Although autumn, that lovely transition from summer to winter is here, small pockets of heat and sunshine linger. I have to admit, I wasn’t quite ready to let go of summer just yet so the past week of wonderful weather has been welcomed. Early mornings have been spent in the surf on and under glorious waves big, slow and rolling. My playlist has been warmth and sun, cornflower blue skies, perfect waves, sandy hair, good company and pods of dolphins. It really doesn’t get much better than this.
These past months have been busy with nary a moment to spare. Set to a feverish pace which sometimes sees me time poor to do that which I love most such as just watching the ocean, creating, losing myself in the pages of a good book or baking from scratch.
We all have the same amount of hours in our days but it really is up to us how we spend that time. I have a list of things which make me happiest and a list of that which must be done. I recently compared those lists and with mindful gratitude, adjusted accordingly.
It seems like a lifetime ago that our trip began in Hong Kong and finally ended here in Singapore, that fastidiously clean yet flawlessly beautiful melting pot of culture. The Lion City can also boast of having THE best airport in the world and it is natural disaster free.
I think anytime you travel to another country you should always read up on their customs, laws and culture and although Singapore is a contemporary and sophisticated city, there are a couple of little quirks (aka laws) you will need to respect:
We have been to Singapore prior to this trip and worn out the soles of our shoes en route to Raffles, along Orchard Road, on the Quay, in Chinatown and through the history, landmarks and stunning architecture of this beautiful island state. This time around however, we decided to spend our down time in one of Singapore’s most vibrant districts…….
The warm, wonderful and boldly colourful Little India. And why Little India you ask? Well that is because simply being here makes me happy AND their fish head curries are the stuff of legends 🙂
I am smitten with Little India. It is exotic and strikingly vibrant with its arcade’s of tiny spaces filled with silks and saris, spices and sweets along with the gold shops, beautiful flower garlands and Hindu temples.
From the ram-shackled food halls and hawker stalls to the open street restaurants, the air is filled with the spicy aromas of curries laced with turmeric, coal black cardamom, cinnamon buds, nigella and garlic. The neighbourhood really is a riot of smells, colours, sights and sounds and it truly is as Indian as India itself……but without the Ganges and sacred cows.
We were also incredibly fortunate enough to be in Little India at the tail end of Deepavali, also known as Diwali the festival of lights. This is the most important of all Hindu celebrations and it commemorates the triumph of light over darkness, hope over despair and knowledge over ignorance.
Packed with thousands of Hindu families who descended on the district, Little India was transformed with beautifully decorated statues of elephants and peacocks and one million and one lights. And there is nothing more fabulous than to be caught up in the human crush of love, festivity and happiness.
This for me, is one of the prettiest of temples and I have photographed it many times. Standing in the heart of Little India on Serangoon Road and seeing it again during Deepavali just seemed to bring a little more joy to my heart. The temple is dedicated to the goddess and destroyer of evil, Sri Veeramakaliamman and it is one of Singapore’s oldest Hindu temples.
And don’t be put off by the severed heads, the eating of intestines and the necklaces of skulls – although I am assured each victim deserved their fate – as that is only part of her story and as we all well know, there are always two sides to every narrative. Macabre to some perhaps, I still think it is a most beautiful temple……..
So that’s the trip. Done and dusted from beginning to end. I found during the writing of these eleven blog posts, there were at times a difficulty in describing a place or an experience simply because it had been far too wonderful to just whittle down into mere words. I found too that travel for me is a necessity, not a luxury. That a big world awaits and I never want to feel the disappointment of that which I did not do.
It seems too with each trip my backpack gets a little more frayed and my camera, a little more battered yet I have no issue with that as the memories they have held far outweigh the well-worn. Catch you all on the flipside soon………x
The road to Hoi An, the beautifully charming UNESCO World Heritage-listed town, is well travelled. Wrapped in exquisite layers of grace and tradition the town is essentially a living breathing museum with its whimsical mustard-yellow Japanese merchant houses, crumbling buildings, tea-houses, lanterns, Chinese temples, lovely Vietnamese tube houses and stunning French colonial buildings.
