Vietnam – Hoi An, foodies’ paradise

We loved Hoi An.  It is a foodie’s paradise.  It is bordered on one side with beaches that are clean.  The town is small and can walk the entire area…great exercise and every turn, there is a foodie’s place to discover or try.  The first evening we went to a restaurant that was 20 minutes to the beach by taxi.  We literally sat at a table on the beach, sand  our floor.  We had food that was heavenly.  Abraham had a French burger and my cynical side, “what, we came here for you to have a burger?”  He replied, “Mom, it is a French burger.”  It finally arrived and it looked sumptuous.  It was minced sirloin, sitting on a small French bread, with cheese and a soft fried egg that oozed with each bite.  He said it was the best burger he had ever eaten.  I had baked camembert with different herbs.  That was so delicious and it was also the owner’s favorite dish.  The balmy sea air, lovely food and the setting made a perfect introduction to a foodies adventure for the next few days.

Early the next day we embarked on a foodie tour:  Taste of Hoi An Street Food Tour with Neville Dean, an Aussie who retired in Hoi An.  This was the highlight of Vietnam.  Neville was a fantastic guide and storyteller.  His wife was so nice to all of us.  We ate so much and visited some incredible places.  Abraham found the place where Anthony Bourdain ate Banh Mi Xa Xiu.  He must have devoured at least 10 of these during the time we were there..why not, it was like 50 cents each.

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Our tour group had people from Lat Am, Europe and the U.S.  The couple from the U.S.  had sold everything they had to take a year off and travel around the world, one foodie restaurant or event at a time.  Everyone had such interesting backgrounds and passions.  The couple that we endeared to our hearts came from Argentina.  They have a restaurant Buenos Aires  and Christina does all the cooking.  They also have a very romantic story of how they met.  They are  serious foodies.  Christina travels Southeast Asia in search of new ideas she can use in her cooking for the restaurant.  Check out their blog and story, Cocina Sunae and the local tours,   Abraham and I plan on visiting them in the near future.

One evening Christina, Franco, Abraham and I headed off to find a restaurant called The End of the World…it could have been the end of the world as it was difficult to find and the taxi had to back up to it so he could get out.  This restaurant is famous for it’s stuffed squid.  Many Michelin star chefs go there to eat.  It really was fabulous.  We had other seafood that evening and we couldn’t believe how inexpensive it was.  It was a lovely way to close the day.

It was very hard to leave Hoi An.  It was perfect weather, people very nice and no matter where you ate, food was good.  We will go back…thanks to my friend Marion and Haney for insisting we visit the place.


Vietnam – Halong Bay, Hanoi

After the very hot and humid weather of Cambodia, Hanoi welcomed us with rain and cold.  We were both tired from the day’s adventure in Cambodia so opted to eat at the hotel lobby. The next day we met our driver and guide for a long trip to Halong Bay.  The traffic was congested, with scooters everywhere.  It was fascinating to watch the scooters weaving in and out between cars and pedestrians.  Hanoi is steeped in French architecture.  After 4 long hours, finally reached Halong Bay.  The dock area was already filled with tourists waiting for their boats to arrive.  I had booked us a private one so when it arrived, it seemed huge without too many people.  There was the cook, owner and one other person, me, Abraham and our guide.

Halong Bay

We sailed out to Halong Bay, mist shrouding overhead.  It was also very cold. The rock formations or I called little mountains rose majestically from the water for us to get peeks as it was not a clear day.  We stopped at a small fishing village, docked and took a little tiny dinghy for sightseeing.

Halong Bay

I am sure if it had been a sunny day, that the scenery would have been spectacular.  I have a fear of deep water but I forced myself to get into this dinghy.  I found out that my son gets claustrophobic when he cannot see below.  He too forced himself to focus on photo opportunities.

Back in Hanoi, we went to all the tourist attractions, including viewing Ho Chi Minh’s body.  We walked the streets of Hanoi, practicing walking across streets, trying not to get run down by the scooters.  Our guide took us to this silk store, only to walk through to the back….of course I was thinking:  what is he getting us into now, more selling of products..NO, he led us to an alley that ended into a kitchen area, inside a beautiful French architect building.  We ascended a spiral stairway to the seating area and further to the roof for Hanoi city viewing.  Abraham headed there to add to his photo library.  This place’s specialty was Vietnamese coffee with whipped egg whites.  Abraham was on a quest for the best Pho and Vietnamese coffee.  So far he had not found either till this time.   It was fun to watch my son enjoy himself with the street vendor foods and his quest for coffee.  This trip was proving to be more and more interesting as I saw another side to my already complex artist son.  I never realized what a foodie he has turned out to be.

