Category Archive for Vietnam

A Cooking Boat Cruise of Ha Long Bay! Sailing to Halong caves with Vietnam Food Tour.

halong bay market

No Instagram filters needed, when you’re traveling in Ha Long Bay. The humidity naturally gives you a blurred vignette effect.

Vietnam remains one of my favorite destinations of 2015. I got to live my dreams of being a Pirate… by taking a boat trip through Halong Bay, with Vietnam Food Tour!

Cooking Class on Boat in Halong Bay

We had our very own private ship, thanks to Hoa Binh Cruises. Keep on reading to see how we climbed the mast, dined on seafood, and drifed through Vietnam’s misty mountains.

ha long bay mountains, islands

I’m sure you have seen photos of Ha Long Bay before. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is famous for its green, funny-shaped islands.

The name Halong translates to “descending dragon bay” because legend says it was created by a charging dragon.

halong bay mountain backdrop, scenery

My tank top with silver pentagram symbols is by Rat Baby Clothing — get it here! I paired it with a skull scarf.

Shop more Gothic fashion by clicking below:

hanoi traffic jam

If you’re in Hanoi, going east to Halong Bay is a must (it’s a 3-4 hour drive away).

We recommend hiring a reputable driver and guide, as we did with Vietnam Food Tour. They arranged everything for us — the car, hotel, boat tour, activities. It’s absolutely worth it. We could sit back and soak everything in, without having to haggle or stress about logistics.

wet market ha long bay

Since we were on a food-centric tour, we began by visiting the local outdoor market. Like on our Hanoi tour, we saw vendors selling all sorts of fresh seafood that came straight out of Halong’s waters.

street food, vietnamese vendors

A colorful group of vendors. Our guide, Bao, told us about the special squid pie sold here. She picked up a few specialties for us to try during our cooking boat cruise.

vietnam motorcycle tour

Motorcycles zipped around us, as we took in all the colors and action.

fish market vietnam

The wet market section was full of live oddities from the sea. Locals come here to pick up the catch of the day.

halong bay limestone islands

This view is even more majestic in person. Ha Long Bay is dotted with thousands of limestone islands like these.

vietnamese fishermen, boats

We saw Vietnamese boat people refilling their supplies of water. They live and work in these floating homes.

vietnam famous islands, mountains

We learned that according to another legend, a family of dragons spat out jewels, which formed these islets and protected Vietnam from invaders.

vietnam food tour, tourists with cameras

My mate John Skeleton and I took photos non-stop — Ha Long Bay is the definition of photogenic! 

(This skull print scarf protected me from the mosquitoes.)

private cruise ha long bay

We were looking forward to the boat tour of the bay, on a Hoa Binh cruise. However, we were amazed to find… that we had the entire Pirate boat to ourselves! 

 Hoa Binh cruise boat halong bay

Vietnam Food Tour is all about custom, personal experiences — so they book their clients on private boat tours. Now that’s the life for a Pirate.

boat tour vietnam halong bay

Spreading my arms wide as we sailed, I felt like Captain Carmina. The only other people onboard were Long John Skeleton, our first mate Bao, and a few cabin members who served food and drink. (And actually steered the ship.)

vietnam boat dinner cruises

“Yo ho, there be a pirate’s cove of treasure ahead!”

climbing boat mast

John climbed the mast, all the way to the top — as you can see in our fun travel video!

boat to halong bay caves

Before long, our boat was nearing these jewel islands. We prepared for plunder.

(My tank top is by Rat Baby Clothing — more picks below.)

Dau Go Cave island bridge

Most of these islands are uninhabited, and lush with tropical vegetation. I imagined them to be hidden with secrets and chests of gold. We docked on Driftwood Island, climbed up the path…

dao go cave, grotto

.. and found ourselves in the famous Dau Go Cave (Wooden Stakes Cave).

ha long bay famous caves

The humongous grotto is filled with hanging stalactites. The shapes seemed like something from a sci-fi movie, reminding us of bones and Giger’s Alien.   

vietnam underground caves

Different parts of the cave are dramatically lit so that visitors can admire the details. Or in this case, “Hail Miffy!”

stalactites vietnam cave

That’s me at the bottom, arms raised. Like a bat in a cave.

