With Backpack

One World in One Lifetime

Posts Tagged ‘Vietnam’

Best beer and coffee?

Posted by mracine on May 15, 2017

Let’s stop and talk about locally crafted beer.  Do you look for fresh, high quality malt and hops?  Does the brand or batch size matter to you?  Or do you, as a connoisseur of the bubble brew, look for a different aspect to determine your enjoyment?

If you are anything like me, then you’ll be pleased to know that in Vietnam you can get a special kind of beer that pleases the pallet at an extraordinary price. “Bai hoi” also known as “fresh beer” can be found littered all over Vietnam, but predominantly in the northern regions.  I was first introduced to this delectable treasure in Hanoi.

So by now, you must be wondering what magic makes this beer stand out from the rest.  Well, it’s outstanding price.  It’s usually priced around 5,000 dong.  For those who need a price conversion, it come to 22 cents per glass.  In other words, you can drink a small kegs worth for what you usually carry in your wallet.   In fact, the first hostel I stayed in gave it away for free during happy hour.



Okay… Maybe more like happy half hour.

Now, beer this cheap comes with a catch.  That would be favor.  In a fair contest, PBR would retain its ribbon and Budweiser would still be king.  But if your watch is often set to Miller Time, then you’ll have no problem pushing down this kind of libation.  Also the alcoholic nature of the drink is less than its kin.  It hovers around the 3% mark.
To those who come to South East Asia, you’ll quickly learn that beer can be inexpensive and tasty.  I suggest giving “fresh beer” as taste, but also give other locally brewed beer a chance.  Many like “Bai Saigon” and “Huda” have much more to offer in overall satisfaction.  The price may be an exponentially higher at four or five times the cost; but as with all things in life, you get what you pay for.


Food goes down better with local beer.


Do you remember this legendary scene from Happy Gilmore?


This begs the question; why not have poop for breakfast?  Well, maybe not that exactly.  You see, I had the synthetic version.

Ever since I watched the movie “The Bucket List”, Kopi luwak was something that was on my radar. Kopi luwak is one of the most expensive coffees in the world, selling for about US$3,000 per kilogram (2.2 lbs).


The specialty Vietnamese coffee beans are made with the help of wild civets also called “weasels” here.  Now, don’t imagine these weasels wearing barista aprons.  Instead, they help with the bean selection.  They supposedly only select the ripest and, as a result, the best coffee berries.  Then the weasels eat them.  After some time and nature doing natures work, the berries arrive on the other end of the weasel.   In what I assume to be “the new-guy-at-he-coffee-farm’s job”, a person goes around collecting the digested oblong berry logs laying on the ground.  The weasel excrement gets washed and then the beans goes through the same process as the rest of the coffee that gets served to us.


And I helped.

Now, I want to make clear that I did not drink Kopi luwak.  For one thing, I hear rumors of some weasels being mistreated.  Some farmers looking to profit, cage and force the beasts to only consume coffee berries to maximize yield.   For another, most poop coffees are fake.  They are just regular coffee bean passed off as the genuine article.  And lastly, I’m not insane enough to pay more than Starbucks’s prices for coffee and I rarely allow myself to do that.


That’s $20 per cup for possibly fake weasel coffee!

However, I learned that there are legitimate fake poo coffee at a reasonable price.  Now, that’s the kind of thing I go for. You see, the weasel poo coffee get’s its fame for two things.  The selection of the best coffee beans and the digestive enzymes in the civet’s stomach which rounds out the flavor and adds to it somehow.  Some Vietnamese companies learned how duplicated this process chemically.  Now all I had to do was to buy some.

However, I encountered some difficulty in getting my synthetic poo coffee.  In Hanoi, they are trying to sell you the “real thing”.  However, the “real thing” isn’t real at all.  It’s either synthetic poo coffee or just regular coffee.  But this doesn’t stop them for trying to sell it for “real thing” prices.  There are also lots of companies selling coffee with a picture of a weasel on them.  Technically, they don’t say its real poo coffee or synthetic poo coffee, it’s just coffee with a picture of an animal and if you get the wrong impression, well…  It gets really confusing very quickly.

Look, I’m just your average tourist looking to sit down somewhere and have a nicely brewed cup of coffee that mimics the beans that been digested by weasels.  That’s not too much to ask, is it?  Well, after studying up on it online, I learned that Vietnam was the second largest supplier of coffee in the world.  And I also learned that Vietnam also has a problem with some places selling fake coffee beans.  Yes, you read that right.  Fake coffee beans.  Apparently, you can dye soy beans and bake them a certain way to resemble and taste like coffee.  And it actually fools people.  What I can’t understand is why there isn’t coffee flavored tofu on the shelves of my local supermarket?  I would eat that.

