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An Insider’s Guide To Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City

An Insider's Guide To Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City

Both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City blew me away with their majestic detailed architecture, storied history, rich culture and, of course, its endlessly friendly locals. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Between the bowls of delicious pho my mother and I slurped, washed down with refreshing Vietnamese iced coffee, always, between the wild honking of horns every hour of the day, between the playful interactions between the children we met along our journey – we became smitten with Vietnam’s two cities. Here is an Insider’s Guide to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

Hanoi

Hanoi, the cultural capital of Vietnam, has endless sights and destinations to see. Truly, the best moments in Hanoi happen in a flash. And luckily, the city is extremely walkable, so we were able to soak in every fleeting, beautiful moment.

Old Quarter

Hanoi’s Old Quarter is endlessly interesting. You’ll find locals hanging the laundry out to dry, colorful displays outside of family owned businesses and restaurants, souvenir shops galore and spices wafting through every inch of the area.

An Insider's Guide To Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City

Cong Caphe

This cafe was so adorable! Cong Caphe is a trendy cafe chain in Hanoi, with nostalgic twist. I highly recommend a visit!

An Insider's Guide To Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City

Loading T

If you love architecture, make a stop at Loading T Cafe! It’s located in an aged, French colonial home with the most gorgeous tiled floors. Their menu is filled with all sorts of treats, perfect for a break while walking around the city. And, obviously, order their Vietnamese iced coffee! (I’m not kidding, if you travel and love coffee… Hanoi is your place!)

An Insider's Guide To Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City

Lotte Hotel

Take a look at these views, and ask me how beautiful this hotel is. I couldn’t recommend the Lotte Hotel more! Waking up to the sprawling Hanoi city skyline below us was a dream come true. It felt like we were able to wake up in the clouds every morning. Add delicious pho and Vietnamese iced coffee delivered fresh for room service into the mix? If I weren’t such an adventurer, I’d stay here all day long!

An Insider's Guide To Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City

Hanoi Railway Street

The tightly compacted Railway Street in the Old Quarter is so stunning. Yes, trains do pass by regularly! You’ll see the daily trips locals make to and from their homes (which are scary close to the tracks). I love little areas like this. It feels like a slice of authentic Vietnam every traveler dreams of.

An Insider's Guide To Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City

St. Joseph Cathedral

St. Joseph Cathedral is a French colonial cathedral was constructed in 1882, with neo-Gothic/Parisian inspired architecture. It truly stands out in the city – and even I caught myself thinking I was somewhere in France when we passed by!

An Insider's Guide To Hanoi
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City delighted us in every way. The bustling former capital of Vietnam, also known as “Saigon” is busting at the seams with energy and life. You’ll find much more traffic, crows and chaos – but also serene scenes of local life, adorable neighborhoods and temples galore. Here’s some of my favorite finds in Ho Chi Minh City.

An Insider's Guide To Hanoi And Ho Chi Minh City

Cafe Gian Giao

Translated loosely, Cafe Gian Giao means “Cafe Scaffolding” – which is obviously inspired by the industrial, constructional vibe of the eatery. You’ll find traditional fishing canoes filled with plants next to concrete electricity poles. It’s a totally unique place to grab a bite that I’d highly recommend!

An Insider's Guide To Hanoi And Ho Chi Minh City

Cu Chi Tunnels

Travelers who want to learn more about the Vietnam War should definitely check out the tunnels of Cu Chi. The immense maze of connected tunnels shows how ingenious the Vietnamese battle plans were. So many traps, puzzles and mazes! It’s impressive to experience each long and thin tunnel… just be sure to not get lost!

An Insider's Guide To Hanoi And Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi And Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi And Ho Chi Minh City

Independence Palace

Independence Palace, or the Reunification Palace, was built on the site of the former Norodom Palace. Visitors can visit the well preserved palace, including its original tanks from the Vietnam War, its quiet gardens, secret rooms and command bunker!