Abrahm and his shisa

We ended our visit to Hanoi with an incredible dinner at Bobby Chinn’s restaurant.  Abraham kept saying he was in heaven.  Each dish opened our taste buds to new tastes, anticipating the next dish.  Bobby has created a beautiful atmosphere that satiates all the senses.  It also helped that he had red all over, my favorite color.  The service, the food, the wait staff, the physical layout all contributed to an evening that Abraham and I will always remember.  A mother and son moment that will be passed on.

Ruins of Angkor – Cambodia

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We had done Bhaking Hill already so the next few days, we visited several ruins, rode on an elephant, then on foot to the temple of the Leper King.  By 11 AM,  each day I was ready to faint from heat, humidity, exhaustion and pain.  I went back to the hotel whilst Abraham went to try local food and his own discoveries.  One afternoon we visited Ta Phrom.  This was our favorite…Tomb Raiders was filmed here.  The trees, roots were awesome.  The next day, we climbed to the top of the temple at Angkor Wat.  I was not going to climb those darn steep stairs but Abraham said, “Mom, look at those old ladies, they are going and if they can do it, so can you.”  I climbed, left leg in pain with the pinched nerve every 2 steps.  We did make it to the very top…a beautiful view.  Everyone who has visited Angkor Wat has described it as magnificent, beautiful.  I am in awe and wonder how the heck did they build these with these massive blocks of stone, precisely cut.  Abraham and I will always remember the ruins and the people of Siem Reap/Angkor.  Oh…those old ladies, they didn’t climb..they were just standing there!

Cambodia: Sunrise and Sunset at Angkor Wat

At 5 AM, our driver took us to Angkor Wat where we joined at least a few hundred others.  It was dark but I had my miniature flashlight to light the way  as we cautiously made our way to the lagoon area to wait patiently for the sun to greet us.

The area was already very crowded.  Many people were already homesteading their perfect camera view.  They must have arrived at 4:30 AM.  I walked around, wandered to an area  where very few people gathered.  That view was actually better.  I stood, camera poised, listening to the stories being described around me.  One person said that his mother had been to Angkor Wat a few years ago and she was the only one there to view the sunrise.  Many young couples were sitting in front of me, holding hands, making the moment as romantic and memorable for them.  An older gentleman with his cane was being helped by his companion, smile on his face, happy to be there.

At last the sun woke up and started to rise, higher and higher into the sky, lighting it very quickly, moving between the pillars of the temple.  Light in the sky and darkness still shadowing parts of the ruins.  People quickly exited the area.  It was already hot and it was only 6:30 AM.  Later during the day, we watched a breathtaking sunset at Angkor Wat…pictures can better describe the breathtaking beauty…

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Cambodia: Sunset at Bhaking Hill

My son and I decided to take a trip together.  He needed time away from work and stress and I was having withdrawal pains from not traveling.  Cambodia and Vietnam were on my bucket list so we decided why not.  After much consultation and emails with friends Ames and Marion on recommendations, started to plan.  I researched everything, even speaking to a few travel agents who promised me the world.  Although I explained to each one that I could not do a full day of walking or anything too adventurous, proposals came back the opposite of what I had asked.  Finally, after two weeks of not getting anywhere, decided to plan it myself.  (Job search was on hold.  I mean, really, why bother looking for a job when an adventure was waiting.  I could only focus on one thing and that feeding my need of travel).

We left from San Francisco on a gorgeous day heading for Singapore first to spend one night and early next day to Siem Reap.  We arrived in Singapore, dead tired after a very long flight.  I could barely walk off the plane.  I was in torturous pain.  My right leg was aching with stabbing pains.  The drive from airport to hotel was a complete blur.  Just wanted to get to the room and lie down to wake up to turning around for Siem Reap.

We departed Singapore without any problems.  I barely closed my eyes when we landed in Siem Reap.  Our driver picked us up on time.  So far so good.  It was not difficult at all to go through customs as I had arranged for visas in advance.  I arranged for drivers, tours online via email and prayed that everything will work out.  The drive from the airport to our hotel reminded us so much of the Philippines.  I felt almost like I was there instead of Cambodia.  It was so very hot and humid!

We stayed at the Le Meridien which is a beautiful hotel, with very friendly and courteous staff.  Best of all, very close to the ruins.

On our first day, we opted to do the sunset at Bhaking Hill, along with 300 other people!  Only 300 people were allowed at a time as there were renovations  and it was very small area. It was a very long and dusty walk.  Everyone was competing for the same spots, hoping that it would provide the perfect photo op.  It was very hot.  People were everywhere.  I found a spot to sit and people watch.  Large groups of tourists from China.  Finally the sun started to go down and cameras flashing everywhere.  Faster than the sun setting, people exited.  My son and I walked around a bit more, waiting for the sun to descend to the bowels of wherever it was going.  It was beautiful, different colors changing with each second.

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We walked around admiring the ruins, with sweet memories of a golden sunset.

By ccortez78 Posted in travel