Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘vietnam’

Cholon, or big market is the area of Saigon where people of Chinese descent traditionally lived.  It is know to them as Dī’àn – or embankment, due to the large embankment built next to the river to stop flooding.

Originally a separate City, it was merged with Saigon to form Saigon-Cholon – The Cholon part of the name being dropped in the 1950’s.  Later many ethnic Chinese left Vietnam, changing the racial makeup of the area, though walking around you can get a feel for the heritage of the area.

The area is blessed with more temples than any other area of the city, dedicated to the many Gods of the Taoist and Buddhist traditions. Each one a place where someone can make an offering to hope that some wish will be fulfilled.

cholon 1

My favourite part of nearly all Vietnamese Chinese temples are the rockeries or Hòn Non Bô – little miniature worlds where the gods live in a kind of mountainous Island.

cholon 3

cholon 4

cholon 5

cholon 6

cholon 10

Worship is the main draw of these temples – they see many more worshippers than tourists.

cholon 8

cholon 9

cholon 11

And these aren’t the only places of worship.

cholon 15

The Religious sights might be the main draw, but commerce is the main reason the area came to be – Buying and selling is still the heart of the community.

cholon 7

cholon 2

cholon 12

cholon 13

cholon 14

Read Full Post »

ms loan

cau lauHoi an has some great specialities.  In fact it’s one of the best places to eat great food in Vietnam.  There are tasty cheap eats down the market, upmarket Vietnamese places in old traders houses, Cafes, even places that serve some pretty edible pizza – but for me, this is the place to try great examples of the local food.

Ms. Loan is one of many almost identical places lined down the Khu am Thuc eating area.  The restaurants take turns feeding the customers who wander this far down, and I ended up being fed by the family here – lucky for me.

mi quangThe most famous dish from Hoi An is Cau Lau noodles – Thick, rough rice and wheat noodles, with lots of green herbs and lettuce is topped with a little broth, some roast pork, and finally some offcuts of the same noodles deep fried till crispy.  It’s one of my favourite noodle dishes.  Simple, and the pile of herbs and a squeeze off lemon give it a fresh light flavour.

white roseAnother noodle dish we tried was Mi Quang –  Turmeric coloured noodles with the same herbs, but a rich tomato and crab fat sauce, with braised pork and a quail egg.  Another great dish, Richer than the Cau lau, but still light because of the mix of green herbs.

won tonsWe also tried two other local dishes. White Rose is a steamed rice noodle stuffed with prawn, and topped with lots of crispy shallots – with a sweet vinegar dip.  The local wontons are flat triangles stuffed with a little pork mince, then topped with a great sweet and sour salsa of green beans, tomato and peppers – another winner, almost like a local plate of nachos!

So, If you’re in Hoi An, get down to Ms. Loan’s for some local specialties.

Read Full Post »

Not in the same league as Angkor in Cambodia, but still a great place to visit due to the beautiful natural environment around the Temples.

The Temple, dedicated to Hindu Gods, was used as the religious centre for the Cham people when they controlled much of Southern Vietnam. Work began building a religious centre in the 4th century, and the temple complex was used continually till the 14th, the longest of any similar site in South East Asia.

With the decline of Cham power in the region the temple was abandoned.  Sadly, during the American war, the temple was damaged significantly, destroying many of the buildings.

 

 

sonla 1

 

sonla 2

 

sonla 3

 

sonla 4

 

sonla 5

 

sonla 6

 

sonla 7

 

sonla 8

 

sonla 9

 

sonla 10

Read Full Post »

Hue has some of the best food in all Vietnam.  As Imperial Capital and home to the ruling dynasty for 150 years, quality of food has resonated into the everyday meals of the people here. Unique to the town are the steamed rice cakes – many wrapped in banana leaf parcel which is peeled apart to eat and served with a spicy fish sauce.

Here are some of the few I tasted:

 

banh nam

Banh Nam – a steamed rice flour and rice cake, topped with a chopped shrimp meat stew.  One of the best, with a light texture and a rich flavour from the shrimp sauce on top.

 

 

 

 

 

banh ramBanh bot loc – A strange jellied texture from tapioca starch coats a piece of crispy pork belly and an unpeeled shrimp.  One of the weirder ones, but still good- once you get used to the sticky jelly and the crunch of the shrimps shell.

 

 

banh beoBanh Beo – or “water fern cake”.  My favourite, steamed rice flour dough in little soy dishes, topped with a kind of shrimp floss and piece of pork crackling.  Simply add some spicy fish sauce and loosen with a spoon – then pop the whole thing in your mouth.  mmmm.

 

 

banh 1Banh? – I actually didn’t find the name of this one, but basically its another variation on the theme.  A crispy piece of pork crackling is topped with a shrimp, then a really sticky rice noodle dough, and finally some more chopped shrimp.  My least favourite,they got stuck in my teeth, but still tasty.

 

 

banh loc

Banh Khoai – these are simple steamed fermented pork cakes.  They have a slightly sour favour and are found on tables at almost all the Pho/bun places around the city – They’re common for a reason!

