Good Morning Vietnam


we set offI’ve been working pretty hard so it’s time to enjoy some of that leave I’ve accumulated. So it’s off to Vietnam to explore this interesting country, take in the sights, culture, and of course, plenty of delicious Vietnamese food! I’m joining up with other travellers from around the world on a tour organised by Intrepid (Real Food Adventures) so that takes most of the hard work out of the equation and I can just follow the tour guide and wait to discover something interesting.

 

Saturday 29 Nov 2014 – Kuala Lumpur

I took off on Malaysia Airways and watched a few movies. Dinner was a choice between beef brisket and nonya chicken curry. I went with the latter and was really hungry. The curry was lovely served with steemed rice and beans & carrots. There was also a refreshing chickpea salad with a lovely dressing. Dessert served up a delicious tiramisu. There was also a lovely bread roll enjoyed with lashings of butter, crackers and cheese. The flight took longer than usual but finally arrived in Kuala Lumpur for a long stop over so off to the Concorde Inn by the airport for some sleep.

 

Sunday 30 Nov 2014 – Hanoi

Pretty tired it was an early wake up call to jump start the day and off to the breakfast buffet which had lots of variety. I got a pancake with syrup, cold meats, a pastry of some sorts, fresh fruit, strawberry yoghurt, and apple juice. Then checked out and caught the shuttle for a quick 5-10 minute ride back to KLIA to jet off to Hanoi.

Watched a movie and ate a spicy prawn curry with steamed rice for brunch. Not too bad but no where near yesterday’s meal. Then it was off to Hanoi via taxi after getting some cash from the ATM and picking up a SIM card.

I thought surviving Malaysian Airways flights was a relief till I stepped into the taxi! Some heart in my mouth moments but I guess the chaos on the road is organized.

I checked into my hotel and was treated to the friendly staff. Time to explore so I set off and explored with no real direction. There’s lots of scooters about on the road and parked on the footpath, so you generally need to walk along the road, keeping a close eye on traffic. Lots of people sitting around people watching, amusing themselves or playing a game of mahjong.

savour

French Vietnamese bakery - display window of cakes by the slice

Thanh Long French Vietnamese Bakery

It didn’t take too long to find a French Vietnamese bakery as I spied the display cabinet full of slices of cake. Walking in the smell of fresh bread is undeniable. I grabbed a slice of a white chocolate mousse cake before demolishing that in no time. Light and creamy and so cheap! The bakery is called Thanh Long and there are 2 locations – 56/62 Tran Quy Cap – Dong Da; and the one I went to: 38A Nguyen Truong To – Ba Dinh.

I continued wandering around aimlessly exploring the surrounds before spying some deep fried delights. I picked up something, deep fried dough with sugar, not exactly a doughnut, but quite good.

Started to head back to the hotel before I stumbled upon some interesting food.

Vietnamese street food

Vietnamese street food - deep fried mince , salad, vinegar sauce

Vietnamese street food – deep fried mince , salad, vinegar sauce

Deep fried mince beef puff with a salad of lettuce, coriander, mint, and a vinegar bowl of some pickled vegetable sliced finely. Got some chilli paste too. It was re-deep fried to heat it up. Lovely meal with the deep fried contents dipped into the vinegar mixture to offset any oiliness and finished off with the fresh salad. Friendly people, I grabbed a kids stool and sat down to enjoy some Vietnamese street food. Immersing myself in Hanoi immediately. Yum.

I cooled off in the hotel, glad to escape the humidity, before going down to the lobby which was the tour meeting point. And now the tour begins. At least someone knows what they’re doing because to explore this place on your own is tricky.

Got to meet everyone and understand how the tour will progress. Surprisingly, the tour is comprised of Australians, and a couple from Perth.

Hanoi Fusion - Guava Juice

Hanoi Fusion – Guava Juice

We then headed to Hanoi Fusion Restaurant and Lounge for dinner and were in for a feast. I had some guava juice to sip along with my meal which was a lot thicker than I was expecting but tasty.

Hanoi Spring Rolls

Hanoi Fusion - Hanoi Spring Rolls

Hanoi Fusion – Hanoi Spring Rolls

First up were Hanoi spring rolls which weren’t anything like normal spring rolls. The outer is a pastry, deep fried of course, and inside is a shredded beef mince filling which was really delicious. Dipped in some sweet chili sauce (which isn’t as sweet as in Australia) and it was even better.

 

Papaya and Prawn Salad

Hanoi Fusion - Papaya and Prawn Salad

Hanoi Fusion – Papaya and Prawn Salad

This is very different to the version I had in Malaysia. Definitely lacking a chilli kick, it’s more influenced by the presence of peanuts and has a different flavour. Enjoyable.

