Tag Archives: vietnam

Bac Ha Market

Every Sunday, throngs of people travel to Bac Ha for the Bac Ha Sunday Market. Tourists travel by bus from Sapa and Lao Cai, and locals arrive by motorbike, truck, bicycle and even foot. Some wake up before the sun rises and spend hours traveling to the market. It not only serves as a giant hub for trade and commerce, but it is also a major social event. The women spend all morning together either selling or buying goods for the week, and the men crowd together at small tables eating intestine soup and getting sloppy off of local rice wine. It’s crowded, loud, hot, hectic and smelly- just like every good market should be!

Bac Ha has your usual selection of produce, home goods and souvenirs, but it also has a huge variety of live animals! Birds, ducks, dogs, water buffalo and more are all in high abundance. You can spend a couple bucks on a carton of chickens, or drop over a thousand dollars on a water buffalo. As cool as this all sounds, Bac Ha is not for the faint hearted. The atmosphere is quite intense and a walk through the raw meat section can have even the biggest meat eaters contemplating vegetarianism. But if you are making the trip all the way up to Sapa, it would be a shame to miss the Bac Ha Market. It gives you a great lens to see into the lives of the minority people in the north, and there is a lot of great shopping…my parents and I went a little crazy picking out gifts and souvenirs! You can write about it all you want, but you’ll only get the real feel of the place by going there. Pictures will give you an idea, but definitely won’t do it justice. But it’s worth a try, right? Enjoy!

Got Chilis?

Raw meat for sale - this definitely looks sanitary....

Blood Sausage and Meat ready to eat - look appetizing to you?


Men eating and drinking - they probably start around 9am in the morning too!


Flower Hmong women selling rice wine.


Water Buffalo for sale at the Bac Ha Market - people can spend years saving up for one of these.


A selection of knives and tools.


Piles of shoes!


Trinkets and gifts


Table Runners and Wall Hangings

One last word of advice if you are heading to Bac Ha Market: everyone is going to try to rip you off! Don’t be fooled,  you can usually bargain your way down to half of the starting price. Sometimes half of the fun shopping at these markets is seeing what kind of deals you can get!


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Trekking in Sapa

After Angkor Wat, my parents and I headed to our next destination: Sapa. Located in northwest Vietnam, Sapa is a mountain town and is one of the only regions in Vietnam that has distinct seasons. It actually gets cold during the winter! With a population of approximately 36,000, the area is home to a number of ethnic minority groups. The Hmong are the largest miniority group in Sapa and make up a little over half of the population. In addition to the Hmong, there are four other minority groups that reside in Sapa (spellings vary): the Dao, Tay, Giay and Xa Pho people.

Sapa is located in Northwest Vietnam, very close to the Chinese border.

Most of the minority groups work in the mountains growing rice and corn.  In addition to farming, the minority groups in Sapa make money by selling homemade products such as clothing, jewelery, bags, fabrics, etc to tourists. As soon as you step off the bus, you are immediately surrounded by swarms of women trying to sell you things. It was definitely a little overwhelming having people constantly trying to talk to you and sell you things, but it’s important to remember that they are just trying to make a living. However, even though begging and selling to tourists is so prominent, our tour guide explained to us that we shouldn’t buy from any of the children. By giving them money, it is only encouraging them to beg more instead of spending their time studying at school.

So the actual town of Sapa is a little hectic. Like I mentioned, you can’t walk down the street without being approached by groups of minority women. It has also become a pretty developed tourist hub, so the town is lined with hotels and restaurants that cater toward foreigners. Although the view from town is nice, Sapa is best enjoyed by trekking through the rice fields. Along with a guide, my parents and I completed a 12K trek through rice fields and the Hmong and Dao villages. Our guide took us on less traveled routes and we completed our trek without running into any other tour groups. We were able to see how the rice is grown and learned about the everyday lives of the minority peoples. The trek also provided stunning views of the mountainside in Sapa.

