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A girl and her younger brother sell paper candle boats during the Tet New Year celebrations in Hoi An, Vietnam. After purchasing these boats, a wish is made for the new year and the boat is released into the Thu Bon River.
The beach that will leave you speechless. Bai Sao (South Beach - in English) is located on the Vietnamese island, Phu Quoc. This place oozes relaxation. The mood on the island is very different from mainland Vietnam and if you have any inclination to see a beach whilst in Vietnam make it Bai Sao. Sipping on a cold Saigon Beer and slurping down some seafood pho will be a moment of pure bliss. The main tourist area is on Phu Quoc is Long Beach. Don't hire a driver to take you out for a venture, rent a scooter from your guesthouse. Dirt cheap pricing and a flexible itinerary make renting a scooter the ideal way to see Phu Quoc. Drive south on the main road outside all of the guesthouses on Long Beach (called: Tran Hung Dao). Once you've gone far enough keep your eyes peeled for a combination of signs one with 46 on it and the other with Bai Sao. You will head north on 46 for less than a mile catching an unmarked road heading east. You may feel lost in the middle of your journey as a large portion of the earlier mentioned Tran Hung Dao is unmarked, don't fret there is a New Zealander who works at the Phu Quoc Pearl Farm along this road. Stop in and he will answer any questions you may have about the area.
In Vietnam’s bustling metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City, glittering high-rises and global brands are on the rise—but at L’Usine, a café-boutique hidden along shopping strip Dong Khoi, it’s the old, the handmade, and the local that are revered. Housed in a 1890s building that was once the glamorous Hotel du Saigon, the enormous space was recently renovated to its original splendor, with 20-foot ceilings, oversized arched windows and ornate iron columns. Weaving looms and sewing machine bases from the city’s junkyards have been reborn as fixtures for L’Usine’s treasure trove of locally designed clothing, accessories, and housewares. Look for buttoned-pocket men’s cotton tees from Tinwell & Bismarck and ruffled, deconstructed linen dresses and patterned silk scarves from Trois Filles. And if Wetter Indochine’s darling cupcake-shaped lacquerware tempts your sweet tooth, a homemade red velvet cupcake is just steps away in L’Usine’s café. 151 Đồng Khởi, 1st Floor, District 1, 84/(86) 674 3565, lusinespace.com
We spent our last day in Ho Chi Minh City with Geoffrey Deetz, a restaurateur and foodie from Oakland, California, who has lived in Vietnam for the past decade and operates the wonderful Black Cat Cafe. He and his Vietnamese girlfriend took us on a street food tour that included stops in District 4 (down a boggling maze of alleys); at a stall behind the giant Ben Thanh Market; at a bustling corner in District 1; and to a remote outpost in District 5. The food tally, in order of consumption: bun khot, dollar-size spongy rice-flour pancakes topped with shrimp and minced pork; luscious fresh corn milk; bun thit nuong, noodles with imperial rolls, BBQ pork, herbs, greens, and a good drenching of fish sauce; xoi ga, sticky rice topped with shredded chicken, chicken livers, gizzards, and crisp fried shallots; and finally, in a crowning explosion of flavor, tamarind crab, stir-fried in a giant wok with pork belly, garlic, tamarind, sugar, and salt, and served with crunchy-soft banh (Vietnamese baguette rolls) and cold beer.
Halong Bay is a breathtakingly beautiful bay in the Gulf of Tonkin, comprised of densely concentrated zone of stone islands. The only way to see it all is to take a leisurely boat ride around the bay (a day trip or an overnight stay) soaking up the spectacular scenery, exploring the grottoes and caves, and just enjoying what seemed like nature’s work of art. http://0dysseusjournal.blogspot.com/2012/01/vietnam-natures-work-of-art.html
A visit to the charming Vietnamese city of Hoi An isn't complete without a fresh bowl or two of Cao lầu. Cao lầu, a noodle dish prepared with sliced pork and fresh vegetables, is considered authentic only if it is made with water drawn from a specific ancient well hidden within the old city of Hoi An. Not to worry, this dish is easily found in restaurant menus all over Hoi An. Try a bowl in a few different spots--but some of the best bowls can be bought from the street vendors who appear along the river at night.
