily held my hand out and for the last time… snapped my photo.