Scenes from Nha Trang

Nha Trang is so beautiful that I can’t resist posting some of my favorite photos from the trip. For those of you in Saigon, it’s only a $10 bus ride away and if you take the night bus it’s totally possible to visit Nha Trang over a long weekend. This is the perfect place to take a beach vacation on a budget.

For about $1.50 you can rent one of these beach chairs at the Louisiane Brewhouse for an entire day. The area is clean and waiters will bring food and cold drinks to your seats. A 330ml glass of freshly brewed beer costs you $1.50.

For $18 you can parasail along the main strip of beach in Nha Trang. That is actually me and my friend Greg!

View of Nha Trang from the Cham Towers (only a 10 minute drive away from the center of town).

For just $5 a day, you can rent a motorbike and drive along the coast of Nha Trang. The roads aren't very crowded and you get a great view of all the islands around Nha Trang.

You also pass a bunch of fishing villages as you cruise around.

For $18 you can take a 6 hour boat/snorkling tour around the surrounding islands of Nha Trang. Snorkling gear, lunch and a guide are all provided.

Who knew water this clear existed in Vietnam? Perfect for snorkling!

In addition, lodging in the backpackers district is no more than $10 a night per person, making a trip to Nha Trang very affordable. Think about how much a vacation like this would cost in a place like Hawaii! I can’t wait to go back!

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Nem Nướng in Nha Trang

Located on the South Central Coast of Vietnam, Nha Trang is the beach capital of Vietnam. I spent 4 days and 3 nights there this past weekend during a national holiday that coincided with my 23rd birthday. The weather was perfect and we spent the weekend lounging at the beach, snorkling, parasailing, driving around the coast, and checking out a few bars and nightclubs. To read more about what we did in Nha Trang take a look at Mike’s entry entitled “Paradise City” or check out my facebook photos. But given my obsession with food, I’m going to write about one of my favorite eating experiences in Nha Trang. For breakfast one day a couple of us strayed away from the Louisiane Brewhouse, where we ate about half our meals, and headed away from the backpackers district and into the center of town. Aside from seafood, we were informed that any visit to Nha Trang would not be complete without trying a local specialty: Nem Nướng. Before this trip I had never heard of Nem Nướng, so I was really excited to try out a new Vietnamese dish. Nem Nướng is pork grilled on skewers. Before the meat is grilled it is usually marinated in a sauce with red food coloring to give it a nice look once it is grilled. At the restaurant we went to, the Nem Nướng was served with strips of fried rice paper, pickled vegetables and your usual plate of lettuce, mint, scallions, basil, etc. We were then given pieces of raw rice paper and it was our job to actually assemble the spring rolls ourselves.

Nem Nướng - Grilled Pork

Fried Rice Paper

Everything ready to be assembled

Rice Paper

Almost ready to eat!

Nem Nướng rolled and ready to eat

A delicious sauce that you dip your rolls in

I was a big fan of the dish and now want to find a place in Saigon where I can get Nem Nướng. The fried rice paper is really crunchy and it is a perfect contrast to the soft meat. It’s also fun to make your own rolls because you can put in all your favorite ingredients. If you are in Nha Trang definitely try it out. There are a bunch of different Nem Nướng restaurants you can choose from there. We went to one located at 17 Le Loi and I would definitely recommend it. For those of you based in Saigon, when I find a place here with good Nem Nướng I’ll let you know where it is!

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Miến Gà: Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup

Even though it gets really hot in Vietnam, people love soup here. Various types of soup noodles are usually served as a breakfast dish, but there are plenty of soup places that are open for lunch, dinner and late night snacks. When I first got to Vietnam I wrote an entry about the most popular and well known soup dish in Vietnam: pho. And while pho is delicious, we shouldn’t forget about other types of soup noodles that exist in Vietnam. I hope to introduce you guys to numerous noodle soups on this blog, and we will start with one of my favorites: miến gà.

Miến Gà (Miến means glass noodles and means chicken) is the Vietnamese version of chicken noodle soup. Glass noodles are also sometimes referred to as cellophane noodles because once they are cooked, they resemble cellophane. The noodles are made from a plant called Canna, which is one of the worlds richest starch sources.

Canna Plant

Miến Gà is made with a chicken based broth and is usually served with noodles, chicken, scallions, bean sprouts and onions.  There is a soup shop about 5 minutes from my house that I get my Miến Gà from. In addition to Miến Gà they make pho and other types of noodle soups.  The service there is really fast and I often go there on the weekends after my morning classes so I can eat a quick lunch and then take a nap before my afternoon/night classes. In addition, the place is usually packed with locals so that’s always a good sign. A bowl of Miến Gà is 24,000 VND (a little over $1). Grab a bowl the next time you are on Ky Dong Street.

