Sunday, June 18, 2023

The Foodie trails to Vietnam


Vietnam, it had never been on our top 20 countries to visit, but it broke through the other countries, when in 2022, almost everyone from India was heading to Vietnam.Economic times said that there was a 51% rise in Indian tourists in the first 10 months of 2022. and while we went to Spain in 2022 ( here is my SPAIN BLOG ) , the Fear of Missing out and the general curiosity around Vietnam increased.

And so, in May 2023, we headed to this little Asian country , which I can only describe as Sensational. It is literally a sensorial overload. I think if I had to describe the place it would be ‘water’ for me, just so many different water bodies, each so different, from the Jade coloured Hong Kiem lake in Hanoi, to the emerald waters of Halong Bay, to the flickering silk lanterns and boat ride on Thu Bon river Hoi-an, to the Grand Saigon River Ho Chi Minh, and the expansive Mekong river Delta . and the second word would be ‘coffee’ , I have done a post on the coffees in Vietnam on my Instagram page, because coffee is literally a lifeline and a way of life in Vietnam.

Here is our Itinerary and travel blog. Aswell as a few tips on what you want to look out for, while planning your own Vietnam trip.

Day 1 -: Hanoi. We spent the day walking around Old Quarter and it was a beautiful way to begin the holiday. Not rushed, very soulful. We first went to the Hong Kiem lake where we were caught in a flash rain , and found the Vietnamese hats non la were super efficient. The lake itself has an interesting story of the sacred lake turtle that gave one of it's claws to a King in the form of a sword to fight a war. Once the king won the war, he came to the lake to return the magic sword, this the lake is also called lake of restored sword. There is pagoda in the middle of the lake dedicated to the sacred turtle.
Then we went to the Note coffee cafe , which is 4 story building with paper sticker notes on every surface, with letters from all around the world. It's such a happy vibe place.
We decided to have lunch at the train street, but the cafes at train street did not have lunch items. Very picturesque spot. And you need to get 1 drink per person to enter the train street road. See all my reels from the place using hashtag #thefoodietrailstovietnam
We had lunch at MET restaurant,and would highly recommend it. Vegetarian options available, also the pho and chicken curry were delicious.
At. Night we went to Beer street, and being a Friday the place was buzzing. The seats are low, the beer cheap, the food passable.

Day 2- We started the day with hop on hop off city tour of Hanoi. Which was a waste of money. Big tip ,if you plan on visiting the west lake Pagoda, or the Ho chi Minh museum then wear long pants or skirts. No knees or sleeveless allowed. We visited a gorgeous cafe called Bancong in Old Quarter which is like a flower shop . The best part of the day was the Water puppet show. One hour of live music, cultural story, and puppets, kids friendly, it's for 100 VND, and a 50 VND for audio guide. Dinner was at a insta worthy places called coffee club near the Hong Kiem lake , great views of the night life near the lake. On weekends the entire street is a walking street and there were live dancing and night kite flying.

Day 3- Checkout from Hanoi and we set out at 8 am for Halong Bay. We set sail on the Paradise Elegance 2 . A 2 day 1 night stay on the Natural Wonder if the World. On check in we had a grand lunch, for vegetarians they even had extensive custom-made dishes. Our first stop was a pearl farm and Kayaking on the bay. One of best experiences to be surrounded by the natural wonder if the world and Kayaking with my son. Our next stop was Ti top island which has a 400 step steep climb to see a panoramic view of the Halong Bay area. There is also a small beach to enjoy. Once back on the ship we had happy hours from 5:30 pm to 6:30 pm which is really value for 
money since it is but 1 get 1 drinks. The best thing is that you can buy the drinks and keep it for dinner. Our dinner was a sit down five course meal with our very attentive Butler Sam. We had a salad of smoked salmon, a seafood bisque, a grilled seabass, beef tenderloin and an ice cream dessert. The night ended with us fishing for squids. Tip, yes you can do a day tour of Halong bay, but if you have the time and money, the overnight stay cruise is a great experience.

