Sunday, 24 October 2010

My favourite street food

I had been so excited about Vietnamese food and in particular the street food which is hailed as the best in the world by many a street food connoisseur. When we arrived in beautiful Hoi An (about half way up the coast of Vietnam) this fabulous lady welcomed us to her town with a tasty treat and i finally felt as if i had arrived.
The pork skewers are marinated in lemongrass, ginger, fish sauce, coriander, a touch of sugar, sesame seeds and then barbecued. You take them and then assemble a roll with rice paper, fresh rice pancakes, a mix of fragrant Vietnamese herbs, green banana and finish by dipping it in her spicy satay sauce. Honestly one of the best things i have ever eaten, why cant the Vietnameses on Kingsland catch up?! Each roll cost about 20p which is a bargain especially she had the best location in town overlooking the Thu Bon River which is lined with French colonial houses and Chinese lanterns. So divine we went back for seconds the next day.

Mui Ne

From Saigon we coached it 4 hours north to Mui Ne Beach. What was 8 years ago, a sleepy beach with a few simple huts is now a full on tourist destination attracting droves of Russians and backpackers alike. The Beach itself is not much to write home about but is perfect for the kite surfers that flock there in their masses. To be honest I was really disappointed and didn't see why anyone would really bother going there, until the last day when we got a 4x4 and went on a little magical mystery tour. First stop, Fairy Stream....
It resembles a mini Grand Canyon and once you get past the pesky kids being whored by their parents to sell you guided tours, the tranquility was amazing. You take off your shoes and follow the blissfully warm stream as it meanders through palm trees and these amazing land formations up to a little waterfall.
Next up was the Yellow Sand Dunes next to Lotus Lake..
 And from the Grand Canyon it was like being transported to the Sahara, absolutely breathtaking but incredibly hard work walking through it. I think i discovered some muscles in my feet that have never been used before! We tried sledging down them with little success.
 For the last stop of the day we went for sunset on the originally named Red Sand Dunes
 I have never been in scenery like this and it was just spectacular and incredibly exhilarating with the bonus of not being stranded in the desert.
 The food in Mui Ne was really expensive ordinary tourist fare but we got on our bikes and went closer to the fisherman's village at the other end of the beach where we were rewarded with these amazing barbecued scallops. We just had to make sure we chose some place up wind of the smell of fish sauce fermenting plants which is pretty fierce to say the least.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Sight seeing in Saigon

Our first stop in Vietnam was Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City, its official name). For me its name evokes a romanticised image of Asia but in reality it is just a big thriving Asian city with not much going for it in my opinion. I think its one of those cities you need an insider to show you around so you can really discover its hidden gems.
 The first initiation test is to cross the road. There are no pedestrian traffic lights and millions of scooters. You just have to step out and walk steadily (no running, no pausing) and weave your way to the other side. My impatient side loved this once i got the hang of it.
Safety first!
 Above is one of the many shop houses, where families live and work.
We spent half a day at in the Chinese area, Cholon (which translates to market) where you can buy anything. It was a bit anarchic the way India is and for some reason everyone kept laughing at us! We visited a few beautiful temples in the area which was a beautiful respite from the madness.
This temple reminded me a bit of McDonalds with its red and yellow colour scheme. 
Although relaxing, the air was so thick with incense it was hard to breath.
The people of Saigon are really friendly. Mrs Long and her niece from Long Guesthouse couldn't have been more helpful, with great insider tips including a slightly weird blind massage place and the best local Pho stalls. You are always being accosted by charming students eager to practice their English on you. Our favourite was one who had modeled his accent on Simon Cowell after hours of studying You Tube, wierd but authentic!

Friday, 15 October 2010

My Mariah moment

When i was first researching Vietnam, i thought i might look into some bling hotels to stay for a couple of nights as i was celebrating the milestone of 30 while out there. Once I found Six Senses Ninh Van Bay there was no going back, nothing compared, i think i even dreamed about it while i ummed and arred and bored my friends with my procrastination and guilt over the price. I watched like a hawk as the price dropped and finally we booked it and i have never not regretted anything less. It more than lived up to the expectations of years pouring over my Mum's Conde Nast Traveller magazines. It was Perfect.
From the moment we arrived (by boat, fabulous), we were spoilt rotten. We were picked up by our personal butler... yes you read that right a fricking BUTLER... and whisked off for a tour of the resort in golf buggies. Everywhere we where greeted with a smiling "Xin chao" (hello in Vietnamese)
You could snorkel as the beautiful beach came complete with its own coral reef (which was hours of fun), try a Vietnamese fishing boat or borrow a kayak
When all that got too much all the food and drink was amazing and picked from their own veg garden.
He he!
We had our own bikes so took off around the beach to explore and found a lush spa, spied monkeys in the mountains, and had a spot of lunch around the main pool. What was bliss is we hardly bumped into a soul.
All of this would be enough but what really made it extra special was our beautiful hilltop villa. After wheezing ourselves to the top of the hill we were presented with this.....
Words can't explain and even the pictures don't do it justice. I don't think i have ever been in a more perfect place. We had our stunning room that joined onto an equally as massive bathroom with huge tub, walk in shower and outside shower. Also there was the entertaining hut with day bed, fridge etc. Oh yeah and the pool! It was totally private, and the only time we heard a peek from our neighbours is when they had local musicians play for them so we got a free concert!
It really felt like you were surrounded by nature from this little guy to our room Gecko to the thousands of fireflies that hovered over pool to the electrical storms that lit up the bay and crackled on all night. Bliss. Oh yeah and did i mention the pool...!
Being a water baby i loved it but what i loved best was going to sleep with all the curtains open and gradually waking as the sun came up over the bay and that says a lot because i am really not a morning person and there are a lot of people who can vouch for that (through gritted teeth).
I really cant thank my generous boyfriend Andy, my lovely Mum, and all the friends who contributed to helping me celebrate my 30th in such style. It was heaven and i almost wept when i left! Thank you x x x