 

Cha Ca – pan fried fish fillet served with rice noodles, vegetables, sweet & sour sauce

Hanoi Fusion - Cha Ca

Hanoi Fusion – Cha Ca

Hanoi Fusion - Rice Paper and Ingredients

Hanoi Fusion – Rice Paper and Ingredienta

Hanoi Fusion - Rice Paper Roll Assembled

Hanoi Fusion – Rice Paper Roll Assembled

This dish involves rice paper rolls which you assemble yourself after watching a demonstration from the staff. Rice paper roll, pineapple, carrot, cucumber, rice noodle, coriander, and then the fried snake fish mixture were added and then tightly rolled up before being dipped in sweet chilli sauce. A very different flavour, a little like satay due to the peanuts in the fish mixture.

 

Pork in Caramel Sauce & Sesame Seeds

Hanoi Fusion - Pork in Caramel Sauce & Sesame Seeds

Hanoi Fusion – Pork in Caramel Sauce & Sesame Seeds

Very thin slices of tender pork were cooked in a lightly caramelized sauce. Light simple flavours that were good and enjoyed with steamed rice.

 

Pan Fried Morning Glory with Garlic

Hanoi Fusion - Pan Fried Morning Glory with Garlic

Hanoi Fusion – Pan Fried Morning Glory with Garlic

Water spinach was cooked in lots of garlic. The long tender greens were juicy and took on a light garlic flavour which was really delicious.

 

Stir Fried Chicken with Cashew Nuts and Red Peppers

Hanoi Fusion - Stir Fried Chicken with Cashews

Hanoi Fusion – Stir Fried Chicken with Cashews

This tasted similar to dishes I’ve eaten at Asian restaurants, tender pieces of chicken with softened cashews and a light sauce which flavours the plain steamed rice making for a tasty mouthful.

 

Braised Eggplant in Clay Pot

Hanoi Fusion - Braised Eggplant Clay Pot

Hanoi Fusion – Braised Eggplant Clay Pot

This was a really flavoursome dish. The soft tender eggplant just melted in your mouth.

 

Banana Flamed in Ice Cream

Hanoi Fusion - Banana Flamed in Ice Cream

Hanoi Fusion – Banana Flamed in Ice Cream

Grilled softened banana served with a smooth ice cream that had a very subtle touch of banana, this was a light simple dessert which was an excellent finish to a delicious feast. I wasn’t expecting to be eating this much!

 

 

Monday 1 Dec 2014 – Hanoi

Restaurant Selling Pho

Chicken Pho

Chicken Pho

Beef Pho

Beef Pho

Pho Condiments

Pho Condiments

Deep Fried Dough

Deep Fried Dough

Beef Pho Complete

Beef Pho Complete

The second day began with a short walk to the markets to have some pho. There’s the choice between chicken, entrails, beef, and beef shoulder. I had the beef which is served in a beef broth with rice noodles. You then add pickled garlic and juices, chilli, chilli sauce, pepper, and the deep fried doughnut. Then dive in. The broth is so flavoursome, the meat ultra tender as too the noodles. Mine has a bit of a chilli kick but this is such a tasty meal. What a way to start off the day!

Vietnamese Iced Coffee with Condensed Milk

Vietnamese Iced Coffee with Condensed Milk

We then headed to Tracey Lister‘s cooking school which had a book store behind and they serve tea and coffee. I had the iced Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk. Not being a coffee drinker I found it bitter but mixing with the condensed milk makes it tasty.

Vietnamese Markets in Hanoi

Vietnamese Markets in Hanoi

Vietnamese Markets in Hanoi

Vietnamese Markets in Hanoi

Vietnamese Markets in Hanoi

Vietnamese Markets in Hanoi

Live silkworms to eat anyone?

Live silkworms to eat anyone?

After that it was a trip through the markets where the meat is ultra fresh (slaughter to table is about 3hrs) and so is the seafood (still live) and fruit & vegetables. We picked up some Cinnamon coated pork which was interesting. One lady was amusing as she sat cross legged on the bench with the raw fresh meat in front of her. She didn’t want us to take a photo as she said she wasn’t pretty! Scooters still drive through here which is amusing. Quite an eye opening experience.

Steam Rolled Rice Pancake

Steam Rolled Rice Pancake

Then we watched the preparation of a rice pancake steamed over cloth and then picked up by chop sticks and filled with wood ear mushrooms or minced beef. We went next door to eat.

Water Bug

Water Bug

A vinegar mix is placed in a bowl with the essence of a water bug which makes the mixture smell like pear. Add some coriander to the bowl, pick up the pancake and dip and eat. So delicious. The rice pancake is like silk.

Sesame Mung Bean Bun

Sesame Mung Bean Bun

We then headed through another market to grab a sesame seed coated mung bean deep fried item which was soft but chewy.

A Vietnamese Street Food Vendor

Fruit Jellies For Sale

Fruit Jellies in Condensed Milk

Fruit Jellies in Condensed Milk

We then went through another small street lined with eateries to grab some fruit jellies for dessert. We got a mixture if gooey jellies in condensed milk which was tasty.