An Insider's Guide To Hanoi And Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi And Ho Chi Minh City

Caravelle Hotel

The Caravelle was once home to the Australian and New Zealand Embassy, and the main center of communication during the Vietnam war… but now it’s become quite a fabled placed. It’s featured in many Vietnamese books! It’s worth a trip to see for yourself!

An Insider's Guide To Hanoi And Ho Chi Minh City

Saigon Opera House

You don’t have to be an opera aficionado to appreciate this gem! The concert hall puts on regular performances… so be sure to check out what is playing when you visit.

People’s Committee Of Ho Chi Minh City

The grand and opulent exterior of the People’s Committee building is a sight to behold! The building serves as the City Hall, so it’s not open to visitors – but the outside is stunning.

An Insider's Guide To Hanoi And Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi And Ho Chi Minh City

Rex Hotel

The Rex Hotel is a perfectly situated hotel in Saigon. Our accommodations were super welcoming and warm (always appreciated!), and I absolutely adored the overgrown greenery in its open air spaces. Gorgeous!

An Insider's Guide To Hanoi And Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi And Ho Chi Minh City

Notre Dame Cathedral

Another French-inspired Cathedral in the heart of Vietnam. The Notre Dame Cathedral (of Ho Chi Minh City that is, not Paris!) had all of its intricate tiles and materials shipped in from France. It’s a great place to see some of the European influence in the city right downtown.

An Insider's Guide To Hanoi And Ho Chi Minh City

Central Post Office

Saigon’s Central Post Office’s yellow and green exterior is a stunner. You’ll find tourists galore here, taking photos and exploring its expansive interiors. It’s a great spot to mail a post card or letter home while in Vietnam (while also getting some stunning photographs).

An Insider's Guide To Hanoi And Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi And Ho Chi Minh City

Explore Saigon’s Bustling Streets

Of course, take some time out of your schedule to just soak in all of Ho Chi Minh’s busy street life. I loved snapping photograph after photograph of every scene that unfolded in the city. So many flowers, overgrown greenery, waves upon waves of motorbikes and colorful exteriors of the downtown area.

An Insider's Guide To Hanoi And Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi And Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi And Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi And Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi And Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi And Ho Chi Minh City

The Loft

The Loft’s white bricked interiors are so welcoming! This cafe is actually up above an art gallery, where you’ll find marble tables, lots of natural light… and of course, delicious Vietnamese iced coffee! It’s the perfect place to take a break while exploring.

An Insider's Guide To Hanoi And Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi And Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi And Ho Chi Minh City

The Reverie

Feast your eyes! The Reverie is a bedazzled jewel of a hotel, offering some of the most opulent lodgings in the country. The interior decor is endlessly detailed and intricate, I loved exploring the different rooms and lobby areas – just soaking in all the color and textures. It’s truly an unrivaled beauty in Vietnam!

An Insider's Guide To Hanoi And Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi And Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi And Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi And Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi And Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi And Ho Chi Minh City

Thien Hau Temple

As a culture loving traveler, I always take the time to research the important historical and religious sites wherever I go. The Thein Hau Temple was a must-do in my book, as it was dedicated to the Chinese sea goddess Mazu and the deified form of Lin Moniang – who saved her family from a typhoon with her powers. I loved watching the locals come to the alter and lighting incense. It’s always a blessing to be able to experience these sort of places first hand!

An Insider's Guide To Hanoi And Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi And Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi And Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi And Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi And Ho Chi Minh City
An Insider's Guide To Hanoi And Ho Chi Minh City

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Food

How Cooking Keeps Me Inspired To Travel

In between one trip and the next, there’s a down period that can be a bear to overcome. It comes in many forms. In many hours scrolling Instagram in search of that inspiration again, in seeking out guide books at the local library – we’ve all been there. When we get to the mundane, normalcy of “regular life,” we have to turn to something to get us through. How do I cope? Cooking. ​​​​​​​Yep, cooking keeps me inspired to travel.