My tiny scale of the photo conveys how grand it feels to be inside this grotto, which dates back to the Pleistocene era around 2 million years ago.

caving, cave tour vietnam

Doesn’t this look like the set from an alien horror movie?

Vietnam Food Tour organized our visit so that we came during a less busy hour– so we were able to avoid the tourists.

islands of ha long bay

I flew our flag, upon exiting. I hereby claim these caves for my crew!

luxury boat tour vietnam

A hook for a hand. Arr, there’s nothing like the Pirate’s life.

steering pirate boat wheel

We continued to explore Halong Bay. Our boating adventure is among my favorite memories of the entire year.

vietnamese seafood, mussels

Time to plunder the ship’s seafood. Our crew helped us to grill fresh clams, prawns, sea snails and other delicacies of the ocean.

cooking class halong bay

What a treat, to dine on fresh seafood while taking in these grandiose views of Halong Bay.


kayaking halong bay

For a closer look at the grottoes, we piled into a kayak.

islands ha long bay

What can I say? It’s an absolute dream to paddle right up to these mysterious islets, and duck through hidden tunnels that open into lagoons.

kayak tour caves vietnam

But let’s give credit where it’s due… John did pretty much all of the rowing work!

(Watch our Pirate cooking cruise in action, above and here in this video.)

lobby ha long plaza hotel

Some visitors choose to stay overnight on a boat cruise. We chose to only do a day tour, and spend the night at the top-rated Halong Plaza Hotel

ha long vietnam hotels

I was glad to sleep on a stable surface, and in a spacious room. We also enjoyed hanging out at the hotel’s lobby bar, which offers a nice selection of cocktails.

vampire afraid of garlic

Halong Plaza also had an impressive buffet breakfast, which was included with our stay. I tried the steamed rice noodles, a traditional way to start the day.

The restaurant also hangs garlic to keep vampires away!

vietnam hotel swimming pool

John took a dip in the outdoor swimming pool. The large hotel also has a sauna and gym.

ha long bay hotels view

Our room had a magnificent view of the bay and bridge, which lights up with rainbow lights at night.

Halong Plaza Hotel view

The manager took us to the rooftop — what a view!

vietnamese small fish

For dinner, our guide took us to a classic seafood restaurant. As always, Vietnamese food was full of fresh, healthy flavors. We had soup with ginger and this small fish found only in Ha Long Bay. 

ha long bay night market

Then, we went to the Halong Bay night market to shop. The night market has a new location, with a modern setup.

knock off hello kitty

The vendors sell everything from Vietnamese loose tea, to beaded Hello Kitty purses…

stuffed goat head devil

… to a stuffed goat head! Mr Skeleton shows his appreciation for the horned one.

green skull ashtray

The goat was a bit too large to take home, so he decided on this green skull. Pop the top, and there’s a space to keep treasures.

halong bay 4-star hotel

Thanks to Halong Plaza Hotel for the excellent service and big rooms. They’re one of highest rated hotels in Ha Long Bay for a reason.

north vietnam cruise tour

And of course, to our guides Vietnam Food Tour. Their Savor Vietnam package, which includes sailing around Halong Bay, let us see the best of Northern Vietnam.

halong bay unesco heritage site

Have my Vietnam travel stories convinced you to come here yet? If you have questions about traveling, or anything at all, please let me know in the comments! 


Vietnam Food Tour of Hanoi! Authentic, local cooking lessons & what to wear in Southeast Asia.

girl wearing vietnamese pointed hat

A few of my friends have been to Vietnam, and encouraged me to visit. They gushed: “The food is out of this world, and everyone is so nice.”

After spending time in Hanoi and Ha Long Bay, I must wholeheartedly concur. “Hat’s off to Vietnam!” 

I wanted to have an immersive, authentic experience (as always) — so I went on a custom journey with Vietnam Food Tour.

hanoi best cooking lessons

Thanks to our bilingual local guide, we were able to travel to small villages where we talked to locals, and learned how to cook Vietnamese food!