 Day 4 - woke up to a session of Taichi on the sun deck of paradise Elegance with fellow cruisers from Korea, Laos,Japan, followed by a cave trek into the Surprise Cave.  700 steps into the cave with stalactites and stalagmites. We returned to a lavish breakfast and then checkout from the cruise liner. The cruise gets you back to Halong Bay port by 10:30 am and then it is about a 2-3 hour journey back to Hanoi that means by 1 pm we were at Hanoi airport. We had a flight from Hanoi to Danang that day. We chose a flight at 6 pm just to be safe , and I would recommend you get a flight at around 3 pm from Hanoi, to save some time. By the time we landed in Danang, took a taxi to our Airbnb in Hoi-an it was night and we just about managed the last dinner at an Indian restaurant in Hoi-an old quarter.

Day 5 - We were staying at a cute Airbnb in outskirts of Hoi-an. They had cycles for us to ride around paddy fields, also a swimming pool to laze in. We hired bikes for the day ( highly recommend) and chose to ride around Hoi-an old quarter. The Old Quarter is one of the places that survived the bombing from the Vietnam war and it has buildings and township that transports you to another land. I would highly recommend you find a place to stay in old quarter. Take a ticket to the old quarter. In 120 VND you get to choose any 5 attractions you want to experience in Old Quarter. Number 1 for us was the Cantonese Assembly hall with the dragon fountain, the Faifo coffee house is a must for the view from the terrace , the MOT herbal tea is literally the most instagrammed place and the herbal tea was just for 16 VND, Hoi-an also has the best Banh Mi in Vietnam, and ofcourse the linen and clothes shops are such fun. The evening we spent riding down the river Thu Bon in Hoian, the lanterns on the boats, the paper lamps in the river, the lanterns on the bridge, and all along the streets, just makes Hoian the absolutely Magical place from any fairytale. 3 years back I had written a bucket list of wishes, one of which was to see a flying lantern festival, and this is the closest to that. The wishlist also had see the 7 wonders of the world, and Halong Bay is considered one of the Natural 7 wonders of the world. To have 2 things ticket off my bucket list in 2 days was all that a girl could wish for. The night life, the live music, the foot massages, yes I could go back to Vietnam just to visit Hoi-an. Top tip, the clothes and artifacts and souvenirs are best bought at Hoi-an , they are the cheapest as well as the best quality here, rather than Hanoi or Ho chi Minh.

Day 6 - Another brilliant day spent in Bana hills. The place is a Marvel of Human architecture, and I don't just mean the Golden Bridge. They have medieval castles, and entire hill sides converted into Pagodas and Japanese Gardens, and some of the world's longest cable cars, and the alpine cruiser which is a self drive roller coaster. Each turn and side is an insta-worthy view. We reached at around 9 am and left by around 6 pm. Most people rush back at 3 pm. Don't. Wait for the crowds to receed by 3-4 pm.

Day 7- we left Hoi-an drove to Danang to catch the flight for Ho chi Minh City. Ho chi Minh city felt like just another big city, and honestly was the least favourite of our 3 city destinations. We stayed in a High rise Air BNB in District 3 Saigon Royal . But a better decision would be to stay in District 1. Everything is touristy, accessible and walkable from District 1. District 3 had more locals staying and they were not the friendly locals like Hanoi and Hoi-an , they were the busy, mind your own business, city dwellers, with little patience and concern for Tourists. So stay in District 1. The places to visit would be Nguyen street and Bui Vien walking street. A few beautiful parks in the neighbourhood, a Saigon River cruise and that's about it.

Day 8 - we had an option for Mekong delta river cruise, or Cu-Chi tunnel day trip or a combination of both. We chose to do the Mekong river cruise. The tour starts at 7:30 and we return by 4:30 pm which is definitely a day well spent, since Ho chi Minh doesn't have much to do in the city. Lunch is included in the day trips. It's a beautiful Eco tourism. A different aspect of Vietnam.

Day 9 - Our last day, and we started the day with a visit to the War remnants museum which is a must see, infact the only must do in Ho chi Minh city. It closes by 5:30 pm so go in the morning and yes take the audio guide it has amazingly nuanced stories. Can easily spend 1-2 hours here.We then tried visiting another beautiful place called the pink church, totally insta worthy, but they were closed on Saturday and Sunday ! Honestly, we could have reduced half a day in Ho chi Minh, and added a day to Hanoi. That way we could have visited Ninh Binh, a day trip from Hanoi.

