Vietnam in 8 days
Thanks to Dan’s coworker and his quickness with sharing one of Scott’s Deals pricing mistakes, we set off for an unexpected trip to Vietnam, which I ended up spinning into a honeymoon! It was a whirlwind trip and travel took a full 24 hours with layovers. Everyone warned us we weren’t going for long enough and of course they were right, but if waited who knows when the “right” time to go would be.
Things to know before you go: You’ll need to apply for a Visa to visit Vietnam. Fortunately, Dan’s mom took care of this for us at a Vietnamese travel agency. Book tours when you arrive. We booked online before our arrival only to find that the hotels usually have services in the lobby and it’s cheaper. Also, tours are kind of necessary in Vietnam. I was skeptical of the tours, convinced we could go it on our own, but navigating Vietnam is difficult and we would have missed so much without our tours.
Day 1: Arrive in Hoi Chi Minh City at 1AM.
We visited Dan’s family and ate homemade bun ram and banh xeo.
Ba Do - Steamed rice cakes - we ordered one of each, except for the noodle dish.
Perfume River Private Dinner Cruise - While enjoyable, the food was oily and bit bland, but we enjoyed the experience of lighting lanterns and floating along the river.
day 3 - Bus from Hue to Hoi An (3h)
La Residentia - Loved this hotel! Service was excellent and they really went above and beyond making us feel special for our honeymoon.
Hoi An Night Market - Hoi An Old Town, as well as other connecting parts of the city transform into a beautiful night market. The lantern/board ride sales folks can be aggressive, but otherwise, it’s a nice way to spend the night.
Day 4: Hoi An/Da Nang
Tour of My Son, Marble Mountains, the Son Tra Peninsula - Tour with Hoi An Express. This was roughly an 8 hour tour in an air-conditioned van with an experienced guide. Great way to learn about the historical significance of the sites.
Day 5: Bus from Hoi An to Da Nang (1h) | Fly from Da Nang to Can Tho (1.5h)
Tran - Am Thuc Da Nang - Very clean and on the fancier side restaurant - roll it yourself (R.I.Y).
Vinpearl Hotel Can Tho - Five-star hotel with a rooftop pool and tour booking in the lobby.
Cafe Lotus - The hotel staff recommended Cafe Lotus, so we rented a motorcycle, but got caught in heavy rain on our way there! That poncho was one of the most expensive things I purchased in Vietnam. Thankfully a nice old man let us hang out in his wheel shop while the rain died down.
Day 7: Bus from Can Tho to Hoi Chi Minh City
Cinnamon Boutique Hotel Saigon - This hotel was right around the corner from Dan’s grandma’s house which was very convenient and centrally located. The service was great, but the nicest room is located on the 5th floor and there’s no elevator.
The Workshop Coffee - Excellent third wave coffee and good place to cool down.
Family dinner and late night rides - Dan’s family hosted potluck dinner for us to sample local favorites. Afterwards we went to a nearby karaoke bar and rode around for some late night snacks. Unfortunately, I don’t have any of the names of the places we visited we were pretty drunk.
DAY 8: HOI CHI MINH CITY
Ben Thanh Street Food Market - For breakfast we enjoyed tried the a combo of the mien luon gion (vermicelli soup with crispy eel meat) and mien luon men (vermicelli soup with soft eel meat).
Bosgaurus Coffee - Best coffee we had in Vietnam. 15 minute drive from Ho Chi Minh City to get to this coffee shop. It’s a modern space facing the river built in an old mansion.
The Lunch Lady (Nguyen Thi Thanh) - Popularized by Anthony Bourdain, we ordered two bowls of the daily special (there’s only one item on the menu). After eating bun bo hue in Hue, this just didn't compare.
Banh Mi Huynh Hoa - This sandwich a couple doors down from our hotel on the other hand was delicious!
42 Nguyen Hue - Old American military office turned into an apartment block with hip businesses and coffee shops.
Ốc Sáu Nở - Our final meal in Vietnam and it was snails!
day 1 | SFO > HND
The trip started with a delay, but nothing could diminish our excitement! We met Fabi, Mat, and my soon to be Gensler co-worker Merla at SFO! The flight was long, we left at 12:35AM on Friday and arrived in Haneda at 1:40PM on Saturday. Our flight took us through the Philippines where we said good-bye to Merla and where Dan and I nearly missed our connecting flight.
Lucky for us, we were traveling with the kindest and most resourceful friends anyone could ask for. Mat and Fabi held up the plane as much as possible by chatting up the flight crew before they sent someone to come find us. We ran up to the gate seconds before they closed the door. It was the stuff movies are made of. When we finally made it Haneda, we purchased/picked-up tickets for all rails and subway systems. Now we were ready to go!
Our itinerary had a full slot of events upon of arrival, ambitious and not even close to what actually happened. It was 6PM by the time we arrived to our hotel and our little “rest” turned into full on sleeping through the rest of the day. We all tried to fight through the exhaustion, occasionally texting each other between 9-11PM before finally admitting defeat.
day 2 | Tokyo
As expected, Dan and I ended up waking up at 4AM, which was the perfect time to pick up the an egg sandwich from Lawson’s as recommended by Anthony Bourdain. We found a nearby park to our enjoy our sandwiches and coffee. I think Mat and Fabi did something far more responsible like went for a jog or something.