Read Full Post »

Hue was the last Royal Capital of Vietnam.  Sadly though, the old quarter of the city and most of the palace was destroyed by American bombing during the fight to recapture the city from the Viet Com.  Luckily, outside of the city there still remains the tombs of some of the last Vietnamese emperors, a world heritage sight.  They give some insight into what it would have been like in the Imperial Capital.

 

The eight tier Thien Mu  pagoda, just outside the city

pagoda

 

A shrine in the tomb of Minh Mang

shrine

 

More of Minh Mang’s Tomb, built to specific Confucian design and set in beautiful grounds.

tomb 1

 

tomb 2

 

Tu Duc’s Beautiful and expansive temple complex

tomb 3

 

The ruined living quarters for servants – still expected to tend to their Emperor after his death.

tomb 4

 

 

 

tomb 5

 

Elephants, horses and Mandarins stand to attention for their dead emperor in the after life

tomb 6

 

Flowers decorating the grounds

tomb flowers

Read Full Post »

Street food in Hanoi leaves a lot to be desired.  Most of the food is bland and they don’t really have any condiments to jazz it up – unless you want saltless chilli sauce, or vinegar with garlic slices in it.  The staff aren’t to excited about serving foreigners either because of the language barrier – this is especially annoying when they only serve one dish.  Just give me what everybody else is having!!!  Oh,and they don’t have the price of anything on the English menu – is this an excuse to rip you off – prices vary wildly.

Luckily, there are a few exceptions  – Sadly exceptions rather than rules.  But one place where you can try a cross section of the nations street food is Quan An Ngon.  Its set in the courtyard of an old French colonial villa, the staff are attentive and friendly, the food is good, you can see all the food being prepared and it’s only a little more than the price of street food.  It’s also very clean – something that most places in Hanoi don’t seem to care about – you might say I can’t expect certain levels service and cleanliness in a developing country, I say go to Thailand and see how it’s done there – and it’s cheaper!!!

Anyway, At Quan An Ngon you get exactly what you expect.  I’m not saying it’s the best food in Hanoi, far from it.  It’s just really good.  And the choices are endless – Each dish being cooked in it’s own mini street food stall.  We go for a selection of rice paper rolls – Pickled pigs ear with crispy vegetables; Shredded pork skin; Sour pork sausage with green papaya and more pig skin; and finally the classic pork and shrimp roll. All text book rolls, fresh, tasty and coming with a dip specific to the filling.

After this we had a huge Banh Xeo.  A crispy rice flour pancake stuffed with beansprouts, herbs shrimp and pork belly slices.  This was Amazing, so fresh, the way I imagined Vietnamese food.  we also had spicy chicken wings,which weren’t the same standard as the rest of the food, but you can’t win them all.

On a second visit we try the shrimp hash steamed on sugar cane, another winner.  Steamed shrimp mousse with a great fresh taste, and an interesting presentation, like some weird drumsticks.  The waitress then cuts the mousse into wrappable pieces which you match with what I can only describe as pieces of rice noodle pancake.

This time we also eat a crispy salad of papaya, banana flower, mixed herbs and strips of dried sweet beef – This is dressed in the usual sweet sour light dressing common in Vietnam and dusted with some extra crunch in the form of crushed peanuts.  When I eat salad as fresh and crispy as this I always wonder at how something so simple can be so tasty, so good. Why cant the creators of limp flavourless salads taste stuff like this – maybe then I wont have to eat soggy lettuce again.

All in all a great meal, and if you’re in town definitely get yourself to this place.  Or try eating at every stall in town till you find something decent.

Read Full Post »

Some photos of my trip to Hoi An.  Once the greatest trading port in all of South East Asia,and now a Unesco world heritage site,this small town is the most captivating in all of Vietnam.

Boats in the town harbour at night.

boats night

 

Dragons in a water feature in a Chinese temple.

dragons

 

A Mother of pearl eagle above one old the Chinese meeting houses

eagle

 

A shrine at a Family home and Incense burning in a Taoist Temple

houseincense 1

 

Kids Playing in the street at night, and lanterns hanging outside a doorway.

kids nightlantern

 

Another of the Chinese meeting houses.  Each one built for a different region.

meeting house

 

A boatman waits to take people on trips down the river.

relaxing boatman

Temple Alters

tao god

shrine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Traditional Hoi An Housing.