I’m definitely “a foodie traveler.” I seek out restaurants and local bites just as much (if not more) than historic sights, museums and tourist attractions. I have a whole Instagram board dedicated to the hole-in-the-wall places with dishes I dream of tasting. But, even if you aren’t the biggest food-lover out there… using the kitchen as a source of inspiration between explorations is a great way to get excited and nostalgic too.

To begin, you have to understand that each destination travelers get to experience comes with a rich history of food traditions closely tied to the locals cultural identity. Knowing a little bit about their food culture is as important as knowing their history! It makes the depth of your experiences more rich and profound.

Understanding the relevancy of matcha to ancient Japanese tea rituals elevates that morning iced drink you sip on. Being aware of the intense process of perfecting a buttery croissant makes you appreciate that morning breakfast in France. The more you know, the more you love and appreciate a meal.

When I’m back home, I take it upon myself to learn how to make these dishes in my own kitchen. It makes me feel a deeper kinship towards the places I’ve been lucky to explore. It reminds me of the quiet moments shared with my loved one over a meal. After all, scent is the sense most closely tied to memory! It’s my meal preparations that make me inspired to learn about the world at large too. Suddenly the world is at my fingertips, right at home.


Gather your ingredients and find a taste of the world, Dame Travelers. Be sure to check out @dametravelerfoodie on Instagram and on our blog for more foodie-inspiration around the world.

Food Insider Tips North America

A Brunch-Lover’s Guide to Nolita NYC

In New York City, brunch is not just a meal, it’s a full social event. Entire weekends are scheduled around brunch plans, girls and guys get dressed up for the event, and it can last for hours. Brunch is everywhere in NYC, but in my opinion, Nolita, the tiny neighborhood right above Little Italy, is the best neighborhood for brunch in the entire city. If you, too, are a brunch-lover, then read on to see where the best brunch spots in Nolita are.

The Butcher’s Daughter

New York’s favorite California export has got a stunning location right in Nolita! Lines for The Butcher’s Daughter are always long, but the food is so worth the wait. If you can, snag a seat outside and people watch while you munch on delicious healthy food. The Butcher’s Daughter also has some really good vegan and gluten-free options for those with dietary restrictions!

Egg Shop

Egg Shop specializes in, you guessed it, eggs. Inspired by the versatility of eggs and the ubiquity of the universally-loved egg sandwich, Egg Shop was opened by a couple in SoHo and now has an outpost in Williamsburg as well! With cute pastel and minimalistic decor and absolutely amazing eggs, Egg Shop will never do you wrong.

Pietro Nolita

If you’ve ever been on Instagram you have probably seen this Instagram-famous restaurant, but how many have actually eaten inside it? Well I have, and I can vouch for the fact that Pietro Nolita’s food is just as good as their facade. Pietro Nolita serves seasonal Italian cuisine, and is a great spot for brunch when you’re craving a bit of pasta!

Shoo Shoo

Shoo Shoo Nolita does brunch with an Israeli twist. As the founder was the former co-owner of 12 Chairs Cafe, you can be assured that the food at Shoo Shoo is absolutely delicious. They serve everything from shakshuka (which they call Shookshooka) to chicken schnitzel. The store itself is bright and airy, with a contemporary style and plants everywhere.

Charley St

Charley St has got the cutest storefront that opens up to the street in the summer months. Additionally, they have BYOB – build your own bowls. Choose from a base of toast or grains, then add greens, spreads, protein and two toppings. Top it all off with your choice of sauce and you’ve got yourself a custom, delicious, and healthy Australian brunch bowl!

Bluestone Lane

Bluestone Lane is probably the biggest Australian brunch chain in NYC, with many locations scattered around the city. Although they’re all different, they all have amazing clean, minimalist decor, and the Nolita location is no exception The food options are just as delicious as they are gorgeous.

BoCaphe

If you’re looking for an Asian twist on brunch, try BoCaphe! BoCaphe is a Vietnamese-French fusion restaurant, with classic brunch options like avocado toast and açai bowls, but they also serve Vietnamese specialities like banh mi’s and pho! The amazing food choices along with the quirky decor makes BoCaphe a place you’ll want to return to again and again.