Read on to see how I made spring rolls, Nuoc Cham dipping sauce, and other delicious dishes…

Watch our Vietnam video, above and on YouTube.

motorcycles traffic hanoi vietnam night

My friend John Skeleton and I flew to Hanoi from Hong Kong — an easy and inexpensive two-hour flight.

Vietnam Food Tour arranged for a car to take us from Noi Bai Airport to our hotel in the Old Quarter. Along the way, we saw throngs of motorcycles zipping between cars – Mad Max style! 

rain on window bokeh, sony a7

The driving in Hanoi is often a shock to tourists, but I didn’t find  it that different from Cebu or Bali. It’s just how things are in Southeast Asia.

It rained a little that night, which gave us the chance to take bokeh photos from the car window. (This is the fabulous DSLR camera that we use.)

Vietnam is humid and has mosquitoes, so I devised a stylish way to stay covered. I wore a lightweight cotton tank top and leggings, and a sheer lace maxi black dress on top.

If you’re going to a destination with high humidity, such as southeast Asia, I recommend finding a long lace dress like mine, or a short sleeves version to keep cool yet protected. More of my picks below:


vietnamese village, pond

On the first day of our journey, Vietnam Food Tour took us to a village about an hour from Hanoi, along the Red River Delta.

vietnam travel blog

Thanks to them, we were able to see charming parts of North Vietnam that we wouldn’t have gleamed on our own.

vietnamese men market

We stopped at  Van Giang Village’s morning market. It’s true that the Vietnamese people have kind hearts. Everyone waved and smiled at us, and gave compliments as we walked by.

ciao travels, vietnam food tour

John and I were the only foreigners in sight, since not many travel out to this village. (Vietnam Food Tour specializes in small, custom excursions — meaning that we were the only ones on the tour, with a guide and driver.)

south east asia what to wear, outfit

I didn’t get any mosquito bites that day, thanks to my outfit! (I’m wearing a similar long black lace maxi dress with a sheer long sleeved black jacket on top, for light coverage.)

ciao travel vietnam tours

Our sweet guide, Bao, explained that the villagers grow fresh vegetables in their gardens. They bring their produce to the market, where they greet their neighbors and exchange food in a friendly atmosphere. 

vietnamese poiny straw hats

Many villagers wore Vietnamese pointed hats (get one here!). This conical straw hat is made from natural materials, and provides protection against both sun and rain.

Who wore it best, La Carmina or John Skeleton?

vietnamese child on motorbike

I think this little girl on a motorbike, with a “not impressed” face, wins first prize!

hanoi food tour, market visit

We walked through the wet market, where vendors sold fresh seafood. Some of the ladies prepared Vietnamese dishes for you right on the spot. 

hanoi meat market, bizarre foods

John left his bloody heart on this tray.

zombie chickens, weird food

As fans of The Walking Dead, these chicken-zombies caught our attention.

hanoi vietnam market, street food stalls

Tropical fruits, fresh flowers, Vietnamese conversations… What a joy to experience the sights and sounds of this local market! 

colorful store signs hanoi

Our driver took us from the colorful village center, criss-crossed by electrical wires, to a more rural area nearby.

vietnam cow on road

Even the cows are laid-back in wonderful Vietnam. They were hanging out on the roads, and didn’t blink an eye as the cars weaved around them.

vietnam tet fower, Yellow Apricot Flowers

Our guide Bao went out of her way to show us the culture and beauty of her country. She stopped to pick up a yellow apricot blossom, or hoa mai, and gave it to us. This noble flower is integral to Vietnam’s new years celebrations, called Tet. 

vietnamese girl, fashion

The countryside pond and trees look like something from an ancient painting.

Van Giang village, vietnamese tour guide

Our guide, Bao, took us to the 300 year old house of Mr. An. He graciously invited us to meet his family, and learn how to make Vietnamese dishes.

ancestor worship, shrine vietnam home

We were in awe at his beautiful garden and open-air traditional house. We stopped to admire the family altar, which honors Mr. An’s ancestors as well as the Buddha (since much of Vietnam is Buddhist, followed by Taoist).

vietnamese garden, traditional house

Mr. An has some of the most impressive Bonsai trees in the entire region, which he displays along the winding path to his home.

drinking tea vietnam

Mr An served us green tea, prepared in the traditional way (by pouring it several times back and forth, and then serving it in small cups). Although he only spoke Vietnamese, we could feel the warmth of his hospitality. 

vietnam war historical house

We were curious about the bullet holes that marked the outside of his home.

