Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Hoa Tuc Restaurant, 74 Hai Bà Trưng, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Saigon Cooking Class, above Hoa Tuc Restaurant, 74 Hai Bà Trưng, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Ho Chi Minh City
I’m up early to meet the Chef for a guided ‘Cooks Tour’ of the Market before heading back for the Saigon Cooking Class. Phew, made it just in time – 8:30am, but no one else is here and no Chef? Maybe I’ve missed them. Inside? Nope? Back to the meeting point – no one? Oh well, looks like a leisurely coffee for me and I’ll meet them above Hoa Tuc Restaurant at 10:00am. There are four entrances into the Market, if you go on the ‘Cooks Tour’, make sure you are waiting at the right gate, unlike me! To find the Saigon Cooking Class walk past Hao Tuc Restaurant, turn left and head upstairs via the side door. The sunlit room is set up with two long parallel tables, one for cooking and the other for dining.The Chef was wonderful, with a very personable style. We prepared/cooked a course, sat at the dining table chatting while we devoured our achievements and then started preparing the next course. First off we made Mustard Leaf Rolls with Crunchy Vegetables and Prawns, really delicious fresh flavours. Back home I place all the prepared ingredients in the centre of the table for guests to prepare their own and to make the preparation less fiddly wrap the prawn on the inside – much easier and tastes just the same. Next was Crispy Rice Noodles with Crunchy Vegetables; making the noodles was fun but very fiddly and not easy! For me the wonderful fresh flavours of the vegetables were spoiled with the addition of a Tapioca paste. However, Chicken Stew in a Clay Pot with Ginger; what a dish to finish with. This was a real stand-out. Lemongrass could be used instead of Ginger and you could substitute Prawns for the Chicken. I wonder what it would be like with Clams? The Saigon Cooking Class is thoroughly recommended. Great dishes, a completely hands-on experience, ideal set-up and a delightful Chef.
War Remnants Museum, 28 Võ Văn Tần, 6, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City
Nha Hang Ngon Restaurant, 160 Pasteur, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Ho Chi Minh City
You’ll know you are approaching Nha Hang Ngon Restaurant when the smoky BBQ aromas fill your nostrils and set your taste buds alight. Depending on the time of day the queue to this very popular restaurant will soon come into view. Whether you are going for lunch or dinner, try to get there early to avoid too long a wait and ask for a table in the courtyard of this grand French Colonial building, under the canopy of beautiful Frangipani trees. Chefs are preparing specialty dishes under awnings that edge the bustling courtyard. I was on my own for my first visit here, before Jill, Liam and Rory arrived. My waiter gestures that I will get very fat if I try to eat the Seafood Hot Pot by myself (bet I could have made a good go of it). Anyway with his guidance I had crisp and flavoursome Seafood Spring Rolls, followed by a Pork, Chilli and Noodle Salad that was bursting with fresh flavours. Back for a second visit, this time for lunch with Jill, Liam and Rory in tow. The place is packed, we can be seated inside immediately but I suggest it’s worth the wait to sit in the courtyard under the Frangipanis. After only 10-15 minutes we are seated and enjoy a wonderful meal and even with the place mobbed the service was brilliant. Salad of bbq pork, with peanuts, coriander, chillies and crispy fried shallots sprinkled on top. The flavours combined beautifully. Vietnamese Pancake with pork and chicken and an abundance of fresh herbs. These wonderful pancakes are the Vietnamese take on the French crêpe and what an advancement they are. BBQ chicken skewers, bite size morsels of chicken that melted in your mouth
The Saigon Culinary Art Center Cooking Class, 42/3 Nguyễn Văn Trỗi, Phu Nhuan District, Ho Chi Minh City
Notre Dame Cathedral / Post Office precinct, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Ho Chi Minh City
It’s a Sunday morning and I’ve stumbled on the sight of numerous brides with their grooms outside Notre Dame Cathedral lining up for photo opportunities. Within a fifty metre strip there must have been seven brides, some had prime spots and were mid-photo shoot, while others waited patiently for their turn. All of this in the midst of a throng of on-lookers all seemingly as amused as me at this scene. Inside Notre Dame the Sunday Mass Service was just concluding. The church was packed with worshippers and many tourists like me at the back. Ceiling fans were in over-drive throughout the church but it was still a sweat-box. The service concluded with what I’m sure was a lovely Vietnamese hymn but not quite like hearing it in Latin. Back outside and the brides and grooms have all vanished – truly bizarre! Directly across the road is the Central Post Office, a grand Colonial structure. As you step inside the vast vaulted ceiling provides temporary relief from the baking heat outside. Normally your try to avoid going to the post office but here it’s a delightful interior which invites you to simply sit, chill and admire. Back on the street in search of ice-cream and we’ve spotted a 7-Eleven. A bonus it’s air-conditioned. We settle in on stools to enjoy our ice-creams prompting Jill to wryly comment “I never could have imagined being happy to sit in a 7-Eleven!”
