Hey friends! Wow, it's been a LONG time since I wrote the last travel blog. I have good reasons for my silence, though! For one, Pete and I moved to Costa Rica and started managing Nautilus Boutique Hotel, the vegan/vegetarian restaurant on-site (Olam Pure Food), and the yoga program at the hotel. If moving to a foreign country isn't enough, try taking over a business! It's been CRAZY, to say the least. To top it off, Pete and I were robbed back in May - the thieves stole both our laptops, my camera, our GoPro, and all of our hard drives and memory cards - which means we lost ALL of our travel photos from Asia. It was an extremely dark period in our lives and I just didn't have the emotional energy to come to the blog to write about our travels, as it's a reminder of all of the photos we lost.
In the end, it's all just "stuff". I'm still healing, but the major downside for you as readers is that the remaining three travel posts will have photos that were taken on our iPhones, versus the beautiful travel photos I snapped. Glad we still have our phones, at least! It's a major bummer because Hoi An was our favorite part of the whole trip and I spent a whole day taking photos! Ah - lessons in non-attachment. Hope you all still love me!
Hội An, Vietnam
After we left Vung Tau Beach, we made our way back to Saigon so we could catch our flight to Hội An, which is in the middle of the country (Vung Tau/Saigon is in the south). The flights throughout Vietnam are really affordable! Flying was a nice and fast way to travel from the southern part of Vietnam to Hoi An. Once we made it to the Danang airport, which is right near Hoi An and the fastest way to access it, a driver was waiting for us.
We heard from many people that a homestay is the way to go in Hoi An, so Pete booked us a homestay called Pham Gia Hoi An. A homestay is basically what it sounds like - a family opens up their home to guests. Generally, the family provides food and options for cultural events, depending on the place that you choose to stay. Homestays come in all budgets and amenities! Ours was top of the line (at around $30 a night)!
Pham Gia Hoi An is BEAUTIFUL and we quickly fell in love with the host family and the property. It's a big white house that's modernly and ornately decorated. The rooms are super gorgeous and the amenities are fabulous. Pete and I both felt that the room and bathroom were the nicest that we stayed in throughout Southeast Asia. We ended up extending our stay there by a few days once we arrived. The beds are big and extremely comfortable, the bathrooms have beautifully-designed, tiled rain showers, we had a balcony, and more. They serve a beautiful breakfast spread every morning.
Because we are vegan, they went to the local vegetarian restaurant and brought us both vegan Pho for breakfast every morning. Some of the other guests were jealous! It was so kind of them to go out of their way to get us hot food for breakfast versus simply handing us fruit or something, as other people do when they hear we are vegan. It feels like a hotel in many ways but you get the comfort and friendliness of a local family taking care of you. I got sick while in Hoi An and they brought me ginger tea and checked on me regularly.
Hội An is a charming town on the central coast of Vietnam. Inside is the well-known "Ancient Town", a beautifully preserved trading port from the 15th to 19th century. The architecture and culture represent the various influences that have created the site, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town area is blocked off to motorists and can only be accessed via foot or bicycle. We rented bikes and rode around in the evening. There are beautiful canals that cut through the streets, and you can see distinct differences in certain areas between Japanese, French, Vietnamse & Chinese influences. There are bridges, soap houses, temples, colonial buildings, and color all around.
We went to a couple of the bars in Ancient Town and enjoyed the evening. It's a very charming place but one downfall is that everyone is trying to sell you something on the streets. The homes lining the streets have been converted in clothing stores (Hoi An is famous for beautiful custom clothing tailoring), restaurants, bars, cafes, souvenir shops, and more. You still get an idea of what everything looked like back then and I found myself imagining what it must have been like in the 16th century as a port town, full of people from many various cultures.
Lanterns of all colors line the streets and light up at night. We immediately fell in love with the charm of Hội An and could've stayed much longer!
The Vegan Food Situation in Hội An
We had a unforgettable time in Hội An but the food in the South was better in our experience. However, we did visit many delicious restaurants in Hội An. Here are a few of them!
1. Karma Waters
We rode our bikes to Karma Waters one night to try their cuisine. Karma Waters is more than just a vegan restaurant. They use sustainable practices & promote eco-tourism of many kinds. The founders & most employees are vegan. Their philosophy is, "We are creating sustainable communities by providing & promoting a healthy organic vegan lifestyle". They use no sugar or MSG. They serve vegan meals to the homeless and provide vegan education to children in the community.