I don't know the actual name....I just call it the soup noodle place

Seating area

Miến Gà

Glass noodles aka cellophane noodles

The Noodle Soup Place is located at 14/5 bis Ky Dong. Right across from the Vietcombank down the 14 Ky Dong alley.

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Vo Van Tan Street Food

One of the things I love most about Vietnam is the street food culture. You can’t drive around the city without seeing groups of people sitting at small tables on the sidewalk. Whether it’s grabbing a steaming bowl of pho at the crack of dawn, relaxing with an afternoon cafe su da (Vietnamese coffee), or drinking 50 cent beers at 3am, there are guaranteed to be people eating and drinking on the street at all times of day. One of the busiest times of day for street food is lunch time. Instead of running to a local deli or chain restaurant like they do in the United States, people in Vietnam hit the streets to grab a quick lunch. Street vendors wake up before sunrise to run to the markets and start preparing their food for the day. They spend the entire morning cooking and when lunch time hits, sell their food at street food stands all over the city. Usually, you are given a huge serving of rice and the vegetable of the day, and then you pick from a selection of meats and fish. There are two specific places in the city that I like to go to get street food for lunch. Both are located around the intersection of Vo Van Tan and Truong Dinh, only a minute walk away from the LanguageCorps office.

Both places usually fill up by 11:30am and you have to make sure you get there early enough because the food runs out fast. It’s also pretty chaotic ordering because people don’t really form lines here, so you basically have to push your way to the front and let the people know what you want. This is especially hard to do if you can’t speak Vietnamese! Once you finally order your food you can choose to sit on the sidewalk and eat or take it away. When we go to the street food stand on Truong Dinh, we are usually able to get a table and will sit down on the miniature size chairs. Here is a look at what the Truong Dinh food stand has to offer.

Selection at Truong Dinh Stand

Far left: Tofu. Middle/Front: Pork, Tofu, Egg. Right: Chicken Curry

Huge bucket of RICE!!

A pork sausage and tofu stuffed with meatball

Surprisingly, the small chairs and tables aren't so uncomfortable...but I can't speak for tall people...

I do like this stand, but the portions are way smaller than the portions at the stand on Vo Van Tan, and it’s a little more expensive. For rice, vegetables, one meat option, soup and a tra da (iced tea), it costs about 25,000VND (a little over $1). However, this place makes an awesome chicken curry (pictured above) on Mondays that I love.

The stand on Vo Van Tan is great, but you have to get there early because they run out of food around 11:45am. Their portions are pretty big and you can get rice, vegetables, meat and a soup for only 18,000VND (a little under $1). Here is a look at what they have to offer.

Selection at the Vo Van Tan Street Food Stand

Hungry customers - this place actually has normal size tables!

Take away - Beef with morning glory and a bag of soup

If you are in the area and looking for a quick bite to eat  definitely check these places out!

The Truong Dinh stand is located on Truong Dinh at the intersection of Truong Dinh and Vo Van Tan.
The Vo Van Tan stand is located on Vo Van Tan between Truong Dinh and Tran Quoc Thao.

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Ala Mezon

If you are tired of hitting up Backpacker’s or the usual clubs, Ala Mezon is a great alternative to the Saigon nightlife scene. With a variety of rooms to choose from, Ala Mezon can suit almost any occasion. Although I have yet to try the food menu, they offer a mix of Japanese and French cuisine and have a dining room on the ground floor. As you make your way through the multiple floors of Ala Mezon you can find anything from an outdoor roof top lounge area, a room with a Wii and Rockband, a Hello Kitty suite complete with a variety of board games, and a floor with a live DJ and seats at the bar. The cocktails at Ala Mezon range from about 80,000 – 100,000 VND, but are so worth the dong you pay. I’ve tried the So Flavor Tea (vodka, green tea liqueur, shiso leaf and cranberry juice) and the Sake Mojito, both of which are so refreshing and delicious.  I also tried Ashley’s Love Valley (tequila, fresh strawberries, honey and lime) and Nicky’s Pink Margarita (tequila, cointreau and raspberry gren.) the other night and I would highly recommend both of those drinks. The atmosphere at Ala Mezon is stylish and relaxed and is good for groups since there are a number of small rooms you can have to yourselves.

Rooftop Lounge Area

Ashley and I with our cocktails

The girls chilling in the Hello Kitty Suite

I mean, this room is seriously awesome!

DJ and Bar Area

Downstairs Dining Area

Ala Mezon is located at 10 Chu Manh Trinh, District 1.