Mr An revealed that before 1946, his ancestral house has three separate buildings. However, when the French occupied northern Vietnam, they set up camp nearby. During an attack on the Communists, the two front buildings burned down, and a gunfight left traces in the remaining walls.

vietnam food tour, cooking

The Indochina Wars (and American Vietnam War) caused hardships during the mid-20th century. However today, the country is at peace, and very safe for tourists. And despite these conflicts, the Vietnamese people are remarkably open and kind to visitors.

making spring rolls, rice paper

Even though Mr and Mrs An didn’t speak a word of English or French, I was able to connect with them through the universal language of humor!

(The rice paper that we used to make spring rolls reminded me of a moustache, hence this funny moment.)

female food tv host

Mrs An kindly walked me through each step of making Vietnamese spring rolls. I learned how to prepare and mix the ingredients, and roll them up. She gave me and John thumbs up, as we got better at the process. (See this cute moment here!)

rolling paper spring rolls

Perhaps not every spring roll is as tightly packed as it could be… but we had such fun, working under the tutelage of Mrs An.

snake wine, bird wine

John noticed a shelf of spooky liqueurs, flavored with dead snakes and quails. We had never seen alcohol made with birds before.

John wanted to try the snake potion, but Mr An warned him that it was only for those aged 50 and up! 

vietnam fish sauce recipe

Mrs. An took us into her family kitchen, to cook the spring rolls and stir-fry green vegetables. We put together a Nuoc Cham dipping sauce to accompany our feast.

(We made a vlog about our cooking class. I hope the video makes you smile.)

vietnamese salad

She brought out a salad made with seaweed and vegetables, as well as a seafood soup and other side dishes.

hanoi authentic food, restaurant

And then, it was time to sit down and eat until we were ready to explode! The spring rolls were so delicious — better than any we had ever had — that John said he could eat about 20 of them. (And proceeded to do so.)

In classic “village generosity,” as our guide put it, Mr An freely poured us the herbal-infused liqueur that he brewed himself. Before leaving, he insisted that we take a bottle back with us!

hanoi vietnam food tours

This turned out to be one of the most memorable meals of the entire year, and gave me a new appreciation of Vietnamese cuisine. We were grateful to get to know Mr and Mrs An, and hear their personal stories of the wars.

com viet restaurant hanoi

Vietnam Food Tour also arranged for us to have dinner at one of Hanoi’s top restaurants, Com Viet. 

We walked across a bridge surrounded by leaves, and past a display of Asian art.

twisted roll up hairstyle

On the restaurant’s outdoor terrace, I said hello to a little bird.

(My off the shoulder black silk top is another way to stay covered without getting overheated, in humid South East Asia.)

hanoi top restaurant

The female staff wore traditional silk tunics and pants, known as the Vietnamese aoi dai. 

(All photos by John, Bao of Vietnam Food Tour, and me.)

vietnam live music, string instrument dan tranh

Com Viet felt like a walk through Vietnam’s elegant past. As we ate, we listened to classic songs played on this string instrument called a dan tranh.

fine dining vietnam

We tasted several courses of traditional cuisine, starting with bun thang soup and fresh rolls with prawns and vermicelli.

hanoi traditional authentic restaurant

Loved the fresh flavors and presentation of the dishes, including appetizers in two baskets on a pole (a miniature version of what street vendors carry).

By now, I understood why my friends raved about Vietnamese food. It’s light, healthy, and never over-seasoned or spiced.

vietnamese statues, art

Vietnam is often an overlooked Asian destination, which is unfortunate. My local food tour turned out to be one of my favorites of the entire year — I wouldn’t have had these experiences if I came here on my own.

(You can check out Vietnam Food Tour’s various Hanoi excursions here — we did the Savour four-day package, and I recommend it with all my heart.)

Much more to come, including our Pirate boat trip through Halong Bay… For a sneak peak, take a few minutes to watch our Vietnam travel video.