Stay recommendations – Hanoi ( old quarter ), Hoi-an ( Old town, near river) , Ho Chi Minh ( District 1 )

Hotel or Air BNB – advantages of hotel are, that breakfast is included, rooms are cleaned each day, someone at reception to always guide you. in the air bnb in Hoi-an we had a very attentive host, but in Ho chi minh there was no host present, and we had to fend and figure out everything on our own. But air BNB’s definitely give you more unique travel experiences than hotels, and are excellent for big groups with children.

Food in Vietnam – Pho, definitely more Pho. And rice paper rolls, spring rolls, bun cha, seafood in Ho chi minh and Halong bay, street food and Banh ni in Hoi-an. Beer everywhere. Vietnamese Pizza was such a let down. And smoke icecream another let down. We also tried some snake wine and yes, that shock value reel has crossed 110 K views. Go check #thefoodietrailstovietnam for more

Souvenirs- if you like oils and acrylic paintings, Hanoi is your place. Amazing works of art. And coffee definitely, also a Phin coffee filter. I brought back a lot of pho, and Vietnamese sauces, and we are recreating some of the dishes at home.

So my perfect Vietnam itinerary would be

Day 1- Hanoi

Day 2- Ninh Binh

Day 3- Halong bay

Day 4 – halong bay to Hoi-an/danang

Day 5- Hoi-an day and night tour

Day 6- Bana hills, plus night hoi-an

Day 7- Ho-chi minh do the war museum before 5 pm

Day 8- Mekong river

If you have just 3 days to visit Vietnam or less – do only Hoi-an , bana hills and Danang. Flight to Danang airport. This gives you the best mix of culture and fun.

I hope this blog gave you lots of inspiration to make Vietnam one of your holiday destinations for the future. Do write to me on my Instagram page @thefoodietrails for any questions, also to watch the detailed highlights and video reels and posts using hashtag #thefoodietrailstovietnam

This year 2023 we have already gone to Meghalaya and here is our Meghalaya Travel Post

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

The foodie trails to Meghalaya


We travelled to Shillong on 20 Feb 2023 to 26 Feb 2023 , but in reality we had been planning this trip from December 2021 .

After 2 years of Covid, we had finally decided that the entire extended family, including all cousins, aunts , uncles would travel to Shillong, Meghalaya and Kaziranga on Feb 2022. But as life would have it, another wave of Omicron came crashing into us on January 2022, with everyone getting ill, we feared another lockdown and cancelled our tickets. That year, Shreysht had a lesson called ‘trip to Shillong ‘ in his second standard text book, and all of 2022, I kept thinking of the missed trip to Shillong, even though we travelled to Dehradun, Mussourie, Rishikesh, Haridwar, Benaras, Pune, Imagicaa, Spain in 2022.

So exactly a year later, same travel dates,in 2023, we three of us, planned a small family trip to Shillong. It felt like meeting a friend. A friend who we had planned to meet, many times, but plans never go through, and then we meet many other people, but the friend is always at the back of our mind, and then finally one day – we meet the friend.

Here is the travel itinerary of Meghalaya 

20 Feb -Reach Guwahati at noon, have lunch and drive to Cherapunjee ( 5 hour journey) . Stop at Umiam lake on the route for a boat ride.

21 Feb- Do a 7 hour trek to the double decker root bridge, blue lagoon, and rainbow waterfalls in Cherapunjee. Stay over night in Cherapunjee.

22 Feb- checkout from Cherapunjee, do a day trip to Mawsmai caves, Arwah Caves, Wei Sawdong waterfalls, and then drive to Shillong.

23 Feb- travel to visit Dawki river, visit cleanest village Mawlynnong , single root bridge in Riwai. Drive back to Shillong.

24 Feb- Shillong city tour, we visited Lady hydari zoo and park, Ward lake, Don Bosco Museum, Cathedral of Mary help of Christians.

25 Feb- Shillong peak, elephant waterfalls, sacred forest, Laitlum view point . back to Shillong.

26 Feb – drive from Shillong to Guwahati, some shopping at market, caught afternoon flight back.

Things that I would change:

We should have stayed overnight in Cherapunjee on 22 , and gone to Dawki from cherapunjee itself, it is closer, rather than travel from Shillong. We should have not over extended ourselves to visit Laitlum on the last day, it was a very long journey since we got a lot of traffic on the way back. The re3ason why we did cherapunjee before Shillong was because we did not want an overnight stay in Guwahati, but if you want to stay in Guwahati you can do the other way around, Shillong first, then cherapunjee, then stay in Guwahati. We could have easily avoided the 25 Feb itinerary, and maybe tried to get Kaziranga in.

