Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Sheep is Back

Goodness ... That took longer than I expected! Time melts in Vietnam: days, weeks, they roll into months. Or at least they would have if I'd been able to extend my visa. Stayed on in Hanoi for an extra couple of weeks with some friends of my travel buddy. For those of you planning your own sojourn to Vietnam (you're right anon, everyone is going - don't be scared to join them, it's amazing) - here are some handy hints:

1. Beware the Lonely Planet curse!
Any time we ventured into a Lonely Planet endorsee we were swamped with westerners. Service was stretched and food was not on par with less well-known venues. Oh, and naturally these places were more expensive than other/better places. The famous Brothers Cafe in Hanoi was hideous - a buffet (why oh why) of luke warm food. Nuh uh. Not me. Lemongrass in Saigon was the scene of an Aussie punch-up in the street over who was first in line for the next available table! Ugh.
2. When is Ho Chi Minh City - go the royal cuisine!
Nam Ka in Dong Khoi St - This is a very expensive (by Vietnamese standards) option, but well worth it if you can afford a couple of hundred bucks for an amazing meal. Had birds nest soup with REAL birds nest in it (made of - no, not sticks - gelatinous bird vomit!). The food is heavily influenced by what I imagine is imperial Chinese cuisine (shark fin, lotus seed, etc) - Chinese culture has a strong influence throughout Vietnam. China is, after all, only a hop-skip-jump away. For those whose budgets don't stretch this far ... still in Dong Khoi St, try Oso - it's neon slogan out front says it all: No Pay, No Delicious

3. Local Cuisine Favourites
In Hoi An I devoured 'White Roses' (see photo below) by the bucket load. They are delicate dumplings made with tiny puffs of prawn meat in the middle. Yum yum yum. Try Dalat wine - a bit rough for the first few sips, but after that you won't care - you're on holidays and it's cheap! In Ho Chi Minh City don't miss the women on the street sides selling freshly made French-style waffles - they are crispy-crunchy and sweet and made on the spot over little braziers.

4. Throughout Vietnam the word to watch is SALAD!
Lotus root salad. Green mango salad. Banana flower salad. Green papaya salad. Just dive in face first. You'll be as addicted as I was. This is probably what I'll miss most about Vietnam (apart from the amazing people I met along the way).

5. Wine, gin, and jazz
Watch out for ice in some places. Cheaper places often won't put ice in your mixed drinks, cos the water's not so good. Mid-range places will put ice smashed from larger lumps in your drink - we tended to avoid this ice. We found that ice in tubular form was fine. You'll find pretty broad wine lists in many places (Australian, New Zealand, American, French, and Italian wines) and plenty of gin. Ooooh yeah! There are some mighty funky bars and clubs in Ho Chi Minh City (try Manna - cigar/wine/jazz lounge, or the rooftop bar at the Caravelle).

6. Just wander and discover
Vietnam is a safe place to travel. We tended to wander the streets, stumbling from gorgeous local bar to delicious local restaurant. Much more enjoyable and relaxed than the frenzied search for the latest recommendation-du-jour from Lonely Planet, HRB, or the like. Just wander and find your own way.

So that's it. I loved Vietnam. Vietnam loved me back (as evidenced by my sleek, fat belly).

And back to earth ... what have I missed?
GW ;-)