Monday, 6 April 2015

A Whirlwind Vegan Tour of Hanoi, Vietnam

Despite spending almost two weeks in Hanoi I was sick for almost the entire time which a) totally sucked and b) means that I have far less fun stuff to tell you about than if I'd been on top of my eating 'n exploring game. So sad! I've never really been sick whilst travelling before and it was definitely challenging. It was the first time since leaving Brighton that I wished I had a home to go back to...  one with fluffy blankets and my panda and a fridge full of comfort food. I actually left Luang Prabang with what I thought was the end of a cold which morphed into an intense headache at the (very brightly lit) airport. That calmed a little and I managed to pop out and eat and then boom, food poisoning that lasted a whole week. I ended up visiting a doctor at Family Medical Practice who ran some tests and confirmed that as well as food poisoning I also had a sinus infection. Both are apparently common amongst westerners in Hanoi because of both food hygiene and air quality issues. I feel pretty lucky that this happened in a city where bottled water and vegan baguettes are easy to come by and I was super grateful that we'd chosen to stay somewhere with air con. We actually upgraded to a bigger, nicer and less damp room after six nights because I literally couldn't handle staring at the same four walls any longer!

During those first few hours where I felt okay enough to explore Nick and I walked around a small section of the city. We checked out the Old Quarter and Hoàn Kiem Lake where Nick bought me a balloon to cheer me up! I love balloons!


We ate at Zenith Yoga Cafe about 24 hours before I got sick and I'm pretty sure it was their salad rolls that got me because they were literally the only thing that I'd eaten and Nick hadn't for days. The service there was awful too (and I'm British so trust me, I'm used to a certain level of crappy service!) and Nick said that his burger tasted like it had been grilled the day before and then microwaved. I assumed he was exaggerating and took a bite and had to agree, it was the kind of thing that I'd have thrown away if I'd made it at home! It was such a shame because Zenith is a cute, chilled out space in the midst of a loud and busy city and it could have been a nice place to spend more time. It was also the only all veg place super close to where we were staying so it was definitely frustrating that I didn't trust their food enough to venture back there. We also managed to check out Bo De Chay where we shared one order of Salted Chicken with a side of white rice and another of Seafood Spring Rolls. Neither dish was what we were expecting but they were enjoyable none-the-less.


Despite not being able to eat anything other than plain baguette for three whole days I did manage to pop out for some walks around the neighbourhood. We were staying in the Old Quarter so the streets were bustling at all times of day with motorbikes and street vendors.



 Did I mention that I love balloons? Seeing whole bunches of them being transported is my fave'.

These train tracks run right inbetween the houses, so close.

Once I was feeling 95% again (it took another week or so for my appetite and energy levels to hit 100% again!) Nick and I knew we only had two days left so we needed to prioritise! We went on one whirlwind sightseeing day fuelled by the blandest food we could find for my poor stomach, the veggie fried rice with tofu from Cari Truong in the Old Quarter which, whilst not being the best food ever, was a great option. Oh and if you can sit on the balcony upstairs it's a really fun place to watch the world go by whilst you enjoy your meal.



The next day we met up with Cici from Vietnamese + Vegan. I love meeting other vegans when I travel and I discovered Cici's blog thanks to a guest post she wrote for Vegan Miam. Coincidentally I just wrote a guest post for her too proving that it really is a small vegan world! We met up at Loving Hut because it's one of the few places that you can be guaranteed some fun Vietnamese eats minus the animal products. Cici ordered some Bánh Xèo for us to share as well as some delicious fresh spring rolls that I forgot to photograph. Nick and I also couldn't resist the Beef Pho. 



The Pho was delicious, I like mine with plenty of lime squeezed in, but the Bánh Xèo was the star of the show. The Vietnamese pancake is stuffed with lightly cooked veggies and mock chicken and you pop a piece of that and some salad leaves and herbs into a rice flour pancake before dipping it into the mock fish sauce to get the full on taste sensation. So delicious.

After lunch we took a walk to West Lake where Cici introduced us to Bò Bía Ngot (my computer just won't do the proper i in bia but you can see it below) which are simple rice flour pancakes filled with pulled sugar, toasted coconut and black sesame seeds. We stopped and watched to make sure this was what was going into the rolls (My googling tells me that there are also non-vegan savoury Bo Bia) and then went for it.


This is one treat that is more delicious than the sum of it's parts. I am genuinely quite sad that I discovered these on my last day in Hanoi and have been looking out for them ever since.


Cici also told us about bánh rán mat which are Vietnamese doughnuts filled with mung bean paste sold by street vendors all over the Old Quarter. 