 

street

A Chinese lantern showing tanks and bombings.

war lantern

Read Full Post »

saigon bikesThe story begins one drunken evening in Saigon.  After meeting a couple of people having just done the road trip from Hanoi we decide to buy two motorbikes and make the journey ourselves.  The next afternoon we’re $200 lighter, but the proud owners of two Honda Win’s – Vietnam’s finest. Check out our video of the trip – The electic tigers youtube…

hogsWe test drive the bikes on a 50km drive out to the Cu Chi tunnels – where the  north Vietnamese would take shelter from the constant shelling from American artillery and then nip up in between to pop off a few GI’s or launch somecu chi rich rocket attacks.  They survived down here almost the entire war. It wasn’t until the American presence was ending that they finally destroyed the network – a kind of swansong to the whole campaign.  Some areas of land here still feel the effects agent orange and other chemical weapons used by the US military.

gunshipSo the trip went well, chaotic, but easy driving…until we try to get back to our hotel.  Its getting dark as we enter the built up area of Saigon and the streets look pretty much the same.  There are very few landmarks and nobody speaks enough English to help us find our way back to our part of the city – And a map is useless if you cant find where you are on it.  Nightmare.  It takes us hours to find it.  But many lessons are learned, and luckily we need only navigate this crazy metropolis one more time.  We’re glad to hear no other city is quite as intense.

mui neAnd leave we do, the next morning. And head for the coast and a town called  Mui Ne. Where we chill for a couple of nights and hit the beach – and check out some sand dunes. Though we have our first breakdown – my accelerator cable snaps.  Rich drags my up the hill to the town where we find a mechanic.  he can fix it.  We time him.  It takes 12 minutes,including the trip to buy a new part.  It costs $2. Awesome.

Its Here we come up with the idea – or steal it from another guy, to start a biker gang and call it the Vietnam Electric Tigers.  You can check out our facebook page click here – Vietnam Electric Tigers!.  All facebook likes would be appreciated!!!

gillan duneNext we drive up to Dalat, in the southern mountains.  The road there, well, it isn’t a road.  More a collection of bits of road mixed with dirt track and some gravel – And potholes that schools of fish could easily live in.  But we make it in one piece.  Up here the cool weather is a break from the heat down south.  The town is nice and a trip to the ‘Crazy House’ is fun.  1 electricWe also get the decals of our biker club, the electric tigers done here.

But its the road back down is the star – a newly paved piece of road, winding all the way down to Nha Trang on the coast.  Beautiful scenery of dense jungle clad peaks and views all the way out to the sea. The best road in Vietnam.

We stay in Nha Trang for nearly a week, socrazy houseaking up the sun, sea, sand – and a good bit of the local happy hours – 50c beer anybody? and then move on up the coast along the dreaded highway number 1 – or as Paul Theroux calls it in ‘ The great railway bazaar’, “The highway of no joy”.

view bikeThis road is the worst – potholes everywhere, buses, trucks, crazy minibus drivers, police trying to wave you down to extort money – we never stop for the police, in fact we don’t stop for anybody.  In fact we don’t stop until Rich’s back tire blows out on the highway.  A real scary moment, but he slows down quick and neither him nor the bike are damaged – apart from the hole on his tyre, obviously.  It takes us ages to get the bike along to a repair place, going super slow in the red hot sun.

gillan bikeWe don’t stop again till night falls and the sand and dust is turning our eyelids into sandpaper against our eyes.  We stay overnight in what is clearly a brothel – but god are we glad to get off that road.

The next day we ride into Hoi An.  We need a few repairs on the hogs and take some time to relax.  This place is a shopaholic’s dream and by far the prettiest city in Vietnam – More on this in a separate post.

lanternMoving on we travel further north over the Hoi Van pass – Named for the mists and clouds that top the peaks.  And we literally drive right up into the clouds.  The road is not used by trucks and buses, as a tunnel  has been built, so we have the road to ourselves. But getting over the other side, the geographical separation of the country between north and south we begin to notice a big change in the weather.  Here they are experiencing colder wet weather and this affects the rest of our trip.

1 hueWe get into Hue after lunch and stay for a few nights, hoping the weather will change.  A typhoon has just left the Philippines and is heading right for us.  We have to move on, but head inland for the Ho Chi Minh highway where hopefully we are shielded from the worst.  The HCM Highway is another spectacular piece of road – This time with Karst mountains running up either side of the road and thundering rivers running down the steep valleys below. saigon hammer and sickle But the weather really is unpleasant, to say the least, and we struggle with the wind and rain stinging our face.

We stay overnight in Phuong Na farm stay.  A great place with great people.  Sadly we cant visit the famous caves as the entrance is flooded and the next day we head on for Vinh.

By this time a second tropical storm has hit and its no longer wet,  its a swimming pool just being out of cover.  We leave the HCMH and drive towards Highway 1.  At this point the road turns to the worst I’ve ever seen.1 phong na  Potholes going on for 100m and no way to know how deep, no proper road surface to speak of – and the rain still battering down on us.  We hit highway number 1 again coming into Vinh. Its unreal.  How could it possibly get worse?  Although the road is better water coming at us from every angle – Trucks, buses, cars, all passing us, covering us in water, and the clouds so dark we can hardly see with our sunglasses on – our only protection against the lashing rain in our eyes .  Freezing cold we head into the train station – And finally give in.

We cant go on anymore so we put the bikes on the train for the last couple of hundred km’s and get into Hanoi early the next morning.  And its over, and were glad.

An experience.  And An achievement.  but not to be repeated in the near future….but hey, never say never.

Read Full Post »