Vietnam Travel Guide
A few months ago, we reviewed our experience on Vietnam Airlines international business class service. While we were left pleasantly surprised, not to mention utterly and completely stuffed with delicious food, we overlooked one quirk of the entire experience.
Our flight was an overnight from Ho Chi Minh City to Melbourne that featured two meal services, the first of which was a proper dinner service with cocktails and petit-fours. The second was breakfast right before landing on the red-eye.
Perhaps it was the years of waving the French flag, or maybe it's the need to be mentally prepared to face the hectic traffic, but whatever the reason, Vietnam loves its coffee. And, if you've ever sampled the super-sweet and milky Vietnamese style of coffee, you know what a treat it can be. Still, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the morning beverage in the country.
On a trip to Ho Chi Minh City, we were told by numerous people to check out Trung Nguyen Coffee, a home-grown coffee shop found in numerous neighborhoods. While we aren't always keen on the idea of hitting up a chain shop, Trung Nguyen is a far departure from your typical Starbucks. Here, coffee is a serious matter with plenty of variety and unique blends.
Welcome to "What Everyone's Buying," a new series on souvenirs, wherein we investigate what tourist trinkets are the hottest selling in hotspots around the world.
When walking around any Southeast Asian metropolis, you'll notice how markets play a major role in tourist attractions and offer anything from prepared food to t-shirts and fresh fare and trinkets. Ho Chi Minh City is no different with the city's Chợ Bến Thành Market serving as the most popular center for finding some unique souvenirs. As expected, the streets around the market have become a mecca for sidewalk shopping as well.
One thing that continually caught our eye were tables of colorful greeting cards that could be mistaken for pieces of art with their 3-dimensional scenes. Multiple vendors are peddling these cards as an artistic alternative to the traditional postcard.
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As you can probably tell from our slew of stories on Ho Chi Minh City, we recently traveled to Vietnam. One of the many ways to fly into the country, and the way in which we arrived, is via the green-blue hued planes of the national airline, Vietnam Airlines. Our route had us hopping on at Melbourne to fly nonstop to Ho Chi Minh City and we booked Business Class for a vacation treat.
At first, we considered using the 8.5-hour flight to relax and perhaps nap before what would be a two-week adventure in Southeast Asia, but the airline had a better idea; the flight crew fed us until we were stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey.
Here's a breakdown of what we loved and what we could have done without:
There's no question that traveling to a country that doesn't share your motherland's political persuasion can be a little daunting, but since when is travel about revisiting the everyday? Our recent trip to Vietnam proved quite the wake-up, even though rocking up to passport control with an American passport is no longer anything to be worried about. Once granted entry, we were officially on Communist soil.
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Vietnamese food is a tourist attraction all to it's own because it spans plenty of tastes, ingredients and iconic flavors that are independent to the region. From pho shops and bowls of noodles along the side of bustling streets to rice paper rolls in a market and Vietnamese baguettes while strolling the sidewalks, this city has a lot to offer for empty bellies.
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Driving in a foreign country takes guts and few cities illustrate this need as well as Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City. The metropolis is dominated by scooters and road rules are merely a suggestion of how locals get on with their daily duties.
It's not uncommon to witness scooters with three or even four people along for the ride, plus children standing on the seat. We even spied the Vietnamese equivalent to delivery trucksmopeds piled high with boxes of goods and even a handful of giant rolls of foam. It seems unsafe and pretty crazy, but we never felt our well-being in danger once. All in all, it's reminiscent of the movements of bees in a hive; it just works.
Continuing our travels around South-East Asia, we made it into Vietnam after all, despite our passport drama. First impressions caused near whiplash, however as District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City is an architectural puzzle of new and modern facades facing off with the vintage and colonial.
A little history: In the middle of the 19th century, the French colonized the country and made Ho Chi Minh City (then, Saigon) the capital of the colony. Nothing is more evident of the colonial era than the architecture, as France brought their talent to the East during this time. The influence is even seen in the grid of the city; wide streets, large fountains and landscaped roundabouts recall a European capital more so than a steamy Southeast Asian metropolis.
Last year we saw Starbucks and their coffee empire spread into some new spots like India, Disneyland, and even aboard Alaska Airlines. Obviously things are still moving full speed ahead—thanks to all that caffeine—as 2013 looks for more expansion. The year is just beginning, but it’s already time to celebrate Starbucks entry into another country, as the espresso machines just cleared customs and are on the move once again.
Up next for the Frappuccinos and lattes is Vietnam, as Starbucks is getting ready to open their very first store over in Ho Chi Minh City as soon as next month. Just like over in India, it’s a partnership deal as the coffee giant throws it's weight in with Maxim Group. Maxim already runs a whole chain of coffee shop locations in Hong Kong and Macau, so they kind of know what they’re doing when it comes to getting you going in the morning.
Silver Shadow in happier times.
Okay. Cruise shipsget your act together and stop running into things. PLEASE.
Just this morning it was announced that the Silversea Silver Shadow had T-boned a Vietnamese cargo ship while sailing in heavy fog off the coast of Vietnam. Though neither ship sank and no Silversea passengers were killed, the incident still piles on negative news to an industry already suffering following the Costa Concordia disaster and the fire/stuck-at-sea drama of the Costa Allegra. And all this comes in a year that cruise lines had hoped to raise prices to make up for the money lost during the deep discounting of the last two years of recession. Whoops.
Despite the fact that the Silver Shadow ripped a hole in the hull of the cargo ship, the cruise liner made it to its next port of Ha Long Bay on schedule, only in need of repairs. CNN has an harrowing firsthand account from passenger Andrew Lock, who pointed out that passengers had only around 5 seconds to brace for impact, as the cargo ship emerged from the fog within spitting distance.
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When it comes to creating and launching low-cost carriers, it seems like existing carriers can’t resist running the numbers and throwing some startup cash behind these new airlines. The latest cheapo carrier seems to be a collaboration between Vietnam Airlines, Jetstar, and Qantas. Their plan is to takeover Vietnam—in a good way—with cheap and affordable flights to here, there, and everywhere.
Jetstar Pacific Airlines is the name of the new startup, and they’re already kind of flying around. The airline can be construed as just a refurbishment and update, since the existing carrier is getting an influx of cash, new opinions, and some new aircraft. The government was paying for part of the airline, but now it sounds like costs are being distributed between the checkbooks of Vietnam Airlines and Australia’s Qantas Group—of which JetStar is a part—with most of the cash coming from Vietnam Airlines.
The Brangelina clan added more stamps to their passports last week as they traveled from Tokyo to Vietnam. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie took their six children to Vietnam, where their son Pax was born, after premiering Brad's latest movie, Moneyball, in Japan.
The couple wanted Pax to visit his home country so he could better understand, and be proud of, his culture. "They are all learning about each other's cultures as well as being proud of their own," Jolie recently said of her three adopted children.