Book Street in Ho Chi Minh City

In the shadows of the imposing Central Post Office and the Notre Dame Basilica in Ho Chi Minh City (old Saigon), there is a street called Book Street. A short stretch with manicured plants and installations is closed for vehicular traffic throughout the day. The street houses only booked shops, stationery stores, souvenir shops, cafes etc. For me, the highlight was an old bus tastefully repurposed as a library and anchored at the head of the street.

Sidewalks of Hanoi

“Bon jour”

This gentleman on the sidewalk near the Temple of Literature greeted me with a cheery “Bon jour”.

Sidewalks of Vietnam offer a cross-section of daily life like eateries, salons, shops etc. Being a data-hungry nation, broadband cables and junction boxes are as visible as in India.

Sony ILCE-6400 Sigma 30mm F 1.4 DC DN

f/1.4, ss1/1000, ISO 100

A Vegetarian in Viet Nam: A Survival Guide

Lunch at Green Farm restaurant

After my recent visit to Viet Nam, the most common query has been about the availability of vegetarian food.

Here is my experience which I hope will be useful.

Most hotels offer complimentary breakfast which may have a spread of over 200 items. You can always find at least 10 or 20 vegetarian items including bakery, salads, juices, fruits, noodles, sticky rice etc. But better ask the stewards about the ingredients even about the most innocuous looking dish. They are usually very helpful but language could be an issue.

Lunch and Dinner. Better inform your travel agent/guide in advance about your food preferences. They can take you to some good Indian restaurants. We were interested in checking out the local fare. There are a handful of ‘vegetarian-friendly’ or vegan restaurants which we found quite satisfactory. Some of them even offer cooking classes

Starters at ‘Hanoi Food Culture’
Mango salad

The hotel/restaurant/cruise staffs are usually helpful and volunteer to fix a special vegetarian soup or dish if you are not satisfied with the standard fare.

Some even understand ‘Jain food’.

International chains like Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, Starbucks etc can also be vegetarian friendly where available.

We also went on a curated (vegan) food ’walk’ on the pillion of scooters in HCM. We had some delightful local vegetarian fare.

Even on the Mekong Delta tour, they had arranged special vegetarian lunch with a family in the village.

In Ho Chi Minh City we went to a Pagoda (Buddhist temple) which had an attached restaurant serving pure VN vegetarian food. The highlight was the ‘Hot Pot’ where the stove and bowl are placed on your table with the ingredients. You cook your own soup with the ingredients supplied, which could include mock meat if you wish.

Hot Pot Make your own soup a the Pagoda

In the neighbourhood supermarkets, you can get bread, butter, yoghurt etc at pocket–friendly prices. You can pack up some.

Psst…A can of beer and bottle of water cost about 50 cents (12,000 VNDongs) to $1 (25,000VND)each in supermarkets. These cost 3 to 4 times in hotels and tourist centres. So pack some in your backpack, if you like.

During transit at Suvarnabhumi (Bangkok) airport, we bought Mango Sticky rice from one of the several ‘duty-free’ stores. The combination of neatly packed fresh mango, sticky rice and coconut milk was mouth-watering for the hungry traveller. People were buying it in dozens @ 180 BHT (<$6) each.

Footnote: This sandwich joint Banh Mi Phuong in the heritage town of Hoi An has been highly recommended by the late Anthony Bourdain for its ‘symphony in sandwich’. I could not verify if they had vegetarian options.

Banh Mi Phuong endorsed by A.Bourdain

Himalayan view from Kausani

Golden sunrise over Trishul peak

Kausani is a small town in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand. It is famous for the view of Himalayas.

The above image is of sunrise over the Trishul peak (23,300 ft). We were told that on a clear day, one can see nearly 300 kms. of the Himalayas. Kausani is also the home of Anashakti Ashram started by one of the disciples of Mahama Gandhi. The 9-10th Century temple of Baijnath is also nearby on the banks of river Gomti.

Aurangabad Caves

Aurangabad caves are 12 rockcut Buddhist shrines cut in basalt rock on a hill not far from the Maharashtrian city of Aurangabad. While they are not as spectacular as Ajanta or Ellora, these 6/7th Century CE caves are interesting all the same.

This is an outward view from the caves.