Tag Archive: Central Vietnam

Hoi An is a well-preserved ancient trading port where many restaurants offering authentic Vietnamese cuisine are clustered in an area looking more like a quaint French village. Here, the nights get more vibrant as lanterns lit up and canal boat rides are peddled to tourists. The street food scene is very lively as stalls after stalls offer Hoi An specialties like steamed and fried dumplings, chewy rice noodles like Cao Lau, pancakes, mango and banana cakes.

It was very tempting to claim one of those low stools and order the very Hoi An rice noodle dish called Cao Lau, topped with barbecued pork slices, beansprouts and herbs. So with the White Rose dumplings which locals call Banh Bao Vac. And then there’s those open-face pancakes which are really fried wontons with toppings of shrimps and more herbs. We did the next best thing — dined in Miss Ly which offerred all these street food and Hoi An specialties in a restaurant in the Ancient Town. All had a little kick and mildly spicy and we liked it. If you want to try it here, best to go early as it’s popular and gets really packed.

From the next table, we spotted some grilled pork served with noodles and tried those too. Very tasty. Again, with a bit of kick. We were asked, and we specified “mildly spicy” so I guess it can get spicier. All dishes are very delicious even if you have to enjoy them inside where it is more humid. Most restos offer cold towelettes to refresh you before meal is served. Without it, we’d likely sweat as most dishes are a bit spicy.

Just as popular, but a bit pricier, is Morning Glory Restaurant also in the Ancient Town. The resto must be so popular it now has a Morning Glory II just across the street. The extension likewise holds cooking classes, but we’re not into that. We’re here to eat 😊. I’ve heard many tourists asking for directions to Morning Glory. If we go by the reviews, there’s good reason to check out this place. But I think many, many restaurants here all make the grade, judging by how food aroma wafts from the kitchen to the lantern-lit streets. The fish dishes and curries we’ve so far ordered were not big hits though so we didn’t try the restaurant’s bestseller fish in caramel sauce. Besides, we weren’t that hungry when we got here for dinner and didn’t want to overstuff ourselves in the evenings. (Our hotel breakfast buffet in Belle Maisson was very good!) And so, we settled for the usual salad, banh mi and the special spring rolls offerred here called “Three Best Friends Spring Rolls”. They say Miss Ly and Morning Glory serve the best spring rolls but I’m telling ya…… they serve good spring rolls just about anywhere here!

Our guide brought us to a place called Triet (Treat) where there is no crowd and where we actually enjoyed a very good, quiet lunch. Same lunch fare like Papaya Salad which we love, but served with tasty taro spring rolls here. We really liked this for appetizers. The main dishes were pleasant surprises too.

The grilled chicken with lemon grass was served wrapped in aluminum foil and smelled as good as it tasted. But our favorite dish was the Braised Pork in a Clay Pot. Tasted like our local “adobo” but with chili and chives. The chicken and the pork paired well with the vegetable dish with fried shallots we had. Good lunch! Nothing fancy but really cooked well.

Dining here in Hoi An is an adventure. Don’t be limited by the restos we’ve listed here. But the few days we were here, we certainly ate well. On your way back to your hotel, try checking out the Night Market and buy some jackfruit, custard apples and there’s this fruit I’m not familiar with but tasted like small green apples, just better. Bon apetit!

While it sizzled in Hue, it was “nearly burning” in Hoi An and My Son was “on fire”. Nearly 40C and here we are in the jungle, in what was once the sanctuary of Hinduism in Vietnam. This UNESCO Heritage Site was the political and spiritual capital of the mysterious Champa Kingdom which flourished from the 3rd century to the 14th century. Some records put it until the 18th century. About 17 of the original 71 monuments made of bricks and sandstone can be found here. These are the 17 that survived the war. And after the war, this heritage site had to contend with flooding from the nearby river and extremely high humidity which hampers preservation efforts. Not to mention the de-mining activities to keep the site clean and safe.

We spent 2 hours here, mindful that we walked only on paved, marked paths. Restoration work is ongoing but restricted because of the possible unidentified and unexploded mines in the area. A pity. We even found bomb craters side by side with the pockmarked tower monuments which were used to shield Vietcongs who hid there during the war while the Americans tried to chase them out by bombing and machine-gunning the area. So there. The site lost more than 50 tower temples to the war, climate conditions and flooding. It may not be as grand as Angkor Wat in Siem Reap nor the temples in Ayutthaya, but the legacy of the Champan Kingdom must be preserved for future generations. It helped that on our way from Hue to Hoi An, we visited a Cham Museum in Danang. Many Cham sculptures, many headless, are housed there.

My Son is only an hour away from Hoi An. Our hired van was allowed only up to a point, and we walked beyond the entrance marked by double arches towards the tram station. Here, you take the shuttle for a 10 minute ride and get off near the ruins of this complex of Hindu temples. There were tourists offloaded from a few hired vans and tourist buses. There were also the adventurous ones who came on motorbikes. There is a tiny Museum, as well as a theatre stage where guests were treated to a spectacle of cultural performances. If I were to do this again, I’d time it in the cooler months of January and February. At the height of summer, it’s an ordeal walking drenched in sweat around the complex.

