Backpacks, Food, & Friends

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Four months ago I remember looking at my calendar app on my phone counting down the days till I was to return back to the United States, daunted my the large number that stood in front of me and home. Yet, three weeks into my program I realized I never wanted to leave this part of the world and decided to push my flight home back by a few weeks, extending my time abroad even longer.

Our Vietnam abroad program ended and four of my new friends and I decided to pack our backpacks for a week and head off to a bus station to embark on long journey to Cambodia. The first leg of the journey was a 6 hour bus ride to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. After a hectic time crossing the border and getting a Visa, I was able to step foot into a country that I had been wanting to visit since I was little.

Cambodia holds a special place in my heart. My two cousins were adopted from this country and I have been privileged to watch them grow up. I was excited to get to visit their both country as well as explore the world. My time in this country was met with welcoming people, delicious food, and HOT weather. I was so fortune to have the opportunity to travel here, and went to bed thanking God for my cousins every day.

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Angkorwat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Our itinerary for Cambodia consisted of visiting Angkor Wat, the largest religious site in the world and one of the man-made wonders of the world. It stretched 402 acres outside of Siem Reap and is a must see! These beautiful and ancient temples were worth the ticket price and the amount we sweated in the heat. Taxis are not a thing in Cambodia so we payed for a Tuk Tuk driver, to take us around for the day.

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Loading up the Tuk Tuk for the airport

Our second stop in Southeast Asia on our backpacking trip was Bangkok, Thailand. We flew from Siem Reap to Bangkok and after a LONG wait through immigration and a LONG taxi ride in city traffic, we arrived at our Airbnb.

Honestly, I hated Bangkok as soon as I entered. The traffic was overwhelming and the expansiveness of the city was frightening to a small town Connecticut resident. However, as soon as I ate dinner I fell in love with this city, proving my first impressions to be false.

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Bangkok was filled with beautiful temples, boat rides down the river, and shopping. But the real focus of our time in this city was on food. So let’s recap (some) of the meals I ate.

Night One: Imagine this! A bucket of seafood in a garlic and butter sauce, dumped onto a table covered in wax paper. Then you are given gloves and told to go at it. HEAVEN! Utensils are overrated anyway! We also indulged in my first ever Pad Thai & went to a dessert bar to celebrate one of our friend’s birthday.

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Night Two: We figured out the subway system and traveled to Victory Monument to walk through the street food stalls. We food hopped and ate a total of 9 meals. From pad thai (round 2) to Thai donuts, to Boat noodles, and meat skewers! By the end of the night we were stuffed.

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Day Three: We spent the day touring temples so by lunch time we were starving. So we headed to China Town to indulge in the most amazing food I have ever tasted. Fortune cookies, shrimp toast, and ginger dumplings were by far some of the favorites.

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Mango sticky rice!

Night Three: We headed back to China town for dinner and found what we had been looking for…MANGO STICKY RICE! So we ate dessert before dinner. Then we found oyster omelettes and the best pad thai I have ever eaten. It was wrapped in an egg and served as an omelette, with lime and chili flakes.

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Up until this trip, I had never been outside of the United States, I didn’t even have a passport. But I have seen so much of the world and cannot wait to keep traveling. Bangkok did not disappoint. I gained a few pounds, added several stamps to my passport, formed lifelong friendships with my travels buddies, and sweated buckets.

Now it’s back to Saigon, Vietnam to spend the week further exploring the city that has stolen my heart from day one.

Sincerely, your wanna be world traveler.

EKH

 

Seeking Out Street Food

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I’m dedicating this entire blog post to food. No explanation needed. While this is the first time I have ever been outside of the United States, I am fully aware that the identity of a place is so deeply rooted in food and cooking. Vietnam is no exception to this rule.

The food I have eaten during my semester abroad has not disappointed. I have been constantly full, forcing myself to eat more of the delicious cuisine. Even as I traveled from the South to the North, the changes in food and cooking were noticeable.