Things we loved the most :

The day trip in Cherapunjee when we saw the caves. They are the most magnificent caves in India. Truly proper caves, with so many inroads and walking , it was amazing, plus the wei sawdong waterfall that day was fabulous.. The day trip to Shillong day when we went to ward lake and zoo, it was a much needed respite from continuously on the road, a very restful fun day, even the don bosco museum was intresting. The 7 hour trek to Rainbow falls, it was a trek of a lifetime. I really enjoyed the sacred forest aswell, reminded me of the movie Kantara.

A few notes on doing the 7 hour trek :

Definitely attempt it if you are physically able.It takes 1 hour to climb down to the double decker bridge, you can see that, and return too, return will take you 2 hours of steep climb. It takes 45minutes from the root bridge to the blue lagoon, and another 45 minutes to the rainbow falls. Both are stunning. Pace yourself. Leave early at 8 am for the trek. You don’t necessarily need a guide, it’s a straight route. You can stay in local homes at the rainbow falls, or at root bridge overnight, if you feel unable to climb back. If you can’t then the best option is the single root bridge in riwai, near mawlynnong, beautiful and accessible.

A few notes on cafes of Shillong :

We went to them all, as a foodie it was on my bucket list.

-        Café Shillong : try the thukpa, the chilly pork , the burgers.The best Thukpa I have had anywhere, everything from the noodles to the broth. They have live music on some nights. It is a really small place for such a popular destination.

-        Café Dylan : such a cool place, amazing décor, and the burgers and fried chicken and the chilli hot chocolate are great. There is a all in one chocolate dessert with 4 desserts if you have compny for that, try it. Everything from the ceiling made of painted canvases, to the walls made of a dancefloor tiles, everything is art and history here.

-        Café ML 05: This is also owned by the same company that owns café Dylan, and this one is a bike and car themed café. The food is a little more finger food, like maggi and momos, highway bike crowd. But a very cool seating cum lounge area, especially for people traveling on the highway to Shillong and cherapunjee. The chilli hot chocolate, the pizza, and the barbeque pork were our favourites.

-        Dejavu: This Chinese Asian food restaurant is the most popular restaurant in all of Shillong, we had to make it here on day 1 in Shillong, and we were not disappointed, there was live music, there was good fried rice, and fried chicken. But all the pork dishes unfortunately were disappointing. We had seen rave reviews of the pork dishes, but all of them were too fatty.

Our stays

We stayed in San Naela in Cherapunjee, basic enough, the food was not so great, we preferred having Maggi honestly, the breakfasts were nice. The only great point is that they have a play area and park so its great for kids. Other wise nothing great. Our Shillong hotel was terrible, another sad recommendation by MMT, this was the second time Make my trip let us down in hotel bookings after Spain. I need to learn from my mistakes ! Shillong has so many really nice, centrally located places, choose something near ward lake, or near


Travel :

We had a driver and car that picked us up at Guwahati airport, and after 7 days dropped us at the airport, that was extremely convenient. Travel was not an issue, considering we had so much time on the road. Booking a car for the entire trip was a good suggestion by MMT. There are ways to book this at the Guwahati airport itself, but here is our drivers number aswell, Jitumoni Das +918486719017 , +918402909254 .

Travel to Meghalaya in February:

The best time to travel is undoubtedly November, since it has just finished raining, the waterfalls are full, it’s not raining, and thee cherry blossoms are in bloom. The advantages of February is lesser crowds, clearer waters, we had rainfall on 2 days which was great because then there was a little water in the waterfalls, and the trees looked verdant green, but because of the rainfall the river Dawki was not as clear. Don’t travel from Mid March to October, apparently , because it rains a lot, and many places are either covered in clouds so you can’t see the view points or are too wet and slippery to trek in.

Hope this post helps you plan your own trip to Shillong , Meghalaya . do follow my instagraam hashtag #thefoodietrailstomeghalaya for more reels and posts.