Vietnam has a coffee culture all to its own and in Hanoi, this includes a few cafes that serve it with egg. Whipped with sweetened condensed milk, the egg sits atop the slow roasted coffee, providing you with a hot afternoon treat that you'll think about for days. URL below is a recipe for how to make it, but Cafe Giang in Hanoi was the one I enjoyed the most. If you're too warm for egg coffee, try the yoghurt coffee on their menu instead.
I first discovered Vietnamese food as a kid in Montreal, but I always thought it was just about the pho. Of course, like many countries in the region, the food differs depending on the province and one of the many dishes I learned to love were banh cuon, a steamed rice crepe rolled with pork and white pepper and topped with steamed pork sausage and curled fried garlic. With fresh rice paper rolls and a pork chop with a fried egg and rice, it's the perfect sharing meal to share with friends. You'll leave satisfied and smiling. Approx $1.50 per dish.
Whole animal butchery and cooking is one of the trends du jour in high-end Western restaurants that have the space and a sensitivity to sustainability. But it's old hat in rural America and throughout the world, even in the largest of cities. The Ben Thanh Market in high on the list of must-see destinations for visitors to Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon, Vietnam, and this stall's offal display sees a lot of camera action, if not a lot of purchases by tourists used to eating a little higher on the hog.
One overcast day in Hoi An, my husband and I wandered down to the river and found a lady and her 2 young daughters willing to row us about 30 minutes up river, to a pottery-making village we had read about. When we arrived, the little girls decided to be our impromptu guides. They led us from house to house, where we watched villagers at their craft. As we were nearing the end of our “tour,” we wandered past a house where a very old woman was sitting on the ground, shaping a jar on a small wooden wheel. She smiled warmly and waved us in. We watched in amazement as she expertly shaped and smoothed each jar. Fortunately for us, a younger woman there spoke English and told us that the woman was her 88 year-old grandmother! She told us every generation of her family learns this skill and participates in one way or another. I wandered around the make-shift shelves displaying their work, and then I found it! A beautiful teapot, with six small Asian-style teacups; lovingly painted with red dragonflies and green leaves. The young woman told me that her grandmother had made it, and she herself had painted it…. It was exactly what I was looking for. Now back in the US, every time I look at my teapot, I have the joy of knowing the hands that made it. You can visit Thanh Ha village by boat or bicycle from Hoi An. Definitely save your dollars and use them there. Many of the villagers are barely scraping by as most of the pottery is now being mass-produced in factories.
The Hotel Metropole in Hanoi is renowned for its regional Vietnamese cuisine. Sign up for a “Culinary Journey” and accompany the chef to a local market. After lunch at Spices Garden restaurant, retreat to the kitchen to prepare some of the dishes you just ate, including pho. From $150. This appeared in the May 2013 issue.
Apparently a private luxury tour of Halong bay for 3 days with 6 people only costs $250 per person! This 'junk' had 2 bedrooms, 2 jaccuzi tubs, a sun deck, formal dining room, and a staff of 5. Granted upon further inspection everything was just a bit off- the arms fell off the deck chairs, the jacuzzi tub erupted water like the Bellagio fountain, and the bed was as soft as a plank of wood. All things considered I'm pretty sure this is the 5 star standard for a junk in Halong. The lovely staff more than made up for any little defects in the accommodations. Our guide spoke fluent English and was a great pal. The chef made elaborate 5 course meals that were some of the best we had the whole time there. When he saw our enthusiasm for his artful vegetable carvings of birds and flowers he sweetly created a massive fruit dragon display for our final meal! I'd definitely recommend these tours! Be sure to bring warm layers though... http://www.whitedolphincruises.com/
Pho Ga (chicken pho) is traditional to northern Vietnam and is served all day. The best time to get it from a local vendor is early in the morning because it's SO fresh and makes for a perfect breakfast. As a side note about this photo, I love spicy food so I thought that this was the perfect amount of chili peppers. As they warmed up however they spread a layer of hot chili oil over the soup making it very very spicy. While the colors make for a pretty picture, I had a stomach ache later. Stick to about 3 slices and then see how it tastes in 10 min.
