Vietnam overview: discover, shop, cook and eat

Travellers are attracted to Vietnam for its natural beauty, its long history, fascinating culture and in my case, its fabulous fresh food. Not only is Vietnam an ideal location for those on a budget, it’s one of the few places for those looking to discover hidden gems off the beaten path. The friendly and hospitable nature of the locals makes this country feel like a second home – even if the old woman at the markets is smiling cheekily while offering you a taste of their special insects.  Here are some things to do on your holiday in Vietnam.

Learn to cook authentic vietnamese food

I did a nine-day Food Writers Tour in Vietnam with the Australian Writers’ Centre last April. Our teacher and guide, Carli Ratcliff, took us to the Hai Bā Trung District of Hanoi, home of Vietnam’s top female chef, Mai Tran Thi Tuyet.  Known to her students as Chef Mai, the gentle grandmother of three opened her home to share her passion for teaching straightforward Vietnamese dishes that anyone can cook at home.

Making Vietnamese spring roll

Making Vietnamese spring roll

The cooking class began at Chef Mai’s local market where we shopped for ingredients for lunch. Chef Mai led the way through narrow lanes flanked with stalls set up on tables, upturned crates or on plastic mats on the ground selling mounds of green herbs like Vietnamese mint, perilla, betel leaf, coriander, basil and saw tooth herb, stacks of tropical fruit including dragon fruit, kiwi fruit, watermelons, mangosteen and limes, every vegetable from bitter melon to cucumbers to tomatoes to yams, slabs of meat from every part of the animal, baskets filled with clams, shrimp, eels, and snails, trays of fresh fish from almost microscopic to trophy-winning in size, sacks of iridescent powders and gnarly shaped spices, and freshly-made rice and egg noodles rolled into neat bundles ready to take home. This is experience was an absolute highlight of my trip.

Markets in Hanoi

Markets in Hanoi

Eating in Vietnam

Pho is considered Vietnam’s national dish. It’s a soup with a clear broth usually made with of chicken or beef stock that has been infused with star anise, charred ginger, smoky shallots, roasted cinnamon, cumin and depending on regions, sometimes cardamon. Add to that fish sauce and a little sugar to balance the broth. Pho contains flat rice noodles, some chicken or beef, with a plate of spring onion, coriander, mint, bean sprouts and a wedge of lime served on the table for the diner to add as they like. It’s cleansing, moorish, light, and the perfect meal to have for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I’d need a whole blog-series to talk about the food in Vietnam, but for now I’ll leave it at my favourite dish, Pho.Hanoi_pho1.IMG_2102

The best Pho I’ve found in Perth is at Tra Vinh in Northbridge. The service is haphazard, the setting plain, and the atmosphere is busy. But the food is cheap and the pho ($11.50) is just like the ones I had in Vietnam.
Tra Vinh on Urbanspoon

In Vietnam, I found that the best food we ate was street food. When we went to “upmarket” restaurants, I found the food was good, but not as exceptional as the food I bought in markets or on the street, and about five times the price. Take probiotics though, just to keep your gut healthy.

Get clothes tailored in Hoi An

A trip to Hoi An isn’t complete without choosing some fabric and having a gorgeous tailored outfit made in one of the 400 boutiques available. The key to doing this successfully is by shopping around outside the main market street for the best price and fabric. I would also recommend bringing your favourite pieces for the tailors to copy – dresses, trousers, blouses and jackets. On of my travel companions had a a Gucci jacket that three others also asked the dress maker to copy. It’s fine to haggle, but try not to do it too much unless the prices really are absurd, remember, back home this kind of service costs an arm and a leg. One of the best known tailors is Yaly, 358 Nguyen Duy Hieu St – Hoi An. They also have shops in the city centre. You can  have shoes made in Hoi An also.

Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is the final resting place of Vietnam’s most popular leader (obviously named) Ho Chi Minh or Uncle Ho as the locals like to call him. Despite his wishes for a humble cremation, the mausoleum was constructed between 1973 and 1975 from materials reaching all across Vietnam. As you move through the quick lines and sea of guards, you’ll eventually make your way into the bowels of the building where the preserved body of Ho Chi Minh’s body lies in a glass cabinet. The mausoleum is closed for two months of the year while maintenance is performed on the embalmed body.

Explore the wonder of Halong Bay by Kayak

I wish I’d experienced the breathtaking sights of Halong Bay. Declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998, Halong Bay has a rich history with pirates, bandits and revolutionaries claiming this territory as their favourite hiding place. Discover unspoiled beaches, towering limestone barriers, vast hidden caves, tranquil lagoons and floating fishing villages. Missing Halong Bay is just one of the many reasons why I have to go back to Vietnam. Have you been? What are your tips for Halong Bay?

Like hiking in Sapa in the north of Vietnam, kayaking can also be risky without a guide to show you the way, so make sure you team with a reputable company to help create this unforgettable voyage. If you want to stay safe in a new foreign country offers good travel insurance deals.

Mobile florist

Have you travelled to Vietnam? What would you recommend? Let me know in the comments below.


Food Writers Tour in Vietnam
The Australian Writers’ Centre Food Writing Tour in Vietnam  16-24 May 2014 .

Tailor – Hoi An
358 Nguyen Duy Hieu St – Hoi An
Tel:+84 510 391 4995

 Perth – Vietnamese Restaurant
Tra Vinh on Urbanspoon

Disclosure: This is sponsored post containing original and provided content

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