With its cut-through canals and water-ways this lovely town, a labyrinth of alleyways and lanes, dates back to the 15th century and it was once a thriving Southeast Asian trading port.
Centrally located in Hoi An, this graceful and very pretty little wooden bridge was constructed by the Japanese in the 1590’s. Centuries may have passed yet little has changed on this gently arching span which has become a major tourist attraction for the town.
Whilst in Hoi An, you can leave the traffic snarls behind as cars and motorbikes are banned from the central part of town. There is a welcomed pace here and apart from the rickshaw and push-bikes, the good old foot falcon is the best mode of transport.
On almost every corner, little charcoal burners heave under the weight of pork and chicken skewers. The smell of cooking meat is amazing and their accompanying salads are to die for. You know how sometimes you think ‘that was a pretty rough day. I won’t make it worse by having salad for dinner’ . Well that is not the case in Vietnam as the salads are just divine. Fresh, light and incredibly moreish with their coriander, mint and Vietnamese basil. Nom du du bo kho is a favorite with its green papaya, dried beef, roasted peanuts and fish sauce dressing.
The local beer is cold and it is cheap and it best accompanies the inexpensive hawker food on offer and of course you always know what I always say about street food……..EAT IT! So hunker down on those tiny plastic squat chairs and enjoy.
This elegant town does have its touristy side such as the rustic and over-crowded market stalls. Everything and anything is sold under low slung awnings but just go with the flow and enjoy it all for what it truly is.
I find lanterns breathtakingly romantic and in Hoi An, I fell in love with the way they adorn the cities’ alley-ways and lanes. Traditionally hung on the full moon, it is said lanterns bring good luck to a home. How could such serendipitous warm beauty not soften the coldest of hearts.
There is often a good tired which comes from travel and I was, after my time in Hoi An, in sleeping swan pose before I knew it. Unfortunately I was still on the bus at the time! Headed for our next destination, I dozed on and off during the 3 hour long ride occasionally waking to watch for the comfort the acres and acres of green rice fields seemed to bring. I watched for the locals with their flocks of runner ducks and buffalo and I waited for the motion of the bus to dip beside forests so I could see the tops of the tallest of trees and glimpse the ocean occasionally.
Sometimes my thoughts strayed to ‘home’, but where is home for me. I have always believed it is that place where I live at that moment. The place where I unpack my life and where I lay my head and where I can enjoy the serenity of just standing still. It is where I am always willing to meet myself and where I often fail spectacularly especially on the journey of looking after myself. It is a place where I always fall in love with something. Where I am trying to live my best life by having less and having more – less friends, less possessions, more kindness, more compassion and to be more rich in the time I devote to something I love. It is the luxury of a moment alone in the ocean, finding a book at my local library, finding a piece of sea glass along with a perfect coffee and the joy of a late season summers day. Most of all, when fortunate enough, it is the place where I am able to hang my lantern…….xx
Yesterday I left for work without patting and cuddling our little cat, telling her that I will miss her and for her not to call boys while I am gone. I do this every time I leave but that morning, I had one hundred and one things on my mind and I left. I closed the door and I left without saying goodbye.
Our beautiful Trisha died late last year. She left without saying goodbye.
My friends son died on Sunday. He left without saying goodbye.
People died during the Vietnam war. They left without saying goodbye.
The following post will not be light as there is no lightness in war just as there will never be a war to end all wars. Wars are ugly and they are brutal. They display utter barbarism, simplistic poor judgment and horrific violence. You may believe fate has a hand in war but it is not the hand to turn your face from the thousands of dead, from the displaced and from the atrocities committed just as there will never be a war won without loss and suffering.
It is deeply saddening that in 2018, the world is still the same. Bombings of the innocent, tactical starvation, war crimes, humanitarian cataclysm and violations of international law. It just seems the more things change and the more we advance in civilisation, the more we seem to stay the same.
