Traveling to Vietnam with Food Allergies

I took a spontaneous excursion to Vietnam with food allergies. In typical Allie fashion, I did not plan the in-between part of my trip. I was already in Thailand for a conference and had left six unplanned days to follow the conference before flying back out of Bangkok home.

A colleague wanted to go to Vietnam and I had no plans, so I decided to join her for the adventure. I did not prepare for this trip ahead, so I decided I would only eat the food that I brought with me in Vietnam since I didn’t have a translated chef card. One of the non-negotiable rules I have with myself is not eating without a translated chef card. I think it is essential to have something to hand to the chef when dining out and using a phone app just does not cut it for me. I take calculated risks but I don’t take ones that I know don’t make sense and could easily end up with a trip to the hospital. Having a printed chef card is non-negotiable in my mind and so I went and only ate my food. Sometimes you need to make a compromise with yourself. I knew I could keep myself safe if I only ate my food, so that is exactly what I did. I did not feel like I was missing out, however I do feel like there were definitely dishes I could have possibly had successfully if I had a translated chef card. If I had more time to plan ahead, I would have been more resourceful about finding someone to help translate, however it seemed rushed and since I knew the hospital system sounded a little less organized than in Thailand, I did want to take any risks on this first trip to Vietnam. I will certainly plan differently though in future travel there.

This trip is a good example of how to not missing out on travel and new destinations by finding ways to still make it a safe experience. As much as I would have loved to try some of the local food, with so many food allergies it wasn’t worth the risk. By eating only the food I brought, I was able to control any concerns I had about food and enjoy all of the other experiences fully without worry. Reflecting on my decision, I still would not change how I handled it and why I decided to only eat my own food. I know that I can go back again at some point prepared with a translated chef card but on this trip I fully immersed myself in enjoying the country and not worrying about the next meal.

Getting There

I was already in Phuket, Thailand and flew AirAsia to Hanoi, Vietnam. I needed to acquire a visa before going to Vietnam. This was a process that took about 24 hours. My colleague and I had to find somewhere in Phuket to take photos for our visas, then we had to go back to the airport with all of our documents. I would definitely recommend figuring this out in advance of your trip. We accidentally wasted travel time because we didn’t realize the visa would take 24 hours to process. We still enjoyed Phuket but we would have had more time in Vietnam otherwise.

We chose Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, because we were able to find reasonable flights there and return back to Bangkok. It was also close to Ha Long Bay which we heard was stunning and is a World Heritage Site.

Tip: Always check if a visa is required before booking any international travel. I thought my colleague had checked before booking our flights but she hadn’t. Mistakes and misadventures happen and you need to be flexible and make the most out of them, but if you can prevent any from happening it is definitely better!

Airport Lounges:

The airport lounges listed below I took advantage of while traveling and provided drinks and a place to quietly relax in between flights. To access these lounges you should have Priority Pass.

  • The Coral Executive Lounge in Bangkok, Thailand
  • KAL Lounge
  • Miracle Lounge

Accommodations

We looked into the Marriott in Hanoi but the location was not ideal and we decided it was not where we wanted to be in the city, especially with limited time. We stayed at the Shining Boutique Hotel & Spa in the Hoan Kiem District of Hanoi. The location was perfect and everyone working there could not have been any nicer. They even held our extra bags while we took a three-day trip to Ha Long Bay. We also got massages there which were wonderful.

Eating

Since Vietnam had not been part of my original plan, I was not prepared with a chef card. Like I said, I decided I would go but my compromise would be to only eat the food that I brought to be safe. I knew the health care system was not something I wanted to experience if possible and therefore preferred to take the safest precautions.

I was able to get hot water during every meal time, which made it easy to have mac and cheese or oatmeal if I wanted to. I also had rice cakes and seed butter which were filling. No one pressured me to eat their food and because I was so delighted by the experience, I didn’t mind eating the same food on repeat. To see what I packed for food go to this post.

To See & Do

Hanoi

We spent a lot of time taking in the scenes as we wandered around Hanoi. I loved every second of my time in this city. I was fascinated by all of it, from the food stands to the streets designated by trade to the organized chaos of traffic and freely roaming roosters. All of it was curious, intriguing and completely enchanted me! There are many things to see but there are a few we saw that I want to highlight below.

  • Thang Long Water Puppet– This traditional water puppet show is definitely made and performed for tourists but was a memorable experience nonetheless. There are meritorious artists with puppets and actors that perform a show with traditional musical instruments. There were a total of 17 short scenes, varying from dancing to fishing interpretations.
  • The Temple of Literature– A picturesque site from 1070 built as a university designated for Confucius and other scholars. There are gorgeous courtyards and it is a place not to be missed.
  • Old Quarter & 36 Streets of Trade– Such a fascinating area of the city where street upon street sells a different trade (such as kitchen supplies, tires, electronics, etc.) and each street is designated to that specific trade.

Ha Long Bay & Bai Tu Long Bay

A World Heritage Site since 1994, Ha Long Bay is filled with thousands of limestone karsts and islands of all different shapes and sizes.

We did a two-day luxury cruise with Athena Cruise. It was an excellent experience and we ended up wishing we had stayed longer. Our room was beautiful and had a balcony. The cruise manager, Jim, was so kind about everything and was happy to work with my allergies (but I didn’t want to risk it on this trip). I would 100% do this again and try eating with my chef card. They asked ahead about food allergies and were definitely willing to make it work. Instead, they knew to bring me hot water at each meal which was perfect. During the two days we took junk boats, sea kayaked around a floating fishing village, explored a grotto, fished off the side of the boat, watched a cooking demonstration, participated in sunrise Thai Chi and enjoyed every second of beauty from the ship deck. Although it is luxury, the price was very affordable and worth every cent.

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I hadn’t been this fascinated by a new country in years. The last place I remember feeling this kind of excited curiosity was my first trip to Istanbul, Turkey. I know I will have to go back to Vietnam. This was only a small taste of the country and I left with such renewed, adventurous energy. Where have you been that has sparked this kind of fascination? Share in the comments so that I can add it to my travel list!

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