Ruby’s Cafe

Yet another Australian place for the list, Ruby’s is a super stylish and petite Australian cafe which specializes in burgers and pasta. I can only vouch for the pastas, but I can assure you, they are delicious. Be prepared to wait when you come to Ruby’s, because they don’t take reservations and the interior is pretty small, but the food is worth the wait.

Food Reviews

Restaurants We Love: Bar Otaku

Restaurants We Love: Bar Otaku

A few weeks ago, I spent a glorious long weekend exploring one of America’s fastest growing cities – Nashville, Tennessee. My expectations for Nashville’s eateries were pretty high. I dreamed of hot chicken, delicious, fall-off-the-bone BBQ… you know the southern comfort food we’re all shown on television and in guide books. But when entering Bar Otaku, all my culinary expectations of what Nashville had to offer shifted.

There are restaurants that make an impact on you as a guest from the moment you walk in their doors. Bar Otaku was one of those places for me. Every detail of the place was deliciously detailed in traditional Japanese izakaya touches with a serious southern flair. No stone was left unturned. And the menu? It left me floored.

Restaurants We Love: Bar Otaku

Needless to say, it didn’t take me long to become obsessed with Bar Otaku. After meeting chef Sarah Gavigan and learning about her love and devotion to Japanese cooking, her devotion to Nashville and her incredible story… I knew I had to share it with all of you. Today, I’m so thrilled to be able to introduce her story and a little sample of what Bar Otaku has to offer.

Hi Sarah! Could you tell us the story of Bar Otaku’s beginnings in Nashville?

I was ready to expand the Otaku brand (originally a ramen shop) and the space was perfect for it. We had a concept we were ready to move on from and the opportunity presented itself in a flash. We jumped on it!

Awesome. What is your personal connection to Japanese cooking?

I lived in Los Angeles for nearly 20 years and in that time I spent 90% of my time eating in the Japanese neighborhood Izakaya’s and Ramen Shops. I fell in love with the food and the spirit of the dining experiences.

Have you visited Japan before? Do you have any memories you’d like to share? 

I traveled to Japan for the first time in 2013 with my husband and then 10 year old. We were mesmerized in every sense. The sheer size of it, but yet the intimacy of the dining experiences is what I loved the most.

I love the respect paid in a Ramen Shop to the dish and the Chef. The Japanese understand that ramen is one person, one bowl. It’s not a social event. I love that. Izakaya, conversely, is all about being with friends.

Restaurants We Love: Bar Otaku

What do you love the most about Japanese izakaya style restaurants?

Eat, Drink, Laugh….repeat. It’s about simple delicious food, great sake and a warm convivial space that makes you want to cut loose and have some laughs.

Bar Otaku’s menu combines southern USA and Japanese classic dishes. What inspired you to create Japanese Soul Food?

My love of the food and the experience itself was sorely missing from my life in Nashville.

I’ve got to ask! What dish do you love the most on Bar Otaku’s menu?

The Taco Rice. Its a funny dish and it satisfies just about anytime. The origins of the dish is Tack King In Okinawa Japan, where a local owner wanted to make a dish that made the U.S Servicemen and women feel at home. Take your 1970’s Ortega Taco dinner (which I had a lot growing up) and the rice of Japan and you have the best taco salad ever. Who doesn’t like Taco salad? My touch was the pimento cheese!

What culinary experiences have you had that have shaped the way you cook?

I cook for flavor. I live for Umami and my dishes are always aimed at achieving that intensity.

Restaurants We Love: Bar Otaku

Delicious. So, what similarities do you see between Nashville and Japan?

Nashville and Central Tokyo are on the same latitude. When I made that discovery I began to look around me and see that many of this vegetation was the same. My mother’s Japanese maple is tremendous. The Japanese love okra as much as Southerners. The list goes on and on!

Could you tell us about your experience as a woman working in the restaurant industry?

