seasia sistas

GENERAL BLISSREGARD: VIETNAM

The only way to tell the adventurous tale of Vietnam is through food. In Vietnam, every region has it's own dish and every dish has a story. For the Vietnamese, eating is more than curbing hunger; it’s a way of life.  Instead of “Hi, how are you?" locals greet each other with, "Ăn cơm chưa”, or “Hey, have you eaten?”

My travel companion and SEAsia Sista, Vickie’s Mom grew up in Saigon and she gave us an epic list of must-try regional dishes. We started our travels in the city of Hanoi where we were transfixed by “Bún chả”, grilled pork (chả) over white rice noodle (bún) with herbs, fresh greens, and dipping sauce.

Bún chả, Alleyway, Hanoi, Vietnam

Bún chả, Alleyway, Hanoi, Vietnam

In Hanoi, we also enjoyed miến lươn (eel noodle soup) with miến (cellophane noodles), fried lươn (eels), fried shallots, bean sprouts and Vietnamese cilantro with tasty donuts.

Miến Lươn, Hanoi, Vietnam

Miến Lươn, Hanoi, Vietnam

From there we toured Cat Ba Island. Largely untouched and wild as ever, Cat Ba Island is a true jungle gem. Right alongside one of UNESCO's New 7 Wonders of the World, Halong Bay, Vickie and I found ourselves kayaking, exploring, and discovering Cat Ba in nearly complete solitude. 

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

"Mergoddess Cove", Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

"Mergoddess Cove", Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

Monkey Island, Vietnam

Monkey Island, Vietnam

SEAsia Sista's top three dishes in Cat Ba Island:

1.) Seaside feast with the most gracious Vietnamese family.

The Captain caught a fish while we were kayaking and his wife cooked it up aboard the ship. She made fresh papaya salad, rice, and pork with hoisin sauce. Later, their five year old son, Kai also fed us fresh clams as a snack.

Homemade Seaside Feast, Halong Bay, Vietnam

Homemade Seaside Feast, Halong Bay, Vietnam

Kai feeding us fresh clams!

Kai feeding us fresh clams!

2.) Banh xeo (bahn SAY-oh)

A popular street crepe throughout Southern Vietnam made of shrimp, pork and served with greens. You roll the banh xeo up in a leaf of lettuce with nuoc cham dipping sauce then pop it in your mouth.

Banh Xeo (Vietnamese crepe), Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

Banh Xeo (Vietnamese crepe), Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

3.) Garlic, lemongrass crab and fresh papaya, peanut, and squid salad served at the Full Moon Restaurant (Vickie so happy!).

Full Moon Restaurant, Cat Ba Island

Full Moon Restaurant, Cat Ba Island

Next, we visited an Ancient riverside town in Vietnam called Hoi An, which was an absolute treasure! We stayed at Leaf Homestay, hands down our favorite spot. It's a beautiful four bedroom guest house run by an amazing family.

For $14/night you can have your own private room and bathroom with A/C. It also includes your choice of breakfast. Our go-to was homemade pho, banana rice pancake, and mangos with ginger tea. They also have bikes for you to ride around town and a lovely orchid garden. We had planned to stay two days but upon the first we changed it to five. 

Breakfast pho,  Leaf Homestay , Hoi An, Vietnam

Breakfast pho, Leaf Homestay, Hoi An, Vietnam

While there, we discovered the famous Cao Lau Noodles only made in Hoi An.

The first ingredient that had us salivating was their char siu pork — Cantonese-style barbecued or roasted pork, seasoned in a five spice marinade. The Char siu was accompanied by an array of fresh locally grown mixed greens including fragrant mint, basil, Vietnamese fish leaf, rice paddy herb, crisp lettuce, and shrimp chips. All this atop the turmeric-marinated Cao Lau noodles with crispy bean sprouts.

Delicious! 

Cao Lau Noodles, Hoi An, Vietnam

Cao Lau Noodles, Hoi An, Vietnam

The other dish we died happy eating was "banh bao vac" or White Rose Dumplings. Another Hoi An specialty, the little white roses are made from translucent white dough, filled with spiced minced shrimp or pork and bunched up to look like little white roses. These darling little dumplings, come topped with crispy shallots and served with a unique dipping sauce made of shrimp broth, hot chilies, lemon and sugar. We could’ve had five plates each!

White Rose Dumplings,  White Rose Restaurant , Hoi An, Vietnam

White Rose Dumplings, White Rose Restaurant, Hoi An, Vietnam

We also loved wandering the ancient streets of Hoi An's Historic Oldtown District. There we saw festive lanterns of every size, shape and color. On the night of the full moon, we took a boat ride across the canal and lit floating lanterns with our intentions for the year ahead. 

Oldtown, Historic District, Hoi An, Vietnam

Oldtown, Historic District, Hoi An, Vietnam

In Oldtown, we were delighted to discover Reaching Out Teahouse. Reaching Out Vietnam was founded in 2000 with a vision of providing opportunities for people with disabilities to learn skills and gain meaningful employment. In 2008, they created a teahouse with the intention of enjoying the beauty in silence. Guests are encouraged to whisper.  

Another experience Vietnam is known for is it's tailor-made attire. Vickie and I had traditional Ao Dai dresses and silk pants made at Duna Tailor where the staff really went out of their way to ensure we were happy with our fitting.

Tailor-made traditional Vietnamese Ao Dai dresses

Tailor-made traditional Vietnamese Ao Dai dresses

Finally, our last stop was Ho Chi Minh City - Saigon. Damn that city moves! Everyone from teenagers to grandmas strap in, mask on, riding through those crazy streets. I witnessed a family of five fit on ONE motorbike and another with an 8 foot sheet of glass wedged between two people. Safety first!