So after some time, I found a few brands that sell the actual synthetic poo coffee with real coffee beans.  Imagine that!?  When I discovered this, I was off going in and out of stores asking where they kept their best “weasel dropping beans”. I eventually found a box that met my qualifications, I bought it and brought back to my hotel to try.

Both my wife and I were excited to give it a try.  However, a coffee pot wouldn’t work for this.  Mostly because we didn’t have a coffee pot in our hotel room.  Instead, we did like the locals and used a device that slowly drips the brew directly into our coffee cups.



We precisely measured the amount of coffee grinds needed with our eyes.  Slowly poured in the hot water over the coffee grounds and waited.  Using my expertise, I wanted to know if I could detect all the subtle differences between regular Vietnamese coffee and this special kind.  When the coffee making device finished I looked inside my cup to discover that my wife, in tradition to how most Vietnamese make their coffee, filled it half way with condensed milk.

So did my sophisticated pallet discern the hints of weasel dung over the condensed milk?  Well, no.  The major flavor in the forefront was the delightful sweetness that is condensed milk.  Then it’s followed up by the espresso like taste of the coffee.  The subtle earthy hints and chocolate flavors or the less bitter taste didn’t really come through.

On my second go, I had my weasel manure flavored coffee straight.  And this time, I tasted… coffee.  Yep, a good cup of coffee.  A bit anti-climatic I know, but there is one good take away I get from this.  The next time I make a pot of coffee and someone tells me it taste like crap, I’ll just take it as a complement knowing how much crap coffee can cost.




Posted in Vietnam | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

You’ve been scammed. Now what?

Posted by mracine on April 9, 2017

While traveling in countries that have a reputation of being dodgy, it’s best to have your guard up.  Learn the local scams that are in play and learn how to avoid them.  This seems like great advice, but it won’t stop you from being scammed.  There are too many things to watch out for and some that will hit you before you know it.

Take this warning to heart!

For example, Josie and I fell for a ruse.  Even with all the preparation beforehand.  Even though we tried to be diligent.  Even though we were confident we were safe.  We got scammed…  And we weren’t even out the doors of the airport.

Josie and I made our way from Japan to Vietnam.  Because we chose to take a cheaper route, it took several planes and layovers.  After traveling for so long and with little sleep we were the perfect people to get taken.  We couldn’t look like bigger targets.  A scammer’s wet dream, so to speak.

But, Mark, you say.  You’re not a complete idiot.  You know about the taxi scams, right?  We’ll I’m not a complete idiot.  Just a partial one.  Knowing how easily a cabbie could swindle us, we contacted the hostel we were staying at.  We choose to pay the hostel to reserve a taxi for us from the airport to the hostel ahead of time.  We were to pay the hostel instead of the driver and knew how much the trip was going to cost us.  Smart, right?  We’ll I said I was a partial idiot, didn’t I?

We were slightly delayed at immigration while we filled out our visa application.  This caused us to be about a half hour later than expected.  When we came out immigration, most people on the plane had already left.  We entered the arrival area, where we looked for our names on a paper.  Usually, the taxi drivers have limited English and hold these signs to indicate that you should go with them.  At first, a slight pang of worry swept past us as we failed to see our names.  However, it quickly went away as a driver came up to us calling our last name.

Now, I told you that we got scammed and you can probably guess, this is where we got scammed.  But did you find our misstep?  Can you guess what we did wrong?  Don’t skip ahead for the answer.  Look, you are in much better shape than we were.  You’re (probably) not sleep deprived, physically tired, reeking of your own B.O., and desperate to be in a warm bed.  So did you guess it?

Touts in training?

We grabbed our bags and followed this man.  To keep it simple, I’ll call him Mr. Hanoi.  Surprisingly, his English was pretty good.  He had us wait at a pickup spot.   A silver Toyota pulled in with his friend driving and we piled on in.  The ride overall was quite pleasant.  He asked us about our travels and he talked about Vietnam.  The usual small talk lead to him asking us about our money situation.  He seemed overly concerned that we didn’t convert any of our money to the local currency.  He asked if we wanted to stop by a bank and we told him that we would covert after we settled in at our hostel.

Now red flags were going off in both Josie’s head and mine.  It seems strange that our drivers was overly concerned with our money situation.  Why should they care?  We try to steer the conversation to something else but it went back to money.  It wasn’t until we mention that we had dollars on us, that he seemed to back off.