After that it’s a taxi ride to a traditional tea house where the tradition of making tea is preserved. It’s a long process to harvest the best tea and there’s a specific method to preparing tea. Its so tranquil here, that’s part of the experience as one needs to slow down in life to savour the flavour.

Fruity Iced Tea

Fruity Iced Tea

We started off with a fruity iced tea which was so refreshing.

Tea House Experience

Tea House Experience

Jasmine and Lotus Root Teas

Jasmine and Lotus Root Teas

Then we watched the careful process of making tea. The noble way to drink tea is to hold with 4 fingers, inhale the aroma, turn your wrist so the palm faces you, take a small sip and savour the tea in your mouth before swallowing. Then eat some candied lotus root and mung bean cake. We had two teas – Jasmine and lotus root.

After that I headed off to explore the prison which was quite an eye opener. Lots of history and artefacts, statues recreating prisoners in stocks, reading about the harsh conditions. Time for a long walk, dodging traffic, to the hotel to cool off.

Hanoi - Hoa Lo Prison

Then we’re off to the cooking school. We watch the chef prepare a dish and then we go to our benches and work in pairs to replicate the dish following the recipe in front of us. We repeated this with each dish to completion, then the chefs finished one of the dishes while we took a seat upstairs. Our dishes were then served to us to enjoy.

  • Prawn and omelette spring rolls with dipping sauce
  • Banana flower salad
  • Ginger chicken with steamed rice
  • Sweet corn and coconut soup
Hanoi Cooking Centre - Spring Rolls and Banana Flower Salad

Hanoi Cooking Centre – Spring Rolls and Banana Flower Salad

Hanoi Cooking Centre - Spring Rolls and Banana Flower Salad

Hanoi Cooking Centre – Spring Rolls and Banana Flower Salad

All I can say is what delicious fresh flavours the first two dishes exude. The dipping sauce and dressing makes all the difference in livening up each dish providing sweet, acidic, and sour flavours.

The ginger chicken is really simple but carries lovely flavours, enjoyed with the steamed rice. We also had one duck egg with the embryo inside. I don’t like eggs so I wouldn’t touch it. However, one of the ladies cut it open for curiosity to see what it looks like. Inside looked like duck. So most of us took a piece. Mine tasted like a juicy piece of seasoned duck which was absolutely delicious! The yolk I believe was left by all bar one member.

Hanoi Cooking Centre - Sweet Corn and Coconut Soup

Hanoi Cooking Centre – Sweet Corn and Coconut Soup

The dessert was unusual. We were told you can have it for dessert and anything left over is had for breakfast. It tastes nice, quite thick, slightly creamy, sweet due to the corn and also a bit rich.

It’s been an actioned packed day, time to call it a night.

 

Tuesday 2 Dec 2014 – Ha Long Bay

After a buffet breakfast at the hotel, we set off on a 4.5 hour bus journey to Ha Long Bay. Our guide gave as a bit of history as we drove through the countryside.

Towards the end we stopped at Hai Duong Branch (www.hongngocvn.com), a shop set up selling goods made by the disabled. They have stunning lacquer paintings, embroidery, clothes, carvings, figurines, statues, outdoor fountains and other kinds of stuff. You can ship these items overseas to your home.

Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay
Then we resumed our journey and arrived at the harbour where we stepped onboard our boat which will cruise to Ha Long Bay. The cruise is very smooth and pleasant. The scenery is quite spectacular, looking at these rock massess jutting out of the water and the sea is littered with them. Complimentary passionfruit juice was served before checking into our cabins and then returning to the main deck for an array of seafood dishes for lunch.

Lunch on the boat - seafood soup
We started with a delicious flavoursome seafood soup.

Lunch on the boat - blanched prawns
Then we ate some just blanched prawns which needed to be cleaned before savouring the sweet juicy flesh.

Lunch on the boat - yabbie
Then we ate what was like a cross between a yabbie and a long prawn. It had lovely juicy flesh.

Lunch on the boat - spring rolls
Next up were tasty spring rolls made with pastry, not the crispy spring roll paper. This was enjoyed with a lovely dipping sauce and rice noodles.

Lunch on the boat - fried meat in sesame seeds
Next was fried meat covered in sesame seeds. The meat was a little chewy but was good otherwise.

Lunch on the boat - battered spicy fish
Lunch on the boat - tender squid

Finally, we finished off with steamed vegetables, steamed rice, tasty battered spicy fish, and lightly cooked tender squid. Fresh watermelon was the end to the meal. So yum.
Lunch on the boat - steamed vegetables

View from the top deck of our boat

Ha Long Bay
We kept sailing and reached the Sung Sot Caves were we disembarked and made our way through 3 hidden caves which were quite marvelous. Lots of photo opportunities here.

Sung Sot Caves
Sung Sot Caves
Sung Sot Caves
Sung Sot Caves
Sung Sot Caves
Sung Sot Caves
We then hopped aboard where we were served a warmed bowl of slightly sweet ginger and mung bean soup. The weather is much colder, its overcast, and a little windy. I was rather fancying something sweet and this hit the spot.

