Northern Vietnam, Pt. 1

Northern Vietnam, Pt. 1

Sorry for the lack of posts, friends. We’ve had a crazy few weeks being on the go after we left Taiwan.

We’ve been in Vietnam two weeks now. We arrived in Hanoi late on a Sunday, and had three full days exploring the city and eating delicious food. Our hotel was in the old quarter, which is bustling with restaurants and cafes, and packed with tons of motorbikes and people.



Pniss – not sure if this is the store for me…

We spent our first day exploring the old quarter and tasting food. Some of the food highlights: pho bo (beef), bun cha (pork – sort of like dipping noodles with char-grilled pork and lots of yummy herbs), banh mi, and fresh spring rolls.

Herbs for the bun cha
Herbs for the bun cha
Bun cha!
Bun cha!
Banh mi
Banh mi

Our second day in Hanoi, we went exploring some more of the old quarter. We tried to see Ho Chi Minh’s body (which is embalmed and on display), but it was closed. We instead went to the Presidential Palace, where HCM lived.

In the distance you can see the house on stilts, where Ho Chi Minh lived
Presidential Palace
Presidential Palace

That evening we did a cooking class. We learned to cook pho, fried spring rolls, papaya salad, and Hanoi egg coffee. Hanoi egg coffee is made by blending an egg yolk with sugar, vodka, and condensed milk for 20 minutes. You then spoon it into some Vietnamese coffee. One thing has become very clear: they love sugar here.

I helped make this pho!
Papaya salad
Egg coffee

On our third day, we went to the French quarter. We first went to Hoa Lo Prison, which is an old prison in Hanoi that has been converted into a museum. This is where John McCain was a prisoner of war. It was interesting, but had a lot of propaganda making it look like the American prisoners had a good life in the prison, as well as a lots of propaganda with dedication to people who fought hard for communism.

Hoa Lo Prison
John McCain!
Photo of John McCain

For lunch, we went to “Bun Cha Obama” (not the real name), which is where Obama ate on his trip here. We didn’t take photos of the food, but Shawn snapped this photo of a photo of Obama on the wall. It wasn’t our favorite bun that we ate in Hanoi, but it was okay. We mainly went there because our favorite president did.


Hanoi was unseasonably hot, and being that we are PNWesterners, we needed siestas every day we were there. We were very happy to make our way to Sapa on Thursday. Sadly, when we got to Sapa, it was a ghost town and pretty depressing. Our hotel did not turn out so well and we were feeling very depressed, wondering what we had gotten ourselves into.

Friday morning, we headed over to the Sapa Sisters office to meet our guide and start our three day, two night trek through the valley. Things really changed at this point. Our guide, Lan, greeted us and we liked her instantly. She is from the Black H’Mong tribe and having trekked for 8 years, knows the area extensively. Once we created a plan, we started trekking. Here are some photos of day 1:

Little Lan, our awesome guide
Behind those clouds is the highest mountain in Vietnam
The H’Mong tribe grows hemp for clothing.





Our first night was spent at the home of Chu and Sa. Chu is Lan’s cousin. They have three children and a beautiful home with an amazing view of their rice terraces. We had a lovely evening with them, enjoying Sa’s amazing cooking and drinking rice wine. The food was so good!!!

View from Chu & Sa’s porch
Delicious dinner
Delicious dinner

The next day we headed out for more trekking.

Local buffalo blocking the path



We had lunch at Lan’s parents’ house, which was really yummy. It was great to see where she came from and her mother was so nice! She owns a shop in Sapa and sells handmade goods, and we got front row seats to see her at work. She even gave us some bracelets!

Lan’s mom’s work hanging outside her family home
Stop at the local waterfall
Stop at the local waterfall

That evening we stayed at Lan’s cousin Chi’s house. Her other cousin, Lang, is also a guide, and was trekking with 11 Bulgarians. She also was staying at Chi’s house. Needless to say, it was a full house, but very fun and lively.

Helping prepare dinner
Yummy dinner
Full house!

Our final day, we did one final trek to another village for lunch.

Down down down
Down down down
Shawn's spirit animal
Shawn’s spirit animal
Up up up
Up up up

After lunch, we rode back to Sapa on a shuttle and said our teary-eyed goodbyes to Lan. We are so happy we did this trek. Spending three days with Lan was such a cherished experience. We really feel like we got to see and experience the culture of H’Mong people firsthand. It felt genuine and personal, and was a good reminder of how life doesn’t need to be extravagant to be good. The H’mong people live simply and work hard, but they have good lives filled with great people.

Shawn will be back with Part 2 of Northern Vietnam soon.

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