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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?
For our journey to Vietnam, we redeemed tens of thousands of miles to enjoy business class from home to Hanoi. Having injured my knee just 10 days prior to leaving, I was very grateful for this, as I would otherwise not have had a very comfortable experience in economy. As it was, we had to fly out of San Jose to San Diego, from San Diego to Tokyo, and finally from Tokyo to Hanoi. A long journey for the fittest among us. With compromised mobility — not so fun.
Of course, I’m also doing everything I can to minimize the amount of waste I create as a traveler on this planet — and on this particular trip — so I of course brought my tea thermos, a small ceramic tea cup, a cloth napkin, my refillable water bottle, shampoo and conditioner, cloth hankies, as well as the travel blanket I bought years ago so I don’t have to rip open a plastic bag for the blanket (sometimes) provided on airplanes. David also brought his refillable water bottle, and to my delight and surprise, he also brought a refillable hot cup for tea or coffee on the go. (And we don’t check bags! All of this + more in our carry-on luggage.)
The only compromise I’ll definitely have to make is occasionally drinking bottled water here in Vietnam since the water isn’t safe enough without risking a bacterial infection (and upset tummy). HOWEVER, as a CPG Vegan Trip, we’re doing what we can to support minimal waste, so we are providing everyone with water purification tablets and filtered water with which to refill bottles.
Of course, we had arranged for vegan meals with Japan Airlines on all the travel legs, but alas, when we got to San Diego, it was revealed that our vegan meals weren’t in the system. One thing I’ve learned in all the traveling I’ve done is that we will be fine no matter what. Decades ago, when I was a younger vegan and a younger human, I would plan for “food security” from point A to point B. Dare I say….overplanned.
I do think it’s prudent to make sure we have food with us so our journey is more pleasant (the way we make sure children have food so they don’t get hangry). When we remove the X factor of hunger, it means we’re better able to cope with the stress of traveling. But, I have also found that we can cobble together what we need wherever we are — including in airports and on airplanes.
So, even though we didn’t have our vegan meals on the flight from San Diego to Tokyo, they did have an a la carte section from which which picked some delicious options. There was a potato onion curry neither of us even tried, opting instead for the ramen noodles in a delicious with mushrooms and seitan!! (me) and udon noodles in broth with sea vegetables (David). And they made us a delicious salad dressing of the citrus and mustard variety. I had two servings of the noodles and three servings of the salad over the course of the 11-hour flight. They also had fruit and some rolls (oh yes, and wine and whisky), so we were absolutely fine.
When we arrived in Tokyo, we had only 30 minutes in the business lounge but took advantage of the miso soup (which indicated there was no fish sauce in it) along with more salad. (Strangely, I was hungry throughout the entire journey and just kept eating, which was disconcerting considering the fact that I’ve been virtually immobile during the recovery of my knee injury and thus burning very few calories.) However, I was glad to have options everywhere we went.
On the 6-hour flight from Tokyo to Hanoi, we preferred the seats to those on the previous flight, but the food was mediocre at best. In fact, for this leg, they had the vegan meal for one of us and none of the a la carte options available, so we didn’t enjoy the food as much, but as we were getting weary of the travel at this point, the desire for sleep took precedence over the desire for food. (But of course, I didn’t sleep. I never do on planes. Caught up on lots of writing and reading.)
Unrelated to the food experience, this was the first time I’ve traveled with crutches and with the need for wheelchair assistance, and I’m very grateful for the support I was given from the second we arrived at the first airport until the moment our driver picked us up in Hanoi. I would never wish this need upon anyone, but it was helpful to experience first-hand what is a need for many.
And now, our adventure begins. We just ate our breakfast at the beautiful Sofitel Legend Metropole, where the rest of our group will meet us on Friday for 10 days of awesomeness. This is a CPG Vegan Trip after all! If you’d like to live vicariously through I can encourage you to follow #CPGTrips on Instagram and search for it on Facebook. We’ll be posting photos and videos throughout the trip.