Our bus motored on alongside the endless tide of mopeds, through towns and villages, over the mighty Mekong and past miles and miles of rubber tree plantations, the largest in Vietnam and established by the Michelin Company in 1925. In long, neat straight rows the trees’ bark is wounded and tapped maple-syrup style allowing the milky latex to seep.
And the item most produced by this latex is………….the prophylactic. A word best pronounced by Sir Sean Connery himself.
I had never been a huge fan of coach travel prior to this Vietnam trip however I am now grateful for what a bus trip affords. Of course it can be a little slower but on the up-side there are no security lines, there was free Wi-Fi and air conditioning, good pit-stops for a leg stretch and you get a better view of all that is going on around you.
Eventually, we came to a stop in the suburban district of Cu Chi which is approximately 70 plus k from Ho Chi Minh City. We had travelled out here to visit the Cu Chi Tunnel complex. An underground honey-combed network of tunnels which covered an area of approximately 250k and ran from the outskirts of Saigon to the Cambodian border.
This is a somewhat chilling memorial. The construction of the tunnels began as early as 1940 against the French however the tunnel system gained immortality during the 1960’s and they have been preserved by the Vietnam Government to become a major tourist attraction.
We had booked a tour and to our great fortune, we had the wonderful harmonica playing simpatico Hung Lo (which I suspect is not his real name) from SaigonTourist as our guide. This joyous and energetic man along with his tin sandwich kept us entertained, up to pace and in line with renditions of ‘When the saints go marching in’. Who would have thought. I went half way around the world to be serenaded with the club theme tune for the Saint Kilda Football Club 🙂
Pockets of fun aside, this knowledgeable and beautifully passionate man told not only the story of the Vietnam War without prejudice, but also of his life as a young boy during that war. He spoke of how his world and that of his country changed forever. How the once lush, fertile and stunning landscape of Vietnam was showered in millions of tonnes of defoliant rendering it a barren and impoverished wasteland. How the social fabric of a quite and simple life was left in tatters and how humble villagers suddenly found themselves homeless refugees.
As he spoke throughout the day I understood that the truth of this war was far more complicated and the story, even harder to tell when you are involved.
The tunnel system is one of the few historic war sites of the world which presents not only an in-your-face ferocity to an unshakeable and determined spirit but it is also a symbol of revolutionary heroism by the Vietnamese people and the Vietcong-controlled Cu Chi villagers.
It is inconceivable to think that below the feet of allied soldiers and scratched out of the soil by hand were weapons factories, field hospitals, command posts and living quarters all accessible only by camouflaged trap-doors. The tunnels are dark and tight and they were built to accommodate the slight framed Vietnamese, made even leaner in those war time conditions. The construction made it near impossible for the allied troops, the Americans and the Australians, who were larger framed to penetrate especially when carrying their packs and weapons.
Camouflaged under leaf litter and completely missed by all who stood around……….
The 1968 Tet Offensive, one of the greatest tactical achievements and one of the largest military campaigns of the Vietnam War, was also conceived and launched from these very tunnels. On the morning of January 30th 1968 the Vietcong army launched a surprise attack upon 13 cities in South Vietnam which marked the turning point for the Vietnam War.
When we had first arrived, the sky was blue and the air warm. The sound of bus engines and chatty unreserved tourist had echoed. Crickets chirped and the bird song was sweet and all in all, it seemed quite a lovely day.
But as you begin your slow gathering walk on muddy tracks worn down by the thousands of shoe soles before yours, there are no longer birds or crickets to be heard. The air becomes thick and muggy. The reviving landscape, smelling so strongly of rotting leaf litter and harboring fire ants and scorpions is steamy. Laughter is lost to a disturbing quiet and then you hear it! The impenetrable and disconcerting sound of live rifle fire which stops you dead in your tracks.