Ben Thanh Market, Phan Bội Châu, Bến Thành, Quận 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Pho Quynh Cafe, 323 Phạm Ngũ Lão, Quận 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Beef Noodle Stew, a favoured dish in Saigon, is the signature dish at Pho Quynh Cafe, about ten minutes walk beyond the Ben Thanh Market along Pham Ngu Lao Street. It’s well worth the walk in the baking heat to taste this brothy stew laden with melt in the mouth chunks of beef with a side plate heaving with fresh herbs, mint, basil, and ‘long coriander’ plus freshly cut limes. It was fantastic, worth every cent of the $1.80 price!!
Reunification Palace, Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa, Bến Thành, Quận 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Garten Stadt, 34 Đồng Khởi, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Yep I’ve spotted a ‘German Bar’ in Saigon, the Garten Stadt and I’m heading in there. “Why go into a German Bar, of all places, when travelling in Vietnam?” Well let me tell you why, first because it’s air-conditioned and second because they have got huge glasses of icy-cold beer in there. As I gulp my way through a refreshing lager lightening fills the skies and it’s chucking it down out there, “oh well, give me another one of those ice cold beers please” Back outside as the rain relents all the scooter riders re-appear wearing poncho raincoats and the cyclo-riders have pulled off the road under awnings taking the opportunity for a sleep.
Quan An Ngon Restaurant, 138 Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, across from the Reunification Palace, Ho Chi Minh City
Smoky, mouth-watering aromas from the kitchens and table-top cooking lining Nguyen Trung Truc Street fill the air just south of the Reunification Palace gardens and the restaurants here are mobbed with locals. But not tonight for me because I’m heading to Quan An Ngon restaurant. Quan An Ngon is set on an expansive veranda of an old Colonial building and I’m watching plate after plate piled high with fresh herbs arrive at nearby tables. Vietnamese Pancake with Shrimps, Pork and of course, fresh herbs. The shrimps were whole ‘school prawns’, still in their shells adding a wonderful crunch. Whole BBQ Fish in chilli and salt with coriander piled on the side. The fish is moist on the inside and wonderfully crunchy and spicy on the outside
Out on the Streets of Saigon
Nothing can prepare you for the number of motorbikes and scooters on the road and sometimes on the footpath; they can come from any direction, even the wrong direction. To cross the road you take a deep breath, have the courage of your convictions as you step from the footpath, steadily walk in a straight line and like magic they simply weave around you. You could sit forever watching the constant passing of motorbikes. On a Sunday night whole families are out in various configurations fitting onto the one scooter. Imagine for a moment, behind the handlebars of a scooter is a toddler standing up in front of Dad who is steering. Behind Dad is the baby followed by Mum with the eldest on the back holding on to Mum – got the picture? And prepare yourself for the Cyclo-Riders offering to take you anywhere and somewhere, one picking my accent and giving a hearty rendition of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi”. Then there’s the frequent approaches from motorbike riders asking if I want a ride, having politely declined one even offered “female services” as an alternative to a bike ride! Then of course there’s the Shoe Shine Guys – on one outing I took a break from the oppressive heat resting on a park bench and next thing I know I’ve got a Shoe Shine Guy at my feet with glue bottle in hand to repair the toe flap on my hiking shoes. Oh well, time to kill, why not for 20,000 Duong (about $1). Next thing my shoes are getting a scrub and polish, talk about ‘up sell’. Better give him a few thousand more Duong – I think I gave him 26,000 Duong or maybe I ended up giving him 116,000 Duong, as 10,000 and 100,000 Duong are easily confused, either way a good job for $1.20 or was it $6?
