Archive for the ‘Vietnam’ Category

One year ago today, we boarded a plane and set off to make our dream of traveling around the world a reality. We are happy to report that we are still alive and well. Today we are wondering, how did this year go by so quickly?! But in all reality, when we revisit the past year in detail, we realize just how much we have experienced.

Our ‘Year in Review’ includes two photos from every country we have visited in the past year. One selected by Mike and one selected by Amy.  This was an insanely difficult task, since we have over 12,000 photos now! Some photos are memories of a favorite place we visited, while others symbolize our mindset at that point in time, and a few are just pictures that we really love. We hope you enjoy and thanks for reading our ramblings for the past year; there is still more to come!


Mike's Photo - Spain

Mike’s Pick – La Sagrada Familia – Barcelona, Spain

This place is unlike any other church in the world. Our visit to el Templo de la Sagrada Familia took place on the first full day of our journey and really started things off with a bang! I can’t wait to return to Barcelona to see it again when construction is completed after 2026.

Amy's Pick - The Alhambra - Granada, Spain

Amy’s Pick – La Alhambra – Granada, Spain

When we stepped off the train in Granada, we were shocked with an unexpected bitter cold. Despite the below freezing temperatures we had an incredible day exploring La Alhambra, one of the most stunning palaces I have ever visited.


Mike's Pick - Porto, Portugal

Mike’s Pick – Port Wine Boats on the Douro River – Oporto, Portugal

We try not to talk about work too much on our trip, but when you work in hospitality and tourism, a RTW trip is filled with very relevant learning opportunities. I have an all new appreciation for port wine after visiting several cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia.

Amy's Pick - Lagos, Portugal

Amy’s Pick – Lagos, Portugal

Lagos was the first of many improvised stops of our trip. To be honest we had never heard of it before, but it was along our bus route from Spain to Lisboa, so we stopped through for a few days. I will always remember Lagos with special sentiment because in my mind it symbolizes spontaneity.


Mike's Pick - Our Riad - Marrakech, Morocco

Mike’s Pick – Our Riad – Marrakech, Morocco

Sipping mint tea in the refuge of our riad was one of the most relaxing experiences of our trip. I loved starting and ending our days sitting right here!

Amy's Pick - Colorful Tiles - Marrakech, Morocco

Amy’s Pick – Bahia Palace – Marrakech, Morocco

The colorful and intricate tiles in Morocco are unbelievably eye-catching. I would love to use tiles like these to decorate our house someday.


Mike's Pick - Mike & Nils - Osted, Denmark

Mike’s Pick – Mike & Nils – Osted, Denmark

Nils (Amy’s host dad from her study abroad experience in 2006) was about as excited for our trip as we were. He and I took many trips “around the world” using these fun shot glasses printed with a world maps.

Amy's Pick - Candles - Osted, Denmark

Amy’s Pick – Candles – Osted, Denmark

These candles represent Danish hygge to me; it is a difficult word to translate into English, but generally embodies spending quality time with family & friends while being cozy, content and relaxed. There was plenty of hygge to go around during our visit with my host family.

Czech Republic

Mike's Pick - Hockey Game - České Budějovice, Czech Republic

Mike’s Pick – Hockey Game – České Budějovice, Czech Republic

During our time in České Budějovice, I had a high fever and terrible case of the flu. I spent three whole days  in bed and even considered going to the hospital, but still but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see a Czech hockey play-off game.

Amy's Pick - View from Castle - Český Krumlov, Czech Republic

Amy’s Pick – View from Castle – Český Krumlov, Czech Republic

Český Krumlov is one of those magical places that makes you feel like you’re living in a fairytale. I love this photo because it captures the European-style architecture and lazy river that winds through the town.


Mike's Pick - Naschmark - Vienna, Austria

Mike’s Pick – Naschmarkt – Vienna, Austria

A major theme of our blog over the past year has been food. In Vienna, the Naschmarkt is one of the best places to take a stroll, grab a bite, have a beer, and see some really great artisan food and crafts.  We were in Vienna for less than 48 hours, but made two trips to the Naschmarkt during our time there.

