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I went to Vietnam in spring 2022 to film A Tourist’s Guide to Love while the country was still closed to Westerners [because of the pandemic], so it was really special. It felt like we were kind of sneaking in. I love Rachael Leigh Cook, and this is a passion project for her. She was producing and starring in it, and she reached out asking if I’d be willing to come to Vietnam for a little bit. I didn’t ask any other questions.
The movie itself is very much a love letter to Vietnam. People there were very excited it was opening back up and there was a movie shooting there. Our crew — by and large Vietnamese and a really, really great group of people — hadn’t worked in two years. Everybody tells you before you go to Vietnam that they’re just the nicest, greatest people, but it’s still surprising to see how true that is.
This movie was perfect because it was the kind of part where they could squeeze all my stuff into a couple weeks, entirely in Hanoi, an unbelievably beautiful city. I mean, there’s a lot to unpack because a big part of that beauty — the incredible architecture and food in this rich, vibrant culture — is due to French colonialism. It’s this juxtaposition, a cognitive dissonance where you’re saying, “This is beautiful, but should I be finding this beautiful?” It’s not like Paris, where you’re like, “Wow, pretty.” You’re conflicted if you’re doing the homework.
We were staying in this old, beautiful hotel, the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel, not far from the Old Quarter. When you walk outside, all the fancy shops are right there. There’s prom kids taking pictures in front of Dior, and then you walk a few blocks and it’s people selling chicken feet in the middle of the street and you’re getting run over by mopeds. Every corner you turn is a completely different feeling.
I knew that once we wrapped and my wife, Michelle, came to join me, we’d be going on this cushy, romantic trip down the coast — the kind of trip that drives everybody insane on Instagram. So in Hanoi, I made sure that I was up and across town, sitting in a tiny plastic chair, eating soup on the sidewalk at 6 a.m. I tried to eat and drink as much of the city as I could. One of the movie crewmembers sent me a giant list of all her favorite recommendations, and I think I got most.
My favorite coffee shop was Cong Caphe, an incredible place for coconut coffee, which is essentially, like, a 7 million-calorie dessert. I discovered that pho is actually breakfast! I didn’t realize that, and I think most Americans don’t know this. Especially in a city that’s so unbelievably hot, it feels crazy to get up and have soup first thing, but then I started imagining how ridiculous Westerners must look, sitting around like 9-year-olds eating sugar and syrup and pastries for breakfast.
I refuse to be the person who goes into a foreign culture and is ordering the hotel’s club sandwich. I ate lots of bánh mì, pho and loved this aromatic catfish dish called cha cá lã vong. Once in a while, you’ve got to have fancy French food too. We also tried to eat all of Vietnam on our last night in Hanoi at Quan An Ngon, where you could get literally every Vietnamese dish you’ve ever heard of.
For the movie itself, everything we shot was in a different hotel or coffee shop or restaurant. We had a scene in the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre in Hanoi. It’s this gazillion-year-old tradition and a really incredible thing to see — a show with puppets manipulated underwater. On my last day, we shot in the stunning gardens of the Temple of Literature. You just can’t believe it’s real.
After filming, we stayed in two hotels, both crazy fancy but because Vietnam wasn’t open to Westerners yet, they were way cheaper than they would be now, which I cannot stress enough to any reader of this obnoxious Hollywood actor bragging about his fancy hotel.
The Four Seasons Resort The Nam Hai, Hoi An, was very excited to have us, to the point where, waiting in our room, there was a cake with an edible photograph they googled of me. I had booked it through AmEx, and there are a bazillion Ben Feldmans, and yet somehow they knew. In Vietnam, the hospitality is pretty next level.
Hoi An [a coastal city south of Hanoi] is just the most charming city on planet Earth. It has this Venetian-style canal going through it, and at night, when the sun goes down, they light all these beautiful lanterns and make wishes on them and set them off into the water. It’s also where you can get a bespoke dress or suit made for you in like a day, which we did. I would go back to Hoi An in a second.
From there, we went farther south to a dream hotel, Amanoi, beside Nui Chua National Park, which is in a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Everything was perfect and stunning. There were pools and an incredible beach, and we’ll remember that hotel for the rest of our lives.
We’re so inundated with our very uniquely American perspective of Vietnam through all the war movies, and so I only ever imagined the bush and the jungle. But the beaches are truly unbelievable, and the ones we were on were amazing, especially in the bays with ancient rock formations jutting straight out of the water.
Before I went to Vietnam, I rewatched that Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown episode in Hanoi, the one where Barack Obama joins him. Anthony Bourdain has this beautiful monologue about how Vietnam “grabs you and doesn’t let you go.” And he was right. I’ll love it forever. It takes a lot of planning and more than 20 hours of travel to get to Vietnam — I’d much rather get home and go, “Well, that was nice. I can check that off my list.” But I can’t. Vietnam is still on my list, and it’s going to remain there until I’m dead.
This story first appeared in the April 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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