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Author: Robin & Mark

Trying New Foods in Vietnam: Ốc lễ

Trying New Foods in Vietnam: Ốc lễ

We recently tried a local speciality at the Chợ Bắc Mỹ An that are as beautiful to look at on the outside as they are tasty on the inside. Ốc lễ are teeny tiny sea snails which are harvested by hand from the ocean and prepared for eating by steaming with sliced lemongrass, red chilis, and other aromatic seasonings. Presented for sale in large bowls and sold by the cupful for just 15,000 VND (about 66 cents in USD), our…

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Ninh Binh Province, Vietnam | March, 2018

Ninh Binh Province, Vietnam | March, 2018

In March of 2018, we enjoyed a 4-day getaway to Vietnam’s Ninh Binh Province. While Ninh Binh City is a necessary visit for arrivals to the region by train (just a 2.5 hour trip south of Hanoi) and maybe to grab your first meal or stock up on groceries, it’s an otherwise unremarkable place which adventure seekers should quickly pass through. Up until recently, not many Western tourists had heard of Ninh Binh Province and its beautiful rural areas of…

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Our First Taste of Mỳ Gà Tần

Our First Taste of Mỳ Gà Tần

Mỳ gà tần is Hanoi Vietnam’s chicken noodle soup for the soul, street food-style. Reputed to carry many health benefits, it’s commonly recommended as a nourishing meal for those who are sick. And although looking at this dish may make you queasy, it’s surprisingly delicious! Ingredients of an entire tiny black-skinned chicken, mugwort, a prune, and oriental herbs are steamed to brothy perfection inside an empty beer or soda can before being upended into a bowl of instant egg noodles…

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Trying New Fruits in Vietnam: Mãng Cầu (AKA Custard Apple)

Trying New Fruits in Vietnam: Mãng Cầu (AKA Custard Apple)

Mãng Cầu (AKA Custard Apple or Sugar Apple) has a dragon scale-like exterior and creamy sweet flesh that’s low in acidity. The many seeds that dot the interior are a bit of a nuisance to work around but the resulting treat is well worth the effort. Locally, the fruit is enjoyed as a fresh snack or blended into healthy smoothies. It’s rich in potassium and magnesium and contains vitamin A, calcium, copper, fiber and phosphorous. The leaves of the plant…

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Trying New Fruits in Vietnam: Rambutan

Trying New Fruits in Vietnam: Rambutan

To us, Rambutan fruit (also known in Vietnam as “Chom Chom”) looks like a magnified microbe or a creature you’d encounter in the deep ocean. Common throughout Asia, this spiny/hairy fruit may look menacing, however it’s actually quite soft to the touch. To eat this sweetly floral, slightly tart fruit, you must first remove its outer leathery skin to reveal the translucent white orb within. Careful when biting because there is an almond-sized pit that you’ll need to pry out…

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Vietnamese Food to Try in Da Nang

Vietnamese Food to Try in Da Nang

The list of phenomenal Vietnamese foods to try in Da Nang is epically long. Here in this post we’ll touch upon a few highlights: Mỳ Quảng for breakfast or lunch: Available just about everywhere, but HERE is a well-rated location on the city-side of Da Nang.   Bánh Cuốn for breakfast: Available here and there. HERE is a popular city-side location, which is also a 2-minute walk to Bạch Đằng street where you can stroll the riverwalk and a 5 minute walk to…

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OUR RECOMMENDED DA NANG, VIETNAM AREA EXPERIENCES

OUR RECOMMENDED DA NANG, VIETNAM AREA EXPERIENCES

If you’ll be spending time in Da Nang during your visit to Vietnam, lucky you! There is so much to do and see in and around the city. Here are some of the experiences we’ve enjoyed: Custom Tailoring: Bring digital photos of ideas for new pieces and/or bring favorite pieces from home that you want to have copied. Plan to visit a tailor early in your trip and budget for 2 more visits over 2-4 more days for a fitting and…

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TIPS AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR VISITING VIETNAM

TIPS AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR VISITING VIETNAM

We often find ourselves compiling recommendations for friends who are planning to visit Vietnam. In hopes that our tips can be useful to others who happen upon our blog, we’re now including them here, and will periodically update this post based on the feedback and additional questions we receive over time. We’re so glad you’re considering visiting!   VIETNAM VISAS The prices and term lengths around Visa requirements vary according to your nationality. For Americans visiting Vietnam, terms have changed…

