I’ve just spent a month in Vietnam and I’m ticking it off as a bit of a win in the weight loss maintenance department so wanted to share my ‘fit girl’s guide’ experiences with you.
When this world trip I’m currently on was in the planning stages, one of my biggest fears was that my healthy eating and workout schedule would fall completely away and that I might put weight on simply by not being able to be as choosy as I can about what I eat and when/where I work out.
What I’ve found though is that while I haven’t made as much time for exercise as I thought I would, Vietnamese food is very kind to the waist line, so it’s all balanced out.
The Fit Girl’s Guide to Eating in Vietnam
Most places I’ve stayed have had breakfast included in the accommodation and if not it’s been easy to find nearby. Omelette and baguette or just bread is available everywhere, and I’ve had omelette of some variety every morning and just said ‘no thanks’ to the bread.
The request for no bread is a surprise to most people and often it arrives on the plate anyway because I think they assume they’ve misunderstood me 🙂 Pancakes are also on the menu, and if you’d prefer muesli and fruit this can usually be found too if you pay a little more and stick to the tourist places.
In some parts of the country it can be harder to avoid carbs, particularly if you’re trying to keep your food budget very low. If price isn’t an issue, and for most tourists it’s not because the prices in Vietnam will always be cheaper than in any developed country, then Vietnam is a healthy food mecca.
Most days, I’ve ordered some variation of Pho (chicken or beef based broth with rice noodles, meat, bean shoots and herbs), possibly accompanied by spring rolls depending on how hungry I am. The Pho changes in different parts of the country. I preferred it either in the South or the far North – in Central Vietnam where I spent the biggest chunk of time it was disappointing.
Stir fries and hot pots are also easy to get and of course you can forego the rice if you want to. Most meals I ate some of the rice that was provided, otherwise considering the food is much lower in both fat and protein than I was used to, I was too ravenous by the time each mealtime came around.
If you’re staying somewhere with a fridge, you could find yoghurt at a local mini mart, but for me it was easier to just do without. Snack choices are limited here. Minimarts sell a collection of potato chips, biscuits and sweets, but when I look at that stuff now I just see ‘chemicals’. Nuts are available, particularly cashews. They’re practically the only snacks I ate in Vietnam, or sometimes chocolate in the evenings.
Vietnamese coffee is pretty good according to most people I’ve spoken to, and I’ve certainly enjoyed the ritual of the drip filter (which delivers a stronger, thicker, tastier version than the American-style filtered coffee). If you order it white then this means sweetened condensed milk. Rarely will you find fresh (cow’s) milk available. I probably drank too much coffee in Vietnam because I have a sweet tooth, it’s cheap and an appetite suppressant.
Drinking the tap water here is not advised, so it’s bottled water all the way. It would be easy to neglect drinking enough because it takes just a little more effort than turning on a tap. But water is available everywhere for usually not more than 50cents a 600mL bottle so there’s really no reason not to stay well-hydrated.
A ‘typical’ day’s eating for me in Vietnam has been:
Breakfast: omelette and coffee. Mmmm coffee.
Lunch: Fried vegetarian or pork spring rolls, or Pho or a stirfry.
Dinner: Stirfried chicken or beef with lots of vegetables and a small amount of rice.
Snacks: Roasted cashews and coffee. Mmmm coffee 😉
The Fit Girl’s Guide to Exercising in Vietnam
Vietnam can get pretty stinking hot and humid depending on which part of the country you’re in and what time of year. I started in Ho Chi Minh city (Saigon) in November and the humidity really knocked me about. It wasn’t until I had been there almost a week that I decided to tackle some exercise beyond some basic yoga poses and a lot of walking.
I took myself off to a park next to the ‘backpacker district’ very early one morning when it was still relatively cool, and did some body weight exercises and interval sprints. Although it was so early and the heat of the day hadn’t struck, it completely shattered me and I was shaky and exhausted for hours afterwards.
If you were to be there awhile though, this is probably your best option, next to a workout routine in the privacy of your hotel room. I didn’t see any other foreigners exercising that early, and I was surrounded by locals doing all sorts of exercise seemingly without any self-consciousness. They stared at me, but you get that in Vietnam 🙂
You can find gyms in Vietnam, and online reviews generally say they’re ok. I didn’t visit any, but here are the ones I found for the major cities:
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon):
Nutrifort Urban Fitness, 34 Nguyen Dang Giai, Dist 2 | 2 B1 Chu Manh Trinh, Dist 1, Ho Chi Minh City Ho Chi Minh City
Star Fitness, 1st Floor The Manor Ho Chi Minh City, 91 Nguyen Huu Canh Street, Ward 22, Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City
Body By Jovie Gym and Yoga, Block B, The Riverside Residence, District 7 | Nguyen Luong Bang Street, Phu My Hung, Ho Chi Minh City
There are plenty of others according to Google, and this site that I’m sure are worth a visit!
Danang is Vietnam’s third-largest city, but it appears ‘Western style’ gym options are limited, unless you’re staying in a hotel with a gym attached. The Green Plaza gym at 238 Bach Dang st in Danang sounds good.
Although small and only a half hour drive from Danang, Hoi An is a popular spot for visitors. There’s a free weights style gym at 578 Cua Dai Rd as described here.
otherwise your best bet might be to book a hotel with a gym attached, of which there are plenty.
Vincharm Fitness, 114 Mai Hac De, in Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Elite Fitness, 51 Xuân Diệu,, Tây Hồ, Hanoi
NShape Fitness, 71 Nguyen Chi Thanh in Dong Da, Hanoi
Star Fitness in the Garden Shopping Mall in My Dinh, My Dinh, Me Tri, Tu Liem District, Hanoi
Despite the lack of exercise my clothes were noticeably looser after only a few days there. I was a little worried this would be muscle weight being lost, and it probably partly was. On my second-last day in Vietnam I climbed to the top of a peak in the Cap Ba National Park via a steep track, and didn’t feel any loss of fitness or strength in my legs at all. At the end of the wet season in northern Vietnam it’s much much cooler – jumper weather, with very little humidity. I only had a few days up north, but if I’d stayed longer I would absolutely have been better able to exercise than was the case down south.
My advice? Take your time adjusting to the weather, and then ease into re-establishing some sort of routine. Prioritise yoga and body weight exercises while you adjust. Focus on staying hydrated. Walk lots and keep the carbs down. Do physical ‘fun’ activities like cycling or hiking, and reintroduce cardio if/when the weather improves or you find a good gym.