Amy's Pick - Coin exchange at hostel - Vienna, Austria

Amy’s Pick – Coin exchange at hostel – Vienna, Austria

We only spent two days in Austria, using Vienna as a stopover for a train connection, however we found this clever coin exchange at our hostel. This photo reminds me of a game we play – whenever we leave a country, we try to use up all of the bills and coins that we have on hand, whether it be buying a piece of candy at a shop or giving it to a fellow traveler.


Mike's Pick - Széchenyi Fürdő - Budapest, Hungary

Mike’s Pick – Széchenyi Fürdő – Budapest, Hungary

Whenever I arrive in a new city and hear about hot springs, thermal baths, or the like I get really excited. Who doesn’t like a nice soak? After a few months of backpacking under our belts, a day relaxing in these amazing public baths was just what the doctor ordered.

Amy's Pick - View from Castle - Budapest, Hungary

Amy’s Pick – View from the Castle – Budapest, Hungary

Budapest is one of my favorite European cities. I love how the river splits it into the Buda side and the Pest side. This day we walked almost 14 miles, exploring both sides of the city and growing our appreciation for how massive, yet accessible, it is.


Mike's Pick - Old Town - Dubrovnik, Croatia

Mike’s Pick – Old Town – Dubrovnik, Croatia

After the Bed Bug fiasco was behind us, we really enjoyed the gorgeous walled city of Dubrovnik. I felt like I had been transported back in time.

Amy's Pick - Hvar Island, Croatia

Amy’s Pick – View from the Castle – Hvar Island, Croatia

This is my favorite self-photo of our entire trip. Somehow it captured Mike at the split second he was sneezing!


Mike's Pick - Stari Most - Mostar, Bosnia

Mike’s Pick – Stari Most – Mostar, Bosnia

When most people think of Bosnia, they think of the war. Few realize what an beautiful place it really is. The iconic bridge of Mostar was destroyed by bombs, but it has since been rebuilt and serves as a symbol of a country trying to heal.

Amy's Pick - War Tunnel Tour - Sarajevo, Bosnia

Amy’s Pick – War Tunnel Tour – Sarajevo, Bosnia

The Bosnian War is the first war I remember as a child, so visiting Sarajevo was very emotional. We took a tour with this man who lived through the war, and it was one of the most inspirational and educational things I did in the past year of traveling.


Mike's Pick - Cave Church - Cappadocia, Turkey

Mike’s Pick – Cave Church – Cappadocia, Turkey

Our first day of exploring in Cappadocia included the Göreme Open Air Museum and its ancient churches and dwellings. Built by early Christians fleeing persecution, it is arguably the “birthplace” of the entire religion. Visiting was a very spiritual experience for me.

Amy's Pick - Blue Mosque - Istanbul, Turkey

Amy’s Pick – Blue Mosque – Istanbul, Turkey

The mosques of Istanbul are a sight to behold. Spending a few weeks in Istanbul taught me so much about Islam. Visiting Istanbul helped me to understand that it is possible for traditionalists, modernists, and everyone in between to coexist without surrendering their cultural identity.


Mike's Pick - Food Stand - Shanghai, China

Mike’s Pick – Food Stand – Shanghai, China

For me, one of the coolest parts of traveling is snacking my way through a city. We ate these rice dumplings almost every morning in Shanghai. Some cities in the US have food carts/trucks, but nothing quite compares to the street food scene in Asia. Forget what the State Department tells you; my advice, when you travel abroad EAT STREET FOOD!!!

Amy's Pick - Rice Terraces - Dazhai, China

Amy’s Pick – Rice Terraces – Dazhai, China

In the midst of China’s traffic jams, overpopulation, pollution, and noise, the rice terraces of Dazhai were the perfect escape for a few days of peace. I love this picture because we spent nearly an hour getting this shot with both of us in the air.