I didn’t expect to like the cultural performance before we started the hike. But I found the Apsara dance very expressive, even sensuous. The play with the hands and bent knees require grace, poise and elegant execution. I couldn’t even stretch and bend back my hands the way they do! From the stage, the same performing group moved to one of the ruin sites where they danced with an impressive backdrop of brick temple ruins.

The Chams are a minority tribe in Vietnam now. Back then, they worshipped the Hindu god Shiva and created this cluster of tower temples spread across Central and Southern Vietnam. This one in My Son lies in a lovely valley surrounded by 2 mountain ranges and covering 2 square kilometres. Try to imagine how this heritage site — so pretty and serene — was carpet-bombed by the Americans in a single week! Heartbreaking πŸ˜”

Just arrived for 2 nights in this lovely lantern town of Hoi An. An ancient trading port in Central Vietnam, it’s a melting pot of cultures expressed in its cuisine and architecture. Hue may have its temples, pagoda, royal tombs and Citadel but Hoi An is very quaint with its mustard-colored merchant houses, lazy canals and a Japanese covered bridge! Being Sunday, it looked like the entire population of 200,000 is out having a family day along with the many tourists agonizing where to dine in its many restaurants housed in old French-colonial buildings.

I’ve read about Hoi An being a lantern town, touristy and looking like a mini-Venice with wooden boats in lieu of gondolas. I was delighted to explore its narrow streets and alleys. My only regret is not using the free bicycles from our hotel to save me the 20 minute walk in this very humid evening. Still, it was a pleasant pedestrian tour of this heritage town. We reached the Japanese bridge just as the sun was setting and it sure was lovely.

Many Portuguese, Japanese, French, Chinese and other nationalities must have lived in this ancient trading port. Cooking classes housed in its many French colonial houses seem to be in vogue among the many tourists. Those round basket boats plying the waterways even add more charm to this heritage town that was mercifully spared from the ravages of war. Most hotels, even home stays, offer bikes to their guests. One can bike along quiet lanes or brave the old town’s streets dodging many tourists here and there, or be more adventurous hiring motorbikes and scooters to explore the fragrant rice paddies just outside town. Or perhaps do both. Our walking tour is set for tomorrow but we couldn’t wait. No brainer to explore on our own. One doesn’t waste time here, or you’d miss the charm of a village well-lighted with colourful lanterns or a canal where many boats take in tourists for a ride (literally and figuratively). You can even float lighted lanterns on the river and watch them glide under the bridge.

Though there are many dining options, I’ve heard many tourists asking for directions to Morning Glory restaurant. We found it very near the bridge and being rather early, found a table by the window. It was very hot and humid and most restaurants and shops were not air conditioned. Yet, many locals and tourists don’t seem to mind. Like an instant immersion into local life? The charm of this well-preserved town must have sent very positive vibes and they radiate in the way locals and guests behave even in very dry, humid conditions.

More to discover in our walking tour, I bet. Plus there are the beaches and rice and vegetable paddies to visit. Can’t wait to see where our lunch and dinner ingredients are sourced, or where we can dip our tired feet. Till the next blog, friends. 😘 Watch this page.

Whay. That’s how locals in this lovely provincial city say it. Just an hour 25 minute flight from Ho Chi Minh. We knew it can be hotter and more humid here but Hue welcomed us with pleasant, breezy weather on the day of our arrival. Not so the following morning, when we explored the Citadel or Forbidden City, royal tombs and the Thien Mu pagoda. We only got a respite when we took a small boat from the pagoda back to the city center, helped along by refreshments on board.

The Citadel is right in the heart of the ancient city of Hue. It occupies a wide area, counting 520 hectares on the Perfume River’s left bank. Our guide made us walk the first half hour till we insisted on taking the electric buggy around the “Forbidden City”. Long, our guide, advised that the walk would take 2 1/2 hours. We promptly took the buggy without much thought. No walking at high noon πŸ™„ please.

The Citadel run may have taken shortcuts but our bodies still took and absorbed all the heat and humidity. Buckets of sweat and hardly a wind to blow dry our wet clothes. We dripped till it was over. The Imperial City within the Citadel reminded me of the Forbidden City in Beijing. For sure, the first 2 monarchs from the Nguyen Dynasty chose the site very well. And just like it, geomancy played a part in its architectural design to invite harmony as well as guarantee protection from harmful elements.

As the sun sizzled, we moved around as quickly as we could. We could have lingered longer in the theatre, or in the house of the king’s grandmother’s, but migraine was threatening to cut our Citadel tour short. It was more pleasant when we explored the royal tombs earlier. More than beating the crowd, the heat was more bearable then. Still hot and humid, but bearable. We may have done more justice visiting the Mausoleum of King Minh Mang than the walled palace of the Imperial City.