We had the vegetable thali, which has an assortment of the daily curries and dahls, & we tried the stir-fried vegetables with noodles. We really enjoyed the food. I wish we stayed in Hoi An longer because you can order whole cakes from Karma Waters to take home!
Next time. We will definitely return to Hội An.
We stumbled upon this place accidentally while looking for another vegan restaurant. Am is new (opened shortly before we went) and we are glad we found it! It has an elegant & comforting vibe. The staff is lovely and attentive. The owner came out to talk with us. She and her husband lived in Northern California for awhile and she opened the restaurant in Hoi An recently because of her love for vegan food and vegan living. We wish we could've tried more dishes!
During the day, the streets are lined with markets of all kinds selling fresh produce and foods. There's an indoor food market that hosts 100s of various food vendors selling local, fresh cuisine and we read on Happy Cow that one of the vendors is vegan-friendly, so we tried it out.
This is true local dining. As soon as you walk in, your business is being sought after by vendors that compete for business all day long. We sifted through the crowd to find the Miss Thuy sign and sat at the counter for service.
I wasn't feeling well so I ordered a green papaya salad (Món gỏi đu đủ) and Pete ordered a large vegetable soup with tofu. Both were prepared fresh in front of us. The salad was unreal - various textures (crunchy, my favorite!) and the flavors were fresh and varied. I ordered a second!
If you don't mind the possible cross-contamination with animal products, this was a nice way to experience a true local experience & to get fresh-made local cuisine.
Minh Hien is a hip spot for vegetarian food. It was packed! We had to wait for a table and there was a wait the whole time we dined. The restaurant is lined with shelves of books and the tables have glass tabletops. Customers can slide photos, notes, business cards and more under each table.
One of our favorite parts is that they serve pints of cold local beer which is served for 3000 Vietnamese dong (about $0.10). And it's delicious! The food is amazing too! We tried the Pho and Pete had some tofu dish that I didn't pay attention to because I don't like tofu. The dish looked like it could've used some veggies though. Overall, the place had a great vibe and we enjoyed our visit.
We went to a couple of other local com chay (vegetarian food) restaurants that were okay... nothing too spectacular. Having just left Saigon and Vung Tau, where the food is to die for, Hoi An was mediocre in comparison. It was great to have so many options, though. There are a lot of small, traditional restaurants that we tried that aren't mentioned here.
I enjoyed getting corn on the cob from vendors on the streets selling it freshly roasted... it's delicious and a perfect late-night snack!
When we return to Vietnam, we'll definitely have to start in Saigon to get our fill of vegan pho before spending time in Hội An, enjoying the beaches, ambience, people & Ancient Town.
I wanted to take a yoga class so we looked up the local yoga studio and rode our bikes over to Nomad Yoga. The yoga space is situated inside of a two-story house in a residential neighborhood in Hoi An. The downstairs has been converted into a daytime cafe (we didn't get to eat there, unfortunately) and the upstairs has a space for yoga. Pete and I took a Hatha yoga class by Manoj.
It was one of the most interesting yoga experiences I've ever had. Manoj is from India and his Hatha class was nothing like an class I've ever taken in the west! The focus in many of the poses was different than what I'm used to (there was a big emphasis on lifting the toes in standing postures throughout the class). We practiced very basic postures but they felt different in my body than usual, based on the focus and instruction. I appreciated the experience but not sure if the style is right for me long-term... perhaps that's while traditional yoga from India had to be adapted for us Westerners! We can't handle the real thing!
An Bang Beach, Vietnam
There's a gorgeous beach a short bike ride away from our homestay in Hoi An. For three days, Pete and I rode bikes over a long bridge, past lush rice paddies & down a casual street to An Bang Beach. The ride there is spectacular, with the local Vietnamese farmers working, smiling as we passed. One farmer shouted, "Buffalo!" at us as we were riding by and he pointed at the buffalo that was in the field working. It was hysterical! We caught the sunset one night on the way back. The sun set right over the rice paddies and it was breathtaking.
When we got to the beach, we locked our bikes in one of the many bike parking lots there. We walked to the beach, where there are many restaurants and bars lining the beach. There are lounge chairs that you can use if you're eating or drinking so we picked a couple and enjoyed some beers and passed time in the Vietnamese sun.
