Suddenly 30 – why you should celebrate your birthday in Vietnam

By Tegan Forder

My 30th was fast-approaching but I didn’t want a big bash. With my friends scattered across Australia it was all too hard and anyway I wanted to use it as an excuse to go on holiday.

So I decided to finally do two things I’d never done before:

  1. Visit a South-East Asian country.
  2. Stay in a resort, sit by the pool and drink cocktails.

I settled on Vietnam with some ridiculously cheap return airfares sealing the deal.

With only 10 days of leave up our sleeve, my boyfriend and I didn’t fancy spending the whole time rushing from one tourist destination to the next. Instead we chose to mix some city and beach experiences with stays in Ho Chi Minh and Hoi An.

This is how we managed our relaxing – and sometimes luxurious jaunt – to Vietnam.

Tegan and her boyfriend Brendan cycling around some Vietnamese rice fields near Hoi An.

Where we stayed:

The Rex Hotel, Ho Chi Minh

With an old-world feel mixed with tropical touches, you’ll feel relaxed and welcome in this colonial hotel. Sit on the rooftop bar for happy hour and soak up the atmosphere imagining the American journalists looking over the city during the Vietnam War. The buffet breakfast is divine, and there are two pools to cool down in after a sticky venture out to the bustling Saigon metropolis.

Ha An, Hoi An

This boutique hotel in the heart of the old city is the perfect oasis to escape the heat and street vendors. The staff are lovely and will give you the rundown on where to eat and where to shop. There are flower petals on the bed, a pool table on the lawn, and free bikes for hire.

Sunrise Beach Resort, Hoi An

There is no shortage of resorts to choose from along Cua Dai Beach, about 15 kilometres outside Hoi An. Sunrise is one of the newest, with high ceilings, gleaming floors and decadent furnishings. Sip iced coffee on a pool lounge or hire a bike and ride down to Hidden Beach, which doesn’t charge for use of sun beds – just pay in kind with a purchase from the family-run café.

One of Hoi An’s hidden beaches.

 

What we ate:

I can honestly say I didn’t eat a bad meal in Vietnam. Everything is so fresh and there is such a variety to choose from. I also became slightly addicted to Vietnamese iced coffee – just don’t think about how much condensed milk you’re consuming.

May Restaurant, Hoi Chi Minh

On a tip we travelled to May Restaurant, which took our taxi driver an age to find but after asking numerous people (the Vietnamese equivalent of a GPS) we found a side alley leading to a gate and a security guard who led us to this modern take on Vietnamese food. It was worth the trip to the outskirts of zone one just for the soft shell crab.

L’Usine, Ho Chi Minh

A slice of Melbourne café culture in downtown Ho Chi Minh, the French-inspired fare includes Vietnamese salads and rolls as well as more western cake and breakfast options. Its location, tucked away upstairs at the back of art and craft shops, provides a calming spot to spend a hot afternoon.

Morning Glory Restaurant, Hoi An

One of four restaurants owned by Ms Vy, this one topped our list for its deliciousness and value for money. From rice paper rolls to clay pot curries, we definitely left the place well fed. The Cargo Club across the road offers up more European fare, while the Market Restaurant with its street vendor-style set up allows you to try a bit of everything.

The beautiful historic Hoi An.

What we did:

While we were intent on having a relaxing time, we did manage to get our culture on, too.

The Museum of American and Chinese War Crimes, Ho Chi Minh

Obviously go here with the knowledge that’s it’s quite a biased take on things but there is no denying that it’s an impressive trove of historical artefacts. There is a huge range of photos and clippings of anti-Vietnam War demonstrations from around the world. The photos documenting the victims of Agent Orange are a challenging experience and a reminder of what the Vietnamese people endured.

Morning Glory cooking class, Hoi An

Good value for money at about AU$40 per head and I would highly recommend this. You start the day with a traditional Vietnamese breakfast and then a gentle cycle out to the farming area outside Hoi An. We had a delightful guide who took us to a bean sprout farm, and one of the two places where they make noodles for the area’s signature dish, cau loa. It’s then a trip to the lush herb farm, and back to the Market Restaurant for the cooking class where we made (and ate) rice paper rolls, crispy pancakes, white rose dumplings and cau loa.

 

Brendan gives noodle making at Morning Glory a go. It’s not as easy as it looks.
Brendan gives noodle making at Morning Glory a go. It’s not as easy as it looks.

Where we shopped:

All the luxury brands are now in Ho Chi Minh – a sign of a growing middle class, but there are also some gorgeous little clothes shops selling vintage inspired creations. Vietnam is also well-known for getting clothes made but it’s best to go somewhere recommended. We had some clothes copied in Bebe in Hoi An and were seriously impressed.

Tegan Forder has worked as a journalist for more than eight years, including a stint in the Northern Territory which involved swimming with crocodiles and lots of free mangos. She now enjoys inner city living in Melbourne and works at Cancer Council Victoria. She blogs at wordsbytegan.com and tweets @teganforder.

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