You can thus imagine how we felt by the time we reached Thien Mu or the Pagoda of the Heavenly Lady. Here you find the best view of the Huong or Perfume River from the Ha Khe hill, but one needs to scale steep steps to reach the scenic viewpoint. Mercifully, we climbed safely while sweating profusely. Our eyes hurt as beads of sweat ran down from our foreheads. Not even it’s iconic 7-storey pagoda nor the displayed car of the “protesting/burning monk” who immolated himself in 1963 Saigon helped unsettle our restless, sweating bods. We were just too eager to finish the tour in this high and dry temp. Our bods protested, just like the monk Thich Quang Duc burned himself to death in June 1963 in a busy Saigon intersection as an act of protest to South Vietnam’s persecution of Buddhist monks back then. We should have been thrilled to watch a couple of the 10 or so monks living within the pagoda grounds. But we’ve lost the enthusiasm, just as we found the young monks doing exercises by lifting weights. How could they…. in this heat?

From this pagoda, we took a wooden boat along the river. Just a short boat ride where we replenished our potassium levels with coconut juice and water. Tour’s over, and our late lunch is ready. The nourishment was another Vietnamese feast but we were just craving for the showers in our spacious, air conditioned, well-appointed hotel room. A day well-spent in Hue. Enough history lessons for my grandson. No more long walks and climbs for us. Phew!

When In Hue

We flew from Ho Chi Minh to Hue to visit this former imperial capital in Central Vietnam. Other than the Citadel, some pagodas and tombs, we hardly know anything about this former capital that was the seat of Nguyen Dynasty emperors till 1945. Pronounced “whay”, we were cautious not to overdo the touristy stuff under this sweltering heat. In a sense, we welcome the occasional afternoon rain.

Hue welcomed us with pleasant weather. No rain upon arrival in Hotel Saigon Morin. Breezy. And just perfect. We have a full day tomorrow visiting the Citadel, royal tombs, the Thien Mu Pagoda and its bonsai garden. Thus, we wanted to take it easy today. No cyclos, no boat rides, no late nights. Just one quiet night in our lovely century-old hotel. Perhaps quietly drinking a cold beer in the balcony with a perfect riverside view. Or maybe swim in the hotel pool, sipping one of those sugarcane juices laced with lemon grass. That was the plan.

Then, food thoughts interfered. Strolling along the Perfume River, we stumbled upon Pho Di Bo walking street. Immediately, we knew this won’t be an early night. There were many food choices, many shopping options, plenty cafes and bars, street mimes, and of course those low stools and tiny tables lining the streets. We managed to do some decent shopping but not before our dinner in this Vietnamese restaurant serving special Hue dishes. Loved everything we ordered. We were almost done eating when we decided we needed another round of those yummy spring rolls. 😊

It’s Day 3 and we have been eating Vietnamese everyday. Fat chance we’d grow tired of it especially the way my grandson has taken to spring rolls. That’s fine — he’s eating more vegetables now, and drinking fresh fruit smoothies like there’s no tomorrow. I’ve tried the Jackfruit Smoothie and loved it. You can smell it even before you drink it. Been eating our fav custard apples (atis) too. Happiness 😊

Beyond Golden Rice Restaurant are the cafes and bars. In one bar, several hunks were playing a game where players had to be garbed in ladies’ clothes. Some losers prowled the streets without changing back to men’s clothes. Could they be…. are they? Well, in my book they looked cool in midriff and short blouses. In the next street corner, children stood still and in awe of street mimes, while stalls selling ice cream, sugarcane juices, souvenirs, civet coffee and whatever else lined the street.

Remembering we have a full day tomorrow, we headed back to our hotel. A short riverside walk brought us to the place where people got on boats for a dinner-cruise, and where a vibrant night market was in full swing right under the bridge spanning Perfume River. Here we met 4 sweet, twinning teenage girls.

We weren’t expecting to be “busy” on our first night here. But even before our history lessons start tomorrow, we already like it here. Chances are we’d be back in the Pho Di Bo walking street tomorrow, if we aren’t too tired. There’s a certain vibe there that we appreciate. Like we enjoyed chatting with the friendly hotel door man, the cyclo drivers, the night market vendors, the teenage girls in identical clothes, the store owners, etc. Looking forward to explore more of Hue tomorrow. 😊

P.S. We loved it so much here that we went back again for dinner, some shopping and drinks. Found another gem — Elegant Restaurant just a few meters from Golden Rice. Enjoyed their duck spring rolls, papaya salad, grilled pork with vermicelli, stuffed squid, and a tofu dish. Finished off with banana FlambΓ© (the real McCoy, not the one with coconut milk) and some vanilla ice cream. And while the boys shopped, the girls enjoyed a Huda beer . Life is good.