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Trying New Fruits in Vietnam: Soursop

Trying New Fruits in Vietnam: Soursop

Soursop’s thin outer skin is bright green in color and covered in small, harmless spikes whose pattern reminded us of the barbs that line a cat’s tongue. The inner white flesh is creamy and fibrous and studded throughout with black inedible seeds that mimic the shape of candy corn. Soursop’s flavor transported us back to childhood: the artificial green apple flavor of a Jolly Rancher or Gummy Bear was manifested in this tropical fruit. We ate ours with a spoon,…

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Trying New Fruits in Vietnam: Thanh Mai

Trying New Fruits in Vietnam: Thanh Mai

Thanh Mai, which we refer to as “Luxury Fruit” are small, marble-sized fruits that seduce you with their mouthwatering fragrance, akin to berry-flavored Fruit Roll-Ups on steroids. Eaten as you would a cherry by popping them into your mouth, one-by-one and whole, the exterior bumpy texture yields to a smooth, tart, sweet interior surrounding a small pit. The taste is a bit like a blackberry, but words fail to describe how intense and supreme this flavor is. Due to their…

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Trying New Fruits in Vietnam: Sapodilla

Trying New Fruits in Vietnam: Sapodilla

Let’s begin with how to pronounce Sapodilla: You can say the “ill” as in “dill” or with a y-sound like “tortilla”. Our first go-round with the Sapodilla was less than fruitful, having unknowingly cut into a very UN-ripe specimen. The flesh was so tannic, it felt as though we’d rolled a stick of deodorant over our tongues. Blegh. Waiting a few more days before trying another, we were rewarded with a very different experience! The formerly firm pale white flesh…

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Trying New Fruits in Vietnam: Quả Gấc

Trying New Fruits in Vietnam: Quả Gấc

How could we resist this enormous, never-before-seen (by us) brilliant orange specimen? Although we expected its hefty weight, we were startled by the pliability of its skin: it was a bit like holding a thick, lumpy water balloon. Once home, we sliced into the fruit’s core and were shocked by the pile of grotesqueness that spilled out onto the cutting board. What looked at first glance like a mass of demon hearts turned out to be gigantic black seeds covered…

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CHIANG MAI, THAILAND | NOVEMBER 25 – DECEMBER 4, 2017

CHIANG MAI, THAILAND | NOVEMBER 25 – DECEMBER 4, 2017

Living as foreigners in Vietnam means we have to have Business Visas. Per Vietnam’s current rules, we need to renew our Visas each year, and are required to leave the country and come back again in order to do so.  Some consider this a huge nuisance. For us, it’s a great excuse to travel! For our first official “Visa Run” we chose to visit the nearby country of Thailand. Flights from Vietnam to Thailand’s capital city of Bangkok take just…

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DA NANG, VIETNAM: OUR HEAVEN ON EARTH | JUNE 25, 2016

DA NANG, VIETNAM: OUR HEAVEN ON EARTH | JUNE 25, 2016

If you were asked to consider the word “paradise,” what would come to mind? Some would say a secluded island with white-sand beaches, palm trees, and calm, clear ocean waters.  Others might find their paradise in the middle of a modern city close to friends, restaurants, and cultural destinations.  Still others might dream of a peaceful mountain hike that culminates in a stunning vista. We would have said any number of these, and so when we arrived to Da Nang…

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HOI AN’S (SOMETIMES) SLEEPY CENTRAL MARKET | JUNE, 2016

HOI AN’S (SOMETIMES) SLEEPY CENTRAL MARKET | JUNE, 2016

In Vietnam it’s routine for locals to wake very early, then take afternoon naps to ride out the hottest part of the day.  The first time we visited Hoi An’s Central Market during the afternoon it surprised us to find most of the merchants sleeping in their stalls.  Now, it’s our go-to time to browse when we want fewer interactions with aggressive sellers! In addition to sleepy merchants, we also found some of Hoi An’s best food in the Central…

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HOI AN MARKET TOUR + COOKING CLASS | JUNE 23, 2016

