Thursday, April 19, 2012

Vietnamese food for beginners

Take a gastronomic tour of Vietnam, but be warned – do not read this article if you are even slightly hungry.

1. Pho
They call it beef noodle soup, and such it is, but it is also so much more. It is Vietnam in a bowl. Pronounced like "fur" without the  "r", it is beef noodle soup raised to the nth degree. You can have pho everywhere in Vietnam, but it is almost a cult in Hanoi. Try it Pho Gia Truyen in Hanoi's Old Quarter for a taste of the really good stuff.

From the garnish tray, add a squeeze of lime juice. Nibble at the bean sprouts to test their crispness. If they pass the test, add a few to the soup. And a dash of chilli sauce and garlic sauce or fish sauce. Lastly, sprinkle it with coriander leaves, mint leaves, or basil. Or all of them. With your chopsticks, thrust deeply to the bottom of the bowl. Lift the noodles above the surface and let the dressings you have added subsume into the body of the work. Lay the noodles back to rest. In the next minute the flavours will marry.
The more traditional beef variety of pho is called “pho bo”, while the chicken is “pho ga”.

2. Mon cuon (Rice rolls)
Rice rolls are produced everywhere in Vietnam, with the most well-known being “goi cuon” (known elsewhere as Vietnamese rice paper or summer rolls). But those that are made in Hanoi have their special characteristics. The wrappings of banh cuon are as thin as a sheet of paper, appearing as edible alabaster, soft yet offering something to the teeth. Ingredients may include grilled pork, fried bean curd or vegetables, which are served on top. If you are really lucky, they will add a drop of coleopterous essence (a highly aromatic secretion from the gland of a type of beetle).
Do not miss Hanoi's Banh Cuon Gia Truyen (located in the Old Quarter) for delicate and incredibly tasty banh cuon.

The basic tenets of the north's cookery are more closely aligned with China than that of other local regions. Fewer spices are available than in the south, but the people could not do without black pepper. They use a superior grade that is mild, yet intensely aromatic, and with a sweetness that is unique to this land. Equally important are the sweet and pungent herbs - basil, mint, coriander, spring onions and several other tasty leaves.

3. Bun cha
Bun cha is simply grilled pork served on a bed on of cold rice noodles and dressed with a few herbs. The meat is always cut from a piece of well-marbled pork and must be grilled with a pair of fresh bamboo tongs. 

It is marinated in a mixture of sweet, hot, sour and salty, and the resulting product tastes like none of its constituent flavours, yet more than the sum of its parts. But, like so much of the north, what gives the bun cha its characteristic taste and smell are the minty herbs, most often from nearby Lang village.
Pay a visit to Hanoi's Bun Cha - they do the one dish, and they do it extremely well.

4. Snail dishes
In Hanoi there is a type of snail living in ponds and lakes that grows to the size of a golfball, has a streaked colour, and, while chewy, is very tasty. They are called "oc". Bun oc are boiled snails dipped in nuoc cham, placed in a bowl of rice vermicelli and snail consommé poured over. You can also get bun oc in many seafood restaurants. 

Oc ngoi are minced snails mixed with onion, garlic and mushroom; rolled in ginger leaves and stuffed in the shell of the snail, then stewed. Pull the ginger leaf out and the rest comes along. Oc hap bia are snails are steamed in beer. Try alsooc xao ca vo (shelled stir-fried snails), oc cuon cha (rolled snail) and bun oc kho (dried noodle and snails).

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Halong Bay in Asia's top five tropical island paradises

CNN (USA) recently listed Vietnam's Ha Long Bay ito the Asia's top five tropical island pradises where have the most beautiful sunsets that visitors should not miss. Accordingly, five sites were selected including Anambas Islands (Indonesia), Langwaki (Malaysia), two islands of Koh Chang; Similan (Thailand) and Ha Long Bay (Vietnam).

The results are given based on survey and evaluation of tourism professionals, academics, journalists credibility of tourism in Asia. "Halong Bay in northwestern Vietnam is one of the most stunning destinations that visitors can travel by boat to watch sea, take kayak, better than anywhere else in the world"  McDonald - editor, and founder of the Asian travel site travelfish - on CNN said.

Kayaking to explore the wonderland of karst

Fishing squid in the evening

Relaxing on junk and enjoy the sunset 

Comprising a vast coastal waterway of roughly 2,000 islands spread over an area of 1,500 square kilometers, carving out your own sailing space shouldn't be too much of a problem. While tranquil waters year round make sure going for a swim is always a pleasure

>> Kayaking in Halong bay by ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA

Monday, April 16, 2012

4 easy tips for unforgetable biking trip in Vietnam

As a country with every terrain imaginable, Vietnam offers a memorable bicycling adventure for any and all peddlers, regardless of experience or condition. The flat expanse of the Mekong Delta grows to rugged mountains in the central expanse and then blends into the widest variety of difficulty north near Hanoi.

