Why This Could Be Travel’s Next Hot Spot
As Australians look for new and more varied destinations, Vietnam is gaining in popularity. As Traveltalk’s JENNY ROWLAND discovered, your taste buds will definitely thank you for paying a visit.
CAN YOU have fish sauce withdrawals? Is it a thing? I am seriously concerned…
After a recent trip to Vietnam my tastebuds have become accustomed to this salty rich sauce and I am now using it on everything apart from my morning Weet-Bix!
Vietnam is a foodie paradise and while the temples, beaches, caves, mountains and ancient cities are all quite magical, for me it’s the food that I will remember most – my tastebuds just cannot wait to go back.
One week was not long but it was just enough to whet my appetite for this amazing destination and its wonderful people.
With Bamboo Airways now expanding into Australia with some extremely competitive fares, including fantastic stopover deals in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh en route to Europe, I think more Aussies will be tempted to ditch Bali and give Vietnam a go.
I spent my week in two of Vietnam’s most popular destinations: Phu Quoc (home of fish sauce) and Hanoi.
Phu Quoc is in southern Vietnam and is only a one-hour flight from Ho Chi Minh. The country’s biggest island, this fast-developing destination is gaining massive popularity among Aussie tourists…and I can see why.
Pristine island beaches, lush green jungles, stunning waterfalls and the longest cable car ride in the world are on offer and I reckon a three-night stay is just long enough to enjoy the highlights.
If you like a bit of history, head to the Phu Quoc Prison Museum dedicated to the memory of the inmates who were held there in the Vietnam War.
It’s quite confronting and a big contrast to the natural peace and beauty of the island, but well worth visiting.
If you want to imagine you are in Africa, the island even has its own safari. You are bused through the Vinpearl Conservation Park and the exhibits (tigers, lions, elephants and bears) roam free in wide, well kept open spaces and all appear to be very well looked after.
Pleasing to note that apart from elephant and giraffe feeding there’s no “animal shows” as such.
The highlight of Phu Quoc is most definitely and literally the cable car ride. It spans an incredible 7.9kms and connects the town of An Thoi to the island of Hon Thom.
It’s the perfect way to see what this area is so famous for – gorgeous white beaches, crystal clear water and beautiful coral reefs.
I stayed in the Melia Vinpearl which was as memorable as the island itself. It’s an elegant Spanish style beachside haven consisting of more than 500 villas, all with private pools and your own buggy service to whizz you around the resort.
The rates are incredibly reasonable at just over $800 for two people in a one-bedroom villa with your own pool for three nights.
If you have a big birthday or milestone event coming up this place is a winner with their massive four-bedroom villas and fab beach barbeque parties, so invite all your friends.
Local tip: Make sure you do the hotel’s fantastic cooking class (check out our recipe pages for their exquisite Da Nang pancakes).
I once stayed at Cable Beach in Broome in the same room as Kylie Minogue and had high hopes that by using the same toilet as her gorgeousness that my buttocks might be persuaded to emulate hers…silly I know.
In Hanoi I sat at the same restaurant table as President Obama – not so I could emulate his buttocks but to maybe receive some of his great wisdom. Instead, I simply learned we both have great taste in food!
The humble Huong Lien Hanoi restaurant boasts the “combo Obama” which consists of the famous Bun cha (grilled pork and noodles), fried seafood roll and a Hanoi beer, which was heartily enjoyed by the great man himself.
After all the food I was consuming on this trip my buttocks needed a big workout but the Cyclo tour around the old Quarter was a very relaxing and easy way to see the sights, hear the sounds and more importantly smell the amazing food aromas wafting around every corner….and I didn’t have to move a muscle.
Hop off the Cyclo and you can wander through the markets and laneways and feel the beating historical heart of this ancient town.
Walk past the woman selling bún ốc (snail soup), past bowls of colourful gelatinous chè thập cẩm (mixed sweet soup), past the chihuahua riding pillion with a sweet potato fritter in its mouth.
Street food is everywhere and enjoyed by everyone in Hanoi.
Take a day trip out of town to Ninh Binh province which is as dramatically beautiful as Halong Bay – just don’t do it at the weekend as the traffic will turn a 90-minute drive into a four-hour marathon.
