In this post I share about the vegan restaurants we went to and the unique and adventurous activities we did in Sapa, Hanoi and Ha Long Bay!
I came back from our trip to Vietnam saying, "I think that was one of the best vacations of my life!"
And that's saying a lot.
I don't even know where to start with this recap. Brett couldn't have planned our vacation better and God couldn't have blessed us more with amazing weather, health, activities and delicious vegan food! In short, during this 10 day vacation we went to three different locations/cities in Northern Vietnam: Sapa, Ha Long Bay and Hanoi, which is the capital of Vietnam. In total we took 5 flights, 2 overnight trains, 2 ferries and I forget how many buses, taxis and shuttles, and it was so worth it! Brett did most of the activity planning and I looked up tons of vegan restaurants for us to eat at. Our entire time in Vietnam was the perfect balance of activity, adventure, rest and of course incredible vegan food!
Below I'll share some pictures and highlights from the three locations we visited!
Sapa is known for its rice paddies and that's exactly why we choose to visit Sapa. We've seen pictures in the past of the beautiful, golden rice terraces and we knew it would make for amazing hiking. After flying into Vietnam and getting our visas, we took a cab immediately to the train station so we could catch an overnight train from Hanoi to Sapa. Even though the train ride ended up being incredibly rocky, making it hard to sleep, this trip made me realize how much I love overnight trains for travel. It's so nice to be able to lay horizontally and to sleep away the long hours of travel.
When we arrived in Sapa it was raining and we had to wait a few hours to check into our hotel. We ended up getting some breakfast (which for me was the most amazing ginger tea and bruschetta!) and a massage to kick off our first day in Vietnam. All the food in Vietnam is incredibly inexpensive, as well as most massage spas, so we loved feeling like we could treat ourselves to things we don't normally do!
The second and third days in Sapa is when we did our hiking. Brett and I both don't enjoy using tour companies to sightsee and thanks to Brett's researching and planning skills, we usually can figure out our own hiking routes by ourselves, using maps and talking to the locals. The first day we hiked upwards so that we could get a top-down view of the rice paddies. It was quiet and calm except for the occasional herd of animals or little girls chanting their songs and trying to sell us bracelets!
The second day of hiking was when we went down into the valley, amongst the rice paddies. This day was more overcast, which was perfect for photos, and we even ended up getting rained on a little throughout the journey. Brett had done some research and found that we could walk a couple hours to a small town inside the valley where they had an amazing vegan friendly restaurant and a nice, inexpensive spa. So after a few hours of hiking, getting nagged by locals to stay at their houses, slipping through mud, and talking ALL the pictures, we arrived in the little town. We had some tea, played with the local kids, got a massage and then ate the best spring rolls of our lives!
Throughout our time in Sapa we ate at two restaurants fairly often: Little Sapa and Viet Emotion Sapa Coffee and Restaurant. Little Sapa was great for authentic, inexpensive Vietnamese food (banh mi, spring rolls, curries, etc.) and Viet Emotion had some delicious western options like the Bruschetta I ordered, pasta, pizza, etc.!
I also have to say that I quickly became obsessed with the Ginger Tea that is sold practically everywhere in Vietnam. I'm pretty sure I drank it 1-2 times a day! Definitely order some if you're ever in Vietnam.
HA LONG BAY
Ha Long Bay was our second location. From Sapa we took another overnight train. In the morning we hopped on a bus, then took a ferry, then took another bus until we finally arrived in Cat Ba, a location in Ha Long Bay. We arrived right at lunch time and after stoping at Asia Outdoors to sign up for kayaking and deep water soloing for the next day, we headed to Buddha Belly for lunch. We both ordered tofu & mushroom soup and fresh and fried spring rolls. Amazing!
The second day in Ha Long Bay was probably the highlight of the entire trip for both Brett and me. Although we don't usually book our activities through tour companies, we read great reviews of Asia Outdoors and heard that they offer both kayaking in Ha Long Bay and deep water soloing. For those of you who don't know, deep water soloing is basically rock climbing over water without ropes or harnesses. You either climb to the designated ending point and then jump off, or you fall off into the water. Both of these activities sounded incredible to us and we couldn't have been happier with the day. The weather was perfect, the rocks were climbable, the water was warm, and the lunch they served us on the boat was gourmet! We couldn't have had a better day.
AND the entire cost for one person for ½ day rock climbing, a free lunch and ½ day kayaking was only $37! That's incredible!
Our second full day on Cat Ba was spent hiking. We rented a moped for about $5 and rode it out to the national park where we walked up a steep, jungly, step-heavy trail to get to a stunning view of the mountains. It was a sweaty, hot walk, but so worth the view!
We actually ended up getting a flat tire on our ride home, but the locals were very kind and helped us find a place to get our tire changed. Then we headed straight to lunch which was Pho! Both of our large bowls of noodle soup cost less than $2. Yeah, that's amazing!
That night, which was also our last night on Cat Ba, we went on a little walk, watched the sunset and then had some drinks while reading our books in the cool, night breeze. It was perfect. While in Cat Ba we ate a couple of times at a restaurants called Green Mango. Everything we ate was amazing and both Brett and I highly recommend the nachos!
