CPG Vegan Trips creates one-of-a-kind 5-star travel experiences all about abundance, joy, like-minded connections, delicious food, and animal protection. Take a listen to see what we have planned for 2019, 2020, and 2021, and start packing your bags!
You have heard me talk many times about Animals Asia and the work they do to protect bears bred, trapped, imprisoned, exploited by the bear bile industry. Bears are bred or taken from the wild and confined in cages no bigger than their bodies — or in huge shipping containers that are divided into individual windowless compartments. A catheter is inserted into their gall bladder (without anesthesia), and their bile is drained from their bodies and used in traditional Chinese medicine. (Animals Asia works to end the dog meat trade in Vietnam and China).
On our recent CPG Vegan Trip to Vietnam (and we’re running another in 2019), we had the honor of visiting Animals Asia’s Vietnam sanctuary, managed by the incredible Tuan Bendixsen and a dedicated staff, is spread over more than 27 beautiful acres at the edge of a nationally protected park, and everything they do is to stimulate the bears’ natural behaviors. There are pools, trees, and various structures that help with the rehabilitation of the bears and cubs.
Having been confiscated from wildlife traders and poachers, both adults and cubs are not only anxious and angry when they arrive, but they often suffer from ailments such as gall bladder damage, broken teeth from biting on bars, and other body conditions ranging from emaciation to obesity from being kept immobile and being fed a poor and inappropriate diet. They also suffer from PTSD and other psychological trauma.
The good news is that living among other rescued bears in a quiet, safe environment, they heal.
The sanctuary has surgical facilities that are equipped to give the rescued bears the best possible chance of recovery, and we were given the opportunity to see one of the bears in surgery having a sore tooth extracted.
It has been my dream for 15 years to go and see the work of this amazing organization. As part of the CPG Trip to Vietnam, we were able to visit this sanctuary (and you can do so if you join us on a future trip!).
On CPG Vegan Trips, we go out of our way to work with the hotels and chefs on special awesome menus for us but also to give our group our own space away from meat-filled buffets. Providing them with recipes and showing what they make that’s already vegan, we’re treated to a feast wherever we go. The Metropole is no exception and even made vegan croissants just for us!
After breakfast, we immersed ourselves in some of Vietnam’s history. True to his nature, Ho Chi Minh did not want pomp and circumstance surrounding his death and wanted his body cremated, but alas it was preserved after his passing in 1969 and is on display for public viewing. Macabre though it may sound, it was quite moving to witness veterans (of what Americans call the Vietnam War and what the Vietnamese call the American War) attend and pay homage, and to see hundreds of school children visit the site.
After viewing Ho Chi Minh’s body, we had our own guide to show us around the square where Ho Chi Minh (known as “Uncle Ho” to his people), first declared independence in 1954.
From there, we visited the Temple of Literature, the first university in Vietnam built in 1076(!) Being an English history enthusiast, it’s amazing to think of what two completely different cultures were doing at the same time — England reeling from the invasion of the Norman conqueror (William) and Vietnam building their first university. We also arranged to have some musicians play music for us in one of the pagodas, which was lovely (short clip below).
Before we visited the Hao Lo prison (nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton” by American POWs), we enjoyed a delicious lunch at KOTO, an organization that gives at-risk and underprivileged youth the opportunity to learn and thrive it their lives. KOTO is a hospitality training center and stands for “know one, teach one.” KOTO has trained over 700 students in their training centers.
At KOTO, I drank my first water sterilized by a steripen. We’ve done so much to not contribute to waste on this trip, but it’s always a challenge in a country whose drinking water isn’t potable, so alas, we have had to use some bottled water. HOWEVER, in addition to a large vat of filtered water we arrange to have on our buses for our travelers to fill their refillable water bottles with, Brighde brought along her steripen and gave me a demonstration. It uses UV rays to sterilize the bacteria in untreated water, and it’s used by backpackers and wilderness trekkers the world over. With a little trepidation, I drank up my glass of water and never had a belly ache. I’m sold.
Our dinner on our first full day was incredible: a vegetarian restaurant called Nha Hang Chay that opened only a few months ago. The entrance is stunning, and each dish we were served was a work of art and equally stunning on the palate. I’m still dreaming of the little clouds of tofu and the hot pot, a Vietnamese staple, especially on chilly nights.
We enjoyed a lovely walk back to our hotel on one of the main streets that is closed to cars and motor bikes on the weekends. For someone who’s not a huge city person — much less one that’s packed with cars, people, and chaos — I have to say I really love this city. I am, however, aware, that I probably wouldn’t say the same thing if we were visiting in the summer months, which are oppressively hot and humid, and we know how I feel about that!
Today was our first day in Hanoi and our last day on our own before the rest of our group gets here for our next, awesome, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious CPG VEGAN TRIP — this one to Northern Vietnam. The weather is cool, breezy, and sunny, which suits my California temperament. I confess…I can’t help comparing Hanoi to Bangkok, another southeast Asian city I recently visited, and (though it’s too soon and a bit unfair to make comparisons and draw conclusions), I already like Hanoi heaps more. We’re here during one of the short windows when the weather is mild and not oppressively humid, but I just like the feel and pace of this city a lot more. I was warned that it was noisier and more chaotic, but I’m finding the opposite to be true. Still, it’s still early in my trip.
Crutch in hand, I made my way around the streets of Hanoi, including walking all around the lake! I’m so grateful, considering a week ago, I couldn’t even move without excruciating pain. Crossing the street in this city is an adventure in itself. You just walk. And trust that the gazillion motor bikes, cars, and buses will swerve around you. It works. See? I lived to tell my tale.
Seb, our friend (and partner in CPG Trips) lived in Hanoi for over 5 years, so he knows the city backwards and forwards. The first lunch we enjoyed on our first full day was at his Italian friend’s restaurant, where we gobbled up penne pasta with arrabbiata sauce; bruschetta with tomatoes, olives, pine nuts, onions and raisins; and marinara pizza! (Remember: marinara is the oldest type of pizza. In other words, the original pizza was vegan.)
We’ll have our fill of local Vietnamese cuisine throughout the CPG Vegan Trip portion of our travels, so it was nice to partake in some traditional Italian food. The restaurant is called Mediterraneo, and I recommend it. Tell them I sent you — and mention Sebastien Ranger.
From there, we ventured to the Women’s Museum. Many aspects of Vietnamese culture are patriarchal, but many are matriarchal and celebrate the strength, softness, beauty, and indispensability of women. My gimpy little self has nothing on the amazing women who helped build, protect, and run this country.
Afterwards, we took a nap to help us acclimate to the time zone difference and had some food in the Vietnamese restaurant in our Metropole hotel. Really the main things to ask when eating here just as in any Asian restaurant anywhere are for no fish sauce and no egg. (Be sure to ask about the batter of some fried tofu; sometimes they use egg.) We capped off our night with a drink at the beautiful Metropole cafe. The perfect way to end a fantastic day!
I can’t wait to give our fellow travelers the trip of a lifetime. Have you been to Vietnam? What part, and again, I ask…where do you want to go on CPG Trips?