As we got closer to the hostel, he casually mentions that our taxi ride was going to cost $36 US Dollars.  This was it.  Both Josie and I realized that we were being scammed.  We were not in the right taxi.  We were somewhere in Hanoi, but god knows where.  Which side would the police choose to help.   How to react?

First, don’t panic.  I was panicking, but Josie wasn’t.  She instead played stupid.  She mention that she will pay at the hostel.  Then she mentioned that she agreed to pay $18 dollars beforehand.    She kept pointing to the sheet with the hostel’s number and telling them to call about the price difference.  This seemed to work out.  Mr. Hanoi wanted to keep up the pretense that he was the right taxi and the money was a misunderstanding.  Josie kept acting like she was not understanding the situation.  It was a battle of the wills.

Second, try to keep it in perspective.  Josie and I had been in this car for about 45 minutes.  In Japan, a similar ride would be way more than $36 dollars they were going to charge us.  We were getting ripped off, but at the same time getting a really good deal.  It’s one of the strange feelings you get in Vietnam.  They are adopting capitalism in ways that would make Uncle Sam proud, but no one likes the feeling of getting ripped-off.

Third, compromise.  We pulled up to our hostel, Josie still putting up the charade of misunderstanding.  “We already paid.  The hostel pays you.  Come to the hostel and get your money.”  Obviously, they couldn’t do that.  So instead Mr. Hanoi broke character and said that there was a misunderstanding.  Maybe we got in the wrong taxi, like it wasn’t his damn fault.   Josie threw out the compromise of paying them the 18 dollars that we should have paid the hostel.  With some resignation, the man agreed.  We got our bags out of the taxi and Josie handed Mr. Hanoi exactly 18 dollars.  Mr. Hanoi, for his part, took the money, looked at it, and with a shit-eating-grin asked for a $20 dollar bill instead.   Needless to say, he didn’t get the extra 2 dollars.

US dollars turned to local currency sure makes you feel rich.

It all worked out for the best.  We informed the hostel what happened and they sympathized with us.  They didn’t even charge us for the missed taxi, so the cost of the taxi ride ended up being exactly the same.

So, did you figure out our mistake?  Mr. Hanoi came up to us calling out our names.  He had a rolled up piece of paper we assumed had our names written on it.  Looking back, I assume that he looked at another person’s sign and read our names.  He approached us before the real driver was found.  Do you think you would have avoided the scam?

Overall, it’s a learning experience.  This was one that didn’t cost us anything but hassle.   Another example, was in Ha Long bay.   It didn’t happen to us, but another person we were traveling with.  We just got off the boat to Monkey Island. Incredibly, a few monkeys came to great us.  One was so brazen as to go down to the walking path where all the tourists were traveling.  A seemingly perfect photo opportunity.  Everyone drew around the money taking several photos.  However, the photogenic monkey was just a plant.  While one was diverting all the attention towards itself, another took the opportunity to relieve a tourist of their can of Pringles.  Proving that, even for simians, once you pop you just can’t stop.

Posted in Ha Long Bay, Hanoi, Vietnam | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Fun With Uncle Ho

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 15, 2009

May 14, 2008

All Pictures


No Dong

The bus dropped me off somewhere in Hanoi. I had no dong and no plans, but I met a cute couple from my bus. We chatted at one of the rest stops. They had reservations at a hotel in Hanoi and planned to take a taxi there. Since it would cost nothing extra for me to ride in their cab they told me that I could join them. Once again I would like to say that I love the name the Vietnamese picked for their currency!

Me and temples…

No Rooms

Once we got to their hotel, I was told that it was fully booked. The receptionist, who happened to also be the owner of the hotel told me that she and her sister owned another hotel. She called a guy who she referred to as “little brother” and told him to take me to the other hotel. I hopped on his scooter, shoved my afro into a helmet, and held onto my backpack. He took me to the Hanoi Blue Sky Hotel.

When I got there, the receptionist, who happened to be the sister of the first lady, started to check me in. (I’m not sure if they were biologically sisters or just good friends.) When I told her that I didn’t have any dong, she said that it didn’t matter, “You pay when you check out. This not China!” I loved her instantly.

I ate dinner at the hotel because I could put that on my bill and pay it later. I even signed up for a few trips. I knew that I would find an ATM at some point before I planned to check out or at least stay until I found one. If all else failed I could pay in US dollars or Euros, both are welcomed if not preferred over the dong.