Here you will find the awesome Bai Dinh pagoda – the largest complex of Buddhist temples in Vietnam It has a tower with a 400-ton bell and a 700-ton drum.
It’s all a bit mind blowing, as is the scenery around Trang An with its meandering rivers and cave systems. You must take a boat and explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
All this site seeing will probably make you hungry (did I mention the food yet?). While there were a few scary moments with chicken feet, goats’ liver and fish brains, the food was definitely a highlight, especially the ubiquitous hot pots.
Yes, you read that right…hot pots.
After the delicious spicy salads and seafoods, invariably a hot pot/pho is placed in the middle of the table with bubbling broth and accompanying meats and veggies that diners cook at the table.
While the hot pots were a surprise, I was even more blown away by Vietnamese coffee and their Melbourne-esque coffee culture.
The addition of condensed milk makes for a very interesting, sweet taste that my Sydney coffee palate loved. Then go one step further and try the popular Hanoi delicacy of ’egg coffee’ – whisked egg yolk with condensed milk poured over an Americano. Sounds gross but tastes surprisingly yummy.
If you’re more of a beer drinker then you are absolutely spoilt for choice.
There are billions of beers in Hanoi and it’s probably the cheapest in the world. There’s a whole street dedicated to the brew – imaginatively called Beer Street – and you can drink gallons of it for less than $5 for a whole night!
Your Aussie dollar packs a big punch here and that coupled with cheaper direct flights and great deals on accommodation certainly provides a very persuasive argument to come to Vietnam.
Just one request. When you do, please can you bring me back a vat of fish sauce!
Look out for Jenny’s Bamboo Airways review in the June edition of Traveltalk.
EXPERTS PUT YOU IN THE PICTURE
IF YOU have a sense of adventure and a keen eye for photography, Phototourism can take you off the beaten track and show you a whole new world.
Rod Black, Company Founder and Professional Photographer, has more than 40 years of experience behind the lens. Starting his career as a corporate advertising photographer, Rod has worked with some of the largest brands in Australia.
Now he enthusiastically shares the hidden gems in our world by conducting photography tours in Australia and internationally throughout Southeast Asia.
Phototourism conducts three, 14-day tours of Vietnam every year. Private custom tours are available on request.
The company also has very successful and popular itineraries in Australia. These include regular photo-tours to Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Valley, Phillip Island, Lake Tyrrell and the Great Ocean Road. Phototourism also runs photo-tours in northern Tasmania.
In 2024 the company will introduce a tour of Central Australia exploring Alice Springs, Kings Canyon and Uluru.
Phototourism is run with the support of a team of highly experienced professional photographers.
Tours combine the best elements of a modern itinerary with the added benefit of experienced, professional photographer tour guides, fully committed to helping guests find the best locations and receive the best photographic support.
Guides are always happy to provide constructive advice and tuition to assist guests to achieve their creative photography goals.
Phototourism also runs regular night photography workshops, including astrophotography.
Keep an eye on the company’s website and social media for tour details.
A VIETNAMESE TASTE SENSATION
Da Nang Pancakes /Banh xeo Da Nang
THESE ARE very traditional and crisp crepe-like discs made with rice, flour, water and turmeric and filled with savoury stuffings like pork, seafood, mung beans and sprouts.
Guests can make these in the cooking class at the Vinpearl Melia Phu Quoc. They are quick and easy and ultra delicious.
To make Banh xeo, the batter is poured into a hot skillet and then filled with the ingredients before being folded in half like an omelette.
They actually look like omelettes because of their shape and colour but they aren’t made with any eggs. They get their yellowish colour from turmeric mixed into the batter.
The name banh xeo literally means “sizzling cake” because of the sound it makes when the rice batter hits the hot skillet.
Banh xeo is eaten by wrapping pieces of it in rice paper (banh trang) with fresh herbs like coriander, mint and perilla before dipping into fish sauce (nuoc mam pha) or your favourite dipping sauce.
Despite being fried, you don’t really notice the oiliness too much because of the fresh greens and fish sauce. Crisp on the outside but moist on the inside, Banh xeo is delicious and a lot of fun to eat.