Sheraton Hotel, for a “night-cap”, 88 Đồng Khởi, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Ho Chi Minh City
On the way back to our hotel we’ve taken a slight detour to a nearby flash hotel, the Sheraton, where we could get ice-cream and a night-cap in the lobby bar. We settled in and the boys ordered their ice-cream and while attempting to simply order two glasses of red wine for us I got engaged in a convoluted conversation that felt as if it was going to last forever … “what red wine do you have by the glass?”, our waitress replied “we have three glasses on special” and then proceeded to describe each one … “I’ll have the Shiraz please” … “no, you need to have all three, that’s the special”. It seems the only way to get wine by the glass tonight is to order three! So, “oh, OK that sounds good, Jill how about we share the wines?” Phew, I’ve ordered the ‘special’, reckon we’re done and take a deep breath of relief. The waitress then turns to Jill asking “and for you madam?”
Temple Club Restaurant, 29 Tôn Thất Thiệp, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Ho Chi Minh City The Temple Club is a very classy and stylised restaurant. It’s fully booked so a table in the bar will have to do me. This place is very cool, I think the Bar would be a great place for a pre-dinner drink and then to go and eat elsewhere, unfortunately. My Calamari entree was crumbed, deep fried and like rubber bands. I hardly ate any, the waiter enquired and I told him they had been overcooked and tough – he was quite non-plussed. For main course it was Fish in Tamarind wrapped in Banana Leaves – it was served unwrapped. Disappointingly it wasn’t brilliant, particularly as this was by far the most expensive (relatively speaking) restaurant from the entire holiday.
Quan An Ngon Restaurant, 18 Phan Bội Châu, Cửa Nam, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi
Quan An Ngon has two entrances, one on the corner opening directly into the packed courtyard filled with smoky flavours from the surrounding kitchens (try this entrance for a seat in the courtyard) and the side entrance leading inside the old Colonial Building. We were taken up level after level, each just as packed as the courtyard. The Vietnamese Pancake was fantastic and the Spring Rolls, which have fast become a favourite staple for us, were very good. The Satay Beef and Satay Chicken Skewers were mediocre at best, unfortunately. As we were leaving we spotted a beautiful Vietnamese ‘French style’ Patisserie right across the road, so we have to poke our heads in there before jumping in a cab and heading back to our hotel.
Sofitel Metropole Hotel, 15 Ngô Quyền, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi
The Sofitel Metropole is magnificent! The Old Colonial Wing is wonderful and the newer Opera Wing is fantastic – you might have guessed that we loved the Sofitel. A bit surreal really as we walk from the bustling streets of Hanoi and step into these opulent and elegant French Colonial surroundings, the doors are swung open by immaculately presented Vietnamese women in elegant traditional dress greeting us with “Bon Soir Monsieur … Bon Soir Madame” – you almost need to poke your head back outside to check if we are still in Hanoi. The boys are very impressed with our adjoining rooms in the Opera Wing and the pool is a welcome relief from a day out and about in the steamy heat of Hanoi. On returning from our Bai Tu Long Bay (Halong Bay) adventure we have gorgeous adjoining rooms in the Colonial Wing and we’ve scored a Suite – we love this place! Oh, and then there is the Buffet Breakfast, a wonder to behold. Just think Vietnamese freshly baked breads and pastries each morning and you’ll get the idea. Liam sets the benchmark eating all and sundry. I’ve never seen Rory eat so much; Liam is back for his third helping of bacon, they have set a cracking pace. Oh and Jill? Grazing steadily, out-lasting the pace setters with just another “petit croissant”.
Koto Restaurant, (KOTO – Know One, Teach One) 59 Temple of Literature, Văn Miếu, Đống Đa, Hanoi
Koto Restaurant (KOTO – Know One, Teach One), overlooking the Temple of Literature. KOTO is a not-for-profit organisation providing opportunities for former street kids. A great place, we are led upstairs to a table by the window, with lounges, cushions and a coffee table – perfect. A couple of cold beers with Fresh (steamed) Spring Rolls to start and a Mixed Plate of starters. The Deep Fried Spring Rolls on the mixed plate were so delicious we would like another spring roll each – they check if this is ok with the chef and “yes our special request is being prepared”. To our surprise a plate of nine spring rolls is delivered and right behind is another plate stacked with nine spring rolls and behind that another and yep a fourth plate, that makes thirty six spring rolls for the four of us! Talk about ‘lost in translation’. Asked for our mountain of spring rolls to be shared among the staff but they wouldn’t have it, so a take-away pack was prepared. In the meantime we feasted further on Chicken on Lemongrass Skewers wrapped in Rice Paper and a Beef Salad with Noodles. Both were absolutely delicious – an over done description I know, but when meal after meal is so fresh and full of flavours then perhaps a simple “delicious” sums it up, and don’t worry if it wasn’t, believe me, I’d tell you!
