Archive of ‘Vietnam’ category

My first real Vietnamese Pho.

As soon as we settled into our hotel and showered, Matt and I headed to the local market downtown Ho Chi Minh City and ordered one steaming bowl of Pho with beef and intestines. The broth was weak, the beef tender and the intestines surprizingly clean with a shitake mushroom texture. Overall not a bad soup, the best Pho in town was to be discovered a few hours later by the river (see “Lunch Lady vs. Pho Lady” post).




Real Vietnamese coffee sans condensed milk.

The Lunch Lady vs. the Pho Lady.

We’re huge Anthony Bourdain fans. I mean, anyone with an adventurous palate and a love for travel probably is. When Anthony and his TV crew visited Saigon last they ate at a particular food stall run by a bossy lady who is locally known as “The Lunch Lady”. Everyday she creates one new dish, take it or leave it that’s what she is serving, just make sure to come and get it before it runs out.

We arrived at the Lunch Lady at 3:30pm, a little late I worried I really didn’t want to miss her. There she was under her bright yellow and green awning waiting for us, not one other customer insight. We sat at a plastic table and immediately women started bringing us eggrolls, spring rolls and dipping sauces, items we certainly did not order nor want. ‘Soup’ we said over and over, trying to convey our order with hand gestures. The “Lunch Lady” comes over to greet us and shakes her head, ‘no soup’. I clue in and remember Bourdain mentioning that it was only one dish a day and that’s it. I motion “1 please” and she goes into action.


One huge handful of rice noodles topped with 2 deep fried spring rolls cut into bit sized piece with scissors. She grabs the bowl then shuffles to the next station and adds lovely pieces of BBQ pork, deep fried pork skin, green stuff, sweet stuff, peanut stuff and voila!




The meal was great, perfect balance of sweet, sour, savory, spicy, hot, cold, soft and crunchy. The whole experience was a little bizarre because the entire time we were there we never certain if she was closing down or just opening up, no one spoke English, a cab driver converted our American money to Vietnamese Dong and tried to rip us off $0.50, but the oddest thing of all was when the ladies brought us a bunch of food before we even ordered, it reeked of a tourist scam and we wanted no part of it.


The Lunch Lady to the right preparing our food.


40 meters down the alley from the Lunch Lady we found our next stop, a wonderful Pho making station. Again no one spoke a word of English but this time we were received with warm smiles. Before even sitting down I spotted the ingredient I was after, beef tendon. I first became addicted to the stuff a few years back when Matt and I lived downtown Victoria, only steps away from a delicious Pho restaurant. Albeit tendon might not be for everyone those addicted to the crunchy yet marrow like properties surely understand my excitement when I saw a huge pile of it on a tray, right beside my second favorite ingredient, razor thin sliced quality raw steak. We went all out and ordered 2 extra sides of meat and tendon and had ourselves a wonderful Pho party on the side of the road looking out on the river.


Her magical broth bubbles all day turning it into a sweet rich meaty piece of art. Lunch Lady vs. Pho Lady? Today Pho Lady wins by a landslide.

Too many socks, backpacking vs. campervaning.

By now it is clear to all that Matt and I enjoy traveling. We prefer to do it as much and as often as possible. Over the last 2 years we’ve spent more than 12 months living out of our campervan exploring Europe, we’ve also enjoyed several camping trips around lesser known parts of Bulgaria and finally, we are currently enjoying a 6 week trek around Southeast Asia. Our thirst for adventure in unquenchable.


A few days ago while we waited for our bus in Bangkok to take us to the southern islands of Thailand we met a friendly Canadian from Calgary who also had a passion for travel. As we told him about our year long trip around Europe he pointed out how different it must be now traveling out of a backpack.

Neither Matt nor I prefer a style of traveling over the other, they are just too different but I thought it would be interesting to make a list of pros and cons.





  • You get to see places and things most tourists will never see. I have a list of a hundred little villages and towns no one has ever heard yet are just as beautiful if not prettier than the tourist destinations.
  • You have your house with you, it’s impossible to get homesick.
  • You can cook like a local as you have your kitchen with you.
  • No waiting around wasting time. You don’t have to arrange your days around bus and train schedules, if you want to pack up and go you can.
  • You can stay neat and orderly, shirts are hung on real hangers and your pants are folded neatly in a cupboard.
  • A tiny bit of room for storage. Our camper has a “trunk” where we store tools, camping equipment, and a badminton set. Our roof top bin holds folding chairs, a table and a mini BBQ.
  • If you are in the mood to party, pull over and start dancing and drinking, no need to drink and drive, your bed is only 2 feet away.
  • Never knowing where we’d end up next.
  • You always have a washroom and a shower available.



  • Everything you own is contained within a tin can thin walled vehicle. You always worry if the car is parked in a safe area, braking into a van is rather easy to do.
  • The cost of fuel
  • Parking and driving an oversized vehicle. Some ancient cities have tiny narrow roads, steep inclines are scary especially if you need to brake rapidly. Low hanging trees, electrical wires and driving under small bridges or tunnels can also be of concern.
  • Managing electricity, water and waste is a lot more complicated that you think. The first month with the camper we consumed water and electricity so rapidly that we needed a campsite every 2-3 days, by the end of our trip we could free camp for a month without any problems. Click here for more.
  • Showering. Our camper has a nice hot shower but it takes up a lot of water. Modern truck stops often offer showers for only a few dollars.
  • Never knowing where we’d end up next.



  • Meeting new people (an often likeminded people). As soon as you strap on a large bag to your back fellow backpackers will find you and strike up fascinating conversations.
  • Interesting accommodations (with lovely hot showers). Sometimes you can luck out and get ultra-luxurious room at an affordable price.
  • Matt and I can experience everything together, sometimes I felt that Matt was missing out because he always had the responsibility of driving.


  • Everything you own is in a thin fabric bag. Pickpockets target backpackers as they know that they will surely find something worth stealing.
  • Waiting for buses, planes and trains, so much time is wasted this way yet you can’t do anything about it.
  • Booking hotels, haggling for deals, not knowing where you will sleep next.
  • Food is more expensive when you have someone else make it for you.
  • Not being able to perform my #1 hobby, cooking.


So far our backpacking trip has gone smoothly with the exception of us catching colds. Our packs are comfortable and weigh 6 kilograms each and our day bag (we only have 1) an additional 4 kilograms. The only thing that I’ve packed which now seems superfluous are 5 pairs of socks, Matt brought gloves (?).



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