HOI AN MARKET TOUR + COOKING CLASS | JUNE 23, 2016

Our friend Bryna Scott encouraged us to take a market tour and cooking class early into our time in Vietnam to familiarize ourselves with the local produce and to learn to cook with these new ingredients.  While in Hoi An, we did just that through a day-long venture with “My Grandma’s Home Cooking” and we’re so glad we did! Our day began with a bicycle ride to Hoi An’s Central Market where our guide introduced us to a variety of…

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Snorkeling The Cham Islands, Vietnam | June 24, 2016

Snorkeling The Cham Islands, Vietnam | June 24, 2016

The Cham Islands are a group of eight islands off the coast of central Vietnam (visible from the beaches of both Da Nang and Hoi An) and are surrounded by a bountiful array of reefs and sea life. Thanks to a thoughtful gift from our dear friends Janette and Matt, we signed up for an underwater excursion around the islands that would conclude with a family-style lunch on the beach courtesy of Blue Coral Diving. We were picked up by…

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Custom Tailored Clothing in Hoi An, Vietnam | June 22-24, 2016

Custom Tailored Clothing in Hoi An, Vietnam | June 22-24, 2016

Mark would claim that we all (should) know that places like Express, the Express Outlet, or Express.com are a one-stop shop for lithe men who love bold fashion.  However, if you’re in SE Asia, where ironically, Express clothing is manufactured but not actually sold, where would you go for an “Express replacement”? It’s a tough conundrum for even the savviest fashionistas, however if you happen to find yourself in central Vietnam, we have the answer for you: Hoi An. Historic…

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RICE FIELD HOMESTAY IN HOI AN, VIETNAM | JUNE 21-25, 2016

RICE FIELD HOMESTAY IN HOI AN, VIETNAM | JUNE 21-25, 2016

We were over-the-moon delighted by every aspect of our time with Mike and Hanh at their Rice Field Homestay and couldn’t have had a better experience if we had stayed anywhere else in Hoi An. Their brand new, custom designed home is modern, bright, spacious, clean, and extremely comfortable. Our room had every amenity we could have hoped for, and was above-and-beyond what we’d received anywhere else in Vietnam during our 3-weeks of travel for the same price range. Ample…

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DRIVING THE HAI VAN PASS BETWEEN HUE AND HOI AN, VIETNAM | JUNE 21, 2016

DRIVING THE HAI VAN PASS BETWEEN HUE AND HOI AN, VIETNAM | JUNE 21, 2016

After spending several days in the literally baking hot weather of the city of Hue, we were easily persuaded to consider a private driver with an air-conditioned car for our travel to Hoi An, a charming historic town located 2.5 hours south of Hue.  Hanh and Mike, the proprietors of Rice Field Homestay where we’d be lodging during our stay in Hoi An recommended a car service that would not only take us door-to-door, but stop at several sightseeing locations…

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Hue| June 18-20, 2016

Hue| June 18-20, 2016

After a long travel day on the cusp of our second week in Vietnam, by way of shuttle bus, crazy sleeper bus, airplane, and two taxis we arrived at sunset to our 5th destination: the city of Hue. Pronounced like the word ‘way’ but with an ‘h’ at the beginning (click here to hear), Hue is located in the central region of Vietnam and was once the seat of the Nguyen Dynasty and the national capital from 1802-1945.  It is…

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Squished on a Sleeper Bus from Can Tho to Saigon | June 18, 2016

Squished on a Sleeper Bus from Can Tho to Saigon | June 18, 2016

When our Can Tho guesthouse proprietor Ms. Ha offered to arrange our return tickets to Saigon through the Long Phuong bus company which had (relatively comfortably) delivered us to Can Tho, we gave two thumbs up because we knew what to expect. But oh…we were wrong… When we arrived to the bus entrance, an attendant handed each of us a plastic bag and gestured for us to remove our shoes and place them within. It’s customary in Asia for one…

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The Mekong Delta & Can Tho City | June 16-18, 2016

The Mekong Delta & Can Tho City | June 16-18, 2016

Of the mix of practical research-related and indulgent tourism activities we’d planned for our initial month in Vietnam, our tour of the floating markets of the Mekong Delta was super-high on the list of indulgences we were looking forward to.  We booked an affordable two-night stay at Ms. Ha’s Guesthouse in the city of Can Tho which would serve as a convenient base camp for our boat tour. We’d booked our tour of the Mekong Delta many months in advance…

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Convoluted Transportation and Banh Bao by Improv: Our Ride to Can Tho City | June 16, 2016

