Isa Abroad: Week 5 – Vietnam

travel journal hoi an and danang vietnam

The Worst City in the World – November 1 (Tuesday)

ho chi minh
ho chi minh

The day started off beautifully, with a delicious brunch at Fern Forest with Lolly, morning sunshine, and an easy flight from the quiet Chiang Mai airport. It had also been a full month of no sugar and I was planning on trying yummy Vietnamese desserts that day as a reward.

Then I landed in Ho Chi Minh. It is fair to say that I have now discovered my least favorite city in the world. Yes, I know I’m being dramatic—and it doesn’t help that I came from peaceful Chiang Mai—but every person I have talked to has also agreed. A thick swab of pollution constantly hangs over the city (only to be penetrated by humid rain showers), the traffic is unreal, the sidewalks consist of broken tiles that splash you as you step on them, dirty looks are abundant, and everything feels grey and sad. 

I ventured through the city to buy a boba (I chose what I thought was a cheesecake flavor that turned out to be a literal cheese flavor with chunks of cheese, like the kind you’d put in your school sandwich) and ice cream, but couldn’t really enjoy it. I had wanted to try some traditional Vietnamese pastries or desserts but this was the best I could do.

My night ended with Vietnamese “bed bugs” biting me and the depressing realization that I had yet another day in this awful city.

Ho Chi Minh – November 2 (Wednesday)

ho chi minh coffee shops
vietnamese pho ho chi minh

Thankfully, Vietnamese bed bugs, or whatever they were, aren’t as horrible as regular bed bugs and I only had minimal bites when I woke up. I made a game plan for the day, determined to make the most of my time here. I went to a gym with a view of the city, enjoyed a nice breakfast, then found a lovely cafe and worked all day. 

That night I went to the gym again, my new safe space, and walked on the treadmill while watching John Oliver. It was a much better day and I had the reassurance that I would be leaving the next day.

The Knight Bus to Da Lat – November 3 (Thursday)

da lat tigon hostel
vietnamese food
vietnam sleeper bus ho chi minh to da lat

I woke up early to grab breakfast and buy lunch at the closest 7-Eleven. It was actually delicious, I bought a banana leaf wrap without knowing what it was, but it turned out to be this rice goo pyramid with chicken inside. That is the best way I can describe it and I know that sounds disgusting but it was amazing. 

Then I bought a “sausage banh mi” for my bus trip because I didn’t know whether we would be stopping. It turned out to be a soft baguette with a hot dog and a ketchup-like sauce. Very interesting.

I had no idea what to expect for my 8-hour bus ride, I had booked a “sleeper seat” but I had no idea what that meant and besides, the price was $15 so I didn’t have high hopes. When they ushered me into a cramped kidnapper-esk van I wasn’t really phased. Of course, this is the “sleeper seat”, I laughed to myself. 

But it turned out it to just be the van that transported us to the big bus. And I have to say, I almost wanted to cry when I walked inside. This was by far the most amazing bus I had ever seen, with two rows of bunkbed-style seats; each seat reclined completely, came with a blanket, and had a curtain. 

It was like the Knight Bus in Harry Potter. I was in heaven, I had the top bunk by the window and couldn’t stop smiling for the first hours of the journey; I could have ridden all the way to China in that thing. I stared out the window listening to my music, took a comfortable nap, and did some light reading. 

The drivers were so kind as well, I was the only foreign passenger and with each announcement, they came around and used Google Translate to inform me what was happening. Although, I didn’t fully understand the procedures when we had our first stop; everyone took off their shoes when entering the bus, so I brought my boots with me for the first rest stop, but it turns out they give you little slippers to wear. 

The 8 hours flew by and I was devasted for the journey to be over but was excited to explore the mountain town of Da Lat. The bus company provided a van, free of charge, that dropped everyone off at their hotels/hostels (how cool is that?) and I arrived at the Tigon hostel just as the sun was setting. 

The hostel felt like it was ripped out of a weird fairytale; it sat at the top of a misty mountain with a beautiful view, the bunk beds were cozy and warmly lit, a drunk Vietnamese man was singing karaoke very loud in the common area, and the outer patio had disco lights and pop music. I ordered a pumpkin soup for dinner and chatted with the other hotel guests before ending the night early.