My father eating breakfast at our hotel

About 30 min into the trek, we made it out of the town of Sapa and entered the rice fields.

A water buffalo plowing the rice fields

Overlooking a Hmong village

View of the mountainside from a minority village

Close up of the rice fields

The "postcard" view of Sapa.

The only downside about Sapa is it’s a little inconvienent to get to. You have to take a 10 hour train ride from Hanoi to Lao Cai and then from Lao Cai it’s another 1 hr 30 min busride to get to Sapa. However, most people take the night train from Hanoi so you don’t actually lose much time traveling. There is public transportation that you can take from Lao Cai to Sapa, but honestly I think it’s worth it to pay the extra money and plan ahead of time for a private bus or van. For a few extra dollars, I think it’s definitely worth it.

The next entry will be about the Bac Ha Market which is a 3hr drive from Sapa. Crazy things for sale!!!

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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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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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An Introduction to the Mekong Delta

In a couple of days I will be leaving Ho Chi Minh City for a two night trip to the Mekong Delta. It is called the Mekong Delta because it is here that the Mekong River divides into nine different channels and ends its 3,050 mile run by flowing into the South China Sea. The region lies in the southern most part of Vietnam and occupies about 15,000 sq miles. From Ho Chi Minh, the closest destinations in the Mekong Delta are only a one or two-hour bus ride west of the city. However, Phu Quoc, an island in the western most region of the Mekong, is an hour plane ride from Ho Chi Minh and would take an entire day to get there by bus or car.

The shaded in region on this map is the Mekong Delta region.

Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam

The region borders Cambodia and up until the late 1600’s, the Mekong Delta was part of Khmer territory. Vietnamese began settling in the area in the early 1600’s and their settlement coincided with Khmer war with Thailand.  This resulted in a weakened Khmer state and detachment of the Mekong Delta from Cambodia, and a transfer of control to the Vietnamese. In the mid 1800’s, when the French came to seize control of Vietnam, the Mekong Delta was France’s first colony and the French controlled all of the waterways. These waterways were invaded by foreigners for a second time during the Vietnam War (or American War as it’s called here), as the Viet Cong and the U.S Navy fought all throughout the region. In the mid 1970’s the Mekong faced further foreign invasion, but this time from neighboring Cambodia, which was at the time under the rule of the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge sought to regain control of the region and their attack on the Mekong Delta prompted Vietnam to invade Cambodia and eventually capture Phnom Penh, ending the rule of the Khmer Rouge in 1979.  The Mekong Delta is rich in history and natural landscape.

The Mekong Delta is also known as the “rice bowl” of Vietnam because half of Vietnam’s rice is grown there and Vietnam is second only to Thailand in global exportation of rice. In addition to rice, the Mekong is famous for its Floating Markets, fresh seafood, various temples and pagodas, bird and flower sanctuary’s, and (somewhat) beautiful beaches.

The duration of a single trip to the Mekong can vary from a day to multiple weeks. For tourists completing a whirlwind tour of Vietnam, a day trip led by a tour guide is often a popular choice. For travelers hoping to explore the entire region to its fullest, at least a couple of weeks is needed and people often rent motorbikes and small boats to get access to all different parts of the region. For an English teacher, who as of now is only working on the weekends and is looking for something to do during the week, a two night trip is ideal. I will only be visiting a couple of the major towns in the Delta, but I’m hoping it will be enough time to try out various foods, explore local markets and see some temples and pagodas. I’m very excited for the trip and I hope it will be one of many trips I take to the area. Stay tuned!!!


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Banh Xeo 46A Restaurant

It’s awesome to read about a restaurant on a foreigner’s blog and then when you actually get there see tables full of Vietnamese. When a restaurant is full of locals you know that the food is good and you are probably getting your moneys worth. Tonight, when I hopped off my moto at Banh Xeo 46A I knew that I was in for a treat. All of the tables were packed with locals and you could see the cooks preparing fresh Banh Xeo, Spring Rolls and barbequed meats. I arrived at 7pm and all I had eaten earlier in the day were 2 Banh Mi, half a can of Sour Cream and Onion Pringles and an entire pack of Mentos (consumed in one sitting, don’t judge). So needless to say I was excited for some fresh and cooked food.