As an optional activity, all members bar me went kayaking. The weather calmed down a bit but sunny weather would have been ideal. Good on them, they’re taking up the opportunity rather than regretting what they should have done.

 

Dinner on the boat

Dinner on the boat - chicken and corn soup
If lunch was anything to go by we were in for a treat. First up was a delicious chicken corn soup. It was a bit cold and a bowl of warmed up soup which has that slightly thickish stock with tender chicken, corn and vegetables is just what one needs.

Dinner on the boat - cucumber salad, chicken & crab kebabs
Next we were served pork and crab kebabs on sugarcane sticks. These were unbelievable! Ultra soft and tender, perfectly seasoned with the perfect blend of slit, pepper and coriander, and just so full of flavour. I could east plenty of these. I’ve eaten many versions of kebabs but this is something special.

Dinner on the boat - charred shrimp
The food wasn’t just prepared, there was also an emphasis on presentation. Charred shrimp was served surrounded by flowers which were vegetables.

Below were foiled wrapped parcels containing the oysters.
The charred flavour of the grill had infused into the shrimp producing a unique flavour on the sweet flesh.

Dinner on the boat - oysters
The oysters were cooked with an interesting mix which just made your pupils dilate. It seemed a regular occurrence on this good tour so far.

Dinner on the boat - carrot net
The next dish presented a carrot net surrounding foil encasing the grilled fish. How they created a net out of the carrot is being me. Once that was cut away and the foil opened, lovely soft fish in a lovely array of flavours made your taste buds sing.
Dinner on the boat - grilled fish

Dinner on the boat - Ha Long Squid Roll
For the next dish, the lights suddenly went out and we were plunged into darkness. Then the Ha Long Squid Roll was served with a hollowed out tomato acting as a candle! Unbelievable! How did they do that? The squid was really tender and tasty. The battered items haven’t always maintained their crunch but it’s still good.

Dinner on the boat - sautéed cabbage
A refreshing cucumber salad with tomato and a lovely dressing was presented with a delicious garlic imbued sautéed cabbage. Who knew cabbage could taste this good?

Dinner on the boat - chicken curry
Chicken curry was served with cucumber slices in half and shaped carefully to form a wall around the curry in the form of a love heart. Quite a different flavour, the curry was enjoyed with fried rice which has a different flavour to the versions I’ve eaten before.

Finally, we finished with pear in salted water. The salt gives an unusual flavour at first before the crunchy sweet pear flavour shines through. What a meal. I could easily get used to this.

 

 

Wednesday 3 Dec 2014 – Ha Long Bay & Hanoi

Up at 8 am for a heart breakfast of eggs, toast, butter, strawberry jam, cheese, bacon, sticky rice, squid cutlets, dragonfruit, banana, tea & coffee. After breakfast, the chef demonstrated how to make a flower out of watermelon and a net out of carrot. Amazing. The crew have been very slick, efficient and friendly. Then its back to the mainland.

It was a long bus ride back but we made a stop at a ceramic factory and viewed the local creations. Excellent pieces and they also had paintings, embroideries and other items like at the place we visited yesterday. Then we continued our journey and after a couple of hours we were back in Hanoi. We stopped off at a local restaurant and our tour guide suggested some dishes which we filled up on.

Lunch in local Hanoi restaurant - Hanoi spring rolls and pork mince kebabs
We got some Hanoi spring rolls and pork mince kebabs. Then it was on to spicy squid with rice, then we had fish cooked in a broth with peanuts and rice noodles. We also enjoyed baby buk choy and mushrooms in oyster sauce. All very tasty and very full.
Lunch in local Hanoi restaurant - baby buk choy and mushrooms in oyster sauce
Lunch in local Hanoi restaurant - spicy squid with rice

Back to our original hotel to collect our luggage. We had one room to shower and freshen up, particularly, to charge electronic devices! We have an overnight train journey ahead so we need to grab some light dinner items and maybe some breakfast items. We visited Hanoi Fusion again for some take away which was kindly delivered to our hotel. I got some spring rolls. I made another trip to the French Vietnamese bakery across the road from the restaurant to pick up all kinds of pastry items. I’m feeling hungry so after doing a few rounds I ordered what I thought was duck noodles but got a big bowl of pho. So 15 minutes to chow down as much as possible. Very full. All set we headed off to the train station and rode in berths which have 4 beds, 2 being bunks. Really cosy, comfortable, and lots of fun.

Train from Hanoi to Hue - 4 beds to a berth with 2 being bunks

Train from Hanoi to Hue – 4 beds to a berth with 2 being bunks

 

Thursday 4 Dec 2014 Hue

After our 13 hour train journey we arrived at Hue. I think the pho from last night contained lots of MSG as my mouth was dry and I’m feeling a little bit off.

On to a bus and then a short drive through Hue where the traffic is considerably less busy and the near constant honk of horns is down to a minimum.