Old Quarter, western and northern ends of Hoàn Kiếm Lake
Bikes, bikes and more bikes as we walk via Hoan Kiem Lake to the Old Quarter. Bikes laden with babies or toddlers or young children or any combination thereof. Some with boxes piled high behind the rider, others with enormous packages blocking the rider’s visibility precariously balanced across the handlebars and all weaving in and out of the flow of traffic. Its 42°C today and it’s like walking in a sauna. Rory’s cheeks are flushed and he is visibly staggering. All discomfort is quickly forgotten as we need to cross a major road; adrenaline pumps through our bodies as we walk steadily across the wide intersection where the bikes are like ballerinas on wheels, gracefully flowing behind and in front of us. Jill, Liam and Rory stand stupefied, but thanks to my Manila experience I follow the drill and step confidently to weave through the traffic. We are surrounded by hundreds of bikes and engulfed in a cacophony of polite beeping. We are centre stage of a majestic ballet. Then just a few short moments later we successfully step onto the far footpath. The boys whoop with excitement, while Jill breathes a deep sigh of relief and turning to Liam and Rory states “thank god Dad was here otherwise I think we would have turned back and spent the day in the Hotel!”The eastern edge of Hoan Kiem Lake street sellers smile and say “hello”, letting us pass by without trying to sell us anything. Amazing! People sitting in the park by the lake smile and say “hello’ as we walk along! I’m pleasantly surprised how friendly people are, whereas in Saigon if someone appeared and greeted you “hello” you knew there was a sting coming, that they were trying to sell you something. Having heard so many stories of how Vietnam had changed so much in the last ten to fifteen years it was a real eye opener to walk the streets of the Old Quarter. A step back in time, apart from all the modern advertising. A woman wearing her conical hat is squatting around a wooden stump chopping chicken with a cleaver, street vendors carrying twin baskets suspended from shoulder poles, while others ride bicycles loaded up with herbs. Liam stops at a DVD shop to get the box set of ‘Friends’ for his girlfriend, Tess. Meanwhile a shoe-shine guy has spotted Liam and his shoes are getting the once, twice, thrice work over. The up-sell from cleaning moved to re-heeling to completely re-stitching the soles by hand. As we wait we are ‘sitting ducks’ for all sorts of street hawkers, Jill was ripe for the picking in their eyes. First a guy attempting to sell her a Vietnam army style cap, then a woman with the winning combination of persistence and a sob story gets Jill to cave in and buy a Vietnam army style cap. Step forward the first guy who is still hovering, looks at Jill rather perplexed “Remember me? Why not me?” Now a lady with a pole carrying baskets of fruit has placed her load on Liam’s shoulder and her conical hat on his head, a great photo opportunity, hilarious. Oh, but now we are honour bound to “please buy my fruit”. Get me out of here!!
Night ‘Street Market’ in the Old Quarter, running north to south through the heart of the Old Quarter, across Hang Dao, Hang Ngang, Hàng Đường and Hang Giay Streets, Hanoi map
Liam loves a bargain and is very keen to explore the night street market in the Old Quarter. With Rory in hot pursuit, they are in their element. Liam’s shopping is very targeted: name brand boxers; sunglasses; and Ba Ba Ba (333) beer singlets. After about an hour I’ve well and truly had enough of this so we start looking for Lonely Planet’s recommendations for restaurants around here, but they don’t look great. Meanwhile Jill has spotted a street corner ‘restaurant’ crowded with locals, so we squat ourselves down on tiny little stools around a just as tiny table. It’s still unbelievably hot, the noise on this street corner is incredible and with chicken bones at our feet this is one hell of an experience. Pity the food didn’t come up to scratch. We were attracted by the smoky smells of the BBQ but they are sold out of the BBQ prawns so we go for what turned out to be heavily crumbed and deep fried prawns with loads of scattered garlic cloves. The roast chicken was cooked pretty much the same way! Liam turns green around the gills and doesn’t eat anything.
Temple of Literature, enter off Quốc Tử Giám, Hanoi
11th Century Vietnamese architecture attracted us to visit the Temple of Literature, crowded with locals and the occasional tourist. The Temple was the first University and it is evidently a place of ritual as we spot the locals lighting incense sticks and praying to the various statues within the building – the one of Confucius seems the most popular. Behind Confucius are timber boards that people are queuing up to write on, with their finger! A father is guiding his son through the Temple, stopping at each statue and leaving a ‘scroll’ of some sort, before praying together. We couldn’t make out whether they were generally praying for knowledge and wisdom, or whether exam results are due and they are praying for good results?
