We spent Christmas 2018 in Hoi An, a popular tourist town also known as the Venice of the East. That’s really dramatic. This place is cool, but Venice is cooler, in my humble opinion.
However, here’s what you won’t find in Venice that you can find in Hoi An: DURIAN, lots of beautiful, colorful lanterns, outdoor markets selling tropical fruits and veggies (I ate a soursop for the first time), delicious Vietnamese food and relatively inexpensive yet high quality custom tailoring.
Take a look here:
Really charming traditional architecture, and many restaurants with indoor and outdoor areas to enjoy fine Vietnamese dining.
But me? I was on a mission to eat some durian. For those of you who haven’t been my friend long enough, durian is a tropical fruit that is banned on public transportation, airplanes and hotels in Asia because of its unique, pungent aroma. It looks like a weapon on the outside, an enormous, spike bomb, and inside, there are little creamy, custardy, fleshy pockets that each hold a pit inside. Many people are repulsed because they think it smells like trash, but not everyone can have such discerning taste as mine. There is a garlic-y, onion-y element to its fragrance, but not so much to the actual flavor. Most people can’t get past the “trash” but I can’t tell you why I like durian.
I remember eating it for the first time as a little girl – my dad gave it to me. I recall thinking it was kind of weird, but it didn’t stop me (who is really surprised here?) and ever since then, I’ve eaten it whenever it has been available to me, which is very infrequently.
In Vietnam or Thailand, don’t be a pussy. Try the damn durian and decide for yourself if you’re down!
Pro tip for anyone visiting Hoi An. Definitely go in the late afternoon because there is no need to spend a whole day. It’s a very small town, all you need to do is walk around for an hour to see it all in the day, then walk around for an hour to see it transform in the night. And, duh, you will need to eat a meal here.
See how beautiful it is at night?
Now, see how beautiful we are when we eat?
You can’t go out with an Asians without taking pictures of food. And if they happen to be a middle aged Asian man, there is a 85% chance he will be taking a picture with his iPad.
Anyway, this was a restaurant we went to on recommendation from my friend Saha. The food was good compared to Vietnamese food I have had in the states for sure, and it was one of our fancier meals. At the same time, I grew to appreciate dining at un-fancy restaurants with tiny plastic stools and tables close to the ground, cement floors, but the upscale ambience here was part of the experience. Even the bathroom smelled of lemongrass.
Fun times. Here is a selfie in case you forgot our faces.
After our day trip to Hoi An, we left for a bigger city maybe you have heard of, called Hue.
Very intense things happened to me in Hue. I had been feeling a little tired, and thought I came down with a cold when we first arrived. No matter, because the most important activity for me was to eat a bowl of bun bo hue, in Hue (when I was not “vegetarian-adjacent”, this was my favorite noodle soup… while everyone was discovering pho as a *thing*). Even with cold-like symptoms, your girl was generally happy to eat the ultimate sick food, a flavorful spicy noodle soup.
Here is my bun bo hue, IN HUE!!!
Here is the part you should skip if you don’t love a horror story.
Good lord, in the middle of the night my stomach was feeling OFF. Something was not right, so I thought, “maybe I should try to see if I can throw up”, but the cute kind of throw up. You know what I mean? The dainty kind where you still feel in control of your body.
What wishful thinking.
The next moment, I became violently ill, like I felt my body was possessed by a demon. I had never felt so intensely sick before. I was considering going to a hospital, and thank god Christina was there to keep me calm and call the travel insurance (btw, yes, definitely get travel insurance if you come here!) and find / bring me my antibiotics at some point (yes, definitely bring antibiotics and get vaccinations prior etc).
After about 6 long hours of intermittent, uncontrollable, horrifyingly loud vomiting, I think my body realized maybe there wasn’t anything to expel… either that or the antibiotic I was able to keep down started working.
I spent a couple hours rehydrating with the Pedialyte packets my friend travels with (seriously, travel with Asian girls and you never have to worry, between the electrolytes, mosquito repellant, sunscreen and hydrocortisone). Then, I felt like a new woman, as if the entire night was just a nightmare. It was SO bizarre.
During the entire trip, I was hyper aware that there was a chance to catch some bug or food poisoning. Vietnam is a developing country with incredible food, so it was extremely challenging to follow the rules of the CDC (don’t eat things if they haven’t been boiled, don’t eat the ice, don’t have fun…). My friend and I ate the exact same foods, yet she didn’t get sick at all. So, if you go, bring tons of pepto bismol and some antibiotics, and decide for yourself what you would risk for some good ass bun bo hue. I have no regrets.
I was grateful that my sickness was contained to a night, and that I bounced back so quickly. I had two flights to catch the next day, because my next stop was an island in the south of Vietnam, and my friend and I were parting ways too. I thank my ancestors for making sure my tummy was good, so that I could go to Phu Quoc and eat more food!
Here is a preview: me eating one of my favorite childhood foods and thirst trapping again, just 24 hours later, after *the purge*
Can’t wait to tell you about Phu Quoc and Ho Chi Minh City! I consider that part to be my homecoming.