Convoluted Transportation and Banh Bao by Improv: Our Ride to Can Tho City | June 16, 2016

Boy oh boy were we ever excited to experience the Mekong Delta!  And it was a good thing we brought so much enthusiasm with us, because our upbeat moods left us laughing rather than spouting expletives in response to the convoluted transportation of our travel day. The proprietor of our Saigon homestay kindly pre-booked our bus tickets for the 4-hour trip to the city of Can Tho where we’d overnight before our Mekong Delta boat tour.  She also very thoughtfully…

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Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) | June 13-16, 2016

Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) | June 13-16, 2016

As you’ll see from our video below, we started off with unexpected enthusiasm for Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). The words “super-modern”, “pushy”, “fast”, and “commercial” were bandied about with regularity by those who had gone before us, and so when our arrival afternoon brought us a cluster of positive interactions, sights, tastes, and discoveries, we were admittedly surprised. We managed to avoid being fare-scammed by our taxi from the airport! Our Airbnb homestay was wonderful! There are frozen yogurt shops…

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Our stay in Bai Xep at “Life’s a Beach” | June 8-12, 2016

Our stay in Bai Xep at “Life’s a Beach” | June 8-12, 2016

After the muddy blur of our initial days convalescing from jet lag in Hanoi, we were ever-so-excited to put our renewed states of consciousness to the next task ahead: luxuriating on a tropical beach. When we planned the itinerary for our first month of Vietnam exploration, we sought a mix of practical and indulgent destinations.  The practical included Hanoi, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), and Danang—cities where we might drop anchor once we’re ready to seek employment.  The rest were…

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Hanoi | Days 3-4 | June 6-7, 2016

Hanoi | Days 3-4 | June 6-7, 2016

During our last two initial days in Hanoi (we say initial because we will return in July), we explored the plethora of the Đồng Xuân Market (everything from shoes to live eels, electronics, baby formula, and beyond…and all in staggering quantities!), drank decadent coffees on the 2nd floor balcony of Cafe Phương Linh, ate awesome sandwiches at Bahn Mi 25, and, to escape the stupefying heat, enjoyed a spin ’round the well-air conditioned Vietnam Fine Arts Museum. On our YouTube channel plus…

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Hanoi | Day 2 | June 5, 2016

Hanoi | Day 2 | June 5, 2016

Early risers!  Shockingly easy street crossings! Interviews! Let’s keep things honest: we’re not typically early risers.  But all that changes when you’re a Philadelphian in Hanoi, living 11 hours in the future and breakfast time is when you would normally be finishing up dinner and debating whether to watch Downton Abbey or House Hunters International that evening. So we awoke uncommonly early, ditched the complimentary hotel breakfast, and forged out onto the loud, crowded streets in search of the real deal: Phở, a…

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Hanoi | Day 1 | June 4, 2016

Hanoi | Day 1 | June 4, 2016

Hanoi | Day 1 | June 4, 2016 A 24+ hour journey…a long time and also not so long, right? That’s how these Griffins wandered our way to Vietnam. Funny thing happened on the way to Hanoi: It never felt like a day. It felt long, sure. Had sleep deprivation crept in? Of course. Were we jet-lagged? You betcha. Half-starved? NO WAY: The airlines fed us all kinds of great food! Plus, we had adrenaline on our side. It was finally…

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“East meets West” Celebration with Family

“East meets West” Celebration with Family

WE HAVE A GOPRO!!! (But we’re getting ahead of ourselves…lets  go back to the beginning…) Back in January, upon hearing the news that we would be journeying for at least a year abroad in Vietnam, Mark’s sister Jill and her husband Gordon immediately made plans to host a May 21 bon voyage party to give us a proper send-off with family (that’s right: They’re awesome). The party’s theme was “East meets West” and their home, the menu, and dogs (Willis and Vlad), were all…

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Thank you for traveling with us on our adventure!

Thank you for traveling with us on our adventure!

Thank you for traveling with us on our adventure! We look forward to sharing with you our photos, videos, mishaps, laughter, confusion, and awe as we summit the challenge of living as expats in the beautiful country of Vietnam in Southeast Asia. If you would like to receive an update when we post new blog entries, just enter your email into the “Subscribe” form on our homepage (you can unsubscribe (or resubscribe!) any time). With warm regards, Robin & Mark