Meiji Shrine - This shrine can apparently get very crowded and since we were all up early, we arrived around 7ish. This was great for experiencing the area and shrines in peace. The downside was that many of the vendors were closed.
Harajuku - We made our way to Harajuku, discovered the fascinating world of photo booths while looking for crepes, and became supermodels.
Omotesando - This area is pretty upscale and hip - I’d compare it to Rodeo Drive, but with more charm. It’s treelined and there are hidden alleys with tucked away shops such as Café Kitsuné, where we stopped in for some coffee and ice cream. We also discovered Aoyama Flower Market Tea House, which Fabi and I dragged the boys into! None of our photos do this place justice.
Shinjuku | 新宿 - The night ended with a mad dash to catch the department store food deals (see Vogue, Saveur, and Eater for the importance of eating at department stores) which we ate off an ironing board in our tiny hotel room, before heading over to the tourist trap that is the Robot Restaurant. What started off as an over-the-top grandiose display of “robots” and “music” gave way to inexplicably terrible choreographed fight scenes and shilling of crap.
Day 3 | Suntory Hakushu Distillery + Koenji, Tokyo
Suntory Hakushu Distillery - Our next adventure required us to travel 2 hours outside of Tokyo. From Shinjuku Station we took the Chuo Line-Limited Express Super Azusa to Kobuchizawa Station where we grabbed a taxi to the distillery. The journey really was as wonderful as the destination.
Koenji - Before roughly following the Roads & Kingdoms Koenji Afternoon Walking Tour, the entire crew joined me at a Japanese fabric store. Coffee Amp for a much needed pick me up. We meandered through the neighborhood, popping into shops, and snacking along the way. Since we hadn’t created firm plans for dinner we ducked into a tiny ramen shop for our first noodles of the trip. Not ready to call it a night we found a hip cocktail bar filled with books.
Day 4 | Hakone
Amazake-chaya Tea House - Another day outside of Tokyo. We experienced our first bullet train from Shinjuku to Hakone-Yumoto Station. It was enough time (2 hours) to enjoy another awesome train meal! After purchasing the Hakone “Free” Pass, we hopped on the free bus from the train station to this cozy tea house. The fire pit, tea, and mochi, plus making a made a new friend who was traveling solo made this nice stop before embarking on the hike 30-40 minute hike to the Hakone Shrine.
Hakone Shrine - This was one of the more touristy areas we encountered and snapping a picture at the gate took a little bit of time, but it was worth it.
Hakone Open Air Museum - While boat, cable car, and rail were great - it took longer which left us on short on time for the museum. We pushed through and speed walked through the museum and we were grateful for every minute of it. The museum is quirky and experiencing the art in the Japanese landscape was special.
Gen Yamamoto - Reservations required and pricey, but this 4 or 6 drink cocktail tasting menu was worth every penny and one of the most spectacular experiences we had in Japan.
Savoy Azabu-juban - Neapolitan pizza in Japan! Yes indeed. The space is pretty small and we had to wait, but the rockabilly vibes and pizza oven were worth the wait. Nakaoka Bldg., 3-10-1 Moto-Azabu, 2nd Fl., Minato-ku Tokyo+81 3-5770-7899 | Website
Roppongi - In this area we visited a brewery Ant ‘n Bee (六本木5-1-5 (加藤ビル B1F), Minato, Tokyo, 106-0032, Japan). With its cute logo and familiar feeling space - it was hard to believe we were in Japan. It was the perfect break before our second dinner at Afuri (1F UF Bld. 4,4-9-4 Roppongi, Minato-ku)! I insisted we drag our full bellies to the ramen shop nearby touting David Chang’s praise and we experienced our first ramen ordering via vending machine. Oh, and the ramen was AMAZING!
Golden Gai, Shinjuku - Small alley ways full of yakitori restaurants and themed bars with cover charges. We walked and marveled at everything, but didn’t visit any of the bars.
Day 6 | Tsukiji Fish Market, AKihabara, and Narisawa
Tsukiji Fish Market - While we missed the 5am tuna auction, we started our visit to the famous fish market with Yazawa Coffee Roasters (〒104-0045 東京都中央区築地4-10-12 肉の矢澤裏 平日5:30〜11:00 休市日6:30〜11:00 | Website), a coffee stall hidden away one of the alleys. This place was awesome and one of the best cups we had in Japan. Next we collected goods from the market and enjoyed them in the outer market. We also visited Tsukiji Sushidai Bekkan, where we each ordered the omakase (chef’s choice) for $35.
Fushimi Inari Taisha - We visited at nighttime to avoid the crowds - it was a bit eery with the rain and darkness, but an incredible way to experience the shrine.
Pontocho Yakuzen - We tried to go to Kichi Kichi, but didn’t have any luck. Fortunately we found the delicious curry shop before we went back to our Airbnb and used some face masks to unwind.
Day 9 | kyoto
Walden Woods - This coffee shop was a couple blocks away from our Airbnb, tucked across from a small park and in a residential area. We feel in love with this place.
Day 10 | Bye bye Japan
But not before one last bowl of ramen!
Stay tuned for our riding adventures!