There are few considerations given to bicyclists, a decided lack of designated lanes is one example, and the crushing throng of traffic in some of the larger cities can seem intimidating, but then when has riding a bicycle not been intimidating? Luckily the traffic thins out everywhere else and a single rider will often find themselves peddling alone.

Traffic and Bicycle Laws

Along with standard laws like not causing traffic problems by racing or zigzagging, Vietnam has few laws targeted specifically toward the bicyclist. It is important to remember not to carry cumbersome loads, carry children over age seven with you or ride more than two abreast. No sort of helmet or lighting is required, but bicyclists are not allowed to ride with open umbrellas. One can only guess what happened to make this law.

  Vietnam has few laws targeted specifically toward the bicyclist

Common Trips

There are some routes that will take you through the backcountry while providing some modicum of modern amenities, or the option to rent a bicycle for a short time lends itself to impromptu day or overnight trips.

The easiest of these is around the Mekong Delta. With a terrain nearly devoid of any rise, these trips are easier, but by no means less scenic, than the others. Traveling through the expanse of rice paddies dotted with the occasional copse of trees, the rider will be joined by children cycling to or from school or women returning from the market. People in the villages will be pleasantly surprised to see a foreigner riding into town and a circuit from Ho Chi Minh to any of the surrounding villages is an easy ride. With the flat terrain and abundance of villages it is easy to take a trip of any length, whether only a day or two weeks, a rider can tour without backtracking.

 The northern provides travellers the more difficult routes

The northern area allows for more wooded scenery while still allowing for easier trips. For the more bicycle adventurous, the northern area provides a greater degree of difficulty through the hills surrounding Hanoi. A typical trip would be a tour from Hanoi to Hoa Binh to Ninh Binh and then to Hanoi; an intermediate trip of about 200 km on good road conditions.

A new trip for the adventurous would be along the historical Ho Chi Minh trail. The Vietnamese government recently finished building a highway connecting north and south Vietnam that runs roughly the same track the Ho Chi Minh trail did. Traffic is light and the people who live in the mountains hospitable. This is an intermediate trip lasting multiple days.


Weather in Southeast Asia is a big consideration and it is recommended to go from Late September to December or March to late May. The weather in the southern area of Vietnam stays warm and humid averaging 26°C with its rainy season from June to September. BE WARNED: Vietnam sees monsoonal rains starting in June, peaking in August and tapering down in September. This season varies depending on location; Hanoi in the north generally has a rainy season that peaks earlier while Ho Chi Minh City may not see its rains slack until early October. Vietnam, especially central Vietnam, often floods and can hold up a trip for a week before the waters recede.
 The grapth which reveals the avarage temp and avarage rainfall

The hot season will see temperatures averaging 30°C, with the south staying warm all year round and the north seeing winter trends averaging 15°C. Depending on the time of year, it would be advisable to take a jacket to keep off the chill, especially if riding in the highlands, and a hat to protect against the sun.

Other Considerations

Visas must be applied for at least six months prior to entry date. Tourist visas are granted for one month, but may be extended after arrival in Vietnam, and only allow one entry into the country. Tourists must fill out arrival/departure papers and declaration papers, keeping both with the passport at all times. It is also recommended having a few extra passport-size photos with you as local authorities may request these and it is always a good idea to stay on the good side of authorities.

 Visas must be applied for at least six months prior to entry date

With over two-thirds of its roads unpaved and those paved roads sporting an abundance of potholes, the road conditions almost require a mountain bike. Most hotels, cafes and GHs will rent bicycles while also providing fairly dependable service options at the same time. Expect to spend about $20 a day renting a bike, or see your airline about their rules for taking your own with you.

The lush landscapes and warm hospitality provide anyone with a good biking tour of Vietnam. Take the time to look around and smell the proverbial “roses”.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Embracing adventure in Vietnam

I clung white-knuckled to the back of my friend's motorbike as the two of us zipped around the streets of Hanoi. We buzzed past a man sitting in a barber's chair on the sidewalk of a main road. The man was peering into an oval mirror tacked to a tree as the barber clipped away.
"See! O.I.V!" my friend said.
"What?" I asked, trying to figure out what I had seen as much as what he just said.
"O.I.V.," he repeated. "Only in Vietnam."
It was the first day of my 11-day tour through northern and central Vietnam, and the adventure had just begun.
Vietnam was never at the top of my list of places to visit -- that is until my old roommate from Atlanta took a job in Hanoi. When my rock-climbing partner, with a level of sanity as questionable as my own, found out climbing was on our itinerary, he decided to join in. We'd start in Hanoi and take in the city sights, make our way to Cat Ba Island for a little climbing and finally to Hoi An along the central coast for some relaxation.
Hanoi at street level
We flew in to the capital, where traffic signals and street signs, if they exist, seem more like suggestions than law. The streets are the heart and soul of Hanoi. They're where people gather for everything from dinner to shoe repair, and the only way to take in the city is to plunge into the traffic. So we did, starting with a walking tour of the Old Quarter.

The narrow streets at Old Quater, Hanoi