Bai Tu Long Ba map (just off the well worn tourist track from Halong Bay)
The four hour car journey was fascinating with manic traffic as we work our way to the outskirts of Hanoi. Highly organised chaos really. Then into the country-side, first bananas then rice paddies, field after field cultivating rice. Farmers in their conical hats and covered from head to foot to protect them from the sun are steadily going about their labour. I wonder if they ever get to have a day off – probably not! Interestingly within the occasional rice paddy are graves, small shrines, I assume to the generations past who have tilled these fields for others to prosper. Along the way we played ‘spot the weirdest thing on a bike’ game. Without a doubt the winner was a bike with a trailer and in the trailer was ……….. an elephant! Bet you would never have guessed that. The main cattle are Braham, just like Northern Australia and the occasional Buffalo helping farmers plough the rice paddy. We drive through ‘speciality areas’ just like in Hanoi where sections of streets are dedicated to specialist products, the same occurs as we drive along the road – first comes the bread vendors, then the pineapple sections, then bamboo, then we come across a stretch of a few kilometres where maize is spread out to dry out the front of houses edging the road and also in front of street-side shops. We’ve heard a lot of unflattering reports about the port in Ha Long City and as we pass by we would have to agree. We are very pleased with our decision to get a cruise that started from Hon Gai, just fifteen minutes further on over the bridge. map A Serene little port greeted us and we were led to a table overlooking the bay with the name of our Junk, ‘Prince II’, on a table identifying that we were at the right spot to start this overnight adventure.
The magnificent beauty of Bai Tu Long Bay map
Life on Board
Hoi An, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, is reached after what was an adventurous forty five minute taxi drive from Danang airport. First our taxi driver exited the airport going the wrong way on a three lane one-way street, then attempted to steer us into visiting a Marble Statue shop, but a polite “thank you, but no thanks” saw us on our way. The theatre started up as he kept stopping and asking people for directions to Hoi An, only the most popular tourist destination in the area. Then as the directions became more obvious with large sign posts, he started asking people for directions to the Life Heritage Resort – the largest hotel and only resort within the town of Hoi An. Call us astute but we smelled a rat reluctantly as he appeared incredibly genuine! After profusely apologising, he is on the phone and moments later stops and a very friendly woman appears at the window explaining he is a friend of hers who isn’t a local however she is from Hoi An and can guide us to our hotel. We are in hot pursuit of this very pleasant lady on her bike, but alarm bells are definitely ringing and we are wondering what the sting might be. But our driver very convincingly reassures us all will be ok and there is no extra charge (not immediately evident anyway). In just a few minutes we our outside the entrance to our hotel and the smiling biker guide is at the window, suddenly launching into sales spiel about coming to visit her clothes shop, which just happened to be opposite to our hotel. We politely decline the invitation but she is now getting quite persistent that we come to her shop NOW! We escaped into the confines of our hotel to check-in. Soon after we venture out of the gates and no sooner had walked twenty metres and the smiling biker guide, known to us as ‘magpie’ from that moment on, swooped “come see my shop, now”. We walked on saying “later” as politely as we could but over the next days we realise she takes “later” literally and continues to swoop each time she spots us. On the final occasion she drops off, muttering something under her breath in Vietnamese, easy to figure out what she is likely to have said.
Secret Garden Restaurant, Passage 60 Lê Lợi, Minh An, Hoi An
After wandering up and down streets and through narrow laneways we finally found the Secret Garden Restaurant, whose name is certainly apt. A beautiful garden setting opens up before us with the restaurant built on an open veranda, surrounded by this tranquil garden. The boys ordered ‘Spaghetti Bolognese’ , for heavens sake, while Jill and I started with Fresh Spring Rolls (absolutely delicious) followed by Minced Beef and Aubergine with rice. The Aubergine was amazing. We loved it so much for lunch we came back for a second visit one evening. No Spaghetti Bolognese for the boys this time, we feasted on Dumplings, Steamed Spring Rolls, Beef Curry and Whole Fish in Banana Leaves Fragrant, fresh, flavoursome, fantastic! How many more ‘Fs’ can I use to describe this place … one more … fab! A highly recommended place By the way the Secret Garden Restaurant also conducts Cooking Classes in an open-air kitchen right in the middle of the garden – if only I had more time.