Kitchen/Seating Area of Banh Xeo 46A

Cooks preparing Banh Xeo

Since the restaurant has the name Banh Xeo in it Ashley and I decided it was only appropriate to order one. For those of you who are not familiar, Banh Xeo are Vietnamese pancakes stuffed with pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts and then pan fried. They are served with lettuce, mint, basil and of course, FISH SAUCE. You are supposed to break off pieces of the pancake, wrap them in the lettuce and herbs and finally dip it all into a bowl of fish sauce. In Southern Vietnam Banh Xeo are rather large and usually take up more space than a big plate. In the Central and Northern regions of Vietnam, Banh Xeo are usually smaller in size. Here are some smaller Banh Xeo that I ate during a previous meal.

Smaller Banh Xeo, typical of the Central Region of Vietnam

In addition to the Banh Xeo we ordered a plate of 10 Fried Pork Spring Rolls. The two dishes were plenty for us to share and altough the spring rolls were a bit on the expensive side (70,000VND/10 rolls), it was definitely worth it. The rolls were fried but not too greasy and the meat inside was done perfectly. The Banh Xeo was only 40,000VND and plenty for a single serving. It was also a really nice atmosphere. The restaurant was crowded and there was an intense energy that made our dining experience really exciting. Although Banh Xeo 46A specializes in Banh Xeo, I am looking forward to going back and trying some of their other dishes. There were a bunch of noodles dishes with barbequed meats that looked good and are a great price (30,000VND per bowl). I’ll have to report back if it’s especially good. For now, here are some pictures of our dinner.

Banh Xeo and Pork Spring Rolls (lettuce and fish sauce on the side!)

Banh Xeo, almost gone.


Banh Xeo 46A is located at 46A Dinh Cong Trang, right off of Hai Ba Trung.


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Can I get a breakfast sandwich?

If you know me, you know that I have an intense love affair with breakfast sandwiches. And seriously, what’s not to love? I can’t think of anything better than a greasy sausage, egg, and cheese sandwich on an everything bagel first thing in the morning. So imagine my disappointment when I arrive in HCMC and find no McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts or Bagel Barns. Luckily there is some sort of a god out there and he/she has blessed me with an adequate substitute to the breakfast sandwich: the Banh Mi.

Finding a Banh Mi stand in HCMC is just about as easy as finding a Starbucks in New York City. You purchase them at carts on the sidewalk and the vendors will make the sandwich in front of you right after you order. For the most part street vendors don’t speak English, but most Banh Mi carts only sell Banh Mi so you just have to walk up to the vendor and put up one finger (or two depending on how hungry you are) and point to what you want. There are other Banh Mi stands that make Banh Mi based on a protein other than egg, but the one I usually go to just sells egg based Banh Mi. I will eventually branch out and try all of the different kinds.

The sandwich is served on a baguette, which is probably the case because the French occupied Vietnam for many years. In addition to egg or whatever protein you choose, the baguette is filled with pickled carrots, cucumbers, cilantro, pate and a sweet chili sauce. The chili sauce isn’t that spicy but it definitely gives the sandwich a little kick. My Banh Mi guy will usually crack open an egg, fill up the baguette with all the other ingredients while the egg is cooking, and then toss the cooked egg on the sandwich before wrapping it up in a little bag.

The best part is that Banh Mi are ridiculously cheap. The cart I go to sells them for only 5,000 VND. THAT IS ONLY TWENTY-FIVE CENTS PER SANDWICH!!!!

So it’s not exactly like a breakfast sandwich you’d find in the States, but I think I’ll be okay for a year eating Banh Mi instead.

Banh Mi Cart

Cooking my egg

Banh Mi on my lap, no big deal.


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