My first day in Ha Noi I was lucky enough to meet up with fellow AFAR traveler, Heather, who also aimlessly wanders to get a sense of a new place. Soon after dropping off our bags we started following our curiosities. At some point in the afternoon we came upon these old railroad tracks that were strewn with garbage, slightly elevated above the street, and lined by the backs of apartment buildings. Looking back on this photo, it captured my impression of the place- fresh fruit, worn facades, roaming cats, delicate shade hats and colorful bicycles all seem typical of Hanoi now. If you can, walk down the rail road tracks and bring some snacks for strays!
Let me set the scene for you. A sleepy Vietnamese town on the Thu Bon River, a place where colorful shops loom over ancient cobbled streets, lanterns illuminate the path through a grandiose covered bridge, and tiny men pilot tiny skiffs across the glassy surface of the water. At the river's edge, crates have been turned upside down and stand in as tables, with tiny plastic stools nearby. A plump, jovial woman places a steaming bowl of Cao Lau before me. Cao Lau is a regional dish regional Vietnamese dish made with hearty flat noodles, pork, and veggies. The noodles are made with water from an ancient Cham well, while the recipe is a closely guarded regional secret (if you believe what you hear on the road. I try to believe as much as I'm told). Dining on the river in Hoi An is a quintessential Vietnamese experience. You deserve to treat yourself to this one.
When I traveled to Hoi An, the prettied-up UNESCO-protected town on Vietnam's central coast for AFAR, I wanted to unravel the mysteries of the town's iconic (and secretive) noodle (and noodle dish of the same name), cao lau. One family has had a monopoly on making the noodle for generations and no one knows exactly how it's made. After some work (and talking to the right people), I was allowed into the family's lair. The above photo shows Em, the family patriarch, pounding away at the rice dough that is steamed and, eventually, formed into the thick, chewy noodles known as cao lau.
It took ages to find the (much acclaimed on AFAR) sunken B-52 bomber in Ha Noi. The twisted pile of metal hardly resembles a plane anymore but it was interesting none the less. Even more fascinating to me was the 'lake' it had fallen into. This emerald green pool was literally bubbling from some mysterious living sludge... I half expected the 3 eyed fish from the Simpsons to crawl out! It was awesome.
An important destination for East Asian traders in the 16th and 17th centuries, Hoi An is famous for its traditional Chinese silk lanterns. This shop’s family has produced its own lotus-shaped versions for generations. Du Kien Thanh. 49 Le Loi St. This appeared in the May/June 2012 issue. Photo by Gerhard Zwerger-Schon/Age Fotostock.
Sailing around the peaks of Halong Bay is breathtaking, surprising and most serene. Aside from the many boats (junks) on the water, a sunset return to the main junk by row boat found a moment of pure solitude.
Cuc Gach Quan or depending on who you ask, "Brick" is an old converted French villa designed by Vietnamese architect Tran Binh. It's not easy exploring the local grub in a country like Vietnam. Sometimes it takes a place like Brick to highlight what the Vietnamese cuisine is all about- flavor in unusual places. With a menu the size of a hotel bible it is impossible not to find something that you would enjoy. Brick has all ways been an excellent first dinner in Saigon for friends and family. From cactus grilled with garlic to soft shell crab with lemon grass to manila clams in a fennel broth to caramelized pork in clay pot, there isn't a time that I haven't left with a smile and a full happy belly. Cuc Gach Quan 10 Dang Tat, Q1 0838480144
Pedal past rice paddies, lotus ponds, and Khmer temples in the Mekong Delta on a SpiceRoads bicycle tour. The company offers 13 cycling journeys around Vietnam, from a one-day meander through the villages that surround Hanoi to a 10-day, 329-mile climb into the northwest Hoang Lien mountain range. On the latter trip, you’ll meet Hmong, Yao, and other hill tribe people as you explore the trails around Fansipan, one of Southeast Asia’s highest peaks. Then take on the 4,265-foot Pha Din Pass— according to local legend, it’s the border between heaven and earth. 66/2-712-5305, spiceroads.com Photo courtesy of SpiceRoads. This story appeared in the September/October 2011 issue.