The Vietnamese leg of our journey ended in style with Vickie’s cousin's wedding. I had no idea what I was in for. With three days of ceremony, it was the most elaborate affair I have ever been to. Truthfully, I didn't understand most of it but the food I understood. We ate our weight in banquet-style dinners (typically 8 courses each) and even though I probably gained 10 lbs, I would do it all over again. 

This was truly a once in a lifetime experience and at first, we jokingly called it "General Disregard." In Vietnam, it is encouraged to throw your trash on the floor after enjoying your meal. It is normal to see someone pee on the side of the street ("General Pissregard"). Families of five get from point A to point B without helmets on a single motorbike. 

But by the end of our trip, the "General Disregard" transformed to "General Blissregard." The Vietnamese could care less about social status. They are focused on everyday survival and the simple things in life. As Westerners, we are conditioned to think we've got it all figured out and yes, we have historically had more freedoms and material goods, but the Vietnamese place value on what's real. 

Floating in "Mergoddess Cove", Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

Floating in "Mergoddess Cove", Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

Riding through jungle islands on motorbikes, floating in a peaceful paradise, enjoying a steaming dish of hot rice noodles and dumplings. These were the moments of bliss that reminded us not to sweat the small stuff and to enjoy what we have here and now.

Special thanks to Infinite Mirror Mirror Sister Sister, Vickie Lau for planning this extraordinary, unforgettable adventure. Traveling together and getting back to our roots is something I will treasure forever. THANK YOU. 

Check out the full Vietnam photo album on Facebook and next time you're heading that way hit me up!

In bliss, your Southeast Asia Sista,

Kelsey Lotus Wong

Stop Wishing + Start Doing = Southeast Asia

For three years I was a broken record about Southeast Asia. When I left my job at CO+HOOTS I vowed to travel there. At every global impact conference I attended, my ask was for recommendations for fellowship opportunities based there. It was to the point where I was becoming “the girl who cried Southeast Asia” and never did anything about it.

Then in November 2016, one of my dear friends, Vickie told me she was planning a trip to Vietnam for her cousin’s wedding in January. She had known it was a dream of mine to go and asked if I wanted to come. “HELL YES!” I said. She followed up with, “and what about Thailand too?”

The rest, as they say, is history.

One month of epic adventure and new discoveries.  Two weeks in Thailand, two weeks in Vietnam. Another friend, Anna aka Disco Squirrel Queen joined us for the first leg of the journey in Thailand. 

We named our trio the Infinite SEAsia Sistas (full name: Infinite Mirror Mirror Same Same Sister Sisters) and spent weeks planning it out. When I say we planned it, the credit really goes to Vickie. She is the MVS (most valuable sista) in this lineup. Words cannot express my gratitude for her in launching this vision into action. She researched every city, booked every hostel or Airbnb, found our transportation and flights. She is a true pro with a passion for travel and it shows!

Paying tribute to the MVS (Most Valuable SEAsia Sista) Vickie Lau! For making this trip happen. 

Paying tribute to the MVS (Most Valuable SEAsia Sista) Vickie Lau! For making this trip happen. 

Though one month, in the broad spectrum of things doesn’t sound that long, when every day is completely different and you travel to eight cities, it feels like it’s own lifetime, a crack in the Universe.

And that’s exactly what this experience has given me, a glimpse of life beyond America and Europe.

I felt the call years ago and it took a series of fortunate events for it to come to fruition. I realize the timing was even more divine because I wrote a post in December 2016 where I made a call out to the Universe, I said "Something is missing: ALIVENESS. I want to swim in the ocean of this deep blue mysterious planet and be swallowed whole by bliss. I want to sit at the edge of the known world and make eye contact with the unknown Universe."

To say I feel blessed is an understatement. 

The true gift of this is less about the sights themselves, it's about believing in the POSSIBLE. It's about listening to your callings, sharing your visions, and to keep pushing to make your dreams a reality. 

Okay, you get it. Now what about Thailand??

Thailand has become a major tourist destination and there is a reason. Culturally, it is a place of sheer wonder. Geologically, the area is lush, the food is fresh & juicy, and the cost of living is amazingly low. Beyond that, the Thai people are such a joy to be around. They are gentle, communal, and unbelievably welcoming to travelers.

Highlights included:

Going from Urban Asians to Jungle Asians.

Going from Urban Asians to Jungle Asians.

Bathing baby elephants at the Elephant Rescue Sanctuary in Chiang Mai. 

Bathing baby elephants at the Elephant Rescue Sanctuary in Chiang Mai. 

Visiting heavenly temples including Wat Pho in Bangkok and Doh Suthep in Chiang Mai.

Visiting heavenly temples including Wat Pho in Bangkok and Doh Suthep in Chiang Mai.

Exploring tropical florals at the Chiang Mai Flower Garden.

Exploring tropical florals at the Chiang Mai Flower Garden.

Coconuts on coconuts and in this case a delicious coconut curry inception! NOM NOM NOM.

Coconuts on coconuts and in this case a delicious coconut curry inception! NOM NOM NOM.

Setting New Year's intentions and lighting up the night sky with so much love.

Setting New Year's intentions and lighting up the night sky with so much love.

This experience has activated a whole new way of seeing, being, and living. So much so that it has inspired me to return. I plan to go back in April!

Stay tuned for my next blog post on Vietnam and check out the full Thailand Album on my Facebook

Whatever you do, don't stop believin',

Lotus