Breakfast at Bun Bo Hue - condiments
We stopped in at Bun Bo Hue for breakfast and had a dish similar to pho but this is a specialty of Hue, bun bo. I had already downed several pastries on the train so was feeling full. But I ate a fair amount.
Breakfast at Bun Bo Hue - Bun Bo
Bun bo, like pho, isn’t a heavy dish and you can eat a fair amount. We also had a refreshing glass of cold tea.

We then took a short journey to our hotel. While the train had nice facilities like power point’s and free WiFi, the same could not be said for the toilets. Let’s say I was glad to use the hotel toilets.

After a quick moment to freshen up we were off again to see the Hue Imperial City (The Citadel). It’s a huge compound with a moat, 6m high walls that are 21m thick, and surround a very large area. Some of compound encompasses present day people’s homes. Inside, several structures have been destroyed, but some remain and others are being restored. Those that remain are quite marvelous, stunning actually. There’s a 3D model of how the city would have looked in one of the rooms. The architecture is wonderful and the eye to detail second to none. It took quite some time to traverse a lot of the imperial city.

Hue Imperial City (The Citadel)
Hue Imperial City (The Citadel)
Hue Imperial City (The Citadel)
Hue Imperial City (The Citadel)
Hue Imperial City (The Citadel)

With all that walking we had built up an appetite so we headed to a nunnery.

Lunch at Hue Nunnery - Fig Salad
We started with a fig salad which a spoonful is placed on prawn crackers and eaten. It’s really different, unexpected and delicious.

Lunch at Hue Nunnery - Pho
Next we had a pho like dish, a much smaller quantity though, with a different kind of noodle, which was tasty.

Lunch at Hue Nunnery - Banh Hue Cac Loai
Then we had a Hue’s special rice cake: Banh Hue Cac Loai. There were several soft glutinous rice discs with a filling which contained elements that were really tiny. After adding a sweet syrup, you ate and it was really interesting. I’d like to eat that again.

Lunch at Hue Nunnery - Potato & Tofu Curry with Fried Mantou
We then we’re served potato and tofu curry with lightly fried mantou. These buns are just amazing.

Lunch at Hue Nunnery - Savoury Sticky Rice
Following that was steamed rice which was a tad sticky and had peas and corn on top. A light finish to the meal. For dessert, green bananas were presented and while I was a bit apprehensive as to what this may be, it tasted just like a normal banana.

We then set of again to visit a pagoda and view the different buildings in this area. Like the imperial city, it’s amazing how some of these structures have stood the test of time and preserved a piece of history from so long ago. Quite remarkable.

Pagoda in Hue

For our final activity we took a relaxing cruise down Perfume River. We had to walk the plank to embark and disembark so I’m glad no one went into the water.
Time for a rest before we set off for dinner.

For dinner, our guide took us to the Elegant Restaurant Lounge and Cafe which was in walking distance. It’s rained most of the day very lightly and it hadn’t subsided. It’s nice walking there and not having to fear for your life by being run over by a plethora of scooters. The traffic is much less than in Hanoi.

I had a look at the menu which appears more westernised. While there are Hue dishes, it’s a westernised version. I would have preferred a typical local restaurant instead.

Dinner in Hue at Elegant Restaurant Lounge and Café - Bahn Nam
I chose Bahn Nam – Rice cake with shrimp in banana leaf. This was similar to what we had for lunch at the nunnery, but was stuffed with shrimp paste and steamed in banana leaves. A rather interesting flavour which tasted like Gorgonzola cheese at first. With the sweet acidic sauce the flavour changed. I enjoyed it.
Dinner in Hue at Elegant Restaurant Lounge and Café - Bahn Nam

Dinner in Hue at Elegant Restaurant Lounge and Café - BBQ Chicken with Coconut Cream
For mains I ordered the BBQ chicken with coconut cream and chose steamed rice (fried rice or French fries also available). The chicken was sliced thinly and covered in a thinnish sauce which went well with the plain steamed rice. A bit like a chilli chicken stir fry.

Dinner in Hue at Elegant Restaurant Lounge and Café - Fresh Mango Pancake with Honey Sauce
I had to squeeze in dessert so I ordered the fresh mango pancake with honey sauce. Pretty simple but yum.

We caught a taxi back to the hotel to avoid getting wet and enjoyed some drinks at the sky bar before retiring for the night.

 

Friday 5 Dec 2014 Hoi An

After a buffet breakfast at the hotel it was on to the bus for a 4.5 hour ride to Hoi An. Hue is a lovely city and far less busy. We wound our way through the mountains enjoying the beautiful scenery.
Bus ride from Hue to Hoi An
Bus ride from Hue to Hoi An

Hai Van

Hai Van

We did make a quick stop at Hai Van which has a monument and a wedding also happened to be taking place. High in the mountain, we were surrounded by a rain cloud blowing literally overhead. The vendors are very aggressive immediately trying to get you to come to their shop as soon as you step off the bus! A mist was present, but there’s a view of Da Nong City which we later drove through before eventually reaching Hoi An.

