Vietnam hasn’t always been top of my list in places to travel. I’m not sure why, as rice paper rolls have long been up there with my favourite foods, and I consider myself to be something of a pho aficionado, but up until this year, other destinations always won out.
When planning a mid-year escape for 2014, the choices were narrowed down to a varied list of Samoa, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, USA or Vietnam. Evidently we were chasing the sun, but sadly over 50% of these countries would apparently be experiencing their wet season (or some sort of civil unrest), in July, so our options were further narrowed to the USA or Vietnam. When flights almost quadrupuled overnight, America was put on the back burner for another year, and Vietnam was decided on.
After spending three weeks there, I can now understand the enthusiam I’d been met with from those who’d visited the country. The crazy, chaotic roads, seemingly ridiculous sartorial choices of locals (hoodies and gloves in 35C?), endlessly affordable food options and beautiful sights made the trip unforgettable. Here are my highlights:
As happens to most travelling in Asia, my boyfriend and I suffered from food poisoning around a week into the trip. Ironically, rather than experiencing this from street food, this occurred after eating at the top rated restaurant on Tripadvisor…
A definite highlight of our trip was the cooking class we took in Hoi An. Just about every good restaurant in Hoi An offers cooking classes, but our hotel recommended ‘Water Wheel,’ which turned out to be fantastic. Visiting the markets was both fascinating and eye opening; with my long-time employment in hospital Food Service, to say I was uneasy about the hygiene is a slight understatement! Each morning seafood, meat and fresh produce are gathered and sold in their different sections at the market, and according to our guide, nothing is left by 4pm. A real positive of the meat market is that everything is used – though I couldn’t bring myself to document it, the benches were littered with everything from pigs trotters to ducks heads! Even more unnerving is the whole workings of the meat section… ladies sit on work benches (often cross legged and shoeless) and alternate between hacking at their meat and making sales to customers, exchanging money with their (ungloved) hands – FSANZ would be appalled! As for freshness, it all couldn’t get much better. Most of the seafood was still wriggling, with unphased women casually breaking fishes necks to kill them, before hacking off their fins and scales with a sharp knife.
I felt much more comfortable amongst the fruit and vegetables, alot of which was harvested from fields surrounding Water Wheel. Our guide showed us a huge array of fruits, including the up and coming ‘superfood’ mangosteen! She had some pretty interesting stories on the health benefits of certain foods, and mentioned that eating too much fruit could result in resembling ‘a buddha’ due to their high sugar content – I wonder what books she’s been reading!