Where on earth did the last year go. 365 days gone in a wink. The past year was one filled with infinite good and of some wonderful moments but it was also one of small and bitter tragedies. Perhaps sadness reasoning and confusion, especially with loss when so unexpected and random, will always see us questioning the why’s and the how’s. I do know from experience though, we always somehow find our way back from sorrow and despair to see once again that life is full of hope and love and kindness for these are the qualities which define us as human and they, with any measure of goodness, propel us on to better things. Happy new year x
Once again I took hundreds of photos but at one point, I just stopped. My dear little camera had begun to fail me in Hong Kong and it barely made it through Taiwan but here in Vietnam, I momentarily stopped. It was in that moment though, that I became present as I realised I could not capture the raw human beauty and the incredible landscape I was seeing. I knew too that I could not capture the air so heavy with humidity and diesel, how the clouds so big and grey-white constantly suggested hints of warm rain showers and I knew I could not, for the life of me, begin to capture the lingering poetic beauty of this incredible land.
Any heartbreakingly beautiful country, though difficult to photograph, is easy to love. This is a country of history and just as with its intense humidity and heat, its history too will drain you. This is a country which has seen catastrophic brutality through war, oppression and genocide and that in itself is deserving of its own blog space.
Food is half of the adventure when travelling and to me, food is essentially of love and of life and you will get no better than in Vietnam. Every district, neighbourhood, water-way, roadside rough and tumble stall or small narrow alley-way has someone offering up food and it is here you will experience the absolute charm of street food. Ten steps in any direction will always have you finding food and what I love most about street food, is the unpretentiousness of it all.
That chaotic noise, the jostling, those small colourful plastic squat chairs, the shout of orders, the clang of pots and utensils, the smoky haze which hangs like the most deliciously scented fog, those bright buzzing naked florescent bulbs and that most glorious of all which is the very heart of the Vietnamese culture……the celebration of food. Even a sneeze will come with the blessing com muoi which translated means rice with salt.
Banh Mi is Vietnamese for bread and I think we may have eaten our combined weight of these incredible and very moreish delicacies. Exquisite French baguettes, oven fresh and crisp yet as soft and as light as a cloud slathered with butter and mayonnaise then filled to bursting with fresh corriander, pate, pork or chicken, pickled daikon, freshly pounded chilli and crisp fresh veg. Forget your Maccas or your KFC because this is real fast food so pull up that little plastic chair or just stand by the vendor and eat and enjoy.
Of course Banh Mi isn’t the only food. There are gentle broths infused with lemongrass, deep rich soup stocks with broken noodles, Pho, Cha ca, Banh xeo with its bulging pork and shrimp and bean sprouts, stir fried river weed, translucent parcels of fresh spring rolls, succulent grilled meats, seafood, rice and golden deep fried parcels filled with finely minced pork.
Beautifully simplistic, scandalously cheap and incredibly delicious, Vietnam really is a paradise for the lover of food from its street vendors to restaurants and from the markets to the hawker stalls.
Perfectly located geographically, Vietnams’ tropical climate sees the country overflowing with coconut, mango, jackfruit, lychee, mangosteen, rambutan, dragon fruit, paw-paw, pineapple, sapodilla and durian.
All beautifully exotic, colourful, fresh and cheap this is the perfect place to boost your vitamin C intake.
Green tea is still the most popular drink in Vietnam and in this hot and humid country you really need to keep your fluids up. If bottle water just isn’t doing it for you try the beer. It is good and cold and usually served over ice. Do always try the local brews such as Saigon Red or 333 but if in doubt, you can always find Sapporo, Tiger or Heineken. Vietnam also has a burgeoning craft beer industry with an increasing number of microbreweries popping up. How fab is that.
Coconut water is another go to. With the outer husk removed then shaped by any number of persons wielding a large machete into a form which won’t topple over, these neat little take-aways are a must. A little grassy in taste but sweet and flavorsome if the coconut is young. And you can even snack on the container if peckish.
Sugar cane juice, which is not nearly as sickly as it sounds, is refreshing on the hottest of days. Once the saccharine juice is extracted from the cane it is mixed with the sharp citrus juice from a small lime like fruit (which oddly smells like a mandarin) then served over ice. Just bliss.
Now drinking ‘the hard stuff’ in Vietnam is considered the men’s domain however one has to try snake wine. Fair warning however as this stuff is lethal, kicks like a mule and it burns all the way down. Somehow, I also had a terrible sneaking suspicion it would burn all the out in around 24 hours time too! I also had the feeling my toilet, after the said 24 hours period, would remarkably resemble the toilet from the opening scenes of Trainspotting. For some reason, the Vietnamese consider this to be a liquid form of Viagra!
I certainly did not look as composed while taking my nip of snake wine!
I often think too much of a good thing can be, well, quite wonderful and I can never go past iced coffee when it is made with sweetened condensed milk. Strong, lush and rich I have no defense as this stuff for me is like catnip to cats and yes, a detox (aka intervention) was required during my time in Vietnam.
Part II, the markets of Vietnam, coming soon……xx