Cooking is not my forte but the highlight of my trip to Vietnam was definitely the cooking class in Hanoi. I certainly can recommend to anyone to take a food tour in Vietnam. We walked to the local markets and were amazed of all the variety of fresh ingredients – from herbs,vegetables, live fish, fresh meat (only hours old and only displayed for strict times) and even unusual silk worms and frogs. We then had amazing instructions from a lovely Vietnamese girl and cooked a four course meal including a banana leaf salad, rice paper rolls, ginger chicken and coconut rice pudding with a local beer in hand! I even tried the chilli herb silk worms.
Food is incredible in Vietnam and varies in each province. A local delight is the strong coffee which is usually served with condensed milk -hot or cold. In Vietnam tradition, we also tried the delicious pho (pronouced fur) which is beef or chicken seasoned soup with vegetables, noodles and chilli.
The food coma continued in Hanoi. Hanoi much to most people’s surprise is the capital city of Vietnam and very different from Ho Chi Minh. The Hoan Kiem Lake is a large freshwater lake in the middle of the city and reminded me of Central Park New York with buskers, cafes, many weddings and delicious fresh ice cream but with unique temples in the middle! The ice cream was cold, creamy and I chose the coconut flavour which was refreshing in the humidity. The famous water puppet shows are held here and then you are transported into the chaos of bargaining in the markets and night markets in the Old Quarter. At night you can dine in local restaurants usually sitting on plastic chairs in the street al fresco or try a fancy French restaurant or cafe. Karoke, massage parlours, markets and restaurants continue late into the night.
We stayed in a heritage gem- Sofitel Legend Metropole which is a historic landmark since 1901- they even have bunker tours daily and the decor is colonial style with amazing restaurants (including a 2 Michelin star rating) and magnificent rooms. Hanoi is the gateway to Sapa (rice paddy fields and small villages), Mai Chau and Halong bay cruising up in the North.
In Central Vietnam, the seafood is fresh and tasty as Hoi An is spread out along the coast and fishing is a major industry. A great snack which is now popular in Australia is Banh Mi Roll (marinated pork, cabbage,salad,duck pate) on a bread roll.
Hoi An’s ancient village (old town) was my favourite place on this trip -I was transported back in time to a small village with traditional houses, Japanese bridge, floating boats, fresh food markets (fish still jumping), tuks tuks, locals bargaining, beautiful temples and fantastic shops where you can anything you want tailored (a colleague had a cocktail dress made and delivered to hotel in Da Nang in 6 hours). The Silk Factory and lantern making shop is also well worth visiting!
On the way from Da Nang airport you pass many beaches including the famous China beach now renamed My Khe Beach with white sand, palm trees and pristine water of China sea with many resorts being built. It is worth half a day at Marble Mountain – to see the beautiful scenery, Buddhist temples and statues in the caves and then see where the marble is carved- after you will see a factory where amazing marble statues are shipped around the world (we saw tags for New York, Italy, Brisbane, Thailand).
In Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) the french influence from Vietnam’s rich history is evident in the architecture, French style bakeries, restaurants, well maintained parks and there are many amazing new shops and hotels. The Central post office, opera house, Notre Dame Cathderal all reminded me of Paris. Most of the western 5 star hotels are managed by Australians and our favourite experience was the nitrogen ice cream bar at the Sofitel Plaza Saigon. Ho Chi Minh boasts to have the best pho (soup but around the country I found them all very tasty). Amongst all the fresh, fantastic food there is also the intensity of the rich but recent war history. The Cu Chi Tunnels and Mekong Day Tour are must do day tours. The clever defense tactics,history and explanation of the Vietamese Cong (VC) in the war is fascinating. I did climb through through the trapdoor and crawled through the 20m tunnel. The Mekong Delta has impressive floating markets the locals in the village. Food is so popular there is even a Vespa motorbike street food tour in Vietnam and GetABoutAsia can arrange your personal Vietnam food tour for you.