Brother’s Cafe, 27-29 Phan Bội Châu, Hoi An
The facade of the Brother’s Cafe is yet another beautiful French Colonial building which you walk through to the beautiful garden and we are lucky enough to be seated at a table overlooking the river – what a spot! As we are waiting for our meal fishermen in a tiny canoe lay out their nets right in front of us and a few minutes later they are back banging their boat as they circle their net to hopefully get a catch. We are all tucking into Grilled chicken (very nice), Vietnamese Pancake (brilliant) and Aubergine Stew (absolutely delicious). Aubergine in Vietnam is a very pleasant surprise – I’ve since found out the Vietnamese style of cooking appears to involve quite a lot of oil and a bit of deep frying before stewing. Oh well! They say aubergine is really good for you! The garden of Brother’s Cafe is a fantastic location with great food; I also think it would be an ideal place to just drop in for a late afternoon aperitif.
Hoi An Market, along the riverside on Bạch Đằng, near the corner of Trần Quý Cáp, Hoi An
Under a canopy of well worn and loosely strung together tarpaulin covers a market crowded with stall after stall of fresh produce: herbs; fruits; vegetables; fish; snails; chicken getting chopped up by women squatting; live chickens and ducks in cages; and glimmering silver fish. We are continually ducking under the low canopy of tarpaulins and plastic sheets, there for protection from the scorching sun, and to some extent the occasional down-pour at this time of year. The place is abuzz. On one corner there are half a dozen women in their conical hats, squatting and bundling bunches of fresh herbs. Down a narrow path on the edge of the river two women, of course in conical hats, are taking live chickens from one cage to another. Beyond the fresh produce Jill has spotted a stall selling lacquered bamboo bowls. We don’t want the sets they have on display, we want six bowls the same size! So the owner dashes off to stalls elsewhere and returns with more sets of bowls to choose the size we want. After the obligatory haggling, which in Jill and my case is generally awkward and unsuccessful, Jill asks “do you accept Visa?” “Of course, follow me….”. With that Jill and the shopkeeper are off weaving through the market, while I try to keep up, loaded down with our bowls. I’m losing touch with them, getting slowed down even more as store keepers grab my arm asking “you come see my shop?” I’ve lost them! While waiting on a street corner just outside the market where I last spied them, I can hear in the distance ducks quacking and the sound is fast approaching. A woman wearing a conical hat peddles past and strapped down on the back of her bike are half a dozen quacking ducks, they sound fully aware of their fate. Finally Jill reappears “yes they accept Visa card, you put it in an ATM about a kilometre away, get cash out and hand it over!” The system works!
Yali Tailors, 47 Nguyễn Thái Học, Hoi An
There are two Yali locations in Hoi An, the other one is at 47 Tran Phu Street. Yali is the most frequently recommended tailor, pricier but better quality. Rory and Liam are bursting to get measured up for suits and they are ably assisted by the delightful Rebecca and Lynn. Next thing Jill is also getting measured up for a work suit. I’m wandering around looking at fabrics when all of a sudden Rebecca is running the tape over me and yes a suit for me too please. We are invited to come back later in the evening for our fitting, no mucking about – amazing!! Back for our fitting and they are all looking good, so I decided to get another jacket and another pair of trousers!! Of course I’ll now need to come back tomorrow morning for another fitting for these additional items. Next morning after the fitting the lovely Rebecca tells us they just need an hour or so to complete the jacket I ordered only last night and because I’ve ordered so much I get a free business shirt, I get measured up for the shirt and it too will be ready in an hour! Back to Yali for the final time, it feels like we’ve spent more time in here than we did in Bai Tu Long Bay! After a pedicure in the back of the shop we bid farewell to Rebecca and all of our garments are delivered directly to our Hotel. As soon as Rory spotted the delivery there was no stopping him wearing his suit Jacket out to dinner, despite the evening heat. A sight to behold, a ten year old wearing a black suit jacket with lime green lining walking through the main streets of Ho An.
Morning Glory Restaurant, 106 Nguyễn Thái Học, Hoi An
Morning Glory Restaurant has been recommended in numerous tourist books/websites, with its own cookbook and a cooking school, our expectations are high. Perhaps I was a bit on the hungry side, however the service was very surly and unfortunately I was disappointed with my choice which is the speciality dish of Hoi An, ‘Cao Lau’ – noodles, slices of BBQ pork, bean sprouts, herbs, stock and croutons. It was well short of my expectations. On the other hand, Jill’s Prawn Curry was, without doubt, the best choice – I was very envious to say the least!