The Mountain Town – November 4 (Friday)

coffee shops da lat
da lat vietnam
da lat vietnam

The next day I was planning on doing a waterfall excursion but after discovering that I would be the only one on the tour, I decided to pass. I obviously don’t have a problem doing things by myself but I just didn’t have the energy for a one-on-one experience that would surely involve a lot of Google Translating. Instead, I decided to walk around the town and explore the various cafes. 

The town had a very whimsical feel to it with the surrounding forested hills, French cottage-core architecture, and a lake filled with swan boats that sits in the center of the town. I walked for a while before finding an adorable pink cafe and sitting down for a cappuccino. It is still odd to me how an artisan coffee costs as much (or more) as lunch or dinner here in Vietnam (or Thailand for that matter). But even then it’s still dirt cheap, only $2 for a cappuccino or latte.

For lunch, I ate a deliciously colorful salad in a swing garden cafe and watched as Korean tourists took pictures with their food and cute outfits. Sometimes I feel awkward about taking a quick picture of my coffee or meal, but being in Asia has taught me that there is no need for any shame. Everyone here takes full-on photoshoots, in public, without a hint of humiliation.

After lunch, I hiked into the mountains to find a coffee shop with exceptional reviews. I was not disappointed, the interior looked like the cover of a Vogue Living magazine and the view was unbeatable. I sipped on a strong black Vietnamese coffee and journaled in my private journal. 

That night I went with some friends from the hostel to explore the night market, which sadly could not compare to the Chiang Mai Sunday market. I ended up eating a bag of chestnuts as my dinner since the food options were limited. 

Back at the hostel we played more drinking games, F*ck the Dealer to be exact, which I have grown to hate. If you aren’t drinking, there is really no redeeming value, unlike Kings Cup or Beer Pong, or any other drinking game. But I played along because the company was good, besides the 40-year-old man who kept insisting that I have a drink, which felt creepy.

Hoi An – November 5 (Saturday)

dumplings hoi an
mr. bean hoi an
lantern festival hoi an

That morning I flew from Da Lat to Hoi An, a cute French-influenced beach town that is known for its digital nomad community. I wanted to visit to see if I would want to live there in the future and within the first few hours, I knew that I would have to come back next year for a longer stay. I loved that walking and biking were so accessible, the sheer cuteness of the town—with its lantern-lit alleyways, canals, colorful buildings, and rice fields—and the beach so close by. 

I checked into my hostel in the afternoon and met my first friend, Dutchie, who I followed to an expensive beach restaurant before deciding that I’d rather have a cheap lunch of dumplings instead. For the rest of the time that I knew Dutchie, he could not stop talking about how amazing his lunch had been, supposedly the best he’s ever had.

That night I went with Dutchie and some other guys from the hostels—a group of Irish boys, a James Franco look-alike, and a quiet French (?) man—to see the night market. This was my first time seeing the town at night and I was blown away, it looked like a scene from Spirited Away. The entire old town was glowing with lanterns and colorfully lit boats were floating along the canal; it all felt like a movie. 

We walked through the night market looking for food but there weren’t many options besides Vietnamese pancakes or unidentifiable meats on sticks. I talked to one of the Irish boys, Mogu Mogu, but it was hard to concentrate because he would make unnecessarily long eye contact with all the locals which prompted them to come to talk to us and try and pull us into their bars. He had an especially long conversation with someone who offered us a free bottle of vodka to come to the “Mr. Bean bar”.

Eventually, we gave up on finding street food and decided to find a restaurant. Our waitress was hilarious and was very amused by the fact that I was hanging out with so many boys. She also said she loved us all and when Mogu Mogu reciprocated this sentiment, she quickly informed him that she did not feel the same way about him. His heart was broken. 

After an amazing dinner, we met up with two girls from the hostel at Mr. Bean before heading to Tiger Tiger (an exact replica of Zoe’s in Chiang Mai, same music, same vibe). It was really nice hanging out with Mogu Mogu, who has never had alcohol in his whole life (which I believe revokes his Irish card) and was so much fun to dance with. I have to admit that I get the biggest ick watching 90% of guys dance, so this was refreshing.