HSBC was my bank of choice. They have ATM’s in many countries. When I got money in Vietnam from an HSBC ATM, I paid no ATM fees. I have since closed my account at HSBC because it’s hard to talk to a human when I call. I have to know a hundred and one codes just to log in or call. And there was something else… oh this.

Uncle Ho’s House

Just to meet some people

In the hotel by the front desk, were posters of day and overnight trips. There was a book that had the trips laid out in detail, with prices for different levels of accommodations. One great thing about the Hanoi Blue Sky Hotel was that the sisters who own it, also owned a junk on Ha Long Bay.

A trip to Ha Long Bay is a great way to get ripped off if you don’t know who to book your trip through.

I usually don’t like tours, but I was traveling alone and wanted to meet some people. There was also the additional benefit that while on a tour, I would not get lost. I picked one of the Hanoi City tours with tickets to see a water puppet show in the evening.

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

We first went to The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Uncle Ho looked a bit creepy, but the man has been dead for almost 40 years. He was the first dead communist leader I had ever seen. I would end up seeing many more. Actually, only two. Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong-Il has still eluded me and it turns out that they eventually buried both Stalin and Evita Perón, not that Eva was a communist or a leader.

Next it was Ho Chi Minh’s vestige right next to the Mausoleum. I loved that the house he chose to live in was so modest with 3 or 4 BMWs parked out back. I’m sure it’s what the people wanted.

Our next stop was to the Ethnology Museum. It’s really not very interesting indoors. I really don’t care about the many races of Asians that live, or have lived in Vietnam, Thailand, and Laos. Which means I care even less about each individual group’s pottery. To be honest I’m only impress by air-tight containers

But the grounds of the museum was interesting. There were many displays of housing for the plethora of peoples who peopled south-east Asia. Tourists are encouraged to climb in, on, up, and around the structures. And I did! Plus there were some very interesting fertility tombs. Though, I think that once you’re dead, you’re pretty much infertile for good.

We passed by a few forgettable temples. The only one that stood out in my mind was Ngoc Son Temple which was in the middle of the lake. There were some monks doing some serious praying that day, but I don’t know what for.

Dry Water Puppets

Then there was the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. The water puppets show was all in Vietnamese and lasted 50 minutes. It got boring within the first 10 minutes, but the theater had air-conditioning so I stayed. It was worth all 20,000 Dong (2 dollars at the time) of the ticket price just to cool down!

All Pictures

(Việt Nam)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, train, boat, or bus.
  • Make sure to get a visa before going to Vietnam. Although some nationals can get a visa at the border for a few days, many cannot or will need a visa for longer stays.
  • Visit the Vietnamese embassy in your country to get a visa.





  • Don’t worry if you cannot get Vietnamese dong from your local bank back home. You can get your dong at the airport either in your country or in Vietnam. Don’t get too much; no one will buy it back from you. Many hotels, fancy restaurants, and tour agents will take US dollars or Euros. Though who knows what exchange rate they will use? You will need dong for taxis, small shops, and local restaurants and vendors.
  • When you get to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh pick up a map of the area from any hotel, hostel, travel agency, or tourist information center. Once you have one of those you’ll be able to find anything.
  • Having a map of the area in Hanoi is very important. Every block has a different street name so once you know the name of street something is on you can easily find it with a map.
  • Wherever you choose to stay, make sure you bring a picture and the address of the hotel. One common trick that taxi and motorbike-taxi drivers like to pull is to take you to the wrong hotel. When you say, “I asked for ABC Hotel!” They will tell you that the name changed. They usually get a commission for bringing tourist to certain hotels.
    • Sometimes hotels do change names. But most likely a hotel will not change names between the time of your booking accommodations and your arrival without telling you.
  • Also for taxis, NEVER agree to a flat rate fee. The flat rate fee will always be way higher than it should be. Always demand that the cab driver use the meter. If he doesn’t want to use his meter, get out. Taxi drivers are a dime a dozen. This is true in most countries.
  • For motorbike taxis, settle on the cost of the ride before getting on. Ask fellow travelers for advice on how much a ride should cost.
  • Watch out for cyclo drivers that claim not to have change as a way to get more money out of you. If you need to, wait for one of those fruit vendors to come along and buy something from her to make change. You really should ask the cost to your destination and make sure you have exact change before you get in the cyclo. 
  • It’s best not to say anything bad about Ho Chi Minh while in Vietnam. He is still very much loved by his people.