Whether I’m at the beach or in the city, sunset is by far one of my favorite times of day. There are few better things in life than taking the time to enjoy a cool cocktail while watching the sun set over a sultry city skyline or glimmering ocean. A city that’s slowly evolving, Saigon is still a quaint mix of old-school establishments like Rooftop Garden at Rex Hotel which came to prominence as a watering hole for journos and US Military officers during the Vietnam war, mixed with sexy new places like the uber-cool ‘dress to impress’ bars like ‘Chill’. As someone who lived and worked in Vietnam for 13 years, I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve tried a fair few of the drinking establishments in Saigon. So, if you’re headed to Vietnam and would like the views of an ‘insider’, you can check out my latest blog to see the best of the well-know rooftop bars (as well as some of the lesser-known ones) and my tips for where to go for that heavenly sunset drink in HCMC.
The term Banh Mi actually refers only to the bread, a light airy white baguette brought to Vietnam by French colonists. But colloquially, a banh mi is a sandwich with any number of fillings. This lady stuffed her banh mi with grilled pork patties, fresh crispy cucumber and cilantro and pickled carrots. After she squirted siracha sauce on top she charged 18,000 dong, which sounds like a mind-blowing amount until you do some tricky conversion math and realize it's about 86 cents. Bon Appetit!
There are so many variations to the Pho noodle soup in Vietnam, and yet, one of the best one I've ate was in Ben Thanh Market in Ho Chi Minh City. Grab a plastic chair, chopsticks and don't forget the lime. It's a great combination.
Ben Thanh Market in the city center of Ho Chi Minh, is one stop shopping for pretty much everything under the Vietnamese sun. It's arranged in sections according to categories, from textiles and souvenirs, to fresh produce. Be sure to consult the maps at the entrances to scout out your route and arrange a meeting place for when you inevitably get lost. Also bring your game face and be prepared to haggle a bit- the prices are marked up considerably- feel free to cut their initial offer in half and they'll work with you. When you need a break, there are quite a few little food stands run by business savvy Vietnamese women who will gladly grab you if you get close enough, and press you down into one of their seats for some amazing Bahn Mi and iced coffee.
Halong Bay is by far the most beautiful place I've ever been to... It's like the movie Avatar minus the blue guys and destruction. Tall peaks jump out of the water all around you, and floating villages are hidden around every bend. If you travel to Vietnam, definitely make a day trip to Hanoi and spend it relaxing on a boat in the middle of the bay.
The greatest seafood experience in Vietnam may just be found on the outskirts of the city. Often when guests are visiting or just because we haven't been there in a while, a trip to Tamarind Crabs is in order. Exactly who discovered this gem and spread the word throughout the expat community will forever remain a mystery. Usually the story is the stuff of urban legends, something to the effect of “A friend of a friend of a friend brought me here but don’t worry, you’ll love it.” The lights of the city’s high rises fade away as you approach the more chaotic streets of Saigon past. Highways become single lane streets and then alleyways. At last you arrive and while you pay the cab driver less than you would to go to the airport it feels like you’re in a different city. The ordering process is simple. How many people? How hungry are you? Two crabs per person but in the end we always order too much. The maestro of the wok mixes the bubbling cauldron with garlic, garlic, more garlic, sugar, sugar and more sugar. Then comes a healthy serving of tamarind reduction and 10-12 unlucky crabs. The end result is a perfect sauce. It’s a pure sugar rush complimented by the tangy tamarind, a garlicky kick and a consistency of warm maple syrup. The crab and sides of fresh French bread are the delivery method for the sauce. The hardest part is holding back when the steaming platters of finished crab are set on the table. Pick up one too early and you risk third-degree burns!
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