Prior to coming to Vietnam, I had never tried Vietnamese food before. People would laugh and tell me that I should have tested it out to make sure I could manage to eat it for the next four months but I proved ’em wrong! No testing was necessary. My first real experience with Vietnamese food was with my homestay family. My host mother, even though she worked a full time job, made time to cook the most amazing dinners ever. And while the month went on, I was able to try different types of traditional dishes each night, as well as improve on my chopstick abilities (which are quite good now). Some of my favorite meals that I have had were at her dinner table.

Once out of the homestay, meals were up to me which put a lot of pressure on making sure that I tried a variety of food. Now I do eat sushi probably two (maybe four times) a week, and my favorite pizza place is a five minute walk from my air bnb, my friends and I force ourselves to go out and explore the street food culture that this country has to offer.

Social media has helped out search for the best street food. There is an Instagram account (Foody Hanoi & Foody Saigon) that will post photos, addresses, prices, and hours of operation for every type of street food imaginable. It has become a game of picking which photo to get to see in real life.

Please admire some photos of my favorite dishes. In four months when this food is not walking distance from my house anymore, I will look back at these photos and shed a tear.

1. Banh mì: bread, cucumber, cilantro, pate, pickled onions and carrots, pork. These would be super common in the morning for breakfast.

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2. BEST AND MOST BEAUTIFUL EGG DISH I’VE EVER CONSUMED: Not lying though I went here for breakfast three days in a row. You would be served a hot skillet with fried eggs, ham pork, green onion, and tofu. It came with a baguette to make your own egg sandwich. Add some chili sauce and you have a 10/10 meal.

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3. Fried Chicken & Tra Da: This fried chicken place was located in the market behind our school and I can confidently say it was the best fried chicken I have ever eaten. Plus the iced tea was a necessity. I’m pretty sure I drank so much of it during my semester abroad my body is now 80% tra da.

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4. Phong Nha Feast: A lot is happening in this photo so let me fill you in. Here we have three different colored sticky rice types. Then a large selection of meat that you then wrap in the rice paper with lettuce, omelette pieces, cucumber, and rice noodles, dipping in the fish sauce when wrapped and ready to consume.

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5. xôi bắp: Sticky rice with corn, sprinkled with coconut, peanuts, mungbean paste, and a little sugar. I loved this dish so much it became a running joke about how much I loved xôi bắp.

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6. Kem Xoi: Yup, ice-cream on top of sticky rice. Add some shredded coconut and you have the best snack to beat the Vietnam heat.

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7. Bun Cha: Below you can see the “Obama Combo” at the famous Bun Cha place where Anthony Bourdain took Barack Obama when he visited Vietnam. The combo comes with the noodle dish, a seafood spring roll, and a beer.

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8. Banh Mi Nuong Muoi: Obsessed with this snack. It is bread covered in a fish sauce glaze and grilled over a charcoal grill. Then it is cut up into slivers and covered with chili sauce, mayo, green onions, and pork floss. Plus the vendor who sells this is a father and his ten year old son.

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9. Banh Da Tron: Noodles, fish, tofu, green onions, chili, and lime in a delicious broth. My host mom always joked that on a super hot day you should eat super hot noodles to cool you down. While it still doesn’t make much sense to me, I follow her instructions.

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10. Elephant Fish: Although it looks a little daunting, eating this fish was so fun. You pull apart the fish with chopsticks and put it on rice paper with lettuce, vegetables, and rice noodles, making your own spring rolls.

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11. Pho: You can’t visit Vietnam without trying the tradition noodle dish.

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12. Fresh Spring Rolls: Shrimp, pork, cilantro, lettuce, rice noodles all wrapped in rice paper. Dip this in peanut sauce or fish sauce and you won’t be disappointed.

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And while Vietnamese food has made it to the top of my favorite foods list, I can’t say I ate it every day. I indulged in pizza, occasional McDonalds, salads, sandwiches, and a whole lot of sushi.

Vietnam stole my heart for many reasons, but the food will forever be missed.

See you in 16 days America!

EKH