Hoi An - Dragon Bridge in the far background

Hoi An – Dragon Bridge in the far background

Start of a funeral procession

Start of a funeral procession

A quick stop in to the hotel and then off to a restaurant for lunch. Whilst walking there a funeral procession went past. We weren’t sure at first what was happening because it was like a festival at first but it became apparent.

For lunch we visited Mermaid Restaurant which has been going since 1992 and served some Hoi An specialities as well as a take on Western dishes introduced by tourists, but using Vietnamese ingredients. Opened by Trinh Dien Vi, she now has 4 restaurants offering Vietnamese street food and Western dishes.

Lunch at Mermaid Restaurant in Hoi An - Cao Lau
Cao lau – fresh thick cao lau noodles with pork slices, herbs, and crispy noodles. This was quite a dish. The noodles were like Hokkien noodles, thick, but made with rice flour. There’s some broth, tender slices of pork, and with the fresh greens, this dish is really amazing.

Lunch at Mermaid Restaurant in Hoi An - Hoi An Pancake
Hoi An Pancake – rice flour and mung bean pancake with shrimp, pork and bean sprouts. Served with fresh herbs, star fruit, green bananas and peanut sauce. This was another stunner. Using the rice pancakes, you assemble the contents and then roll it up and then dip it in the tasty peanut sauce. The flavours are so fresh and while this dish may seem similar to other dishes eaten on this tour, they each have their own unique flavour profile.

Lunch at Mermaid Restaurant in Hoi An - Beef Salad with Green Bananas and Pickles
Beef salad with green bananas and pickles. Vietnamese salads are just unbelievable and this one was no exception. While bananas and pickled vegetables sound like an unusual combination, the Vietnamese have a way of tying it all together to give a fresh flavour explosion which just make the ordinary tomato and lettuce salad old hat.

Lunch at Mermaid Restaurant in Hoi An - Pork Stuffed Squid with Mushrooms
Pork stuffed squid with mushrooms. All I can say is wow! Tender squid stuffed with finely minced pork, sliced, and enjoyed with succulent mushrooms. What a yummy dish.

Lunch at Mermaid Restaurant in Hoi An - Spicy Seafood Hotpot
Spicy seafood hotpot – prawns, squid, tuna, buk choy, water spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms, shallots, ginger, chilli, cabbage, rice noodles. This was an interesting dish and was a bit spicy, especially with the small chillies which I ate and had me sweating! Not at all like pho, this is more soup like with an array of ingredients that tantalize the taste buds.

I must say that this restaurant is a real standout. Yes, we’ve been eating lots of delicious food, but this is a restaurant that really impressed me and one I would highly recommend.

Hoi An Ancient City
Hoi An Ancient City
Hoi An Ancient City
Then we set off to The World Cultural Heritage: The Ancient Town of Hoi An to explore different areas. There’s ancient temples and heaps of markets selling all kinds of things. Hoi An is a shopping mecca and known for tailoring. We passed by two tailoring places recommended by Intrepid: Yaly and Blue Eye. Each gave a succinct spiel so you knew everything there is to know. They’re also very smooth. One said how about a suit for you? It make you look very handsome. And sexy! Did I just called ugly?

Hoi An - Japanese Bridge

Hoi An – Japanese Bridge

Hoi An Ancient City

A stream of tourists riding in cyclos

A stream of tourists riding in cyclos

This is quite an amazing place and unlike the other cities we’ve visited, it’s dominated by tourists. The city is completely walkable and covers a smallish area easily accessible by foot. Or you could hire a bike or take a cyclo.

Dinner at Ba Le Well Restaurant eating Hoi An Street Food
Dinner at Ba Le Well Restaurant eating Hoi An Street Food
For dinner we headed to Ba Le Well Restaurant for Hoi An street food. Vietnamese greens, a salad, spring rolls, satay chicken skewers, pork skewers, Hoi An pancake, dipping sauce, and rice paper rolls.
Bale Well Restaurant Details
Dinner at Ba Le Well Restaurant eating Hoi An Street Food
Dinner at Ba Le Well Restaurant eating Hoi An Street Food
We watched one of the ladies show us how to assemble. Wow! So tasty and filling. It may seem like we keep eating the same thing, rice paper rolls, but believe me each is completely different. I really enjoyed the food. We finished off with a mango or chocolate dessert and fresh pineapple.
Dinner at Ba Le Well Restaurant eating Hoi An Street Food

Dinner at Ba Le Well Restaurant eating Hoi An Street Food

The night’s damage, I think we did the food justice

I joined a few of the ladies on our tour to take in the atmosphere of the markets at night. It’s also a full moon so everyone lights incense and has a small offering outside there shop. The tide is huge, submerging streets we walked down a few hours earlier. We bought some floating lanterns and put them into the river.
River filled with floating lanterns as part of the full moon ceremony

Cargo Cafe Desserts
We had a good walk around and then ended up at Cargo Cafe for some delectable desserts. So many to chose from, I had profiteroles with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. What can I say? I’m a happy man! This restaurant is one of the four restaurants operated by Ms Vi, Mermaid Restaurant being the one we visited for lunch. It has a fine dining restaurant upstairs and a dessert bar downstairs.