Hong Kong

Mike's Pick - View from Victoria Peak - Hong Kong

Mike’s Pick – View from Victoria Peak – Hong Kong

It may seem like a concrete jungle, but Hong Kong actually has some really great hikes, beaches, and islands. I really enjoyed our hike around Victoria Peak which ended with this panoramic view of the city.

Amy's Pick - Cheung Chau Island, Hong Kong

Amy’s Pick – Cheung Chau Island – Hong Kong

The stark contrast between landscapes in Hong Kong surprised me: a mega city that also has remote wilderness islands. We spent the day at the beach and hiking the perimeter of Cheung Chau island.

South Korea

Mike's Pick - Haeundae Sand Festival - Busan, South Korea

Mike’s Pick – Haeundae Sand Festival – Busan, South Korea

There aren’t a lot of beaches in Colorado; so it’s not big surprise that I had never seen sand art like this before. These artists are ridiculously good.

Amy's Pick - Sushi Dinner - Busan, South Korea

Amy’s Pick – Sushi Dinner – Busan, South Korea

We had a hard time fitting this sushi dinner into one photograph! It included everything from raw sea squirt to mud eel. Even though we shared no common language with the couple sitting next to us, they walked us through each dish and how to eat it properly.


Mike's Pick - Restaurant - Tokyo, Japan

Mike’s Pick – Restaurant – Tokyo, Japan

When we sat down and ordered, we had no idea what we were about to eat. We just got what everyone else was having. I like this picture because it reminds me of how the cooks complimented us on our chopstick skills and Japanese table manners.

Amy's Pick - Fushimi Inari Shrine - Kyoto, Japan

Amy’s Pick – Fushimi Inari Shrine – Kyoto, Japan

I love this photo because of the sheer color!


Mike's Pick - Bowl of Phở - Hanoi, Vietnam

Mike’s Pick – Bowl of Phở – Hanoi, Vietnam

Phở. #enoughsaid

Amy's Pick - Madonna Rock Dive Site - Nha Trang, Vietnam

Amy’s Pick – Madonna Rock Dive Site – Nha Trang, Vietnam

SCUBA diving is one of the coolest things I have ever learned to do. This was our very first day of diving – we didn’t have the hang of buoyancy yet, so the fact that our dive master captured this photo was something of a miracle.


Mike's Pick - Banteay Srei Temple - Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Mike’s Pick – Banteay Srei Temple – Angkor Wat, Cambodia

What can I say about Angkor Wat? This place is just sooooo cool. Cambodia may not have delicious food like Vietnam or dreamy beaches like Thailand, but Angkor Wat is more than a good enough reason to visit.

Amy's Pick - Ta Prohm Temple - Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Amy’s Pick – Ta Prohm Temple – Angkor Wat, Cambodia

I love this picture because it allows you to actually see the thousands of years of history that has taken place at Angkor Wat. The sheer size of this tree’s roots growing into the temple walls helps you to appreciate its place in the past and present.


Mike's Pick - Elephant Reserve - Chiang Mai, Thailand

Mike’s Pick – Elephant Reserve – Chiang Mai, Thailand

We spent a lot of quality time with animals in Thailand: riding on elephants – cuddling with tigers – fending off monkeys.

Amy's Pick - Pad Thai - Bangkok, Thailand

Amy’s Pick – Pad Thai – Bangkok, Thailand

Pad Thai with tofu is my absolute favorite Thai dish and I miss eating it every day for breakfast! Surprisingly, considering all of the times we ate it, I can’t believe this is the only photo we took.


Mike's Pick - Mekong River - Vientiane, Laos

Mike’s Pick – Mekong River – Vientiane, Laos

This amazing sunset over the Mekong in Vientiane was one of my favorite from the entire year. You wouldn’t know it from this picture, but it seemed like the entire city came out to the river that evening to watch the sun slowly disappear.

