April 26, 2010

Vietnam vacations experience - Beat it!

The Vietnamese are masters of the two-wheeler. People carry their entire lives, families and livelihoods on the back of their mopeds – no matter how diminutive. On the lush, green three hour drive past the rural expanse of paddy fields from Hanoi to Halong Bay I saw a man with a whole live, twitching pig strapped to his backseat. Some women ride the things side-saddle, many seemingly unconcerned (even on a high-speed motorway) with the small trifle of holding on. Others go one-handed, mobile phone, cigarette or rainbow-striped umbrella not inhibiting their ability to maneuver amidst the busy traffic.

Vietnam travelVietnam rural area

It was fearlessly then, that Bing, our Vietnamese cookery teacher and chef from the Nam Hai hotel, led our party of three on bicycles from the hotel to the local market where we were to buy some produce to cook. This may sound idyllic, and indeed it was – but before we could immerse ourselves in the charm of the local culinary commerce we had to get there, and this involved cycling down a fairly major road and crossing a big junction – a feat indeed for one of the only girls in school to fail her cycling proficiency test, and who has barely graced a saddle since.

The day before had been mostly spent recovering from the exertion, excitement and pollution of Hanoi, lounging by the hotel’s picture-perfect pool, which looks onto the sandy expanse of China Beach. There we sipped Chi Chis (a blend of vodka, pineapple and coconut cream) and slurped bowls of fragrant pho before heading into Hoi An – a charming riverside town characterised by Chinese architecture and merchant’s houses. We ate fish grilled in banana leaf and piquant, crunchy banana flower salad at Canh Buum Trang restaurant on Tran Hung Dao street with local sisters My (pronounced Me) and Vy (pronounced Vee), who complimented me on my full figure (always a great way to charm a food writer) and seemed thrilled by the way I devoured what is for them rather prosaic, everyday fare.

After lunch we went to their shop at 63 Nguyen Thai Hoc street and were fitted for bespoke dresses (Hoi An is the capital of tailoring in Vietnam and having clothes made is shamefully cheap) before heading back to the hotel just in time for happy hour and the warm embrace of complimentary cocktails. So cycling in the morning heat was the most physical exertion we’d done in a while, and it felt great to glide past the countryside, negotiating our way amidst the agricultural trucks and moped drivers on our way to the market.

The market was a humid, labyrinthine hive of food and life – the air thick with the strong smell of nuoc mam – Vietnamese fish sauce. There women sat crouched on the makeshift tables selling their wares and eating bowls of stir-fried morning glory and garlic. While I was distracted by the tiny miniature Vietnamese onions (the size of garden peas) my friend sussed out a stall selling televisions, one of which was blaring out karaoke, and somehow, microphones were thrust into our hands and before we knew it we were performing an impromptu rendition of Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’ - enthralling stall holders and local people who gathered to watch and laugh at the weird spectacle we made. I thought I might get roped into karaoke at some point on this trip – but never did I imagine it would be in the midst of a cookery class in the deepest depths of a rural food market.

Source: spectator.co.uk blog

Recommendation in Vietnam:
- Travel guides in Vietnam
- Adventure Tours in Vietnam

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