The land is still healing and although the jungle is reclaiming back its ground, the pock-marked bomb craters still remain, evidence of the heavy bombing raids during that time. Around your feet also remain ant-hill-like structures of mounded soil which were the ventilation units for the tunnels. It was only through these tiny openings did the air flow into the tunnels.
Ventilation holes disguised as termite mounds and also found at the base of tree roots…….
A dirty and claustrophobic crawl through the underground tunnels is not to be missed. I remember thinking while crouched in the dark, what an extraordinary yet very singular moment this was.
The booby traps were it seemed, barbarically unsophisticated, but the ingenuity of them was not to kill outright but to devastate, incapacitate and maim. No doubt they achieved their intent.
The live rifle fire I spoke of earlier came from the AK 47’s which have been made available for tourists to shoot. The AK 47 was the primary weapon used by both the North Vietnamese Army and the Vietcong during the conflict and although manufactured originally in the Soviet Union, the chief supplier of these assault rifles during the Vietnam War was the Peoples’ Republic of China.
I do respect there are those in the world who love guns and those who despise guns and gun ownership but what I do find disconcerting are those who claim a passionate loathing of guns yet fire them and boast of it on social media (#insta). Perhaps the none-too-bright-of-the-world will just continue to shoot themselves in the foot. But hey, if guns and weaponry, weapons and war history and having a shoot is your thing, then knock your socks off.
No doubt this was an unpopular war and the tunnels, well they were a profoundly haunting experience but there was an added weight of something far greater in that jungle and of what, I am still unsure. The Vietnam War had been awfully human place. It had been a bloody place and it had been a place of horror and horrendous loss with over 1,118,000 lives being lost. Such a raw legacy of misery is still so incomprehensible.
After spending hours at the tunnels, we stopped in at what seemed an oasis. There was food, but I don’t remember eating it. Beers, I don’t remember drinking them. There was a small bridge and a creek and a quite serenity which I welcomed. I kept thinking of the terror and fear both sides endured during this campaign and forty years on there is little solidarity with historians on how and why this war really began. There is also little consensus as to the wisdom in the handling of this conflict but frankly, I don’t think anyone is in a position to morally judge what we truly do not know nor understand.
While standing by the river bank on this day I thought of my grandparents who we grew up with and who are both now gone from our lives. It was the orchid blooms that made me think of them. I imagined them in their garden, the moments in the late 60’s when they would dress up to the nines for the dance and I remembered how they were when we camped in a tent during the long hot Queensland summers at Tallebudgera.
Most of all I remembered how Nana loved orchids and how on a whim Dad, my paternal Grandfather, would walk for miles to the local orchid grower and choose a perfect orchid plant for her. This gesture was always a small, very private and loving moment of their relationship.
In most instances our goodbyes are not heartbreaking unless we never have the opportunity to say hello again yet I sometimes worry time passes too quickly. One moment it seemed I had said, ‘Dad/Nana died yesterday’. ‘Dad/Nana died last week’. ‘They both died a few years ago now’…….
I actually have the lime green gloves my Nan was wearing and I wear them with love x
Happy times and how I like to remember them or maybe they were celebrating the arrival of another orchid…….
Perhaps during loss our hearts cannot go unscathed yet it is but a moment taken to say goodbye when we have the chance. The one good thing though with having to say goodbye to a country like Vietnam is, you immediately want to go back to say your hello……….xx
Our trip, which began in Hong Kong and ended in Little India, has been covered in these last few blog posts. This was a huge adventure and as wonderful as it all was, I find I just cannot write of the one thousand and one things I experienced during that time.
It has been said that writing becomes your darling. You write a sentence or a paragraph or a chapter and although you love that piece of work, it will, at some stage, need to be cut. In my case, I may feel I want to write about every moment of this journey but I can’t, otherwise I will be here for the next ten years!
So although I haven’t suddenly developed murderous intent, I will be putting my darlings to the sword by culling some moments and condensing others and therein, I will begin to kill my darlings.