The Mango Rooms Restaurant, 111 Nguyễn Thái Học, Hoi An
A charming restaurant overlooking the river, we entered off Nguyen Thai Hoc, going right through the restaurant to the final room with the river view. We shared Fresh Spring Rolls, Fried Spring Rolls (with the ‘web’ rice paper we used at the The Saigon Culinary Art Center Cooking Course) and Fish on mango, tomato and onion salsa. All of our dishes were delicious, with the added bonus of an outlook onto the street and over to the river.
Let me tell you about a young girl we called ‘Shirley Temple’. The first time we came across young Shirley was at the pool at the Sofitel in Hanoi. Shirley was swimming in the pool with her Dad when her mother donned a bathrobe to return to their room. Young Shirley bellowed “that’s my bathrobe, you can’t wear my bathrobe!” The mother quickly disappeared in the bathrobe leaving Dad to try and coax Shirley from the pool to return to their room without the said robe. Returning from dinner later that evening we walked through the Sofitel lobby and who should emerge from the restaurant but young Shirley and you guessed it adorned in that bathrobe! Imagine the surprise when, toward the end of our meal at the Mango Rooms Restaurant in Hoi An, we hear a young girl bellow from the adjacent table “that’s disgusting, I’m not eating that”. Hard to believe but ‘Shirley Hanoi Bathrobe Temple’ has reappeared at the very next table. The very next night we are walking along the river and we spot a Westerner walking towards us, struggling to carry in his arms a girl, a child way too big to be carried. The closer they get the louder the girl’s whinging becomes “It’s too hot…… I’m not walking……. I’m too tired…… I hate this place………” – yep, its ‘Shirley Temple’ sticking it once again to her poor long suffering father. Despite this tale I would thoroughly recommend Vietnam as a holiday destination for children!
My Son Sanctuary, (about 1 hour drive south from Hoi An) map
My Son is a dramatic site housing the remains of a series of impressive tower-temples. Here was the religious and political capital of the Champa Kingdom for most of its existence, serving as a religious and intellectual centre during these times – Champa Kings were crowned and buried here. The drive, almost an hour, is fascinating as we pass through small villages where people are living right by the roadside, stall after stall selling local produce from that area – banana stalls, followed by broom stalls, then flower stalls, and then melon stall and so on. The range of produce and items for sale was amazing and as you travel along you go through clusters with stalls all selling the same item, just like in the streets of Hanoi. On the road bikes towing trailers loaded with pigs in cages or bikes laden with fresh herbs and greens and others loaded up with planks of timber, stacked sideways by the way! ‘My Son’ is within a forested area about a kilometre or so walk from the car park and wow it’s HOT! Despite one section being heavily bombed by the US in the Vietnam War many wonderful towers remain and it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. Luckily the French photographed it extensively during their occupation. As we wander around the buildings and grounds, apart from being struck by the heat,, it’s a very serene place, one can just imagine robed monks or priests walking the gardens or nestling in a shady corner to meditate – I just can’t ever imagine loud voices here.
Memory (Quan Ca Phe) Cafe, 6 Phan Bội Châu, Hoi An
On the street front this is a very non-descript cafe, however looks deceive as the food is wonderful, try the Mackerel Stew in a Claypot or the Beef in Vine Leaves, both were brilliant.
On the streets of Hoi An
At first we are a bit taken aback by Hoi An, every street is shop, after shop, after shop and we arrive on a Sunday so the place is not only alive with tourists but locals seem to have travelled from far and wide to shop here today. Quickly we got used to the crowds and, in fact, the buzzing activity added to the experience – bikes on barges, cyclos peddling tourists, packed bars and restaurants and amid all of this the tranquillity of tiny paper lanterns, each with a lit candle, floating in a flotilla below the Japanese Bridge. On Monday it’s like a completely different town, so much easier to stroll the streets. All of the crowds have disappeared and the extraordinary streetscape architecture unfolds before our eyes. Viewing the range of architectural styles in the ‘houses’, now shop fronts, cafes, restaurants, bars or galleries, is like walking through the history of the centuries of occupation of this wonderful country – some are classic, grand French Colonial buildings and the unique narrow ‘Tube Houses’, one room in the front and then an internal courtyard, followed by a number of rooms beyond the courtyard, some with balconies overlooking the internal courtyard. One evening we crossed the river for a pre-dinner drink, where competition among the many bars and restaurants is keen so we are being beckoned in from across the street. We quickly made our choice and headed upstairs onto an open veranda, where a beautiful view back across the river shows the sun setting and the lanterns of Hoi An glow in the evening light. Oh, and we just happen to be here during ‘Happy Hour’ for half price drinks. Rory selects a Mocktail, Liam and Jill go for “real” Cocktails and I’m tempted by the local draught beer at 4,000 Duong (that’s about 25 cents) unfortunately it tastes like it! In fact it was over-priced, one mouthful for me and the pot plant got the rest. A bottle of ‘Ba Ba Ba’ is ordered and we are now all happy with our drinks and even happier to soak up this beautiful scene.