 

Saturday 6 Dec 2014 – Hoi An

Unfortunately I’ve been feeling unwell so I’ve sacrificed the bike tour and cooking demonstration which I was most looking forward to.

The hotel has some western channels and a restaurant so I had a very nourishing bowl of creamed corn chicken soup which was delicious, though a bit on the rich side. For mains I had sweet and sour pork which was okay and washed it down with some tasty vegetable juice.
Sweet And Sour Pork

 

Sunday 7 Dec 2014 – Hoi An

Still unwell so taking it easy. Been enjoying the breakfast buffet and they had a refreshing peach juice which is just what I needed.

For lunch I had a fish pizza which was tasty. The base is quite thick and crunchy and with some tomato (Tabasco) sauce helps to reduce the richness of the seafood and gooey cheese. I had the same vegetable juice as yesterday but it taste even better. Not like a proper pizza in terms of the base, but pretty tasty otherwise.
Seafood Pizza

I returned for dinner and while not in Paris, it’s hard to go past duck à l’orange. Quite a tasty meal, the orange citrus pairs well with duck. Also had to grab some fruit juice. Yum.
Duck à l'orange

 

Monday 8 Dec 2014 – Ho Chi Minh City

View of Ho Chi Minh City

View of Ho Chi Minh City

Post Office

Post Office

Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral

I received a wake up call at 5:30am for an early start to the day. We had a buffet breakfast, took a 45 minute ride to the airport and then got the Vietnamese experience by flying Jetstar. After a short 1 hr flight, we landed in Ho Chi Minh City.

War Remnants Museum
War Remnants Museum - Army Vehicles From The Vietnam War
First stop was the War Remnants Museum created by two journalists to remember the journalists fallen during the Vietnam war but to also tell the full story. It draws upon the works of a variety of journalists, regardless of what country they’re from or political views. They even sourced documents from Vietnam that the government provided. There’s 7 sections covering 3 floors plus the outside area. The conflict is told primarily via photos. Being before my time, it’s an interesting place to understand more about the war, but the exhibit is stomach turning, confronting, horrific, moving, and upsetting. The effects of agent orange, the toxic chemical sprayed to clear the forrest and foliage where forces were hiding, and the effects on the people and subsequent generations was horrible. I could only take so much.

Reunification Palace
Then it was of to the Reunification Palace for some photos before we stopped off for lunch at Pho 2000, upstairs from Red Bean Cafe.

Lunch at Pho 2000 - Chicken Noodle
I had a refreshing mango drink and are chicken noodle. So tasty. Been feeling pretty bad so I was glad to check into our hotel to get some sleep.

Next up, we went to the AO Show. It’s a cultural performances using dance, music, acrobatics, and choreography to tell a story about Vietnam. I got the cheap tickets which means you sit on the sides but the seats were good. What a fabulous show! I’d highly recommend you see this if you’re in HCMC.

After watching the show at the Opera House, we thought we needed a slightly more upmarket meal to match the experience so we went to Lemongrass Vietnamese Restaurant.

With one of the ladies in our tour, we ordered our own dishes but shared them:

Lotus stem salad with shrimp and pork
Dinner at Lemongrass Vietnamese Restaurant - Lotus stem salad with shrimp and pork
Mango salad with beef
Dinner at Lemongrass Vietnamese Restaurant - Mango salad with beef
Braised prawns with almonds
Dinner at Lemongrass Vietnamese Restaurant - Braised prawns with almonds
Squid, chilli, and lemongrass hotpot
Dinner at Lemongrass Vietnamese Restaurant - Squid, chilli, and lemongrass hotpot
I just can’t get enough of these Vietnamese salads which are just refreshing and filling too. Lovely meal, probably would have appreciated it more if I weren’t feeling so bad.

We then ventured upstairs to take a look at the city at night before heading back to the hotel.
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Tuesday 9 Dec 2014 – Mekong Delta

After a buffet breakfast we hopped on our bus to travel towards the Mekong Delta. It’s a longish drive but we got to the river and met a local from the area, Hun, who will guide us around.

Anyone for rice? Rice paddies are a constant sight along the trip to the Mekong Delta

Anyone for rice? Rice paddies are a constant sight along the trip to the Mekong Delta

The Mekong Delta is filled with house boats

The Mekong Delta is filled with house boats

A small home on the Mekong Delta

A small home on the Mekong Delta

A man made pool to cultivate fish

A man made pool to cultivate fish

Fresh fish market Vietnamese style

Fresh fish market Vietnamese style

Petrol station for your boat

Petrol station for your boat

 

Making rice paper

We took a relaxing cruise along the river and our guide pointed out the floating markets. Several people live on boats, coming from far to sell their wares. To draw attention, a long bamboo with whatever they’re selling, is stuck to the end and points vertically so people from far can see.