Again the days saw us immersed in street food and the Vietnamese culture. I was still head over heels for this country and I don’t think that will ever change.
Bussing it to the foothills of the Trai Thuy Mountain, we discovered the lovely Taoist architecture of the Long Son Pagoda.
Behind the Pagoda, and after a climb of the steep stone 152 step stair case, there is a large and very perfect white lotus blossom.
And seated in the centre of that very perfect blossom, is a huge and very perfect white Buddha.
I am never one to ask of travel to give me a life changing moment but seeing that majestic and very beautiful Buddha made my heart leap.
There is peace to be found among the temple gardens and small grave sites located on the lower level and the beautiful mosaics constructed of glass and ceramics which adorn the roofs, entrances and halls are just lovely.
This really is an enchanting place to spend a little down time but just watch for the traffic (and the power-lines) as you cross the road………
The bus we caught in south-central Vietnam weaved along to pull up in the coastal city of Nha Trang. Sometimes when on a bus, I would press my face to the glass not wanting to miss a moment or I would just sit and write small notations while watching the landscape of the country run by.
Off the bus this day, I walked across to the ocean which seemed to pound with furious monotony onto the sand. It wasn’t the postcard I had expected and nor had the beach before it been, nor the one before that. Rubbish and plastic bottles had been left among the sand and more were about to wash up from the cresting waves. Dispirited, I didn’t even bother to photograph it. There are I know, some incredibly beautiful pockets of ocean in Vietnam but I just hadn’t found them on this trip.
I caught up with my husband and walked from the ocean across the ever busy highway clogged with traffic. Hundreds of step-throughs, push bikes, tour buses and the odd car choked the four lanes in both directions. I watched as a medical emergency worker, in the centre of one lane, tended an elderly man who had been knocked from his bicycle. As the mans blood seeped out onto the hot bitumen, the traffic swerved around them and continued to surge on. Later in the day I saw the lifeless body of a motor-bike rider. The small twisted figure lay by the road side and only days later again I saw another body.
Finally across the road we rounded a corner passing a small fishing village and its River Cai harbour which smelt so heavily of shit and of the sea. The sky was once again heavy as we followed the curve of the road. I was worried about the injuries to the man who lay on the hot tar, I was missing our little cat and I missed my beautiful New South Wales beaches. I was snippy and I was tired. Drained by the heat and lack of sleep and exhausted by the disappointment in the true realisation of how little respect we humans have for our fellow man, our planet and especially our oceans which we seem hell bent on destroying.
In a very brief and somewhat demoralising moment, I thought that if I never saw this part of Vietnam again I would be sad but somehow relieved. Perhaps my gloom had been fed by the heat, by the tiny insects I was only now allowing to bother me and by that very distinct and very unmistakable smell of shit.
The tourists, irritatingly slow and in plagued proportions, bothered me the most! Their exasperating boorishness, condescending stupidity and gracelessness seemed no better than a horses arse at times. The careless and misplaced arrogance they cast over the respectfully gentle Vietnamese grated. These are the same people who probably fart while in the confines of an aircraft! It really matters little how ‘educated’ , elite or superior you believe yourself to be. How you ultimately treat others will always show your integrity and it will always speak the truth of who you really are!
Yet just around the corner, perhaps only thirty more steps away, would lay my reprieve as the Po Nagar Cham Temples awaited…….
Beautifully charming and deeply complex in structure, these temples are the largest collection of Cham ruins. They are thought to have been constructed between the 8th and 11th centuries and they are located on a small hill 50 metres above sea level.
These incredible temples, erected to honour the Hindu Goddess Po Nagar, have survived war, vandalism, lootings and neglect to hold fast their history. Built on two levels, the first being a large meditation hall of which only the pillars remain, and the second part accessibly only by steep stairs hold the east-facing temples, of which only four survive today.