The salespeople can be a little pushy and we found it impossible to stop the woman we were dealing with from putting a non vegan fried pineapple thing into our bag. These were incredibly sweet and whilst I'm not at all averse to a sugar hit these were a little much. If I'd had the chance I would have liked to try their sesame covered counterparts bánh rán vùng which I would assume would be a little less sugartastic.

I also found some decent things to snack on in Hanoi, this haul was from QT Mart (such an adorable name!) on Pho Quán Thánh just down the road from the Loving Hut. Peanut Butter is quickly becoming one of my travel essentials especially in a country where the baguettes are almost always vegan. Nick also found some of his fave' accidentally vegan Lindt chocolate.


The biscuits pictured are on the not-too-sweet side and are flavoured with butter aroma which I hate the smell of but they made a great kinda bland snack. Nuts are always a vegan mainstay (cashews forever!) and Nick and I were both excited to find these Oreo Wafers (the pink filled one's aren't vegan but these are) and some knock off Pringles-style crisps which turned out to be kinda gross because sugar shouldn't be in crisps. We also grabbed cereal and soy milk from the Intimex supermarket by Hoàn Kiem Lake. 

On our last night we popped out to vegan friendly restaurant Aubergine for dinner where I obviously had to order the fried aubergine with garlic.



This place was on the expensive side for Hanoi but it was still really cheap from a western perspective, the portions were large and delivered exactly what the menu description said they would which is something I always appreciate. Everyone there spoke ridiculously good English so we had quite a lot of options as they were able to understand veganism and could have modified dishes from all over the menu not just from the vegetarian section. The slightly caramelised and super tender aubergine was delicious and I really wished I hadn't only discovered it on my final night in the city.

I was a little sad to be saying goodbye to Hanoi just as I felt that I was getting to know it but cleaner air and adventure were calling us and we decided to make our way to Cat Ba Island. To get there we took the train from Long Biên station in Hanoi to Hai Phong, walked across town to the port and then took the fast boat to Cat Ba.


The whole journey was surprisingly simple and problem free despite a screaming child in the seat behind me on the train kicking me in the back for three whole hours followed by my realisation that I hate hydrofoils (it got super bumpy as soon as we hit open waters) about 10 minutes into the crossing. Once we arrived on Cat Ba we checked out the beaches and then booked a day trip on a boat out to Halong Bay which was something I'd wanted to do for so long, more on that next time!

17 comments:

  1. Simple answer to missing all the good food is to return with me! :) Glad you guys stopped being sick!

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    1. Well that sounds like an excellent plan!

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  2. Oh, I'm sorry there were so many bumps in the road with sickness and then food poisoning! That's so miserable to know you're missing out on fun and adventure, but what can you do? You can't argue your way out of sickness. You just have to wait for it to pass. Hopefully that's all behind you now, and it's smooth sailing (in every way) from here on out!

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    1. I know right, there's nothing you can do so you have to roll with it and I just feel really grateful that it didn't happen during a two or three week trip!

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  3. Ah, I hate that you spent so much of your time there sick! But at least there were baguettes! Bread is the BEST when you're sick. That eggplant dish looks soooooo good. And I wish we had those Oreo wafers around here!!

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    1. I was so surprised when I spotted an Oreo product I hadn't seen before!

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  4. Sinus infection and food poisoning, each would devastate me but together! Oh dear - hope it's out of the way for the rest of your travels. Your positive vibes and resilience is quite amazing :)

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    1. Haha, positivity is kinda my thing! I am indeed back on form now and I'm continuing to eat my way through Vietnam.

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  5. Oh man, such a bummer getting sick while you were there! Eating loads of baguette is pretty decent though. I mean, at least there was something delicious you could stomach! I'm the worst when I'm sick, and I feel like I would decide to hate baguette out of spite. I'm seriously the worst! You seem like you took it way better than I would have :)

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    1. I've never been sick enough to hate bread!!

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  6. Oh no food poisoning is the worst and bad enough when you're at home :( Glad to hear you're on the mend and had a good last few days there.That aubergine dish looks totally amazing!

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    1. It is the worst!! I'm loving the aubergines here, there seem to be so many different varieties that no two aubergine dishes are the same.

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  7. You are such a trooper, Jojo! I think I would have quit all the traveling and headed back home to my fluffy blankets if I'd had food poisoning OR a sinus infection. Let alone both! I'm not good with adversity, which makes your positive attitude even more impressive to me.

    I hope you will be able to stay healthy and enjoy your travels!

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    1. Thanks River! I'm back to my usual healthy self now and I'm happily eating my way down the coast of Vietnam!

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  8. Your posts are such a life saver to me whilst I'm planning my honeymoon! Thank you so much, you've made vegan travel a lot less scary. I can't wait to try these places!

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    1. Oh yay! That's so great to hear. I hope you have a wonderful time on your honeymoon.

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  9. This is great idea to know more and more about vegan items.It is really helpful.

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