Making candies

Making candies

Making popping rice

 

Making popped noodle

We made a few stops to see how rice paper is made, rice and snake wine being produced, candied fruits, and popping rice (like popcorn but so much better). We sat down to tea and a sample of candied items. I’m not sure if we can bring this into Australia otherwise I’d be taking some home.

We stopped for lunch at a local home stay which was supposed to be light but was anything but.

Elephant Ear Fish
Lunch at home stay on Mekong River - Elephant Ear Fish
Mini Spring Rolls
Lunch at home stay on Mekong River - Mini Spring Rolls
Caramelized Pork
Lunch at home stay on Mekong River - Caramelized Pork
Vegetable Soup
Lunch at home stay on Mekong River - Vegetable Soup
Most meals in Vietnam end with a serving of tropical fruit and we continue to be treated to tasty items like pineapple and jackfruit.

We then hopped off the boat into a row boat where we went down a branch of the river taking in the tranquility, observing the chickens roaming about. We got off after 20 or so minutes and then walked along a hardened track which lay homesteads behind all the bushes along the river.

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Rambutans

Rambutans

We then visited a nursery, viewing all kinds of tropical fruits and then had tea.

Just across the river is a short journey to a home stay, where we will be spending the night with a local family. I thought the home stay might be quite limited in terms of facilities but it was more than comfortable and had power points (time to charge my mobile), hot and cold running water, a toilet, shower, our own rooms, lights, a fan, and a raised bed with a thin mattress and mosquito net. I thought we would be on the floor in one big room.

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For dinner we all got in the kitchen to help prepare and cook most of the food with the family. Then we sat down for dinner and feasted once again. To celebrate, something was provided in tiny handleless tea cups. I had a sip and gagged. Rice wine. What the hell, I downed the rest.

Pumpkin flower stuffed with tattoo mixture and then deep fried
A couple of different Vietnamese salads
Sea snails
Dinner with local family at their home stay on Mekong Delta River
More food followed.

I thought on this trip we might go on the slightly, only very slightly, hungry side. Rather, it’s the opposite. We’re full but not stuffed. We chatted with the local family and our tour guides before turning in for the night. We were pre-warned that we would be woken up by roosters and ducks.

Wednesday 10 Dec 2014 – Ho Chi Minh City

Yep, right enough we were woken by the rosters crowing and crowing and crowing. The mosquito nets are a godsend as they’re all on the outside waiting to get in. We did spray ourselves with mosquito repellent before though. We had a simple breakfast of omelet, baguette, strawberry jam, tea, and fruit. We thanked the family for their generous hospitality and allowing us into their home and set off down the Mekong River where we arrived at a town and went straight to the markets. It’s a rather confronting sight, animal / fish welfare not the best, but the produce is fresh. They even sell snake to eat and eel. Lots of fresh produce too. We bid farewell to Hun and hopped on the bus for our journey back to Ho Chi Minh City. Plenty of rice paddies to be seen.

Fresh food markets Fresh food markets Fresh food markets Fresh food markets

Once back in the city we stopped at a place for a quick moment to get a bahn mi but it wasn’t the traditional variety. There was a stall in Hoi An which our tour leader pointed out to us that sold a really good bahn mi but I was sick so didn’t go. Probably the only regret, not having a proper bahn mi. I’ll keep that for next time.

We arrived at our hotel and had a few hours to spare. Some explored, others rested like me.

Then it was off to a cooking school where we made a few dishes before sitting down for an early dinner, or last supper as a group. So full once again.

Squid Salad

Squid Salad

Cooking School Kitchen Area

Cooking School Kitchen Area

Claypot Ginger Snakefish

Claypot Ginger Snakefish

Creme Caramel

Creme Carame

 

We had to rush off and make our way to our next stop, to see a water puppet show. It’s quite entertaining and has lovely music but all the speech is in Vietnamese! Would be great if there was an English version, subtitles or something like that. The show is 45 minutes and has 17 short mini performances telling stories representing Vietnam. I’ve never seen anything like it before. It’s very relaxed and interesting and not costly.

Water Puppet Theatre

Water Puppet Theatre

Water Puppet Show

Water Puppet Show

To finish off we went to a bar and a drink before heading back to the hotel where it’s still sticky. We said our final goodbyes as some of us head off home while others may continue traveling in the city or elsewhere. We also bid farewell to our tour leader who has been nothing short of excellent. His knowledge of Vietnam, the history he has an imparted on us, efficiency in organizing optional activities, and keeping us entertained with some funny stories has made the tour so much fun. It’s been an absolutely amazing experience learning something new at each turn, or at least knowing you’re still alive after not being knocked over by a scooter!

Ho Chi Minh City

The pedestrian crossing does not mean you should cross!

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