Beachside Restaurant, where Cửa Đại, the road from Hoi An Town, hits the beach
We thought that you can’t come to Hoi An and not see the beach, so we decided to take a taxi to the beach and play it by ear in terms of restaurant selection. We arrived just as darkness starts to fall and the taxi driver has taken us straight to a restaurant he recommends. But Jill wants to check out the beach and possible alternative places to eat, so Jill and Rory head off down the beach as Liam and I check out the wafts of seafood coming from the charcoal grill BBQ immediately behind us. The beach stretches for miles with restaurant after restaurant coming right down to the edge of the sand. Its starting to rain so the decision is made for us and we settle into a pretty basic, outdoor ‘Restaurant’, full of locals. When the skies opened and the rain thundered down, we shuffled our table a little further in to avoid being soaked but the roof is leaking like a sieve. Everyone is laughing and chatting, as thunder and lightning strike all around – what a scene. The ‘chef’ (owner/cook) is struggling in the rain with his BBQ and smoke fills the place. Liam notices the smoke has taken on an unpleasant odour, then noticed just behind him the mangle of power boards and plugs for the standing fans have started to smoke and spark. Calmly the waiters unplug them in the soaking rain and plug them in to slightly drier sockets. Place is now overflowing with people and rain water and as the excitement dies down we focus on the menu. The BBQ right beside us is heaving with prawns and lobsters scooped live from nearby buckets, so we can’t go past BBQed seafood tonight. Our Prawns and Mackerel are both well and truly over-cooked unfortunately, so thankfully we hadn’t ordered the lobster. The Spinach with Garlic was fabulous. Not a place to revisit, but a night dining among the locals with very little English spoken and the atmosphere of the thunderstorm right by the beach made it a night we’ll not forget.
Life Heritage Resort, alongside the river, Phạm Hồng Thái, Hoi An
One of the best decisions we made on this trip was to book into the Life Heritage Resort, the only ‘resort’ in the town itself. Plenty of resorts are beachside, but step out the gates of this one and you are right in wonderful Hoi An. The gardens are beautiful and the pool is fantastic, a tranquil haven to return to after each adventure out into town. And the ‘Heritage Bar’ just inside the gates is a great place for after dinner ice cream or a night cap, while playing board games. Life Heritage Resort is the ideal location and the set up is perfect for us.
Reflections of Vietnam
It was the wonderful freshness of Vietnamese food that drew us to travel to this enchanting country and I’ve got to say the food didn’t disappoint. Memories of Pho (soup), plates heaped with fresh herbs, Beef Stew, Vietnamese Pancakes, delicious eggplant/aubergine, fresh spring rolls and the real surprise – deep fried Spring Rolls. These memories will linger long and I can’t wait to incorporate these tasty cooking ideas into our meals at home. Then the landscape, I had no idea how spectacular and beautiful this country is. Flood plains hugging the coastline crowded with rice paddies, often with a mountainous backdrop. Then there is Bai Tu Long (Halong) Bay – breathtaking and impossibly beautiful. And what about the architecture? The pleasure to the eye of French Colonial buildings no matter where we travelled and the unique combination of architectural styles in Hoi An. The dimension I hadn’t expected was to walk away with a greater appreciation and understanding of the Vietnam War. The US (and Australia) put troops on the ground in 1965 and didn’t withdraw until 1973; this was my childhood, from primary school until the year before I left high school. Now all these years later I’ve been able to come and find out so much more about it and particularly from ‘their perspective’. Will we come back? Even with so many new places to experience I truly hope a return visit is not too far away.