Suddenly, I was enjoying it all again. My brief moment of pessimism banished as I again began to treasure these moments and of where I was in our wonderful world. The assertive and every present hawkers peddling their wares, the noise, the crowds, the disagreeable attitudes of some, the heat, the smell of shit and even the swarms of tourists no longer bothered me.
The day began to fold in on itself and the sky, that big Vietnamese sky remained the same which to me, seemed pretty perfect again. In those few of days I saw the beautiful and the not so beautiful. I saw life and the harsh reality of death. I realised that patience truly is a virtue and that all things, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable, will come to pass.
I understood too when travelling there will be times where I will miss much which is so dear to my heart and that shit, no matter where you are in the world, will always smell like shit but that’s okay. It really is all very okay.
And in the midst of it all, I even managed to kill off a few of my darlings……x
Foot Note: Nothing of literary note was harmed during the writing of this blog post.
As I write these posts of Vietnam, I often sit on our balcony at home in Newcastle. This is the smallest of the two balconies but it is one of my and our dear little noble cats’ favorite spaces. The area, no bigger than a tiny bathroom, is a place I have somehow managed to fill with pots of herbs, fruit, fruit trees (believe it or not, ) and flowers. My lovely frangipani, that quintessential scent of summer, is in full bloom and the yellow skinned fig with its sweet amber flesh is fruiting yet it is the mint and coriander, the basil and the limes which keep my thoughts to Vietnam.
We hit quite a few different markets whilst trekking through three different provinces of Vietnam. Often times we jumped a bus to take us to a location such as the Cu Chi tunnels or to a beautiful city such as Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City. We drove past rubber plantations and vibrant green rice fields, through forests, small villages and muddy townships and through and past the lives of the locals. The bus chugged and heaved and weaved its way along. Sometimes up steep ranges, sometimes on deeply pot-holed dirt roads and often through the ever present throngs of speedy little step-throughs.
To market, to market……..
Other times, the markets were just on the doorstep of where we wandered.
Most days, that big heavy sky would hint of rain and when it did open up, the warm scented rain often smelled so very much like freshly washed linen.
Vietnam is notoriously humid and when caught in the crush of hundreds of market goers it can make for a very muggy and rowdy experience. At times, to avoid the crowds, we would take to the small narrow alleyways which skirt the markets. Here, the chaotic noise becomes a quiet din, the less oppressive humidity is welcomed and it is here you will often find something quite wonderfully unexpected tucked away.
The markets of Asia really are a social hub and the heart of any community. These charming, over-crowded and lively places, where some of the most robust haggling will always take place, are where the locals and tourists gather together to ferret out a bargain. Colourful and in-your-face, these places sell pretty much anything and everything from the freshest of meats and seafood, live stock to fruit, spices and herbs to clothing and silk.
Be as you always should when travelling, considerate and respectful of culture as with most markets in Asia, you will be confronted by things which will assault your every sense and as I have said before, you may not always like what you see.
Market food is always abundant and at times, it is raw. In this case…..very raw! I adore ducks, especially Indian Runners and the sweet little Pekings, so this for me was difficult.
The seller assured me these were not ‘meat’ ducks nor ‘meat’ chickens but egg layers for the buyer. At that point, she could have told me the sky was purple and that all clouds rained orange confetti not rainwater and I would have wanted to believe her.
Or perhaps not…….
P.S. I love frogs too!
For the most part, women work the market stalls and be assured though often small and delicate looking in stature, do not be fooled. These women are very capable, very tough and savvy and they mean business.
I watched on as one tiny almost bird like elderly woman, wearing her grace and beautifully crisp linen shirt with Audrey Hepburn elegance, stunned a very large and very slippery fish with a blow to the head before deftly gutting and scaling the still live and wriggling fish in seconds. Somehow, the act completely belied her delicate femininity and I can state with all confidence and honesty, that I could never look as graceful nor as composed whilst ever attending to making dinner!
And once again, that big wondrous Vietnam sky opened up and again the rain was warm and again, it smelled so very like much freshly washed linen……..xx
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