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History on the Streets of Saigon

Now that I’ve been driving around Saigon for over a month, I have a pretty good handle on most major streets in District 1 and District 3. My acquisition of street names has coincided with starting to take Vietnamese lessons, and it is this convergence that has given me the idea for this post: History on the Streets of Saigon.

With the help of my excellent Vietnamese teacher, I was able to make the realization that I now know enough Vietnamese to start comprehending some of the Vietnamese I encounter everyday. While going off on one of many tangents during class the other day, we got into the topic of street names and we were able to decipher the meanings of a bunch of streets in downtown Saigon. What I found most interesting about this was almost all of the street names have significant meaning in Vietnamese history. Whereas in the United States street names can be as silly as Trumpet Circle (the street I grew up on), street names in Vietnam stand for something really important. So in an attempt to share some history and Vietnamese language with you, I have selected a few streets I spend a lot of time on and will explain their significance to Vietnamese history.

Cách mạng tháng Tám Cách mạng means revolution and tháng Tám means eighth month (August), so this street is named for the August Revolution that took place in 1945. Vietnam spent most of history controlled by outside powers. The French occupied Vietnam starting in the 19th century, and Vietnamese national forces continuously failed to win independence. Then in 1940, the Japanese invaded Indochina during World War II. The Vietnamese nationalist forces (including Ho Chi Minh) were actually supported by the United States in an attempt to defeat the Japanese. On 1945 the Japanese surrendered to the Allied powers and the Vietnamese used this as an opportunity to take over offices held by foreigners. On August 19th, VietMinh (a national liberation front created by the Communist Party of Indochina) forces successfully won over Hanoi . Following this victory, more rebellions broke out in Vietnam and on September 2nd, 1945 Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam’s long awaited independence and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam was formed. Although this independence was short lived (the French returned to Vietnam in early 1946), the August Revolution was the start of successful steps toward true independence for the Vietnamese people.

Ba tháng HaiBa means 3 and tháng Hai means second month (February), making Ba tháng Hai a date: February 3rd. This is an important date because on February 3rd, 1920 the Vietnamese Communist Party was formed using the beliefs of Ho Chi Minh, Marx and Lenin as an ideological basis.

Điện Biên Phủ – I mentioned that although Ho Chi Minh declared independence in 1945, the Vietnamese weren’t in the clear just yet. The French re-entered Vietnam in 1946 and it wasn’t until the Battle of Điện Biên Phủ in 1954, that Vietnam won a decisive victory over the French. This was significant because the battle proved that local rebel forces had the capability of overthrowing a major western superpower. However, even greater significance to Vietnam and world history lies in the Geneva Accords that preceded the French defeat. Under the Accords, France withdrew from all former Indochina colonies and Vietnam was split into two sides: the North and the South. This division would eventually lead to what Westerns call the Vietnam War, but what Vietnamese call The American War.

Nam kỳ khởi nghĩaNam kỳ means Southern and khởi nghĩa means uprisings. Nam kỳ khởi nghĩa refers to the Southern Uprisings that occurred in November of 1940 against French rule in Indochina. Although the uprising was a failure, it was important in establishing national spirit for the country and people of Vietnam. On the 70th anniversary of the uprisings this past November, State President Nguyen Minh Triet said, “The Southern Uprising laid a foundation for our people to rise up and gain glorious victory in the August Revolution, and left profound and valuable lessons for revolutionary stages in the present and the future.” The Southern Uprising was also the first time the current flag of Vietnam was used.

Uncle Ho and the flag of Vietnam

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Le Jardin Restaurant

I don’t know how I’ve been living in Saigon for almost 6 months and only this past week had dinner at Le Jardin. Offering a fusion of French and Vietnamese food, Le Jardin serves high end food at low prices. The restaurant itself is set back on Thai Van Lung and is therefore overlooked at first glance, but this is definitely a place worth searching for. There are two dining rooms, one in a beautiful outdoor courtyard, and the other in an indoor dining room that makes me feel like I’m inside a French Bistro.The menu is pretty comprehensive, offering a range of appetizers, soups, salads, pastas, meats and fish. The drink menu is also very reasonable; my gin & tonic only cost me 40,000VND ($2).

I was at Le Jardin this past Friday with my friends Ashley and Nicky and we were lucky to grab a table without making reservations. The place was pretty crowded so if you are trying to eat there for dinner, I would suggest calling and making a reservation beforehand. It’s a great place to bring a date or go out for a nice meal with your girlfriends. Be sure to check this place out, maybe these pictures will provide some motivation!

Outdoor seating at Le Jardin

Pork Chops - 100,000 VND ($5)

Flank Steak with red wine sauce ~ 160,000VND ($8)

Apple Crumble with Vanilla Ice Cream - 55,000VND (~$3)

Le Jardin is located at 31D Thai Van Lung, District 1.

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