At An Bang, Pete and I spent time relaxing in the sun, swimming, and being tourists! There were some guys trying to catch waves but they were pretty small. I heard there are good waves near Danang but we didn't venture out that way this time. The beach was clean and beautiful and reminded of us beaches in California. One of the days there, I turned to Pete on our beach lounge chairs and said, "This is my favorite day on the whole trip!". And it was, even now when I look back on it. We felt free and simple, and we just enjoyed doing nothing.
Since we ended up extending our stay in Hoi An, we only had two nights in Hanoi before flying off to Bali to wrap up our trip. We flew from Danang Airport to Hanoi and stayed at a nice hotel that I can't remember the name of. We explored the streets, ate some vegan food, drank some beer, practiced some yoga, and celebrated our wedding anniversary a day early since we would be traveling the next day. We heard that Hanoi is loud and it's true. Everyone is honking and in restaurants or bars, it's very crowded and people sit very closely to one another.
For dinner the first night in Hanoi, we walked to Jalus Vegan Kitchen near our hotel. It's a quaint restaurant on the second floor of a building on a busy street in Hanoi (aren't all streets in Hanoi busy)?). Jalus is dedicated to healthy, organic and whole food. Their food is all made in house, and is always MSG and preservatives free. They serve an array of different vegan food and have numerous different cakes and desserts on rotation.
We tried the Hibiscus Kombucha, which was refreshing and just what I was in need of after a couple of months of traveling! I drank 2 glasses!
We also had the black bean burger with fries on the side and it was quite tasty. I was a big fan of the bread they use and the sauces, too.
We also tried to pesto pizza. It wasn't my favorite dish, to be honest! I wanted some gooey vegan cheese, but this pizza has nutritional yeast and tofu, so it didn't quite satisfy. The flavor was delicious, though.
The service wasn't the best. We felt really out of place and not too welcome, unfortunately! It's a great space, though. Sit on the balcony for some great people-watching on the busy street below.
I'm so glad we found this space! Although I hear they've now relocated, we found the place on Happy Cow and Ubered our way there. We walked by a gate with a small sign on it that says, "Finding VEGANS?? ... WE ARE HERE!". Perfect!
Happy Cow describes Atelier as:
Atelier Vegan is not a restaurant. It is a project of a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting Mother Earth, its citizens and practicing true compassion by various approaches to supporting community.
In that sense, one shouldn't expect a true restaurant experience but rather a community of like-minded individuals sharing food, knowledge and friendship. I'm not sure what the new space looks like but the old one was in a courtyard with very limited patio seating (it didn't seem like they ever were expecting many people at once).
They had a banh mi Falafel (banh mi is a classic sandwich in Vietnam). This was a vegan version with Falafel and it was AMAZING.
They had a vegan coconut cream alfredo pasta that was okay, not as flavorful as it could've been. I prefer my recipe!
For dessert, we tried the tiramisu (it's my favorite dessert so I always try it when there's a vegan version available) and it was delightful. Very creamy and flavorful. We also had a scoop of chocolate ice cream with coconut. They have many other desserts, like doughnuts & cookies, but they were out on this day.
If we go to Hanoi again, we will definitely stop by Atelier again!
Pete and I came to this beautiful restaurant to celebrate our anniversary. Unfortunately, I had a migraine that got progressively worse as we got to the restaurant and by the time we arrived, my light and sound sensitives were so intense that I barely ate. All I wanted was to crawl into bed. I felt so bad for Pete! I didn't get a chance to snap any photos... bummer. However, the ambiance and service is beautiful (think vegan fine dining) and the food is superb! We enjoyed our time despite the migraine.
Since I didn't get to snap any photos, the owner of Aummee sent me some via Facebook to share with you all! Thanks so much! These photos above are from them.
Yoga in Hanoi
At Vagabond Temple in Cambodia, we met a girl named Ali. She's from the US but lives and teaches yoga in Hanoi, Vietnam. She gave us her information so I got in touch when we were in Hanoi and we took a yoga class of hers at The Fitness Village. It was nice to meet and hang out with some locals! The class was a lovely vinyasa and Pete and I enjoyed it very much. The architecture of the gym is beautiful. It's a big space with windows and outside in the brick-lined courtyard are gorgeous statues, bonsais, other trees and plants, and more. Check the photos out below, and notice the lamps too! My favorite!