Amy's Pick - Flight from Luang Prabang to Vientiane - Laos

Amy’s Pick – Flight from Luang Prabang to Vientiane – Laos

After the most horrifying bus ride ever from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang, we decided to fly back to Vientiane instead of enduring another death-trap bus. This was the most beautiful flight of my entire life – the mud brown Mekong twisting through deep green jungle.


Mike's Pick - View of Downtown - Singapore

Mike’s Pick – View of Downtown – Singapore

It may be a small country, but I was really impressed by Singapore’s modern architecture.

Amy's Pick - The Helix Bridge - Singapore

Amy’s Pick – The Helix Bridge – Singapore

The truth is that Mike stole the photo I wanted to choose for Singapore, so I picked this one instead. This photo is of the ground of a DNA helix-shaped bridge in Singapore. My nerdy science-loving side really loved this bridge:-) The A and the T represent the nucleotides adenine and thymine.


Mike's Pick - Salang - Tioman Island, Malaysia

Mike’s Pick – Salang – Tioman Island, Malaysia

SCUBA diving and beach-time pretty much sum up our month in Malaysia. 15 tanks each in less than 30 days. In retrospect, I think we should have stayed longer.

Amy's Pick - Long Beach - Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

Amy’s Pick – Long Beach – Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

This is a place where two days turned into four, and four into six, and six days into two weeks. I loved living on the beach, relaxing, diving and having a blank mind.


Mike's Pick - Gnaraloo Station - Gnaraloo, Australia

Mike’s Pick – Gnaraloo Station – Gnaraloo, Australia

If you’ve been reading our blog since the beginning, then you may recognize our friends here.  It was our first time in Australia, but they really made us feel at home.  Juan wasn’t very pleased with the fishing that week, but the Coral Trout I caught is enough to keep me enthusiastic about giving it another go.

Amy's Pick - Fishing - Gnaraloo, Australia

Amy’s Pick – Fishing – Gnaraloo Reef, Australia

A memory of the first fish I ever caught in the open water!

New Zealand

Mike's Pick - Kaikoura, New Zealand

Mike’s Pick – Kaikoura, New Zealand

We almost left Kaikoiura the day before this picture was taken. I am glad that we decided to stay another night, because we would have missed out on a great hike and some unforgettable views.

Amy's Pick - Lake Wakatipu - Queenstown, New Zealand

Amy’s Pick – Lake Wakatipu – Queenstown, New Zealand

This is only one of the hundreds of beautiful scenic photos from our month in New Zealand. This road into Queenstown from the south is one of the most spectacular drives I have ever taken.


Mike's Pick - Laguna Tebenquiche - San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Mike’s Pick – Laguna Tebenquiche – San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

The water in this lake was so salty that it felt thick when I walked through it. The natural wonders of San Pedro de Atacama left me in awe day after day.

Amy's Pick - Pan de Azucar National Park - Chile

Amy’s Pick – Pan de Azucar National Park – Chile

After a week of camping at Pan de Azucar, one of the most tranquilo and beautiful places that I saw in Chile, we hitchhiked back into town to catch our bus. Our ride was from a local fisherman, and I had the luck of riding in the back of his truck along with his day’s catch. During that ride I remember thinking to myself “now this is traveling!”


Mike's Pick - Christmas Parrillada - Escobar, Argentina

Mike’s Pick – Christmas Asado – Escobar, Argentina

I’m really going to miss this. But I always have Tio Francis in Denver, so I guess I’ll survive 🙂

Amy's Pick - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

Amy’s Pick – Iguazu Falls – Puerto Iguazu, Argentina

During our second day visiting Iguazu Falls, we were graced with perfectly blue skies and a rainbow across the falls!


Mike's Pick - Practice for Carnival - Montevideo, Uruguay

Mike’s Pick – Practice for Carnaval – Montevideo, Uruguay

Hopefully this was just a small taste of things to come during Carnaval in Cartagena.