(Hà Nội)
About this sound

How to get there:

By Bus from Nanning, China –

The bus station is called Lang Dong Bus Station. You can get there from Nanning Train station by taking city bus #6. The city bus costs 2 Yuan. There might be more buses that go between the train station and the bus station, but the #6 is the one that I know.

Once at the bus station you can buy a ticket on the next available bus out. They seem to run every two hours or as they fill up. There will be empty seats on the Chinese bus because the bus in Vietnam is much smaller. You change buses at the border, so the drivers never leave the country. The ticket costs 150 Yuan.

The ride is about 7 hours, but it will seem longer than that once they start to play the horrible Vietnamese pop music and the guy next to you starts throwing up in the aisle. I heard the Hanoi-Nanning train is worse, though I can’t see how.

I recommend getting someone to write a note for you stating that you want bus tickets to Hanoi.



  • Make sure to bring your own pen. They do not have pens at any of the border controls and you will need to fill out a few forms.
  • Depending on what country you are from, you should get your visa before going to Vietnam.
    • As an America, I needed to have a visa before entering.

Hanoi Blue Sky

Hanoi Blue Sky Hotel
(Khách Sạn Hanoi Blue Sky)
The Golden Time Hostel*

How to get there:


2 Hàng Gà, Hà Noi, Hanoi, Vietnam


  • 3923 0514
  • 3923 1849




  • *While looking up information on The Hanoi Blue Sky Hotel, I noticed that the name has changed. They might have redecorated too.
  • You can book tours of Hanoi and to Ha Long Bay here.
  • They have free internet.
  • There is a restaurant in the hostel.
  • You can pay to have your laundry done here.
  • You don’t have to stay at Hanoi Blue Sky Hotel or any of the other sister hotels to book a trip or tours with them.

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
(Lăng Chủ tịch Hồ Chí Minh)

How to get there:

  • 21°02’11.6″N 105°50’05.5″E

It is about a 30 minute walk from Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi. It shouldn’t cost too much to take a taxi, motorbike taxi, or a cyclo. You can also take bus #9 or #14.


5 Pho Ngoc Ha Hanoi, Vietnam


  • +84 4 942 1061



  • It is free to enter, but you are not allowed to bring anything like a purse, camera, water bottle, etc in with you.
  • There are lockers you can rent for a fee. If you are on a tour, your tour guide will hold your stuff for you.


  • 8:00 – 11:00  Tues-Thur & Sat


  • It’s best not to say anything bad about Ho Chi Minh while in Vietnam. He is still very much loved by his people.

Museum of Ethnology
(Bảo tàng Dân tộc học Việt Nam)

How to get there:

  • 21°02’22.6″N 105°47’52.9″E

The Museum is located in the Cau Giay district, twenty minutes by taxi from the city center. Take the #14 minibus which runs from Dinh Tien Hoang Street, north of Hoan Kiem lake, to the Nghia Tan stop a few blocks from the Museum.


Nguyen Van Huyen St, Cau Giay, Hano


  • (84-4) 37562193



Everyday 8:30 – 17:30 except Mondays and Vietnam New Year’s day


  • Adult – 25,000VND,
  • Kids – 5,000VND,
  • Kids under 6 – Free


  • Don’t forget to check out the grounds.

Ngoc Son Temple
(Đền Ngọc Sơn)

How to get there:

  • 21°01’49.7″N 105°51’09.3″E

It’s the shrine in the middle of  Hoan Kiem Lake. Hoan Kiem Lake is in the tourist district of Hanoi. Most hostels or hotel worth visiting are within a walking distance of this lake.

If you have a hard time finding this place, just stop anyone walking around and ask them for directions.

Remember that you can get a free map from just about any hotel or hostel.



  • 8:00 – 17:00 everyday


  • It gets pretty hot in Hanoi during the day. It might be a good idea to walk around this place in the evening rather than in the middle of the day.
  • You could even end your walk with a visit to the water puppet theater. It has air conditioning!

Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre
(Múa rối nước)

How to get there:

  • 21°01’54.3″N 105°51’12.9″E

It is very near Hoan Kiem Lake. Ask anyone in the area and they will be able to point you in the right direction.


57b Dinh Tien Hoang Str., Hanoi – Vietnam


  • (84) 4 39364335 or
  • 39364334 or
  • 38255450



  • About 1 USD
  • with an extra .50USD if you want to take photos.


Shows last for about 50 minutes. The first show starts around 13:45 and the last around 20:00. There is a 9:30 show on Sunday mornings.


It’s one of the few things in town with air conditioning!


Click here for Google maps

Posted in Hanoi, Vietnam | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

%d bloggers like this: