Early Morning Saigon
"Neither of us had traveled to Asia before, we were wearing nervous looks and insulated jackets, as we moved like cattle through security."
56 hours, 5 stops, 3 countries, 10 days lay ahead of us while waiting in the security line at 6am in Denver International Airport. We both decided to take 1 bag to make plane changes in countries smoother. Neither of us had traveled to Asia before, we were wearing nervous looks and insulated jackets, as we moved like cattle through security. We met on the other side of the X ray machine and started making our way for gate...A34, en route to Seattle. We both decided to take different bags, the Core Pack 35 and MTN BRFCS, with only 1 carry on bag each, shoving as much as we could in preparation of new countries we had not yet seen.
What's in the bag?
"I brought more equipment than clothing, because the hotel has a really affordable laundry service."
In my Core Pack 35L I packed: a mirrorless camera kit (2 bodies, 3 lenses, cleaning kit, chargers, batteries), ipad pro 13", macbook pro 13", insulated jacket, dopp kit, cables + chargers, sketchbook and pens, shorts + tee shirts, stretch chinos and a flannel for travel, sunglasses, flip flops, and (most importantly) an insulated water bottle. I brought more camera equipment than clothing, because the hotel has a really affordable laundry service. It was about $8 to clean everything on day 3 while we were out exploring the city. The weather is also hot and humid, so it was shorts and tee shirts every day.
8 things you didn't know about the BRFCS35.50
- You can carry the BRFCS like a duffel via shoulder strap or as a backpack.
- The front webbing connects to roller bag handles.
- It can expand by a zipper gusset to 50L.
- The fabric is waterproof.
- There is a false floor (Hostel Pocket) to store valuables.
- Works great as a winter boot bag.
- Can store a bike or ski helmet using the helmet sling.
- Back panel zips open for use as a padded computer sleeve.
"Beer is cheaper than water...get the Ba Ba Ba (333), Tiger draft, or try a Saigon Special at one of the many outdoor eateries."
- D2 offers affordable hotels near district 1, which is home to the Saigon Saigon rooftop bar as well as the Opera House. The Caravelle also has one of the best (western) breakfast spreads in the city.
- Beer is cheaper than water...get the Ba Ba Ba (333), Tiger draft, or try a Saigon Special at one of the many outdoor eateries.
- Get you first try of Vietnamese Street food at the Ben Thanh Street Food Market, Bornga for Korean BBQ, and Pasteur St. Brewing for some local takes on western beers.
- Each district (Quan in Vietnamese) has its own flavor, so we stayed in District 1 in downtown and easily accessed some of the best restaurants in Ho Chi Min. District 7 is one of the quieter and more upscale areas of the city. District 4 is for the locals, and has one of the more impressive open markets for any kind of local fare.
- Bringing a package of wet wipes and a water bottle is a necessity if you sweat as much as we did. The change of climate from pow days at elevation, to sea level and extreme heat was a bit of a shock to the system.
"There was always a line out into the road at this spot, so we waited for them to open in the afternoon with some of the other eager folks...mostly locals."Banh Mi sandwiches and Ban Xoi fish sauce
We encountered too many amazing dishes to count in Saigon. The top two that stood out in our minds, was our Banh Mi from Huynh Hoa Bakery and Banh Xeo from Ben Thanh Street Food Market.
We were used to gentrified, over the top Banh Mi's in the USA (although delicious) they did not contain the depth of flavor these "interesting" meats, warm pate and herbs created. The Bread was perfectly crisp and crunchy on the outside and a beautiful soft white on the inside. There was always a line out into the road at this spot, so we waited for them to open in the afternoon with some of the other eager folks...mostly locals.
Banh Xeo was something we had learned about from the late Anthony Bourdain, and a dish that was certainly on our list of cuisine to try. The name comes from the sound the pancake makes, when it hits the pan and crackles as it cooks. It's filled with any meat available, bean sprouts and herbs with a side of lettuce cups and fish sauce. It was an incredibly unique dish with great textures and depth of flavor.
As far as fish sauce, it's something to get used too before getting to Vietnam. It's something we both had a number of times and grew to love the sauce. Yet, on our first day, after being in the 110 degree heat index for 8 hours the smell to a dehydrated tourist can keel over even the most seasoned traveler!
"Crossing the street is best done looking straight ahead, jaw clenched, and letting the scooters swarm around you."
Mentally preparing to cross the street
Oh and there are a lot of scooters
"Even with a train packed to the gills with humans, we rarely heard a peep from the people and the train was absolutely spotless"
Clean organized streets of Tokyo
Trying to navigate the large train system
We tried to take photos on the train but we couldn't move our arms in the packed car.
Tokyo for 1 day.
"Pork was cooked on a small charcoal grill per order and you only had two choices of flavor."
We agreed before landing that we needed to try ramen for lunch. Our friend took us to one of his favorite hole in the wall spots, Menya Imamura. Pork was cooked on a small charcoal grill per order and you only had two choices of flavor. We went with the Tonkatsu Ramen and could of had 10 bowls of the delicious noodle soup.
We stopped on our way into the city at the Skytree. This is the worlds tallest tower at 2,080 ft. and offers a great view of the city. On a clear day, you can see Mt Fuji from here.
Sensō-ji Buddhist temple is Tokyo's oldest temple.
Our last stop was a Cosplay Cafe... it was interesting.
"The packs we took fit in every overhead bin, had everything we needed with room for trinkets."
Built 4 the journey.
Vietnam is a beautiful place, with a very decorated past. It's both humbling and inspiring to be able to travel through such a place. The cost is relatively low, the weather is hot and humid, and it has become quite busy with western flavor recently. A wide array of restaurants and shops fill the city, and the people are wonderful. It was a great trip, and stopping in Tokyo was icing on the cake. Traveling through Japan was just the start, and we plan to be back...this time hopefully exploring up to Hokkaido for skiing.
The packs we took fit in every overhead bin, had everything we needed with room for trinkets. We used our bags to travel and as day packs in the busy streets for both cities. Without enough storage and durability this trip would have not been so easy.
Pro Tips: be careful of the 767 from Tokyo to Saigon and begin your culinary explorations on the flight
On the ANA 787 we had the option to play some video games. It actually broke up the 12 hour flight time a bit more than just watching videos.
ANA's 767 from Tokyo to Saigon was a little more cramped then most wide body aircrafts. The seats don't have the option to recline, and you slide the chair forward bashing your knees into the seat in front of you. If you happen to be on this route try and prepare yourself for an uncomfortable 8 hours.
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