Amy's Pick - The Hand Sculpture - Punta del Este, Uruguay

Amy’s Pick – The Hand Sculpture – Punta del Este, Uruguay

This sculpture is just plain fun. It makes you feel like there is a giant living underneath the sand, waiting to grab you off your towel while you’re sunbathing.


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When most people think of world class SCUBA diving, places like the Caribbean, Indonesia, the Maldives or Australia come to mind. Vietnam doesn’t make many top 10 or even top 100 lists; however, we heard that Nha Trang offers the best diving in the country, so we set our course for this coastal city in central Vietnam.

Nha Trang Beach

When we arrived in Nha Trang, we set up our home base in a small hotel just a block from the beach with dive shops all around. Becoming certified SCUBA divers was one of our many goals for this trip, as we both love outdoor sports and the ocean.  After some searching, we found a shop we liked and decided to take the plunge. We signed up for a three-day, six-dive, SSI Open Water Diver certification course. It was one of the most enjoyable and rewarding activities of our RTW trip thus far!

Heading out for our first day of diving

Most of the diving in the area takes place in the Mun Island Marine Park, which consists of more than a dozen different dive sites.  The water in this area ranges quite a bit in depth making it an ideal place for new divers to learn underwater skills and become comfortable exploring the reef.  Much of our first day was spent in shallower water (5-10 meters), where we learned the fundamentals before heading out on some “discovery dives” with our instructor, Kim.

Just need some fins and we’re ready to dive

While Nha Trang isn’t the Great Barrier Reef or Blue Hole, the marine life was still impressive.  The good visibility combined with the diverse aquatic creates  made it an amazing dive location.



Scorpion fish

Blue sea star

School of recently hatched catfish – they moved like a swarm of bees.

Our next two days of diving included additional underwater skills training and diving at deeper depths (up to 18 meters). We even got to explore a few small caves!

Working on our buoyancy

While the majority of our time in Nha Trang was dedicated to diving, we were able to enjoy the beach and town as well. The seafood was fresh and delicious, we enjoyed some tasty pale and golden ales from a local microbrewery, and walked the 6km stretch of beach from end to end.

View of Nha Trang from the 28th floor of the Sheridan Hotel

We had a blast getting SCUBA certified and hanging out in Nha Trang for five days. It is the perfect place to relax on the beach or head out on the water for snorkeling, diving, parasailing or just cruising around. Oddly enough, it was a bit of a downer to complete our SSI course because we wanted to keep diving, but we had to keep moving south on our road to Ho Chi Minh City. We are counting the days until we can put our new SCUBA skills to use again and can’t wait to explore the seas of SE Asia and Oceania.

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Any traveler in Vietnam will undoubtedly be told to visit the scenic area of Ha Long Bay. For decades, the limestone peaks of this coastal region in northern Vietnam have attracted tourists from far and wide.  Sadly, its popularity and designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site have turned this natural wonder into an absolute zoo.

For us, there was nothing peaceful about the place; dozens of tour boats crowd the bay, tour operators aggressively try to fill their trips, and the water has become polluted from the thousands of people who visit each week. But don’t despair, another option still exists for those willing to put in a little extra effort. Adjacent to Ha Long is the area known as Bai Tu Long Bay. Like its neighbor, Bai Tu Long is home to countless limestone islands that rise sharply out of the turquoise waters and is relatively unaffected by the tourism industry.

Why is Bai Tu Long better than Ha Long? The same beautiful views without the masses of tourist boats!

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, we don’t like tour groups. Several people in Hanoi tried to convince us that exploring Bai Tu Long on our own was impossible, but we took some advice from one of Amy’s brothers, did a little research and found a public ferry. We boarded a small wooden boat with locals that live on islands in the bay and set off into the landscape of towering peaks.

