Ho Chi Minh City: This is a city that shocked my senses the minute I touched down. I'm not quite sure what I expected but I certainly wasn't quite mentally prepared for the overwhelming number of motorbikes weaving in and out of traffic - where anybody between the ages of 13 and 89 could operate one and you see toddlers casually clinging on to the pockets of the adult in front. I was probably more worried for them than they were themselves. Traffic lights/laws were also seemingly non-existent. Certainly bring along a set of ear plugs if you'd like some quiet time from the 24-hour honking even from your hotel room. Once my body acclimatised to this bustling city, though, I loved the Ben Thanh Market for its food stalls, pretty kitchenware, and plenty of patchwork goodness. Quan An Ngon was highly recommended for its variety of Vietnamese dishes but to be honest it was a lukewarm experience for me. Hoa Tuc was a lovely albeit Westernised restaurant (platter above for one) and I would've loved to attend a cooking class if time permitted!
Hoi An: Relief. Where beach resorts line the coast and you can cross a road without fearing for your life. Luckily for us the rain held off the whole 3 days we were there and made for a very enjoyable stay. Book a beach yoga session if that's up your alley and then visit the World Heritage Ancient Town, an amazingly well-preserved area with bright yellow walls, joyous lanterns, LOTS of tailors, and mouth-wateringly delicious food choices. Bahn Mi Phuong is an inconspicuous little stand/bakery with viet bread rolls so good I was so close to having a second serve all to myself - your choice of meat filling comes stuffed with some salad vegetables in a crispy, crispy bread roll. Visit the much hyped about Morning Glory and order a local noodle specialty (Cao Lao) or the neighbouring Cargo restaurant for its red duck curry. Stay till dark and offer 1USD to the elderly lady selling candle-lit paper lanterns, release into the river and watch it join its other lantern friends - it was a feeling of serenity and appreciation. I loved this vibrant little town!
Hanoi: Having soaked up the sun, sea and heritage of the magical Hoi An, it was a true wake-up call as we landed in the capital city of Vietnam. Food as you might've noticed pretty much is central to me being in a foreign land - Bun Bo Nam Bo serves up a generous bowl of beef noodles of the dry-ish variety (in fact they only serve the one dish there) which were THE best I've ever had in the history of my memory, and I've had my fair share of noodles and Viet cuisine. Then get your caffeine fix - thick iced coffee with condensed milk; black if you dare - on the mini plastic stools at Nang Cafe while people-watching. The neighbouring regions of Sapa and Halong Bay would have been amazing to visit as well if not for lack of planning due to wet and rainy weather forecasts (yet weather was perfectly fine when we were there).
Food obsessions aside, Vietnam should truly be on your to-visit list sometime in the near future. These three cities/towns were probably barely a glimpse into the Vietnamese life and culture, yet already such an eye-opener to the way people around the world live and that we're so so lucky to have what we have in Australia, or any other developed country for that matter (although you'll come across kids on iPads and the street vendor on her smartphone). Take along nothing more than a light luggage, millions of Vietnamese Dong, and an open mind - you'll be thankful you did. Hope you enjoyed the diary!
Photos by Thomas Lo and myself