I have a mothers intuition and the agility of a cat. I use it to my advantage. I lean into being a women; I don’t fight it.

How do you think travel can inspire cooking?

Simply getting out of my everyday surroundings helps me to be creative.

What would you say is the most meaningful aspect of what you do?

Connecting with people and giving them memories. Nothing beats that part of the job for me.

Restaurants We Love: Bar Otaku

Thank you for taking the time to share your story Sarah! If you ever find yourself in Nashville – a meal at Bar Otaku is a MUST! Thank me later.

Europe Food Instagrammer's Guides

An Instagrammer’s Guide To London’s Best Brunch Spots

5 Of London’s Most Instagrammable Brunch Spots

If there’s one meal us Londoners love, it’s brunch. Give us eggs, give us avocado, fry up some bacon, and we’re a happy lot. Luckily, the city does brunch pretty darn well. And for those of us who can’t eat until we’ve snapped our food from a dozen different angles, there’s plenty of options. From dramatic floral displays to food that looks like art, I’ve rounded up some of the city’s best spots to enjoy the perfect poached eggs and get that Instagram snap. Here are five of London’s most Instagrammable brunch spots!

Elan Cafe

Chances are you’ve already seen a photo of blogger favourite Elan Cafe on Instagram, if not several. With 6 locations ranging from Kensington and Knightsbridge to a spot in Selfridges, Elan’s USP is decadent floral backdrops and floor to ceiling pink decor, providing photo ops in every corner. The brunch spread is just as picturesque, with the usual egg and avo options as well as colourful striped croissants and pastel drinks. Head to their Brompton Road location for the classic flower wall, or try their new Knightsbridge spot on Hans Crescent for love heart adorned alcoves.

5 Of London’s Most Instagrammable Brunch Spots
5 Of London’s Most Instagrammable Brunch Spots
5 Of London’s Most Instagrammable Brunch Spots

Farm Girl

Notting Hill spot Farm Girl brings Australian brunch culture to West London, with a menu of healthy largely vegetarian options including açai bowls, porridge and oats, and of course, avocado on toast. I’d recommend the Berry Pancakes, which are made with buckwheat and buttermilk – they’re thick and squidgy, heaped with berries, coconut and candied pistachios. Oh, and they look great in a flat lay! Get there early and snag one of the pink tables in their outdoor patio for maximum Instagram potential.

5 Of London’s Most Instagrammable Brunch Spots

Feya

Tucked away just behind Oxford Street, Feya Cafe is an elegant spot for some post-shopping fuel, if you manage to nab a table that is. With peach walls and florals blooming from the ceiling, it’s a popular brunch spot for those of us who like to photograph their food before they eat it (guilty!). The food is worth snapping though – designed by Finnish food blogger Virpi Mikkonen, the menu is comprised of colourful vegetarian dishes adorned with bright flowers. Try the Rose Avo Toast which pairs a rose shaped avocado with beetroot hummus for a perfectly picturesque dish.

5 Of London’s Most Instagrammable Brunch Spots

Saint Aymes

If you’ve got more of a sweet tooth, Saint Aymes in Marble Arch is a picturesque spot serving up equally pretty pancakes and granola bowls alongside a selection of sugary treats. It’s claim to Instagram fame is the much-snapped awning of flowers that frames the exterior, however it’s just as grammable inside, with a flower wall and velvet sofas. If you’re feeling particularly luxe, splash out on one of their 24 carat gold milkshakes!

5 Of London’s Most Instagrammable Brunch Spots
5 Of London’s Most Instagrammable Brunch Spots

Aubaine Selfridges

Nestled away on the 2nd floor of Selfridges Department Store on Oxford Street you’ll find restaurant chain Aubaine’s most beautiful location. Draped in lilac wisteria with charming decor and plenty of natural daylight, it’s a gorgeous spot that feels a world away from the hustle and bustle of London’s main shopping thoroughfare. The breakfast menu ranges from French pastries to lobster benedict, and best yet, the friendly staff don’t mind you snapping away before you eat.

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