The public ferry that runs between Hon Gai and Quan Lan Island

View after incredible view of the limestone peaks in Bai Tu Long Bay

Hanging out on the roof of our boat as it slowly puttered through Bai Tu Long Bay

Because we are constantly moving, it can be easy to lose sight of the amazing expedition that we are on. Ironically, the same thing happens to travelers that happens to people at work…days blend into weeks and weeks into months. However, being out on the waters of Bai Tu Long brought back our sense of adventure. The thrill of being on a rickety boat headed to a sparsely populated island with no idea of where we were going to sleep reminded us why we left home in the first place. Watch our video from the ferry ride through Bai Tu Long Bay here or by clicking on the image below.

After a four hour boat journey, we docked at Quan Lan Island (pronounced Gwan-ah). This island is so remote that we were unable to find a map online prior to leaving the mainland, so we arrived with no idea of the layout of the land. Not surprisingly, there were numerous tuk-tuks waiting at the pier, so we jumped aboard and attempted to communicate that we wanted to go to a hotel, any hotel. The driver spoke zero English and gave us a blank look. He showed us 30,000 Dong and pointed to some small buildings in the distance. Having no other choice, we agreed to the price and were on our way.

Tuk-tuks and motorbikes are the only method of transport on Quan Lan.

Turns out there is no real town on the island, but there is one street that is home to a few mini-hotels, ALL of which double as restaurants, convenient stores and motorbike rental shops. They are very entrepreneurial people. It was quickly apparent that aside from the limited lodging, there is little to no tourist infrastructure in Quan Lan, a refreshing change from Hanoi and Ha Long.

In the morning, we rented a motorbike from our hotel (we are pretty sure that it was the owner’s personal motorbike) and took off down the road. While we would never have attempted driving on the crazy streets of Hanoi, riding on Quan Lan was a piece of cake. Little to no traffic helped put us at ease, and having only one main road made getting lost on the island nearly impossible. Peaceful is the best word to describe this place; water buffalo roam the fields, rice paddies glisten in the sun, and waves crash onto white sand beaches.

Nothing but calm

Mike mastering the motorbike

Our trip to this island can be summarized as a relaxing time on the beach. We didn’t do much else. The people of Quan Lan were some of the most friendly that we have encountered in Vietnam. Even though most do not speak a lick of English, we managed to have full conversations with people using impromptu sign language, and we were even invited into a family’s home for a crab dinner one night. It is clear that the influence of tourism has not yet ravaged this island, and we hope it stays this way. However, we weren’t the only tourists there, and we know that more will make the journey with each passing year. If you find yourself amongst them, please tread lightly.

Minh Chau Beach, on the northeast side of Quan Lan

The public ferry from Hon Gai, through Bai Tu Long Bay, to Quan Lan Island was spectacularly beautiful. When combined with the laid back atmosphere and friendly people of the island, we found it to be a worthwhile alternative to Ha Long Bay.

The return ferry ride couldn’t last long enough

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We have finally arrived in SE Asia! While we always strive to live in the moment, we have secretly been longing to get to this part of the world since we left home. Stories of the region’s hectic streets, friendly people and incredible street food make it a legend in hostels around the world. These tales of a backpacker’s paradise sparked our interest long ago.

Our first stop in SE Asia was Hanoi, Vietnam. Our first impression? Holy motorbikes Batman! When we went to Marrakech, we thought the traffic was crazy. Then, we came to know the streets of China, but neither prepared us for the motorbike madness that exists in Hanoi. We have heard that cities like Bangkok and Singapore make maneuvering Hanoi look like child’s play, but our first thought when we gazed upon the raging river of motorbikes was, “WTF, how are we ever supposed to cross the street?!”

Quintessential Hanoi

After a few days, we became accustomed to walking in the street (the sidewalks are too cluttered to actually walk on) and weaving our way between bikes and cars. Our heart rates gradually lowered, and we started soaking up the good vibes that flow through this city.

The word sidewalk shouldn’t be used in Hanoi. They are all unofficial parking lots, shops, or restaurants.