The night ended with all of us swimming in the hostel pool, chicken fights, breath-holding competitions, and underwater handstands.

The Irish Pub, Vietnamese Crepes, & a Marriage Proposal – November 6 (Sunday)

bale well restaurant hoi an
wanderlust hostel hoi an
hoi an vietnam

Since I hadn’t worked much that week, I decided to wake up early and walk into town to work at a cafe. I chose a cute brunch place and worked for several hours before having an incredible lunch of Vietnamese “crepes”. 

At the end of my lunch the owner, an older Vietnamese lady, grabbed my hand and repeatedly told me how beautiful I was before dragging me to an innocent bystander and insisting that he marry me. I laughed awkwardly as they spoke in Vietnamese (about the details of our marriage I suppose?) before she eventually released me. 

That night there was a “football” (soccer) game on and so we all went to an Irish pub where half of us watched the match and the other half played card games. 

There’s something comforting about Irish pubs, they are always the same, no matter where you are in the world, and they attract the same kinds of people. I told the Irish boys about my family friend from home, Patrick, who held shindigs, sings Danny Boy, makes the best homemade fish and chips, and goes by the nickname Podge. They laughed and said that surely I was making him up.

Lantern Festival – November 7 (Monday)

lantern festival hoi an
lantern festival hoi an
tiger tiger night out hoi an

During the day I worked at a cafe and then headed back to the hostel to meet up with everyone for the lantern festival. All throughout my journey in Vietnam, people had been talking about the famous lantern festival in Hoi An, so naturally, I was very excited. 

We went into town and met up with James and Dutchie at a rooftop bar before heading to dinner. The boys are all very indecisive so each night I was in charge of finding restaurants but thankfully my choices were amazing (if I do say so myself). After dinner we wandered back to the canals, wondering when the festival would be starting. Mogu Mogu asked a local when the festival would begin and they replied, Now. We asked what was different about the festival day from any other day since there were always lanterns lining the streets in Hoi An. They just laughed. 

We rented two gondola-like boats to float down the canal and release our own lanterns into the water. Entering the boat was an ordeal, the gondolier immediately started yelling at us in Vietnamese and waving his hands about hysterically. Dublin sat at the back of the boat and Mogu Mogu and I sat in the middle before the gondolier yelled at us to sit facing each other (straddling the seat). He was very angry and insistent so we complied before realizing that absolutely nobody else was sitting like this. 

After a chaotic under-bridge crossing, where we had to lie flat on the boat to avoid hitting our heads, the gondolier relaxed and we had a chance to light our lanterns and enjoy the rest of the ride. 

It was supposed to be an early night for me, I had an early morning tour and my weekly meeting, but both were canceled and so I joined everyone for another rooftop bar. We played Jenga, I lost three times which was very upsetting, then we went to Tiger Tiger again. I decided to have a gin and tonic because it had been a while since I’d had a drink and figured it would be fun. 

I didn’t think I felt it much, but I did stay out until 2 or 3 in the morning, so clearly there was some kind of effect. After a Vietnamese pancake with peanut butter, Mogu Mogu and I got on the back of a very sketchy motorcycle since Grab (Asian Uber) wasn’t available. A few months ago this ride would have been terrifying, but I had been on the back of bikes with much worse drivers, so I didn’t mind that much. 


That’s it, until next week!


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3 responses to “Isa Abroad: Week 5 – Vietnam”



    There’s something comforting about Irish pubs, they are always the same, no matter where you are in the world, and they attract the same kinds of people. I told the Irish boys about my family friend from home, Patrick, who held shindigs, sings Danny Boy, makes the best homemade fish and chips, and goes by the nickname Podge. They laughed and said that surely I was making him up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahaha thinking about you all the way in Vietnam!


      1. Patrick Moriarty Avatar
        Patrick Moriarty

        How does an Irish guy get a name like Mogu Mogu? Suspicious!!!


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