Our last and final stop on our vacation was Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. I've traveled a lot, but I don't think I've been to a more crowded, bustling city than Hanoi! It's known for its motorcycles and after just a few minutes walking in the streets I could tell why. Everyone rode motorcycles and the streets were super narrow and crowded with people and merchandise. It was crazy and fun and full of life!
Honestly, other than miles of walking, our time in Hanoi was mainly spent eating...and it was amazing. I didn't even get to eat at all the restaurants on my list--there were that many options for vegans!
Below I'll share with you my top places to eat at if you ever find yourself in Hanoi. I highly recommend these restaurants no matter whether your a vegan, vegetarian or omnivore! They're that good.
Zenith Yoga Cafe II
Zenith Yoga Cafe II was probably my top favorite restaurant in Hanoi. It had comfortable, spacious seating and a plethora of healthy, gourmet vegan dishes. We ended up eating here twice because we loved it so much. They have juices, smoothies, coffee, tea, and kombucha. They have amazing sandwiches, salads, pizzas and wraps. They even have delicious vegan desserts!
The first time we went, Brett and I ordered two drinks to enjoy while we read for a bit. Then we ordered 3 entrees to share: a roasted vegetable salad with vegan ricotta, a Turkish sandwich with baba ganoush, and a plate of the most amazing spring rolls stuffed with avocado and mango and paired with a pesto dipping sauce. Everything was incredible, but light and healthy at the same time. The portion sizes were also huge!
After the feast I still had room for dessert and ordered the dark chocolate cake and a hot chocolate. The hot chocolate was probably the best I've ever had. It had some kind of warming spice in it that was just so comforting. The cake was amazing as well. It had a spongy texture and a crunch from the nuts on top and wasn't overly sweet.
All the food we ordered (3 drinks, 3 entrees and a cake) came to $22! I left so happy and satisfied!
The second time we went back I ordered another one of their salads. It wasn't as good as the first one I ordered the day before, but I loved how light and flavorful it was! It had tofu, bean sprouts and a balsamic dressing. I also ordered a Kombucha and then chai tea and a peanut cookie for dessert.
Also, all of their hot drinks are served with a mini cookie and sweetened coconut slivers that were amazing!
The Hanoi Social Club
The Hanoi Social Club was another place we ate at twice. It's practically tied with Zenith in regards to atmosphere, prices and amazing food. This was the first restaurant we ate at once we arrived in Hanoi and I ordered the vegan lasagna which was amazing. For dessert, I ordered a chai tea (which was incredible) and Brett and I played scrabble from their shelf of games while I slowly enjoyed my chai.
The Hanoi Social Club has three levels, the top one of which is outside. So anther night we found ourself back here just to enjoy some drinks up on the patio and read our books in the breeze.
The second time we ate here was for breakfast and it was yet again amazing. I ordered the Bircher Muesli and a black vietnamese coffee with soy milk, both of which were incredible. The Bircher Muesli was so beautifully presented and came with soaked muesli, chopped nuts, shredded coconut, passion fruit, mango, and more soy milk on the side. It was so fruity and fresh and I can't wait to recreate it at home! Amazing!
The vietnamese coffee was also to die for. I normally can't handle coffee, but I really wanted to try out one vietnamese coffee before we left, and I'm so glad I did. It's so rich and smooth and subtly sweet. Don't pass up vietnamese coffee if you're ever in Vietnam!
I highly recommend Raw juicery if you're ever in need of something healthy or light. All their juices and smoothies are about $2 each and they make them fresh for you. You can order a juice or smoothie off their menu or create your own smoothie. One morning Brett and I split a juice and then after I had a smoothie with banana, cacao, cashews, spinach and soy. Yum!
Brett and I both wanted to get a pizza before leaving Vietnam and Pizza 4P's had great reviews. They even kindly created a vegan pizza for me using all the vegetables that they had on hand. You can also choose to make your pizza a half-and-half pizza so that you can try out two different flavors at once! Brett's pizza was a half-and-half on which one side had salmon and mozzarella and the other was a meat based combination. We both easily finished our large pizzas. They were thin crust, light, flavorful pizzas and we highly recommend stopping here!
Noodle and Roll
While we ate a lot of western food during our time in Hanoi, we wanted to get one more Vietnamese meal in before leaving. Everything we ordered at Noodle and Roll was amazing. We got a peanut soba dish, stir fried bok choy, curry samosas, and the most amazing tofu, mushroom stew. We also got rice and a massive, crunchy rice "pancake" on the side. YUM!
In between meals we walked all over the city, read our books in cafes and even got a massage one afternoon. I absolutely loved our time in Hanoi. It's so lively, full of culture, and has such a diverse food scene.
I couldn't have asked for a better vacation. I feel so blessed to have been able to go to Vietnam, see the things we saw, do the things we did, and eat the amazing meals we ate. What a gift! This trip also wouldn't have happened without all of Brett's research and planning. He's amazing!
Okay, now it sounds like I'm giving a speech.
In closing, go to Vietnam if you can. It's an amazing country and you won't regret it!