Before arriving in Vietnam, we had heard stories from other travelers about tourists getting fleeced right and left. More than one person told us that they will never return to Vietnam; it made the Vietnamese sound very unwelcoming and unfriendly. We found it to be the exact opposite. Every local we met in Hanoi said hello with a smile, and not one person tried to overcharge us, much less steal from us. It is the people of Hanoi that create the positive and upbeat vibe that we mentioned above.

There is no doubt that Hanoi is an epicenter of history, and although the city has a handful of tourist sights, we most enjoyed simply walking around the old town and seeing how the city works. It is really quite fascinating to see the systems that exist below the layers or chaos. We didn’t want to spend our whole time there just lounging around, so we dedicated about two half days to sightseeing at the following places.

Hỏa Lò Prison, called the “Hanoi Hilton” by American POWs. Built by the French and used to imprison Vietnamese revolutionaries. Its most famous American prisoner? John McCain.

Offering of incense in front of the Temple of Literature.

Tran Quoc Pagoda in West Lake. The oldest pagoda in Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum has strict visitor policies, similar to that of Chairman Mao. After having visited Mao’s Mausoleum in Beijing we chose to forgo looking at another wax-covered corpse.

The One Pillar Pagoda, a Buddhist temple.

Sightseeing in Hanoi will really take it out of you. With the temperature over 30˚C and humidity close to 100%, we could only handle walking around town for a few hours at a time. Multiple showers per day, constant hydration and brief visits to buildings with air con helped us beat the heat. Many people cautioned us to not visit SE Asia in the summer because it is the hottest time of year and the rainy season, but to us, the frequent afternoon downpours are always a welcomed occurrence.

One of our favorite mid-day activities in Hanoi was stopping for some “bia hoi.” Bia hoi is Vietnamese for “fresh beer” and is quite possibly the cheapest draft beer in the world at 5,000 Dong (25 cents) per glass. It is not the most flavorful drink around, but in the sweltering heat it really makes you smack your lips and say “ahhhhhh” as your body temperature drops a couple degrees.

Our favorite bia hoi

There are many places around the city to quench your thirst, but on our first day in Hanoi we found a spot that we liked and kept coming back. We spent many hours there chatting with the owner, playing with her son and drinking with the locals. After a few days, we felt like part of a small community there and were sad to say goodbye.

Never drink a bia hoi without a snack. Shrimp chips, peanuts, and pork in banana leaves seem to be the munchies of choice.

Can you find Mike?

One of the things that we liked most about Hanoi is that it is easy to distinguish the tourist traps from the genuinely local places. We have learned that the backpacker trail through Vietnam is well defined, with Hanoi being a hub for nearly all tourists that visit the country; therefore, Western-oriented establishments are ubiquitous. Ones that consist of very small plastic stools and tables on the sidewalk are a good indication that you are in for the real deal. These types of restaurants are the definition of hole in the wall. Sometimes they have a small portable cooking station on site, other times your order is relayed via cell phone to a kitchen down the street, and 10 minutes later someone comes walking down the block with your meal in hand.

Check out this kitchen. The health department in Hanoi must have very strict standards.

We didn’t know a whole lot about Vietnamese cuisine before arriving, and while we don’t have a firm grasp on the regional specialties just yet, we certainly got our fill of phở while in Hanoi. We were on a mission, just like Anthony Bourdain, to find the best bowl of phở around. We ate it every day for at least one meal, and came across a wide variety of styles. There is no way to decide on the best bowl of phở in Hanoi, but there are a few indicators that will let you know you’ve found a great phở spot, which Bourdain’s video explains in hilarious detail (watch it here). We couldn’t have said it better ourselves!

Phở, phở, glorious phở.

Hanoi electrified us, kept us on our toes and eventually made us feel at home. While getting advice from fellow travelers can be an incredible resource, the moral of the story here is that you shouldn’t always believe what you hear. The only way to know for sure whether or not you are going to like a city is to experience it for yourself.

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