Must love travel: When actress Jordana Spiro takes five, she heads for exotic destinations like Vietnam

© JORDANA SPIRO

© JORDANA SPIRO

 

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
February 11, 2007

In “Must Love Dogs,” Jordana Spiro played a ditzy fashionista who loved luxury and liked John Cusack. In her TBS sitcom “My Boys,” the actress stars as a down-to-earth Chicago Sun-Times sports reporter covering the Cubs. But when she has a week or two off from work, Spiro relishes getting away from it all by traveling to exotic destinations.

While others in her position might book themselves into five-star accommodations, she prefers to spend less on hotels and more on experiencing the country’s culture. During her recent three-week trip to Vietnam, she made do with just one backpack. “Really, there’s almost nothing you can’t buy there if you need it,” she says. “It’s a completely amazing place and I’d go back in a second.”

Here are Spiro’s takes on Vietnam.

Price of a good night’s sleep:  “I stayed in places for $5 to $10 [U.S.] a night. The rooms were very clean, safe and centrally located. They didn’t have a lot of amenities, but that was OK. I found them by walking around the city and getting recommendations from the people there. I did pre-book a hotel for the first night in Ho Chi Minh City that was more expensive [$30]. I wanted to know I’d at least definitely have a place to stay for the first night without having to search for one with my luggage.”

Saigon it is:  “Hanoi is in the north and Ho Chi Minh City is in the south. The Vietnamese still refer to [the latter] as Saigon. It was a lot easier to travel in Vietnam than I had imagined. It’s so long and narrow, so you’re either traveling north to south or the opposite. I was surprised at how many of the same [tourists] I ran into as I toured the country.”

Navigating language barriers:  “[When I travel] I do my best to pick up some words in that language beforehand. But after that, a lot of pointing to street signs and gesturing takes place … and then I get lost anyway.”

Noodles, baguettes and beer: “I loved eating from the vendors on the streets. Everything I ate was like gourmet food. It was unbelievable. They have you sit on these little baby stools while they prepare your meals. For about 50 cents, you get this huge bowl of noodles with fresh fish or vegetables. You could get a good beer for 25 cents. You could get pure Vietnamese food or meals with a French influence. The Vietnamese can eat noodles for all their meals, but they serve tourists baguettes with coffee for breakfast.”

What she brought home: “There’s this old fishing village [in the middle of the country] called Hoi An, which has this huge garment district. You can walk into just about any shop and there are rows of tailors to measure you. For $20, they’ll make you a beautiful dress in about eight hours. They measure it exactly to conform to your figure, so if I gain a pound I’m not going to be able to wear my dress. It was nice, though, ’cause I couldn’t really find any pre-made clothes that fit me. The Vietnamese people are typically smaller than Americans. I wanted to get a new pair of jeans, and I never felt like a bigger person than when I walked into this store and the salespeople kind of looked me up and down and shook their heads. They had nothing for me. And I was in a men’s store!”

Must-have travel items: “My Lonely Planet guidebook. They offer good eco-tourism ideas for adventurous kinds of traveling and they also give good background information. I also brought an extra battery for my camera, because the most photographic day of the trip will always happen when I’m unable to recharge my battery. And a journal because every trip I promise that this will be the trip where I will actually keep a journal.”

Most memorable experience:  “I was in Ho Chi Minh City and the traffic was crazy. There was a sea of motorcycles, cars and cyclos [which I mistakenly referred to as rickshaws] traveling in all directions. There were no traffic lights and I couldn’t figure out how to get across the street. I was waiting and waiting, and finally this frail old man who’d been watching me just took me by the hand and walked me across. The cars just swerved around me. Once you get the hang of it, it’s a great feeling. But initially, you’re thinking you’re going to die.”

Next stop:  “Cambodia!”

***

IF YOU GO
Things to know about Vietnam

Population: 81,624,700

Capital: Hanoi

Currency: Dong ($1 U.S. equals 16,005 dong)

Time difference: Major cities in Vietnam (including Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City) are 12 hours ahead of Chicago.

Language: Vietnamese. You may also find some natives who speak French, English, Chinese or Russian.

Climate: If you’re planning to visit both the north and south regions, pack accordingly. When it’s hot in the north, it’s pretty much cold in the south. Winter is November to April in the north, May to November in the south. Summer is May to October in the north, December to April in the south.

Religion: Buddhism

Information: www.vietnamtourism.com.

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